Tilt Is Anger

“Anger, fear, aggression… The Dark Side are they. Once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny.” 


I had a profound moment last weekend while playing Modern. It had little to do with the actual playing of Magic, but will forever change the way I think about playing Magic. It was an epiphany of sorts.

I’ve written a lot about my experiences playing Magic—not just the Xs and Os of what the cards do but also the psychological and emotional side of being a professional gamer. In particular, dealing with bad beats and trying to take those losses in stride and remain positive.

I was eliminated from Day 2 contention in Round 5. I was playing Storm. At that point in the tournament I was 0-3 vs. Burn and 2-0 vs. not-Burn. For those not intimately familiar with the Storm vs. Burn matchup, it’s basically horrendous for Storm.

I’ve played enough Magic, and enough Modern, to know that sometimes the pairings just don’t break your way. Unlucky, but ob-la-di, ob-la-da, la-la-la-la life goes on.

Like my other matches against Burn, I played well and it was super close. My opponent had to topdeck a burn spell on the last turn of the game in a situation where I would have untapped and won the game if he had bricked that last draw step.

All of those factors: the bad pairings, being eliminated, and getting topdecked left me feeling a little annoyed and a lot disappointed. Not enough that I didn’t shake my opponent’s hand, say “good game,” and have a friendly chat with him about Modern afterwards.

I’ve invested a lot of mental energy into trying to have better control of my emotions in high stress situations such as these. Experience has taught me that giving into, and acting upon, emotion is a universal recipe for making things worse in one way or another. However bad that frustrating loss feels, now let’s go ahead and tack on regret and embarrassment for having been a jerk to my opponent on top of that.

Anyways, back to the important part of the story. My opponent and I are talking about Modern after the match.

I’m chatting with my opponent and we’re talking about the matchup, and he asks if I’d mind taking a look at his sideboard strategy. I say, “Sure, let’s see what you’ve got,” He pulls his deck back out of the box and pulls out the cards he brought in and out.

The first thing I see as he lays the cards down on the table are 3 copies of Destructive Revelry.

I had faced Red a lot already that day but I literally saw red for a second. It was like a wave of overpowering anger swept through my entire being as several things immediately occurred to me at the same time:

  • My opponent likely had no experience playing the matchup and had made poor sideboarding decisions.
  • My opponent could have cost himself the game if he would have drawn a Revelry instead of a lethal burn spell.

Fortunately, these sorts of situations are something that I’ve specifically been focusing on identifying and brushing off. I took a breath, thought “chill out,” recentered my thoughts, and proceeded to have a polite, thoughtful conversation about the post-sideboard games of Burn vs. Storm.

“I like this part of what you did but I don’t think you should bring in Destructive Revelries. Storm doesn’t have artifacts or enchantments. I have zero in my 75.”

“I bring them in to hit Leyline of Sanctity.”

“Yeah, I don’t think you need to worry about that. I’ve been doing a ton of research on Storm lists and the composite average of Leyline of Sanctity in Storm lists on MTG Top 8 is less than 0.1%.”

“Oh, serious? Wow, thanks.”

“No problem. I only know that because I’ve been researching lists for the past two weeks, but yeah, very unlikely to see that from Storm.”

Disaster averted. A positive exchange. All is great in the universe.

The moral of the story isn’t that I wasn’t a jerk in a moment where I was frustrated. At this point, I feel like shaking it off is actually becoming old hat for me after years of working at it.

What I realized and fully processed is:

  • Tilt is anger.
  • Frustration is anger.
  • Annoyance is anger.
  • Irritation is anger.
  • Condescension is anger.
  • Entitlement is anger.

All of these things are just the experience and acting out of angry feelings.

Anger has a certain connotation. It implies the loss of control.

When I say, “My opponent was angry…,” there is an expectation of loss of control. If I started a story that way, you’d expect that maybe the situation ended poorly, with yelling or nastiness, or worse.

When I say, “My opponent was (tilted, annoyed, frustrated, irritated, upset)” it’s like saying your opponent was angry but with the stipulation that you were not afraid for your life. Perhaps, these are kinds of controlled or contained anger. Controlled or contained, in the sense that the individual is only willing to allow those feelings to be expressed to a certain point and not further than that.

Anger just sounds, so… angry. Whereas “frustrated” or “tilted” softens it up a little bit.

It’s hard to untangle these ideas from Magic, because tilt and frustration are so deeply ingrained in gaming culture. Here’s an example of what I’m talking about.

The person who is laying into a barista because their order was wrong. The patron isn’t yelling, screaming, or threatening violence. In this example, the patron is “irritated” and “frustrated” at being inconvenienced. Their response is smug condescension to the effect of: I told you my order twice just three minutes ago and you’ve somehow found a way to screw it up.

If you think the patron isn’t angry, just imagine how quickly the situation would likely escalate if the barista responded by saying, “Sorry, I have a difficult time paying attention to particularly uninteresting people…”

I’m fairly certain that the contained or controlled element would go straight out the window.

All of those “controlled” forms of anger: tilt, frustration, irritation, etc. are perhaps less controlled than we may believe. Sure, it is possible to express some frustration without needing to punch a wall, because that would be out of control, right?

Yet, who is to say that the person giving the barista an earful for messing up an order or a player demonstrating poor-sportsmanship is in control? Sure, they are more in control than a person who would resort to violence, yet I would argue that in many, many scenarios where tilt, frustration, irritation, or annoyance are expressed when the subject is not in control.

To be clear, I’m not saying that people should never experience anger. I do not expect that I will ever get to a point in my life where if I was in a hurry and a barista badly messed up my drink that my snap response would be ascetic detachment. I’d probably be irritated for a moment, and then I’d hope to let it go and respond reasonably. No worries, but I’m running late… can you get me out of here quickly—please and thank you?

The same idea applies in Magic: In any situation that occurs that could incite an angry (tilted, frustrated, irritated, etc.) reaction, I’d rather not act on those feelings in any scenario.

Since everything begins and ends with Star Wars, I’d like to bookend this conversation with a brief discussion about the nature of the force.

“Anger, fear, aggression… The Dark Side are they. Once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny.”

The affiliation with the Dark Side of the force doesn’t occur because the villains are inherently evil. It also doesn’t occur because characters figure out that force lightning and red lightsabers are broken in basically every format.

Yoda suggests that when people give into, and act upon, angry feelings that those behaviors become habits that directly impact how a person experiences the world. If a person constantly gives into, and acts on, angry feelings, then that becomes a person’s natural state of being.

O.K., that got a little heavy… the point is that tilt and frustration are anger and that when you act on those feelings, even in the form of a snide comment here or there, that you are letting your anger get the better of you. In the real world you don’t get force lightning or a red lightsaber for giving into the Dark Side. Instead, people just see you being a jerk to someone and assume you’re a tool.

“You will not be punished for your anger, you will be punished by your anger.” -Buddha

Moments will occur during a Magic tournament where things won’t go your way and it is natural to feel anger. Just remember that no matter what you call it—tilt, frustration, annoyance, etc.—that you are the one who determines whether you control it, or whether it controls you.


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