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February 24, 2017

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Going for the Gold: Building a Better Magic Community

I’m taking a break this week from tournament practice and getting better at Magic to talk about something that the Magic Community needs to address. How can we make our community more inviting and compelling to newer and more casual players?

I got the inspiration for this article when I sat down for Round 11 in GP Pittsburgh. My opponent was nowhere in sight (we were both 7-3) and the round had started. My round 9 opponent, Eddie Martinez, was sitting adjacent to me and was facing a very well-known magic player. Now, I wasn’t happy to lose round 9 and the way I lost was pretty unfortunate too but I never once made Eddie feel bad for his above average draws and my subpar draws. We had played earlier in the year at GP Providence and in both of our interactions, I felt like he was a genuinely nice and soft spoken guy. He may not be the kind of guy that you would go partying with but he was not someone who you would go out of your way to be mean to either.

So my mouth dropped as I watched his opponent try to intentionally rattle him. His opponent started accusing Eddie of trying to peak at his cards while shuffling, when he was clearly trying to do no such thing. Poor Eddie glanced at me as if he was expecting me to say something to his opponent, and I definitely regret not speaking up as even though it’s not my place to interrupt, this is something that I would usually get involved in. Eddie tried to get his opponent to stop with his verbal assault, by asking his opponent to do the same thing that he was accusing him of. Of course, that didn’t work as the guy started calling him names and saying how it was clear that he must not know anything.

It also didn’t help that Eddie’s opponent was playing Mardu Vehicles which matched up very favourably against his Jeskai Saheeli deck. After this player won game 1, he made a motion of bragging about how he didn’t need much to beat Eddie. The match was over quickly and the player refused to shake Eddie’s hand when he extended it and instead walked off to brag about how he just beat some “donkey” to his friends. Suffice to say, I was completely disgusted with this player’s behaviour. This wasn’t the first time that I have seen or heard of him acting in this manner.  Eddie, if you are reading this: I’m sorry for not standing up for you. Not everyone who plays Magic on the professional circuit is as vicious as this person.

I used to act in a similar manner to this person when I first started playing competitively, and thankfully this is no longer the way in which I conduct myself. Which begs the question, why do we treat people who have the same hobbies in this manner?

Respect, or lack of it

When you spend enough time playing competitive Magic, you tend to only respect a fraction of the playing populace. This is much more of a natural occurrence than you think as magic players tend to be very egotistical even when they are new. Competitive players tend to only want to spend their time playing against players at their level or better. Of course, you can easily notice the flaw in this process as it requires a better player to be okay with playing with a worse player. However, some players will only play at their level or up.

The players who do not make the cut in their mind are either not worth their time or their respect and kindness. You will recognize this attitude at your LGS or at PPTQs and RPTQs where you will see groups of players congregate and purposely exclude others. When this type of player loses a match, they will take it out on their opponent because god forbid that they deserve to beat them. What these players forget is that they had to start somewhere and rely on the kindness of strangers.

Entitlement

When you spend a lot of time preparing and playing in tournaments, you may feel like you got robbed when you lose to a “sub-par” opponent who just stumbled into the win. It definitely feels unfair when you are a better player and someone who just showed up to the tournament with their friends can best you because you missed your third land drop or had to mulligan to five for the fourth time on the day. However that’s Magic and I’m sure every one of us can imagine a time where we beat someone who was a clear favourite but all of the right things happened for us. If you say that has never happened, you are lying!

This was my biggest flaw when I started playing competitive Magic in 2007. I used to get really upset when I lost to players who I felt were incompetent. I would be rude, I would complain to anyone who would listen and I would make fun of my opponent’s “limited” abilities. This branded me as a jerk and a lot of the casual players hated me. It’s funny because when I first transitioned from a Magic Online grinder to paper magic, this was the attitude and behaviour I received from many local players because I was an “unknown” who was beating them. As I said earlier, Magic players are very egotistical, so even when they got outplayed at every turn, they would still find a way to call you a “terrible donkey”. I had incorrectly assumed that this was how the community operated, so I let a few bad apples turn me into one of them.

Over time, my investment in Magic decreased as I chose to pursue an MBA in 2011, and after that I no longer had such a strong emotional commitment to the game. Yes, I still loved winning and I actually have a higher status in Magic than I ever did before but it no longer bothers me when I lose, even at the highest stakes. Don’t believe me? Take a look at this clip from the last Pro Tour in Dublin a few weekends ago. I was down and out, my opponent got ridiculously lucky in game one and then in game two I had to mulligan to five and did nothing. My opponent even accidentally cheated and I wasn’t a sore sport in the least even though we were playing a match that had very important Top 8 implications. This match re-emphasized to me how far I’ve come.

Wanting to Win at Any Cost

Hopefully you aren’t in this category, but some people are just bad seeds. It may have nothing to do with how good or bad they are compared to their opponent, but rather just a reason for them to be upset at losing. I’ve even recently run into local players who have gotten really upset after losing to me, who complained when I drew a decent mix of spells and lands or if they ever got mana screwed. Yet, when the opposite happens they sit there and gloat. Usually, players who would be classified under this have very little results and are eager to prove themselves. This doesn’t help them get any better, but it definitely gives them something they can attribute blame to. These types of players are usually the ones that you will see “forgetting” their own detrimental triggers because they do not feel that their opponents deserve any advantage. These players will also use the clock to their advantage by slow playing when they are behind but playing super fast when they are ahead. In some situations you will even see them try to rush their opponents, to try to make them make a mistake. Or in the case of the player that faced poor Eddie, they use verbal attacks to throw their opponents off.

So what should we do?

We should not tolerate this kind of behaviour from anyone in our community. It is upon all of the stalwarts of the Magic Community to stand up to these bullies. Magic is a great game, and for many, is a great way to make friends. People who enjoy the same hobbies that we do, should not be subject to the vicious cruelty from a small population of the game. At your next FNM or PPTQ, keep your eyes peeled. I bet you will see at least a few situations where this behaviour will manifest.

There is one bully that I know in the Canadian community (that I will not name) who constantly tries to make my friends feel terrible when he loses to them. After the most recent Pro Tour, he approached me at the airport and asked why I was not friendly with him and I let him know that I was sick of him bullying my friends and others. As professional magic players, it is in our best interest to want the game we love to grow. This cannot happen if we have people discouraging newer players from joining the competitive scene or medium level players quitting because of the cruelty they face. We are moving toward a more progressive global community where we expect that everyone treats each other with respect. This should be no different.

So next time you think of being rude to that newer player or clueless kid who beat you when you were mana screwed. Remember, you were once in their spot and better players made the game inviting enough for you to stick around. Also, if you want to keep up with my articles and happenings, please follow me on Twitter @ SammyTMTG

I’ll see you next week!

Until then,

Sammy T