Building A Better Bad Beat Story

2012 Florida State Champion Mark Nestico teaches you how to put a positive spin on one of the most unpleasant experiences a person can have in Magic: losing.

Bad beat stories have . . . well . . . a bad rap.

How much do you like hearing other people complain? On a scale of 1-10, I probably fall between "not ever giving a crap" and "if I could bottle your tears and sell them to Nestle, I would hope that they would replace Pure Life in their lineup of water-like products."

That doesn’t mean I don’t do it.

We all do it.

That’s the problem.

It is a problem, right?


I’m here today because Standard is about to change and there isn’t much I can tell you that you don’t already know.

Born of the Gods looks sweet for Limited.

More scry lands is cool.

Several cards look really powerful.

Twitter can’t stop whining about how much they hate Born of the Gods.

The McRib is gone, and I don’t know when it’ll be back. [Editor’s Note: Hopefully never.]

I wish I had a Fuddruckers closer to my house.

Complain complain complain.

Since there aren’t tons of things to regale you with, I figured we should all get together and learn how to put a positive spin on one of the most unpleasant experiences a person can have in Magic: losing.

I write a lot about handling losses and getting better from them because I used to not handle them well at all, and I think a huge part of that is changing the context in which we grief. In multiple cultures, funerals are huge parties—not for some morbid fascination with death or mocking the dead but because some people view loss as a reason to celebrate life and experiences. Depression can completely alter your mindset and change the way you play. Ever lose a round because you were tilted from a defeat earlier and couldn’t think clearly? That sucks.

I’ve found ways to channel my disappointment with losing into storytelling. It sounds strange, but instead of lamenting about the ways I was beaten, I’ve found that when someone asks me how it happened to just give them an outlandish and hysterical account of how I lost. I don’t change the facts, but sometimes the devil lies in details and channeling your misfortune into a positive can leave you feeling fresh, relaxed, and most of all happy.

Tip #1: When someone asks you how you lost, you don’t need to tell them your life story.

One of the most common rookie mistakes with telling a bad beat story is that the person will get into the most incredible and epic detail, chronicling just how badly they were screwed, how lucky their opponent was, how many times they sneezed during the match, what color underwear they have on, and what their first-grade teacher’s name was. Mine was Ms. Manzo.

People are interested, but they are only interested to a point. That’s why commercials are usually between 22 and 30 seconds—because a person can only care so much until they stop giving a hoot. If I had to hear four minutes about Chef Boyardee Beefaroni, I’d probably not want to eat it. Have it flash on the screen with a mother serving a piping hot bowl to her children with the word "Love" and then it’s over? Oh boy(ardee), sign me up.

In fact, I’m going to go make a bowl of that right now.

I’ll be right back.

Ok. Back.

This past weekend I attended a PTQ, so the stakes were high and the amount of complaining around me was even higher. I heard story after story about people losing and how upset they were. Here are mine in a nutshell:

  • After Essence Scattering my opponent’s turn 2 Burning-Tree Emissary, he passes the turn. I play my third land and cast Divination, to which he replies, "I forgot to play my land. Can we go back so I can play it?" After kindly telling him that we’re midway through my third turn, he agrees. No big deal. I never draw a sixth land and die.
  • An opponent casts a turn 3 Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver against me when he’s on the play. Sure. The +2 promptly hits two Detention Spheres and an Elspeth. Two activations later Ashiok hits two more Detention Sphere’s and my Aetherling. Not to be outdone, in game 2 his Ashiok hits two Detention Spheres and my one Pithing Needle in one activation and on the second activation hits my other two Detention Spheres. He was very unpleasant to play against, which was strange because he was hammering me.
  • While at four life, tapped out, with one card in hand, my opponent untaps with five lands. He looks at his hand, looks at my board, looks at me, asks me if I’m tapped out, thinks about it some more, sighs, goes deep in the tank, shakes his head, thinks about it, and when I politely ask him to increase the speed of his play, he says, "Okay," and then casts a Stormbreath Dragon and kills me. I asked him why he slowrolled me. He was "thinking of what I could have."
  • In game 2 against G/R Monsters, I feel like I’m in great shape. He has a board full of creatures, but I haven’t drawn a Supreme Verdict yet. No biggie. Sphinx’s Revelation for eight. No Verdict, huh? Oh well. He attacks me to very low and just plays more creatures. I Revelation for nine this time. Hmph. No Verdict again. New game plan! Draw for turn; play Jace, Architect of Thought; and activate the -2. Surely in my last twenty cards one of my four Verdicts wi—nope. Okay. I’m dead. The same thing happens in game 3, when I draw fifteen cards over two turns to search for a Verdict and die to a double Dragon when I don’t.

Do you see?

That is 362 words, four different scenarios, and BAM we are done.

Do I have to do an entire tournament report to tell you that for the first time in my life I went 0-2 in a PTQ?

Hell no!

You know why?

Because it happens!

By round 4 I found myself playing DC Deck-Building with John Cuvelier. I’m sure if you’d have asked anyone in that room if he and I would’ve both failed miserably in the first couple rounds they’d have bet against it.

Well, guess what?

Green Lantern is really, really good.

Tip #2: Have fun when you describe your decimation.

This is going to sound so counterintuitive, but you can’t change the culture unless you’re willing to change the behaviors associated with it.

Have you heard this one before?

