Losing Like a Winner

Do you lose with grace? Mark Nestico discusses how to approach losses in Magic in a way that builds community, a topic close to his hobbyist’s heart.

Losing sucks.

Let’s just get that out of the way before we begin, OK? That way we can try to have the best discussion possible.

We also need to put another point on the table: you won’t agree with everything I say today, and that’s all right. I don’t expect you to, nor would I want
you to.

So where was I?

Ah yes.

Losing sucks.

One of the hardest things to do after a game of Magic is handling that you have lost. People have different ways of dealing with loss, among them

  • Temper tantrums
  • Acceptance
  • Silence
  • Graciousness
  • Self-loathing
  • Anger
  • Happiness for your opponent

Which of these bullets apply to you?

Take a moment and seriously think it over.

Back? Let’s press forward.

When you’ve identified which traits are most common to how you react, you can either choose to continue reading or exit the article. It’s about to get real
in a moment.

If you’ve decided to stay, it’s because you’re serious about getting better when it comes to handling a loss, which can be one of the most difficult things
to do in the entirety of Magic. Being a good loser doesn’t come easily to anyone, but learning how to deal with losing can oftentimes increase the joy you
derive from and overall experience you have at any given tournament.

You’ve Lost

There are a few different games of Magic you’re going to lose, and believe me, you’re going to lose to all of them.

• Long, grindy games where eventually you are out-resourced. It may take a while, but you’ll succumb to a better board.

• Games where you mulligan a lot. These can be the most frustrating, because you may feel like you never “got to play Magic.”

• You are killed very quickly by an aggro or combo deck. You never got off the ground and couldn’t disrupt them before they won.

• The belief that you were incredibly unlucky and your opponent was extremely lucky. There is almost no accountability on your part, as everything comes
down to them drawing better than you did regardless of how “bad” at the game they are. There was nothing you could do. You are powerless.

Floods that would make Noah blush. We can call you John Avon, because you’re very good at drawing lands. Each draw step yields more and more mana, and
without pulling a spell you can’t do much else.

• Misplays. Things might have been close, but something you did caused you to lose. You may have played the wrong land, cast the wrong spell at the
incorrect time, or made poor blocks or attacks that cost you the game. This loss is entirely your fault.

Figuring out where you fall in that spectrum is the most important, but some people tend to blur the lines, which causes an inappropriate reaction.

Situation 1: A game has gone very long. You’re playing Mono-Black Devotion against an opponent playing U/W Control. You Thoughtseize them, seeing only
two lands. You attack with a Desecration Demon and pass the turn. They draw and ship it back to you. You move to attack again, and they take six,
dropping to four life. The last card in your hand is a Gray Merchant, so you decide to play it rather than give them another turn, noting that they had
nothing last turn except for a land drop, so maybe they have flooded out. You play the Merchant, but they respond with a Sphinx’s Revelation for seven.
They go to 11, take four, but follow up with a Supreme Verdict. Your top-decked Underworld Connections is met with a Dissolve. They play Elspeth, Sun’s
Champion with three mana up, showing another Dissolve. You draw a Desecration Demon, but it’s countered. After an attack from some tokens, they
Sphinx’s Revelation again for eight, play their land, and pass at 15 life. The game is hopelessly out of your reach.

“You’re so lucky that you drew that Sphinx’s Revelation. I love Thoughtseizing and then having my opponent draw the exact card they need right after,”
you say with salt in your voice.

What can we extrapolate from this situation? First and foremost, it’s really not lucky. We know that it’s common for a U/W Control deck to play Sphinx’s
Revelation, and if the opponent hasn’t cast one the whole game, which we identified has gone quite long, then it makes sense that eventually they’d draw
one. It wasn’t luck. It was inevitability.

Situation 2: It’s Game 2. You took a loss to an aggressive deck the first game, so you board in a few cards and elect to go first. Your opening seven
has no cards that you brought in and is filled with a glut of four-drops. You think it’s better to keep rather than risk a weaker six, so you keep. By
Turn 3 they’ve flooded the board with creatures, lowering your life total to burn range. A few Lightning Strikes later, you’re dead.

“You can’t possibly win this match if I have the cards I boarded in. It’s so stupid that your skill-less deck beat me.”

Couldn’t possibly win, eh? Aggressive mulliganing is a skill that has divided the community. Some live by the motto “I’d rather die than mulligan,” and
others say “a six has to be better than this.” If you know that your opponent is playing something fast, why would you keep a hand that doesn’t do anything
until Turn 4? Why would you complain about not having a sideboarded card if you didn’t keep a hand that had one?

Also, why would you say their deck doesn’t take skill to play? One of the most skillful elements of Magic is knowing what kind of deck is best suited for a
tournament. If Patrick Chapin beat you playing Tempered Steel, would you tell him that he didn’t know how to play Magic? If you wouldn’t do it to him, why
would you do it to the person at your FNM who realized that his Mono-Red Devotion deck was very well-positioned in a format full of G/B Devotion? Sometimes
people are better than we give them credit for.

The Great Handshake Debate

Now that we’ve established that you’ve lost in one of a number of ways, your opponent extends their hand to you.

“Good game,” they say, “and good luck the rest of the tournament.”

You’re obviously upset/flustered/on tilt.

What do you do?

A) Swallow your pride, reach across and wish them well.

B) Say “No thanks” with a head shake, pack your things up, and walk away.

C) Say “It wasn’t a good game.”

D) Enlighten them as to why you don’t shake people’s hands when they beat you.

E) Be genuinely happy for them to advance, shake their hand, and move on.

