Magic is a difficult and complicated game, but that’s probably not why you started playing. I started back in 1995 with my brother and cousin, and I played because the game was fun. When you get caught up in the grind and in results, it’s easy to forget that you play the game because you love it.
Love requires that you care about someone or something in a way that is beyond your control. You cannot control what others do any more than you can control the draws from the top of a deck of cards. All you can do is your best and if you can honestly say you tried your best, you can come away from anything with your head held high.
There’s no easy recipe to learn how to try your best. Everyone is different. No one is perfect. Your best is personal and about how much you are willing to invest. But I can certainly expound upon one area that is not unique or specific where a lot of people (myself included) could use improvement: Negativity.
Negativity is a coping mechanism. It is a way of framing the world in such a way that your problems are not your fault. Negativity displaces the root of one’s problems so that they are someone or something else’s fault. In Magic, the displacement of blame is really, really easy:
I mulliganed. I had bad draws. I was unlucky. Variance.
Losing, especially when you put in a lot of effort, is frustrating.
From the perspective of an individual who has competed for well over a decade, I can relate to the frustration. I can see a lot of my own past behaviors and attitudes reflected in the sentiments of other players. I understand and comprehend negativity and frustration at a high level because I’ve lived it in a profound and real way.
Negativity will never help you achieve your hopes and dreams. Negativity will never add anything useful to your journey. Negativity will never make you feel better.
I’m not talking about bottling up your feelings until they boil over. If a person is down in the dumps or struggling they should absolutely confide in a trusted friend or family member. Be real. Have a real conversation. Get it off your chest and gain a little perspective. It’ll help.
The kind of negativity that shouldn’t be shared is the kind that spreads. I’m having a bad day, and now you are about to be having a bad day too. I feel bad and now you should feel bad too. If I can’t be happy, then no one should be.
In tournament Magic, the frustration floating around in the room is palpable. Half of the people in the room lost their last round and are not all feeling wonderful.
We’ve all heard the bad beat story: My opponent was terrible and played terrible…
We’ve all seen the comments in the Twitch chats: That player is terrible and played terrible…
I’m great at Magic and lost. Others are worse and won. There’s no justice in the universe.
Such behavior is just an adult version of bullying. An individual feels bad or inadequate and acts out by picking on somebody else. The aggressor gets attention, which makes them feel important by putting someone else down. We call these people “trolls,” which is just a codeword for “online bully.”
I used to think the negative attitude and heinous comments were a symptom of Magic being a frustrating game at times. But I’ve come around to understand that the attitudes I observe are a symptom of life in general.
I’ve started listening to a lot of sports talk radio in the past year. I like following my local teams and players. The more I listen, the more I am able to notice parallel behaviors in people talking about sports and people talking about Magic: That player is a bum. That coach is a moron. That GM should be fired.
I don’t think the behavior I’m critiquing is unique to Magic. It has always existed in culture and is an easy port into gaming. After all, gaming and sports are not so dissimilar. Sports are games.
On the one hand, Sports and Magic are entertainment for a lot of people. A person who is at home watching a ballgame is not that different than a person watching Grand Prix coverage.
On the other hand, there is a big difference between a professional athlete and a random person playing in a feature match. It is true that there are professional Magic players, but the pros are typically not the individuals draw the most unfriendly fire. The people who endure the brunt of the hate are the novice players and they receive the negative comments when they make mistakes on camera.
It would be as if the Detroit Tigers brought in a random person from the stands to close a game and fans were angry because he or she wasn’t as good as Mariano Rivera. Expectations. I understand that when people tune in to watch a game, sports or Magic, they want to see competitive play and be entertained. Still, it’s important to have perspective.
One of the phrases that turns my stomach whenever it is uttered is when a sports radio caller says: The player makes millions of dollars and therefore something, something, something… I’m not talking about an argument where somebody says: Player 1 makes X amount of dollars and has X stats. Player 2 makes X amount of dollars and has Y stats. Player 2 is a better value under the salary cap. I’m talking about when people use the fact that somebody gets paid a lot of money as justification for hating them for being successful.
