It’s crazy how the conversation regarding post-match etiquette is such a cyclical topic in Magic culture. Every few years something happens that gets the community on social media buzzing and debating how players ought to behave toward one another in the aftermath of a completed match.
Should I shake their hand?
What should I say?
Should I say something different depending on whether I won or lost?
How does what happened in the match influence what I should say or do afterward?
I have a weird relationship to this particular topic: On the one hand, I didn’t always exhibit great sportsmanship in my younger years. I was once a bit of a malcontent and for that I have decided to brandish a large yellow block M on the front of my hoodie every day until the end of March Madness as penance (Go Blue!). On the other hand, once I acknowledged that my mindset and attitude were holding me back from becoming the kind of player and person that I aspired to become, I made an effort to work on that area of my game.
I believe the highest level of play is to always seek to exhibit sportsmanship in any situation.
Is it easy to do? Unless you are Reid Duke, probably not. It requires complete control over your emotions in the face of unpleasant circumstances.
To have good sportsmanship is ultimately to have an appreciation and respect for the game. Your opponent is part of the game. When you disrespect your opponent, you disrespect the game.
When a person exhibits poor sportsmanship in any capacity (cheating, lying, gloating, refusing to shake somebody’s hand, etc.), it signals to other players that they don’t care about the game—they only care about themselves and winning.
“I just finished this epic D&D campaign that I’ve spent five years working on. I’m looking for a really enthusiastic group to share it with. Do you know anybody?”
“I’ve got a friend that’s really good at D&D I could invite. He’s super competitive, complains excessively when he doesn’t get his way, and only cares about his own character.”
“Wow, he sounds great.”
A mumbly, insincere, eye-rolled “good game” and limp handshake are not as bad as cheating, but they belong to the same food group most gamers deem poisonous.
Ego, the Enemy
We as a community make the “good game” issue a lot more difficult on ourselves than it needs to be because we understand the hubris competitive gaming brings to the table. We work hard, put in a ton of time and effort, and care about the outcome. Sometimes it’s hard to look at the result and not feel discouraged, frustrated, or deflated after that two-lander with a scry didn’t pan out.
Variance, mulligans, mana screw have little sympathy for how much preparation you put in and that fact is often difficult to reconcile. It’s frustrating to see your hopes and dreams spiral down the drain in a match where it feels like bad luck played a larger role than all of your decisions combined. In these situations, it feels hollow to congratulate an opponent for winning a good game, when from your perspective it was unlucky and one-sided, and you had little say in the outcome.
Some analogous circumstance is behind the vast majority of negative interactions at the end of a match. It revolves around the premise that one player believes the games were “not good,” and takes offense at having to say, or hear somebody else say, that they were.
It’s all ego talking.
The Fallacy of Losing on Your Own Terms
Any time I acted salty in the aftermath of a match there was always some level of wanting to lose on my own terms. As if pointing out that my opponent got luckier than me, or made mistakes and won in spite of them, would in some way shield my pride from having lost.
It’s disrespectful to the opponent, to the game, and to yourself.
Bad beats happen. Mana screw happens. Mana flood happens. Top decks happen. Variance happens. The more skilled player does not always win. For better or worse, these are well-known and documented facets of Magic: the Gathering that will happen to every single player… over and over… year after year… decade after decade…
It goes a long way to acknowledge and internalize that concept and make peace with it up front. If you play Magic competitively there is little sense in having a breakdown every time a common, inevitable occurrence takes place.
There was a point in time when I was grappling with these ideas when I actually asked myself:
“Knowing that variance plays such a huge role, is Magic actually what I want to do with my time?” There are an infinite number of games, hobbies, and activities available and I could do something else where mana screw doesn’t exist. I decided that I really enjoyed Magic as a game, I liked the people I played with, and that I wanted to continue.
I chose to play a game with variance, so it doesn’t make much sense to get upset when things that are bound to go wrong do, in fact, go wrong.
As for personal specifics: I’m on the strategy of always saying good game, meaning it, saying something nice to pick my opponent up, and giving a legitimately awesome hand shake—when I lose.
When I win, I shoot for the same end game. If my opponent seems salty, sometimes you have to start by saying something to pick them up. I can’t remember a time where I lost and my opponent complimented me on some line I took in one of the other games and I didn’t feel better, or a time where showing appreciation for my opponent’s play didn’t help mend the situation.
We’re all Magic players here and know how it feels to be on the other side of all the usual suspects: topdeck, flood, screw, etc. In my opinion, really good sportsmanship is acknowledging that we understand to some extent.
Two-lander with the scry. 100% to hit in testing, 0% in the tournament. I’d have kept it too. Magic—what a game.
The only real way to lose on your own terms is to accept it, handle your emotions in the moment, and show respect.
The Upside of Putting Hubris Aside
When it comes to ego and hubris, I understand how powerful those feelings can be in the moment, but bad breaks don’t justify bad behavior.
The way a player treats the game determines what they get out of it. If you treat it like something you enjoy, then it’s going to be fun, regardless of whether something breaks your way or not.
Every opponent you will ever face in a tournament is there for the same reason you are—they enjoy playing Magic too. They’ve been mana-screwed before. Chances are that if you play Magic long enough, you’ll encounter them again. It just doesn’t make a ton of sense to go around slighting people who hang out in the same circles over something as silly as variance in a game.
Good sportsmanship isn’t just saying “good game” and shaking a hand, but it certainly doesn’t hurt, and denying these basic customs is universally accepted as poor sportsmanship.
You don’t have to say “good game.” But saying something after a match that acknowledges, “Hey, we both traveled to this place because we enjoy Magic and we had a good, clean match, and I respect you for that,” goes a long way toward making the tournament scene and the community a better place.
If you think about it, the “good game” tradition in sports and games is about appreciating that the opponent shares your passion and enthusiasm for the same activity, which is what facilitates being able to play in the first place. It’s an acknowledgement that the game is bigger than just your singular experience—it’s shared with everyone else.