Why It's Okay To Actually Play The Cards
In a recent article for The Sideboard, long time pro player and all-around Magic guru Gary Wise explained his fundamental principles for deciding when to concede a match. Mr. Wise explained the scenarios between Brian Bonnell and Boyd Hardie. Mr. Hardie apparently asked Mr. Bonnell if he would concede the match before any cards were played, decks shuffled, or dice rolled. The reason, we were told, was because Hardie could mathematically make the Top 8 while Mr. Bonnell could not. Mr. Bonnell stated that he'd rather play the cards. Since this is, after all, a card game, one can hardly blame Mr. Bonnell for - perish the thought - actually wanting to play cards.
Yet, Mr. Wise did just that. He claimed that, in fact, Mr. Bonnell's choice to play cards was"unfortunate."
This dovetails back to a main point of Magic - when is it okay to concede a game? More bluntly, when is it okay to take a dive?
I say that in order to win, one must face the prospect of losing - and that attempts to avoid losing are not in the truest sprit of the game.
Now, this happens fairly regularly on Magic Online and has been the topic of many articles on this site. Fact is, the game makes this an option in eight-player drafts. Instead of playing the last round - wherein the winner would get nine packs, the loser three - the game allows both sides to draw the game, wherein both sides take home six packs each.
Notice the difference? Draw. Win.
Aside from the obvious difference in that Magic Online allows a draw and tournament players ask for an all-out concession, the case Mr. Wise brings up is not one that easily fits the Magic Online draw mold. In the tournament, people show up specifically to play for a chance to get things as coveted as Pro Tour points, cash awards, trophies, and the like. By contrast, in Magic Online drafts, you play for nine packs of virtual cards at most.
In tournaments, you travel a good distance to compete, win or lose, and you go as far as ability will take you. In Magic Online, you never leave your living room and you go as far as the guy drafting next to you will allow you (not to mention the rare you open up in pack 1).
In tournaments, it is, in many ways, a special event - one that will not come again soon, and that will be written about on the internet. In Magic Online, it is an event that will not come again until you have another $11.87 (two Event tickets, three boosters), and has all the special feeling of a scratch ticket.
All things considered, Tournaments are special; Magic Online drafts are not.
With that in mind, it is really hard to justify taking a dive in the upper echelon of this game. Would Serena Williams ask Jennifer Capriati to take a dive in tennis because Jennifer had no way to get to the number one ranking, while a victory would assure Serena just that? Would Tiger Woods ask a fellow golfer to not make the cut on the PGA to ensure that Tiger could?
Yet that is just the attitude many in the Pro Tour take. Their justification is that they have a chance to go further and do not want to risk losing.
As a quick aside, last year I played in two Odyssey Block tournaments at Origins and finished seventh in the first, sixth in the second. In the seventh round, I overheard the table next to me. At the table, a Pro Tour regular was bending over backwards to get his opponent to take a draw. His rationale was that he was on the Pro Tour, was highly ranked, and it was not"worth it" for him to play because (I swear to God) he could lose. His opponent eventually acquiesced. My opponent saw this and asked if we could do the same; I refused, mostly because I came to play and win - and win without losing. Of course, we played three close games and I won due to Glory. (But would I have mentioned the story had it gone any differently?)
These stories should illustrate a fundamental truth - one cannot truly win unless they fully risk losing. Pro players and others seem to have lost sight of the true importance of why we play Magic - to compete and win. Most would say it's just to win - and they would be wrong. One cannot win anything worth winning without competing. Without the risk of losing, one can never win.
In the Bonnell vs. Hardie matchup, it's easy to see how Magic players - especially pro players - consistently miss the point. Most pro players would expect Mr. Bonnell to throw the game, and I think most true competitors should see the flaw in that logic. There is no reason a player should ever expect an opponent to concede. The mere arrogance of one player to assume that his opponent"owes" him a victory is preposterous.
A player who could make the cut oftentimes expects an opponent who cannot make it to concede, and many accustomed to the pro player mentality have adopted the"party line." After all, Bonnell could not make the Top 8 cut, while Hardie could.
The operative word is could. Mr. Hardie does not have a right to make the Top 8 - in fact, he never did, a fact that Mr. Wise glossed over. He is not entitled to it any more than anyone else holding sixty cards. Simply because he can do something does not mean he will do something. He must earn that right. Mr. Hardie believes - merely because he is closer to the Top 8 than Mr. Bonnell - that he has a right to expect a concession from Mr. Bonnell. Mr. Bonnell could not make Top 8, and therefore he should concede.
