If it were possible, just if it were, and you could watch yourself playing tournament Magic from the third person– let’s say a dynamic ESPN-ish camera, panning and zooming around you– how would you describe yourself, as a player?
Really, think about it. What do you look like, sitting across from your opponent? Are you stiff, quiet, hunched over, calm, reserved, loud, funny, obnoxious, clever, relaxed, cool? What sort of information are you giving away, with only your demeanor and appearance?
Think about it. Take your time– there’s no rush. It’s just you and your computer, anyway. Give yourself time to formulate a good mental picture.
Got it? Good.
So, what do you look like? Do you look like the kind of player who is going to win the match? Or, do you look like the kind of player who’s going to get walked all over? Remember that there is a part of playing Magic that has nothing to do with the actual cards. One of the facets of this“metagame” is poise. Giving off the appearance of confidence (whether you are confident or cowering) will help you in every match you play. At the very, very worst, it can’t hurt.
Why should you care? After all, it seems like the better players never shave, change clothes, bathe or stop complaining, right? Emulation might help, eh?
I doubt it. Better players tend to win because they are good/lucky/well connected. Their success gives them a name, which is a potent weapon against us no-names. They tend to ride the name recognition for an intimidation factor, having to rely on nothing more than their reputation to disrupt an opponent. The Average Joe doesn’t have this advantage and, as such, must make his or her (in the case of Joe Ella) own advantages. To create an advantage, a player needs an overall commanding character: poise. The fullest expression of poise creates the image of an Unbeatable Player. The seven basic lands in Unbeatable Player’s hand might as well be a Disenchant, Counterspell, Duress, Shock, Snuff Out, Morphling and Treachery– because his or her opponent will often be lured into the trap of believing that hand. All because of a little forethought, a little technique– nothing rude or illegal, just some simple guidelines and etiquette.
Take a bath/shower. First off, I don’t know about you, but I feel better all day, if I’ve taken a shower in the morning. It gets into you. Water in your face wakes you up, makes you look and feel more confident. So do clean hair and fingernails. Also, if you go to a Magic tournament, looking and smelling like a Montana hobo, you aren’t going to make any friends along the way. A stench is not a distraction– it’s an incentive to beat the stinker. No one likes standing around people who stink. People will shy away from you, cut conversations as short as possible, and treat you poorer.
All because you didn’t spend ten minutes in the shower. Shame, shame.
Brush your teeth, wear deodorant, shave, and pull back your hair (if applicable). Do all those things you’re supposed to do in the morning– it’ll pay off.
So, how can you improve your poise, aside from basic hygiene? It’s all pretty basic stuff.
Dress nicer than average. Don’t wear a tux. Don’t wear a tie. You aren’t going to church. Dress accordingly. Dress to win. Optimal attire is a nice dress shirty and slacks– you can’t go wrong with that combination. Failing that, a nice shirt and jeans do well, the shirt being the most important thing, since once you’re sitting down, it’s all your opponent will see, anyway. Wear something that makes you comfortable, because you want to be relaxed, while you play. Make sure the clothes are clean. Clean, as in“not dirty.” A lot of players travel and wear the same clothes for two or three days. When combined with a lacking hygiene, you look grungy. Grungy is a bad thing, nowadays.
Sit up straight! This sounds a bit like fifth grade math class, I realize, but these simple things are important. Sitting up makes you appear taller (remember, bigger is always better, when it comes to making impressions) and in control. Nothing says“I’ve got nothing in my hand” like a grungy guy hunched over the play area, brooding. A relaxed, upright posture keeps your head away from the table, which means that a player hoping to assess your facial expressions and the board must continually look back and forth, making it much more difficult to concentrate on either point of interest. By the same token, it gives you the advantage of the“higher ground,” which is to say a better perspective over the game total.
Be personable. AND talkative. Smile. Neither end of the“talking spectrum” (that is, the Quiet Guy nor the Loud Mouth) is particularly effective at helping you intimidate an opponent. Most players are very accustomed to those two styles, and can all-but ignore the effects of them. The Nice Guy posture, which is a less active, less obnoxious version of the Loud Mouth, works the best. Make sure to wish your opponent luck beforehand. Make friendly comments during the match. Be polite and fair. Try to get your opponent talking back to you, about anything. Old icebreakers are the best, including“where are you from,”“how was the drive,”“how long have you been playing,”“nice roll,”“how’s the tournament been treating you” and plenty of others. Nothing fancy, nothing prying… just enough to start up a conversation. The more your opponent talks to you, the less he or she can concentrate on the game at hand. That means he or she will start making more mistakes. Be careful, though, that you do not fall victim to your own prattle, or else you’ll be at the disadvantage. Think of conversation like Winter Orb: if you can make it affect your opponent but not you, then it’s amazing.
Make it look easy. Don’t sweat anything. Keep up the Nice Guy routine, no matter what happens. If you break character, you’ll lose the effects of poise, for the remainder of the match. When you’re losing, be calm, as if you’re biding your time, waiting for the perfect opportunity to cast Treachery (even if you aren’t holding it!). That way, when (if) you do draw that amazing, game-winning spell, the effect of it will be stunning. If you’re swearing and ranting“I need a Shock, come on deck, etc, etc, etc,” when you do draw it and win, your opponent will chalk up the win to a bout of extraordinary luck, rather than your skill. When the same scenario happens, without the ranting and raving, you look like an amazing player. That’s what you want; your opponent will begin to visualize every card you have as an answer, if you play the character right. Remember, a hand of Islands is just as good as a hand of Counterspells, if your opponent is holding cards rather than playing them. You never want to look desperate, or forlorn. Even if you get smashed by turn one Negator. It’s okay. Make it look like you’ve got the answer in your sideboard, even if you don’t.
“In order to win, you must expect to win.”
Of course, this is the right idea. You have to go in with confidence and a winning spirit, if you hope to win, at all. But, keep in mind, that no amount of positivity can win the game, by itself. You do have to have the skills, deck and luck, as well the psychology. Your play method can only gain psychological advantages– it cannot actually win you a whole tournament. If it pays off in one match out of ten, you’ve done well, and it’s worth the effort.
Quotes are good, and all, but they must be taken in context. After all, if you do some research, you’ll find out that Dan Fouts never won a Super Bowl. At least, though, he had the right mindset.
Eic – www.starcitygames.com
Contributing Editor, Scrye Magazine
“We have lingered in the chambers of the sea
By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown
Till human voices wake us, and we drown.
-The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, T.S. Eliot”
-Should have been the flavor text on Scent of Brine.