Tilting And You

Improve your tournament results by reading Mark’s explanation of what tilting in Magic is, the four types of it, and how you can deal with and avoid it.

Begin Scene

I am dead.

The game is over. After a very disheartening draw in round 2 that some of you might have watched during the awesome coverage last weekend, it appears that I will be starting my Grand Prix Miami experience at 1-1-1. Hardly ideal.

I am at fifteen life with a 4/4 Beast token and two 4/5 Restoration Angels that are being pumped by a Gavony Township, while my opponent, who is playing Jund, sits with one card in hand and a Deathrite Shaman in play along with two Thragtusks and a Thundermaw Hellkite. Angel of Serenity is not an option because Slaughter Games has been cast naming it, and I’m drawing fairly dead. Did I mention he has a Kessig Wolf Run and seven lands?

In desperation, I make an attack with my Angels, hoping he’ll block with his Hellkite. If he does, I can block with my Beast token and pump all of my creatures; between a pump from the Wolf Run and two activations from a Deathrite Shaman, I’d be alive long enough to kill him with my two Restoration Angels. Maybe he’d be scared of the card in my hand?

The attack is made, and as expected he chooses to not block. Whelp, pack it in, kids. We’re dead. So dead. Dead. Dead. Dead. Melodrama, etc…

After attacking him to a meaningless three life, I pass the turn with a hint of disappointment in my voice. He’s going to exile one of the spells in my graveyard, I reckon.

He taps two. Wait. What? Deathrite Shaman only costs one to activate. What else could he possibly be doing that’s better than killing me?

“End of your turn cast Rakdos Charm. You take three damage.”

My brow furrows.

I pick up the card and read it again to make sure that it does what I think it does. My immediate reaction is to start smiling and laughing very loudly, while his after rereading his own card is an obligatory:

“Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhh noooooooooooooooo.”

The twenty or so people around me can’t believe what they just saw.

Hell, I can’t even believe what I just saw.

I move on to 2-0-1, and my opponent asks me to sign his foil Rakdos Charm.

End Scene

This week we aren’t going to be talking about sick brag stories from the GP, although it would be an excellent exercise in fluffing my ego. (I may or may not have performed an elbow drop on camera at the end of my win during round 10.)

I want to talk about something far more important. It all comes down to one simple word…


For those of you new to Magic vocabulary, tilt is what occurs after you experience something that jars you during or after a game and completely alters your state of mind, causing your thoughts to jumble, your attitude to change, and your emotions to do their best Hulkamania impression: they run wild, brother.

The above story is meant to illustrate that tilting is something that you can avoid while giving yourself the best chance to win a match. With no visible path to victory, how many of you out there would have just attacked and after he didn’t block would have extended your hand and then went about lamenting your bad luck? Old me would have. New me let my opponent make the mistake.

In order to understand the monster that is tilting, we need to examine the different types of it.

Level 1 Tilt: Victimization (aka The World Is Against Me)

You’ve just lost a very close match to an opponent who seemed to have every single answer. You’re not happy about it, and your thoughts begin to swim with:

“Why did they draw so well?”

“Why did I draw so poorly?”

“They are so freaking lucky it’s unreal.”

“I can’t believe I lost to such a bad player.”

“That person blah blah blah.”

When we lose, it becomes something that we internalize. You’re human; you can’t help it.

However, when we are so emotionally invested in winning, it’s the easy way out to point the finger at every outlying circumstance and say that the opponent was “lucky” and that you played perfectly. While that can be a possibility, most of the time it isn’t.

During round 9 of Grand Prix Miami, I took a tough loss to a very good Four-Color Reanimator pilot. I lamented to a friend of mine about the glut of land that I drew near the end of game 2 that caused us to go to turns, with him getting the win because he was victorious in game 1. It was my deck’s fault, not mine, right?

