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Hate the Deck, Not the Player

Written by Joseph Dejoy on . Posted in Magic Culture

Hate the Deck, Not the Player

Joseph Dejoy

Joe Dejoy is a northeastern Magic Grinder living in the Philadelphia area. Without Magic, he’s not sure what he'd be doing. He can be found promoting the radical idea people should “Be Excellent to Each Other” on his weekly podcast with Co-host Zach Cramer at www.Soundcloud.com/TechEdgePodcast, on Facebook at facebook.com/TechEdgePodcast or on twitter @TechEdgePodcast.

Imagine you are preparing for your first Friday Night Magic. Ever since you saw Owen Turtenwald cast Karn Liberated on turn three, you were hooked. You come from a meager background, work a menial job, so buying the deck outright is out of the question. Instead, you decide to save up, to squeak out value trading rotating Standard staples for pieces, to ask your local group for parts, anything you can do to try to build the deck. You buy some nice DragonShield Matte sleeves and even splurge for an updated deck box to house your new obsession. The week leading up to the event feels endless, like no matter how occupied you try to keep yourself, time moves so very slowly. But none of that matters anymore, it’s finally Friday.

You get to your local store a little early, chat with some friends about how excited you are to finally get to play Modern, a format that felt out of reach just a few short years ago. You can barely hold your excitement as the round one pairing is called out as you find your seat and eagerly await your opponent. When your opponent finally makes their way to the table (Jeez, don’t they know how exciting this is?), they seem … disgruntled? “How can this be?” You think to yourself. You offer a friendly handshake and wish your opponent good luck as you both shuffle up and present. You win the die roll, look at your opening 7, and staring back at you is the fabled Urzatron and their best friend, Karn Liberated. “Keep!” you exclaim, full of excitement. “Yeah I Guess”, your opponent grumbles back at you. “Urza’s Mine, Expedition Map, Pass the turn.” Your opponent takes once glance at your cards, bellows a deep sigh and exclaims, “F*** Tron players.”

Now at this point you’re taking aback by their comments. “Yeah, I just finished building it yesterday and I’m so excited to play it.” You manage to squeak out. “Play it?” Your opponent scoffs. “There’s no play, strategy, or skill to Tron. You just look at your hand play your Urza Land every turn and then play Karn on turn 3 every game.” “A damn toddler could play that deck”. You end up losing the match to a series of unfortunate mulligans in games two and three and as your opponent signs the slip they give you a smile and say, “That’s what you get for playing Tron.”

While this example is slightly exaggerated, I’ve seen enough interactions that are way too similar for comfort. “F*** Tron” started out as a simple meme and has evolved to the point where people are being harassed for playing the deck, or even trying to offer support to those who do. People will say things like “I hope my Tron opponent mulligans more than anyone else”, or “Tron deserves all the hate it gets, I’ll never feel bad for a Tron player.” To me and many others, this is taking the joke too far, and I’ll try to explain why this “X players are dumb or unskilled or deserve to win less” mentality is harmful for the game and the community.

Why This Mentality is Harmful

You Are Being Hurtful and Insulting for No Purpose

Hold up, you say. “I’m just joking”. I only hate the deck, not the player. Alright, let’s deconstruct that. “I hate Tron.” That’s an opinion, it’s harmful to no one, and has no negative impact on the community. However, just as in real life, the second that your opinion influences the way that you treat someone, we’re going to have a problem. I’ll level with you. Losing to the decks that people love to complain about, is not fun, it’s true. Nothing worse than feeling like you have no agency in a game. However, and here’s the kicker, it’s not your opponents’ fault. The second that you tell your opponent “I hate your deck” or “I hope your deck gets banned” or tweet those things even under the guise of a joke, you are creating and fostering a negative attitude in the community. Take a second to put yourself in the shoes of a Tron player you just insulted. Does being told these things improve your day? Does getting told over and over that you are scum, that you are skill-less, that a monkey could play your deck, do literally anything positive? Or do you instead feel awful or start to internalize some of the things people say to you? “Maybe I am skill-less.” “Maybe I should just quit.”. All this pain caused just so you can feel “cool” or fit in.

