If your goal is to improve as a Magic player, it's very important to be honest with yourself and to look at your matches with a Humble and unbiased eye. Even the best players in the world make mistakes, so you're only hindering your development if you ignore your mistakes and convince yourself you play perfectly. Some mistakes are more obvious than others, but if you look hard enough you will find things you could have done better.

This past weekend I played in Pro Tour Battle for Zendikar where I finished in 41st place with a 10-5-1 record. The Pro Tour is the highest level of competition and in many Pro Tour matches the difference between a win and a loss is the direct result of a small (or big) mistake. Today I would like to share my reflections from my own tournament experience in order to give you some insight as to how the process should go and to also demonstrate that even the best players in the world are prone to costly mistakes. I may be closer to the top than most, but I still have plenty of room for improvement. I'm a student of the game, just like you are.

Rounds 1-3 (BFZ Booster Draft)

I drafted this deck:

1 Guardian of Tazeem
1 Windrider Patrol
1 Kozilek's Channeler
1 Vestige of Emrakul
2 Cloud Manta
1 Eldrazi Skyspawner
2 Benthic Infiltrator
1 Nettle Drone
3 Valakut Invoker
1 Kozilek's Sentinel
1 Mist Intruder
1 Outnumber
1 Clutch of Currents
1 Sure Strike
1 Processor Assault
1 Touch of the Void
2 Stonefury
2 Looming Spires
1 Blighted Cataract
8 Island
7 Mountain

Round 1: Ricky Chin (win) 1-0

In game one he made a suboptimal attack that left me at three life. He had the menace ally and should have played out all his creatures but one and waited to attack until the following turn. He pointed out his mistake after the match. Ricky was playing in his first Pro Tour. Nothing like fighting a close match round one against a Pro Tour Champion to get the nerves out of the system. Looks like it worked as he went on to make Top 8 of the tournament.

Round 2: Matthew Barrett (loss) 1-1

In game three my opponent and I were each at five life. I had two Benthic Infiltrators, a Valakut Invoker, and six lands to my opponent's tapped 4/4 menace giant, 2/2 landfall guy, two copies of Molten Nursery, and Vampiric Rites. He had four cards in his library, one of which I knew was a Touch of the Void. My lone card in hand was Sure Strike. I made the mistake of attacking with all three creatures. He chump blocked my Invoker, sacrificing his creature to Vampiric Rites to gain a life and draw a card. I could only put him to one life with the Sure Strike and ingest him to one card in library, which he would draw in his draw step. He drew a colorless spell, attacked me for four with the giant, and killed me with Molten Nursery. I should have just attacked with the Invoker and used the Sure Strike on defense to first strike down the 4/4 menace giant after I double block with the Infiltrators. He has to still chump block the Invoker. If he doesn't, then I Sure Strike the Invoker, forcing him to sacrifice his landfall guy to Vampiric Rites to stay alive. This would allow me to still double block the giant while also representing lethal the following turn. Instead I died with the opponent at one life and no cards in library, about as close to winning as it gets without actually winning.

Round 3: Joshua Cho (win) 2-1

He got stuck on lands both games and I curved out both games. We were done in ten minutes.

Draft Record: 2-1

Rounds 4-8 (Standard)

I played this deck in the Standard portion. I wrote about it in last week's article.


Round 4: Alex Johnson (win) 3-1

Alex was playing Jeskai Black and he fetched his lands in the wrong sequence which hindered him from being able to cast Mantis Rider on the third turn. This cost him a turn worth of tempo and forced him to use his spells defensively instead of offensively. Sequencing your lands in the correct order is harder and more important in current Standard than in any previous Standard format I can recall. You really have to think a few turns in advance and sometimes calculate the odds of drawing the kind of land you need to draw and weighing those odds against the tempo loss of having your battle lands enter the battlefield tapped. A slight Miscalculation can be the difference between a win and a loss.

Round 5: Paul Dean (loss) 3-2

Paul was playing Abzan Aggro. We had a close match that nearly went to time. I was stuck on four lands in game three for a few turns while holding Whisperwood Elemental and multiple copies of Wingmate Roc, any of which would have vastly improved my board position. As I fell further and further behind, continuing to miss land drops, the time clock was also ticking down. Knowing that time was an issue, we were short-cutting our fetches by allowing the opponent to proceed with their turn while shuffling. There came a point where Paul and I were each fetching at the same time and when he presented his deck to me to cut, he picked mine up to shuffle it. He passed the turn to me and I hurriedly untapped and drew a card...off Paul's library. I can't recall ever having done this in my 20 years of playing Magic, but I suppose there's a first for everything. I received a warning for looking at extra cards, but it didn't matter anyway. I had fallen too far behind by this point and the game was out of reach.