My best friend John had been railbirding the entire match and pointed out that there was a turn that I missed between four and eight points of damage when I played an Angel of Serenity post-combat to recoup the creatures he’d just killed in blocking rather than just eliminating his blockers and trying to hit him for a lot more than I did. My opponent ended the game at six life; if I’d taken a less conservative line of play, we would have certainly gone to a game 3.

I internalized everything he told me, and rather than trying to dispute it and make it out like I did everything correctly and was just unlucky that I drew poorly at the end of the game, I was able to learn from my experience. Tilt was successfully avoided and instead was turned into a great learning tool.

How do you deal with this? If you find yourself having these thoughts after every round you lose, the best advice I can give you is to examine the game from as many angles as possible. Beating yourself up over and over again can’t do much for you. Like they say, “No sense worrying about the things you can’t change, and no sense worrying about the things you can.”

When we paint ourselves as a victim of circumstances, we are essentially admitting we are powerless. Do you like feeling like that? Are you an individual who is weak?

I don’t think you are.

The key to ridding yourself of this mindset is to be more proactive in your thinking. Yes, bad beats will always exist in Magic, but the best thing you can do for yourself is try to see where it all went wrong as a whole and work forward from there. The world isn’t really against you, and chances are you may have been able to do something, albeit small, that could have changed the outcome. Think of it in terms of the Butterfly effect (not the crappy movie)—every tiny action has a rippling effect that lasts for the entire game’s duration.

Level 2 Tilt: The Person Drunk on Rage

This might be one of the more common forms of tilt that you’ve seen. The game ends with “are you kidding me?” followed by the rattling off of insults and anger spewed from the mouth of a very sore loser.

This is tilt in the purest form and the one that we are most accustomed to seeing.  

When you were last beat by an opponent, did you feel the need to freak out on them like it was their fault that you lost? If so, this section is for you.

I used to be this way. Back when ratings were a thing and I lost, every single point felt like a thousand arrows piercing my ego. Get whooped at an FNM and lose eight points to the guy playing his Mono-White Soldiers deck? Aw hell nah, son. I’m going to go Madea on you: take off my earrings and throw a hissy fit. I look back on that time of my life with so much regret because I was a young adult acting like a toddler whose mother had just taken a toy away from him.

At the core of it, it comes down to ego. So many Magic players have the notion that they are better than they really are. It’s a fairly normal phenomenon and one that I had to deal with personally. In 2009, I thought I was an amazing player.

I sucked. I was awful.

Now I look at myself as average or maybe just slightly above average. Writing for this site and being in the company of some of the best players in the world has made me look at my game from a dozen different angles, and I think in a few short months it has paid dividends.

But back to being a spaz…

How do you deal with this? It’s hard to admit it, but if this is you, you need to change. This type of tilt isn’t even remotely healthy for several reasons.

  • It affects all of your social interactions. Would you be friends with a person who yelled at you for beating them at a card game?
  • You become completely blind to how/why you lost. You will never learn anything.
  • Blood pressure, y’all.
  • You set a terrible precedent for everyone around you. Is this how they’re supposed to act when they lose too?
  • Being a jerk is contagious. Once you yell at them, what happens when they yell back? Are you prepared for that kind of escalation?

Losing isn’t fun, but instead of viewing it as an opportunity to vent your anger in the loudest way possible, try to relax, put the loss in perspective, and just sign the slip peacefully. Nothing good ever comes from rage directed at a person who is just trying to have fun playing a game that they love.

Level 3 Tilt: The Chain Reaction

Unfortunately, you were just topdecked out of a very close game 3. Your opponent’s only out was drawn on the last possible turn to save them, and you died. Still reeling, you quickly lose the next round because you cannot shake off that terrible defeat. Ever happened to you?

When a person lets something like this shake them to their very core, they essentially sabotage the rest of their tournament life.

During round 7 of GP Miami, the gentleman sitting next to me went into epic detail with his opponent about how he lost the last round and said out loud, “I can’t stop shaking—I’m still so upset.”

