Release Restraint: Breaking Free of Mental Limitations

Frazier SmithHello, duelists! We’ve just experienced the first ever ARG Circuit Series tournament held in Fort Worth, Texas where my fellow teammate, good friend, and our National Champion Patrick Hoban, took home First Place with his innovative Dragunity Ruler deck. Congrats to Hoban on his continued success this year and congrats to ARG for holding a successful event.

Now that we are through with the formalities, I figured I’d explain the purpose of this article.  Mental limitations are one of the most debilitating obstacles we face as players. Many times, we don’t even realize that we have placed them on ourselves. Some of us have been living with them forever because we get used to the same outcome each time we try to do something. In this article, I want to help you identify and break free of the mental blocks that prevent you from reaching the next level. I sincerely hope that the message I’m trying to convey here does not get lost.

So do you ever wonder why some players get their first top and then all of a sudden you just keep seeing them? You have to ask yourself what really changed for them to have such success. Sure, some people like to blame it on cheating or luck, but that couldn’t possibly be true for every breakout star that Yu-Gi-Oh has seen over the years. It’s that mental block that we must all overcome; a limitation in our heads that makes us believe that we cannot succeed. And this can be applied to almost anything that we strive for in life. You have to believe in yourself and put in the effort. You may not get results overnight, but you will break through eventually.

I’ve been playing this game for almost a decade now, and only in the last three years of my career have I experienced any real success. I have a hard time being a quitter so I kept pushing until I got there. When I was younger, I always wanted to be a champion, but never would I have imagined that I’d be mentioned as one of the best players in the game. After my first win, which happened to be my first top, I immediately started doing well at everything. My mind had gotten stronger. I wasn’t afraid of losing anymore. And though this may all be easier said than done, it certainly can be done.

Take Patrick Hoban for example. He’s been on fire lately with several accomplishments that include winning Nationals, winning the first ARG Circuit Series event, and having more premier event tops than any other player this year. My question to you is, do you think he just became that good? I highly doubt it. I’m sure that there’s a few things he’s improved on in the past few months, but I know him personally, and he was always a great player. In fact, Hoban has the most bubble losses in history, too, which tells us that he was always close to having yet another top, but just fell short many times. He finally broke that mental block that was keeping him away from going all the way. I’m willing to bet that every time he would get to the final round of swiss, a feeling of fear would set in, and that can mess with your ability to play at your best. I know this because it used to happen to me, and it probably happens to some of you reading this, too.

Something that you should never do is doubt yourself before a match even starts. A lot of players get into this mindset that they’ve already lost the game simply because of who their opponent is—as though we all aren’t human. Let us get one thing straight: we are all capable of making mistakes. No one is perfect. I don’t care how many tops or wins he/she has, everyone is beatable. To further that point, I’d like to state that there’s also a natural luck factor, or variance, in Yu-Gi-Oh (and trading card games in general), so you shouldn’t think that good players somehow draw better than you. Try not to over think the situation and just play according to the way the game develops. Everyone gets six cards to start with so make the best of them. Even if you have a bad hand, do not resign yourself to defeat. There have been too many times where I’ve seen people come out of situations that you might have thought to scoop to, and then they win the game and you’re sitting there mind-blown.

I played a guy at the ARG event in Texas and when I sat down he immediately said, “Well I’m about to take my first loss haha.” I just smiled as I always do in those situations and tried to explain to him that anything can happen, I’m not perfect. He then mentioned that whenever he plays a “pro” player, he always does something that costs him the game. I thought that was interesting and it was the exact thing that inspired me to write this article. What really bothered me about the way he was talking was that he was completely fine with it. He had accepted his past to be his future, and that, my friend, is a terrible thing to do. Every time I played against Sean McCabe at locals when we were kids, I would think to myself that this would finally be the time that I beat him. It would finally be my time to win and clear the obstacle. I might have been nervous, but I believed in myself, and eventually I beat him—albeit several failed attempts.

Make small goals for yourself. Choose the best player at your local and make a note to beat him. Then, make a note to beat him more often. Eventually, he should start viewing you as a legitimate threat and not as a bye like he once might have. After you can do that, then you want to start performing well on the regional level. Start with setting your goal to play every round and finish with at least an X-2 record. If you lose more than twice, do not quit the tournament. Keep playing. There’s still more for you to learn. I know, I know, we all lose our energy to play when we don’t do so well, but you have to push through that, too, because that will always be a thing. You can’t possibly do well at every event, so you have to learn to cope with losses, regardless.

Once you’re able to consistently go X-2 or better at a regional, you can start to really take the game seriously and practice advanced gameplay. See if the best player who goes to your local will test with you. This is important because you need someone to push you forward, and hopefully you will push him forward, too. If he won’t test with you then find the next best person. Don’t give up. If you want to be good you need to play against good players a lot. Most importantly, believe in yourself and realize that you are getting better.

Thanks for reading this! Be sure to come to the ARGCS in Columbus, Ohio on October 12-13! Remember, Play Hard or Go Home!


-Frazier Smith

-The Dark Magician

Frazier Smith

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