Listen – Leveling up and Learning

Thank you so much for being here, choir. You may sit down and relax for a while, ‘cuz I’m about to preach.

You’re preparing to read a lengthy CCG article written by a person who has won zero tournaments. That being the case, it’s safe to assume that you recognize the value of learning from others. Whether you’re an amateur, average, or outstanding Eternal player, you are already doing the single most important thing that leads to consistent improvement: You’re listening (Reading counts, in this instance).

*** CHOIR! Let’sTalkLimited (Schaab) is thrilled to be part of the Eternal Celebration! DireWolf Digital has generously provided gifts in the form of Free Packs for me to give away! Each winner will receive a code which can be redeemed for 5 free packs of Argent Depths. Details will be on my poorly formatted blog soon!

How do I Know Anything?

Writing about Eternal has me living in fear that, one ominous day, the entire community will wake up and collectively say “Heyyyyy, this Schaab guy doesn’t actually know what he’s talking about. He’s just repeating what other people say!” Yes. That is what I’m doing. That’s why I provide references. When it comes to limited, I don’t have an original thought in my head.  I’m just repackaging old information cloaked in 90’s references and trivia jokes.

The more I write about Eternal, the more people are expecting me to know things. Lately, I’m finding that my answer to most questions is “I don’t know. I would just ask someone who knows,” which is the truth. How would I figure out how to build Rakano aggro? I wouldn’t. I’d ask someone who already knows how to do it. Giving this answer so frequently has caused me to question how I know how anything, really. Have I ever figured anything out in my life? How is it possible there’s still so much I don’t know about limited? Like, why aren’t I more comfortable drafting aggro decks in Eternal? Let’s start there.

Why Doesn’t Schaab Draft Aggro?

In 2019, I was confident that I knew how to draft aggro decks. I’d drafted them before, was comfortable playing them, and would’ve been happy to draft them again. Now I’m not so sure.  

The Limited Resources podcast has been the single biggest influence in the way I think about, play, and approach games like Eternal and Magic. When I first learned to draft near Oath of the Gatewatch’s release, I listened intently to every episode in preparation for the weekly drafts at my LGS. Draft wasn’t just a format I played – Draft was a subject I studied. Week to week, format to format, I was getting top tier information about which decks were best and how to build them. If there was a particularly good aggro deck (Red/White in Amonkhet comes to mind), LR would do a breakdown of the deck including how it works, what cards were most important, and how it comes together during a draft. I listened.

In 2020, I don’t believe I have a complete fundamental understanding of how to approach drafting aggro decks. I knew how to draft various aggressive Magic decks when they were good because I would listen to LR and learn what was important for that specific deck. I didn’t have a mental blueprint for aggressive decks – I was following a recipe for each different one. This realization is new to me, but now I don’t think I intrinsically understand limited aggro decks the same way I understand limited control decks.

Preparing for Eternal draft competitively is uncharted territory for me. I’m used to getting my information about draft formats from someone who has already done all the hard work. How do I figure out which aggressive decks are good in a new format? Uhhhhh I listen to a podcast and wait for LSV to tell me. How will I figure out which aggressive decks are good in the next Eternal format? Uhhhh good question. One I’m still figuring out the answer to. Part of my plan is to watch 2020 Draft Championship Top 8 competitor and Experience Provider @Emoney_Bags morning stream, which I affectionately refer to as Aggro School. The other part of my plan is to play a lot of games. I’m still figuring the rest out, but a huge part of my plan will be to seek out information – and then listen. 

Spying on the Competition

My scheme included espionage and intelligence gathering when I started watching Eternal streamers to prepare for the 2020 Draft Championship. There was no way I could draft enough to evaluate every card properly. Eternal Journey and Farming Eternal were great resources but I had specific questions about cards that I wanted answers to. Streamers were unwittingly going to provide me with information that I was then going to use to defeat them at the tournament. Not exactly a Dr. Evil plot, but it felt very sneaky at the time from a competitive standpoint.