I could have boarded out Whisperwood Elemental on the draw for game three in favor of a cheaper card. This may have bought be enough time to find the fifth land to cast my Wingmate Rocs. Aside from drawing off my opponent's library, this may have been my costliest mistake of the match. Like my first round opponent, Paul went on to make Top 8 of the tournament. Nothing like a good laugh at your opponent drawing off your own library to lighten the mood for the rest of the tournament.

Round 6: Alexander Hottmann (loss) 3-3

He was playing Four-Color Megamorph with a Sultai base, including Sidisi, Brood Tyrant. In game three I played a facedown Deathmist Raptor and my eighth land so that I could block his 7/7 trample, vigilance guy and then flip the Deathmist Raptor to kill it. This play worked successfully, but it left me with no cards in hand.

Next turn I drew Den Protector and flipped it during the opponent's end step to return Deathmist Raptor to the battlefield and Wingmate Roc to my hand. He then cast Kolaghan's Command, dealing two damage to the Den Protector and having me discard Wingmate Roc. If I played the Deathmist Raptor faceup the previous turn and held the eighth land in hand, I could have made the same play and only taken one more point of trample damage but would have had the extra card in hand to protect my Wingmate Roc from Kolaghan's Command. I had not yet seen Command from my opponent throughout the match, so it's possible I made the correct play and just got punished. Either way, Command was not a card I had even considered playing around, so regardless of what the optimal play was, it was a mistake to not even consider playing around a card my opponent could have.

Round 7: Luis Scott-Vargas (win) 4-3

Luis was playing Jeskai Delve with Magmatic Insight and Treasure Cruise. I won the first game, but then I made a pretty bad mistake in the second game. He had one red mana untapped and multiple instants and sorceries in his graveyard, so Fiery Impulse was clearly the card he had in hand. I did the math and determined my play, but then somehow executed it differently than I had planned. I cast Dromoka's Command to put a counter on my 3/3 Warden of the First Tree and have it fight his Monastery Mentor. He of course responds by casting Fiery Impulse on my Warden of the First Tree, as I anticipated. But then, instead of choosing the prevent damage mode on my second Dromoka's Command, I put a counter on my Warden and have it fight his newly spawned Monk Token. So my Warden becomes a 4/4 and fights the 1/1, then Fiery Impulse resolves and deals the final three damage to my Warden, and the Monastery Mentor lives.

What should have happened was I end up with a 5/5 Warden of the First Tree and Luis ends up with a Monk Token and no Monastery Mentor. Instead he ends up with a Monastery Mentor and I lose everything. I still won game three, but it's always a terrible idea to change plans midway through a complicated sequence without thinking it through.

Round 8: Thomas Ashton (loss) 4-4

Tommy was playing Atarka Red and I defeated him handily in game two and he nut drew me on the play with triple Taylor Swiftspear on the play in game three. Game one, however, was the game I could have played differently and likely won. I knew from testing that the match came down to taking as little damage as possible, but the way game one played out I was ahead in the race and decided to press my advantage instead of playing defensively. He ended up drawing a couple of big burn spells in row and dealing me exactly lethal the turn before I had lethal. If I had just played defensively and relied on my superior late game to take over, I would have resolved Wingmate Roc and not given him that window to deal me exactly 13 damage in one combat. Just as it usually does not work out when you switch plans midway through execution, it is likewise not usually a good idea to deviate from the strategy that your pre-tournament testing proves optimal, which in this case was to play defensively.

Constructed Record: 2-3

Rounds 9-11 (BFZ Booster Draft)

I barely made it into Day 2 and did not play my best Magic on Day 1, but tomorrow was a new day.

I drafted the following deck:

3 Fortified Rampart
1 Eldrazi Skyspawner
1 Pilgrim's Eye
2 Cloud Manta
1 Incubator Drone
1 Ghostly Sentinel
1 Guardian of Tazeem
1 Wave-Wing Elemental
1 Conduit of Ruin
1 Ruin Processor
1 Clutch of Currents
1 Tightening Coils
2 Gideon's Reproach
1 Stasis Snare
2 Spell Shrivel
1 Roil Spout
1 Smite the Monstrous
1 Sandstone Bridge
8 Plains
9 Island

Rounds 9-11: Bill Chronopoulos (win), Chris Fennell (win), Ricardo Sanchez (win) 7-4.

I didn't make any obvious mistakes and my deck overpowered my opponents. I moved in on the open archetype and was rewarded with a deck that I'd be happy to have in any tournament in this format.

Overall draft record: 5-1

Back to Constructed.

Rounds 12-16 (Standard)

Round 12: Simon Nielson (win) 8-4

He was playing Jeskai Tokens and in game one I cast two copies of Dromoka's Command, the second of which blew up his Jeskai Ascendancy (the first one on a Silkwrap). I pressured him enough in the match with my creatures to keep him from being able to find the cards he needed on time.

