GP Boston-Worcester Preview: Mental Challenges by Dylan Klett

Hey everyone!



Grand Prix Boston (which is secretly Grand Prix Worcester, for those who haven’t been before) is coming up this weekend, and I’m very excited. Not only is this the same venue where I attended my first Grand Prix ever, but instead of the format being M13 Sealed like the last time I was able to attend, it’s Modern!


Modern is the format I most enjoy playing; I feel like the youth of the format combined with the enormous card pool lends itself to some really sweet game states, and it feels like there’s plenty of room for innovation.


Instead of talking about specific cards or decks today, I wanted to take some time to go over some of the more subtle challenges you’ll encounter as a player at a competitive tournament of any size (although this will be especially true at one as large as a Grand Prix). These are often challenges to your mindset, or obstacles that have little or nothing to do with your skill as a Magic player. Your ability to deal with them can sometimes be the difference between coming away from a tournament feeling like you had a great day and a positive experience, or wishing you had spent the time doing literally anything else.


Be prepared for mental fatigue

This becomes particularly relevant when you get into the later rounds, where both you and your opponent have been playing Magic almost non-stop for the past five, six, seven or more hours. Abundant playtesting will be greatly rewarded here; the less you need to think about the fundamental lines of play and choices your deck will present you with, the more brainpower you will conserve in the long run to deal with those tough, win-or-lose situations.


The more familiar you are with the format and your deck, the better. Make no mistake, you will get tired, and the temptation will be there to just jam your cards in the most straightforward way possible. Try to slow down, catch yourself before doing this, and force yourself to think your options through. It will pay off. Nothing makes you walk away from a match feeling quite as miserable as losing to a mistake you would never have made in round one.


Keep the smaller picture in mind

While playing your match, try to block out as much information as possible from coming in that isn’t relevant to the match. Don’t bother checking the text from your friend to see if they’ve won their match or not, don’t worry about what the players next to you are arguing with a judge about.


Don’t think of the match in front of your in terms of how much if left – if you let yourself worry about how many more matches you have to win, you will focus on results, stress yourself out, and risk losing the focus necessary to win the game at hand. Boil your concentration down to a single goal: there is a match of Magic in front of you, right now, and you’re here to win it. Do it.


Keep the bigger picture in mind

Gerry Thompson wrote an article recently where he described all Magic played competitively or with “a mind to get better” as “one big session.” This has stuck with me over the past week or so; I really like the way this is phrased, and the mentality that this implies. Magic is an endlessly complex and difficult game, and to do well requires of us not only that we learn, but that we learn well.


We must put a conscious effort into our improvement as players, and a large part of this means maintaining an openness to being wrong, to making mistakes, and to stop doing something we are comfortable with in favor of doing something new. We must re-evaluate ourselves. Most importantly, it means failing, and failing even when we feel most sure that we can not or should not.


It’s great to win and winning feels great, but when we win, it is easy to gloss over mistakes we may have made on our way to victory, because we got the result we wanted. The real prize is always noticing something you could have done better, and realizing that you will make that decision better next time. When we lose, we are forced to do this — if not by our curiosity, then by our pride.


When playing at an event and you lose in frustrating fashion — that lucky topdeck the turn before they would have died, or your opponent drawing their one sideboard card against you and you not seeing a single one of seven you put in — it’s fine to feel angry, but keep it to yourself or your close friends, let it pass, and let learning from that loss take its place.


To wrap things up, let me give a sweet example:


At a PTQ I was playing a couple weekends ago, I was playing UB Faeries against Splinter Twin in Round Seven. This is an awesome matchup for me, and I know it — the only thing I know I need to watch out for is Blood Moon out of the sideboard, which can completely ruin me if he gets a chance to resolve it. Other than that, it’s very difficult for the Twin player to win, and one of the reasons to play Faeries in the first place.


Game One goes about as planned: I play a Bitterblossom, cast a couple discard and counter spells, and kill him before he can get even close to the combo. Game Two starts off much the same, and I feel very confident; I play turn one discard spell, turn two Bitterblossom, turn three Vendillion Clique, and pass turn four holding up my hand of one Smother, one Dismember. I know his hand is two Pestermites and a Splinter Twin. At my end step, he plays one of his Pestermites. I kill it using Dismember, paying four life despite having four lands available so I can bluff the maximum amount of other possible tricks. I know every card in his hand, and my last card deals with it nicely. He’s dead in two turns. What could go wrong?


blood moon

Blood Moon. That’s what.


Suddenly, I am locked out of casting my Smother because my three basic Swamps in the deck had zero of them in play (which is of course, completely reasonable). My opponent breezily deploys his last Pestermite at the end of my next turn and casts Splinter Twin on it while at three life, with my Smother in hand and helpless to resist. Initially, I was frustrated. I had played as much disruption as it was possible to play against one of my best match-ups and still lost to what felt like dumb luck.


Blood Moon is a stupid card, I wanted to rant. Why is it legal in Modern? It never leads to fun games.


It took me about 10 minutes of being on 45-degree tilt before I realized how I could have won that game, Blood Moon be damned. If I had cast Smother instead of Dismember on his first Pestermite, using my black spell while I still had black mana, I would have still had Dismember in hand when my opponent plucked that Blood Moon off the top of his deck like a ripe fruit. Go ahead, cast your Splinter Twin. I’ll tap my newly minted Mountain and pay four life. Kill it. Kill you. No black mana required.


Instead, I let my confidence in the matchup and my exceptional series of draws cloud my judgment, and I allowed myself to stop thinking of what could make me lose this game. When I stopped thinking about how I could lose, I stopped playing around it. And I lost.


If that isn’t proof that Magic is a wonderful game, I don’t know what is.


About the Author

Dylan Klett is a local competitor who can usually be found at the Plainville store for Friday Night Magic. To request more articles by Dylan, let us know by emailing




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