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Breaking Through – Composure

As Magic players, we often see the world via some set of biases. We share this wonderful culture with one another, but the attributes showcased are not always the most flattering. While there are certainly role models in the game, emphasis tends to be placed on their performance above all else. One’s character tends to take a back seat to things better represented by numbers. Extremes are often the focus, such as when an individual is banned or caught stealing—but too often a blind eye is turned to anything falling short of those extremes.

This means things like manners, social norms, minor struggle, and minor triumph are all glossed over. We look for new technology in deck X, or try to find our 4th copy of the newest planeswalker, which leaves us constantly missing out on many of the lessons available to us. As a social network, Magic contains the same ups and downs, or positives and negatives, that most networks contain. But when an athlete gets in trouble with the law, or says something dumb, there are public and loud repercussions that lead us to understanding how better to deal with the situation, should it arise. In Magic, short of a rules scenario or line of play, we tend to not learn from the plights of others, and that is a real shortcoming.

Of course, the “what” in what we can learn from others goes on and on, and we could never cover it here—let alone in one column—but we can isolate some of them to further examine. After a few recent incidents, alongside observations of others both live and on air, composure jumped out to me as something many players seem to not fully understand.

Composure is a broad term of course, but hopefully specific examples get the message across more clearly. Just to preface those examples though, the composure I am talking about specifically is simple to understand—How do you behave under high pressure or high stress situations? I feel that too often Magic players give a raw response under these situations, rather than filtering their behavior. There is some value in being completely open and honest, but there is more value in approaching situations with a sound head and calm demeanor.

The Fettergeist

A month or so ago I attended Grand Prix Vancouver. The tournament was well run, and Day One went by without a hitch, leaving me at 8-1 and with a good shot to place highly with a decent run on Day Two. I drafted a decent U/B Control deck and we were off to the races. Round 1 pitted me against Morgan Chang, and after we split the first two games, the following scenario happened in game 3:

I have been playing around [card]Geist Snatch[/card] most of this game due to seeing two of them in the previous. A turn 3 [card]Fettergeist[/card] is applying plenty of pressure, but gets bounced when Morgan reaches 11 life. At this point I simply wait. I play my lands for the turn, but just pass, as Morgan continues to leave open [card]Geist Snatch[/card] mana, and only has a 1-power creature in play to represent any type of a clock on me. Eventually, with only six mana in play, Morgan plays [card]Tandem Lookout[/card], trying to draw a card, hit his 7th land, and remain with [card]Geist Snatch[/card] available. He misses his land though, opening up the door just enough.

I untap and play both [card]Fettergeist[/card] and an [card]Elgaud Shieldmate[/card] with [card]Necrobite[/card] in hand to protect the [card]Fettergeist[/card] should it encounter any issues in combat. Things look awesome for me as I pass the turn. A half a turn later I decide to peek at the clock as the match had been going on a while, and see a big 7 staring back at me, so I know I need to get work done fast. I take this to mean a little too fast though, as I untap and fail to pay for my [card]Fettergeist[/card], leaving me dramatically further behind when I had just been ahead.

Clearly I was pretty devastated, and being at a feature match did not help things. Dozens of people had just seen me punt away a match and thousands more would read about it. But as I sat there trying to claw my way back into the game, I realized that none of that mattered. Sure, I messed up, but as long as I didn’t view myself as having instantly gotten worse through that set of actions, it didn’t really matter if others did. I made a mistake, but I had five more rounds to play, and a game left to finish. I thought I handled the situation pretty well as I went on to lose the match. Later that week, the following email was sitting in my inbox:

“Hey Conley! I watched you play while you were in Canada last week and wanted to ask about round 1 of Day Two. When you missed the Fetter trigger, why didn’t you ask your opponent to let you pay? You are Conley Woods! He would have let you take it back had you thrown weight around in that spot. I thought he did the wrong thing by not letting you take it back.”

Obviously the author of the email is not relevant, and I cleaned up some grammar, but I was still surprised to read such a response. Do people really think these things happen? Why would someone let me pull rank in the middle of a match? Why would I want to do this in the first place? That type of thinking seems like it would be a burden to bear. Yes, ultimately I lost as a result of not paying and not raising any kind of stink about anything (to be fair, the missed trigger was not as cut and dry as I made it seem, so I may have had a thin case by the above email’s standard, but that is hardly the point), but that is fine. I lost due to my own actions, and that’s Magic.

