Peace of Mind – The Content Of Our Character

Partly a reaction to Rizzo’s”Bringing Out The Dead,” partly a tirade on culpability, this article deals with how you make yourself better.

Am I dead?

That was the question that wended its way through my thoughts while I was reading Rizzo’s recent article, "Bringing Out the Dead." Apparently, I wasn’t the only person who took the article seriously; heck, there’s an open letter from Dave Mitchard peering out of the wealth of daily content on Star City, and I suspect he’s not the only one who sought to bring it in response to what Rizzo brought.

That’s a mouthful. So are Rizzo’s words.

The article even caused a philosophical uproar on the Star City list, where a passing comment by the charming Lauren Passmore begat more responses than Wilt Chamberlain on a good day. What ensued was a lot of sound and fury, perhaps signifying little, but illustrating plenty about my fellow writers. Rizzo’s pulling all of the comments together into his next column – while it’s not up yet as I’m writing this, if Ferrett’s good to me, he’ll put the link to it here: [link]

People took that article seriously. They were inflamed by it; they were annoyed, upset, troubled – insert synonym here. Why? Perhaps because it stepped beyond the normal realm of rants about Magic (though Rizzo’s far from typical) and spoke about Who We Are, what we’re doing with our lives, presenting a judgment about the content of our character and the way we live our lives.

Am I dead?

The people who were offended by that article may not have even asked that question. What bothered them was perhaps this: He’s saying that I’m dead.

Damn him.

I’m curious why people LET it bother them. Why his opinion matters. Why Rizzo’s no different than a stranger on the street stopping you, latching onto your coattails, and breathing sour wind into your safe place. Would that disturb you, someone proselytizing about what you’re made of, the worth of your life, the nature of your passion? Would you want to respond immediately, decrying their statements and proving to them otherwise? Or would you simply shrug, let them rant, and go along your merry way, secure in yourself enough not to let someone’s opinion bother you?

Why do you care? If you’re trying to sell something to them (yourself included), maybe you have a motive of some sort. If not, then stop for a second, and if it bothered you, ask yourself just WHY you were upset that someone judged you, or that you felt the need to defend yourself, either in writing or in your own mind.

Are we dead?

There’s Magic in this article soon – don’t be afraid. I may do the bob-and-weave throughout my articles, but there’s a purpose. There’s always a purpose, because I’m not going to accidentally throw a few hours of my life into an article. Bear with me. I write for those interested in a little more. And I live up to that self-mandated responsibility. If you want to research more, check out Steven Covey. I’ve liberally borrowed from his concepts in both my article and personal beliefs.

For now, let’s think. If you’re not dead, then what are you?

Some people can answer that quickly. Some people can’t answer it at all. People can list their good traits like they’re writing a personal ad. "Hi, I’m Michael, I’m intelligent, funny, and compassionate. I like to go out to movies or sometimes just to watch them at home with that special someone. I’m someone who’s often serious, but who can also be silly, and I want to find someone who wants to be with me but doesn’t need to be with me. I like to spend quality time alone, but I also like going out with friends."

If you think that’s NOT representative of 90% of the ads, go check them out. They’re a hoot. Take out my name and insert some random person’s, and it probably fits them. Is that me? Is that you? Maybe we’re all more alike than we think, and each one of us is a brain, an athlete, a basket case, a princess, and a criminal.

Maybe we’re all dead.

But I don’t believe that *I* am. Hell, no – though with apologies to Alanis Morrissette, if we were our bodies, our futures, our defenses, our culture, our leaders, our denials, our nametags, our rejections, our outcomes, our indignities, our successes, our emotions, their condemnations, their projections, our paranoias, our incomes, our obsessions, or our afflictions, I’d be joining you.

Thank the gods we’re not; I’M not. We’re more than our feelings, moods, and thoughts. The very fact that we can think about these things separates us from the animal world; self-awareness enables us to stand apart and examine the way we see ourselves, our self-paradigm. Everyone has self-awareness. Cogit ergo sum, baby. However, not everyone has objectivity, which is an important quality to nurture. Our self-awareness affects not only our attitudes and behaviors, but also how we see other people. It’s our map.

