After this past weekend at the Mythic Championship and this week’s end of season rush to finish top 8 for the Mythic Invitational, I wanted to write about competitive drive. This past week I’ve 8-8’d my first Mythic Championship and been disappointed, I’ve seen Autumn Burchett win the first ever Mythic Championship in an incredible display of skill, mastery of the game, and humility, and I’ve seen a lot of people put in staggering amounts of time to try and qualify for the Mythic Invitational. I’ve been depressed, inspired, overwhelmed with joy, angry. Drive is one of those intangible forces that motivates people to strive for the things they do, and I wanted to speak to my thoughts on the matter, especially when it can be a fairly toxic motivator if not evaluated and cultivated well.
“You gotta want it more than anyone else”
This I think is one of the stances on competitive drive that I like the least. It often pushes people to unhealthy decisions to try and validate their desire for success without actually taking the appropriate steps to achieve their goals. You can’t simply “want” your goals into reality. A strong will and desire to achieve your goal can absolutely be necessary when aiming for lofty goals, but willpower can’t actually pull you across the finish line. You need to practice, you need to learn, you need to prepare. Autumn didn’t just win the Mythic Championship this weekend by wanting it- anyone watching could see the level of absolute mastery they had in every one of their games. They wanted to win every game, I guarantee it, but Autumn put so much more work into this finish than just the games this weekend. To reduce their achievement to “they were the one who wanted it the most” is a disservice to their testing and their work with anyone who helped along the way. And I know in physical endeavors “wanting it” can help someone bring out the best they have, you can amplify your best by preparing beforehand, and self destructive behavior in the name of “wanting it” is often going to hurt you more than help you in achieving your goals. The final caveat I have with this mentality is that it can often lead people to lash out when they believe they wanted something more, and thus deserve the win over the opponent(s) they have lost to. For those truly wanting to succeed, a loss can absolutely something disappointing and disheartening, but it’s something to build from, not a reason to tear others down.
“Do whatever it takes to win”
This is a more obviously harmful mentality when taken to the extreme, as it often results in cheating or worse. While many would also add “well, obviously I mean within the rules of the game,” I think it’s still important to adjust the focus of this mindset. Trying to abuse the ruleset of a competition, while still “legal,” often inspires people to spend large amounts of time and energy on learning systems to an arcane degree instead of focusing on bettering themselves. While minute, the difference between “winning the most games” and “being the best player” is an important one- especially in Magic, where the rules are constantly being adjusted to cut down on trying to “get” people.
A focus on “what does it take to be the best at this endeavor” is a much more healthy and far more aspiring stance to take in striving to win. You can listen to any number of top players that “want it” and “do what it takes to win” and a recurring theme of the best of the best is that their goal is to constantly improve and to play every match as optimally as possible. Not every game can be won, and focusing solely on winning can be damaging mentally. If you want to win more, it is far more constructive to instead focus on improving, and you will win more games naturally as a result.
This is one of my personal favorites, and the stance I identify with the most. A lot of competitively driven people have this hunger, and you can clearly see it near the top of any field. The reason I separate this stance from “wanting it more” is that the focus isn’t comparative to another competitor, the focus is internal. Instead of looking at you and your opponent and seeing who wants it more, staying hungry is about looking inward and looking forward. If you’ve achieved one goal, what’s the next? If you see someone else succeed, you want that success too. The hunger is about what you want and the drive to work towards it instead of trying to judge if you should have it already. I went 50% against 500 of the best players in the world, and I was sad because I felt I could do better. While this in the extreme can be unhealthy, having that constant desire to improve is a huge motivator for success. Nothing makes me want that next MC invite more than the MC I just played in. I can do better. Let me play another one. I’m hungry.
Working on that voice in your head
First things first, I am not trained in psychology or psychiatry. At all. If you need help in these areas I highly recommend seeking a professional therapist. I’ve done therapy myself and I highly recommend it to anyone who wants help. That said, I have some tips from my experience in competitive endeavors both in sports and in card games/video games. Focus on yourself, focus on what you can control, focus on learning. Take the things you had control over and look for what you can do better next time. Talk to other people about what you did and see if they think there was another way to play that game. Win or lose, find something you can take away from that game that isn’t the result. Focus on improvement, not results. Look earnestly and honestly at what you need to do to succeed in your endeavors. GET GOOD SLEEP AND EAT WELL. Countless studies can tell you just how big an impact a good diet and good sleep can have on performance. Lastly, see if you can coach that voice in your head. Every time that little nagging voice in your head says you’re a failure or that you can’t do it, talk back at it. I’m dead serious. You may have that nagging self doubt voice, but let’s be honest, everyone also has that savage retort voice that constantly says all the things you probably shouldn’t fire back with out loud. Use that.
This wasn’t my usual, Standard-focused article, but I hope you’ve enjoyed it. I know a lot of people out there with a lot of drive and I want to help them channel that healthily into success. Stay kind to each other. Stay kind to yourselves. Thank your opponents for the lesson, win or lose. Do great things. Stay hungry.
Adam “yoman5” Hernandez is an up-and-coming pro player, recently earning an invite to MC Cleveland with a top 8 finish at GP Milwaukee. He has a strong focus on figuring out key aspects of decks, matches, and gameplay, digging past the what to figure out the why. In addition to his written content, Adam regularly streams on Twitch.