SCG Talent Search – Flirting at Magic Tournaments: A Primer

Thursday, October 28th – Men plus women equals drama. The Magic Corollary states that writing an article about men and women in Magic equals Magic forum drama. One, two, three, four, I declare a flame war.

“The odds are good, but the goods are odd.” — Sorority wisdom on dating, Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology

It’s true at my
alma mater

Rose-Hulman, an engineering college with four to five male students for every female, and it’s even more true at most Magic tournaments. Somebody looking for a single guy has plenty of options, but a Dr. McDreamy who’s kind and shares all of your interests, Magic included, probably isn’t among them.

If you’re one of those single guys, the odds are terrible, but the potential reward could last a lifetime. So you try flirting. This is, of course, how male gamers get
a certain reputation,

as many such attempts come across as either well-intentioned but clueless or outright offensive.

Flirting should be fun for those involved, and the rules in this primer are designed to keep it that way for both sides. It lays out the basics, with specific emphasis on when and when not to start flirting. (For more general information on

to flirt, ask a married or happily dating friend for advice. Avoid known practical jokers.)

There’s a basic formula to opposite-sex relations: men plus women equals drama. The Magic Corollary states that writing an article about men and women in Magic equals Magic forum drama. In that spirit… one, two, three, four, I declare a flame war. Let’s go!

Rules for Both Genders:

1. If you’re in an exclusive relationship, don’t flirt.

I’ve seen people try to flirt while showing tan lines on the ring finger, while wearing engagement rings, and even while wearing wedding rings. I’ve had to ask a friend, “Would you want your wife to see you doing that?” If you’re in an exclusive relationship, keep it exclusive. If you forget to take your ring off, you shouldn’t have much success flirting anyway.

2. Don’t stare.

I’ve seen both men and women do this at Magic tournaments. Staring anywhere is just bad form for potential flirtation. In particular, staring in the eyes can be creepy or intimidating, depending on the rest of the facial expression, and staring at the chest area is an absolute no-go as well. I don’t care if he’s as buff as a Beastbreaker of Bala Ged or if she’s a dead ringer for

Elvish Ranger. Just don’t do it.

3. Watch the hands.

So you like what you’ve seen of your opponent and think flirting with him or her might be enjoyable. Don’t stare, but watch your opponent shuffle. You should be doing this anyway as a safeguard against deck manipulation, but it’s also the perfect opportunity to check the hands for a
wedding or engagement ring. If you see one, or a ring that looks like one, that’s the clearest signal you could get:
I’m in a relationship. Don’t flirt with me.

4. Remember this question: “How did you get into Magic?”

Asking will save you plenty of grief regardless of gender, but men asking women will get the most benefit. Often, a female opponent will say, “Oh, my boyfriend/husband plays,” or a male opponent will mention, “My girlfriend/wife doesn’t get it.” Once again, that’s a clear signal to avoid flirting.

5. Spectators are off-limits (unless they flirt first).

The two almost-universal traits of spectators at a Magic tournament, at least for the first two rounds: they’re acquainted with or related to a Magic player, and they either don’t like Magic or they don’t know much about it. Don’t make your unwelcome flirtation some poor spectator’s first impression of Magic.

Note that this rule applies only to

flirting. I’ve seen high school puppy love and more serious relationships come out of a spectator flirting first. In that case, follow the rules, use common sense—if you’re 25, and she’s wearing a high school T-shirt, forget it—and I wish you luck.

6. Judges and tournament organizers are off-limits on tournament time. No exceptions.

They have better things to do with their time and too much to lose. Never flirt with anyone who can disqualify you from a tournament. Don’t even try.

7. If you use flirtation as a weapon, know the risks.

Calculated use of flirtation as a tournament weapon brings with it a whole host of complications. I’ve heard female players in particular complain about what happened after they flirted to get ahead in a tournament, and I do have sympathy for them. Nobody should be subjected to crude comments. On the other hand, if you’re using weapons-grade flirtation on an opponent, don’t complain if the opponent flirts back and keeps it as clean as you did.

Flirting with someone, whether genuine or calculated, is an invitation to flirt back, and you don’t know what you’re going to get. If you don’t like where the flirtation is going, you can stop it cold, but you need to make allowance for at least one response. Saying “I can flirt with you, but you can’t say that to me” is an unacceptable double standard.