That guy forgot one Voice of Resurgence trigger and didn’t make a b=Beast with his Thragtusk. He was beaten in two games in about twenty minutes and then stated, “I can’t believe I let that loss affect me like that. I never miss these triggers!” He didn’t sound angry or anything, but he was in such a state of disbelief about the round prior that he failed to keep his head in the current game and was put in the X-2 bracket before he could even regain his sensibilities.

How do you deal with this? It might sound stupid, but just breathe. You are more than likely going to lose in a tournament, and it’s not all that surprising. How you deal with a loss or draw can decide how well you do the rest of the day. When I drew my on-camera feature round 2, I could have been miserable and let myself get demolished next round. Starting a Grand Prix 1-0-1 is pretty bad, right?

I didn’t let it tilt me for the rest of the afternoon, and despite the story I told at the start of the article, I just kept plugging along. That’s all you can do.

Don’t stop moving forward.

The wins kept coming. I didn’t let something bad that happened early impact me the rest of the day, and I was able to start off day 1 at 7-1-1. That draw might have been a terrible way to begin the afternoon, but letting it beget a chain reaction of me playing poorly because I was upset would have only ruined my tournament.

Chin up because the next round is a clean slate.

Level 4 Tilt: Self-Loathing

Blaming everything around you is one thing.

Yelling at your opponent is another thing.

Letting your losses pile on because you can’t shake a loss is also a thing.

Spiraling into depression is a completely different matter altogether.

I write about this form of tilt because I’ve had friends and acquaintances that will take a loss as much more than the absence of victory—they will take it as a personal failure.

Accepting being beaten can mean different things to different people, but to some out there it is the deconstruction of all positivity around them and sends them into a proverbial pit of despair that is hard to exit from. Do these sound familiar after you or a friend lose?

“I can’t ever win at this game. I just want to quit.”

“I suck at everything I try to do.”

“Why do I even bother?”

“I just want to go home right now.”

“Why don’t I ever get better?”

“I’m not even going to FNM tonight. I’ll just lose.”

This particular type of tilt is somewhat different than the last two we discussed. While rage and self-victimizing can stem from the inflated ego, this problem grows from having a lack of initial self-worth. A loss isn’t just getting beaten by another player; it is the reinforcement of never being good enough at a multitude of things. Magic, which is supposed to be an escape of sorts from those failures, is now just another thing that is causing your personal strife.

How do you deal with this? Telling someone or yourself that suffers from this issue that “it’s just a game” is about the worst thing you can do. For them, it’s not something as simple as a game because it represents other areas of their life where they lack control.

A loss in this case is something that needs to be tended to. As easy as it sounds, friends are often the best remedy for this malady. Giving this person the reaffirmation that they are there to enjoy themselves is paramount to getting them out of the funk they are mentally creating for themselves. It’s almost assured that they don’t want to be depressed, and providing comfort can be a great tool in getting them to see that they are not a bad person or a loser because they didn’t win a game of Magic. Compassion is the best word to use here because even if they feel like they’re not a good player, they’ll still keep coming back because the friendship vastly outweighs the feelings of doubt.

At the heart of things, Magic isn’t just a game—it’s the escape, the fun, the camaraderie, and one of the answers to helping a person that’s down.


I’ve wanted to write this for a while.

As a former tiltaholic, I feel like getting over that hump is one of the biggest accomplishments I’ve made playing Magic, and it’s also spread to all other aspects of my life.

I don’t really get mad anymore about anything trivial; instead of being hotheaded, I try to look at things from a logical and proactive perspective. I think it’s very important to let that bleed into your everyday life because all it does is help you become a better person. Yes, learning how to be a good loser in Magic has helped me become a better-rounded human being.

We always can learn from our mistakes, but one of the biggest failures we can fall prey to is not thinking that any of this applies to us. As I said early, we humans are not perfect creatures. If we were, we’d all be Reid Duke, and lord knows there can be only one of that guy.

Catch ya on the flip-