Welcome to MTGO Fundamentals – a new series that I’ll be updating here and there as I document and navigate my new existence as a primarily-Online Commander player.

Long-time readers of GeneralDamageControl.com are no-doubt really confused by that last statement. For you people – and to new readers who will not understand at first why this is a big deal – I’ll explain.

I promise.

Before we get to that, though, here’s the mission statement:

MTGO Fundamentals is a column dedicated to looking beneath the hood of the Magic Online Commander experience. Over time, I’ll be detailing the pros and cons of playing Online, examining the main differences between playing with pixels and cardboard, and – perhaps most importantly – dropping stories of my experience in the digital realm along the way.

(SPOILER ALERT – There’s a lot of salt…)

Anyway, before we talk about my new best buddy, let’s explain how I got here to begin with.

MOVING ON UP

In one of my past lives, I was a huge MTGO fan and devotee. Back in the day, I was a member of the ClassicQuarter clan, and I played the “Classic” format strictly and seriously. (For those of you wondering, “Classic” was the name given to what were essentially Vintage games back then – the card pool allowed was equal to everything in release, but since the MTGO folks were still in the process of releasing the backlog of expansions that existed in the paper MTG world prior to the release of Magic Online – very notably also before Vintage Masters was a thing – the metagame was a pretty wild thing.) Somewhere along the way, real life got in the way, and I started struggling to find time to be online. There was also a minor concern about “owning” digital representations of cards, rather than real tangible cardboard – and my Online collection at the time was deep into four figures in value.

Also, I moved to a very rural New Hampshire location. My local DSL connection capped out at 3.5 mbps on a good day, and I had to cancel Netflix because I was unable to stream at those speeds.

Since then, I did a good job of swearing I’d stay clear of MTGO in my various posts here and (I’m sure) over on StarCityGames.com and LegitMTG.com – and probably on any of the internet forums I was spending time on as well. The usual list of reasons – Who wants to lose their whole “collection” when the game goes belly-up online? The new client is a total mess! (Repeat that with each new client…) Who’s got time for this anyway?

Well, life has a way of throwing a wrench into the works. Last year, I relocated my family to Cape Cod, and due to the transient nature of the whole thing – my wife commuting to Vermont for work, lack of the old ring of child-care providers, desire to cherish the few moments each week when the family was actually together, and loss of the old shop – I basically quit playing Magic. (This is detailed in my posts over the past year – and before I forget, here’s a HUGE thanks to Ryan Swaney for helping to recover them after the recent website crash, and to co-captain Dave for working with Ryan to get things back up and restored. You guys are the best.)

Sold the collection completely. Didn’t own a card for six months.

Then, plans for a triumphant GDC return to GenCon 2017 happened. I consulted with Sean – now happily heading up finances for CardKingdom.com – and put the quintessential Izzet Judo deck back together. Y’know…so I have something to play if a game pops up.

And then, there was the fateful day a few weeks back. A big blizzard kept the kids home from school and relegated me to work remotely. Dave very innocently said, “I’m working from home too. Let’s get a game or two in on lunchbreak.”

And lo…there was a great earthquake, and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became as blood, and CardHoarder.com processed the first of many subsequent orders that day.

You get the picture. Hook, line and sinker. As it turns out, Comcast Business-Class DSL smokes, and I can play EDH at two in the morning.

But I digress…

I HATE EVERY THING ABOUT YOU

One of the biggest things to get used to when playing Online is the same thing you need to get used to when doing *anything* online. This is the “Internet Bully” Effect – we won’t get too deep into this particular discussion right now, but it’s an age-old formula that being hidden behind an internet connection scientifically proves:

Anonymity + Lack of Accountability = Increased Propensity for Douch-Baggery

Since Commander is ostensibly a social format, this is a very real issue. It’s hard enough to deal with people at the LGS who have different ideas of what is fun for them in Commander, but when you remove the threat of actually being able to confront another person for straying from the bounds of the Social Contract, you predictably get a 21st century return to the wild west. Anything goes.

(PRO-TIP: If you enter a game and the other player doesn’t post “gl, hf” or reply when you do, the game is going to suck.)

We’ll dig into this more as the series progresses for sure. For today, I wanted to just document an interaction that I had in a game that showed me an attitude that I never thought I’d equate with Commander or Magic in general.

DAT GAIIV TAX THO

As it turns out, there are two types of Commander games to be had Online:

  • Multiplayer games, with three or four players involved.
  • 1v1 games.

The former are usually pretty chill, and mostly equate to what I look for in a regular paper game – no infinite combos, and people having a good time.

The 1v1 games are mostly a polar opposite in my experience. These are usually very competitive, anything-goes affairs. The attitudes tend to reflect that – very little chat interaction at all. Occasional salty replies to losses. It feels like it falls somewhere between Friday Night Magic and a GP Qualifier – people take the games seriously and want to win.

But until the other night, I had never run into a player that was actually angrily apathetic, in the paper realm or Online.

I logged into MTGO and noticed that there was a player advertising a 1v1 game with the Comments field noting “Anything Goes”. I jumped right in.