“Is Flamebathe Reformation a good card or am I just having a really good time?” is the first question I remember asking multiple streamers.

Wow this card is fun. Like an amusement park all to yourself if you have a wide enough board. Cards that are fun when they work are incredibly hard to evaluate, so I sought input from others. In the early days of my brief spy career, two things consistently stood out: 1. Top-ranked drafters are constantly in chat and love to share their opinions 2. Eternal streamers and the people in chat are overwhelmingly kind, welcoming, and helpful individuals. Spying isn’t my area of expertise but I’m pretty sure you’re not supposed to like the people you’re targeting. Imagine watching @Kasendrith help every single person who needs it and then thinking “Yes, this is the person I’d like to exploit for information for my own personal gain.”

Gradually, I transitioned from spy to casual conversationalist to recognizable name in the chat. My plan was to steal information for a competitive edge – I wrote a blueprint for my favorite deck (Feln Control) a couple months later. Plans change.

Source: SLP (Speech-Language Pathologist), Scribe*

Eternal or otherwise, I believe the source of your information is incredibly important. When I talk about limited, as mentioned above, I’m repackaging information and providing references whenever possible. When it comes to learning, I’m slightly more qualified to talk about these concepts than I may appear at times – definitely more qualified than your average faceless internet user making claims like “HERE’S HOW OUR BRAINS WORK!” I need to stop being Schaab, limited try-hard, and speak as the real world version of myself for a moment to give some context for my opinions. Hello, my name is Schaab, M.S. CCC-SLP. It’s a pleasure to meet you. Thanks for coming to my impromptu TED talk about learning.

In my career, I’ve had the pleasure of working primarily with individuals who are non-verbal or possess limited communication skills. Considering what others might be thinking, what they know (even if they can’t tell me), and how their brains work or learn best is an essential part of my job. At least, it was until teaching my 5 and 7 year old became my full time job, which requires a pretty singular skill: Patience. My children are most definitely verbal.

When it comes to limited – I’ve had to do research to become comfortable talking about some limited concepts (Quadrant Theory: Part 2) and have ample homework to do before I can write an article about mulligans.  But when it comes to learning, I just sit down and write from a decently deep pool of academic and clinical experience. Limited credentials: none. Learning credentials: some. Back to Schaab, Valley-Clan Sage Fan Club** Scribe*, Siege Train Operator: CHOO CHOOOO.

*Unofficial Position/Title

**Unofficial Fan Club

Learning Efficiently

Asking questions of others is a great way to gain information that you don’t have the time and/or skill to determine on your own. Even the most dedicated drafters probably don’t play enough games to reach adequate sample sizes for any card, deck, or matchup in a draft format. They extrapolate from small sample sizes and do their best to reach larger conclusions. I knew that I wouldn’t be able to play with Flamebathe Reformation enough times to form an adequate opinion, so I asked.

But let’s imagine for a moment that I did have enough time to draft and play all of these cards. Let’s say I had a free few months – during which I would have plenty of time to play with and against Flamebathe Reformation to form a strong opinion on the card, what decks it goes in, and when I should draft it. Let’s say I have that amount of time. Let’s say it again. Schaab has months of free time. Let’s imagine it some more. Fantastic. Anyway, let’s say I could adequately test Flamebathe Reformation to my liking. Is that really my plan? Am I THAT confident my conclusions will be correct? Am I doing this for every single card in a format? Seems horribly inefficient. Maybe I’ll be right about most cards, but what are the honest chances that I get everything right? Here’s the big question: Even if I could do it all myself, why would I?

I can tell you one reason I might’ve tried to do it all by myself a decade ago if Eternal were around then: Arrogance.

Helpful person: “Hey Young Schaab, want to ask these smart people for help and save a bunch of time?”

Young Schaab: “Pssssshhhhhhhh. Smart people. Right. I’m a smart people! Pretty sure I’m smart enough to figure out a card on my own. Do those people really know more than me?”

