2016 Year in Review

The start of a new year is a time for many to reflect on the year gone by and set new goals for the year ahead.  The same is true for Magic, and I’ve seen a number of players offering a year-end summary of their Magic accomplishments.  In today’s article, I’ll be looking back on what was a busy year for me, and I’ll also be setting out some more concrete plans for 2017!

What Were my Goals for 2016?

Day 2 a Grand Prix.

I didn’t set goals at the start of the year but the one goal I know I had from the beginning was to make day 2 of a Grand Prix. I had played in Grand Prix sporadically, but I really wasn’t focused on results at the GP level yet. In fact, prior to 2016 I had played in exactly one Grand Prix in every single-player format:

  • 2014 GP Boston (Modern)
  • 2014 GP New Jersey (Legacy)
  • 2015 GP Denver (Standard)
  • 2015 GP Atlantic City (Limited)

In those tournaments I was trying my best to do well, but my biggest focus was on accumulating Planeswalker Points to earn my Grand Prix byes. You could say my 2015 Magic goal was to earn my GP byes. Thanks to grinding PPTQs, plus weekly LGS events and the occasional GP, I was able to hit the 2-bye threshold just ahead of Grand Prix Atlantic City in May of that year. After a 5-1 start, I thought I was on top of the world and started getting a bit worried about the competition I might face in the later rounds. I was 6-2 after eight rounds and ended up losing a win and in for day 2 (when the cut at the time was 7-2), but I was really happy with my results.

This set up my goal for 2016, which was to make day 2 of a GP. I had come to expect to win regularly at local weekly events (standard FNMs or weekly drafts). I had a few Grand Prix under my belt and after coming close to a day 2 in Atlantic City, I felt optimistic that I’d be able to reach that goal soon.

Tournament Highlights of 2016

2016 Milestones

  • 53.1% GP match win rate
  • Day 2 in 5 of 8 Grand Prix and 5 of my last 6 (missing at GP Providence due to a round 9 draw when opponent wouldn’t scoop to lethal)
  • June 25 – First GP day 2 (GP Houston – Bant Company in Standard)
  • July 30 – First pro point (GP Montreal – Eldritch Moon Limited)
  • December 10 – First cash finish (40th at GP Milwaukee – Kaladesh Limited)
  • 1 PPTQ win

The year really exceeded my expectations at the Grand Prix level. Not only did I make my first day 2, I went on to hit further milestones as the year progressed. But it did not get off to such a hot start. Let’s take a look at how I ended up there.

My pre-2016 tournament preparation (bad):

  • Choose or brew a deck based on play style and card availability.
  • Play a variant of the same deck every tournament.
  • Tweak the deck (usually including my own spicey twist) and adjust the sideboard as the metagame evolves.

With my 2 byes in hand, I was ready to start traveling to more Grand Prix. I had decided that to do well, I would always play a tier 1 deck. I wasn’t going to compromise and take a deck just because I was comfortable with it or because it was the easiest for me to put together. If I was going to travel, I was going to take it seriously.

My early 2016 tournament preparation (worse):

  • Look at the best decks in the format and choose one.

I felt optimistic about my ability to start day 2’ing tournaments, but it turns out that I was way too overconfident. I made plans to attend back-to-back tournaments at the beginning of the year, playing standard at GP Houston and modern at GP Detroit. I thought so much of myself that I took what I believed was the best deck to each tournament with hardly any practice. After all, I was a good player, so I was sure I would be able to have pretty good success by just knowing the format even if I didn’t practice with a certain deck. I got absolutely trounced in Houston after playing horribly and then missed the cut in Detroit with the clear best deck in the format (UW Eldrazi before Eye of Ugin was banned). This was a strong reality check and although I was disappointed, I used the results to refocus my efforts on doing better at future events.

With a renewed motivation to improve, I made some changes to my tournament preparation. Those two events taught me the importance of playing a deck that I was comfortable with. Yes, I would always take a deck that I thought was competitive for the weekend. But I also needed to choose a deck that fit my play style and that I had practice with.

My mid 2016 tournament preparation (good!):

  • Look at the best decks in the format and choose one that fits my play style.
  • Practice with the deck a lot before the tournament.
  • If I wasn’t winning or the deck didn’t ‘click’ with me, choose a different deck until one works.
  • Tweak the deck and sideboard based on my expectation for the weekend metagame.

The turning point of 2016 was when I decided to take Bant Company to GP Pittsburgh in June. The deck had fallen out of favor at large which made me doubt whether it was a good choice. But it was a deck that I had played for awhile and had success with. It was the deck I was most comfortable with and I knew it had a lot of powerful cards, so the floor on it was pretty low. After my experience in Houston, I decided that I should just play the deck that I knew the best. I was rewarded with my first Grand Prix day 2. Not only did I make the cut, I surpassed my own expectations with a day 1 record of 7-1-1. The cut had changed to 6-3, but I was thrilled to say that I cleared the bar even by the old cut of 7-2.

