Stop Trashing Limited

I’ve seen a repeated argument where limited does not require the same level of skill as constructed in order to excel. I’ve encountered this from people attributing women doing well in limited PTQs and limited GPs as a result of variance. I’ve also encountered this in more generalized statements attributing results to variance (e.g. “drafting is all about how well you open”). I will admit I am bias against these statements, as I learned how to play magic through limited (mostly drafting) and I am a woman so I can take sexist statements personally. The issue I have with these statements is that people who succeed at limited aren’t savants. Their results aren’t tied to luck. Some unreasonable, outside force is not required to succeed at limited. So please, stop blaming outside factors at an unwillingness to explore a format and develop your skill set. It is possible improve at limited.

I found this post from an article ( describing Calcano’s Worlds Draft in 2017 :

“The standout in Calcano’s deck was the quadruple Swashbuckling. Combined with three Blight Keeper and various other cheap creatures, he was capable of some very fast starts…. After the match, I asked Calcano to walk me through his draft. “I opened Sanctum Seeker, and I generally like to play White-Black Vampires,” he explained. “But I saw immediately that white wasn’t open, so I had to jump into another color combination immediately. I third-picked Siren Stormtamer, but the blue cards that I wanted weren’t really coming, so I started taking some red cards. I got a late Dire Fleet Captain and a Swashbuckling at the end of the pack. Pack 2, Pick 1, I took Fathom Fleet Firebrand. You need two-drops drops in this format, and I got all the Auras after that… The cheaper creatures you have, the better a card like Swashbuckling is.” By prioritizing early drops, avoiding expensive cards, and focusing on the key cards for what he was drafting, Calcano was able to assemble a coherent deck that ran over his opponents before they had a chance to set up. It rewarded him with a 3-0 start to the tournament.”

I think this draft exemplifies how creativity, adaptability and signal reading are skills that help you exceed in limited rather than being lucky. Calcano 3-0’d his draft with blight keepers and swashbucklings—not the ‘broken rares’ of the format like Vona or Vraska. Firstly he read the signals of his draft and adapted his draft around them. Sanctum Seeker is a good card on its own, but it is an excellent card in the BW vampire shell where you have a plethora of vampires to trigger its ability. But Calc drafted the hard way—staying open. When he wasn’t getting white for vampires, he explored UR, a strong pirate color combo after getting a staple Siren Stormtamer. But when blue wasn’t coming he adapted AGAIN. Some players might see this as a failed draft, feeling as though they’ve invested in some early picks and they aren’t panning out. But Calcano got creative. He saw the line to utilize the swashbucklings and capitalize.

If you think this doesn’t extend into sealed, I would like to refer to Pascal Vieren’s article on sealed strategy: He is a master and can explain better than I could. If you haven’t already read it, he breaks down many of the skills in limited—what is the limited metagame? how to approach deckbuilding in sealed compared to draft? how to approach gameplay? how to optimize sideboarding? All relevant areas to learn and improve how you approach sealed games and how you approach sealed deck choices.

So why do many players struggle with limited? I feel like the best way to improve at limited is to play games to learn the format. I’ve done well repeatedly at constructed formats by being handed a list and a sb guide and never playing the format. I went 9-0 day 1 of a standard GP without knowing how my deck worked. I don’t think constructed is easy (I also went 1-5 the second day of the tournament), but I think you can get a huge leg up from having your deck built already for you. That does not convert to limited. You have to build your own deck. You learn how to optimize your deck build from learning the limited metagame, from playing matches. Some players do not enjoy drafting or learning the limited metagame on their own. And that’s ok! But please stop attributing your lack of success with it being due to a lack of luck. It’s not.

Reducing Anxiety: Pre-Game Procedure

Playing paper magic can be a bit overwhelming for people like me who struggle with social anxiety. I have been reflecting over things I wish I had been told when I first started playing competitively and having a “pre-game procedure” was high on the list. Practice makes perfect. When you have a procedure to follow, the unfamiliar task of getting to know and start a match with a strange opponent becomes manageable. This is my strategy, which hopefully you find useful and applicable.

