A friend of mine asked me earlier today if it was difficult for me to find topics for articles, and overall how stressful the writing process is. I told him the truth: it’s not so bad. The reality is that I very much enjoy writing about Magic, and whenever I get to talk about it I gladly do so. For me, being a writer is the perfect fit: I get to give my ideas and opinions, and people will see them, comment on them, and even tear them apart. It is progress at its finest, and each week I’m thankful that I have the opportunity to write for this fine site.
Last week I wrote about skill, determination, and attitude as tools to improve one’s game. Outside of the usual comments I’d receive in the forums, I was approached by countless others expressing their feelings on the piece — almost all of them told me it was one of my best, and that they found it very useful. Some said that it was useful for new, impressionable players to learn from, and others told me that it helped them relight “the fire” in them for the game. Considering how often my articles end up as metagaming articles filled with decklists, I’m positively thrilled to know that my best articles tend to be the ones with zero decklists. While I certainly do enjoy writing about Faeries, the state of Standard, and that awesome new Legacy deck, at the end of the day most of what I love about Magic has very little to do with Bloodbraid Elves and Bitterblossoms. For me, Magic is about the other players, and the community that forms around them.
Whenever I submit an article, I secretly hope that everyone will love it. Somewhere in the recesses of my mind I keep my fingers crossed that someone will tell me that it really hit home for them, because if I’m not doing that then what is the point in writing in the first place? My standard-fare articles with decklists and whatnot should be informing people and offering my advice, and my theory or motivational articles should be moving people and making them stronger players. It is the least that I can do, as I know that I would not be half the player I am today if I didn’t learn from other players along the way. Last week I wrote, very plainly, exactly how I felt about the game. I explained why skill and determination are exceptionally important, and I also touched on attitude. And attitude, I feel, requires more than a few paragraphs to decipher.
Patrick Chapin once wrote an article about Magic etiquette, and you can find it here. In that piece, he goes in-depth and discusses the importance of shaking hands after games, and how crucial it is to realize that the phrase “good games” means “thanks for not cheating or being shady” as opposed to “thanks for not getting mana-screwed and actually giving me a run for my money.” I really enjoyed Patrick’s article, but I feel like there is still more to be said. Yeah, you should shower and wear deodorant. Yes, it’s probably a good idea not to be a total jerk to your opponents. But there is far more to attitude than that.
Now, I certainly agree with Patrick’s main point: shaking hands after a match and saying “good games” is one of the fundamental parts of having a good attitude for Magic. This makes everyone happy, promotes comradery amongst players, and doesn’t make you look like an ass. Realistically, everyone should give their opponents this much respect. However, they often don’t. I’d wager that everyone has caught themselves doing this at one point or another, and probably a lot more recently than we’d care to share.
An example: you’re at an FNM, and you’re smashing faces with Jund (obvobvobv). In the first round of the Top 8, you’re paired against a Vampires player who pretty clearly is not that good, and his deck even less so. Still, in game 1 you get a little manascrewed, and he manages to lethal you by Signing for two Bloodghasts off the top. In game 2, he gets off a “lucky” Mind Sludge that wrecks your hand, and you just can’t recover from it. You just lost to a scrub, man! Not only was he an awful player, but he was playing Child of Night and was attacking like a total donkasaurus. It was even a great match-up! Way to go!
It’s easy to say that this situation is just “how it goes,” and that you’d simply shrug it off. And for some of you, you certainly would do just that. But be honest with yourself: when put in situations like this, can you really say that you don’t get upset? That maybe, just maybe, you don’t give your opponent much respect when in this situation? It’s fairly easy to get caught up in your own emotions when it comes to things like this. No one likes losing to players much worse than they are, but keep this in mind: do you think that that same feeling you get when you lose to a “scrub” doesn’t translate to the upper echelon? You don’t think that when LSV loses to a non-pro in a Grand Prix that he isn’t being placed in the same position? That somehow your situation is different? Sure, the argument could be made that being “not a pro” and being “a scrub” are vastly different, but looking at it in this way you can see that it’s fairly relative. Have you ever seen LSV go off on some guy who beats him? Surely this isn’t because he has boatloads of personal respect for each and every opponent he has, right?
The fact of the matter is that you don’t have to bend over backwards to respect your opponent. You don’t have to know his life story. He doesn’t have to be a pro. In fact, he can just be a bum off the street. All that should matter to you, to be honest, is that while he is across the table from you that treat him with respect. You stand on equal ground, and you adhere to honor and dignity for the duration of your match. You will not cheat. You will not rules lawyer. You will not intentionally make game violations or play slowly. You will respect the wishes of your opponent, and you will maintain the game state to the best of your ability. These things are all very simple and easy. These things are the fundamentals of being a “good opponent,” which is shorthand for being “the nice guy that was a pleasure to play against.”
A pleasure to play against. Read that line once more, and then read it again after that. If you want to know whether or not you have the right mindset for Magic, then you should ask yourself whether or not you feel that you’d be a “pleasure to play against.” I may rub certain people the wrong way when I discuss Magic or debate about card choices, but the thing I pride myself on more than anything else is how polite I am while I play. I have made far more friends just being a nice opponent than I ever did being rude to people that didn’t agree with me on my decks and card choices. I know that seems obvious, but apparently some people don’t get it yet. Is it that hard to be nice to your opponent? It’s quite simple, really. Smile, makes jokes, talk to your opponent. Yes, once in a while you’re going to have to call a judge, and things won’t always be sunshine and faerie dust. However, if you’ve done your job well, your opponent will respect you enough to understand that sometimes judges get called. If he doesn’t understand and you feel that you’ve done a good job of “not being a jerk,” then maybe he is just a jerk.
