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Development of a Tournament Player
By Lucas Berghaus
Did any of you newer players start by playing Portal (basic), then Advanced, and then Expert sets?
If so, have you gone to any tournaments?

How did that go? I can't even imagine it. It seems to me, that it's becoming harder at a increasing rate to begin playing Magic competitevily, or even casually. I say this as I see a very high rate of beginners quitting the game.

::eyes glaze over, enters a deep hypnotic trance::
I remember buying a pack, looking at 2-4 cards I would judge "good" and adding them to my one and only deck. So, when I bought a pack, I could choose Mirage or 4th or some other, more exotic and ancient (and corespondingly higher in price - and presumably more powerful) pack. Given the trade availability of all cards in 4th edition, that if I didn't have them, someone else did. But Mirage, a set just released, was a mystery. No one knew what might be contained within the pack. Maybe even a Grinning Totem.
::collective gasp from the imaginary audience::
What a $20 card! Now, I'm not nostaglic for the days of being a poor player, both in collection, deckbuilding, and actual games, nor do I particularly like semi-random creature battles. But, I still like the older sets special 'flava'.
::exits strange trance, continues with article::


What I don't like about Magic now - NetDecks.

Now, to me, the concept of a player searching the Internet, finding a recent champions deck, purchasing it and playing it, is perfectly fine, and a respectable decision. Winning, is the goal of attendance at a tournament. There are, other valuable reasons to go, but everyone who pays the entrance fee to a tournament, secretly or openly entertains the dream of winning. And proven winners are a good bet to win again. I would do it, if a Net Deck captured my imagination and playstyle. I played Wildfire in a tournament, and although I never looked at a Wildfire decklist, I admit I got the concept by watching Kai Budde's world championship deck. But, one of the original charms of Magic was that you would never encounter the same deck twice. Now, Net Decks are only a natural development of the tournament scene, but, they corrupt the multiplayer environment, and ruin the casual duel. You can't have a "fun" game against a Trix deck, or a Stompy deck, with your Bazaar of Wonders deck. Somehow, I just don't think it'll work. I wish they didn't exist, but they do, and they have to. Banning cards can eliminate them, but new ones will take thier places.
Unless an environment was perfectly balanced, and that's not likely.

I make a distinction between playing for fun and playtesting. Mostly because I never playtest.

Ok, Originality is bonus style points.
I've also designed decks that are original, and defy any reasonable person's theory of the game. And taken those to tournaments. And got destroyed. Ok. That's what I deserved for playing something of my own design, according to Mister Forsythe. Two hours afterward I always realize "I paid $25 to play with this POS?" But still, I don't just want to win, I want to win on my own terms. On some level, I develop more as a player with each attempt, win or lose. For it is not victory which is the best teacher. Failure is much more direct, because when you win, it may be the result of an opponent's misplay. When you lose, it is your deck or it is your play. I know now several mistakes in deckbuilding which I would never have thought of had I not committed them.

Now, though, I don't really like Contructed. At least, I like Limited. Because I'm good at it. I win more than I lose, even against the hardened tourney crowd.

What ruined Magic for me - When Magic was elevated to a science, and deckbuilding an art, and tournaments a professional sport.

Because I can deal with it, does that make it okay? No. None of the new players in my group have been able to make a transition to playing in a Constructed tournament. Whenever I try to teach them the "tricks" of building a tournament deck, the "metagame", and all the little things, one thing ends up happening. That player is an 0-2 drop at the tourney. Their spirits are crushed. They leave, determined never to go to another tournament, and angry that they wasted their money. This exact thing has happened to at least four new players that I have tried to introduce to tournament play. Now, I know that these new players experience the bitter feeling of loss over and over. I want to fix that. It's hard though, to teach a player what it takes to be a competitive player, while establishing and keeping thier interest. Can it be done quickly? I don't think so, at least it didn't work that way for me.

