Today’s article is on a bit more of a personal note.  I don’t have a tournament until the TCGPlayer 50k on December 1 and I have had a few recent developments in my life that have led to some reflection about my competitive Magic lifestyle over the past year.  Most readers here only know the Magic side of things about me, but believe it or not, there is more to me!  I went to the University of Illinois and received a degree in Music Education this past May.  The job market for music teaching jobs is a very rough one right now, and as the summer came to a close I still had not found a job.  This provided me with an opportunity to really prioritize competitive magic, but I still always wanted to become a teacher.  Within the past two weeks, I had first and second interviews for a teaching job, received the job offer, and have accepted the position.  I will be teaching Kindergarten-12th grade choir and 5th-12th grade band in the small town of Annawan, IL.  It is going to be quite the change for me, having spent my entire life in the heavily populated Chicago suburbs, but I feel very lucky and excited to have this opportunity.

Once I got the job, I thought back to my interviews and wondered what went so well for me with this job as opposed to others that I had applied for.  The competition for this position was actually harder than the competition for many other jobs I applied for because this was the only full-time music teaching job posted in Illinois in November.   As I was thinking about the interviews, I realized that a lot of the things that I did better in were aspects of myself that have improved dramatically as a result of dedicating myself to the competitive Magic scene.  I’ll explain below.

Confidence

I wouldn’t say that I have achieved too dramatic of success as a competitive Magic player.  I think that I have too much fun with the game to actually win tournaments on a consistent basis.  However, over the past seven months, I have definitely developed a strong confidence in my abilities to play the game, analyze cards, and contribute sound strategic advice to complicated situations.  I used to read articles on Starcitygames.com or Channelfireball.com and take what those writers said as fact.  After all, I believed that they were much better than me.  However, after experiencing success through decisions that I made on my own, I have been able to move past that stage of reliance and think for myself consistently.

I took this same level of confidence into the interview.  I always knew that I was a good musician, a talented teacher, and a generally smart guy, but experiencing success in Magic actually increased my confidence in my overall self.  While I was in college, I looked at my music peers who were “better” than me and tried to do what they did.  I tried to do things that didn’t feel comfortable but I was taught were correct.  For this interview, I threw all of that out of the window and actually showed the committee who I was and what type of teacher I was going to be.  Presenting yourself to another person in a situation where you are comfortable and confident is much easier than when you are trying to say the right thing and represent ideas that you are not comfortable with.

Charisma
For those of you who know me, you know that I tend to struggle with completing a sentence from start to finish without some sort of stutter, an um, or a like.  However, I had to solve that problem quickly if I wanted to be a part of the competitive Magic community.  Conversations about decks or cards usually involve four or five people who all think they are correct and want to share their version.  It is quite the fight to get your two cents in, especially as the new guy.  I knew that I wanted to be a part of the conversation rather than an observer, so I forced myself to improve in all areas of speaking.  Shortening my sentences by using the best words to describe what I actually mean, getting rid of the pauses, stutters, likes, and ums as much as I could, and increasing my volume and tone to demand more attention.  These are all things that I was absolutely terrible at about a year ago (and I am still working on fixing it in my writing…sorry!).

Honestly, I shocked myself in the interview for this teaching position.  I did a fair amount of preparation for it; thinking about what I would say to the standard questions.  When the time came to answer those questions in previous interviews, my answers were jumbled and probably hard to understand completely.  In this most recent interview, though, my answers were concise, clear, at a good volume, and with the exact inflections I needed.  I could not believe it.  Also, whenever I needed to quickly back up a point that I made, I was able to process the follow-up question and respond very well.  I don’t even think that I was just “running good”, because the same thing happened at the second interview.  I am certain that forcing myself to get better at talking about Magic allowed me to share clearer thoughts when talking about music.

Reading People

This is always a very touchy subject.  For the longest time in Magic, I pretty much just ignored my opponents and always made what I thought was the best play given the board state.  However, in the past few months I have started to try to read into my opponents to gain extra information.  I have experienced some success, especially against players who aren’t trying to hide that information.  One example was in round 7 of the TCGPlayer 5k in Chicago recently. I was playing against a younger player who started 6-0 for the first time in his life.  He was obviously very excited to be where he was, and wore all of his emotions on his face.  When he drew his first starting hand, it was obvious that he should have mulled, but he did not.  He proceeded to get stuck on land + Avacyn’s Pilgrim for a couple of turns and it allowed me to draw out of a greedy, but loaded, seven card hand.  If he had not shown me that his hand was loose, I almost surely would have gone back for a new six.

This is a lot more difficult to apply to real life, because in this interview I was not competing with the committee or “trying to beat them.”  However, by learning the skills necessary to read people’s expressions, it allowed me to understand the mood of the interview better, gave me the information I needed to interact with the interview committee in a positive way, and opened up opportunities for me to know when it is appropriate to joke, smile, or when I had to be very serious.  In some of my previous interviews, I had no clue what the people on the other side of the table were thinking, and it made me more uncomfortable than I already was.  I think that understanding human emotions and expressions can only acquire marginal advantages in a setting like Magic – where people are often trying to hide these emotions – but can allow for a much more positive and comfortable atmosphere when interacting with others in a non-competitive environment – where people are usually not trying to hide their emotions.

Overall, I am very excited for my opportunity to start a career in teaching.  I will be playing considerably less Magic (though I do get summers off!), but that is totally worth it because I get to do what I have always wanted.  I realize this article did not really offer up much strategic advice for any of you, but I hope that you gained something from reading it.

For your benefit, some quick strategic hits:

–        Delver is still bad in Standard.

–        Unsummon is better now than it was two weeks ago in the UW Flash deck.  Against Control, you are only* Unsummoning Angel of Serenity or your own creatures.  Against aggressive decks, I like to try to get some value out of Unsummon.  Whether it means resetting Champion of the Parish to a 1/1 or countering a Rancor.  Sometimes you just have to suck it up and break the Soulbound though.

–        Purify the Grave is not actually worth the slots to sideboard in against UW Flash, but Rest in Peace tends to be quite good there.

–        With Cavern getting to be more popular, the creature decks that were initially forced out by Thragtusk decks will be getting worse as UW Flash becomes less popular.  Bant Control is by far the best deck in Standard when UW Flash is not around…but it just can’t beat UW Flash consistently.

–        Yes, I still fully intend to play UW Flash for the foreseeable future.  The cavern-aggro decks are tough, but winnable, if you know what you are doing.  Essence Scatter might need to come out of the main deck for a little while.

Thanks for reading and Happy Thanksgiving!

Alex Binek

@PTQChamp on Twitter