There is no reason to be rude in that situation. I understand that the author of that email wasn’t directly implying that I be rude, but asking your opponent to treat you differently than he would treat a random individual seems pretty rude to me. I am of course a little biased when it comes to my own actions though, so let me describe another scenario:

The Cheater’s Quarrel

This took place in Atlanta between two individuals that I neither know, nor met at the event. I probably should have stepped in at some point during this exchange, which could very likely be my fault for not doing so, but I remained a spectator. I believe the following scenario took place during a side draft at the Grand Prix.

The situation is essentially that player A has called out player B for having drawn too many cards this game. His accusation is that player B drew exactly one extra card, and the game is now deep into its course, likely about turn 10 or so—making the task of figuring out if an extra card was drawn that much more difficult. No judge is involved though, as player A literally curses at his opponent and says he has drawn an extra card.

Let me be clear; this is not a friendly chat or anything of the nature. Player A is literally screaming at his opponent for cheating and his opponent is extremely taken aback and confused by the situation. Neither player calls a judge though, as player B begins to reason with player A and starts going through his graveyard, counting cards.

Player A will have none of it though, as he is sure player B has cheated and it appears he is trying to humiliate him. Maybe that was not the intent, but the lack of calling a judge over during the situation, and the way in which all of player A’s actions and words were amplified in a dramatic manner, means that player A definitely wanted player B to both feel bad, and for others to know.

Five minutes into the exchange, things have not gotten better. Player B is fumbling through his graveyard and exiled pile nervously, writing down numbers and trying to count, while player A continues to berate player B. He is letting him know how unacceptable cheating is and announcing how ashamed player B should be. About 6-7 minutes into this strange ordeal, player B looks up at player A and asks, “Are you sure?”

Player A once again snaps and demonstrates how sure he is by standing up, essentially going way over the top about everything. “Of course I am sure, I did the counting myself. You drew one extra off of [card]Borderland Ranger[/card], two extra off of [card]Amass the Components[/card], and it is turn 10 and you still have an extra card over me! Just admit that you are a cheater!” I’m sure you can all see where this is going.

Player B, very nervously then asks, “Didn’t you mulligan this game?” We all know the answer to that question—and player A quickly realized his mistake, but the damage had already been done. Player B was clearly relieved, but he had been put through the grinder for 10 minutes and his demeanor was clearly shot.

Scapegoating

So in both of these scenarios (or at least the implied scenario via the email I received) the natural reaction of the author of that email, and player A from the second scenario, was to defer both embarrassment and punishment to the other individual. Something bad happened to “me” so let me make sure my opponent is the one embarrassed before I do anything else. Sure, asking Morgan to concede might not have embarrassed him per se, but it does place an enormous amount of social pressure on him that is not fair to him.

Being responsible and self-contained in moments like these is so crucial to our interaction with others, and yet at a Magic tournament, it seems anything can and does fly from time to time. Sure, there are judges that intervene and conduct rules in place from the DCI, but generally, when something makes it past those two checks and balances, and falls into the hands of the player’s decision, poor ones are made.

I know this sounds cheesy, but it really is all about being a better person. Asking for Morgan to let me pay for the [card]Fettergeist[/card] is within reason from a “do anything to win” perspective, but a terrible thing from a “being responsible for your actions” perspective. Sure, the former perspective is the one that will lead to more Magic wins, even if that number is only slightly higher, but it also leads to you being a worse person—and I would never want to compromise that for Magic’s sake.

I think proper composure in these situations comes from a few main things. The first is to be aware of your situation. Understand that there are two sides to everything, and the other party involved is probably not on the same side. Empathy is a powerful tool in regulating behavior. The second is to take responsibility for your own actions. In the first scenario, it would have been ludicrous to place that pressure on Morgan when I made the mistake, and in the second scenario, once player A was found to be wrong, he could have apologized or something, but I never head such a thing before leaving the area. The last thing to keep in mind is environmental consistency. What I mean here, is that just because you are at a Magic tournament, does not mean the gloves should come off. Just like anything, a Magic tournament is a professional environment, even if the subject matter is a game. If you would never act the way you do at a Magic tournament elsewhere, such as around your co-workers or parents, maybe you should reassess your actions. Poor attitudes and behavior can really sink what would otherwise be a fun experience for far too many people, and that is not a good trait to uphold.

Honestly, just think before you act: be smart, be calm, and be reasonable. I think that if every Magic player did that, their own tournament experience, as well as the other participant’s experience, would be that much better and that much healthier. We are a community, like it or not, so let’s just make the best of it!

Conley Woods

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