Part 1: The materials checklist

Maybe it’s a bit basic but just keeping my supplies at the top of my backpack and not stressing over where my deck is helps keep me calm prior to starting the round. I usually wrap my dice bag, deck and life pad up in my playmat. My dice bag also holds pens so I don’t have to fish one out from the bottom of the bag or scramble to find one as I prepare to play the round. Every little bit you can do to avoid fretting over things that are not game-play help keep your mind calm.

Part 2: Greeting the opponent

This is the biggest stressor for me. I’m introverted. I enjoy talking to friends and I don’t hate other people but making small talk is hard and I’m pretty awkward. I find that I tend to worry about what to say or how I will come off and that worrying will send me spiraling into caring way too much about things that are not the match ahead of me. I want to reduce the amount of time I spend worrying about getting along with my opponent. I came up with a routine to help smooth out this process. The first thing I ask is for my opponent’s name and spelling. Then, I immediately record this information on the life pad. I ask my opponent what they like to be called because it’s not always what’s on the slip. This accomplishes a lot. It creates a non-threatening environment. You’re signaling respect to your opponent by caring about their name. Also by writing it down right away, you won’t forget what to call them during the match. Sometimes an opponent will want to introduce themselves right away, before I have my life pad out. I make sure to always follow the routine and still ask what their name and spelling is, something such as “I know you told me your name, but I’m sorry I didn’t have a chance to write it down. What was it again?”

Part 3: Deck check

Forgetting to de-sideboard is an unfortunate part of paper magic. I had it happen to me before and luckily discovered the card in my opening hand. I was able to resolve the issue prior to the game starting (by mulliganing after fixing my deck) but adding a deck check to your pre-game procedure will greatly reduce the chance of it happening. Doing one quick pile count to guarantee no lost cards and one quick check of the contents of the sideboard puts me at ease. It’s hard to have your mind wander when you’re counting. It adds control. You become present instead of stressing out over what the match result might mean, what record you need, what punts happened last round, etc.

Part 4: Determining order of play

I decided a few years ago that I cared most about creating a non-hostile game environment. Insisting on 2 dice vs 1 die, insisting on even/odd instead of high roll, insisting on any part of how order of play is determined just put me in an argumentative state prior to the match. When I feel threatened by my opponent, it’s hard to keep the game fun. I find I just want the match to be over and I play worse because of it. I play competitive magic to win, but I also play to have fun and enjoy myself. Some opponents are superstitious and asking them what preference they have will ensure a non-hostile environment. My set phrase is “Do you have a preference for determining who will go first? Do you like high roll or even/odd?” It’s pretty easy to develop this habit and in my experience the opponent has always appreciated being asked.

And that’s it! As always, feel free to leave me feedback 🙂

A Woman’s Guide to Supporting Other Women in Magic

I am still trying to figure out woman/woman relationships, because they are complex. If by the end of reading you feel like you have constructive feedback, I would love to hear it. This is a bit of my journey from how I went “I’m not like other girls” to joining a podcast centered around promoting non-male grinders in Magic, AND THEN changing my attitude to supporting my fellow grindettes.