The Beginning :

Lord knows, I didn't win a game for the first year I played, in '94. Paradoxically, that's what made me keep trying, and probably why I still play. At the time, I had no grasp on two key elements of the game : trading, and deckbuilding. These flaws are linked. A poor deckbuilder trades for suboptimal cards. Although, in my case, eagerness to close a deal has cost me many cards. And, I didn't understand the basic rules of the game, played 20-40 land-to-spell ratio, and lacked decent cards of any sort, playing five color decks with four of each basic land. To top it all off, most of my small collection was comprised of Fallen Empires. Alright, that's how it was for me, as a middle-school kid, playing Magic. It's strange to think of it now, but Magic was actually popular then. At my school, in my classes and grade alone, there were around 20 players.

Fast-Forward.

I get decent at Magic. I establish a good collection of much of Antiquities, Dark, Arabians, and Legends, although I never got a hold of the Alpha-Beta-Unlimited stuff. I mean, everyone knows that the new sets are gonna keep getting worse, right? Think Fallen Empires, Ice Age, Homelands, and even Alliances. This whole semi-mythical superiority of old over new, was the downfall of Magic's popularity. There was nothing to look forward to. Everyone else quits Magic when they get to High School. The local card store goes under. I quit Magic. Now, unlike a lot of folks, I don't sell my cards, but I stop buying cards. I have only played in one tournament so far, and it didn't impress me. Since then, I always meet people who used to play Magic, wherever I go. It's kinda creepy, actually.

Fast Forward.

Sophomore year in high school. My best friend becomes a tourney player, and although I don't go, I play once in a while with him and some of the others that go with him. I get schooled. I learn how to build decent decks. I create the roots of an awesome B/R Land Destruction. Since that time, whenever a new set has been released, I search it for additions to the deck. Didn't buy any cards during this time, although I may have traded for a select few.

Junior year in high school. My school establishes a game club, to which I, an avid D&D player, go. While no-one there plays D&D, quite a few play Magic. Urza's Block is released, and, as Antiquities was my favorite set, I decide to get a couple packs. The card quality is up. Things are cool. I begin to play a multi-player game every week. I have a better collection than all the other Magic players, and I have better decks. I get this whole superiority phase. I smack up all the other players at the school for a short time. I built decent decks, and other players built pieces of trash, comparatively. So I won all the duels I played, and many of the multiplayer games, because I grasped the politics concept even then. Eventually the other players got better, and put me in my place, building creative and powerful decks. They keep buying cards, and beat me with things I've never seen. I start buying Magic cards again.
Then I play in the Urza's Legacy prerelease. I go 2-2, and have a lot of fun.

Since then, I have been a tourney player. It's been a major goal of mine to win a tournament. Actually, a Pro Tour slot. I've come agonizingly close. And I will continue trying as long as the game is played. Because I know I have what it takes, but I don't playtest nearly enough.

On Extended :

As a player who's played for a long time, Extended should be something I can play. But I don't have "the cards". You know the ones I'm talking about. Cursed Scroll, Necropotence, Oath of Druids, etc. Yes, my older cards are mostly trash. As are most older cards, unfortunately. They were either brokenly good and banned, horrifically bad and reprinted as a better version, or playable but pointless. Few old cards are actually decent. I was rudely reminded of that a while back when, on a whim, I bought a pack of Revised. The joy in my heart as I discovered Magnetic Mountain was so wonderful, I couldn't help but forget that the pack only wasted $9.

So, if I want to play an Extended deck, I have several options.

1. Spend hella cash. Buy a NetDeck.

2. Play Sligh, Deadguy Red, whatever. I don't need silly decknames when I have Incinerate!

3. Make something from what I have. Modify that with what I can get for free, by trading.

Now, if I don't have a job, that rules out number one. And which one, anyway?
And, Burn is the obvious choice. So no Burn. I'm going to make an Extended deck, and then, if it's good, play it. Unfortunately, I looks like I probably won't play it. Eh. I can always play in Limited!

Adios
Lucas Berghaus aka "Landkiller"

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