You might not even realize that you're doing it.
Hell, I don't even realize when I'm doing it.
Facts are facts. We are Magic players. That means one simple thing—we complain like the elderly at a heavy metal concert.
"This music is too loud. It's too crowded in here. Why are all these young people bumping into me? Go get a job—if Nixon was still president, things would be a lot different in this country." And so on and so forth.
I decided to talk about this today because the advent of Theros is coming up, and the format—as bustling as it is—for the most part is a defined entity. Last week I tackled Jund. Three weeks ago I tackled Jund. BBD just tackled how to beat Jund. CVM pretty much just taunted me with the fact that he has a sealed Secret of Mana for the SNES. Standard for the moment can be understood and tackled, and in the next few weeks I highly doubt a new deck is going to pop on the market and shake up the last few weeks of Innistrad / Return to Ravnica Standard.
This is the best time to start tuning up your game for the upcoming format, and one of the best ways to do that is to identify one of the biggest holes in every player's game: the classic complaint.
Classic Complaint #1: This Format Sucks
You may not think we do, but most Magic writers spend a lot of time reading comments on not just their articles but pretty much every piece that they read. One of the most glaring and non-productive complaints at the end of an article is that the format the writer is writing about is stale, boring, or not fun.
Does this sound familiar?
"Delver is the only good deck. I hate that you have to play Delver or play to beat it."
"Valakut is too dominant. They should ban Primeval Titan."
"Jund is the most stupid deck ever. Cascading comes down to who is the luckiest player."
"Caw-Blade is ruining Magic."
Check the box next to whichever one you've said. Do you have five Xs there?
Chances are these words, in some form or another, have left your lips. For the casual player, I can completely understand your plight; you want to have fun playing Magic, and these decks do their best to make sure that doesn't happen in your eyes. But for those of you out there looking to become competitive in this game, that way of thinking is entirely detrimental to your growth. Sure, you might not enjoy the endless U/W Delver on U/W Delver mirror matches, but is it also true that it will test your limits as a player over the course of a tournament and make you better? Look at these points:
1. The Caw-Blade mirror match was considered hyper skill intensive and often came down to who played their cards the most effectively.
2. Jund with Bloodbraid Elf possessed a controlled amount of possible hits with cascade, all of which were meant to be very potent.
3. Faeries games were often about the pilot's best management of their threats considering that Bitterblossom also lost plenty of matches for its owner.
4. U/W Delver mirrors usually contained multiple subgames of Delver, Geist of Saint Traft, and Snapcaster battles that would decide the winner. Blind flips aside, most games were won by strictly superior play if both players kept solid sevens.
5. Valakut went from a gimmick deck to a powerhouse because people didn't respect it for too long. When Tectonic Edge became more widely adapted, the deck was put in check.
In the current Standard format, this is the most common complaint that I hear: "This format has too many decks. I can't prepare for everything, so I feel like I'm constantly giving up leverage in some matchups to gain ground in ones I may never face."
The complaint is that you have too many options.
We went from "I hate this format because there are only two or three good decks" to "I hate this format because there are too many good decks."
When you move on from this fact and begin to really analyze the format as a whole, it becomes much easier to see which decks are the top tier and which other ones you can hedge against, making your deck and sideboard plans infinitely more productive. It's not the fact that there are 30 decks out there that are causing people to throw fits; it's the fear of the unknown that is making them stress.
I found that once I stopped worrying about what decks I was going to face and just focused on playing my best game of Magic, it didn't matter if the format was "stale" or not because I was winning and doing well while also getting better. No complaints there.
Classic Complaint #2: My Opponent Is God
My deck contains four Liliana of the Veils, four Devour Fleshes, four Barter in Bloods, and other targeted removal spells. I didn't come to screw around, and there isn't a Hexproof deck in the room that's going to beat me. If you all want to attach auras to your stupid creatures, that's fine—I will cause you to sacrifice them, and you will lose.
Until I mulligan to five for game 1 and your creatures are Avacyn's Pilgrim, Voice of Resurgence, and Geist of Saint Traft. I never draw my forth land for Barter in Blood. Game 2 will be different through. You can't possibly win this matchup—until you board in your Strangleroot Geists.
Wow. You draw three of them. Unbelievable. Here. It. Comes.
"YOU HAVE NO IDEA HOW LUCKY YOU ARE. WOW. JUST WOW. UNREAL. YOU KNOW YOU CAN'T EVER POSSIBLY WIN THIS MATCHUP AGAIN, RIGHT? HOW LUCKY DOES A PERSON HAVE TO BE TO DRAW LIKE THAT AND HAVE ME DRAW SO POOR. I CAN'T BELIEVE THIS. YOU'RE SUCH A SACK."
After signing the slip and parting ways, I go over to you and begin telling the bad beat story of how I lost to Hexproof despite playing sixteen maindeck sacrifice effects. They even beat my Glaring Spotlight tech. This game makes no sense sometimes. I am irate. Comfort me.
"Your deck sounds terrible," you say with a furrowed brow.
"I know, he was so lucky, rig—wait huh?" Crap. Now I'm confused.
You just shake your head and try not to laugh too hard.
"I mean, they just play a Voice of Resurgence or something and blank most of your deck, whittle your life down, and then attack and kill you with a lot of enchantments on a guy or two. Your deck just tunnel visions and prays."
