Lessons in Losing
As I sat down to write my first article in collaboration with the Into The 99 Podcast, I was flooded with potential topics. Deck techs, strategies, and underrated cards were all at the forefront of my mind until I realized, my name is CASUAL JAKE for a reason. Sure, I enjoy winning and do play more competitive formats at times, but I got into Magic: The Gathering as a casual and gosh darn it I will always be one. From shuffling sleeveless cards to double sleeving each of my EDH decks I have played a fair share of games and if I’m being honest, I have probably lost the majority of them. This isn’t due to my lack of skill or anything like that, but let me get into the reasons a little later. I want to begin my first article with Into The 99 not by explaining the nuts and bolts of a game you are probably already familiar with, but by discussing a subject that isn’t covered by the official rules, and that is losing.
For some context, I will be speaking primarily about winning and losing in the casual Commander format, but many of these lessons can be applied to all formats of Magic. Let’s start with the odds of losing when you sit down in a four-person pod for some EDH. Without accounting for anyone’s cards and for player skill, each player has a 25% chance of winning straight off the bat. This means each player also has a 75% chance of losing the game. If this was a competitive, 1v1 format, that would still only give each player a 50% chance of losing just for showing up. When the math is not necessarily in your favor you are inevitably going to lose some games. This brings me to my first point which is, losing the game is part of the game. Learning that you will lose games and that this is okay is part of having a healthy relationship with Magic. I have seen so many people lose their taste for the game purely based on their win records. While analyzing your losses and improving is part of being a successful Magic player, it is equally important to accept our losses and move on from them.
I have literally sat in my bed at night and replayed games in my head, noting each and every misplay or inefficient move. Again, reviewing a game is not inherently bad but when you lose sleep, I think we can start categorizing that as an unhealthy relationship with the game. But knowing that statistically speaking we are likely to lose more than we win in this four-player format, is one of the most freeing revelations one can have with the game. Accepting that loss is an essential aspect of the game, either for yourself or your opponents, will make you a more gracious loser and will improve your relationship with the game. And while we are on the subject of statistics, let’s remember the random element that makes magic so exciting.
The inherent randomness of Magic is well…magical! It’s the feeling of ripping the perfect spell off the top of your library like a wizard remembering the exact spell that will save them in battle. But it is also drawing land, after land, after land, until someone at the table puts you out of your misery. Recognizing that sometimes you lose due to bad luck, is another way to improve your relationship with losing matches. Luck does not determine every single moment of the game, but it also sort of does…let me explain. You can tune your deck to be a lean mean efficiency machine but every once in a while, you just won’t have the answer to a threat in hand, and you won’t always draw it. This does not mean to chalk every loss up to someone else’s good luck and your own bad luck, just simply to acknowledge the randomness of the game. Acknowledging this can help take pressure off yourself and allow you more headspace to remember the good points in the game and the enjoyment you get from playing it. This brings us to our next point, enjoyment of the experience.
The time between winning and losing:
It only takes a split second for you to lose the game and once its done, its done. If we spend the majority of our time playing the game, setting up plans, executing them, adjusting the ever-changing board states, why to we place so much emphasis on the last second of it? All this is to say 99% of the time you put into a game is spent casting spells and engaging in the process, only the last moment is when this ends, and afterwards, you get to shuffle up and do it again. The point being, don’t allow losing to ruin the moments you have spent in the game. I have spoken to fellow magic players and came up with a small list of things to focus on that are NOT WINNING, but rather moments in the game that can help your mindset.
1. Appreciate the impact you have on the game no matter how small. Did you counter a key combo piece? Remove a problematic creature? Cut a sick deal that got you ahead in the game? Focus on the small victories and less on “the win”.
2. Set a goal. If you’re playing a token deck, try and make 100 tokens! If you are playing a deck with graveyard recursion, try and reanimate the biggest creature you own for the cheapest cost. Find something cool to do and try to pull it off rather than basing your entire enjoyment on winning, which again only lasts for a moment before everyone shuffles up and moves on.
3. Talk to the table. Lean into the “Gathering” in Magic and spend some time enjoying the people you’re playing with. Take time before and after the match to talk about life, other hobbies, and even cool events that occurred in the game. Keep it positive and compliment good gameplay rather than let it annoy you.
4. Take a break now and again. Anyone who has played this game for a while can vouch that you will experience a burnout at some point. It’s okay to take a week or longer and step away from the game. Spend that time engaging in other interests and activities and when you do return to Magic, remember why you enjoy the game and go forward with a positive attitude. A break allows us to miss the game and to clear our head, and we need that from time to time.
It’s on you:
At the end of the day your enjoyment of the game can only be controlled by you. You may want to blame your opponent, luck, or WOTC, but you are in charge of your emotional investment in the game and thus your enjoyment. That being said, there are steps you can take to enhance your enjoyment and we have outlined a few in this article. This is by far not the only resource that touches on this subject, which is a good thing. Just like everyone’s time with Magic it’s all a journey. We need to continue to talk about healthy relationships with the game just as much as we need to talk about the shifting metagame. Making sure you and your fellow wizards are enjoying yourselves and having a positive experience when you sit down in a pod is one of the most noble roles we can take on.
Lastly, remember that your relationship with the game is like any other. It will go through rough times as well as good ones. Just because you get “salty” after a game does not mean you have failed, it is merely an opportunity to step back, acknowledge your feelings, and grow going forward. You’re going to win games, but you are also going to lose. You’re going to celebrate wins, and you’re going to overthink losses. Just remember to check in on yourself and focus on the enjoyable aspects of the experience. Best of luck on your journey Wizards, and make sure to keep the magic in the game!
Continue the conversation on my social media outlets! I am always looking for new ways to enjoy the game and share it with others. You can also find my YouTube and Twitch below.