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“It is possible to commit no mistakes and still lose. That is not a weakness; that is life.” - Captain Jean-Luc Picard

What does it mean to fail? What do you consider failure? As human beings, failure is something that we have to learn from and live with. 

There are two types of people when it comes to failure. The first are those who allow their failure to define their lives, the second are the ones who use their failure as the drive to overcome obstacles in their lives surpass adversity. It is left up to you to decide which one of those camps you want to fall into. 

We have to believe and accept that there are many things in life that we have absolutely no control over. Believe me, I know just how difficult that can be. In Magic the Gathering though, it is even more relevant. One of the major aspects of Magic, as well as any card game, is the existence of variance in the game. Sometimes what we expect or want to be the outcome of a given game just isn’t in the cards for us at that time. 

You Could Not Live With Your Own Failure. Where Did That Bring You? Back To Me...

Failure can hurt, there’s no way around that. Some of us cannot live with that failure being the end result of a given task or goal. I believe that this is one of the things that keeps many competitive players coming back tournament after tournament.

We see prominent Magic players go from fantastic year to fantastic year and nothing is really thought of it. Things are said, “they’re just so good”, “they could win with any deck you put in their hands”. What no one seems to put a spot light on are the years that said pros drop off and put up little to no notable results. Regardless of how their year goes, we always see those professional players coming back again and again. 

This is something that we can apply to not only our lives but our approach to Magic and tournaments. We’ve all been there, we reach the end of the evening at a tournament and we’re not happy with our record or the way we played. When the following tournament rolls around we can use the previous failure to fuel our improvement in the next endeavor. 

My own example of this is the world of Magic the Gathering is when I first had a mind to move to more competitive play. My first tournament with this in mind was a Friday Night Magic event at my former LGS. Long story short, I got wrecked. There was still so much for me to learn when it came to tight technical play. On the drive home from that first event, I was down on myself. I had the misconception in my head that I was going to just show up and everything was going to fall into my lap. I viewed that night as a failure.

How was I going to get good enough to compete with the other players at that store? I didn’t have an answer yet. I was determined to do it though. Flash forward, a year later, I was playing better and seeing lines and plays within the game that I hadn’t before. I was, again, playing in FNM at the same LGS and I was confident in my play and deck choice. I was piloting a deck called Human Reanimator, which was a pseudo-combo deck built around Angel of Glory’s Rise and Fiend Hunter in conjunction with Undercity Informer to mill your opponent out. Spoiler alert, that night I got my first tournament Top 8.

You Have Failed This City

We sometimes tie the idea of failure to others around us, giving us the feeling that we have let someone down or not lived up to the expectations that they placed on us or we placed upon ourselves. Whether this is something that we know to be true or something that we have constructed in our mind, it can sometimes be even more detrimental to our mental state when it comes to the expectations and outcomes of events. 

To continue the story I started above; I placed some unneeded pressure on myself after some of the things that occured throughout the tournament that evening. It began in round 3 of that fateful FNM, my record was 2-0; a start that I had yet to have at that point. I was paired against a very pleasant player that I had interacted with some in my time at the store. His name was Jeff and unfortunately I don’t know his last name. His deck was that perfect foil to mine, it was a Bant (white, blue, green) self-mill brew of his own design. What transpired during that match, I will never forget. He defeated me, two games to one, and we were removing the sideboard cards from our decks and one of the tournament officials came by the table and asked for the result of the match. Much to my surprise, Jeff reported that I had won the match two games to one. I was dumbfounded; had he misspoke? Jeff explained that he liked my deck and thought that I had a better chance of making it into the Top 8 and he also may have to leave early so he didn’t want to give me a loss and then have to drop and leave. I thanked him profusely for that kindness that he had shown me through this act. 

Now in round four and sitting across from me is one of my best friends, Jeremy. You may also know Jeremy as Professor Pure Jank from this very website and my co-host of the Destroy Target Permanent podcast. He was sitting at a record of 2-1 while I was paired down at a record of 3-0. We had, for a long time, played “kitchen table” Magic against each other with me emerging as the victor. This night was a different one though, he defeated me. I had let Jeff down, or at least that’s how I felt. I congratulated Jeremy on his victory and we went into our usual post game decompression analyzing the games and what we could’ve done differently. Much to my surprise, Jeremy reported our match as a me as the victor. He can correct me in the comments if need be, but as I recall he cited his lack of confidence in his own deck to make it to the later rounds of the tournament as his reasoning. I, again, thanked him repeatedly; I didn’t know how to take that faith that he had in me as a player. 

The final round had finally arrived. My opponent and I were quickly the last match still in progress in the entire shop. That means everyone is watching, and my anxiety is going through the roof. We are reaching the endgame of the third game in our match and I believe that I have maneuvered my opponent right where I want them. That is when lack of knowledge surrounding a certain combination of my cards came back to bite me. In order to start my combo and proceed to mill out and defeat my opponent I have to reanimate all of the humans in my graveyard with Angel of Glory’s Rise and exile said Angel with the enter the battlefield ability of Fiend Hunter. I achieve the reanimation and put the trigger from the Hunter on the stack targeting my Angel. That’s when I hear the two words that no combo player ever wants to hear, “in response”. They said, “In response, kill your Fiend Hunter.”