Hopefully I would’ve at least kept that last sentence in my head but who knows. It’s painful to own that thought process, but I’m willing to bet we all experience a version of that sometimes. It doesn’t make you horrible, it makes you human. It is essential, however, that you move past this. Acknowledge that you had a dumb, egotistical thought. You, even as a smart human being, will have at least a billion more dumb thoughts during your life. Accept it, laugh at yourself a little bit, recognize that you still have a lot to learn from other people, and then listen.

Required Work

Given that I don’t play much constructed, I try to learn decks that won’t change much over time. Piloting Modern Affinity in 2016 wasn’t much different from playing Modern Affinity in 2018. Given the tournament success of Rats, I’ve given some thought to learning it.

When @Batteriez streamed shortly after winning the Throne Summer Challenge, I took the opportunity to ask a master of the archetype about a crucial aspect of any deck: heuristics or general guidelines to follow when making mulligan decisions. As has been my experience with most Eternal streamers, they were happy to take some time and answer my question thoughtfully. Tons of great information in a short amount of time. So efficient.

To get a sense of how much time this saved, I reached out to The Friends of Eternal Discord, which is filled with some of the best Constructed (and all-around) players in the Eternal community. I posted this question in their “Keep-or-toss” thread:

“How many reps do you need with a deck before you can confidently make mulligan decisions? Just need a ballpark range.”

Community members offered some incredibly advanced, nuanced feedback about the process of making mulligan decisions, which Future Schaab will revisit when he writes an article about mulligans. @Stormblessed, however, accurately translated my question this way “how long until you can short cut most mulligan decisions and be right a good percentage of the time?” Shortcuts – that’s what I’m after. General consensus among a small handful of players is that you need to play 15-25 games with a deck to be right most of the time with your mulligan decisions.

If we assume a game lasts about 10 minutes, I saved myself three or four hours of agonizing over mulligan decisions that I didn’t know how to make. Instead, I asked the deck’s best pilot about the decision-making process behind keeping or redrawing hands – they answered – I listened.

Let me take a moment to emphasize an important point: If your goal is to maximize your win percentage in a tournament, you should NEVER plan to use shortcuts for mulligans or any other decision. I’m talking about taking shortcuts where you can in the learning process. There is a huge difference. Maybe I really did save myself from 20 games worth of bad mulligan decisions by asking @Batteriez for some guidelines – but general consensus among the same community was that a player most likely needs to play around 100 games with a deck to make fully informed mulligan decisions. If you’re planning to play in a tournament – you want to be fully informed, not taking shortcuts. Even if I saved myself 3-4 hours, I’d still need to play with the deck for another 12-16 hours before I would feel truly confident about my mulligan decisions.

The process of becoming an excellent Eternal player, like most skills, takes an extraordinary amount of time and repetition. Making fully informed mulligan decisions with Rats might take me 20 (I’m making this number up) hours. 80% of that time – 16 hours – the actual playing of at least 80 games and making those decisions is an essential, non-negotiable, no shortcuts allowed part of becoming excellent. When trying to learn a new deck, strategy, or format, take shortcuts where you can. Those shortcuts come in the form of information. You might be able to save yourself 20% of the hard work just by asking people who have already been through the process. They have the answers to the test and will just give them to you if you ask and listen.

No amount of listening, watching, or reading can replace playing the games and actively making these decisions yourselves though. All I’m saying is that you don’t have to figure everything out on your own. You have to play a lot of games. You have to do that. Just you. That’s required work. But figuring everything out on your own isn’t. Eternal is really hard. Save yourself time. Be efficient. Find people who know things you don’t, ask them questions – and listen.  

Who Do You Ask?

This answer varies greatly depending on your goals, opportunities, and personality but here are a few guidelines when looking for people you should learn from.