"My opponent was so lucky. He topdecked me right out of the second game. Then I mulliganed to five in game 3, and he drew way better than I did. He was such a donkey, I’m pretty sure he was cheating, and he acted all excited after he won. It was stupid. I didn’t even get to play Magic."

Oh really?

Did you shuffle up, play lands, get attacked by creatures, and then die?

You did?

Then sucka please, you totally got to play Magic.

Instead of crying like a child over getting beaten, I like to make a game of it: How Many People Can I Entertain With My Suffering?

That’s why when people ask me how I lost, what the circumstances were, and details I try to explain it in the most entertaining way possible. The opponent who beat me at the PTQ walked by me after doling out the harshness, and as I was about to recount my thrashing, I put my arm around him and went into an epic tale about how viciously I was crushed.

"So I think I’m doing all great over here and everything is swell when NOPE he draws Stormbreath Dragon. Did it taste good?" I ask him.

"Yes," he replies, "it tasted very good."

"No . . . no it didn’t, man," I immediately refute. "The truth is it tasted really, really bad. Pretty sure you put way too much mustard on that."

People started laughing, we were both smiling, he didn’t have to feel bad for kicking my teeth in, and I got to get some chuckles out of the nearby people listening. Afterward I shook his hand again and told him to keep crushing and win the event. Was I upset? No.

Anger is fleeting, but good vibes can be carried on throughout the day.

Tip #3: Get your friends involved.

When a friend of mine took a pretty tough loss this past weekend, it was clear he was a little upset and didn’t really want to face the fact that his tournament life was over. You could literally see it in his eyes that a dark cloud was going to be following him around all day and that he wasn’t going to shake that feeling easily.

When another buddy came by and asked him what happened, he kind of angrily shrugged and said, "I don’t want to talk about it."

I only caught the ending of it, so I started just making up wild and ridiculous game states.

"His opponent is totally dead on board and has one card in his hand. Almost nothing can win this game for him, but obviously he draws and slams a Fanatic of Mogis. No big deal. Our hero is still at seven, but what was the other card in the opponent’s hand? The second Fanatic, giving him just enough devotion to make the kill."

"My opponent was playing Mono-Blue Devotion."

"Yeah, I saw. He had like . . . triple Frostburn Weird out."

"You have no idea what happened, do you?"

"Absolutely not, no."

The cracks started to show, and he began to laugh. All of a sudden he was forgetting about the loss and started focusing.

"Whatever. I’m still gonna Top 16 this thing."

And so he did. For a few minutes it felt like losing was the worst thing in the world, but taking his bad beat and turning it around ended up letting him forget all about a difficult loss and instead make sure he was ready for the next round. No tilt and no blocks to keep him from entering his next match with a chip on his shoulder.

Tip #4: Catch people off guard by being totally ridiculous.

This is a new tactic I have recently adopted when dealing with pity parties, and I think the success rate of it has gone through the roof.

When asked about what happened my last round and how I lost, I think just outright lying and saying something so outlandish is the way to go.

"Turn 3 I’m feeling really good when I play my Thassa, but on his turn 3 he plays his general, which was obviously Azusa, Lost but Seeking. He plops a Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale down and a Dark Depths, so I’m pretty much screwed. I pay the one for my creatures, but when I try to cast another Cloudfin Raptor, he has Force of Will, pitching Ulamog. He untaps with so much mana, and I can’t really beat a turn 4 Emrakul."

Dude . . . what?

Like my friend Brennan says, "Once you’ve heard one bad beat, you’ve heard them all." Brennan hates these stories and usually just says "do better" after he hears one.

I’ve decided to use that as inspiration to tell ridiculous tall tales in lieu of complaining.

What does complaining really get you?

One of the silliest notions to me is that we are entitled to always win and never lose. I used to be the biggest toolbag when I lost because I wondered how these buffoons could beat someone as great as I was. I was entitled. I was also horrible at Magic and had no business feeling this way.

Losses happen.

I’ve watched the best players in the world battle, mulligan to nothing, lose, shake their opponent’s hand with a shrug, and then walk away smiling. But how? I don’t understand! You’re so much better than they are! You should always beat them!

That’s the best part about Magic. Anything can happen anytime.

If I step into the ring with Johnny "Bones" Jones, 100 times out of a 100 he will beat me to death. There is almost a 0% chance that I can take that guy in a fight, but in Magic it’s different. If I play well against Luis Scott-Vargas, draw the right cards, fade a couple of draws from him, and have a good matchup, I can actually win. What other game lets that happen? It’s a combination of luck, skill, and deck choice. Against "Bones" it doesn’t matter what deck I’m playing because no matter what his "elbow" is going to beat me every time.

. . .

. . .

. . .

As much as people hate them, bad beat stories aren’t going anywhere. Sorry!

The fun part of Magic is the lore aspect of it, so why not make the beatings you endure become a part of legend instead of using them to fuel your discontent?

Feeling sorry for yourself never does anything good, so treat it like you would anything else: with humor.

The next time someone walks up to you and asks how you lost, make the feeling of great storytelling contagious and regale them with a tale.

Magic is supposed to be fun, right? Let’s make losing fun too.

Next week I’ll be covering the Prerelease, a new spin on a few different U/W decks I’ve been working on, and best of all might have some bad beats to tell you about.

Catch ya on the flip-

Watch me stream! http://www.twitch.tv/Mark_Nestico
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Gaze in awe as I attempt to tweet things! @DynamoNestico
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