We have the ability to think about our very thought process. This is why we can evaluate and learn from both our and others’ experiences. This is also why we can both make and break our habits and overcome instinctual or conditioned behavior. We’re an imperfect species, of course; everyone is self-aware, but NOT everyone is Self-Aware. (Do you like her, or do you Like Her like her? You know what I mean.) We attribute motives to others. We project our feelings and insecurities via our words and actions. We run through the scripts of our self-made dramas and present ourselves as victims.

Perception is reality, folks, and attaining the right mindset takes a conscious decision to do so, to examine our paradigms and determine whether they’re reality-based or merely a function of conditioning and conditions.

So my question isn’t truly about whether people are dead or not. My question is: Are you a victim?

The zeitgeist of this era is a blameless existence. The current social paradigm tells us that we are largely determined by conditioning and conditions. That it’s not our fault. That our actions are justified. That negative actions by individuals arise from negative actions of society. I’ve studied sociology; I have a degree in it. Social trends are measurable, and there are distinct cause-and-effect relationships when you’re looking at a group of 254 million people. On an individual level, each person of those 254 million has the capability to control their own lives.

Prevailing belief tells us that our behavior is largely determined by conditioning and conditions. While it’s valid to acknowledge the tremendous power of conditioning in our lives, to say that we have no control over that influence creates quite a different paradigm.

Perhaps you attribute everything to genetic determinism, which basically says that your ancestors did it to you. That’s why you have such a temper. Your parents and grandparents had tempers. It’s in your DNA. It just passes through the generations. Plus, you’re Irish, and isn’t that the nature of Irish people? Or maybe you’re a hot-blooded Italian.

Maybe it’s psychic determinism. Your family did it to you. Your upbringing, your childhood experience; it laid out your character and just as Freud said, everything you do has a perfectly reasonable explanation based on how you were treated as a child. That’s why you are afraid to speak in public; you remember how you were rejected or emotionally punished or compared to someone else when you didn’t perform as well as expected.

Or there’s a chance that it’s all environmental – where you work at is driving you crazy. You’re irritable and pessimistic because your spouse doesn’t support you, or you don’t make enough money, or you simply have too much work to do, or you disagree with national policies or the state of the world’s population. Someone or something out there is responsible for your issues.

Each of these beliefs is based on the stimulus/response theory we most often think of in connection with Pavlov’s experiments with dogs. The basic idea is that we are conditioned to respond in a particular way to a particular stimulus.

Oh, quit it. You are not a damn dog.

Do these theories of determinism sound familiar? We’ve all used them at some point in our life. Most people accept them, place the blame elsewhere. Our sense of self is so often skewed. How many times does someone say, "I have to [do something]?"

The truth? You don’t HAVE to do anything. You CHOOSE to do what you wish, and whether or not the consequences are desirable. Too often, however, these deterministic mirrors become self-fulfilling prophecies.

I know this idea is a dramatic paradigm shift for many people. It is so much easier to blame other people, conditioning, or conditions for our own stagnant situation. But we are responsible – response-able to control our lives and to powerfully influence our circumstances by working on what we are.

We are, by nature, proactive. If our lives are a function of conditioning and conditions, it is because we have, by conscious decision or by default, chosen to empower those things to control us.

Reactive people build their emotional lives around the behavior of others, empowering the weaknesses of other people to control them.

Anytime we think the problem is "out there," that thought is the problem. We empower what’s out there to control us. What’s out there has to change before we can change. The proactive approach is to be different, and by being different, to effect positive change in what’s out there. I can be more resourceful, I can be more diligent, I can be more creative, I can be more careful.

The language that reactive individuals use absolves them of responsibility.

"That’s me. That’s just the way I am." I am determined. There’s nothing I can do about it.

"He makes me so mad!" I’m not responsible. My emotional life is governed by something outside my control.

"I can’t do that. I just don’t have the time." Something outside me – limited time – is controlling me.

"If only my spouse were more patient." Someone else’s behavior is limiting my effectiveness.

"I have to do it." Circumstances or other people are forcing me what I do. I’m not free to choose my own actions.

And this is highly evident when playing Magic – in fact, people engage in their self-pitying, self-victimizing dramaspeak often enough that everyone probably has multiple stories about certain people they’ve played against. Ironically, these stories are even told by those who do it themselves when the situation is reversed.

