Popculture’s Cube: Want Better Opponents? Start with Yourself

This Week in Popculture’s Cube: Want Better Opponents? Start with Yourself

I participated in Game Day recently (I went 1-3 using a fun RW aggro deck; BW control variants basically wrecked me) and had the good luck to have had that most coveted of Magic experiences: fun opponents to play against. We laughter together at corny jokes. We kibitzed over this and that. And at the end of the matches, most importantly, we walked away smiling.

Let’s face it – every Magic player has had what you might charitably call less-than-stellar experiences with other players at various events. Some may have been outright hostile; others may have lacked social graces; still others simply tried to intimidate. Here’s a sampling of the unfortunate situations I’ve personally been in:

Smart Ass-1• The guy who, after soundly thrashing me in 2 straight games, proceeded to go through all the plays I’d done wrong – and who openly chastised me after I appeared not to be listening.

• The lady who inexplicably brought her 3-year-old child to the tournament, and spent most of the time during our match either chasing the little fellow down when he bolted out of the room, or trying to get him to stop crawling under the table.

• The opponents who discussed how they felt entitled to win a particular event went out of their way to display their contempt at ‘having’ to play me, including just plain stony silence.

Now, certainly, not all opponents are like those I’ve listed above; by and large they’re friendly and quite personable. But it’s the bad apples that tend to stick out.

The obvious question is how to gracefully deal with issues like this? Lately, I’ve been finding it very helpful to change my own perspective on the situation. If you want to build a better opponent, you may need to start with yourself and how you approach them. Indeed, I’ve been going out of my way to model the kind of opponent that I’d like to play against. Here are some tips that I’ve found helpful:

Get A LIfe• Winning Isn’t Everything: A lot of the anxiety (and, consequently, bad behavior) at events stems from worrying about whether or not you’re going to win. One way to relax yourself is simply not to worry about it. Taking a cue from some philosophy I’ve read, I’ve lately chosen to meditate on the possibility of losing. Once you make peace with that idea, I guarantee you’ll feel more relaxed going into your matches, and you’ll look at opponents in a more positive light.

• Shake Hands: Yes, I know this sounds very old school, but shaking hands before and after your matches, and even saying “Good game,” no matter the outcome, goes a long way towards creating a a cordial atmosphere. Plus, it’s just good manners. I’ve noticed that a lot of players do this as a matter of course, and it’s a good thing to adopt.

• Small Talk Helps: Before the match starts, introduce yourself, maybe chat a bit about how their other games have been, or just simply if they’re from the area. Some may not be into this, but it’s worth a shot. I often ask my opponents similar questions, and that tends to set off a nice, relaxed little conversation while we’re shuffling and determining who’s going to go first.

• Jokes: I’ve found that most opponents are open to some light jokes and quipping during matches. Of course, you have to be careful and gage whether you’re playing against someone who’s down for this kind of thing, and not going to take it as you trying to distract them. But with the right opponent, you can get a good back-and-forth going. I’ve had opponents joke about mana issues during matches, the kinds of tokens we were using, etc., and it kept the mood light and fun.

• Be A Good Winner: If you do end up winning a particular match, it’s not a good idea to break into song or dance on the table. A lot of opponents, in my experience, will apologetically say something about their own deck to save face – how it could have handled X or Y situation better (I’ve done the same when I’ve lost), the fact that they tinkered with it too much, etc. It’s not out of line here to tell them what you liked about the deck – every time I’ve played against someone, I’ve learned from them.

Some of the best interactions I’ve had with opponents have been after a match is over and we’re waiting for the next round to start. Suddenly you’re no longer playing against each other; as Mal Reynolds once said, the war is over, and we’re all just folk now. So, unless your opponent is definitely not the talking type, you may find yourself in a position to just chew the fat a bit before the next round. I’ve done this on more than one occasion, and this will often spark something; my opponents and I will keep chatting and checking up on each other throughout the event just out of friendliness.

The point of all of this is, simply: you’re not going to change your opponents. Some of them will be super nice people. Some of them will be all business. And others will just be mean. It’s a fact of playing competitive Magic events. What you CAN control is how you’ll react. And if you’re prepared to react positively, not only will you have a much better gaming experience, but you may just change how your less-than-nice opponents will react.

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