ASIDE – The Commander Social Contract is there to help you to play the type of game you want to play. It doesn’t mean “No Combos!” or “Mass-LD Sucks!”, it means that you set your expectations, find a player that shares them, and get to slinging cards. For some people, that means playing full-on competitive Commander. Since I come from a background of other competitive formats, I’ve found that I enjoy playing these types of games from time to time. I even have a few decks dedicated to them – Arcum Dagsson, in full combo-tastic glory, and the deck I played in this game – Grand Arbiter Augustin IV, a deck that seeks to control games, shut down combos, and eventually resolve either Grim Monolith/Power Artifact plus Staff of Domination or Helm of Obedience and Rest In Peace.

So anyway, the game starts up, and we choose our mulligans. My opponent is on Breya, Etherium Shaper, and leads with a foil Underground Sea. I drop a Chrome Mox on white (pitching Luminarch Ascension), Strip Mine the land, play Land Tax, and pass. Over the next few turns, they rebuild a bit, while I resolve Torpor Orb and sit on a Dissolve. However, I allow a Timetwister to resolve – probably a mistake, since I get land-flooded in the resulting seven – but I do find Mystical Tutor.

I use this to get Flusterstorm, expecting the worst and needing a single-U counter for the turn. My opponent goes for Personal Tutor, which I allow, and they find their own copy of Flusterstorm. This is a problem, since I can’t win a counter war anymore.

My opponent resolves Tainted Pact, and an Imperial Seal. I sit back, light on answers, and wait to attack the potential game-ender with my lone counter. Laboratory Maniac hits play at one point, and I wipe it with Supreme Verdict. I resolve Grand Arbiter, and a Regrowth-ed Personal Tutor finds a Swords to Plowshares for it. I recast it the following turn.

Then, my opponent resolves Dark Ritual into Doomsday. Since I had already board-wiped the Laboratory Maniac away and saw it was the first card selected, I was expecting a stack protected by Silence. I was hoping that Grand Arbiter might be the extra tax I’d need to push the Flusterstorm through.

At this point, I get handed the game-winner in my draw step, and promptly blow it. I draw Blue Sun’s Zenith, and with GAAIV, I have exactly enough to play it for five cards targeting my opponent, with one Island held up for Flusterstorm versus their board of Command Tower and Ancient Tomb. With two cards in their hand, I can safely go for the mill.

I then mess up the triggers, and let a copy of their Flusterstorm resolve, rather than having them put it on the stack targeting BSZ, and then responding with my own.

We untap, and sure enough, my opponent leads with Silence. I sheepishly cast my Flusterstorm and then add to the chat:

“Nice! I mistakenly clicked through your Flusterstorm trigger instead of FS-ing back last turn.“

It’s important to understand that my expectations change for competitive games, but my attitude doesn’t. At this point, I’m having fun, and I’m honestly stoked to see a resilient EDH Doomsday deck.

And then, that changes. My opponent replies.

“Whatever”

Instantly, my hackles go up. I respond.

“Whatever ????”

They come back at me.

“Everyone has an excuse.”

Years of serious psychotherapy to cure me of my old “Spend the day arguing on interned forums” addiction go right out the window.

“Wow…I was just pointing it out. You knew I had it from the Mystical Tutor.”

They reply:

“Congrats”

Now, I’m pissed.

“Nice attitude. I was going to honestly congrat you for a cool Doomsday deck that works in this format.”

And then, the response –

“I’m not here to be your buddy.”

I’ve had my run-ins with salty players before. Some, again, have been famously detailed on GDC. I’ll readily admit that I’ve been that salty player on more than one occasion. It’s something that I’ll always struggle with. But I can honestly say that I’ve never encountered a Magic player that has sat down to play with absolutely no intention of having fun playing the game bar winning, and no intention of interacting in a civil way with other players. I was absolutely amazed.

Magic is, at its core, a social game, and Commander is a social format. I had so many questions…why would you play a game if you didn’t want to have fun with other people? This was effectively just beating up a kid for their lunch money. Why pre-load an interaction with apathetic bad attitude?

Instead, I couldn’t resist, and engaged full Troll mode:

“You’re not here to be a cool person either apparently. Do you actually enjoy this format?”

They immediately replied.

“Just play, or don’t. I don’t care.”

I came back:

“You’re pretty salty. GL with that.”

And with that, I resolved my Flusterstorm trigger, and decided to wait to see how this combo played out under the Grand Arbiter tax.

…which was apparently something that this person had forgotten about. They announced Frantic Search, followed by several bouts of tapping and untapping lands.

Then, they disconnected.

I felt pretty smug, but I wasn’t going to let it go. I remembered the old MTGO tricks, so I stayed connected to the game. Sure enough, after about five minutes, my opponent reconnected.

I went for the throat:

“Hey! Welcome back.”

A was in the process of typing, “So, how does this combo work under the GAAIV tax?” when they conceded the game to me and left.

CLOSING TIME

Okay…admittedly, this wasn’t me at my best. I was on tilt, and acted every bit the jerk that my opponent did. Still, I was absolutely amazed that I experienced this kind of aggressive apathy at a Commander table to begin with.

Good lesson learned. On the internet, internet rules apply.

Have any of you experienced this before? Is this depth of attitude prevalent in your Online games? Anyone ever have it happen with paper Magic? Do I need help with my knee-jerk passive-aggressive troll response? (Rhetorical question on that last one…)

Hit up the comments.

—>Cass