Home Editorial Return of the Scrub: Magic the Gathering Online Edition

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:

mtgo response to syncopate 1

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.


20 replies to this post
  1. I suppose at least he did you the favour of making sure you’d never have to put up with his bullshit ever again.

    That guy must have a pretty big block list if “playing counters in casual” is one of the only requirements to get on it.

  2. Hee hee, they always get mad when I 1U-Syncopate their bomb. Where is your tournament decklist god now, wallet warriors?

    I’ll admit it, I’m guilty of this myself, but it’s amusing to see people explain to you how it’s your fault that you didn’t bring the exact counter to their strategy. Of course you can beat t3 Blightsteel Colossus, it’s YOUR fault for not maindecking 4 Swords to Plowshares!

    Well, guess what, I did bring a counter for your stuff. Plenty of them, in fact. And then you get mad at me for “counter spamming.” Tsk. Why, it’s not my fault that I literally have more counters than you have play-worthy cards!

    I particularly like the argument of “dies to removal.” Sure Thragtusk does, but dying is like half its strategy in the first place! Also, what doesn’t?

    Jace TMS? Dies to f’in’ OP Rakdos’ version of Terminate (because that thing wasn’t strong enough already.) Unplayable.

    BS Angel? Dies to Doomblade, don’t even bother sideboarding.

    Akroma’s Memorial? Dies to Shattering Spree. Why do you even own it?

    Blightsteel Colossus? Dies to your opponent punching you in the face.

    Phyrexian Crusader? Dies to Swor… wait. Well, you can Doom Bl… um. Dreadbo… nope. Vindi… neither this. Shattering Spre… why do you even try targeting him with this?

    Holy cow, PC is the best card ever and deserves a 4-of mainboard, even in monowhite weenie with no fixing.

    If I owned one, of course. Or four. Then again, while I have plenty of money that I could sink into MtG, I see no reason for it. Because it’s a bloody game, not a wallet contest where the one with the most rare cards wins like certain other card games. (I’d like to note that, contrary to popular belief, rarity does NOT equal quality in MtG. Thank you.)

    Besides, there is nothing more fun than pwning said wallet warriors with your 3$ (The Jace might be a bit expensive, but hey, it’s MINE and I’ll never give him up) scrap deck.

  3. Didn’t you have enough of it by playing spy already?
    Also, plspls record a Dragon’s Maze draft, it’d be funfun

  4. Wing bro, you gotta learn to enjoy salty scrub tears. The only time laughing at scrubs is counterproductive is when the game you’re playing and liking has a tiny, fragile community where every nub needs to be coddled and coached into competence, and you can’t afford to offend them out of the game by playing properly or your game will die.

    Magic is NOT in that place. So don’t get mad, get amused :)

    I cop a heap of that sort of abuse in Starcraft – it’s very interesting what each individual scrub believes is cheap and unfair.

    I recently had a guy abuse me for being a ‘cheesy fag’ because I blind countered his 2 gate proxy with a quick pool. He was actively using the cheesiest thing his race had against me, yet thought I was being rude by winning…

  5. It’s not like you dropped a mana drain or a tapped out force of will on him. He needs to cool his tits.

  6. Sigh.
    Wherever you go, you’ll always find someone who believes only they play the correct way.
    Welp, what are you gonna do.

    Welcome to MTGO, Wingspan! (Finally)

  7. Guess he just have to block you along with those who are “in the list” since he can’t figure a way to deal with the sadness of seeing his spell being countered.
    Kinda like seeing people whelp when getting rushed in Strategy games

  8. Ugh, welcome to the bad side of MTGO. The rest of it is pretty awesome though. I’ve been playing MTGO for about 2 months now ever since DOtP died off for me and I wanted a new magic fix that didn’t require a 30 drive to closest magic shop.

    Had a very similar experience to that, in fact it may have been the same guy. I was playing a U/B Mill deck with a lot on control magic. The game was tied for a long time but his Angel of Serenity along with tons of flickered Thragtusks clinched it for him. I told him GG but rather then swinging in for the win he kept on building up his board. Rather then wating an indefinite amount of turns I conceded. He immediately sent me an angry message about how i’m cheap for playing all that counter magic and that once i’m loosing I quit. Sheesh. Whats with the counter hate? Its a card neutral exchange, unlike that cursed Thragtusk.

    F.Y.I There is a group of us from the Wizards DotP forum that play MTGO and Pauper together. If you dig in the forum our thread should be there somewhere. Hope your next games a re a better experience. If your up for some casual standard or pauper games my username is SlithyTove

  9. It’s ok Wing, I recently returned to MTGO as well and had a similar experience. I built a pretty crappy aggro deck in green just to get playing. I had a guy go off on me as well. But this guy went off on me because I had played Thragtusk in casual. If your pissing off some people then you must be doing something right.

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