Jonathan Pechon

*Two "Top 8" Grand Prix Finishes

*Top 32 at Pro Tour Osaka



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Jonathan Pechon's
Therapy Sessions

01.07.04  The Break from Magic

I got back from my vacation just this last Friday. Spending time with my family during Christmas was a good thing; I got to laze around for a while, eat the ridiculous food that you can find all around New Orleans, and see the people in my family, most importantly my 2-year-old niece who is the most amazing kid to play with in the worldÖ.well, at least sometimes.

Where does this go regarding Magic? Well, I spent about two weeks refusing to have anything to do with Magic cards. I didnít draft, didnít wrangle with rules questions, didnít haggle with people for cards that I need for the foil 8th edition set that Iíve nearly managed to complete, didnít see a single person that played Magic. Nothing.

For the weeks before this, the drafts that I had participated in had declined considerably in quality; by saying that, I mean I drafted like absolute poop. I couldnít put together a single deck that was really worthwhile. It wasnít simply a run of bad luck; I wasnít seeing what was happening during the draft. When it would come time to make significant choices during a draft, I would almost make mechanical choices to the point that they were overriding what was the better play in favor ofÖsomething else.

Let me describe the last draft I did before I left. While it was on Magic Online, itís the best example of what I felt like happens when you just arenít on your game.

Early picks in the draft were solid black; while I am not a huge fan of being the black drafter a lot of the time, Iíll take it if itís looking solid. Then, suddenly, at some point during the second pack I look at my picks and say to myself, ďWait a minuteÖwhat are these green cards doing here?Ē

Just by making mechanical choices, Iíd somehow managed to draft this horrible, non-synergistic beast of a G/B deck. While there were some decent enough cards in the deck, I also had a pair of Nim Shreikers in the deck that didnít have enough artifacts or equipment to really support them. I had a severe dearth of green tricks for the deck, no Strikes. Basically, I had a big pile of doo-doo that wasnít going to win a game no matter what I did with it.

It wasnít just my Magic-playing that had deteriorated. The end of the semester had proven to be extremely taxing for me, and I had seen some real inability to accomplish goals that I set out for myself. Running tournaments became a challenge, and I wasnít easily able to communicate what I wanted to do. Rulings escaped me. I even made mistakes in things like playing Counterstrike and DJíing; basically, whether it was work or fun, it took a good deal more work to do well than I was used to.

Letís move forward to the present. In two drafts Iíve done, Iíve won one and failed to win another, though I felt like the deck that I played was much better than the decks I had been drafting in the previous weeks. Playing the decks was smoother; fewer mistakes were made, and I did a better job of managing the game in each situation. Iím still doing the best I can to get some things in order (like my schedule for these articles, Iím trying, honest!), but I feel a lot more ready to take on these sorts of tasks.

I know, I knowÖback to Magic. The point is, Iíve taken the approach at times that countless hours and hours of playtesting are supposed to make you a better player, and are supposed to help make sure that you are prepared for whatever event it is: PTQ, FNM, even random drafts. Some people have the theory that if you do nothing but play Magic, then somehow you will be more in tune with the game. Immersing yourself in the game can, in theory, give you some sort of edgeÖand for some people, it might.

But the question to really ask is this: does that work for you?

It is very likely that the answer to that is, ďNo.Ē

Simply put, playing a game like Magic is extremely draining in its own way. Player go through a great deal of stress while going through the motions of a major tournament; I can tell you that when youíre in the second day of a major event (Pro Tour or Grand Prix), you will wear down at some point. Mental mistakes can occur simply due to fatigue; during the second day of PT-Houston in 2002, I made a mistake with Rebels against Mark Ziegner in round 11, searching for the incorrect creature with a Lin Sivvi (a Defiant Vanguard instead of a Nightwind Glider when he had a Thrashing Wumpus out). I canít explain the error other than being extremely tired, but the mistake cost me the chance to finish in the money at that event.

Just because you arenít playing in a Pro Tour doesnít mean that you arenít going through similar things yourself. Not only does this happen in a more concentrated fashion during a tournament, you can also see this over the long run in the way you play any game. Stress brings it on; so does frustration, boredom, whatever else you might deal with. Frankly, from my perspective, routine is one of the worst things that Magic can be, simply because if itís routine, you arenít really thinking about it. If you arenít thinking about it, you probably arenít enjoying it, nor is it likely that you are winning much.

So what do you need to do to break this routine? In my case, taking up judging and organizing events has been a big help. It gave me a way to enjoy the game when I really didnít have money to play a lot, and it helped make me a better player by forcing me to learn the rules much more thoroughly than I had before. Knowing the floor rules and the way certain cards interact has become invaluable to me, helping to smooth out a lot of situations before they could become problems, but just as much as it accomplished that it also distanced me from the players and from the game, forcing me to look at both through a different set of eyes.

Even that becomes too much at times, though, just as anything can. Doyle Brunsonís Super System deals with strategy for poker, with tips for games ranging from Stud to Hold Ďem. The opening section, though, deal with various guidelines on how to approach the game from the beginning, such as how to manage money and time. And, right there, in the opening pages, is a section labeled, ďActually Schedule Vacations.Ē

The point there is just the same as here: in order to become better at what you do, sometimes you need to get away from it. Itís more of a guideline to life than specifically to cards, maybe, but itís one that can serve you well no matter how you take it. Taking time to back off from what you enjoy will actually help you to enjoy it more, and allow you to take more from this game that I think we all enjoy playing.

Next time youíre thinking of going to another tournament, and itís just going to be another day at workÖ.do something else. Take a break, take a vacation and do something good for yourself.

If youíre preparing for a tournament (like I know some of you might be for Amsterdam), take the last few days before the event and just relax. Youíve probably tested enough, and itíll do you more good if you feel good going into the event than if you play day and night until you wonder why youíre seeing 5-colored spots in front of your eyes.

-Jonathan Pechon
Sigmundí on IRC (EFNet)
Sigmund on Modo

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