It’s Not All About You

When you insult someone or make fun of them for playing a deck or strategy, what you are saying is “You aren’t playing Magic the way I like to play Magic” and again, that’s okay. People have distinct tastes, what you consider fun may not be the same thing your opponent does. Magic is a 1v1 game where two people and there is only one winner every game. This is called a “zero-sum game”. All that means is, Magic is a game where one person’s gain is equivalent to another person’s loss. Every match has one winner and one loser. If we follow this model, it’s a honest wonder that there are ever games of Magic that are enjoyable to both parties. My point is this, you can’t blame your opponent for playing a deck you dislike. If you aren’t having fun playing against your opponent, guess what? It doesn’t matter. This isn’t a cynical “Magic isn’t fun” derailment, no. It’s more reasserting that if you are not having fun, you don’t have to do whatever it is that is unfun. If you don’t enjoy playing against Tron, then don’t. You can concede a match at any point. I assure you, both you and your opponent will have more fun if you just concede to a turn 3 Karn or turn 4 Ulamog, than if you play a game you don’t want to and insult your opponent or their deck choice. The other option (and the only one for competitive players), is you can reign in your feelings. Not be so vocal about the game, treat the game and your opponent with respect and afterwards if the match was that awful or unfun, find a way to release those feelings. Do whatever anger management or stress relieving technique works for you. Personally, if I have a particularly rough match or an unfun one, I like to hunt down my friends and distract myself from my negative thoughts. Find what works for you without demeaning your opponent.

You don’t deserve to win because you’re playing a “superior deck”

There’s 2 parts of this.

First, no one deserves to win. Just going to rip that band-aid off. No matter what gets said in movies on the hallmark channel, life is a chaotic mess, and Magic is no different. Practicing, strategizing, theorizing, all could mean nothing if your opponent is luckier than you or plays a deck with a good matchup against you. That level of uncertainty or variance is just part of the game. It’s something you have to learn to live with as a Magic player. Learning to recognize and accept variance is one of the most important things I have been taught. Now, how many of you has played a single player video game before? I’m going to take a wild stab and say that most of you raised your hand. As Christopher Paul reiterates many times in his book “The Toxic Meritocracy of Videogames: Why Gaming Culture is the Worst” , single player video games reward us for playing the game “the correct way”; which is why when we bring that mentality into multiplayer games, we get upset at someone not playing the “right way”. It also brings a sense of entitlement. If I play the game the right way, then I deserve to win. Unfortunately, just like in life, the world doesn’t work that way, and there are far more grey areas than “right” or “wrong”.

Secondly, Tron, Burn, Mono Red and any other deck you lump into the “easy to pilot” camp, are much more complex than you are giving them credit for. Just because an activity or deck has a low barrier of entry does not mean that it is any less complicated to master. The old adage used to be that mono red was a “little kid” deck, that required no skill and was just pointing burn spells at the opponent or shoving blindly with all your creatures every turn. The issue with this concept is 2-fold. First, Magic is an incredibly complex game, skills used in one facet of the game can be barely related or even subverted in another aspect of the game. Take for example, the combat step. Galaxy Brain™ players will claim control decks are harder to play than aggro decks, but most control decks either completely ignore or only barely touch combat. Combat math is one of the harder aspects of the game, so to say your deck is “harder” is just cherry picking what variables in the game your deck deals with and holding those skills above others. People don’t say these things because they mean them, they say them to feel powerful, and feel good about themselves. Every game of Magic, every format is different. It would be impossible to quantify the complexity of any one deck. You can see examples of this all around you. There are thousands of activities that look simple from an outside perspective yet are incredibly hard to master. So, the next time you think “that deck is simple”, do yourself a favor and give it the old college try. I’m sure you’ll find it simply rewards different skills or playstyles than you’re used to.

Magic Should Be for Everyone

Look, I get it. Hating Tron is “cool”. Magic players and nerds in general tend to be excluded from popular society. When you find a community that accepts you and makes you feel special, it’s a very powerful thing. Wanting to feel “cool” or for people to like you is natural, everyone in the world wants that. It’s important however, to make sure you are not ostracizing people from your new community in the same way that you were ostracized from yours. Magic is an incredible game, and one that deserves to be enjoyed by as many people as possible. When you make someone feel like a loser or “dumb” for playing a deck or strategy, even jokingly, you are limiting the potential growth of your community. There is nothing to be gained from this negativity. Aspire to be better. Treat everyone and their deck choices with respect. It costs nothing to be nice.

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