Round 13: Martin Dang (draw) 8-4-1

Martin is Simon's teammate and was on the same deck. There was lots of fetching, card drawing, and stacking triggers which resulted in our third game being unfinished. I made a mistake in game one that caused me to lose the game when it otherwise would have been about 50/50 to win the game.

Martin had three Goblin Tokens on the battlefield and I was at eight life. He cast Silkwrap and said "triggers" pointing at the Jeskai Ascendancy and then said "target your Den Protector" with the Silkwrap. I said in response I would cast Dromoka's Command having him sacrifice an enchantment and have my Den Protector (which was tapped) fight a Goblin Token. He had me clarify that the Ascendancy triggers were still on the stack, to which I agreed because I wanted the goblin to be a 1/1 when the 3/2 Den Protector fought it. He let the command resolve, sacrificing a Silkwrap that had Warden of the First Tree under it, then he resolved his Ascendancy triggers, and then he tried to target my untapped Warden of the First Tree with his Silkwrap that he had previously said was targeting the tapped Den Protector. This confused me and then I realized the Silkwrap ability wouldn't go on the stack until after it resolves, and since we hadn't yet resolved the Ascendancy triggers, that means the Silkwrap hadn't yet resolved.

I should have called a judge because we each made illegal plays. I tried to respond to an ability on the stack that wasn't yet on the stack while my opponent tried to put the Silkwrap ability on the stack prior to it resolving. I'm not sure how the judge would have ruled, but either way it was a mistake for me to cast the Dromoka's Command when I did. He then cast Wild Slash targeting me and attacked for exactly lethal with his two 3/3 Goblin Tokens.

Round 14: Kenji Tsumura (win) 9-4-1

Kenji was on Abzan Control and I defeated him 2-0. The first game was on the back of Den Protectors while the second game was on the back of Evolutionary Leap. My pre-tournament testing against UltraPRO teammate Patrick Chapin was very helpful in understanding how this matchup plays out, how to sideboard, and what cards to play around and when.

Round 15: Martin Juza (win) 10-4-1

Martin was on Esper Dragons and drew rather poorly in both games. He only cast one copy of Dig Through Time over the course of the match because that's all he drew. Mastery of the Unseen took over game two and I was able to play around Ugin, the Spirit Dragon in the later turns when he reached seven mana. He was not happy about the loss, but he later apologized to me for how he acted after the loss. It's always important to exhibit good sportsmanship no matter how unlucky you get or how important a match is to you.

So after starting the day at 4-4, I was now in a position to make Top 16 with one final win.

Round 16: Shota Yasooka (loss) 10-5-1

Unfortunately newly inducted Hall of Famer Shota Yasooka had his own plans to make Top 16. In game one he resolved a Dragonlord Ojutai and then a Crux of Fate and I was unable to recover. In game two I had a board of creatures and an Evolutionary Leap. I drew approximately seven cards off Evolutionary Leap over the course of the game. I got him down to just one life with lethal on my side of the board multiple times but somehow he kept narrowly avoiding death. I can't quite pinpoint exactly where I made the mistake(s) but it was definitely a game I should have won. I tried to play around Crux of Fate which opened me up to giving him an extra turn with Dragonlord Silumgar. Then I tried to bait a Counterspell by morphing Deathmist Raptor instead of Den Protector. He let it resolve, which forced me to then morph the real Den Protector and unmorph it to get back and cast Valorous Stance.

I hadn't adequately gauged the value of tempo relative to card advantage at that stage of the game. Then the game ended when he killed my morphed Den Protector, forcing me to flip it and get back Valorous Stance. He then cast Duress, taking my Valorous Stance, and attacked me for lethal with Draognlord Ojutai.

Shota definitely deserved to win that match and he proved again why he's in the Hall of Fame and I'm not.

Overall Draft Record: 5-1
Overall Constructed Record: 5-4-1
Overall Record: 10-5-1 (41st place, $1,500, 7 pro points)

It was great to Salvage a tournament and still put up a respectable final record (10-5-1, 41st place) despite not playing my best and after having started the tournament 4-4. Still it was an eye-opener about just how much room I have for improvement as a player. The Pro Tour is filled with the best players in the world and there are very few easy matches on the Pro Tour. The difference between playing your absolute best and making a single mistake is often the difference between a win and a loss. The best of the best seem to find a way to win even when they're far behind, as Shota did in game two of the final round. All things considered, I probably played better than the majority of the players in the tournament, but there's no reason to compare myself to others – nor should you. The only comparison you should make is to your own best. I plan to play more high level matches against teammates and friends in preparation for Pro Tour Atlanta in February. I have plenty of time and opportunity to step my game up, so if I perform below expectation, I have only myself to blame.

Craig Wescoe
@Nacatls4Life on twitter