The way that Fiend Hunter is templated is that it is two different triggers, the one that exiles a creature and the one that returns the creature that has been exiled. Since the Hunter was killed with the exile trigger on the stack, the second trigger goes on the stack and returns nothing since nothing had been exiled yet. Then the first trigger resolves, exiling my Angel of Glory’s Rise permanently. That was my opponent’s killing blow, I was defeated. 

The following moments were a tidal wave of emotions. I had let down not one, but two of my previous opponents that had faith in me to make it to the end. Now I want to make it clear that neither of them were disappointed or had anything negative to say about me or my play in the final round. Those pressures and expectations were ones that I placed on myself. The perceived expectations from Jeff and Jeremy were nothing but a mental fabrication. I was torn between being proud of how I had improved throughout my first year of playing Magic in a more competitive setting and anxiety of letting people down and dealing with my own failure.

To Feel The Thrill Of Victory There Has To Be The Possibility Of Failure.

“If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” A common saying that comes from the title of fantasy short story by Zen Cho. This is something that we should all try to live by. To share a more comical version of the sentiment we can look to the 1999 sci-fi comedy Galaxy Quest. Where the catchphrase of the main character is “Never give up, never surrender.”

It has been said that it is not about how many times you get knocked down but that you get up every single time. I have discussed the issues that arise within Magic as a result of my anxiety and failure is a large part of what triggers it. All of this pressure to succeed and do well in all aspects of Magic that I have chosen to take part in are placed on me by myself and myself alone. That doesn’t change how it feels when failure is the result of a night of matches of Magic. 

Now the conclusion of my story. I shook my opponents hand and relayed that the match was a great one and a little stressful. We conversed with a few of the others players who had been spectating the match from the early turns and they offered constructive advice on close turns and decisions. As this is all going on we begin to de-sideboard and the officials go off to report the results of the match and reveal the Top 8. 

They began to announce the players who had made it into the Top 8. First place, second place, third place; I try to drown out the names and pull myself out of the darkness that is my own disappointment. Fourth place, fifth place, sixth place; I think I even apologized to Jeremy during all of this as well. Seventh place, and in eighth place, James Meadows. The sound of my name cut through everything; the noise of the shop, that doubt in myself, the disappointment of letting others down and my own feelings of failure. 

I had made it into my first Top 8 on tiebreakers. Jeff and Jeremy were the first ones to congratulate me and it felt amazing. I had done what I had spent a year trying to accomplish. 

The turn around on a whirlwind of feelings like this was dizzying. Spending a very long few moments, believing that I had failed and I would have to try again next week and then learning that I had accomplished my goal and that I had done it through my own ability coupled with the support of my friends and peers. I had not let anyone down, that was the best feeling of all. 

Why Do We Fall Bruce? So We Can Learn To Pick Ourselves Up.

“If you want to take the island, burn the boats.” This is a quote originally attributed to Julius Caesar, more than 2,000 years ago; it has been used in more recent years by motivational speaker and self-help guru Tony Robbins. 

Metaphorically speaking, it simply means that if you really want to conquer an island, you’ll need to burn your own ships and boats first. If you do not burn the ships and boats, when the situation is critical and not promising, some of the soldiers may choose to retreat because it gives them pleasure rather than keep on fighting, which they associate with pain. This will reduce the fighting spirit of the soldiers. However, when the general gives the order to burn the ships and boats, he reprograms the mindset of his soldiers. He changes the association of their minds. This means, the have no option of retreat. It is either they fight or die. Now, the soldiers may have to associate fighting and victory with pleasure and death with pain. 

I know that nothing I have discussed here has been a matter of life or death, but it is still something that can be used in our lives. The mindset that I have attempted to adopt in my day-to-day life is one of not allowing failure to be an option. If something doesn’t work out the way I want it to I try to find out why that was the outcome, reassess and try again.

We can use this when it comes to our approach to Magic. Say that you are in game and you know there are certain cards that your opponent may have that you simply cannot beat. In these scenarios you play as though your opponent doesn’t have those cards. If you can’t beat a card, don’t play around it. This means that you are playing forward towards winning with the tools that you have at your disposal and not holding back because of the fear of a card that you can’t win through

I Can Do This All Day

Few of us get over the fear of failure and there is nothing wrong with that, but those who do fear failure have to understand how it can hold them back.

In the recent months failure has been a larger part of my life and to be honest it has been trying at times. I refuse to stay down though. You are not your failure or your flaws. Let us all remember that we learn from our failures and we can improve in all aspects of our lives through those moments where we aren’t always at our best. 

We have now reached the end of my story of one-part failure and one-part growth. I hope that you have enjoyed this look into a more serious topic that we all deal with and I hope that you have learned something about failure and maybe about yourself. 

Good luck, I hope you lose!

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