Now, this should strike anger in every single Magic player - whether you are still a cardboard pusher or a technological whiz who only plays with virtual cards. The reason is that Hardie believed in a presumptive right that he was entitled to advance.
Mr. Bonnell, by contrast, was here to play cards. Simply put, he came to compete, win if he could, lose if he must.
I would like to think the Pro Tour could emulate the virtues of the Bonnells of the world and stop the concessions to the Hardies. This needs to be worked on.
The Hardies and Wises of the world need to be aware of something so easily forgotten in the Pro Tour Universe: It's a card game. You came there to compete, to win, and unless you are Kai Budde on a really, really good day, to lose.
Hardie wanted all the benefits of competition without any of the risks. He wanted to win without even the chance of losing. Remember, these are the supposed"best in the world." Mr. Hardie should have proven he could advance by winning; not win by proving he could advance. Hardie wanted to advance and not play; instead he played and (rightfully) did not advance.
Hardie is an example of many, many people on the Pro Tour. They have come to covet their pro points, their rankings, and their standings. They no longer covet winning; they covet not losing. They only want their ability to carry them as far as the Top 8. After that, they just hope for a good pull from their booster pack.
A player who has forgotten the true meaning of this endeavor - to put your skills up against any and all comers - does not deserve merely to coast into the Top 8. These players do not want to even risk losing to someone who they perceive as not as good as they are.
So they ask for concessions. They should never get them.
Mr. Hardie was, according to Mr. Wise,"angered" by Mr. Bonnell's decision to play. This anger is ludicrous. Mr. Wise's rationale as to why it's okay to concede is, fundamentally,"everyone else does it." He claims that because other players at other tables will be conceding left and right than its"inaccurate" to assume that conceding drives down the competition. Finally, he even states that players like Boyd - who, again, have the nerve to actually insist on playing cards against the best players - actually"unbalance" the system.
This is unreasonable thinking. It asks for each player to throw games, lose on purpose, and generally not do their best because they cannot go further anyway. To top it off, the rationale is,"Everyone else knows when they are beat; you should, too. Otherwise, you may actually win and that would be bad."
Imagine some scrub actually insisting on playing someone to win? What is this world coming to?
When you put your forty- or sixty- or 250-card deck together, you should be expected to defend it. You made it for a purpose - to win. The forgotten part of Magic is that winning used to be getting an opponent from twenty life to zero, or sixty cards to zero; now it's 8-2-1 to make Top 8. This is patently absurd and not just a little sad. Shouldn't the best in the world be prepared to defend their abilities and their deck against each and every opponent who sits opposite them? Should they not be good enough to win if they desire to advance? Shouldn't they be prepared to actually lose?
The"New Magic Math" is not 20-20=0, but the calculus Pro Tour players now use to ensure - not victory, but survival in predicting what it will take to squeak into the Top 8.
How entirely mediocre of them.
The true loss is that competition suffers, as players no longer want to risk anything. This fosters an environment of complacency, wherein players feel they have reached a certain point and are therefore entitled to what comes next. Essentially, the Hardies of the World made it to point A need to get to point C, and believe the Bonnells of the world owe them point B. This results in decreased competition and questionable outcomes, as we are left to ponder if the"best player" won or the"best-player-who-talked-his-opponent-into-a-concession" won?
The only way to stop this type of cavalier attitude towards competition is to cut it off at the source. No, Wizards and DCI should not start a new crackdown - rather, it's up to each player to realize why he or she is playing in the first place. To compete. You play to win at the risk of losing. To win any other way is a degradation of competitive fundamentals, and not winning.
How do we change the system of entitlement? Do not accept mediocrity. Demand that your opponent win by putting your life at zero or emptying your library! They should earn their trip to the Top 8 just like everyone else should. Don't feel compelled to accept defeat merely because your opponent is closer to the goal than you. If you actually want to play cards, you should play.
Afraid of losing? Good; it shows you care. Yes, prizes are nice - but so is a valiant effort. You could lose. Welcome to the real world, where people lose every day. Remember, you could also win. And winning is one habit you could actually grow to like.
And if you lose, always remember the next best thing to winning is losing.
Thank you for your time.
Rockroi on MagicOnline