It’s not whether you win or lose, but how you play the game.
A Magictation by Mikeal Basile
“Magictating” is defined as getting into the zone with your Magic the Gathering collection–thinking, planning, organizing, reminiscing about past games, and imagining future games. It is a combination of hard thinking about the game and calm meditation, reveling in the joy it brings you.
Commander is the premier social format. It is non-competitive Magic for multiplayer social gaming. Multiplayer Magic has always been a solid choice for casual gaming. The beauty of Magic is that it has so many ways to play and tiers of play within those ways or formats. There’s a format and style for everyone. However, if you’re getting into Commander, then you may be playing it all wrong. You need to play like a social gamer, and not an antisocial gamer. Do find that you’ve played a few times with a few different groups, but no one seems to be inviting you back? Well, it’s probably because of your lapse in basic hygiene. No, I’m only kidding. It also is decidedly not because you have scared everyone with your superior intellect. No, it’s not even your supreme deck building skills that scared the rabbits into their holes. You’re probably playing like an antisocial player at a socially tiered game. Those don’t mix, and if you can identify what antisocial tendencies you have, then perhaps you can fix those problems and find yourself a regular playgroup or two. So, let’s take a look at what antisocial tendencies you might have, and how to avoid engaging in those, so you can play more Commander with all the cool kids.
The basic goals of Magic have always been to win by either reducing your opponent’s life total to zero or running them out of cards. However, when playing non-competitive Magic with friends or friends-to-be, you should pay close attention to how you plan on winning. How is your deck built? What are your priorities when you sit down to play? Let’s take a look at the priorities that an antisocial player might set:
1. Win at all costs.
2. Spite those that defeat me.
3. Optimize all cards.
4. Consistent lines of play.
5. Follow the rules.
These are not necessarily bad traits or qualities to have as a Magic player. I simply mean that when these things become priorities 1-5, then you’ve forgotten the format that you’re playing in. This is not tournament Magic, and it isn’t even tournament practice. Casual Commander is not a competitive format, so winning actually needs to be secondary (if not tertiary). I know this sounds counterintuitive to many. I’m sorry, but that’s part of what is making you an antisocial player. Stop worrying so much about winning, and start believing in the socialization the game offers. You get to tell your story, show off your style, display your skills, and create your Magic opus. Yet, you do so while allowing others a chance to live their dreams too. I’m not saying you shouldn’t Mana Drain someone’s Finale of Devastation where X is equal to 20. Please, do it. It’s a cool story and a big moment. Except, when you do so, don’t be a jerk about it. When you win the next turn, be sure to make it quick and easy, and not some vile and drawn out vice-like defeat. No one wants that, except maybe you. That’s because you value winning at all costs. If it means your opponents don’t get to play Magic, that doesn’t matter to you. Stop right there if that thought crossed your mind. You should care if your opponents aren’t getting to play. To the antisocial player it doesn’t matter how cheesy, fast, or unfair a combo is. They use it and win with it. Gin-Jitaxis on turn two? If that sounds perfect to you, then we need to change your outlook on casual Commander. That line of play effectively shuts out other people’s decks from doing their thing. Again, you want to let people do their thing, but also allow yourself to do yours. The ends do not justify the means, and that’s doubly so if you place winning first.
The social player approaches the game as an event. The goal of the game is to experience the game. Winning is a happy byproduct of the gaming experience. You don’t expect to win every game. Heck, I know plenty of players that start games expecting to lose, but play anyway. The antisocial players are not sitting down to play a game that they feel certain they will lose. The antisocial gamer places winning above all other goals. You need to have a little “Johnny-Combo player” spirit in you for Commander. You need to want to play the game to see if things work out. Watch to see if you find a way to turn things in your favor despite the odds, deck building, and general luck not being in your favor. You need to sit down to play and not feel like you can win every single game. Now, I am personally a very competitive person. I do try to win every game I sit down to play. I do not expect to win every game, but I try to. I also sit down trying to win when I feel like I probably can’t. I take the time to build decks that shouldn’t win very often, but are all the more sweet when they do. That’s the beauty of the Commander format. You can be rewarded for not making winning your top priority. Also, when you build your deck to do its thing without ruining other’s abilities to do their thing, then you are winning the social game as well. You want your friends to enjoy playing with you. This doesn’t mean they just crush you all the time and enjoy having you be the easy kill. It means that there is a give and take and an ebb and flow throughout the matches. It’s like how a healthy relationship at any level involves listening to the other person and caring about how they feel. At its most basic, social Magic is a social contract of sorts, and if you abuse, break or otherwise ruin that contract, then you won’t be playing much.
Spite is awful.
Priority number two for many antisocial gamers is spite. This looks exactly how it sounds—spiteful. Let’s say that Johnny’s infinite combo attempt was thwarted by Phil on turn five, and Johnny is left with no permanents on board and is slowly picked off throughout the course of the game. The following game Johnny, the antisocial player, immediately rips into Phil. I don’t mean verbally, or even physically. I mean Johnny relentlessly assaults Phil until he’s dead—preferably by turn five or sooner. The antisocial gamer’s goal is to spite whoever stopped them. The goal shifts from winning to making sure someone else loses. It’s awful, but I’ve seen it many times. If you’re the target of a spiteful player, you suddenly find yourself playing a one v one game, when you thought you’d have the cushion traditionally offered by having multiple players. The inflated life total just isn’t enough of a barrier when a player has decided to single you out for elimination. Oftentimes the antisocial player has a deck or decks that are designed to be hyper aggressive, and despite priority one, probably won’t win the entire game. These are decks constructed with spite in mind. If you have decks like these, and you use them in this manner, then you might be an antisocial gamer. I’ve been on the receiving end of this madness many times. I’ve also born witness to it. I don’t want to see it again, and I find myself always watching for it whenever I am playing with new people or in new groups. The spiteful players are antisocial crooks. They steal the fun from the game, and ruin the multiplayer aspect.
A social player simply accepts losses and moves on. Sure, you might’ve almost had that game, but you didn’t. Perhaps next time, or perhaps never. Either way, you are sure you’ll get another crack in against everyone. You don’t hold a grudge. The most the social gamer holds onto is the information that whenever your buddy is playing that Narset deck you know what card is likely being chosen when Mystical Tutor resolves. Beyond gathering information to inform your plays, there’s no reason to be carrying grudges into future games. Grudges are unhealthy in our daily lives, and they are even worse in our escapes from our daily lives. Heck, even if Magic is part of your daily life, then just let it go Elsa—stop holding a grudge.
I hate to hold back the rest for now, but I think these first two concepts are the biggest and most important pieces to get you off the antisocial train. I don’t mean to get preachy here, but I feel we should all be aware of what these behaviors look like, and take steps to police ourselves and others. If we see the antisocial gamer taking over our casual Commander lives, then perhaps it’s time to take a step back and reevaluate what drives us to play this format, and what social tier we are playing. Whenever you are new to a group or new to store or new to an online pod, we find ourselves feeling nervous, excited, or perhaps nervouscited? The good news is that if we approach each new game as both a learning experience and a social opportunity, then we can find ourselves creating future opportunities to grow as players and people. Until next time, keep socially distant, but avoid being an antisocial gamer.