If you understand the risks and still want to flirt your way through a Magic tournament, remember the Third Rule for Both Genders and “watch the hands.” Most Jedi Mind Tricks can’t wreck a marriage. This one can.

Rules for Men (who are not
Richard Dawson


1. Respect your opponent as a player and as a person.

Your attractive first-round opponent is your opponent first and attractive second. She’s not sitting across from the table to flirt with you. She’s there to win the match.

Respect your opponent as a player and a person, and you keep your hopes of successful flirtation alive. Take a patronizing attitude, and not only will you lose your chance at flirting, you also run the risk of getting overconfident and throwing away the match. (Which can lead to “I lost to a girl” syndrome; see the Second Rule for Men below.)

2. Don’t point out the obvious.

“Whoa, a girl!” “Yaus! Gamer chick!” “You’re hot.” I’ve heard all three as introductory statements. None of them work, unless sounding like a jerk is your goal.

Avoid all variants of the first two at all times; would you enjoy being reminded constantly that you’re in the minority? Save all (polite) variants of the last for if she flirts back, preferably after several minutes. Call it the Sister Rule: if you wouldn’t want another man saying it in public to your theoretical or actual sister, don’t say it to someone sitting across the table.

On a related note, it’s terrible form to say “I lost to a girl.” Try “I lost.” If you absolutely have to mention gender, say “She beat me.” The best Magic burn I have ever witnessed went as follows:

Him (to his friends):

I can’t believe I lost to a

Her (calmly):

I’m not a girl.
(She takes the 2-0 match slip.)

I’m a woman.

One of them still has my respect, and it isn’t him.

3. No means no.

You try flirting. She says no. It ends there. Let me repeat that.
It ends there.

She isn’t playing hard-to-get. She doesn’t secretly want you. No means no. Shut up and game.

Rules for Women (who are not
Meredith Vieira


I’ll preface this section by acknowledging that as a man trying to give women advice on flirting, I’m on dangerous ground. Take these as the observations of a man who’s watched plenty of flirting at Magic tournaments and seen both sides go wrong.

1. The first time a man tries to flirt with you, don’t get upset or angry.

You’re in a tournament hall with several dozen (or possibly several hundred) male Magic players. Many of them are going to be single and looking for love. By joining the tournament, you’ve checked off two very important boxes on many want lists: “female” and “understands my hobby.” You’re almost guaranteed to encounter at least one would-be flirter.

If you don’t want to flirt with him, don’t get upset or angry. Calmly tell him no. If a would-be flirter offends you the first time he speaks to you, explain why he shouldn’t have said what he did.

If someone persists in flirting after you tell him no, call a judge and state to both of them that you don’t want any more comments. Sometimes it takes an Unsportsmanlike Conduct penalty to get the point across, so don’t be afraid to go the judge route as a last resort. The first time around, though, don’t blame a man for trying.

2. No pre-emptive hostility.

By “hostility,” I’m not referring to normal social cues such as engagement rings. Pre-emptive hostility means you’ve assumed that every guy you meet will try to flirt with you or make inappropriate comments—and that you speak or act on your assumptions.

A few years back, I played a female opponent in a Limited PTQ. She sat down with a sigh and said, “I hope you’re not a sexist pig like the last few guys.” How was I supposed to respond to that?

More recently, I attended a tournament where a vendor was selling T-shirts and buttons. One design read:
“Yes, I game. No, I won’t sleep with you.”

Was it humorous? Yes. Does that humor come from a potentially hurtful stereotype about male gamers? Also yes. The official description says, “Save others from embarrassment by simply stating the facts up front.” But what happens when you sit across from a nine-year-old boy? By wearing that statement, your pre-emptive hostility may have put the kibosh on most flirtation that day, but you just set the poor kid up for a really awkward conversation on the car trip home.

3. Flirting is most successful between rounds.

Many male Magic players are on the lookout for weapons-grade flirtation (see the Seventh Rule for Both Genders) and will treat in-game flirting with suspicion. Flirting between rounds is more likely to be received as genuine.

The Major Rule of Flirting at Magic Tournaments

I mentioned it briefly at the top of this primer, but all the notes and examples I’ve listed are facets of the one major rule of flirting at a
Magic tournament:
Like a good round of two-player Magic, flirting should be fun and enjoyable for both of you. The moment it isn’t, the game stops.

Until then, play on!