In today’s article, Todd steps away from the strategic side of Magic to offer up some suggestions on how to become a better sport and ultimately a better person.

Magic is a complex, intense game that brings all types of people to the table. For me, Magic was an outlet for competition when playing sports was no longer an option. But it’s a different animal entirely. It’s an intellectual challenge as opposed to a physical one, and that was what drew me in so deep.

When That Ol’ Horse Became A Knight

When I was younger, I remember visiting my grandparents for Christmas almost every year. And each year my dad would always find an old chess board for us to do battle. At first, things were difficult to understand. Why couldn’t my pieces move past one another? And how the hell did that horse jump around like an “L?” I remember forgetting how one piece moved and getting frustrated that I couldn’t actually do what I was planning to do, and everything fell apart. Slowly, the pieces started to make sense, and the battles got a little more complex each time. At night, the replays in my mind went on long after the game was over. It was enthralling to have a game so complex at my fingertips, but I would always put it down when we left until another year had passed and we went to visit my grandparents again.

And I would lose every single time. It was frustrating to lose at a game that I thought I was getting better at. My dad easily moved about the board, trouncing me piece by piece and setting me up for catastrophic failure. He made plays that “made no sense” because I was just going to take his piece for free! Until suddenly, my Queen was captured two turns later. What a jerk! How could he have seen that far ahead? What if I had made a different play?

The beauty of a trap is that it is incredibly demoralizing for the opponent when they fall into it. The beauty of a great trap is that you aren’t negatively affected if your opponent doesn’t actually fall for it. After learning some of his old tricks and eventually implementing them on my own, I began to learn that there was so much more to this game than I originally gave it credit for.

And eventually, I started to win. It wasn’t pretty and often included countless misplays, but that didn’t stop me from resetting the board again and again until my grandmother called us into the kitchen for dinner. I went sleep that night thinking of new openings to unleash and ultimately found a goldfish kill on the fourth move! Of course, this maneuver was easily counterable, but I just laughed and laughed the one (and only) time it worked on my older brother.

I remember the feeling I got when I realized how important it was to move my pawns in a way that allowed more accessibility to other important pieces. I remember formulating plans that involved winning the game much earlier than it seemed. And I remember making my first aggressive trade to move into a better board position.

It was right then, getting lost in those hours, that I realized that I didn’t need a flashy video game to be entertained. I just needed an opponent. A living, breathing opponent who could actually think back at me and put up a fight. It was during those long days with golf matches blaring in the background that I found out I didn’t need sports to have real competition.

It’s no wonder that I became so addicted to Magic.

But like any competition, Magic can bring out the worst in us. It’s against our nature to lose because losing in the biological sense usually means death. It’s only natural to get emotional about a loss, but we have to remember that it’s all just a game regardless of how much we think is on the line. This article is dedicated to being a better sport and ultimately becoming a better person because of it.

Thanks, Dad.

Good Game

One hotly debated topic is the concept of a “good game.” To me, the term means that both players actually had a chance to interact and ultimately one person ended up victorious by having a better deck, a better draw, or playing better than the opponent. A good game of Magic is one where both players have fun, and it honestly shouldn’t matter whether you won or lost.

The term “good game” was impressed upon me in sports at a young age. Win or lose, you walk out onto the field after it is all over, and you shake your opponent’s hand. You hold your head high even if you made a mistake or two, you look them in the eye, and you acknowledge that you’re both human beings doing something you love and one person just so happened to come out on top.

In Magic, I hear about so many people getting angry that their opponent said “good game” after a mana screw, double mulligan, or lucky topdeck. To so many people that play games outside of Magic, “good game” is just what you say. It doesn’t mean anything. It’s just a show of sportsmanship that is offered so that it can be reciprocated. There is such a “high horse” complex rooted in the competitive Magic player that many of them see it as an insult.

Just grow up and say it back.

I find myself having to dance around the subject constantly because I do know that the “good game” stigma exists. One thing I often say after a win is “good luck next round.” If my opponent is eliminated from the tournament after our match, I’ll ask them about an upcoming event and wish them luck in that.

There are so many ways you can interact with people on a positive level to keep from leaving a bad taste in someone’s mouth.

The Handshake

There are two points in which you should shake someone’s hand during a match. The one that most people know is when a match is over. While the post-game handshake isn’t always met with a warm welcome, you should never let your opponent’s mood affect your own. Their etiquette is a reflection of themself, as is yours.

But there is another handshake you should cherish.

When you sit down for a match, introduce yourself. Shake your opponent’s hand and wish them good luck. Take a moment to connect with another person who is trying to experience the same things you are and revel in the camaraderie. One of the easiest ways to make friends at a tournament is by playing against them. If you present yourself as a person of composure, you could find yourself playing against someone who is just like you and ultimately create a lasting connection.

