“Too late, play’s over. You waited too long to make a decision and now we lost the game ’cause of you. We’re not going to State and the whole town of Dillon hates you. You’re never gonna get laid your entire life. Fact.” — Tim Riggins, Friday Night Lights
Competition and winning are fundamental elements of our lives, even if it’s not us who does the winning. This is the case for many reasons, from capitalism driving innovation and the competition that comes from that, to Hollywood producing films which are all about winning and the acquisition of things, to the basic principle of co-existence of species: Survival of the Fittest. Everyone wants to win, to “succeed”, and no one wants to lose, or “fail”.
A lot of kids daydream about accomplishing things that their heroes in sports or films do: scoring the winning goal for England to win the World Cup, or saving Mary Elisabeth Mastrantonio from Alan Rickman, with Bryan Adams’ “Every Thing I Do” playing in the background. Some of us — myself included — were never into sports, nor we were particularly ambitious in school, and tights didn’t go with our healthy sense of fashion.
Becoming a professional Magic player: that was what we daydreamed about. For me, personally, it was a serious commitment since I knew this couldn’t be done in a half-arsed way. I thought about the match ups I was going to play in each round, who I was going to beat at the PTQs in which order, and how I could chain my events round, so I had enough Pro Points in a way that was “realistic” to my teenage mind.
I’ve never asked other people if they did that too, but I’m pretty sure they did/do. Recently I’ve been calling it “The Heroic Narrative”.
Magic is an escape from the daily grind of reality for most people who play. It’s a chance to let one’s hair down, figuratively speaking or otherwise, relax with friends and have a good time. It’s also competitive, so this is an excellent opportunity for filling a gap in lives for a great many people who aren’t really accomplishing on that level in work, or who always got picked last for football. Or both.
The problem is of course that just as you are exceptionally unlikely to score the winning goal for England in the World Cup, you are very unlikely to become the next shining star of Magic the Gathering. I expect few people’s internal monologues include working out how they’re going to fit in the colossal amount of work this will require, and instead involve eureka moments the night before the tournament, Lightning Helix-off-the-top game wins, and sick bluffs. On top of this, you probably don’t have the social capital nor the intellectual ability. That’s not a dig, just an objective observation. Very few people in the world accomplish this, and those that do tend to be very smart (for example, they easily come up with ways to close unfavored games) and end up friendly pretty quickly (leading, for example, to building a better test group).
I know for sure that I won’t be getting there, unless I hit a ridiculous, win-the-lottery run of good form… and the truth is that I don’t even know I would take it if it happened. I’ve got a new narrative about other things now, which competes with the old Magic one. Although, it’s likely that if I won a Pro Tour, I’d give it a shot for 18 months, in spite of this.
This leads to a situation where players end up being frustrated that they can’t update their Heroic Narrative. In fact, they’re actually several stages behind on it, struggling to Top 8 PTQs. Each stage is progressively more difficult and often it takes a longer time to build up to getting onto the next stage. It also can make a person difficult to be around at the stage they’re at (e.g. the guy who is a bit moody and arrogant at FNM, wins it three weeks out of four, gets stroppy the week he doesn’t, and rarely does better than x-3 at PTQs).
The Heroic Narrative is a reason a lot of people want to “brew” and “innovate” and moan like hell that they keep losing to whatever the best deck is. They want the flagship card for that deck banned, so they can keep going with their projects. There is a desire to build/realise something great, like in a movie. Sleeving up Abzan cards just doesn’t feel the same way.
The next thing it contributes to is how a lot of Magic players think they’re the smartest people in the rooms (winning the “smart” competition) and need to make everyone else aware of it. The general way that gamers are often in each other’s faces about petty, stupid, niggling, semantic points that add nothing to the discussion at hand, and function only in derailing the conversation, is a product of this. It amazes me how often people speak to me as if I’m genuinely stupid. I detest arguing for the sake of it, but it’s only a fraction of anger I feel when someone argues on something they know is wrong, just because they think they can win the argument anyway.
The solution is a matter of self-regulation. It’s extremely important to consider why it is that you’re doing the things you are doing, and if it doesn’t make sense, be prepared to change. If you want two conflicting things then it might be that you need to choose between these two things. Accomplishing goals in Magic is a long term prospect and one which requires a great deal of effort. One of the harshest things about it is that it’s actually a team game once you get past a certain point… but that’s next week’s article.
It’s also tough that it’s not a steady learning curve. It’s easy to plateau, sometimes for years at a time, and that is very demoralizing. Right now I think I’m coming off a period like that. I’d like to push on for more, but my old method of pouring more and more time into Magic is not going to be viable. It’s nice to be able to play regularly with someone who is considerably better than me at Limited. The last time I was especially good at Limited I was regularly playing with Bradley Barclay, and I’m keen to see what getting serious about Sealed with Neil Rigby will do for me in the run up to GP Liverpool.
Humility and patience are very useful things, and often absent in gaming circles. Simple listening can be very informative, and saying something vacuous, because you’ve not said anything for five minutes, will rarely be well received. More often than not, it’s not about you.
That’s it for this week. Next week (I’m *really* going to try to make it a weekly article going forward…) I’m going to discuss how I felt this PTQ/PPTQ season has gone and how the new system has influenced our testing group in terms of group dynamics, in respect to success and failure, but also how it has felt as an experience. Likely as not it will be after GP Saville, so there will be something to say about Standard going forward too.
Community Question: What is more important to you when playing Magic, winning or having fun? and why?
All the best,