The word “no” kind of gets a bad rap. The focus on the word tends to be associated with the times when “no” prevents us from getting something we really want. For example, when I was a kid and asked my mom if she would buy me a pack of Magic cards at the grocery store, she almost always, firmly, said, “no!”

As we get older and move into adulthood, the negative effects of “no” are still an ever-present challenge that we have to deal with on a daily basis, whether it’s a boss saying “no” to a potential raise or a university telling you “no” after you submit your application. It’s through these kinds of experiences happening numerously that we tend to develop a negative outlook towards the concept of “no.” But “no” is also a powerful and positive tool, if used correctly.

Having said that, that’s the topic of today’s article—to discuss the psychology and positive benefits of saying “no,” and how that applies to you as a competitive Magic player. Let’s take a look.

Taking A Mulligan

I’m going to use myself as an example for this one. I can honestly say that when I play, I have a tendency to keep way more starting hands than I should. I tend to fall into the trap of thinking that taking a mulligan puts me at a massive disadvantage, and that keeping a mediocre/poor seven-card hand is better than taking a six-card hand. This is obviously wrong, and it’s in this kind of situation where the power of “no” is a positive.

You have to be able to say “no” to certain hands. Let’s say you’re in game 3 of a best-of-3 match. You don’t have a game to give, so making the correct decision with regard to whether or not you keep your opening hand is very important. You draw your seven cards. You see that you only have one land, but you have three really solid 2-drops. But the one land you have is off-color and you would have to draw not only a second land, but a second land of the right color. If you do, your hand goes from iffy to fantastic. Your opponent is playing Mono-Red Aggro and if you do miss that second land, even for a turn, you’re going to be too far behind to catch up if they curve out. Do you say yes in this situation, or do you say no?

Saying “no” in this situation is, in my view, the right answer. It’s tempting to keep that hand because if the upside does pay off, it could be massive. But more importantly, if you do miss that draw, the downside is catastrophic. Being able to say “no,” mulligan the hand, and give yourself a better shot by going to six with a scry is a decision that could save your game. Playing Magic isn’t only about being able to say “yes” to the right hands. It’s equally about being able to say “no” to the wrong hands.

Indulging In Negative Emotions

You’re playing in a tournament and it’s the first round of the day. Your opponent is playing Esper Control and you’re playing White Weenie. You’re on the play, and your opening is great. You’re going to be able to curve out 1-2-3-4 and totally punish your opponent. Naturally, you feel confident and optimistic. But as the game progresses, your opponent has an answer for everything you play. On turn 5, they drop their Teferi with Cast Down backup and eventually run away with the game.

Initially annoyed and disappointed, you shake it off and focus on the second game. Your opening hand is, again, really good. But once again, your opponent has all the right answers at exactly the right time. They Cry of the Carnarium your board away. They Mortify your History of Benalia. They Kaya’s Wrath away your followup plays. Eventually, just like before, Teferi comes out with Moment of Craving backup and the game is officially out of your reach.

In this moment, it’s easy to want to allow yourself to indulge in debilitating, destructive emotions such as anger, fury, and outrage. It feels good to do that. But by indulging in those emotions, you’re reinforcing the habit of reacting that way in the future and multiplying your chances of tilting off more and more. In these situations, the power of “no” is critical. You have to make the right choice and refuse to indulge in those emotions. Choose to be positive and optimistic. Playing Magic isn’t just about being able to say “yes” to positive emotions. It’s equally about being able to say “no” to negative ones.

Grinding On Arena

I, like many other people, have been trying to grind my way to Constructed Mythic on Arena. I’m not sure how that process is for others, but for me, it’s a challenge. I have no problem admitting that as much as I love playing Magic, I am not a great player. I’m merely “good,” nothing less and nothing more. Due to my career work, I simply can’t apply the amount of time, dedication, and commitment needed to become a great player. So I try to do the best I can and get as far as I can each season.

Let’s say you’re grinding on Arena and you’re currently at the final two notches of diamond tier 1, playing best-of-three. You’re only one match win away from reaching mythic. You fire up a match and play. You lose and go down two notches. You now need two match wins. Frustrated, you fire up another match, but lose again. You’re now at the beginning of diamond tier 1. You start getting angry. Determined to put things right and claw back momentum, you hurriedly fire up yet another match. You lose again, sending yourself back down to diamond tier 2.

What do you do? Do you continue to say yes to playing and potentially, if not likely, send yourself spiraling downwards into a train-wreck where you set yourself back to Diamond tier 4? Or do you utilize the power of no, choose to walk away for now, and go refocus your mind for a bit? It’s in situations like this where the power of saying “no” becomes vital. Like with negative emotions, it’s easy to fall into the trap of what the potential positive outcome could be if you decided to say “yes” and keep playing games in a tilted state. But in doing so, you’re likely to cause more harm than good. Say “no,” walk away, wipe your mind clean, and come back at another time when you’re in a calm, positive, rational state of mind. Playing Magic isn’t just about saying “yes” to playing. It’s equally about being able to say “no” to playing as well.

There are many other countless examples in Magic where the power of “no” is extremely beneficial and in fact necessary. Moving forward, do your best to, in any given situation, have the awareness to figure out whether saying yes or saying “no” is the right choice.