As I briefly mentioned in my previous article, one of the ways we can create a positive atmosphere at our local game store is to encourage each other, teach new players, and be a gracious loser and a respectful winner.
What makes a gracious player, though? What are some traits that players with good sportsmanship share?
As it turns out, there are a number of things that distinguish a gracious player and how he or she approaches a game of Magic. Please note that while you don’t necessarily have to become best friends with your opponent, a little courtesy goes a long way. Even at an REL event, where little to no chatter is normal, it hurts nobody to be polite. Remember, manners maketh man, and with that lets take a look at:
5 Ways to be a Gracious Magic: The Gathering Player, Whether You Win or Lose
5. Greet Your Opponent
Whether you’re at an FNM or the Pro Tour, it’s considered polite to greet your opponent. Not only that, your opponent’s name is on your match slip. Greet him or her by name and the tone of your entire match will change from quiet and impersonal to a good experience for both of you.
If you want, you can even with your opponent good luck. Saying something as simple as, “Good luck, may you draw well,” shows your opponent that you’re not just here for a quick win. You may be here to win, but you’re also here to have a good time/fun.
If you play MTGO, a common phrase shared at the beginning of a match is “GLHF”, meaning “good luck, have fun.” It is a phrase used by many well-known online players and streamers. It is only four letters, but it makes all the difference in setting the tone for your match.
4. Be Respectful
Depending upon the decks you and your opponent bring to the match, you may be seated across each other for anywhere from 5 minutes to almost an hour. During that span of time, many interactions will occur in the match that rely on open communication between you and your opponent.
In fact, section 4.1 of Magic: The Gathering Tournament Rules states that “Communication between players is essential to the successful play of any game that involves virtual objects or hidden information.” The three categories of information are divided into (i) free, (ii) derived, and (iii) private information, and a player must always be willing and able to provide free information to an opponent upon request:
- Details of current and past game actions that affect the game state.
- The name of any visible object.
- The type of any counter in a public zone.
- The status and zone of any object.
- Life totals and poison counter totals, and the current game score of the match.
- The contents of each player’s mana pool.
- The current turn phase or step and which player(s) are active.
Section 4.2 goes on to establish accepted Tournament Shortcuts, or simple ways in which players can verbally pass priority or move to the next phase or step, for example:
- “Go,” “Your turn,” or “Done” are accepted ways to pass priority.
- “I’m ready for combat” or “Declare attackers?” are accepted ways to pass priority prior to the beginning of combat step.
- If a player casts a spell or activates an ability with X in its mana cost, it is assumed to be for all mana currently available in his or her pool unless otherwise specified.
The rules also allow for players to create their own shortcuts, as long as both players are clear what effect each shortcut will have on the game state (such as establishing an alternative way to pass priority and potentially end a player’s turn, as long as both players agree upon the shortcut). The rules are very clear, however, that players may not attempt to modify an accepted shortcut without announcing the modification, with the goal of creating ambiguity in the game.
Communication is the key, regardless of the level of play. You could be sitting down to a relaxed FNM match, or you could be in the Top 8 of a large REL tournament. If you treat your opponent with respect, you will be treated in kind. Respect garners trust and rapport, and in turn, open lanes of communication.
Nobody wants to be paired with the quiet Magic player who stares at his cards, grunts whenever priority is passed, never acknowledges life total changes, then tries to get you a game loss when your life pads differ. Don’t be that guy.
3. Extend (or Accept) the Hand
This may seem obvious to many of you (and good on you), but it is worth mention because sometimes a person might get so wrapped up in a game, win or lose, and forget this simple courtesy.
You’ve just finished a gruelling hour-long match. The interactions were intense, you spent more time looking at the cards than your opponent, but eventually a victor arose. It’s time to look up from the cards now. Did you lose? Extend the hand. Did you win? Accept the hand.
You’ve just finished a five minute match in which your mono-red deck utterly smashed your opponent. Did your opponent offer the hand? Accept it. Did your opponent concede but didn’t offer the hand? Don’t gloat and call them “salty”. Offer your own hand. It’s good sportsmanship.
You’ve just finished a five minute match in which your opponent utterly smashed you with a mono-red deck. Don’t be salty about this. Mono-red decks are a fair part of the game, and your opponent got the better of you. Look up from your cards, and extend the hand.
Such a small gesture, but it makes a world of difference.
2. “Good Game”
Okay, you’ve extended or accepted a handshake. So far, so good. After all, Magic is about the players, and each person you sit across from has a story. They’re more than just a number on your score sheet.
An overwhelming majority of Magic players, when asked what sets apart a gracious player, agrees that the best indicator of good sportsmanship is what the player says once the match is over.
“Good game.” If you say nothing else, regardless of how the match played out, saying something as simple as “Good game” shows that you are a good sport and you acknowledge that Magic is just that: a game.
“Well played.” What truly sets apart those with exemplary sportsmanship is the ability to compliment an opponent when the match has concluded. Was the opponent enjoyable to play against? Did you admire his or her deck building or playing skill? Say so. You’ll be surprised at how you can make someone’s day with a simple, “Good game, well played. That was fun, your deck is pretty cool!”
Not only do you come off as someone who truly enjoys the game and has a genuine interest in getting to know the people around you, but you might catch yourself having fun as well. In fact, the rapport you have built over the match might grow into a friendship in the future. Some of my best friends in the Magic community are former opponents.
“Thanks for the games.” Whether you won or lost, you’ve learned something however small that will help you grow to become a better player. Your opponent played no small role in this, and contributed to a good experience for both of you. Before you scoop up your deck and playmat, thank them for their time.
Ultimately, we’re all here to have fun. Playing Magic should be fun. So have fun! You’re allowed to crack a smile from time to time.
Yes, there is value to a good poker face during intense interactions, but at the very least you can be friendly between games or after the match. After the post-match handshake, flash those pearly whites and show that you had fun playing a game you are both passionate about.
Many Magic players, when asked about their favourite match of all time, will talk about a match where they had a rapport with their opponent. Both players were serious about the match, but had time to smile and enjoy the experience. The match concluded with a handshake, a “good game, well-played”, and even if they never saw each other again after the tournament, they still look back on the matchup as one of their best experiences playing Magic.
Personally, my favourite match I have ever played was at a Grand Prix Trial in 2013. The format was Return to Ravnica block sealed with a Top 8 draft. My opponent and I were both 4-0 playing for top seed. I was playing a very aggressive Gruul Aggro deck with haste, unleash, evolve, bloodrush, five combat tricks, and three removal spells. My opponent had an Orzhov deck, which I think was midrange with extort. I won the match 2-0, but what I remember the most about the match was the good conversation. We had never met before, but we were both musicians who played Magic. He told me about a recording studio he frequented, I told him about the music degree I had received the year before. Even as we interacted in the match with our removal and tricks, we joked around just as much (I even commonly referred to “Lobber Crew” as “Lobster Crew”).
And that’s the great thing about those matches. We remember them with fondness and perfect clarity. They are one of our fondest memories of the game, whether we won or lost. That’s what makes the game so great.
Community Question: Do you prefer an opponent who talks during the match, or an opponent that stays silent throughout? Explain your answer.
Thanks for reading,