The four years I’ve taken off of competitive Magic have been interesting ones. When I stopped playing competitive Magic, I was working as a server at a local Italian chain restaurant and flunking out of undergraduate school. Since then, I’ve co-founded a wildly successful finance company (which I ran into the ground), worked for an Internet poker site as a data analyst, worked for Microsoft, and have developed a much, much stronger understanding of statistics, mathematics, and gaming theory (as well as traditional economics-based Game Theory).
Now, I’m not going to say that the experiences that I’ve had in the past are the reason that I’ve done well in the last two big tournaments I’ve played (outright winning the Standard Mox tournament and T8’ing the Extended PTQ), because I’ve gotten lucky in both and have made numerous simple play errors that could have cost me games. However, what I’ve always known but only recently fully appreciated is that Magic (like any other game) is a series of interactions that start well before the first card is drawn in the game. The game is full of small edges and decisions that are so minute that even top players simply ignore them. For example, see Gabriel Nassif’s 2009 PT: Kyoto deck. It contains 61 cards because he had no idea what to cut! The rationale behind such a move was simply “I couldn’t figure out what I wanted to cut,” and the implied reasoning behind it is “It’s not a big deal anyway.”
The lack of real statistical analysis of the game of Magic – despite the long history and the big payouts – continues to amaze me. People will justify playing 17 or 18 land in a limited deck just by glancing at the casting costs, or they’ll play 3 of a card instead of 4, or they’ll play a “miser’s” Loxodon Warhammer in the sideboard. All of these decisions make small, but significant impacts on the game in general!