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The Practical Duelist: Looking Back on Fundamentals
Bryan Camareno

In this column my goal is to outline the fundamentals necessary to succeed at this game. My advice comes from the summation of five years’ worth of experience in competitive dueling and judging. This week I’ll reiterate a few of the ideas that I’ve covered in the past: a rough overview of the last year and a half’s worth of articles.

When You Know You’re Shooting Too High
To be honest, I don’t think any goal is too ambitious. You have the ability to accomplish anything you set your mind to. However, there are limitations to your abilities at times. It’s possible that you are failing because your goal is too difficult for you, but you’re too ambitious to see it any other way. Optimism is important, but make sure you’re pointing your optimism in the right direction. There’s a point beyond ambitious and it’s called "out of your league." For example, say that you want to qualify to play in the World Championship. This is a noble and worthy goal. You’ve been working hard, but you can’t seem to make any progress. After months and months of effort you realize you haven’t even qualified for Nationals yet. That’s an example of reaching too high, too quick. When your goals are far too difficult or too vague, you’re more likely to lose the motivation to achieve them. A goal like qualifying for the World Championship is a great thing to aspire to, but there needs to be a bit of planning involved.

The worst thing you can do is run out there and just try to play your butt off until you somehow get a qualification for Worlds. It does not work that way. The word "somehow" needs to be removed from your vocabulary and replaced with concrete answers. There needs to be intermediate steps that will lead you to the end result. This is to help you maintain your zeal for the ends while you have difficulty with the means. Unless you’re one of those people who won’t quit no matter what (which most aren’t), it helps tremendously to put a little thought into how you’re going to get there.

To plan out long-term goals, start by setting a sub-goal that is slightly beyond your skill level. Let’s say you’re a star at your local tournament. You have consistently placed in the Top 4 for months, but you don’t always win the tournament. You could mistakenly think that a worthy challenge would be to get first place. That’s a decent goal, but it’s not challenging enough. Why? Because it’s too easy. Easy goals encourage laziness because there’s no pressure to achieve them. A better goal would be to shoot for making the Top 8 of a regional qualifier. There’s a goal that will get your creative mind going! It’s not too far out of your skill set to achieve, but it’s just difficult enough to force the best out of you.

This may take you a while or it might not. The time it takes to reach your goals can be underestimated. It depends on your rate of progress. Another way to increase your drive to succeed is to make your goal public knowledge. This is especially good if you’re in a team or if you participate in a weekly testing group. Make your intentions known so you’re not just accountable to yourself: your friends can hold you to your word too.

What Do I Do Now?
Now that you have a goal, it’s time to map out your strategy. You need to figure out how you’ll do it and when you’ll do it. Let’s use the Top 8 finish goal that I talked about earlier. First, you ask, "What are the key factors to reaching this particular goal?" A few answers would be: build skill, learn about a metagame much larger than your local one, form a testing group (if you don’t already have one), find out your travel limitations (regionals often require you to travel extensively), and obtain better cards for your deck. A regional qualifier requires a lot more out of you. The challenge value is higher (meaning more ranking points are at stake), the attendance is much larger, and the skill level required is greater. I’ve written numerous articles on these individual topics, so I refer you to the archive page on this site.

The next trick is figuring out when you’ll do all of this and how often. Some of these tasks require you to repeatedly do something while others are simply tasks of learning. An example of a learning task is to get a grip on your regional metagame. All it takes is a few training sessions and you’ll have a good handle on what works and what doesn’t. A repetitive task is something like testing. You’ll have to do this every week no matter what, at least if you want to do well. Sometimes you’ll have to buy cards often just to keep up. If that’s the case then you might need to get yourself a job. If you’re not old enough to hold down a job then do some extra chores around the house. If you don’t get paid allowance for your chores, then go mow some lawns for money. Pick up soda cans from neighborhoods, put them in a trash bag, and drop them off at your local recycling center for some quick cash. Do something to get some extra money. Hustle! Hustle! Hustle! Do you see how different solutions will come to address one problem? Think about solutions and then do something with them.

Keep in mind what’s relevant to your goal and what’s not. Stay focused. As an example, take forum trolling. If forum trolling is a pastime for you, then I suggest you quickly change that behavior. Forums tend to be a quagmire of lazy thinking, idle chatter, gossip-mongering, and excessive whining. There’s no time to be messing around doing nothing: you’ve got something to accomplish! I’m not saying you can’t post on forums or that you shouldn’t. Just don’t turn it into a part-time job. Your post count doesn’t matter all that much. Trust me.

Wondering About the "Why?"
The "why?" is just as important as the "what" and the "how." What are your motivating factors? What does it mean to you? Why is it so important to you in the first place? There are a million other things you could be doing with your time, so why do this? These questions undercut all considerations and all of your efforts. Having a definitive answer will keep you going when times get tough. The obstacles are only temporary in nature, but a shaky understanding as to why you go through all the work can make any obstacle seem like a brick wall. It’s easy to give up when you’ve lost the will to fight on. My advice to you is not to sweat the dry spells or the temporary defeats. They are just that: temporary. Another piece of advice: accomplish your goals for your own sake. Don’t do it for anyone else. Take the clichÈd corporate lingo to heart: the only person who actually cares about your career is you.

Final Thoughts
There is such a thing as focusing too much on the technical side of things (decks) and not enough on the fundamentals (goals, motivations, etc.). It’s easy to forget about the forest when you’re studying a single tree. When you begin to wonder why you’re not getting anywhere, consider my previous statement and you’ll scratch the surface of what may be your problem.

Until next time, remember to stay focused and have fun!
—Bryan Camareno
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