Winning and Losing; How to be Graceful in Defeat

Magic the Gathering is many things to many people. To some it is a fantasy adventure like no other, telling the deeds of different heroes and villain with each of its expansions. To others it is a hobby complemented by amazing art, immersing us in worlds we cannot comprehend. Yet others see it as a way to express themselves, either through their choice of deck or through cosplay and card alterations. But there is one thing that Magic is above all others. It’s a game. And as with any game it is a tale of two parts, winning and losing.

Let’s be honest for just a moment. How many of you reading this article like winning? I’m going to guess most of you. I certainly do, and most of my friends would agree. Winning is great. No matter if it’s topping the standings of your local Friday Night Magic or coming in first at a Grand Prix, most of us strive to be the victor. That is why so many of us comb the internet for new deck lists and strategies in order to give us the edge in our games, and indeed there is no shortage of articles and video on how to improve your game. But for every contest there must be a loser, and it is for them I write this article.

Think about it. In any event there can only be one winner (or three if it is a team of which you speak). This means that they must have beaten some other competitors in order to claim victory. Let’s say you attend a Store Championship, and the judge informs you that “today’s event has thirty-two players”. That means thirty-one people are going to be going home, and when their other half or other family member asks them how they did, they are going to have to admit that they lost. Sure, it’s great for that one player who won the event, but what if you are one of the many that didn’t? How do you cope with losing?

It was a question I have always been intrigued by, but it took on new relevance a few weeks ago at my local FNM. I was playing in the Standard event with my Goblin Gifts deck, when I heard a commotion coming from the Modern side of the room. A fairly new (and young) player was taking part in what I later found out was one of their first Modern events. They were playing against an opponent piloting a R/G Valakut brew. The opponent had just resolved a Scapeshift and had explained the Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle win condition to the young competitor. They (having never seen this deck in action) argued that they were not ‘dead’ as they didn’t understand how the stack worked in this regard.

However, when the other veterans and T.O. tried to explain this to them, they became very aggressive. Comments like “shut up, I wasn’t asking you” to “NO, your wrong” came following out of this young player’s mouth. Eventually the issue was sorted, but it was clear this competitor was still unhappy about how they had lost, been heard saying afterwards “well we will have to agree to disagree”. While this is a text book example of been a ‘sore loser’, and most people would agree this is not the way to behave. The question remains – how do you cope with losing?

I put the question to the Twitter-verse to see what the Magic community had to say on this subject. Most people said they tried their best to learn from the experience, and to use what they have learned to become better players. Others stated that they just treat it like a game and accept that they can’t win every match. All seemed to think that getting ‘salty’ was the wrong way to go, and that if you are to lose you should do it in good grace. That sounds great in theory, but is it as easy as it sounds?

The fact of the matter is that losing isn’t easy. Your first response might be frustration, disappointment, or even anger. However, we are told that this is not an acceptable response from an early age, most of the time hearing the phrase ‘sore loser’ in relation to this. We get told to shake hands and move on. This is all well and good, but it doesn’t address one key issue. Because the simple fact of the matter is, it’s okay to be frustrated when you lose.

Now don’t misunderstand me. You should NOT get ‘salty’ and start having an argument with the head judge. Still the fact is it’s only human to feel disappointment when you fail at something. It’s how you deal with that disappointment that matters. Channelling your frustration into wanting to be a better player is a great example of turning a negative (losing) into a positive, but it isn’t always easy. This is especially true when you’re in a busy room full of your peers watching your match, adding to the pressure. So how do you keep your cool and remain graceful?

Well there is no one right answer, as every player is different and will have there own coping mechanisms, but below are a few ways I have noted that have worked for others (and myself) in the past. Feel free to use one or more of them if you need to.

Take a break

Whether it is after a particularly close match or one-sided stomping, take a few minutes to take stock of the situation. Grab a drink, go for a quick walk around the event centre or even go to the toilet. Whatever you do, give yourself time to breath. Make some time after a loss to get your head straight. It’s a well-known fact that straight after you have dealt with a negative experience you are at your most irritable. Shake your opponent’s hand, wish them luck and then if you need to give yourself some space get some. You can always catch up with your opponent and make pleasantries later on, and you will probably be in a better mood to do so.

Focus on the positives

Remember when you got that sweet three for one and made the match go to game three? No? Not surprising, as after you have just lost you might be too busy focusing on what went wrong. But it is important to focus on the positives in these situations. In fact, this is a way in which you can bond with your opponent. Talk about the highs and lows of the match, you will soon forget the disappointment as you realise your opponent isn’t your enemy, but rather your fellow hobbiest.

Live and learn

Losing isn’t the end of the world. It’s difficult when you get all the way to the final round only to lose in less than ten minutes, but it’s not the worst thing that has ever happened to you. Use the experience and learn from it. Look at where the match went wrong not as a negative, but as a learning process. As good friend of the site and fellow Goblin fan Orc’s Head Jordan said to me “You learn more from your scars, than your medals”, and truer words were never spoken. If you can focus on each loss as a way to improve your game and get better, you will have a better time of things.

But how do you get better? How do you turn your losses into victories? Well next week my fellow Master Chris Vincent will be looking at just that topic, so if you don’t want to miss it be sure to subscribe to the site in order to keep up to date with all of our content. If you have any advice on how you cope with losing please share it in the comments below and remember even when you lose, to wish your opponent Good Look and Have Fun.

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