F) Some other option I haven’t listed

Tonight I introduced a thread on Facebook discussing just this topic, and within thirty minutes it went over a hundred replies.

The consensuses broke down to these responses:

• Only the loser should extend their hand. If they don’t, just leave them alone, sign the slip, and let that be it.

• Both players should be willing to shake hands. It’s just a game, after all.

• The winner has the right to offer his hand but the loser has the right to ignore it or decline.

• Neither player should shake hands. The winner should be gracious, and the loser should focus on getting their head back in the game.

Personally, I believe you should always shake hands after a match unless the opponent was cheating, rude, or condescending.

I’ve read multiple articles on the subject, ranging from never accepting a handshake to being appalled at the idea of not shaking hands. I understand there
are circumstances were a handshake isn’t going to happen. When my opponent is tilting, prattling off angrily, or we had a five minute game where I
steamrolled them, I am reluctant to offer the gesture because more often than not they’re going to decline it, which may exacerbate their agitation.

If they decide that it’s not something they want, I will always wish them the best of luck on the rest of their tournament.

Being a gracious winner and not twisting the knife is almost important as the match itself.

Watch this: http://www.twitch.tv/magic/b/529932258

Fast forward to 5:18:00 and view for a minute.

Reid Duke has achieved his dream of Top 8’ing a Pro Tour. He sits down ready to take down the entire event. Everything is leading up to this moment.

What happened?

After two quick games, Duke is defeated. His draw wasn’t great, Ichikawa draws quite well, and he losses the single most important match of his life. What
does he do?

He smiles and extends his hand.

There is no match of Magic any of us will ever play that’s nearly as important as the one Reid played and lost, but regardless of the outcome, no matter
how bad/good the game was, he is obliged to offer the handshake.

Conley Woods said it best on a Facebook post, and I think he hit the nail on the head better than anyone ever has:

“Yea, shake your opponent’s hand. You do this for them, not you. Who cares if you got mana screwed? Did your opponent stack your deck? Why does an
opponent who randomly was paired with you when you drew well get a hand shake but the opponent who randomly gets paired with you when you draw bad is
all of a sudden denied that respect or is considered bad mannered for asking for it?

Not shaking an opponent’s hand is only acceptable when that person blatantly did something not acceptable to you. Deal with your mana screw
insecurities on your own time.”

That’s a lesson we all can learn from.

What Not To Do

One thing I see quite often, and believe me this is going to be hard for some of you out there, is immediately complain to Facebook or Twitter about your

There is a huge difference between:

“Lost my win-and-in, but I’m really happy with the way I played. We’ll get them next time.”


“So pissed off. Obviously get paired against the mouth-breather playing Burn. I mulligan into oblivion and he kills me on turn five both games with his god
draw. I can’t catch a break. I’m quitting Magic I swear.”

The first is an instance where the poster accepts the loss and also ends on a positive note. The second is a person throwing a tantrum.

As is documented, and I’ve admitted to quite often, I used to be the biggest jerk when I lose. I was the second example. When I started taking
responsibility for my losses, I immediately noticed results and improvement in my game. Not only that, it also changed the way people perceived me and
looked at me. Years prior, they’d say “That guy is a crappy loser and I’d rather not be his friend.” Now (hopefully) they say “He takes losing pretty
well.” I might sigh and shake my head afterwards, but I try to keep it together for the most part.

We all understand the saying: The Tilt is real.

When you post on Facebook or Twitter, what are you really doing?


The problem with that is when it becomes excessive, people get sick of reading it. When it’s sharp and critical, people think you’re being mean. When it’s
self-loathing about how unlucky and pissed off you are, your friends (or people who follow you) want to see you feel better, so they placate you about how
great you are and that you’ll bounce back.

It’s artificial. It’s essentially begging for people to validate you.

“Yes, you lost to that stupid mouth-breathing peasant, but they’ll never be as good at Magic as you are.”

“Still rooting for you.”

“Don’t let bad players get you down.”

Now they’re piling on the praise, but does it make you feel better to bask in false adoration? When you tweet about how unlucky you are and how variance
just crushed you, what are you really doing?

You’re admitting you’re powerless.

You’re at the mercy of the game. No matter how good you are, forces will always thwart you that you can’t control.

Does Jon Finkel talk that way? Owen Turtenwald? Do these people act like a loss invalidates their accomplishments by storming social media and lamenting
their failures? I follow both, and I can’t say I have.

In a way, Facebook and Twitter and other social media sites are the worst thing that can happen to your confidence. Now you’re putting a loss out there for
the world to see, to judge, or to remind you of. Each notification is a person picking at a wound that was just freshly opened.

What can you do instead?



Go outside. Take a quick walk.

Drink some water.

Talk it out with your buddies. Don’t bog them down with negativity.

Negativity? No. Stay positive. Easier said than done, right?


Why have we ingrained it in our psyches that failure means we’re less of a person? A loss is personal?

I urge you to use this forum as a means for expression, not venting. If you need to feel better about yourself, put some positivity out there and then
watch the reactions you get. That’s a feeling that can help you rally rather than bring you even further down.

A Last Word

It’s not just about how you lose, but also how you win.

Don’t be smug.

Don’t talk about how lucky you were.

Don’t celebrate excessively.

Humility: exercise it.

This isn’t a one-way street. Don’t forget that there is such a thing as being a poor winner.

But if you do find yourself on the losing side of things, how you conduct yourself will speak volumes about not just the kind of player you are, but the
kind of person you are.

We learn more about ourselves in loss than we do in victory.

How will you lose?