In fifteen years of playing Magic the Gathering, I’ve seen a lot of shit. Stupid drama, often acted out by grown adults.
I’ve seen people cry in card shops, decks thrown across the room. I’ve seen fists raised (and thankfully, usually lowered), cards stolen, and all manner of passive-aggressive acts. And, in the words of Yu-Gi-Oh Abridged,* it’s all been over “a children’s card game.”
Last night, however, I encountered a Magic moment so stupefying, it’s hard to explain exactly what went wrong, other than everything. But for the sake of web traffic, I’ll try.
This week, I’ve taken my first real plunge** into Magic the Gathering Online, the real rules/real money digital version of Wizards of the Coast’s collectible card game. It’s basically a cross between Duels of the Planeswalkers and paper Magic, just a little more structured. After throwing together a $9 version of my favorite counterburn deck, I jumped into the “Practice Room” to get acquainted with the controls and test out my digital cardboard.
For the most part, games were fun. Almost all my opponents wished me the traditional gl hf, and a few exchanged pleasantries via text chat during matches. I even ran into a guy playing an Azorius version of my deck, with the same win conditions and 80% spell overlap. It was an interesting challenge, really.
But then… I ran into JMFSears.
The match began okay. JMFS reciprocated my gl hf, and we played with little incident. He played some mana elves; I burned some mana elves. He saved a Centaur Healer with Restoration Angel; I clawed my way back with more burn. By turn 8 or so, I was in a bad position, but he only had one or two cards left in hand. That’s when he tapped out to play Thragtusk (you may have heard of it). Well, things got really ugly really fast:
What in the fuck? In just one play, my opponent went from being a nice guy to an irrational hate monster. He was mad that I used a five cent uncommon to beat a tournament-winning card that literally costs a hundred times more. Not only that, he blocked me from ever playing him again! It seemed that JMFS was simply mad that I chose to use a strategy that happened to counter his strategy of choice, as if I’d be better off just letting him win!
Where do mindsets like this come from? I’ve actually written at length about this subject before, first in my article extolling David Sirlin’s Play to Win series. In David’s philosophy, he described a player known as “the scrub.” It’s not a directly derogatory term, but is used to mean a competitive player who plays by his or her own made-up rules and gets upset when others fail to comply with them. I’ve spent hours berating Assassin’s Creed players about avoiding scrubbiness when it comes to Smoke Bomb and Hidden Gun abilities, so this was nothing new to me.
I gathered that JMFSears doesn’t believe that countermagic is fair, and therefore refuses to play against or talk to anyone who uses it (even once).
Of course he’s completely wrong; there are tons of ways to play around counters, whether by baiting them out, using effects to prevent counters, or simply packing in more threats than an opponent can hope to stop. But in the mind of the scrubby player, there is no knowledge needed other than “X is cheap” and “someone who uses X doesn’t deserve to win.”
While this experience was mildly annoying, the irony of the situation is ultimately more hilarious: that someone playing a top tier tournament deck and someone who is actively winning against me could get mad at having a single spell countered. And hey, all the
karma intelligent discussion it fostered on Reddit was also worthwhile. I just hope that, going forward, I can find players with a more balanced competitive mindset. I know they’re out there. And, most likely, they’re going to kick my ass.
I’ve dutifully prepared my buttocks for a spanking. Let’s dance, boys.
* This show is equally hilarious whether you love or hate Yu-Gi-Oh.
** I had previously installed the game in 2009, but never really played it due to hardware problems.