  1. Find people who are open to being wrong and update their opinions based on new information
  2. Find people who, at some point, refer you to someone else or admit their limitations in some way. If the person you direct all your Eternal questions towards seems to always have a confident answer – be wary. The odds of that person having all the right answers is approximately 0%, so at least some of the information they’re giving you isn’t completely correct (they might not be aware of this, of course). You want to learn from people who tell you when you’re better off learning from someone else.
  3. Find people who understand sample sizes. If I ask someone a question and they preface their answer with something like “I’ve only played a few games with it, but…” I am FAR more likely to ask that person for their opinion in the future. Be skeptical of people who are too confident in their opinions after only playing a card or deck a small handful of times: that’s not a big enough sample size to evaluate most cards. Find people who understand this.

All forms of content mentioned in this article are resources that I actively use to get better.

Since he’s not mentioned elsewhere in this article, I’d like to mention @Walking_Sponge – “Collecter” in game. One game. One. That’s all it took. Having no idea who Collecter was, I checked out his stream for the first time a couple months ago. To give you an idea of what my actual thought process is like, it took all of one game for me to say “oh this dude can straight up ball, man.” Not only one of the community’s most successful players, but also quite active in Discord and in Twitch chat. Always helping people out with decklists, lines of play, card evaluation, etc, all at a very high level. Like I said earlier, the people you should learn from will depend on a lot of variables, but I’ve continued to be impressed with the frequency and quality of information that he provides. Most importantly, he does it kindly. In game though? Collecter is ruthless. Straight gangster.

Listening, by the way, doesn’t mean you have to agree with what the person says. Consider it, think about it critically, and forget about it if you really think they’re wrong.

Following Models

Asking experts (e.g. @Batteriez and Rats) for their opinion is a great way to improve your knowledge in any area, but it’s not the only way. Even Skyrim knows this. You can gain experience in an area by reading books (studying), utilizing the skill (practicing), or learning from experts (asking questions) at the right virtual price.

If you’re learning or teaching a new skill, models are invaluable. Want a young child to write neater letters? Be sure they have a model. Want to learn to paint quickly? Watch Bob Ross. Want to learn how to throw axes at your bachelor party? Watch the guy who owns the place and already knows how to do it. Find a successful model and try to replicate it.

Spoiler: On Episode 72 of the Farming Eternal podcast, we discuss Rakano in Argent Depths draft – not my strongest archetype. Hypothetically, I said, if the Draft Championship were next week and I wanted to learn Rakano the first thing I’d do is look at some 7-win decklists. It sounded like a planned pitch for their data collection project but it’s genuinely how I would do it. That’s how I found their site in the first place – while looking for information to improve my Eternal draft game.

If we consider the same invented numbers I used before, the process of mastering a new draft archetype might break down something like this:

20% – Having knowledge of the deck’s gameplan, what cards are important, etc.

80% – Going through the process of drafting the decks and playing games.

If I wanted to do 100% of the work – a challenge I do enjoy and would’ve gladly taken on at a different point in my life – I’d start by drafting a lot of Rakano decks to see what works. But I don’t have time to figure out the Rakano puzzle, and the Praxis Puzzle, and the Elysian puzzle, and on and on, so I look for ways to save time. One way I do that is by looking at models. It’s difficult to find sufficient video of people drafting different archetypes, so I look at decklists instead. When LSV starts doing a podcast where he breaks down different Eternal archetypes, I’ll also get my information from there.

When the next draft set comes, my natural drafting tendencies will pull me towards the slow decks: Feln, Elysian. I’ll get a good sense of those decks on my own through my natural drafting process. But when the time comes for me to learn Stonescar or Rakano, the first thing I’m going to do is look at 7-win decklists to see what other people have been successful with. I can do that 20% of the work on my own – or I can find a model and focus on replicating it while I do the other 80% of required work.

Deliberate Practice

My favorite episode of LR, a Special Edition episode which I will continue to reference for as long as I write, discusses deliberate practice beginning around the 15 minute mark. Masrhall Sutcliffe, LR co-host, explains: “It’s the act of not just simply doing a thing over and over but actually concentrating on specific aspects of it and getting those as perfected as you can.”

There are a lot of aspects to this game – some of which I’m still learning- and it’s impossible to improve in all the areas at once. You have to pick a specific area where you want to improve. 

