All right folks, we’ve reached the final article in my article mini-series on various psychological fallacies that are relevant to competitive Magic. In the first article, I talked about the Appeal to Accomplishment Fallacy, which is the fallacy of attributing success to a faulty strategy or method simply because you happened to succeed utilizing it. Next, I talked about the Ad Hoc Rationalization Fallacy, which is the fallacy of desperately rationalizing the legitimacy of a bad strategy or method because of some attachment you have to it. Third, I talked about the Naturalistic Fallacy, which is the fallacy of claiming a specific strategy or method is right or correct simply by observing a set of facts related to it. Today, I’m going to finish with my final psychological fallacy—the False Dilemma Fallacy.
As human beings, we tend to have a nasty habit of dwindling our choices down to a matter of “either/or.” You’re either for something or against it. You either support this person or you don’t. You either believe in this specific set of ideals or you believe in something completely different. You either play Magic “this” way, or you play Magic “that” way. All of these are generic examples of what’s called the False Dilemma Fallacy, or the Fallacy of False Choices. This is the fallacy of claiming that there are only one of two options available in any given situation. There are many Magic-specific examples of this fallacy that we can walk through, both at the table and away from it. Let’s take a look at some of them.
In 2015, Pascal Maynard was playing in the Top 8 of Grand Prix Las Vegas. The format was Modern Masters Draft. By the end of his first pack, Pascal was pretty solidly into playing a variation of red aggro. Going into his second pack of the Draft, Pascal opens up a foil Tarmogoyf. The Tarmogoyf adds pretty much zero value to his deck. It’s not in the colors he’s already settled into, and looking at it strictly from a deck-value perspective, it’s a bad pick. Also in the pack is a Burst Lightning, an excellent card for Pascal’s deck and exactly the kind of card he’s looking to pick up. He’s stuck with an extremely awkward decision. Does he take a $300-$400 foil Tarmogoyf that adds zero value to his deck, or does he take a $0.25 Burst Lightning that adds a ton of value to his deck? Pascal ended up taking the foil Tarmogoyf and in doing so, managed to unwittingly melt down the internet afterwards.
His decision provoked a huge response within the community. Large swarms of people settled themselves into pretty much two camps. You either supported his decision to take the foil ‘Goyf, or you were completely against it. Prominent players within the game came out and publicly condemned him for taking the ‘Goyf, claiming his decision went against the spirit of competition because it didn’t optimize his chances of winning. Others claimed it was absolutely the right decision because the value of the ‘Goyf was great EV and made total sense.
The reaction to Pascal’s decision was a quintessential example of the False Dilemma Fallacy. Pascal wasn’t limited to an “either/or” decision in that situation like most people thought he was. He wasn’t in a situation where he had to either take the ‘Goyf and his deck would suffer, or take the Burst Lightning and he loses out on great EV. No matter which decision he made, he was going to benefit. If he took the Burst Lightning, he’d enhance his deck and his chances of winning, and he was already in the Top 8, which granted him value in and of itself. If he took the ‘Goyf, he’d get a $300-$400 dollar card that he could get great value from later on, either by playing it in one of his decks or selling it. He wasn’t in a do-or-die, “either/or” situation, and to think he was would be a False Dilemma Fallacy.
Pascal’s decision to take the ‘Goyf was not a matter of right or wrong. He wasn’t right for taking the ‘Goyf, just as he wasn’t wrong for taking it. Pascal, just like all of us, is the ultimate judge on how he decides to play Magic. That was his seat in the Top 8. He earned it. He paid for his GP entrance free, and he can decide to draft Magic and play Magic however he wants to, just like you get to decide how you draft Magic and play Magic yourself. He didn’t need to justify his decision to anyone besides himself, just as you don’t have to justify how you like to play Magic to anyone besides yourself. If he wants to pass a card that’s great for his deck—hurting the potency of his deck in doing so—and take a high value foil card, he can do that and he doesn’t need to justify that decision to anyone because he can interact with Magic however he decides to, just as you can and should do the same.
This segue me into another False Dilemma Fallacy we often see in Magic—the divide between casual and competitive Magic. People often label themselves, or they label others. Someone is either a “casual player” or a “competitive player.” You’re either a casual or a spike. In my work, I’ve spoken to many competitive players who flat out tell me that they cannot play casual Magic since they’re “competitive players,” and they can’t imagine playing Magic without any kind of prize being on the line. I’ve also spoken to people who label themselves as “casual players,” claiming they couldn’t imagine ever playing Magic competitively where winning and results are the be-all-end-all.
The whole “you’re either a competitive player or a casual player” paradigm is a total False Dilemma Fallacy. You don’t have to enjoy Magic just one way. There are many ways to enjoy Magic, and by forcing yourself into an “either/or” choice, you’re limiting your ability to explore and enjoy Magic unnecessarily. You can be a competitive player and a casual player. You can be a casual and a spike. You can grind tournaments and play for funsies too. The issue isn’t which form of Magic you’re playing. It’s the perception you have toward that form of Magic and your parameters for what it takes for you to enjoy playing Magic.
Rarely in Magic, or in life, is it ever good to think in extremes. The correct or best approach is almost never found on one side of the spectrum or the other. It’s found in the middle. The best approach toward anything is almost always found in some kind of balanced middle-ground. You don’t want to eat completely 100% clean and miss out on enjoying tasty junk food, but you also don’t want to eat nothing but tasty junk food. It’s not good to exercise five times a day, but it’s also not good to never exercise. You can have a fierce desire to win while also smiling and having fun when playing. You can be committed to grinding competitive Magic while also enjoying the careless, laid back nature of casual Magic. Choices like these, and more, are almost never “either/or”, and thinking they have to be is a False Dilemma Fallacy you should want to avoid.
I’ve enjoyed writing this series, and I hope you’ve enjoyed reading it just as much. My hope is that you’ll ponder over these fallacies and think how and if they apply to you, your relationship to Magic, and your own life. And, most importantly, be on the lookout for them as you move forward so you can do your best to avoid them.