When I first sat down across from the people at my old card shop, I had no idea that we would end up becoming friends. I considered many of them enemies who were standing in the way of a glorious prize purse of six booster packs. But eventually, I realized that these were the people I would play against every single week, and it was incredibly difficult to do anything but bask in our common goal. I have met nearly all of my best friends from playing Magic because we found something that piqued our interest and it gave us a medium in which to connect. Why should large tournaments be any different?

Hold Your Tongue

I know that I can be guilty of this from time to time, but it’s important to keep your cool both during and after a match of Magic. If you feel yourself about to say something salty, hold your tongue. Yes, your opponent might have drawn the exact six cards in a row they needed to win, but that doesn’t make it any less rude to say “nice effing draw, lucksack.”

Your mouth can get you in a lot of trouble. I am an aficionado of putting my foot in my mouth. A connoisseur of sorts. But I have been trying to work on it. And by working on it, I see the same sort of behavior in others stand out much more than it did before. It seems . . . childish. We can raise ourselves above that level and realize something about the game of Magic that tends to be forgotten.

Without luck, we would never have a chance to beat Jon Finkel.

But with that sword comes a double edge, and we can lose any match to any of the opponents who we deem “less” than us. In actuality, no one who plays the game of Magic is less than us because they are exactly like us. They are in a place where we were once at ourselves, and they are trying to grow as players and competitors. Keep in mind that almost all of us once thought Craw Wurm was worth its weight in gold.

If your opponent has ever spouted off the “so lucky,” try to remember how it made you feel. Did you actually earn that victory? Even if you did, that one comment made it feel less than deserved, and you should pride yourself in ending the cycle. So smile, keep your head up, and keep your mouth shut!

Get Over It

Magic is a difficult game. Win or lose, many of our results can be traced back to a decision that we made. Many of us take pride in those decisions even in defeat. And those are the ones that sting the most. We all make mistakes, but it’s how you recover from those mistakes that separates you from the rest of the pack.

Losing is just another part of Magic. If you’re wondering how you can “make the pain stop” when you lose a match, my only advice is to play more Magic. Not only will you increase the proficiency of your technical play, but you will learn that winning isn’t everything. In a lot of tournaments, you can afford to take a loss or two and still win. Coming back from a loss is one of the most difficult challenges you can face, but it must be done if you are to succeed.

After a tough loss, one of my ways to cool down is to take a short walk around the outside of the venue. It helps me keep calm and refocus. You can’t take the negative vibes from a previous match into your next one or else it will affect you in a very negative way. Your mulligan decisions will be much worse, and your play will become sloppy. Each match is its own battle, and losing the match before shouldn’t weigh in on how you do in the current one. The moment you realize you don’t care about the outcome of the current match is the moment when all hope is lost.

On Hygiene

One common occurrence at Magic tournaments is a collection of poor souls with even poorer hygiene. There is little more as distracting as an offensive odor swarming the table when you’re trying to come up with a complex multi-turn play. There are a lot of things you can do as a human being to keep this from being an issue.

I understand that there are a few overweight people who have a lot of trouble cleaning themselves, but most of you have no good excuse. Take a shower before you come to a Magic tournament. It’s as plain and simple as that. In fact, use a loofah if you have to. I promise you that taking a shower before going to a tournament will help wake you up and help us all have a better day.

It shouldn’t have to be said, but please brush your teeth. I meet so many people who just refuse to brush their teeth on a daily basis, and it results in some mighty powerful breath. If I can’t stand to talk to you and you happen to be standing four feet away, then we have a problem. Mouthwash is acceptable in some cases, but come on man!

And lastly, we all sweat. Just buy some Old Spice or something. If not for yourself, then for those around you. It might not seem like a real issue, but there are so many people jammed into tournament halls that the temperature can rise quite quickly, causing an awful lot of perspiration. You can do us all a favor by helping to keep the collective smell in check by taking two seconds to apply some deodorant.

Be Better

Throughout my Magic career, I’ve encountered so many different people and been to so many wonderful places. Each event holds something unique, but that experience is almost entirely up to you. Your outlook can be the difference between having a great time and ending up a miserable wreck. The attitude you bring to a tournament should be a positive one that influences those around you to do the same, giving everyone a much greater experience.

Let’s be real though. Not everyone is going to be “nice.” Not everyone is going to handle a loss with dignity. And not everyone knows the proper etiquette when dealing with an opponent. After all, many of us are a bit socially awkward, and that can lead to some . . . interesting results.

But we are people who spend countless hours playing a game we love, and that is something we all can share with each other. Harboring positive feelings and encouraging your friends to do the same will only lead to a larger player base and ultimately a better game. Fun should always be the first thing you look for when going to a tournament. Honestly, if I know I’m not going to have any fun, I tend to stay home and do things I know will make me happy.

So be at your best and keep in mind that you are not just representing yourself at events. You are a representation of your friends, your local store, and even your hometown. If you want people to come back and the game to thrive, then try to have a little patience with newer players. Try to put your best foot forward in everything you do and keep in mind how your actions reflect upon those around you.