Some concepts in Magic are so iconic, they’ve managed to attain an almost legendary status. One of those concepts is, without question, the classic “Bad Beat Story.”

We all know how this one goes. You suffer some grave injustice during a game, such as an opponent ripping the game-winning burn spell they needed to finish you off or the game where you draw nothing but lands for five turns in a row and never see a meaningful spell to help you get into the game. In essence, it’s bad variance at its finest, and when you experience it, it leaves you reeling.

But it doesn’t end there. What happens next? You head over to the table where all of your friends or teammates are gathered and you start telling them about what happened. You go over every detail and recount the story as vividly as you can. “You’re not going to believe this. I was at 3 life with the game completely locked up. I was going to win within the next two turns. But of course, he topdecked Lightning Bolt, the exact card he needed to win.” Or, it sounds like, “The game was dead even and all I needed to do was draw any kind of relevant spell and I would have pulled away. But instead, I drew nothing but lands for five turns in a row while he drew bomb after bomb. It was so ridiculous.”

For today’s article, I want to talk about the reasons why bad beat stories are terrible to tell, how they affect you physically and mentally, and why you want drop the habit of telling bad beat stories after you experience them. To start things off, let’s talk a bit about how the brain works on a neurological level. Nothing fancy or complicated—just the basics.

Negative Mental Effects of Telling Bad Beat Stories

The brain is always looking for ways to make cognitive processes and functions easier and more automated. One of the ways the brain does this is by creating and building things called “neuro-signatures,” or neural pathways, in order to essentially memorize and hard-wire a behavior. Every time you repeat a specific behavior, you fire up specific neurons in your brain that branch out toward each other and eventually form a pathway, making the flow of information easier each time.

What does this mean? It means every time you suffer from variance or a loss in Magic, and every time you tell a bad beat story, you’re hard-wiring that habit into your brain by forming a neural pathway that will make it far more likely for you to continue repeating that habit in the future. The habit of telling bad beat stories becomes a physical manifestation in your brain.

You often hear people espouse the idea of complaining so that you can “get it out of your system” and calm things down afterwards, but this is actually not good to do at all. You may feel like you’re getting a bad beat off your chest and out of your mind by venting and complaining about it, but all you’re actually doing is making it more likely for you to repeat that behavior again in the future.

This same exact process works with emotional reactions as well. Often, you hear that it’s good to use emotions like anger and frustration in some positive way by trying to channel those negative emotions into something constructive: Get angry, get it out of your system, and let things calm back down. But again, you’re doing more damage then you realize. Just like with complaining about bad beats, every time you indulge in destructive emotions like anger, you’re creating neural pathways in your brain that will make it far more likely for you to react angrily to similar situations in the future. You make your anger a physical manifestation in your brain and make it likely for you to always get angry in similar situations going forward, which obviously isn’t a good habit to develop.

Negative Physical Effects of Telling Bad Beat Stories

Complaining about bad beats and indulging in destructive emotions such as anger not only have negative mental effects, they also have negative physical effects as well. For example, studies have conclusively shown that things such as complaining, anger, and stress actually reduce the size of the hippocampus area of your brain, which is the area of the brain responsible for memory, cognition, problem-solving, and intelligent thought. When you complain or become angry, you release stress hormones into your system, and in this stressful state, you elevate the level of glucocorticoids in your system which can damage your hippocampus.

Not only does complaining, anger, and stress effect your brain physically, but it also effects other parts of your physical being. Short-term and long-term stress have negative effects on your immune system, your heart health, your sleep patterns, and your bones, muscles, and connective tissues.

Breaking The Habit of Telling Bad Beat Stories

If you know you have a habit of indulging in bad beats and negative emotions, there is great news for you: You can break that habit. Neural pathways wither away and lose their strength the less they are used, meaning that the less you indulge in your bad beats and negative emotions, the weaker those pathways will become until they eventually disappear altogether, breaking the old habit and forming new, more beneficial pathways and habits to replace them.

Whether you know you have a bad habit of constantly telling your bad beat stories, or whether it’s simply a habit you want to avoid in the future, here are some things you can do to help break or prevent that habit going forward and form positive, beneficial neural pathways in your brain so that you can form better mental habits:

1) Talk about your successes rather than your losses

I’ve talked before about how the human mind is designed to naturally focus and dwell on the negatives. It does this as a protection and survival mechanism. Whenever you experience bad variance or losses, your brain is going to be naturally inclined to focus and brood over that experience. Again, you don’t want to just allow your brain to go on auto pilot and do this, because it will become a habit going forward the more you do it, as I’ve been discussing.

Whenever you experience some really rough variance or a crushing loss, instead of dwelling on that experience and brooding over it, think back to a time when you experienced extremely favorable variance or pulled off an amazing win. It doesn’t even have to be from the current tournament you’re playing in. It can be from a previous tournament, if need be. Either way, think about that positive experience and consciously remind yourself that, even though you experience horrible luck and results from time to time, you do also experience wonderful luck and results. It’s not completely imbalanced over the longer term. Doing this will help to keep things in a proper perspective as well.

2) Be grateful

Practicing gratitude has enormous mental and physical benefits, some of which include the following:

  • Gratitude improves physical health
  • Gratitude improves psychological health
  • Gratitude enhances empathy and reduces aggression
  • Gratitude helps people sleep better
  • Gratitude improves self-esteem
  • Gratitude improves mental strength

When you experience bad variance or losses, just do something simple: Remind yourself of what you’re grateful for about the experience, the tournament itself, or the game of Magic as a whole.

For example, you could recite to yourself, “Yeah, I took a terrible loss due to some insane variance, but hey, these low moments are what make the great moments feel even better. I’m just grateful to be here playing a game I like with my friends and teammates and enjoying the entire experience.”

3) See the silver lining

With every negative experience comes something that can benefit you in some way if you go looking for it. You simply have to ask yourself the right question: “What’s the great thing about this?” It may seem silly to think that there’s something great that could come from horrible variance or a debilitating loss, but there are numerous silver linings you could find if you went looking for them. For example, experiencing bad variance is great for you because, again, it makes the great moments feel even better. On top of that, it’s an opportunity to test your emotional control and develop the mental discipline to control your thought patterns and emotional reactions.

When it comes to losing, what’s the great thing about losing? Simple—losing is a growth opportunity. Paul Rietzl said it best: “For me, there is no substitute for losing. I learn a lot by playing a lot and losing.” Not only does losing give you an opportunity to improve your technical game, it gives you an opportunity to improve yourself as well. Can you lose with a smile on your face? Can you be gracious towards your opponent? Can you cope with losing so that it doesn’t affect you mentally and emotionally as you move through a tournament? When experiencing bad luck and losses, find the silver lining and turn a seemingly negative experience into something positive that can benefit you going forward.

In closing, I wanted to mention that I also talk about these topics and more in my new book called Mental Mana – Mastering The Mental Game Of Magic: The Gathering, a book that’s all about helping players such as yourself master the mental side of the game and develop yourself as a whole person, for Magic and for life. It’s available now over on Amazon in both paperback and e-book, so if this kind of subject matter is something you’re interested in or if you know you need to work on those aspects of your game, head on over and grab yourself a copy. I’m confident that you’ll enjoy it and get a lot of benefit out of it!

Thanks for reading, and all the best!