The first step: changing the mindset of women as competition to allies. When you feel like you’re not like other girls, you feel like you have to do something to stand out amongst the crowd, to distance yourself, to be better than the others. We’re all competitive–that’s a huge part of why we play magic. I understand that drive, but it’s toxic to see your fellow women as competition. I read a post after a woman qualified for the PT that was along the lines of “I was expecting [criticism] from men, but what really hurt was that it came from women”. That deep-seeded jealousy is driven from this way we only see other women as our competition. It prevents you from truly celebrating fellow women’s accomplishments. It turns you bitter. The other fault in this mindset is you devalue women and can even make you misogynistic. You want to put them down to raise yourself up. I had an ex-friend of mine who never truly respected or valued me. She told me I was flat-out not good enough to play a GDS for example. She didn’t trust my opinion on drug choice after explaining drug mechanisms which given that I am a pharmacist was a bit insulting. Her lack of respect for me and my intelligence was one of the driving forces for me ending the friendship, but I feel like this is a common trap woman/woman relationships surrender to. You have to value your fellow women as allies who can help you, instead of worrying that they will steal your spotlight or one-up you if they show their intelligence or skill. Not everything has to be a competition. At GP Richmond this past weekend, my friend Tania who was also battling in day 2 blurted out how she was convinced I was a better player than her. I told her to stop. We don’t need to compare ourselves to one another. I don’t want to be a better player than her. I don’t want us to be in competition. (AND side note she placed higher than me in the GP!) I wanted her to be there supporting me on day 2, and I’m sure as hell thankful I get to support her too after the rounds. It feels great to complain or rejoice depending how the round went to someone who just gets it. She gets every part of it–the fire to qualify, the setbacks, and the sometimes rampant misogyny. She was my strongest ally that weekend and it is MILES better than when I attended GPs without my woman network of friends. I used to read manga alone on my phone between rounds and eat by myself. There are so few of us, trust me it is so empowering when you do not have to deal with it alone.

The second step: being there and respecting your allies. I feel like often this gets confused with throw money at your fellow women content makers. And that could be a way to support people who have taken the plunge (Jamie “Topples” comes to mind) but I would argue this is almost gross negligence for the day to day fight we are making. Money doesn’t change attitudes. It doesn’t help stop sexist jokes or harassment. It doesn’t help create the atmosphere where we feel comfortable competing. I signed up for podcasting largely because I did not know what it was and it seemed like a great opportunity to get to know some serious grindettes. When you’re an adult, it’s hard to make friends. (We take these freebies). But the opportunity turned into me realizing how much I had to learn. Not only does it feel so good venting to those who GET IT, but it feels incredible to hear from fellow women with SO MUCH INSIGHT. And when you’re listening to their plights every week you just feel so in sync. It helped me be happy for them when they accomplish their goals, instead of jealous. Chantelle said something like there’s plenty of room up here for all of us and it’s fucking true. Because one of us qualifies for a PT does not mean she will be the only one to qualify, and the more of us who qualify I hope will mean the more space we take at the table. The more men will have to accept we have a right to that space at the table. It’s not zero-sum (as in it has to be me because it can’t be both of us—it CAN be all of us grindettes). If we want to change the attitudes of all of those in the game, we have to adjust our own first. We have to be in this together. I don’t know how many women feel this way, but I’m at my happiest when someone asks me about my opinion on a play, a deck, a draft pick, etc. Treat your fellow grinders like the smart, talented resources they are. And for those of us who are more experienced in the game, be a resource for the new blood. I see a world where we are a network of grindettes helping each other, coaching new blood, discussing deck choices, draft picks etc. AND making it so Wizards at least orders unisex shirts for the PT welcome bags because so many of us qualify.

Subconscious Biases

This entry was prompted by a tweet I read earlier today by a magic player who top 64’d the legacy GP this past weekend. The tweet stated “seemingly innocuous comments that are low-key sexist… …my opponent told me he kept FOW game 1 because whenever he sees women do well at events they’re playing a degenerate combo deck.” To her credit, she was trying to rise above being stereotyped. Two things stood out to me about this tweet—the first was that she stated their match was otherwise pleasant (which to me paints the picture that this was a “normal” guy); the second was that the comment seemed to be driven by subconscious bias.