@gatosujo of Team Misplay wrote a great piece recently about creating S.M.A.R.T. goals – a framework frequently used in education while writing learning objectives. The author’s final thoughts on their own process, however, closely mirrors that of my own and deliberate practice.

“identify what you want to improve, find and create ways to work specifically on that skill, and get feedback so you can adjust and continue to grow” @gatosujo

Looting (drawing a card, then discarding a card) used to be an area of deliberate practice for me. This effect, experienced players will tell you, is great. I hated it. Never felt like I knew what I was doing and always discarded the wrong card. Felt like I was losing games to myself. Elite players talk about how great looting is, but I never wanted to do it.

This hole in my game could not be ignored when I started playing Mardu Vehicles with four copies of Smuggler’s Copter. Competitively, I knew I couldn’t avoid looting just because I hated it.  I’d knowingly be giving myself a competitive disadvantage because I was afraid of making the wrong decision. My game couldn’t have a flaw like that, so it became an area of deliberate practice. Regardless of competitive setting, I’d always loot, and then take extra time thinking about which card to discard. For particularly tough choices, I’d remember what I could and ask a friend about it later. These days I’d screenshot it and ask people for their advice.

Eventually, I no longer worried about making the wrong choice while looting. Now it’s just something I do automatically because it’s strategically correct. Figuring out which card to discard while looting is often one of the most difficult decisions to make in a game, but I always force myself to make it. If I get it wrong, I get it wrong – but I didn’t feel that way before it became a target for deliberate practice. If I didn’t specifically work that area of my game, I’d still be afraid of cards like Forbidden Research, which I now adore.

Painting with All the Colors of the Wind

“Like they say in Pocahontas ‘You’ll learn things you never knew you never knew’” – @Sunyveil*

*Quick story about Suny. I didn’t know Eternal’s tournament history when I agreed to be on the podcast. I recognized Suny’s name, but mostly from a recent episode of Eternal Journey. Here I was, talking to arguably the game’s most accomplished player, thinking : “@Sunyveil- knows to put Direwood Rampager in his draft deck sometimes. Yeah, that guy knows what’s up.”

I came to talk about Eternal draft, I stayed for the Pocahontas quotes and Dunning-Krueger jokes. Towards the end episode 45 of the Friends of Eternal Podcast, I say “people don’t know what they don’t know.” This includes me. When it comes to Eternal, I don’t know what I don’t know. Apparently I don’t truly know how to draft aggro decks. Could’ve sworn I already knew how to do that, but here I am. Finding such a glaring hole in my game is a good problem to have – it gives me something to work on.

At this point, having consumed so much limited content, I would be genuinely surprised to learn about an entirely new method of card evaluation or deckbuilding that I haven’t heard about. But when it comes to evaluating a board state? I don’t know what I don’t know. When it comes to drafting aggro decks consistently? I don’t know what I don’t know. Those unknowns deepen my appreciation of these games. There are most definitely areas of my game that I’m actively working on, which the folks over at Farming Eternal and I will discuss on an upcoming episode, but there are also deeply flawed parts of my game that I’m not even aware of.

Let’s go the top: LSV and William “Huey” Jensen. During the 2017 MTG World Championship, Huey seemed to somehow play at an even higher level than the best Magic players in the world. When I think of Magic being played at the highest level, I think of Huey. I have no doubt that he thinks about the game in ways that are significantly different from the way I think about them. Eternal and MTG are complex games, so of course one of the best to ever play will think things about the game that I don’t. But I’ve heard about players like Huey joking that LSV can win games with a pile of ham sandwiches (Would love a source for this anecdote if it sounds familiar to anyone). If that’s how Huey – Hall of Fame, World Champion, Huey Freakin Jensen – feels, how on Earth is LSV thinking about this game? How many more variables could there possibly be? Just how deep does the rabbit hole go?!

