Welcome back! This article is inspired by a conversation I had with my girlfriend Liz, after I lost a game to her. I was playing Kaseto, Orochi Archmage and sneaky snakes; I had a sizable army out, dropped a land (missing my Lotus Cobra trigger), made enough snakes unblockable to attack, pumped the team with Tribal Unity, and blasted past Liz’s defenses.
But I left her at two life. I messed up my own plan and was genuinely confused why I hadn’t killed her, as I was certain would happen. She counter-attacked and I went to -26 and met my untimely death. Upon dying I realized that I missed my Cobra trigger and that the extra mana would have pumped the team to lethal.
I then said the catalyst for this article:
“I missed my trigger and let you kill me.”
Liz was genuinely concerned that she had not earned her win. Comments in the game store reinforced this belief. People said that someone gave her the game, let her win, that if someone else was paying attention than she would have lost, and other negating comments like that.
The shortest version of this is the following: You always earn your win – even when someone makes a mistake that enables you to win. You maneuvered the game to a position where a tiny misplay allowed you to win.
In the example with Liz, I was in a position where a two points of life during an alpha strike mattered. I deserved the loss if I needed to be that tight on my game play and missed a crucial trigger. My sloppy play did nothing to diminish her win. Whenever someone tries to invalidate your win by blaming something else, they are only defending their ego.
Imagine a chess game. You put your queen into the center of the board to establish control of the middle. Your opponent then immediately takes your queen with a bishop and recaptures the middle. You are put on the defensive and the game falls like dominoes in your opponent’s favor.
The move with your queen certainly allowed the game to shift to your opponent, but she had to be able to recognize it, take advantage of it, and not become greedy in the following turns to prevent you from recovering. If she is able to do all of those things, she beat you. You just provided her an opportunity to seize; she almost certainly did so as well and you blew it. In boxing, if your guard is down and your opponent lands a knockout punch, no one would think to say that he only won because your guard was down.
In Magic, these moments are rare. Commander games may have strategy like chess and haymakers like boxing, but the games don’t follow the same flow. EDH games are more like battles in a war. If a battle is lost it changes momentum, but throughout history many defeated armies have rallied and won a war or a more critical engagement because their enemy lacked the will or resources to press the advantage.
When your opponent can seize an opportunity it is because they were in a position to do so. Not because you gave them anything.
Another reason that the “giving away a game” argument does not hold water is that we have multiple opponents. In the game Liz won, there were five players. Three other players could have taken me out at some point and perhaps won the game, but it didn’t play out that way; Liz and I were the only two remaining players when she want to two life. Pete was trying to kill me the whole game, but I took him out in one shot; that forced me to lay low, as I was rebuilding from using too many critical cards all at once. Liz and John were the most dangerous players, and when I had the chance I took John out because I couldn’t handle Grenzo, Havoc Raiser goading all my creatures. Adam was playing a group hug deck, but he could kill me from nowhere with Treacherous Terrain or Psychosis Crawler. I took him out to minimize that chance, and also to prevent Liz from getting more advantage from his hugging effects than I did.
But doing all of that could have waited. I didn’t need to force the game down to just Liz and me. I thought I would win the one-on-one exchange.
How many decisions happen during a game of Commander? Deciding which card to cast, when to cast it, how many creatures should attack, which opponents, do you hold this removal, do you use it now, do you sweep now, do you let someone else take care of a problem, do you activate this ability, do you hold back this creature, do you press the advantage? I could fill an entire article of decision point questions for just my play. Not the other three players – just mine.
With so many decisions and choices made by several people throughout the game, how can you confidently point to a single decision and truthfully say that is what enabled another player to win?
Simply put – you can’t. And your opponents can’t when you win.
The male ego is the single-most-fragile thing in our universe. To wit, some people get irritated or salty with a loss, but negating someone else’s victory through post-game dissection is a different thing – and men are far, far more likely to do this. We do it to each other and we most assuredly do this to women. The most common defense for negating a win is blaming someone else for “giving away a win” – or the “one more turn” argument.
If Timmy had only attacked me, I would have lost. Too bad; he didn’t.
If only Johnny had one more turn he would have drawn that answer. Too bad; he didn’t.
I’m not necessarily advocating for someone to start an argument with the sore-loser opponent. but you are more than welcome to defend yourself and let your opponent know that you’re aware how dangerous one more turn would have been. It’s exactly why you didn’t give it to them. If they discuss making a mistake, feel free to thank them for giving you the opportunity to steal the win.
Remember – you always deserve your wins. Always. Just because someone is accusing you of being given a game doesn’t mean a thing. When a quarterback throws an interception, it is still up to the defense to be in the right spot, eyes open, hands up, and beat the receiver to the ball. The quarterback could have thrown the ball better potentially, but the defense still had to do every bit of work to catch the ball and make the run. No ego invalidates your work in the game in order to be in the right position at the right time to make your play.
Magic, chess, video games, sports…anything. You earn your win by putting yourself in a position where a mistake from an opponent is an opportunity.
This may border on the passive-aggressive – or the actual aggressive. But Liz asked about how to differentiate between doing well and someone saying that they “gave away the game” versus her making a mistake. Specifically, “Is it my play skill or someone else’s inability to do correct threat assessment?”
Honestly…both, if you are winning more then you are improving at the game. But if you are winning more it also means that people are ignoring you as a threat.
We all make mistakes, but if other players are throwing a tantrum, they are almost certainly in the wrong. Here are some ready-made comebacks for dealing with shattered egos.
“You got to lay low. If I wasn’t dealing with [thing] than you would’ve died!”
- No shit. That’s why I did it. I was waiting to commit to the board when it was safe to do so.
“I can’t believe I missed my trigger! I would have won.”
- I know right? You even wrote for Star City Games. When did you become a has-been? (You’re welcome, Liz.)
“[Name] completely gave you the game!”
- I still had to kill you. Why didn’t you stop me?
“If I wasn’t so low on life, that wouldn’t have worked.”
- I know. I can do math, thanks. It’s why I killed you now when it would work.
“[Name] was just using bad threat assessment to take out me instead of you.”
- Wouldn’t you have won if I died? Seems like a decision that didn’t pan out, not a huge
“That was a lucky top deck!”
- I know, right! I definitely didn’t play to an out or put myself in a situation where that card would
help. This type of thing never happens at a Pro Tour or anything. [Cue up this clip on Youtube.]
No matter what they say, you won your game. Coaches exist in every sport. Coaches do not diminish a player’s ability to succeed. Celebrate your wins and shuffle up for the next game.