I’ve played for a number of years, and thus have played a number of people multiple times. Some, I enjoy; some, I’ve learned to enjoy. Others cause me to roll my eyes. They’re the ones who gloat when they win and whine when they don’t, the ones who always have excuses for losing and reasons for winning.

Do you?

"I can’t believe you won with that pile." Forces beyond my control enabled you to win. My deck was obviously superior.

"What kind of person maindecks Earthquake?" I wouldn’t have played with that card. It was a fluke that I lost to your foolishness.

"It was an accident! I didn’t mean to pick up my sideboard." I’m not responsible for my actions, and my carelessness should have no repercussions.

If I could find a way to translate the scowls, the looks of disgust, the melodramatic statements and complaints and whining that I’ve witnessed into text, I would, but it can’t be translated; there’s too much body english and enunciation for me to do it justice. But you know it. You’ve seen it, heard it, witnessed it, maybe even done it.

Bah. Excuses. The more time passes, the more I hate listening to people’s rationales and excuses for why things didn’t go the way they wanted them to. It’s eminently satisfying to see someone losing with a Netdeck, and then attributing the loss to bad luck, rather than crediting their opponent. Yes, Magic is a game of luck in some ways; no one will every deny that. But the strategy is very obvious as well, and you have to be good to win. I think of the person I played at a tournament who was amazed he lost to my deck with Full English Breakfast, despite the fact he misplayed it terribly throughout the entire match.

You’re not a victim of luck, blind stupidity, or conspiracies. Take responsibility for your own choices and foresight – or LACK of foresight.

And don’t even bring up mana-screw. You’re not a victim of it, because everyone suffers from it, and those who have proper mana ratios suffer from it less. It’s not a persecution of you. It’s a fact of the game, it happens to everyone. Deal with it.

Stop being a victim.

It’s called personal accountability. Take responsibility for everything you do. If your opponent plays a card you’re not expecting, then why didn’t you expect it? Anticipate. Learn. If your deck loses and you don’t know why, realize it may either not be very good or that you may be playing it incorrectly. Stop thinking of things in a self-absorbed, reactive manner. Because doing so negatively impacts your game.

Everything can be beaten. Except maybe Memory Jar.dec, which was some kind of brokenness. Every opponent can be beaten. You are responsible for your wins, your losses, your successes, and your failures. They do not define you, because you should own them.

If you don’t, then you ARE a victim.

You can choose to approach things proactively, or reactively. What do you choose? To live in a world of "If I had" or "If I would have," or "I can be" and "I will"?

"I can’t believe you won," or: "I’ll know better next time these decks match up."

"What kind of person maindecks Earthquake?" or: "Excellent choice; I bet that throws a lot of opponents for a loop because they completely don’t expect it. I’ll keep that in the back of my mind from now on."

"It was an accident! I didn’t mean to pick up my sideboard." or:
"I realize that this sort of incident on top of a history of sloppy play means I shouldn’t be so careless."

Yes, there’s a deliberate allusion to the Ed Fear situation here. I don’t know Mr. Fear, and neither have any idea about his guilt/personal character nor have any particular interest in them. What I do know is that it’s a perfect example. Sloppy play is sloppy play, and trying to ramrod a fistful of excuses down everyone’s throat and turn the incident into some sort of private crusade against the perceived unfairness of the DCI is highly annoying. Whose fault was it? Who had the card in hand? That’s what matters.

For months, I’ve watched people complain about the DCI not taking a tough enough stance on cheating. We all have. Now, they do, and suddenly people are upset. You know, I look at it this way: If I do something, that’s my fault. Period. If I’m walking through an icy parking lot and slip and fall, I’m not going to sue the freakin’ store. If I spill hot coffee on my lap and receive third-degree burns, then I’m an idiot for putting a hot beverage atop my crotch. I take great pains to be careful when I play Magic. Personal accountability. There won’t be any strange cards slipping into my hand. If one gets in there, then I accept the penalty, because it’s My Own Damn Fault.

And if we later find out that aliens have taken over the DCI and the only person who knows about their world coup conspiracy is Mr. Fear and this is a plot to discredit him so that we will all fall prey to their mind-control devices, then I’ll rescind that statement. With bells on.