Well then. You broke my heart. Time to drown my sorrows in chocolate.
It's so, so easy to complain about our opponent being lucky or us drawing poorly. I watched a game that LSV lost during Grand Prix Orlando some time back, and if I had been sitting in his seat, I'm pretty sure that incarnation of Mark would have thrown his deck across the room. His opponent drew very well, the Hall of Famer drew very poorly, and LSV was defeated. When his opponent offered the shake, he said something to the effect of "wow, I got so lucky!"
LSV just responded with a shrug and said, "You played well."
Da fu . . . ?
I never thought about it at the time, but do you think LSV could have beaten a worse player with the cards he drew regardless of what his opponent drew? The man can spin straw into gold, so I wouldn't blink twice if someone told me that he defeated Durdle McDurdleson despite drawing like a donkey against his opponent's best hand. He's just that good.
So why is it that when someone beats us it's because they got lucky and we were so unlucky? They still have to win—the only difference is that we have a slight handicap. I've won from impossible circumstances and lost games I felt like I couldn't lose.
This point boils down to this. Sometimes you will get one outered. Sometimes they will draw exactly what they need when they need it. Sometimes your deck will mulligan into oblivion, and you'll lose to not having any resources.
Then again, sometimes you'll draw exactly what you need to win, or you'll topdeck that one card, or your opponent will mulligan to four on the play.
It happens. Move on.
Common Complain #3: I Suck
How easy would all of our lives be if we could boil down our insecurities, failures, fears, and shortcomings into just saying "I suck." Everyone would accept that as a fine answer and would move on.
Why though? Why do you suck? Why are you terrible at something that you are supposed to enjoy?
At GPs, Opens, and other big tournaments, you'll commonly hear the self-loathing player lose a game of Magic and immediately audible into the Eeyore mentality.
"Well, Pooh, I lost the game because I'm bad at Magic and I made a bunch of mistakes and my opponent was better than me and my tail fell off."
My guess is you were feeling a little eleven o'clockish.
Unfortunately, this isn't the kind of problem that just fixes itself. This is one complaint that is going to require actual work instead of just adjusting your thought process.
If you're not good at something, what is the proper protocol? Simple. You practice. And practice. And practice some more.
While some people out there are naturals at whatever they try to accomplish, the rest of us usually need to put in a hefty amount of labor into the things we want to be good at, and Magic is no different. I have spent countless hours toiling away on Magic Online, playtesting with friends and teammates, and researching different deck ideas online.
Magic is my hobby, and I derive joy from being good at it. Winning isn't essential, but it sure is nice.
The most difficult thing to do for a pessimistic person is alter their perception of themselves, but that's something that they have to do if they want to stop "being bad" at something they are supposed to have a good time doing.
How can they do this?
In playtesting, the point is to get better, not win game after game and crush your partner's will to continue. We often point things out, allow take backs, and discuss the plays before continuing in order to make sure the group believes that the best game of Magic is being played. Eventually these sessions become quieter and quieter because the motions are more fluent and memory allows us to draw from the previous discussions and game states. Suddenly players who once felt like they were awful at the game begin to make excellent and intuitive plays, and their self-confidence grows from that. The more games that are played, the easier it becomes, and a good player is born—over a long time, of course.
What does this mean to you?
Are you a player who constantly criticizes yourself and thinks you'll never get better?
Well, in the words of Bob Newhart, "Stop it." It's a published fact that 30 minutes of negativity can actually damage the neurons in the hippocampus.
The ability to not suck is completely and utterly in your hands. Whether you choose to do the work is up to you.
Common Complain #4: Why R U Mad, Bro?
This one doesn't require much in the way of explanation, but taking a loss can stink. Maybe it's your win-and-in for a huge event or something as simple as taking down an FNM, but a loss can be a bummer.
One complaint that we've all seen winners have is "I don't understand why he's upset."
I see it all the time in my stream. I'll lose a match, make a comment like "that guy drew really well, damn," and the horde of "YOU'RE BEING A SORE LOSER STOP BEING SALTY I CAN'T STAND YOUR WHINING" begins.
We are all human, and regardless of the fact that a person can swallow 99% of losses with pride and dignity, some will sting.
Being understanding and practicing humility are outstanding things to strive for. When I gather that my opponent is really tilted about a loss, I always try to extend my empathy, and I've been on the receiving end of players doing the same for me.
Sometimes a comforting word at the end of a match to a downed opponent can make all the difference in their tournament, uplifting them and giving them the will to keep playing their best and not let one defeat ruin their entire afternoon.
What I'm really trying to say is stop trolling me IT'S MY STREAM, OK?
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I mean, show a little compassion.
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. . .
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There is nothing wrong with trying to make the Magic community a complaint-free zone. Of course, it will never be 100% eradicated. Bad beat stories are just as much a part of the game as the game itself, but ridding ourselves of these burdensome thoughts is one of the keys to tightening up our skills.
For additional reading, I highly suggest checking out this article.
It was a fantastic way for me to get my mental shields up and keep me from succumbing the negativity I was feeding into.
I haven't been happier since I decided to stop complaining about things I can't control and start worrying about the things I can.
Good luck and think happy thoughts.
Catch ya on the flip-