I don’t expect many readers to feel like this applies to them, because it’s subconscious. The minority of harassment is intentional or blatant. The most offensive acts are jarring and when we hear those outlandish stories, we get to pat ourselves on the back for not being like them. But I would argue that there is a common subconscious belief that women are not equal competition. And because many hold this subconscious belief, they have made rules for themselves to uphold it. These rules can manifest like “I cannot lose to a woman based on her outplaying me” or “I can only lose to a woman if I get mana screwed or flooded”. The rules you make up are not universal, but they are based on the belief that you are by default a better player than the woman across you. For the guy in our tweet, I propose his rule manifested in his deck choice—I am a better player because I do not have to play “degenerate combo” to win. He probably didn’t intend to be sexist, but rather saw himself as being clever for making an observation and capitalizing on it.

So what is the harm? I can sympathize with unintentionally making someone feel bad and not wanting to feel blame for that. Intention does matter. I wanted to highlight how there is a fundamental shift that needs to occur in society. It’s not going to change by just showcasing those obnoxious sexist examples. We all need to address what unconscious biases we have and how they manifest in our treatment of others. How for example, we are not making fun of the deck but rather using it to justify women being inferior players.

Before writing this blog, I ran a poll which asked “have you ever been harassed?” and so far it’s been hovering around 33% of responders answering yes. Whether intentional or not, it’s very likely that you have perpetuated harassment in the tournament scene. We can all do more to help make everyone comfortable to play the game we all love 🙂

Thanks for reading!

In the End, the Grind Doesn’t Even Matter…

I know I’m not alone when I say that I don’t know what’s in store for me when it comes to competitive magic. Magic for almost the past 5 years has been my biggest hobby and time sink. I spent this time trying to qualify for the Pro Tour. Having a full-time job I grinded in a way that was not the most likely to qualify me, but which worked with my schedule and provided the most fun for me: I played Grands Prix whenever I was available. Sadly the closest I’ve ever come is 2 wins shy, which isn’t that close. But more importantly I feel is that I have grown as a player and tend to consistently perform well at the GPs I attend. For a long time, the Pro Tour felt like something within reach, because I could see myself improving. I went from hitting day 2 more consistently, to cashing more consistently, etc. It’s strange because the PT still exists (for now) and GPs still exist—the events and means by which I was trying to qualify have not actually changed, but my drive has just flat-lined over the past few months. The PT dream feels dead to me and this entry is my attempt at trying to rationalize why.

I think part of the appeal for me of qualifying for the PT was that I would feel like it would legitimize me as a player. This was the circuit where the best players competed and qualifying was a huge feat. You don’t just play your first event and qualify. There are two reasons why this has changed for me in the past few months.

The first is that invites to these events are being distributed more frequently outside of merit. A friend recently asked me if I would take an invite for the arena MC if I was offered it, and I responded that I would but that I would be incredibly sad. I would feel like I’ve failed at my goal of qualifying through my own growth as a player. I would feel like a failure. But I think turning it down would leave me always wondering “what if?” and denying me a chance to qualify for another event by doing well in it.

The second is that these events have lost their prestige within the magic community. Pulling coverage and hyper-focusing on the arena events have left paper magic feeling like the haggard stepsister. GPs were extra fun for me because you had the opportunity to play against professional players. I’m honestly not sure on average if the GP player was stronger than the PPTQ player, but the ceiling was definitely higher. But WOTC has now pulled the incentive for pros to attend GPs by doing away with the pro point system. They also lost prestige by doing away with video coverage. I used to show my coworkers my feature matches so they could understand better what this hobby was that I dedicated so much of my free time to. Even though they couldn’t follow the games, they thought it was really cool that it was recorded and broadcast. I did too.

The future of competitive magic seems bleak to me. I don’t foresee a shift away from arena, and I have doubts regarding its role as a competitive outlet. I play arena more than any other type of magic currently and my bias is coming from being a limited player where I ladder BO1 bot drafts. I don’t want to give up on magic and this aspect of my life that has been so much fun for me. But I miss the grind and the prestige of its competition.