From that point on, I went into each Grand Prix with renewed confidence and my results showed. I no longer doubted whether I belonged there and I started to put up better and better finishes at subsequent tournaments.

My end of 2016 tournament preparation:

To this point, most of my testing has been solo or discussions with one or two close friends. The last tournament of the year – GP Milwaukee – was the first event where I was part of a dedicated Facebook group focused on testing for an event. It felt great to be a part of something bigger than myself.  Given that there were a few well-known players in the group, I wondered how I fit in but it felt good to be included. The members of the group put up a great finish as a whole.  My 40th place finish reflected the work we put in and to me justified my place as a serious player (though I’ll admit I still feel like I have a lot to prove).  I hope to be able to have similar opportunities going forward.

2016 Magic Elo Rankings

There’s a pretty cool website that has started tracking player performance at the Grand Prix and Pro Tour level. While I don’t have any Pro Tour experience (not yet!), it’s cool to see how my Grand Prix results stack up to others. The website only goes back to results within the last few years but fortunately for me that covers my entire history!

The graph really drives home how great 2016 has been for me. (I know it may not mean much, but according to their stats, I’m proud to say that I’m in the top 1% of players with only 834 out of 107,838 players having a rating of 1675 or higher).

Non-Tournament Happenings in 2016

  • Connecting with other Magic players. Without a doubt the highlight of 2016 for me was connecting with other players in the Grand Prix community. I spent much of my first couple of years of Magic grinding events alone. I did it for love of the game. I’m an only child, so I can entertain myself pretty easily, but I’d be lying if I said I’d prefer doing it that way. I met a lot of great people, but I struggled finding players that took the game as seriously as I did and who had the same goals – to constantly improve and succeed at this game at the highest level in competitive REL events. In 2014-2015 I started making friends in our local Magic scene and those friendships really blossomed in 2016. It’s been awesome having a group of like-minded people to compete with, chat with and travel with. You know who you are!
  • Development of NewCompassGames. The first articles were published on the website in mid-2015, but then it went dormant. It wasn’t until I started attending Grand Prix regularly that I felt I had a reason to keep updating the website. In 2016, I’ve written a number of tournament reports, posted videos, published an occasional opinion piece and done some set reviews. This is the first real year of regular content for the website and I hope to keep it going.
  • Streaming! I started streaming in 2016. I’ve done it in fits and starts and haven’t streamed much in awhile, but I’ve enjoyed it. I’ve been disappointed by the number of viewers – it’s really hard to stream when you don’t have a lot of engagement from an audience. I’m usually not a very talkative person, so there’s only so much I can say to myself. I think it’s been a good exercise for me to develop as a public speaker and I was surprised at how comfortable I was doing it right from the start. By far the most fun I had streaming was the one time I hit over 100 viewers doing a standard PPTQ on a Saturday evening. I got a little nervous seeing the viewer count climb, but I would stream a lot more if I had that kind of viewership and activity in the chat on a regular basis. Viewers may come with more regular streaming, so that is something I may try to work on.

All of these also contributed to my tournament success during the year. Making new friends in the Magic community not only improved my play and perspective on formats, it made playing Magic more fun again. Streaming and writing articles forced me to reflect on results, explain my thinking and inevitably helped me develop a deeper understanding of the game. My engagement with the game has never been higher, even if I wasn’t always playing as many games per week. Sometimes it’s not all about tediously playtesting every matchup, pouring over spoilers or searching out the latest decklists. The amount of energy I put into the game and community in all facets was reflected in my tournaments results.

Disappointments of 2016

This is without a doubt my PPTQ/RPTQ performance for the year. I can’t say I performed poorly. I top 8’d tournaments at a higher rate than I have in the past but I wasn’t able to convert those opportunities into victories. A part of this is due to my new focus on Grand Prix. But at the same time, I had a number of opportunities and I was only able to qualify for one RPTQ in 2016.

Overall, 2016 was a great year for me though. I learned a lot, improving both my preparation and my play, so it’s hard to be too critical.

Lessons of 2016

  • Mental state matters.  This includes enthusiasm for the game, confidence in yourself and optimism about the tournament.
    1. If I’m not having fun, my focus and play suffers.
    2. As I’ve gone further in Grand Prix I’ve experience self-doubt and anxiety about whether I can hang with the competition at the top tables.  At each step, I’ve learned that I could, but that worry held me back at first.  The top tables are not significantly different than the middle tables.  This is a lesson I’ve learned over and over again in life – just because you have less experience doesn’t mean you don’t belong.  Everyone has to do everything for the first time once.  Confidence that things will work out just fine will help push you through the learning curve and make you feel like you belong sooner.  It’s the fake it till you make it adage, and it works.
    3. Your own expectations for your tournament effect your results.  Initially, my goal was to start making day 2 of Grand Prix.  I found myself starting tournaments at 5-1 or 6-1 and then ending the day with a 6-3 record.  Once I locked day 2, I felt like I had accomplished something and subconsciously I think I felt less pressure to win in the last couple of rounds.  And when I returned for day 2 I’d try my best, but I had no real goals for the tournament anymore and my records were always poor.  For GP Milwaukee I decided it was time to start looking at each event as a two day tournament.  Day 1 was just a stepping stone.  With this new perspective I not only finished 7-2 but I was able to keep my success going into day 2.
  • Playing a good deck well is better than playing the best deck.  Playing the best deck well would be even better.  But for me, I’ve learned that some types of decks just don’t click with me right away and if I don’t have time to practice them sufficiently I should just play a good deck that I do have a lot of practice with.
  • Tournament fatigue is real.  After consistently battling Grand Prix this year I can say that rounds 8-15 are not as easy for me as rounds 3-7.  Having byes greatly improves your chances to succeed at a GP – not only because of the free wins but because you save your mental energy and play in fewer rounds.  I’ve played really poorly in rounds 8 and 9 in some of my tournaments this year.  And on day 2, even though I start off fresh, I can quickly go downhill and start feeling the effects by round 12.  If I can find a way to address this I’ll give myself a much better chance to succeed.

