Editor’s Note: This piece was originally published on September 17, 2012. We’re flashing back to some of our best from the past several years every Friday, because what’s old is new again. We’ve been talking about the Social Contract vis-a-vi the banned list a LOT internally. Here’s a great look back into some of the site’s earlier thoughts about the Social Contract. 

Hey, folks!
Apologies for the late night update today; without going into details (yet!), there are some new developments coming down the pike in the very near future, and the takeaway right now is that I’m a very busy man with a serious plan.  What I can say is that hopefully this will all serve to benefit things for the readers and fans of both GDC and the format in general in the coming days, so please stay tuned for more details.
Right now, I want to talk about what happens when things escalate past reasonable and enjoyable interaction during an EDH session.  The format tagline constantly refers to the ‘social contract’, and it’s important to understand this fully.
Be warned – this is one of my dreaded ‘serious’ pieces, and it’s pretty thick.  But I think it’s important to discuss, and a part of me wants to get it off my chest anyway.
With that in mind, I really hope you enjoy what I write today.
.   .   .   .   .
Given: EDH is a Magic format, and Magic is a game.
As is (mostly) true everywhere else, games need winners and losers.  They also breed emotion as a natural by-product; if you didn’t *enjoy* Magic or EDH or whatever, you wouldn’t play it.  If you didn’t develop an attachment to a general or a deck, you’d build something else.
If things don’t go your way, it doesn’t feel good.
This is about what happens next.
.   .   .   .   .
We’ll start with a story.  The story, really.  This is how I lost my cool and nearly my control at a very recent game.  There are multiple elements and personas involved, and to those who know the circumstances and the people, they might look at what I did as dishing out a deserved response.
They might also look at me as a total douche bag.  Which is fine too.
I’ll tell you how I personally feel on the back end as we dissect what I’m about to tell you.
Anyone who has read GDC from its roots over a year ago (or taken the time to go through the backlog, in which case I applaud your enthusiasm!) knows that I have a…certain someone.  Maybe most people do.  This is that person who, no matter what you do or how much slack you offer, will just end up rubbing you the wrong way in the end every single time.
Who he is isn’t important; he’s a college-age player at the local shop.  (Which probably puts him in diapers around the time I was getting my driver’s license.  Yeah…I’m old.)  He’s typically not that hard to handle, and I’ve had some personable conversations with him quite frequently.
When we sit down at a table to shuffle, it’s like oil and water.
As I wrote about him a year or so ago, he gets very animated and excited when things start to happen.  I’m not sure he realizes, it, but his voice gets a little louder, and he starts to exude a bit of attitude when he’s either executing an important play or someone is interacting unfavorably with his board position.  He’s the type of player who will spend several turns destroying your board position piece by piece, and when you retaliate, he’ll get upset and vocalize the fact that he believes you’re picking on him.  That ‘this always happens.’
These are all things that sap the enjoyment of the game for me.  I’m an introvert by nature.  Aside #1 – Those of you that know me know that I spent several years of my life touring the country with a rock band.  No one big, but I was able to take a few years after college and do nothing but play drums and wake up in the back of a van three-hundred-and-sixty-five days a year.
This is important because musicians have to, you know, perform for people.
I personally never wanted to be a drummer at first, but I realized that the position provided me with a giant wall of wood and metal and plastic to hide behind.  20+ years later, I’m no longer bothered by any crowd or any venue…but that took some time.
I still suck at public speaking.
Aside #2 – I’m terrible at confrontation.  These asides play a key importance in my life for multiple reasons.  For one, it allows me to tell the story I’m taking my sweet time getting to today.  For another, it allows me to explain my personality in interesting ways.
For example, I’ve thrown exactly one punch in anger in my entire life, and it scared the living hell out of me.
And the one time I was brave enough to ‘talk to the girl’, it ended with where I’m at right now – married for seven great years and typing while staring at my beautiful son asleep on the screen of the baby monitor next to me.
Anyway, now that I’ve lost three-quarters of you, let me tell you about how it went down last week.
I’ve been slowly tuning my Riku metagame deck since my experience at GenCon.  I was unsure that I’d be able to get any mileage out of it after returning from the rampant cutthroat combo I experienced in Indianapolis, but as it turns out, this deck is pretty good at hanging in games of all types.  Turns out Spelljack works just as good on Copy Enchantment as it does on a lethal Stroke of Genius.  Anyway, it’s clearly one of my ‘better’ decks, so I pull it out when I believe I may be in a tighter game, or that there’s going to be someone that might need to be kept in check.
This past week, we had a ton of players.  There was an easy three or four tables’ worth of EDH players, so I decided to branch out and get into a game that Patrick wasn’t also playing in.  It led me to a table with a tribal Thallids player, an aggressive Brion Stoutarm deck, and my nemesis, playing a new take on Jarad, Golgari Lich Lord.
I was ready to give him the benefit of the doubt.  I usually am, and it usually bites me in the ass.
So the game gets moving.  People start building board position.  Thallids and saprolings start multiplying across the table from me at an alarming rate.  Jarad isn’t being too aggressive at all, but Brion sure is.  There’s an early appearance by the general, coupled with Kiki Jiki and Wurmcoil Engine, which finally gets me to step in and put things in check.  Everyone understands.
Before long, Brion gets back to a threatening position.  Balefire Dragon hits play.  It’s somewhere in here that Jarad decided it was time to act, and I don’t remember the specifics, but I think it involved Oblivion Stone and wrecking Brion’s board state.
It didn’t take Brion long to retaliate, and he started picking apart Jarad’s creatures.  A board wipe hit, and I popped a Relic of Progenitus to get rid of the Reassembling Skeleton he was abusing.
It started pretty immediately.
People were ‘doing it again.’  Here he was, just playing a new ‘fun deck’, and people were specifically trying to take him out of the game.
My blood pressure started to rise.
So things progress.  There are enough Thallids to overthrow a small country across the way, but I manage to stick my own Oblivion Stone.  I proclaim it to be my insurance policy.  No-one really goes anywhere near me as a result, and I’m allowed to keep it for roughly the next hour-and-a-half.
Jarad finally finds Attrition, and gets the chance to use it.  Brion starts to execute a play, and Jarad sacs a guy to kill off whatever he was about to use.  In response, Brion declares some other course of action, and Jarad responds by killing that play with an Attrition trigger too.
This is important not for the specifics, but for the way in which Jarad reacted.  When Brion responded to the first Attrition attempt, Jarad’s voice got louder.  He spoke quicker and with a sharper tone.
“No…you don’t get to do that either!”
My heart starts pounding.
Jarad seemed very smug in the fact that he shut Brion down, and the infamous tone came out.  That was nearly the same phrase he hit me with last time around when he was activating Geth to rob me of my gameplan too.
I started thinking less about lasting the game out, and more about teaching him a lesson.  I may have even mumbled something about watching that tone, and I definitely rolled my eyes visibly.
Things proceeded further.  Finally, Jarad spoke up, looking across the table to Brion like he was about to let him in on an inside joke.

