Magical Fallacy #2: Ad Hoc Rationalization

Earlier this week, I talked about the Appeal to Accomplishment fallacy and the dangers of attributing success to a bad strategy or approach simply because you happened to succeed utilizing it. Today, I’m going to discuss our second psychological fallacy, and this one is one of my favorites. It’s called the Ad Hoc Rationalization fallacy. What is the Ad Hoc Rationalization fallacy? We all know this one. It’s a classic.

Joe: “This new brew that I came up with is so awesome, it’s definitely on the verge of breaking the format. I’ve found something no one else has here.

Bob: “How has it been doing in tournaments recently? I thought you were only able to get like a .500 win percentage with it over a couple of leagues?”

Joe: “Well, that was because I flooded out basically every game and even when I did draw my best cards, I was already too far behind to do anything about it.”

Bob: “But what about those games I saw where you drew all your best cards and were able to curve out perfectly? You still lost, even when you drew the curve you wanted.”

Joe: “Well, that was because I misplayed. I sequenced things incorrectly and didn’t play my spells in the right order, which kept the deck from playing to its full potential.

Bob: “………………………”

The Ad Hoc Rationalization fallacy is like the evil twin of the Appeal to Accomplishment fallacy. It’s when your strategy or method consistently fails horribly, and yet despite your consistent abject failure, you continue to rationalize your failures because you’re too emotionally attached to that strategy or method to let it go.

I know for a fact that I’ve been guilty of falling afoul of this fallacy at different times throughout my years playing. I think it’s safe to say everyone has, especially those who spend a great deal of time and creative energy trying to build unique decks and come up with rogue strategies that no one else has thought of before. In fact, I did just recently several months ago at GP Orlando.

I wrote an article here on CFB before the tournament where I talked about the deck I planned on playing. It was a black-white deck I called “Angels & Knights” and it centered around curving out into Heart of Kiran, Gideon of the Trials/History of Benalia, Shalai, and Lyra Dawnbringer. It sounded great in theory, and it was seriously doing well online in playtesting. Or so I thought.

The night before the tournament, my buddy Lance and I were in our hotel room playing some last minute matches and the deck just kept getting stomped by Mono-Red, the best deck in the format at that time. The deck was likely to be crawling everywhere throughout the main event. We would make adjustments and tweaks here and there, yet it still struggled.

Lance: “I don’t know man, I have Mono-Green Stompy. I think you should just play that. It’s a strong deck.”

Me: “I think I’ve just been drawing pretty poorly in these matches. Every time I have managed to draw well and curve out, I’ve managed to win.”

Lance: “Yeah, but it hasn’t been very consistent and even if you do curve out, Mono-Red’s curve is so busted that yours is just going to be overwhelmed.”

Me: “I get what you’re saying, but I’m confident in the deck and I’m going to trust it. I’ll let you know if I change my mind and if I do, I’ll play Mono-Green.”

Yeah… I think you can guess the story from here. I ended up going like 4-4 on Day 1 with two of my wins coming from no-shows. And what did I end up saying to myself after I crashed out of Day 1?

“Man, I should have played Mono-Green!”

And funnily enough, that’s exactly what I ended up doing. I entered into one of the PTQ direct qualifier side-events the next day, and I managed to come within one game of making the Top 8. Mono-Green was such a better deck to play, and when I played it, I knew I made a huge mistake not playing it in the main event.

In hindsight, I realized what happened. I loved playing with cards like Heart of Kiran, Gideon, and Lyra. I wanted so badly to make them work that I ad hoc rationalized the bad signs away. On top of that, subconsciously, I felt obligated to play a deck that I very publicly proclaimed I was going to play, and I chained myself to the deck because of that, despite its obvious shortcomings.

This aspect of the mental side of the game is something that the professional players nail down so well. Great deck builders like Sam Black and Brad Nelson are able to let go of pet ideas if and when they realize they’re not performing against the format. They don’t ad hoc rationalize things to cling to their ideas. They’re willing to let them go, and that’s why they’re able to create better decks and end up succeeding.

And the Ad Hoc Rationalization fallacy doesn’t just belong to the physical or technical aspect of the game. It’s also pervasive in the mental aspects of the game as well. Here’s an example.

Mike: “Whew, I almost completely lost it that last game but I still managed to pull it off.”

Josh: “Dude, you tilted so hard I thought you were going to fall out of your chair. You can’t keep playing like that and expect to do well consistently.”

Mike: “Nah man, it works. Getting super angry allows me to focus better and I play better when I’m really pissed off.”

Josh: “Mike, you can be just as focused when playing without getting angry, and no you don’t play better. You’ve thrown away way more games than you’ve won by tilting off.”

Mike: “Anger might be a handicap for other players, but it isn’t for me. Just because it doesn’t work for you doesn’t mean it doesn’t work for me.”

I think we’ve all known at least one player similar to this throughout our years playing. For whatever underlying reasons that’s personal to each individual, these players want to cling to a terribly, faulty approach and will find any way necessary to rationalize how and why it’s the best strategy when it’s most definitely not.

Part of growing and improving as a player, and as a human being, is the willingness to let go of false beliefs and bad methods. If you refuse to let go of pet decks and rogue strategies, you’re going to continually hamstring yourself unnecessarily and limit your playing potential. If you cling for dear life to bad mental approaches and habits, you’ll continually indulge in them until they came back to bite you later on down the road, especially in situations and matches when you really don’t want them to.

I talked about a time when I fell into the trap of an Ad Hoc Rationalization fallacy. It’s your turn. Sound off in the comments section and share your own experience about a time when you managed to do the same. I’d love to hear your story!

Thanks for reading, and stay tuned next week for the final two fallacies!

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