My Impromptu PT RIX Trip

I wasn’t qualified for PT RIX but I found myself there this past weekend nonetheless. While I was at work on the Wednesday before the Pro Tour, I was presented with an offer I couldn’t refuse. I was looking at flying to Spain, in less than 23 hours, half expenses paid for, so I could see my long distance boyfriend (Alexander Hayne) in the most romantic of possible settings. I didn’t have any firm plans that weekend, besides scrapping together Grixis Energy for a local PPTQ. So I followed my heart and booked the flight out.

In order to get such a cheap flight in such a short time frame, I had to be flexible with my choice of airport. So Thursday morning I started the trip by driving a little under 3 hours up to New York. I was a little bit spoiled with my flights as I had the entire row to myself on both flights over (New York to Munich and then Munich to Bilbao). Also, as a side note, Battle of the Sexes is a great movie and had me feeling a bit spikey on the way to Bilbao. After I landed I had a chance to practice my rusty Spanish on the cab driver and security guard and grab the room key from my boyfriend. By the time I got back to the site, draft was over but I was able to bird some good constructed matches.

I gained some valuable experience during the constructed matches by overhearing judge calls. One of the hardest parts of getting into the competitive scene for me has been the appropriateness of calling a judge. I’ve been told always call a judge—when in doubt, just do it. But I’m a pretty awkward person, and it doesn’t always feel right to call a judge. I witnessed two horribly awkward judge calls, but both were important to have been made. The first call was in regards to a communication issue. Playing at the GP/PT level, you will encounter players who do not speak the same language as you. It can be a true struggle to communicate effectively given this. Judges provide an unbiased party to weigh in on what passed. They can help provide insight to both players on how to communicate more clearly in the future. The second judge call was in regards to a missed trigger. One thing I’ve recognized is that I don’t actually always realize when something is an illegal play. Judge calls have actually helped me learn the rules better and can help even more inexperienced players play better as well. This was a PT level player who didn’t even recognize he had fully missed a trigger. Player A is playing Death’s Shadow and player B is playing Burn; player B has an Eidolon of the Great Revel out. Player A plays a Death’s Shadow followed by a second Death’s Shadow. Player B then says trigger and points to both Death’s Shadows. Player A calls a judge. I didn’t understand why at first. The explanation was so simple I was surprised I didn’t recognize the error right away too. The second Death’s Shadow is not something that can be played at instant speed. For the second Death’s Shadow to enter the battlefield, the first one must have resolved. Player A easily recognized this while player B sat a bit puzzled. He was trying to argue how he did not miss the trigger, then how he was rushed. The judge clarified you must declare you have a trigger when he attempts to cast the second Death’s Shadow. You cannot group the triggers together. It seems like such a minor error but examining the timing of the spells, it is clearly an illegal play to try to resolve both triggers at the same time. I think if I had been in player A’s spot, I would not have recognized the missed trigger. It is very clear to me now though. For example, you could not decide to counter the first Death’s Shadow after seeing the second one come into play. I think fewer magic players would argue that the latter scenario in which you respond to the first spell with a counter is okay—so why leniency on the first? I think holding players accountable to announce their triggers properly helps them uphold the rules of the game and helps newer players learn the rules as well. The day ended on a slightly somber note as only 2 out of the 6 on Ultra Pro (Hayne’s team) day 2’d. They would have to perform well in order to keep them live for the team series.

Day two of the tournament was underway and I grabbed food with Shahar who was unfortunately already out of the competition. When we came back with pizza (including pineapple pizza, which was really good by the way), we were met with other players who were interested in firing off a draft. I was pretty excited to start a draft with some pro players. It can be slightly intimidating but it’s still really good experience. Usually team drafts are huge on Sundays at the PT, but with so many people not making it after the first day they fired early.