In a sense, criticism comes with the territory of being a professional athlete. There are going to be some barbs and some boos, but players are compensated and it’s all part of the job. In Magic, it’s often the opposite. The professional players get the respect and non-pro players take the abuse. It’s just paying dues, right? Or is it more frustrated individuals trying to make others feel as bad as they do?
I know for a fact that one of the most common things I hear in the feature match from newer players is “I hope I don’t mess up and get made fun of for it,” and that’s a shame. Playing a feature match should be fun and exciting and not something to be dreaded for fear of ridicule. When I was coming up in Magic there wasn’t video coverage like there is today. The coverage was in article form and the player’s mistakes were insulated from the public to some extent.
It is also worth noting that novice female players tend to frequently get feature matches and that is a great thing for Magic. Women should be encouraged to compete in Magic if they choose to. There are not many high profile female pros in the game today, which is something that will hopefully change in the future. Women should be represented in coverage. Female players should be able to see other women play on camera. It helps build a better community where different people feel more welcome and comfortable.
Unfortunately, female players on camera also tend to draw a lot of negativity from the folks at home, especially when and if they make a mistake. Even when female players don’t make a mistake, they risk all sorts of other negative remarks based on their gender or appearance. It’s not trolling—it’s bullying, and it is bad for everyone in the community.
It’s about people, frame of mind, and accountability. Negativity and bullying are bad no matter who they are directed against and for whatever reason.
I’ve given a few examples of ways that negativity can be toxic and bad for the community. I’ve provided some context for why I think people act out these behaviors. The logical place to end is to provide a few strategies for creating a different outcome.
In those moments at a tournament where I take a tough loss and feel aggravated with the situation, I’ve recently begun taking refuge in music. I know that may sound simplistic, but I love music and it makes me feel better without fail. Instead of telling bad beat stories and sharing my negative feelings with anybody who is unfortunate enough to listen to my laundry list of complaints, I slip on my headphones and listen to something that will lift my spirits. Cliff Nobles “The Horse,” John Denver “Rocky Mountain High,” and Magic Numbers “Love Me Like You” form my go-to cheer-me-up-in-between-rounds playlist. I’m always looking for new stuff to listen to and so if you’ve got any spicy between-rounds jams, please share in the comments!
The point is, try to do something where you can channel those negative emotions where they don’t do damage to yourself or others. I’m not suggesting that telling bad beat stories is necessarily abusive or wrong. I’ve just never felt like it helped me and if anything it caused me to be less focused and less centered to continue my event.
Another way that people spread negativity in Magic is in critiquing other people’s play: You punted. That play was awful.
On some level, the tough love comes in the disguise of trying to be helpful and telling it like it is. Be careful when you talk to other people about their plays. Are you really trying to help them, or are you using the opportunity to prop yourself up and assert that you are the superior player? If the latter is your motivation, it’s possible that you are bullying your friends. I’m not saying you should never point out a mistake or a different line of play—just be careful about why you are saying what you say.
As for the way people talk about one another in comments online… I get it. I was 20 once. People can frame it however they like, but it’s mean-spirited bullying. We live in a culture where it has become an accepted and tolerated speed bump of life that people put each other down online in order to prop themselves up. Yet, it is always true that making others feel bad is not a long-term fix to whatever is truly ailing you.
Magic is difficult and complicated, and losing is unpalatable but it is part of the game. Winning is glorified and is the gold standard that everyone is chasing. Even the best players don’t win all the time. I understand that losing isn’t entertaining but I almost wish that coverage would point out examples of good losers as an example for others to follow.
Cory Burkhart is a great example of excellence in sportsmanship. He could be 9-0 or 0-9 and you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference if you saw him in between rounds. He’s gracious in victory or defeat. Whether he’s winning or losing, he’s there picking up and supporting his friends and teammates in between rounds.
I’ve known Corey since he was just a kid playing at RIW Hobbies and he’s always been that way, which is to say he didn’t become a good sport after he got good. Choosing to be a positive rather than negative person isn’t something that has anything to do with accolades or success. It’s a choice an individual makes about how they deal with and overcome adversity.
Spreading negativity impacts your perspective and the people around you. Speaking from experience, there’s nothing to be gained from it. Remember that you play Magic because you love it and that you play with your friends. There’s really nothing negative about it. If there is negativity, it comes from you, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Choose to let it go and to find a different way through it. Deal.