Plans for 2017

The past year has been awesome.  So what can I do to improve on it in 2017?  I have a few tournament-related goals and a few non-tournament ones.

  • Cash two Grand Prix. My ultimate goal is to top 8 a Grand Prix since I want to make the Pro Tour. But I hesitate to put such a lofty goal on the list and will gladly except small progress toward that end. I want to cash at least one constructed Grand Prix – so far I haven’t shown the ability to follow a good day 1 performance with success on day 2.
  • Improve Grand Prix match win rate to 55%.  This would represent a 2% increase in match win percentage from 2016.  I’m unsure the best metric to use to track improvement at the GP level.  Finishes at individual tournaments can be high variance, so I think this will help better measure my improvement over the long term.
  • Qualify for an SCG Invitational. I’ve never put much emphasis on the SCG circuit. I usually played the events that were local, but I didn’t have goals relative to the SCG Tour. My goal has always been to make the Pro Tour and therefore my focus is on Grand Prix and the PPTQ/RPTQ system. Sadly, Grand Prix are really bad value. With a cut that regularly brought 400-500 players back for day 2 to compete for prizes to just the top 64 players it felt so hard to ever get rewarded. This realization made me reconsider whether I should be playing more SCG events. The SCG Open is undergoing its own changes, and I’m not planning to abandon Grand Prix, but I’m looking to attend more SCG events in 2017 and qualify for an Invitational. I love the idea of playing a mixed format tournament – I only wish it was a combination of limited and constructed.
  • Qualify for 1 RPTQ. This may look like a conservative goal, but I’m uncertain about even committing to this. Given my GP and SCG aspirations, it leaves less time for PPTQs. With fewer opportunities, I’d still like to take down at least one PPTQ.
  • Work on my mental endurance.  I’m not sure what the solution is yet, but I need to work on fighting fatigue in tournaments.  Milwaukee was the first time that I felt great all the way through the weekend (I felt that slipping in round 7 so I got food and water right after).  The first steps I will take are to have more water and snacks throughout the day.  Before day 2 I probably need to get more sleep.  Grand Prix are mini-vacations so it’s tempting to go out late and have fun with friends.  Based on my day 1 finish I’ll have to decide on a case by case basis how to prioritize sleep (and day 2 performance) vs. having fun on Saturday night.
  • Talk to my opponents more.  I’m a very no-nonsense player.  I don’t chit-chat much and I just focus on the game.  Partly this is because I take the game seriously, but partly this is an escape mechanism I use to avoid social awkwardness with a stranger sitting across from me.  As I’ve mentioned, connecting with other players in the community has been a highlight of my 2016.  I want that to continue in 2017 and that means I’d like to open up to my opponents more.
  • Talk to my Magic Online opponents less.  As I’ve had more success, I’ve had points where I’ve started to feel more entitled to success.  When I’ve hit a string of bad luck or I’m in a bad mood, I’ve started to make sarcastic comments to my opponents just because I want to complain to someone.  This is unacceptable and I need to improve on this.  When I feel this kind of frustration it’s a sign that I need to step away from the computer and give myself some time to focus on something else.
  • Create more diverse NewCompassGames content. Here on the website I want to create more content between tournaments – decklists, thoughts on the metagame or videos. I waste too much time getting tournament reports written and lose out on the opportunity to create other types of content due to my procrastination.
  • Stream once a week. So far I’ve gone through short bursts of frequent streaming followed by long stretches of no streaming. In 2017, I would like to stream at least once per week. I don’t think I’ll set a regular schedule, but at least one time during the week I’d like to stream. And I’ll probably stream more leading up to big tournaments.

That’s a lot of goals – as you can see, I don’t plan on slowing down for 2017.  I’ve already looked at the events over the first half of the year and here’s what my calendar looks like.

I don’t plan to attend 100% of these, but I will get to as many as I can.  In order to qualify for the SCG Invitational, I’ve added more SCG Opens than I’ve ever played in before.  I’m exciting for a new year of Magic and I hope you are too.  I can’t wait to see what 2017 has in store!

Follow me on Twitter @thenatewalker.
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