For the first draft, we found ourselves with 2 extra drafters so decided to do an 8-man with random teams. I drafted a mediocre B/R Pirates deck. I wasn’t a huge fan of my deck as even though I had fair combat tricks and okay creatures, I lacked the aggressive curve I was really hoping to find. Having three two drops was not where I wanted to be. I got destroyed by Owen’s more controlling B/R deck and Sam Black’s grindy explore deck. My teammates were Shahar, Matt Nass, and Collins Mullen. I think only Shahar had a winning record, so we lost the draft, but I played out my last round with Sam Pardee anyway. We ended up in a game three. He had a Golden Guardian that wrecked me in our earlier game. Game three started off well for me but the Guardian came out to play. But I kept fighting, using tricks and combat to keep him off an overwhelming board and then my Waterknotted Twilight Prophet finally ascended. What seemed like a doomed match ended up with a timely victory after a few profitable reveals off the top of my library. I never got to complete my match against Mike Sigrist so who knows if I could have tied up my record but I was pretty elated off of stealing the match from Pardee (complete with awkward victory dance).

The second draft was a true team draft. My team was LSV and Collins; the opposing team was Shahar, Owen and Sam Black. I was so extremely happy with my deck. I had a very very very very very nice vampire deck… if I do say so myself. My team gets together to review our decks and LSV has a 2/10 pile. He looks over at me and Collins and says, “well at least your decks are good”. Collins had a nice W/G deck and it seemed strong. We clean sweep the first round, which I don’t understand how because I think LSV only had one win condition in his deck (not exaggerating, his deck was really bad). I punt the second game against Shahar, not realizing his Merfolk didn’t have flying and wasting a Moment of Craving. Holding the Moment of Craving was really important as I flooded and needed a removal spell for his actual important threat. I manage to not punt game 3 and we win the draft. I still play Owen to finish the draft. I really wanted redemption from the massacre that was the first draft. Sadly, I did not get there. Path of Mettle is a good magic card. It’s even better against vampires. I brought in a Spreading Rot game 2 to try to combat it as it was the dominating presence game 1. Game 2 starts out okay for me but he kills my creatures and stabilizes the board. I have only the Spreading Rot in hand, and Owen has two Plains and a Mountain. I am not under pressure and my life total is close to 20. (I don’t have the life total pad, but I believe I was around 19 life). One of my friends, Anand, who is watching the game suggests I fire off the Spreading Rot on the mountain. I disagree with his play and instead wait. Owen starts playing creatures and I start to flood. I lose the game and Owen never flips his Path to Mettle, but he did play it to kill two of my x/1s. I didn’t want to fire off the Spreading Rot because it is my only answer to the flipped land. Two turns later, Owen had drawn another Mountain. The play of killing the Mountain would have bought me a few extra turns, but I know I would have died to the flipped Path of Mettle. I tried my hardest to give myself the best chance to win, which was to hopefully draw a blocker to his threats. I had 4 turns to do so and didn’t. I think although I lost the game I still made the best play. I felt more validated with this draft after having a winning record, even if it did end on a sour note. By this point most of day 2 was over. I followed Hayne’s matches and unfortunately he lost the final round to not back-to-back top 16 which was disappointing, but he cashed which was nice. Then it was time for a nice dinner and hang-outs.

Although there were tons of drafts firing Sunday, our group decided to do more touristy outings instead. We went to downtown Bilbao and checked out the very famous Guggenheim Modern Art museum. My favorite part was the sculpture that resembled Hangarback Walker. In general, Spain was kind of an annoying city to visit due to their unique restaurant hours and lack of flexibility in said hours. It’s a different style of life that isn’t super my cup of tea, and I am not the biggest fan of ham, but the country was very pretty. I would definitely rate it behind Japan, Canada and France but ahead of England in my ranking of best countries to visit. Barcelona was also much better than Bilbao.

All said, it was a fun trip! I was super happy to get home and escape the prison that is the Munich airport. I was very sad that my delayed flight home meant I would not get back in time to record the podcast with the CAT girls, but I am super pumped to check out the latest episode. <3