Whenever you sit down to play a new game you always face the social question of how competitive to get. Some people can be finely tuned to this; maybe there was a plethora of team sports growing up and have built up a mental fortitude to stressful situations, maybe they are supremely confident with their abilities, or maybe they truly don’t care who wins and they are there for the good old entertainment.
So how do you manager another player’s competitiveness? Now in the tournament setting this is much easier. You have signed up to play to win, and although you may find yourself beating someone who got mana-screwed, or facing a slaughter yourself, it is expected that at the end of the match a you’ll shake hands, say good game, and get on with your day. This can be different with Casual play or even FNM. Friday Night Magic has casual players as well as spikes, where as other formats, such as commander, also have extremely varied play styles and play levels.
Now, there is no way, short of asking, to truly know what level of experience, competition level or how tuned their deck is. So how do you manage your competitiveness to be appropriate so that both players have fun. This is where a little self reflection is needed. I know I have certainly been guilty of taking our hobby too seriously. Taking things personally when I shouldn’t have, making things overly competitive in a casual setting. Here is where you must learn to be a gracious loser and an even more gracious winner.
When someone beats you it is important to realize you don’t win every game, even if you are the superior player. Take a look at the pros winning percentages, these are arguably the best in the world, and they do not have 100% winning percentages, they do not even have close to that. Also, if you are not losing games then you are not playing tough enough competition. This will end with your skill set stagnating. You should be losing games. So how do you maintain being gracious loser. First suggestion… Don’t flip the table. But seriously, losing sucks, it does, accept that it sucks and expect to lose sometimes. That way when you do you can be gracious. When you lose make sure to be sincere in your “good game” hand shake. Stay and discuss the game with your opponent, make sure not to just say the things you did wrong. This can make it sound like you are short-selling their ability, and instead saying the victory came from your mistakes. It very well might have, but if nothing else they capitalized at it. Make sure to be comfortable complimenting them on this.
On the other hand, winning can seem easier, but it is even more important here to be gracious. I mentioned before, losing sucks. You know it, I know it, your opponent knows it. So when you win, again, it is good to stop and say good game. If it was a landslide victory you can always comment on the things you noticed that lead to it. Maybe they got mana screwed, maybe their deck just didn’t draw the cards they needed, it happens. Maybe you got a nut draw or just straight out played them. Regardless, it is a good sport, who looks for a way to compliment and respect his/her opponent even in a sound victory. So be gracious. If they are a new player and ask you questions, offer advice. Be a good example of the player you want to play against.
We play a game that is meant to be fun, part of what makes it fun is playing competitively. You don’t have to stop playing competitively to make sure your peers are having fun. This game is about social interaction, it is about helping yourself and your opponents enjoy the game. See ya at the table.