“I bet I can get him to pop the O-stone.”

By now, my blood is starting to boil.  I was near my breaking point, and I bit.

“Why would you do that?  It doesn’t help you at all.” 

“It sure does.”  He proceeded to explain how he was using my O-Stone to clear out Brion again.  He revealed Putrefy.

“That hits at instant speed.  Why do it at the start of your turn?” 

“Because it’s what I want to do.”

The indignant tone crept in.  He was trying to let me know he was in control of the game.  I lost it.
He started to move on.

“I assume it resolves?”

Like it was a foregone conclusion.
I was seeing red.

“Not necessarily, no.”

“Why not?”

I went for the full broadside.

“…Because I’m trying to decide if I want to kill you in response.”

He bit, and he bit hard.  He started spluttering again about being picked on all the time, and it’s not fair, and why is it always him, and he’s just trying to play the game, and on and on.  I sat calmly, waiting.
Brion chimed in pointing out some angle that Jarad was missing, and Jarad went over the top and lost it.


He was almost yelling, and his speech was cutting.

“Putrefy O-Stone.”

I looked at my hand.  Mystical Tutor.  Wild Ricochet.  Sensei’s Divining Top in play.  Counter backup.  I knew what I was going to do.


 I binned the O-Stone.
He looked a perfect mix of smug and confused.  “Oh.  Good.”  He went about his turn, and passed to Brion, who made an inconsequential play and passed to me.

“Riku.  Pass.”

It passed Thallids.  My heart was in overdrive.
Jarad took a minor turn and passed, gloating.
Brion started to take action again, and Jarad pounced on him, yet again destroying the play with a happy grin and a smug explanation.
That pushed Brion to make a comment.  Something basic, but cutting.  “That was a bad choice” or “That was dumb” or something.
My vision was blurring.  My hands were shaking.
Jarad made some snarky comeback.  The content didn’t register.  I came back at him.

“You need to check the attitude!”