There are several players that I’ve played against here in the Midwest that I greatly enjoy being paired with at PTQs, and each time I show up to an event I hope to play them. These players showed me the same amount of respect that I showed them, and were overall just a joy to play against. It doesn’t take all that much, people. Magic is a game, and more or less a gentleman’s game at that. It used to be fairly ruthless and cutthroat, but in recent years that style of play has gone the way of the dodo. These days, “doing the right thing” and being honorable when you play is far more beneficial than cheating ever was. If you play well and you play honestly, you’re far more likely to be well-liked and respected in the community. I don’t think I need to explain why that is a good thing, do I? But what happens if you savagely cheat and eventually get caught? Yeah, that’s right — everyone hates you, and you lose all the friends you’ve gained with the game. On a smaller scale, though, what if you’re just a jerk? What happens to the guy who’s just hell to play against, and just runs around bragging every time he “pwns the nubs?” Generally, he’s pretty unpopular. Arrogance sometimes isn’t intentional (well, I suppose technically it never is), but there is a point where it makes you just seem like a bad person.
For someone like me, Magic is more than a game. I’ve been playing for about ten years now, and literally every single aspect of my life has been somehow impacted by the game. I ask so much of Magic, and in return all I can offer is my continued support of it and its players. Many new players tell me that they don’t want to try going to PTQs because “everyone at those things are just *ssholes.” Has it really come to that? Do people have such little respect for themselves, others, and the game itself that the term “Spike” has become so tainted that tournament players are automatically hated by casual players? I mean, I certainly hold no contempt for casual players. I don’t like to play casually (and whenever I do I still tend to be overly competitive), but that doesn’t mean that I think any less of them. They are very much a part of the ever-growing Magic community, and although we are playing an entirely different game we still share the same love of Magic. The tournament goer might love Magic because he loves to smash with Tarmogoyfs, and the table-top gamer might love Magic because of some crazy combo in his EDH deck or because he just likes the art on Admonition Angel — at the end of the day, though, they both love Magic. So the next time that someone who clearly doesn’t understand tournament Magic suggests an atrociously bad card to you for your Standard deck, instead of telling him how bad it is you should try just explaining why you don’t think it’s a good idea. Give Spikes a good name, not a bad one.
One thing to keep in mind, though, is that sometimes you aren’t going to be able to sway someone’s opinion of you or players like you. You won’t be able to tell the casual player that not all Spikes are jerks when he has gone to two PTQs and been treated like crap at both of them by the tournament players. Furthermore, some people just might not like you for one reason or another. For example, there is a particular player from Ohio that I have great respect for as a player, but I get the feeling that he simply just does not like me. I have played against him a few times, and each time we’re just “alright” with each other it seems, despite my best efforts. I always ask how his record is whenever I see him at PTQs, and he always kind if blows me off. It bothers me, really, because I hate when people don’t like me for reasons unbeknownst to me. If I’ve wronged someone and they hate me for it, fine. I can take that, because I know where I went wrong. But being hated for the sake of being hated? Surely that doesn’t make sense, right? In any case, when it comes to these people, the best thing to do is to maintain the respect for them that you’ve set out to offer them, because only in doing so will you ever truly have a chance at making peace with them.
Alright, so the bottom line is that cheaters never win, being a jerk won’t get you very far, and respecting your opponents will make you much more well-liked. Taking the moral high ground is key in all situations, and pleasant interactions with common opponents will eventually lead to an extensive network of information that can later be drawn upon when necessary. One of my best friends I’ve met playing Magic is Mr. Dale DeWood, who I met at one of my first PTQs in Michigan. We registered near each other, hit it off, and have been great friends ever since. I know that if I’m ever in need of a place to crash when in Ohio, that he’s ever only just a phone call away. I also know that if I ever need to bounce ideas off someone for Standard or whatever that he’ll be more than happy to offer his opinions, and networking like that is such a crucial part of “making it” with Magic.
As I said earlier, your goal should be to be a “pleasure to play against.” If you strive for this, you will not only be considered a far nicer person but you will feel a thousand times better whenever you walk into a tournament venue. And, best of all, when you finally win that PTQ and take the step forward to the Pro Tour, the wave of support and “good jobs” from your friends will be truly exhilarating. Each individual victory means that much more when you’ve got friends there to experience it with.
I know that this article seems like a “play nice” article, and I suppose that is really is. However, I feel that it is necessary to write because I constantly see players still being *ssholes and being overall just not enjoyable to play against. I truly like telling my opponent “it was nice to play you again, and best of luck” as opposed to just “good games, and good luck.” Maybe it’s a marginal difference, but I think it makes all the difference in the world.
I’m heading to Indianapolis this weekend for the StarCityGames.com Open weekend, and I hope to see some of you there (please come say hello!). Next week’s article will likely be about that tournament, and hopefully I’ll have some good news to report.
Until next time, please be a “pleasure to play against!”
Shinjutsei on MTGO