Celebrating

Listen – I wasn’t planning to be here today. My only goal was to compete well in the 2020 Draft Championship. My goal was to find a competitive edge – I found a community instead. Shortly after I started watching more streamers, @Jedi_EJ hosted a community-organized charity tournament for Child’s Play and then DireWolf matched the contributions (full story by @Parmele here). That’s the type of community I want to be a part of and help thrive. I published my first article, It’s time to Draft the Hard Way in Eternal, about a month later.

Today, I’m glad that I can laugh at the second sentence in the above paragraph. Competing well in the 2020 Draft Championship most certainly did not happen, but this year was from a failure. Farming Eternal recently released an episode featuring 2020 Draft Champion @Gunner 116 which had more chemistry than a season of Breaking Bad. This might surprise you, but I listened. Just a few months ago, I was talking to my wife about how cool it would be to be a guest on one of the podcasts I started listening to. Now the 2020 Eternal Draft Champion is referencing my writing on one of those very podcasts, on which I’ve also been a guest. My strong preference would have been to win the actual tournament, but this truly feels like the next best thing. 2020 has been a dumpster fire, but Eternal has been a lone bright spot. I have a 100% day 2 conversion rate in Eternal tournaments (1 for 1), an upcoming Quadrant Theory Review of Set 10 with @Kasendrith, and a small but wonderful community that knows me by name. I can’t ask for more than that.

Truly, I hope y’all enjoy the Eternal celebration, though I’m expecting my participation to be minimal. Mrs. Schaab is 9 months pregnant, so my focus will be elsewhere for the next couple weeks. Make no mistake – you’ll see me trying to qualify for World’s if I find the time – but my Eternal celebrating will be in the form of sprints, not a marathon.

Celebrate the game – it is fantastic. Thank you DireWolf! – but also celebrate the community. My fear is that the Eternal community will change as the game grows. That future players will encounter more hostility, confrontation, and other forms of negativity that I found largely absent from the 2020 Eternal community I’ve grown to love. If new players with undesirable characteristics and/or ways of communicating enter the community, don’t listen: speak up (kindly, constructively). The Eternal community, in my experience, is much better than that – let’s work to keep it that way.

The 2021 Eternal Draft Championship hasn’t been announced yet, but I plan to be there. If there’s a possibility to automatically qualify for day 2 by accumulating DCP (Draft Championship Points), my quest to do so will begin as soon as possible. I hope more players will do the same. Honestly, I hope there are months when I struggle to finish in the top 20 because the quality of competition is so high. This is probably just the expectant father in me talking, but I’d also be immensely proud if this happened.

I doubt I’ll have time to prepare for the tournament as much as I’d like. Currently, my only plan is to endlessly adore my daughter when she gets here any day now. I’ll likely find myself unprepared, by my standards, for the 2021 Draft Championship. So I’ll reach out to the Eternal community – a community I never planned to join in the first place. A community I planned to pry for information for competitive gain. A community filled with kind, compassionate, helpful individuals. I know the Eternal community will be there to patiently answer my questions about the current format. I’ll probably have a lot of questions. Then I’ll listen. 

-Schaab

Huge Thanks to @mail, @AustinAru’reTheIncomprehensible, @Matt117, @Stormblessed, @NotoriousGHP, @chriseay for their mulligan insights.

Author’s note:

I intended to write one Eternal article, but the community is fantastic, appreciative, and eager to learn, so I find myself writing more than playing these days. If you enjoy my writing and have found it helpful, the best thing you can do is help other new players. If you’d like to do a little extra on my behalf, please share your thoughts on my work with DireWolf. Writing about a card game I love would be a dream come true for me, so I’d love for my writing to be part of 2021 Eternal player experience in a more official capacity.

If you’re obscenely wealthy, feel free to check out the Patreon. Otherwise, help new players, let DireWolf know you’d like to see more of my work, and please continue to be excellent to each other.

Let’s Talk Limited Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/LetsTalkLimited?fan_landing=true

You can find me in the LetsTalkLimited section of the Farming Eternal Discord https://discord.gg/YfQVbjZ

2 thoughts on “Listen – Leveling up and Learning

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