by Bruce Gray
This is going to be a bit of a departure for me. Usually I spit out some new janky brews, or crack a pack and check out the art. Today I am going to focus on how we, as players, treat each other when we play and why we can’t avoid being salty when we lose. I’m not going to propose any great solutions, but I hope to provide a little food for thought and perhaps urge each of us to be just a little kinder when we sit down to play. I think a little Magic the Gathering etiquette is order.
In one of the many online forums that I routinely check out I came across the story of a player out at his local LGS on the weekend. They were playing in a Standard tournament of some sorts and he was playing Dark Jeskai, one of the premiere decks of the format right now. His opponent was on some sort of a home brew and took game 1. However, the player on the Dark Jeskai deck side boarded correctly for the match-up and won games 2 and 3. At the the end of the match the losing player said some hurtful things and really demonstrated their “salt”. Now, for those new to Magic, “salt” is the common term given to being particularly unhappy and/or grouchy about the eventual outcome of the game. It could be anything from some sour comments, refusing to shake hands, telling your opponent that they were lucky, insults, to name a few.
Now, I hardly know the player who was insulted at the end of the match but I felt like the story proved to be a very interesting exchange if only because it seemed so unwarranted. Sure, we’ve all been a little salty at times, but the exchange recounted by this player seemed like it crossed the line and it got me thinking. Why DO we say such things to each other?
The simple answer is because we are emotional creatures. Humans are defined by our emotions and how we choose to control them. Some people cry when they get emotional. Others get angry. Yet more laugh. Other people do all three, or do none and do something totally different. But we as humans all have emotions and we use these emotions to help us when we act. We can funnel those emotions into energy and heightened states of alertness. We can use those emotions to help us better understand the grief of our family and friends in times of great turmoil. Our emotions can be hugely powerful and immensely useful to us and one of the most important elements in each of our personalities.
However, to claim that we say mean and hurtful things to each other simply on account of our emotions does not do us enough credit. We can control our emotions and harness those powers when it suits us. Heck, as a teacher, I spend a good portion of my day helping young people channel their emotions to help with their learning and to learn how to treat each other in a respectful way. So, I refuse to accept that we let our emotions get the better of us when we play Magic when all day we keep those emotions in check while at school, at work, and even at play. So, what is different about playing Magic that we see and experience such negative sportsmanship?
My personal belief is that people get so emotionally and intellectually invested in Magic that they lose their filter and ability to control their emotions. The process of building a deck, any deck, and then taking it out to play against others is an intensely cerebral activity. We all like to think of ourselves as clever and that we have found that secret mix to make our prized deck that champion deck. Because it is so intensely cerebral and an environment where you essentially pit your wits against theirs there is a strong element of pride inherent in any match. When your deck fails to allow you to conquer the problem at hand, namely defeating your opponent, you feel betrayed and deeply wounded. And the closer you perceive the match up, the more the wound hurts.
So, after we’ve got the cerebral and intellectual component of Magic out of the way there are a few other factors that can push a player towards engaging in some pretty unsavoury behaviour. Once you sprinkle in a little competition, some variance, and more than a healthy dose of stress in a tournament things can really get out of control. The combination of all these elements, along with the intellectual challenge of the game, and suddenly you have a very volatile situation that is just ripe for some salty exchanges. Now, we have heard horror stories from sports where many of these same factors can impact the participants, but the one thing missing from Magic is the adrenaline rush from an athletic pursuit can produce. However, even without the massive adrenaline rush Magic has many of the same elements to produce some really nasty exchanges. If you’ve been around this game long enough you have probably experienced some.
Now, as someone who is on the receiving end of one of these exchanges you have a couple of options. You could take the bait and engage in the same salty behaviour right back. However, name calling and insulting one another has never been a very good solution to solving anything. You need to recognize that your opponent is experiencing a mix of all these variables all at once and isn’t controlling his or her emotions very well at the moment. By not reacting to the exchange or by letting your opponent know that it really isn’t necessary to take this in the direction they are taking it would allow the exchange to end as soon as possible. Perhaps having a chance to speak with them later might yield better results, particularly if you are in a smaller environment like an LGS. If you feel very strongly about it you could speak to a member of the judge staff or store owner and see if they can help. You might find that the player in question is guilty of this regularly and steps can be taken to address.
The long and the short of it is that you need to treat that disrespect with the respect that the person deserves regardless of how they are behaving at the moment. That’s hard. I know. I spent 20 years refereeing ultra competitive hockey and to have people yell obscenities in my face day in and day out was tough to take, but sinking to their level helps exactly no one. Treating their disrespect with respect does not make it ok to engage in salty behaviour and you are not endorsing it, but what you are doing is not making a bad situation worse. It goes against all our instincts to sit there and take it and try to be reasonable, but in the long run it is ultimately what is going to make this ugly situation come to a conclusion more quickly and let you get back on with trying to enjoy your Magic experience that day.
I like to believe that most people are inherently reasonable and that if we ask those reasonable people to try and reflect on their actions they will usually come around. If you are one of those people who tends to get on the salty side I am going to ask that you keep a few things in mind before you say something. I am going to ask that you remember that Magic is ultimately a game. It is played for fun. Sure, there are times when the stakes are higher, but at its core Magic is a game designed to be fun for both players. If you feel like you need to say something that is going to be insulting or derogatory towards your opponent remember that they are a human being, just like you, and they have feelings and may not be appreciative of whatever hurtful comment you are about to make. If you have said something that is hurtful or intended to hurt them then you are in the process of ruining their experience and their fun, something that you have absolutely no right to do. Go outside, vent to your friends, take a walk down to the corner store and buy a bottle of water, but don’t sit there and ruin their event too. I know, it’s so tempting to say something and try and stick it to them. Those competitive juices make you want to get that last word in edgewise, but the effect on your opponent, and Magic as a whole, can be very negative. Sure, maybe they slough it off, but maybe they can’t. You owe it to them to bite your tongue and move on.
Of course at the end of the day you can only control your own actions. If you run into someone who is a little salty it is your own actions that will dictate how the exchange will be in the end. You will ultimately come out ahead if you let them say what they want and then let them move on. If they can’t hurt you because you have your own “shields” up then they can’t touch you and it is easy to treat that disrespect with respect. Don’t give them the satisfaction of being hurt by that thing they just said. Should they be behaving like that? No. Not a chance. But by not taking the bait you have only made the situation worse. No, bite your tongue and don’t let “that guy” spoil your fun.
Thanks for taking the time to stop in and have a read. Like I said at the start, I don’t really have an answer or an ultimate solution. However, hopefully if even one player reads this and takes pause to reconsider what they say when they play then I have helped a little bit. It’s no fun to have someone get all salty with you and no one should really have to put up with it. Let’s see if we can all help make our MTG communities a little bit better for everyone. Let’s show a little Magic the Gathering etiquette amongst our colleagues and fellow players.
Take care and be sure to stop by next time for another Casual Encounter.
By Bruce Gray – Casual Encounters
@bgray8791 on Twitter