Avoiding Idiocy

Zac has something he needs to get off his chest… why are some players such idiots? Today, he points out some of the fatal social flaws displayed by a segment of the Magic populous. Are you guilty of these sins?

This article needed to be written by somebody.

I actually got the impetus for this piece awhile back at Grand Prix: Toronto, when I was busy punting a match against Steve Sadin in a PTQ. In between my flagrant misplays we were commenting on the guys next to us, because although they ran the gamut of Magical activities they certainly never once remotely intended to shut their mouths. This is normally fine with me; after all, I hang out with Cedric Phillips. But these people were telling the worst stories ever. Not only were they incomprehensible and self-aggrandizing, but also they just weren’t funny. Even worse, the things these guys were complaining about just didn’t make any sense. It was truly a waste of time and oxygen, and poor innocent microbes were probably harmed in the creation of that fetid pile. Certainly, two men in Toronto were pining for some cheese with their whine.

My irritation evolved. It became evident to me that there were a whole host of Magical habits that were pointless, irritating, and oftentimes downright rude or asinine. More importantly, from a practical standpoint they hinder your growth as a Magic player, because if you’re guilty of too many of them, people won’t like you. At the very least, people who matter won’t like you. This is a Bad Thing. Moreover, in some cases they’ll hinder your ability to actually play Magic, because they’ll dilute your focus on the game.

The common root of all of them is that they employ psychological defense mechanisms that boil down to this: I am uncomfortable with the fact that the image I have of myself in my head is momentarily not corresponding with reality, and this creates a tension I have to relieve by artificial means so that I can cope with my immediate Kierkegaardian angst. This is, of course, insecurity in a nutshell, and manifests itself so prevalently that it becomes difficult to stand.

I will admit that I have, at one time or another, been guilty of all of these, as the people who know me can attest to. But the point is that I’m trying to get over them. I have sat and watched these very factors completely ruin someone’s tournament, whether it was me throwing a deck back in the day that got me ejected from a PTQ, or David Glore’s famous (though thankfully receding) veil of melancholy, or even the comparable Steven Strasberg “I’m-slightly-behind-in-the-game-state-so-I’m-going-to-get-mildly-anxious-or-frustrated” that made him forget to put counters on his coca-cola bears just yesterday.

Also, one final note: don’t argue with yourself that things like these don’t happen, or that (for example) getting angry after getting manaflooded (or whatever) is somehow a justifiable reaction. Getting angry after losing a match to luck is pointless and accomplishes nothing; it doesn’t contribute to win percentages. Most of us are adults, and should learn to be temperate in our emotions. Moreover, the amount of matches lost to pure luck is startlingly small. If you make a single mistake in a match, you deserve to lose it. It’s that simple. Anyway, if it’s truly 100% pure luck that caused a loss, what is there to be angry about? Nothing! You take it and move on. Anger (like most emotional states) arises from an uncertainty or inconsistency; in this particular case, it’s the fear that we’re doing something wrong and are actually worse at the game than we perceive ourselves to be. So we have to concoct a scenario that makes it all okay, and the tension is relieved. This is self-delusion in a nutshell.

We’re going to approach this like a list. This is not going to be the most stylistically sophisticated article you’ll ever read, because that’s not the point. If I were discussing matters of high strategy, I’d employ more of my literary edumacation. As it stands, though, I’m writing this during my off-time at the Flyer and am enjoying being able to simply fly off the cuff.

Don’t brag about how you beat a pro one time at some side event or on MTGO in a tone that makes it sound like you are important.

If you (or I) were actually “somebody,” we’d be making Top8s at Pro Tours. There is this guy in Memphis named Wes who told stories for two years about how he beat Neil Reeves at a Prerelease, and acted like we ought to bow down and kiss his feet at the conclusion of that story. Fortunately, the United States Government declared it a high crime that Wes actually spread his genes onto another poor soul when he had a child, and (as far as I can tell) locked him into a dungeon never to be seen again. Everybody loses, everybody has a bad day. And sure, it’s an accomplishment to beat a professional player, especially if you can do it numerous times. But there is a difference between telling that story as a curious happening and telling it as if it’s some kind of validation for your entire existence.

Along the same lines…

Don’t treat a professional player like he is some sort of angel descended from Heaven.

Unlike most of what I’ll be covering today, this doesn’t make you an asshole as much as it just makes you a tool. It’s really hard to take someone seriously when they speak in hushed whispers as long as they are within twenty feet of Osyp Lebedowicz, or Mark Herberholz or (this is the best) Mike Flores. I mean, yeah, get a card signed or run the “What’s up?” but don’t be like the guys seated around me at deck construction in Toronto all nudging one another and pointing like Middle Schoolers at an N*Sync concert in the late nineties.