I am Mason’s sincere doubt.

It’s the nature of reactive people to absolve themselves of responsibility. It’s so much safer to say, "I am not responsible." If they acknowledge their own responsibility, they might have to say, "I am irresponsible." It would be very difficult for them to say that they have the power to choose their response and that the response they have chosen has resulted in their involvement in a negative environment, especially if for years they have absolved themselves of responsibility and attributed them to someone or something else’s faults and weaknesses.

We must consider two things when thinking about actions: consequences and mistakes.

While we are free to choose our actions, we are not free to choose the consequences of those actions. We can decide to step in front of a fast-moving train, but we cannot decide what will happen when the train hits us. We are free to choose our response in any situation, but in doing so we choose the attendant consequence.

There are times in our lives when our choices have brought consequences we would rather have lived without. If we had the choice to make over again, we would make it differently. We call these choices mistakes. We can’t recall them, we can’t undo them, and we can’t control the consequences that came as a result.

But not to acknowledge a mistake, not to correct it and learn from it, is a mistake of a different order. It usually puts a person on a self-deceiving, self-justifying path, often involving rationalization to self and to others. This second mistake, this cover-up, empowers the first, gives it disproportionate importance, and causes far deeper injury.

People seem so quick to ignore the facts and rational-lies or attempt to escape the consequences of their actions. They’re just as willing to quick to jump onto the vicarious bandwagons of other people’s opinions based on only one view.

I mean, if you just listen to people, you’d be amazed what their words tell you. If the only perception we had of ourselves came from our social mirror, our view of ourselves would be like being in a damn funhouse. Yeah, that’s us in the mirror alright, but it’s distorted and false.

"You’re being defensive," people might tell you.
"You eat too much."
"You’re crazy to think that."
"This is so simple. Why can’t you understand?"
"You just think you’re superior."

These are often more projections than reflections, projecting the concerns and character weaknesses of people giving the input rather than accurately depicting Who We Are.

When John Friggin’ Rizzo writes an article asking if everyone’s dead, what is he doing? He’s expressing his own concern about the perils of leading a passionate life. It matters to him. Why should his concerns matter to you? It’s an inherently biased viewpoint that should be taken at face value and little more.

For that matter, why should mine?

I know my answer. When you read any sort of judgment or condemnation, you should always look for one thing: Truth. Don’t let people decide your truth for you, myself included. If you get your mind right, you can accomplish anything.

I am Mason’s commitment to be a better Magic player.

A small commitment. And probably, in the grand scheme of things, it’s a relatively unimportant one to many – but a commitment nonetheless. When New Year’s rolls around each year, we use it as a reason to start changing our lives for the better – and how many times do those resolutions stick? People break their own self-commitments constantly, or feel that they don’t need to engage in them except in the form of an annual, socially-acceptable ritual.


The power to make and keep commitments to ourselves is the essence of owning the content of your character. Knowledge, skill, and desire are all within our control. We can work on any one to improve the balance of the three.

It is in ordinary events of every day that we develop the proactive capacity to handle the extraordinary pressures of life. It’s how we make and keep commitments, how we handle a traffic jam, how we respond to an irate customer or a disobedient child. It’s how we view our problems and where we focus our energies. It’s the language we use.

We are responsible for our own effectiveness, for our own happiness, and ultimately, I would say, for most of our circumstances.

Being able to bring these attitudes into a group that shares them is invaluable. At its best you can build a team and combine the creativity and resourcefulness of proactive individuals to create a proactive culture. The team is not at the mercy of the environment; it can take the initiative to accomplish the shared values and purposes of the individuals involved.

The goal? To win. To break cards, to develop decks, to playtest, playtest, playtest. To create the dominant decks, not to wait for them to evolve. To lessen your mistakes, to learn your deck so that you can anticipate what it’s going to do in any given game.

Binary 21 is quite pleased to welcome Jay Moldenhauer-Salazar to the fold; we’re excited to add his creativity and energy to the team, and who wouldn’t want to have the guy who’s ruining Magic on their side? Having more input, more ideas, and more outlandish suggestions is certain to further our improvement.