He snapped back at me.  My mind was running the play through my head, and what he said barely registered.  He was mad.  I think I told him he was acting like an ass.  He blew up, telling me that no, it was I who was being an asshole.
Boom.  Dead calm.  My voice went straight aggression.
“How many cards in hand?”  I demanded.
“Ten” he replied.  He had a ReliquaryTower in play.
“Great.”  I replied.  “Tap for blue.  Mystical Tutor, getting Storm Seeker.  Activate Top, Draw Seeker.”
Brion started to let the cat out of the bag.  “Copy it with Riku!”
Jarad looked down.  His eyes got a little wider, but he thought he was sitting in a good place at forty life or so.  Not more, I noted.

“Storm Seeker, copying it with Riku.”

He pounced.

“Attrition.  Kill Riku.”

Snarky.  Overly confident.  I snapped back.

“Response.  Wild Ricochet, copy Storm Seeker, copy Ricochet with Riku.  Four copies on the stack.”

He spluttered and snapped back in frustration.

“In response, kill Riku again!”

“Fine now…go right ahead.  Makes no difference now.  Have an answer to the Storm Seekers?”

Suddenly, relief.  Total calm.  I did it.  He was over on the other side of the table flipping out, trying to figure out a play.  He decided to use his Necrogenesis to clear out my graveyard of all creatures in spite as a response, but I was beyond caring at that point.
He finally threw his cards down in anger.

“Well, I guess that does it.  I’m dead.  Happy?”

“Yup.”  I grinned.
But it wasn’t over.  We started to move on with the game, while he sat in frustration, loudly complaining that he “had the win in hand the next turn.”  Suddenly, he looked over at my graveyard.
I had missed the Mulldrifter that I had played an hour or so earlier when exiling creatures from it.
“Wait!”  He exclaimed.  He was up on his seat, reaching over the table and grabbing my graveyard forcefully to point out my error.
The red flashed back, and I snapped.  I grabbed his arm, and very loudly, very forcefully, and very slowly spit out four words through clenched teeth.

“Don’t.  Touch.  My.  Shit.”

He started to spit out some sort of an accusation about me missing the Mulldrifter.  I repeated it, a little louder.  I wanted the shop to hear, and everyone was turned around, watching us.


He backed off very quickly.  I suddenly had a very uncomfortable feeling in the pit of my stomach.
.   .   .   .   .
I didn’t quite win the game, which was fine.  The points I managed to acquire got me second place for the night, good for a pack of Avacyn restored and a promo Restoration Angel.  At that point, though, I was too worked up and upset to function correctly.  I played a second game (and it was a good one, Andrew!), but I was actually experiencing some severe sadness that carried on for the rest of the night.
This is the ultimate social breakdown in EDH terms.  It sucks when someone suspends Obliterate with Jhoira or nails Teferi and Knowledge Pool when your playgroup expressly steers clear of mass land destruction or infinite combos.  It’s another thing totally when the curtain drops and people stop having fun and get ugly.
I blame myself fully.  This kid gets a bad rap, but let’s face it – I was itching for a fight from the get-go.  There was no question that I sat down expecting to take him out in one grand gesture like that.  I’m sure it was why I volunteered to play at that table.  I was looking for confrontation, and I found it.  The result?
Well, I’m pretty sure the Thallid guy wasn’t too impressed with my outburst.  I’m equally sure that he wasn’t the only one.  That’s not a good feeling to know that.  I spend a ton of time attacking social mores as they apply to EDH; I talk about how my seat time is precious, and how people should play the game a certain way, and so on and so forth.
But I effectively threw that out the window and robbed someone of the same courtesy.
That explains the sadness.
It comes back around to emotion.  I experienced a hell of a ride during the course of that game, and I’m sure that my endorphins were off the charts the whole time.  I was all emotion and no reason.
And he was emotional as well.  I won’t give him a free pass; his standard emotion response is what triggers my reaction nearly every time.  You could argue that his attitude ruins things for people as well, and you’d be right.  But the other thing it does is it gets me to bite.
Instead of enjoying EDH, I’m picking a fight.  I’m fanning flames.  I’m doing everything that I hate to have done to me, and I’m suddenly the antithesis of what I love about the format and how I access it.
The “social contract” isn’t about not playing broken cards or combos or lock-down prison decks that shut people out of the game.  Not at its core, anyway.  The social contract is about doing what you think is right, and leading by example.  It’s funny…The Rules Committee is actually teaching us things we should have been learning in first grade here under the clever guise of a killer Magic format.  You best be damn sure that I can’t wait to teach my son this game and this format, and I hope I show him the good parts of it.
I want him to enjoy playing EDH.  That’s why we’re all shuffling cards and building decks and reading websites and writing for websites.  We enjoy this game.
I need to really try to remember that more often.
.   .   .   .   .
Thanks for reading, folks.  I promise less doom and gloom next time.