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The Practical Duelist: Qualities of a Great Player

Bryan Camareno

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A great player is a truly rare find. There are
many good players out there, but few great ones. Why? Because nobody
has tried to pinpoint the reasons why some players are great and others
are just "good." This article is about enumerating the qualities that
make a great player.

Know Where You’re Going
The first quality is
determination. Why does determination matter? It’s the same as asking
why goals matter. If you want to get somewhere, it’s fundamentally
better to have some plan rather than no plan at all. A player who knows
exactly where he or she wants to go in the game and why he or she wants
to get there is the one who will accomplish his or her goals.

Determination is that stubborn refusal to give up on a worthy
aspiration. In the face of all odds, with defeat fresh in their
memories, these players will not give up. They still have the strength
to continue on. I admire players who have that kind of conviction. One
of them who always impressed me with his resolve is my old friend
Richard Clarke from Tallahassee. He hasn’t given up on his goals in all
the years I’ve known him. Some might accuse him of being stubborn, and
even I doubted him at one point, but I never stopped admiring that
refusal to give up. Never once when I spoke with him has he ever
doubted the worthiness of his goals. Good news is . . . he’s finally
done it. If I asked him if all the effort was worth it, I’m absolutely
sure that he would simply reply, "Yes." Rich Clarke is a shining
example of this quality.

A Little Thing Called Sportsmanship
One thing I don’t see enough of is good sportsmanship. What does sportsmanship mean? For one, it means adherence to the set
rules of the game, playing it the way it was meant to be played. Put
simply: don’t cheat. I think that sportsmanship is synonymous with
honesty, which is in turn linked to integrity. There are so many
disappointments out there in the sportsmanship department. Some of the
players I used to admire for their achievements and skill turned out to
be frauds. Not that this is the norm, but it’s indicative of a
discomforting trend. Nobody wants to talk about it in the open and some
players simply shrug cheating off as if it’s essential to being a major
tournament winner. Let me be the first to say it publicly: I do not
agree. That is the worst fraud perpetrated by those who sanction this
kind of behavior.

These players are certain that cheating is the only way to the top
because they’re too lazy to deal with calculating the odds and weighing
the risks. They can’t deal with losing to a bad draw or unfortunate
circumstances. They don’t have what it takes to be the best. It’s a
card game folks: there’s a bit of chance involved. Every time I hear
about a new way to stack or an absurd idea like "holo-stacking," I can
barely contain my revulsion. A message for all you cheaters out there:
any victories you gain are false. They’re worthless and your
justifications are worse than a bad joke.

Loud and Proud
I admire players who take pride in
their own achievements. Arrogance is one thing, but pride is completely
different. If you accomplished something you set out to do, then
celebrate it. If you do something better than everyone else you know,
take pride in it. Acknowledge your own achievements. You don’t need
anyone to do it for you. You don’t need anyone’s permission. You didn’t
win at the expense of others. It’s not as if your skill was cultivated
at the expense of someone else. I’ve observed the resentment from
players who simply can’t stand to see someone else win. When a good
player makes a mistake, he or she deserved it.†When a good player
loses, it serves him or her right. I’ve heard all kinds of
rationalizations: "he’s too good," "it’s not fair to everyone else,"
"she’s a cheater," "she’s probably stacking her deck," "he probably
stacked me since that’s the only way these guys know how to win," or
"why don’t they ban players who have already qualified for Nationals to
give the other players a chance?"

This type of resentment is especially insidious in a team setting.
My own experience with teams has taught me valuable lessons on how your
own friends can undermine everything you do. Envy is a terrible thing
and it does nothing but destroy.

To Think or Not to Think
A shining quality of a
great player is his or her ability to think, and to do so with good
judgment. Great players make mistakes like everyone else. One of the
crucial differences between a great player and everyone else is his or
her ability to focus. When a player focuses completely on the game he
or she is able
to plan ahead, think about his or her plays, and execute them with
precision. Focus enables a player to put skill to good use. Your skill
is useless without complete focus on the task at hand. It takes great
concentration and mental ability to devise a great deck. It takes
nothing to simply copy it, but to improve it and apply it to your play
style takes intelligence.

A player’s level of skill and the ability to focus go
hand-in-hand. The one depends on the other. Skill without focus is
wasted and focus without skill is hopeless. The reason why I find skill
to be so admirable is because it takes so much effort to cultivate it.
Skill isn’t absorbed by watching other players or by copying their
plays. It takes hard work and dedication to develop an intricate
knowledge of relevant gameplay. Sometimes you’ll run into frustration
and disappointment, and then struggle trying to develop the best deck
or invent killer plays, but every ounce of skill you can build pays off
a thousand-fold. To be very good at something is very difficult and you
should be proud of it. Don’t apologize for your skill. You have to
recognize and admire your own skill because it’s yours and you earned

When you encounter a player with an incredible amount of skill you
should say,†"Finally, an opponent who will give me a challenge,"
instead of, "It’s not fair, he’s so much better than me." It’s exciting
to play against an opponent who has equal or greater skill. You stand
to gain a lot by playing against him or her. Skilled opponents bring
out the best in you because you’ll need everything you’ve got in order
to win.

Good Things Really Do Come to Those Who Wait
A great
player has the patience to play through the worst possible situations.
He or she can be patient enough to wait for a golden opportunity to
present itself. If it doesn’t, then patience is required to slowly chip
away at the opponent. This game is not always about fast exchanges of
cards. Patience is one of those gaming virtues that’s too easily
forgotten. When your opponent opens with a great hand and you have a
bad one, then you have to rely on your skill and a little patience to
eventually get a win. Never get discouraged because your opponent
opened better than you did. Prepare yourself for these kinds of
unfortunate events during testing. What can you do if your opponent
opens with a perfect hand? Do you automatically lose? The answer
depends on your deck and the opponent’s. Have you devised a way to get
around the worst situations or did you simply not think about them

Another Hidden Quality
is that hidden quality that all great players possess. It takes great
courage to be confident in your own ability and your own thoughts. It
takes a level of bravery to have certainty in your ability to win the
game even when all seems lost. Some people will tell you that you’re
wrong or that you don’t know what you’re doing, but I say have
confidence in your own ability. Not blind faith in it, but rational
certainty gained by facts you discover. Don’t be afraid to put yourself
to the test. What if you’re not as skilled as those around you? What do
you do then? Take solace in the fact that their level isn’t
unattainable if you really make the effort to reach it.

It all sounds so clich√ąd, doesn’t it? It’s not. Don’t let anyone
convince you that you can’t do it, especially yourself. If you put your
mind to it, you can figure it out. Have the courage to believe in your
own ability.

Closing Thoughts
Those are the seven qualities of a
great player: determination, sportsmanship, pride, focus, patience,
courage, and skill. Think about them. Turn to your own experiences and
see if you’ve exemplified any of these qualities. If you have ’em all,
then it’s only a matter of time before you become one of the greats.

Until next time, remember to focus and have fun!

—Bryan Camareno

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