Speaking of Binary 21, we participated in the prerelease, like many folks. Mr. Rieffer was unable to attend, but I powered a blue/white/black deck to a 6-1 finish. Based on its success, I built a very similar deck during a draft, and finished second to Mr. Forster, who had also placed second in another draft. Booya – the day was a coup. Binary 21 went on with their bad selves.

I’ll forego listing the deck; I’m glad I won, but it’s hard to take too much credit or blame for what you manage to open in your packs. For the record, my rares were Planar Overlay, Dralnu’s Pet, Teferi’s Moat, and a Phyrexian Scuta, and I had a strong red/black presence that I decided to completely ignore in order to focus on, if there is such a thing, a sealed metagame strategy. The majority of the decks I played were black/red/green. Thank you, opponents, for your assistance.

Best of all, however, everyone I played against in the sealed portion were great opponents. I had some highly enjoyable matches. Thank you, opponents, for having fun.

The key card I utilized was Shifting Sky. I made sure to pick it up in the draft as well, and it worked just as well.

Aside from the obvious "make all permanents black" to shut down black removal, I found I declared different colors depending on what was best for the game; everything was either red or black or green. Shifting Sky offers these synergetic tricks:

-Make sure no one can block your Galina’s Knight and Vodalian Zombie
-Shut down attacks with Teferi’s Moat
-Stop your gating critters from bouncing anything
-Prevent much damage with Guard Dogs
-Kill anything with Slay
-Gain incredible amounts of life with Honorable Scout
-Send your army past their defenses with Obsidian Acolyte
-Enjoy the purity of Aurora Griffin (funny, MY removal seems to work.)
-Bounce anything with Hunting Drake
-Draw plenty o’cards with Pygmy Kavu
-Frighten opponents with Amphibious Kavu

I picked up a generous handful of packs and enough of the rares I coveted to cause me to dance a jig in Cecil Whitaker’s parking lot afterwards. M-O-O-N, that spells broken.

And, please, let me throw in a casual mention of assorted MVPs: Dromar’s Charm (critical counterspell ability), Pollen Remedy (this proved to be awesome in both Sealed and Draft), and the two wonderful Apprentices I picked up in Sealed that enabled me to bounce my abuse-with-Sky critters repeatedly.

Recently on The List, where so many topics and articles seem to germinate, we were discussing ratings. Aaron Forsythe, our resident pro, said something that should be laminated and stuck to the refrigerator for all the fly playas that want to improve their rating and start winning. Make it your 12-step program. Read it, and pay attention.

"If you take your rating seriously, you have to do everything in your power to follow these rules:

  • Don’t play bad cards.
  • Don’t play dumb decks.
  • Don’t make idiotic mistakes.
  • Don’t make non-idiotic mistakes.
  • Don’t act like you don’t care.
  • Take all sanctioned matches seriously.
  • Practice against people that will point out every mistake and judgment error you make."

    To that, I added one more item:

  • Never, ever, ask if you can take something back.

If you tap the wrong mana, accept it. If you sacrifice a permanent and then go "that was stupid," accept it. If you miss an attack phase, don’t try and get it back. If you assign a blocker or an attacker, don’t try and change your mind after announcement. Do not tap mana, declare the name of the spell, lay it in your graveyard, and then claim that because you still had it in your fingers that you could change your mind at the last minute.

I’ve seen them happen. Some of them, I’ve done. More than once. And I pay the price for my own mental errors, and that is how I’ve turned around my dwindling chances of winning at Magic and raised my rating so drastically in a year and a half. I started making myself be accountable and resisting the urge to try "taking back" my mistakes.

If you take responsibility for every play you make, and if you make a mistake, realize that in life there are no takebacks and deal with it.

Hold others to that same sense of responsibility.

Read the above suggestions from Mr. Forsythe and myself, follow these maxims, and even if you’re already good you’ll get better. Magic is fun when you’re casual. It can be even more fun when you’re serious.

You’d be surprised at how much easier it becomes to stop making excuses for why you didn’t win and instead focusing on the reasons you lost – and then being better the next time.

There are two immediate ways you can put yourself in control of your life. Make a promise… And keep it. Or set a goal… And work to achieve it. As we make and keep commitments, even small commitments, we begin to establish an inner integrity that gives us the awareness of self-control and the courage and strength to accept more of the responsibility for our own lives.

Face reality.

It works.

-m / 00010101