Don’t cop an attitude on an Internet forum because you disagree with someone.

The greatest recent example of this were the forums of Richard Feldman article on Orzhova Maxima, when claims shot out like fireworks that the deck was a fetid pile from people who had not even playtested it once. The deck is not in fact the best deck in Standard, but throwing out unsubstantiated claims — especially ones that are actually false (and you can go look at these even now, if you want, because they stick out like sore thumbs) — just adds layers to the ignorance that all conversations are (ostensibly) trying to abate. Do your homework. Most people that take the time to write Magic articles have at least halfway informed opinions, so most of the time if something is so glaringly wrong that “omg only an idiot would write this u r stupid,” it’s the forum-dweller whose head is crammed up the improper orifice. Moreover, if the author is wrong, you really don’t lose anything by talking in a polite, respectful, and constructive manner. Again, getting angry or superior is just a method of trying to feel better about yourself. The attitude is “Oh my God, I cannot believe I’m forced to co-habit the world with people like these idiots.” For some reason it makes people very comfortable to act like someone is always out to get them, that they are victims in some kind of sadistic, celestial tragedy. This is obviously not the case, but has led to massive fallacies like the phenomenon of “luck.” Alternatively, people like that feel they need to demonstrate that their technical mastery (imagined or otherwise) is of such a high level that they shouldn’t be bothered with plebeians who had dare be so audacious as to pose them a question. Again, this is pointless.

I am very guilty of this condescending attitude, though. I love to bag on people. But every time I do it I’m steering someone away from the Magic community and away from the game, and this is another one of those Bad Things that should be avoided at all costs. Like it or not, we’re all ambassadors, even if it’s just a seemingly innocuous forum post.

So, moral: when somebody like Rich Hoaen takes the time to post a draft analysis, it’s probably not the best idea (like people were doing at the start) to unleash an avalanche of posts talking about how bad he is. The man is one of the best Limited players on the planet, as continually evidenced by his finishes. Perhaps imitating first and asking questions later is the strategy we ought to be employing. That’s certainly how I spent the first two years of my Magic career, and (eventually) it paid off.

Don’t make defensive, bogus, confrontational, and obviously false claims.

For example, I hate when I say something like “Isn’t Solar Flare a bad matchup for Deck X?” and someone responds, “What?! Deck X destroys Solar Flare.” This conversation does not go anywhere. Obviously, I had a reason for thinking that the matchup was bad. If I’m wrong, the simple claim is not going to convince me. Explain why.

Similarly, I want to run the Bulimia whenever someone says like “my deck has 80% matchups or better against the entire field.” I think I picked up this pet peeve from Tim, but I’ve always hated matchup percentages in general and think they’re worse when people don’t pay any attention to what actually makes a deck good or bad against another deck. I mean, yes, most of us remember decks that are actually that broken in half, but they don’t come around often, and they certainly aren’t usually self-explanatory.

Don’t revel in the angry, over-the-top, frustrated bad beat story.

Now, we all tell our share of bad beat stories. It’s going to happen. But here is a rough guide to whether or not it’s acceptable.

It’s funny. These are always fine, and are basically the only stories that ought to be told unless someone expressly asks, “How’d you lose?” or something to that effect. For example, here’s one from Pro Tour: Charleston that Tim Galbiati and I together managed to pull off.

So we’re playing B/W/G aggro — a decent if unexciting list — against some variety of B/W variant with the usual suspects: Belfry Spirits, Pontiffs, Grotesques, Blind Hunters, Dark Confidant, Big Daddy Ghost. Now, the opponent has been out-topdecking us the entire game, obviously, and we’re forced into a situation where we basically have to Hail Mary it out there in order to have any chance. The opponent has to randomly not attack us for a turn, and we have to clear his board, and he has to draw nothing for two turns in order for us to make some semblance of a comeback. Well, we’re holding nothing, but Tim and I yak for several seconds to bluff the Mortify and it ends up working, because he only gets in there with one guy — a 2/1, I think. So we rip Rolling Spoil off the top. We plunge into the tank, and finally realize we have to all-out swing and hope for the best.

Apparently at some point a Master Warcraft got slung out of left field, because our opponents made the goofiest blocks in history – blocks that, if either Tim or I had been given two weeks to plot out, could not possibly have worked out as well for us as what they had indeed inexplicably selected. It was a miracle. One Rolling Spoil on a Karoo later and our board of 1/1 Vitu-Ghazi tokens and Watchwolves had somehow traded for the entire host of the Dark Forces of Sauron. We were staring at nine lands , one of which was a Vitu-Ghazi, against a board of five lands and no grip.

