Brad Nelson is currently ranked 23rd in the Top 25 Pro Rankings. The 2010 player of the year had a rough couple of years after his initial dominant performance at the Pro Tour and Grand Prix level. What happened to Brad Nelson? How did such an unstoppable force fall from greatness? What transpired that gave him the ability to overcome his slump and reestablish himself as one of the best Magic players in the world?
I sat down with Nelson to talk about his fall and rise since his incredible 2010 Player of the Year run.
Jacob Van Lunen: "You were unbeatable in 2010, but you couldn't seem to steal a match for the following few years. What happened?"
Brad Nelson: "I did things in the wrong order. Variance struck in such a way that I experienced a lot of success in Magic before the appropriate amount of failure. In some ways, winning Player of the Year was a curse. I was proud. I felt like I deserved to win. I played with emotion. Worst of all, I wasn't as good as I thought I was. Being worse than you think you are is catastrophic to one's development as a Magic player. I wouldn't see my own mistakes because I assumed that I was too good to make them."
JVL: "Being unbeatable can easily consume who you are. What emotions were you feeling in 2011 when the wins stopped coming?"
BR: "I felt terrible. The worst part was that I turned myself into a victim. My ego prevented me from learning. I used my past success as an excuse for my current failure. I did so bad for so long that I knew something was wrong. My game didn't start improving again until I moved to Roanoke and surrounded myself with like-minded individuals."
JVL: "Over the last year, you've been back in fighting shape. You've been consistently performing well at the Pro Tour and Grand Prix level. Now, you're back in the Top 25 Pro Rankings. Was there a particular event that happened in your life that gave you the ability to refocus?"
BR: "I had a difficult breakup with a girlfriend. I think a lot of the pride that I had, a lot of the emotion I felt about what I deserved, went away during that period. I wasn't a pragmatic person before that. I always just assumed that everything would go well for me. I've been a lucky person, in general, and I feel that it let me make excuses about why I lost so many matches. Since then, I've been learning from my mistakes. I'm not invincible. I can improve my own destiny by mastering what I need to."
JVL: "What steps have you taken to improving your game in the last year?"
BR: "This year I learned that only three controllable things matter to one's success in Magic: Deck choice, gameplay, and sideboarding. Variance happens, but it's impossible to improve as a Magic player if we're not constantly struggling to perfect those three things. The wins will come to those that do those three things well, and variance shouldn't be consuming any mental capital. I've played as much Magic as I possibly could this last year. I've improved through repetition. More importantly, I learned that it's none of my business what other people think of me. I can't play as a personality. I need to play as the best me. Being a competitor and a public figure in the community are two very separate things that get blurred sometimes. I want people to enjoy watching me play, and get excited when I do well, but that can't be a part of my decision making process. In the end, the winner of the tournament writes the story, and that's where I want to be."
JVL: "You've been widely considered the best Standard player in the world for some time. Recently, you've become a Legacy master as well. This weekend, nearly four thousand players are battling Legacy at this Grand Prix. What advice would you give to other players on how they can improve their Legacy game?"
BR: "With Standard, I view my testing process as needing to make every mistake once. I want to know how mistakes develop so I can minimize their effect on my side of the table and maximize it on the opponent's. In Standard, that web is only so big. Legacy is a different animal. It's impossible to play a perfect game of legacy that lasts more than a few turns. There are limitless interactions in Legacy, no two games ever play out the same exact way. That doesn't mesh well with my strengths as a Magic player. I've been playing this format for two years and I'm finally figuring it out. Over the last few months, I've had Gerry Thompson, Todd Anderson, and the best player in the world, Tom Ross, in my corner. They've turbocharged my abilities as a Legacy player. If I had to give advice to players looking to improve their Legacy game, I would tell them to surround themselves with as many people that are better than them as possible, play as many games as possible, and be honest with yourself and others about mistakes. Radical transparency is extremely important to one's development in a group. Don't take things personally; these are your friends, they're only being critical so that you can improve."
Nelson's recent breakthrough into the Top 25 Pro Rankings proves that he, once again, has what it takes to compete against the very best in the world. Will Nelson, a freshly minted Legacy master, prove himself yet again this weekend against a field of thousands? Stay tuned to continuing coverage of Grand Prix New Jersey to find out!