We, unfortunately, had only one White source — but we had a Vitu-Ghazi and plenty of mana, so it was all good, right?

We peel – Angel of Despair. Man. That sure is a blank. But no big deal, right, we can make a token and wait until next turn. The opponent rips a flier and plays it.

The topdeck arrives. We cower in anticipation — another Angel of Despair. Awkward.

Token. Another flier from the B/W deck. We’re getting kinda antsy.

It’s go time, boys. We need to peel and we need to peel bad. But hopefully the starlight that was shining upon us earlier continues to breathe its blissful vigor, and delivers from evil on this most tempestuous of holy nights.

Ghost Council.

We stare at the one White source and cry as we succumb to the Orzhova Air Force. Our hopes are gone; our dreams are crushed. Well, it was game 3 of a match we had already won, but still. What horrible, ridiculous luck. Even another land would have meant we could have activated Vitu-Ghazi twice and potentially held up for a race. They were literally the three worst possible cards in the deck to draw.

The kicker?

We used a Congregation at Dawn to fetch all three of them.

What no one wants to hear are things like this:

“Oh my God, I was one turn away from wrecking him, but then he just ripped the Hex off the top. There was nothing I could do. How broken.”

Yeah, Hex is good in Limited, they tell me. “But he drew it the turn before I killed him.” Well, sure, good thing he didn’t draw it earlier or it would have been a real blowout.

In another incident at PT: Charleston, our opponent was running the crybabies when Tim Galbiati ripped a Leave No Trace to kill no fewer than four enchantments. “You just topdecked that! What a lucksack!”

I mean, yeah. That is why the card is in the deck. We are going to draw it eventually. This is similar to when people complain about “well, he drew Naturalize, which was the only out in his deck to my (whatever).” Dude, are you serious?! Maybe, just maybe now — stay with me, because this is hard to follow—he included it in his sixty cards expressly because it was an answer. Real strange that he’d actually draw a card in his deck that he’s just as likely to draw as any other card. How terrible!

There is also this great Alex Kim gem: “He just kept sacking guys to his Ghost Council so he could attack and block with his 4/4, and the drain life was just stalling out the game so I couldn’t do anything.”

Why on earth would anyone tell this story? This is pretty much verbatim the express intent of the card as designed. It would be like saying “He cast Wrath of God, and it sucked because it killed every single one of my creatures,” or, “Man, he had Islands, but my Grayscaled Gharial just couldn’t go the distance.”


Don’t make excuses for mistakes you made, ever, ever.

I have been known to throw elbows when people begin sentences like this: “Well, I punted because blah blah blah blah, but it didn’t matter because…”


Of course it matters! You’re holding a punting contest with yourself. If you make a mistake, well, you’re making a mistake. I understand that “you may have lost anyway,” or “I was already completely blown out,” but that doesn’t automatically mean that a mistake doesn’t matter. For one thing, if you don’t screw up, you just might rip the four cards you need to get you back in the game. I remember at the Scourge Prerelease I had to play around ripping one of my two Beasts, Endemic Plague, Mountain, and Form of the Dragon in consecutive order to have any semblance of a chance to win. Any of those out of order wouldn’t have done it, even. But I started playing to where I could survive for exactly four turns, and sure enough my deck delivered what I needed. A mistake would have meant a loss. Now, it’s only the prerelease obviously, but why throw away games you otherwise might have a sliver of a chance at? It’s not as if you have this lifetime stash of mental energy that might somehow deplete itself in a few years because you were playing too hard to begin with.

Secondly, there’s always the chance that your opponent will punt in turn, or that he will at least play differently enough for you to have chances that you don’t deserve. Any of you who have played Extended Heartbeat are familiar with the feeling of being 100% certain of a loss only to have your opponent give you the wrong two cards with Gifts and place the win in your lap on a silver platter with a fortune cookie to top it off.

The best players make the fewest mistakes. It’s pretty much inherent in the definition. So every mistake necessarily matters because it’s one you’re making that the next guy isn’t. Don’t try and shrug it off because it makes you feel better. Good feelings about your worth as a player don’t translate to wins.

Look, I am guilty of all these. And I understand why the insecurity that so many of these problems are rooted in can come to a head. We all invest a lot of time and effort into this game, and it’s not comfortable thinking that it’s all going to waste or that we’re living some impossible dream. It’s much easier to blame outside circumstances or revel in false conceits so that we can carry on with our ho-hum play or abrasive attitude and not confront the fact that maybe we’re just not the best there is. But this is harmful. More than that, it prevents a person from being progressive, from moving forward and developing himself to his maximum potential.

And, most of all, sometimes you’ll just piss the wrong person off.