The End Of An Alpha

Posted in Serious Fun on February 21, 2006

By Anthony Alongi

My article two weeks ago about ganging up in multiplayer generated a nice amount of email and message board discussion. Here's a comment I saw quite often (paraphrased for comic effect):

Dear Anthony,

Thanks for your article on ganging up in multiplayer. You missed one reason why people gang up: because I'm the best player in my group, and they all hate me for it. Sort of like how Cinderella's evil step-sisters hated her, because she was so pretty and had such a good heart. Or how all the other writers hate you, because you have that slick photo with a tie and jacket and everything, and all they ever have on when a camera snaps is a prerelease t-shirt.

Anyway, like I said, you missed this scenario. Why did you ignore me – are you in cahoots with my so-called friends? Thanks and best wishes,

The Self-Described Best Player in My Group

Of course, the best part of reading stuff like this is knowing full well that I did mention this case in the last article. Good Magic players are not always good readers, I suppose; but that's okay. We'll bring everything to a grinding halt for one week and spend more time saluting the prima donnas of casual Magic groups: the so-called Best Player Around.

Just Who Does This Guy Think He Is?

Alpha Kavu
Being the "best player" means different things to different people. To some, they're the best because they're the most competitive and go to the most tournaments. Others think they're the best because they can actually measure the number of times they've won in the recent past, and it's more than anyone else. Still others don't count, but are pretty sure they've had the most impact. Yet others use lots of rares, while everyone else is using commons and uncommons. And a few claim "top dog" status simply because they've got the most cards, or have been playing the longest, or just have that Alpha Male personality.

While there's a certain amount of ego involved in making a claim of superiority, so far this article I've been laughing with these guys and not at them. There's at least a grain of truth to every exaggeration. Someone who says he "wins all the time" or is "clearly the best player there" came up with that idea for a reason. Quite often, it's because a bunch of people in this group tell him, "I'm attacking you because you're the best player in our group." "You've been around the longest – why wouldn't I attack you?" "You're my spiritual leader and I've fallen in love with you. I show my affection by trying to hurt you." Can we really blame them for believing what we tell them?

And who are we kidding? It's not "them". We're talking about you. Yes, you. If I was a cynic, I'd point out that, if you were so freaking terrific at Magic, you'd be able to get out of this mess yourself. But I think I remember something in my contract with Wizards that encourages me to be more sympathetic than that, so let's get down to the part where I try to help you.

What To Do?

As I said two weeks ago, going after the perceived best player in the group falls under the category of Good Sense. So you have to start with the advice I gave then: stop whining about it. It is way, way too easy for a group who feels under the thumb of a single player to label that player a "sore loser" when they turn the tables. You're right – that's not fair. But if you start moaning about that too, I won't help you.

There are at least three ways to counter-act the sort of attention your group is giving you.

Option One: Drop The Act. Is it possible – just possible – that you're not as good as you think you are?

Think about it. Simply by posing as the Alpha Male of the group, some people can attract unwanted attention. Juvenile and adult males (the vast majority of Magic players) often don't like another guy coming around and announcing himself to be The Best. It's a challenge. And what do challenged animals (including humans) do? They challenge back.

Put another way, the problem here may not be Good Sense at all, but rather Bad Attitude. Namely, yours. Before you go wild with strategies and counterstrategies, take a nice, hard look at yourself. A change in your behavior may change the behavior of those around you.

Veteran Explorer
Option Two: Build A Deck No One Can Hate. As I told one reader who looked like he was in an honest pickle, if you build a deck with Veteran Explorer, Eladamri's Vineyard, Noble Benefactor, and a bunch of other stuff that either helps or humors everyone, you will put yourself in a unique position – the position of the player everyone should like.

Thus, one of two things will happen – either they'll like the deck and keep you around, or they'll keep coming after you mindlessly.

If they like the deck... What, you need advice from this point? Build more decks like that. Challenge yourself to design constructs that don't win – they just make the games a bit crazy, and they often help folks out. Forge a new reputation for yourself, at least for a few months. After a while, you can throw in a more competitive deck and see what happens. Maybe by then, they'll be used to hitting other people besides you.

If they don't like the deck... If you're doing nothing but helping people and you're still coming under fire, try something along the following lines, in a calm and reasoned voice:

Guys, it's hard not to take this seriously and personally. I thought this game I might try putting a fun deck out there. It doesn't really have a serious way to win. But I'm getting shelled anyway. It's not flattering anymore, just kind of insulting. Is there something we need to talk about?

Notice how the soliloquy above does not accuse anyone of doing anything nasty. It does not call anyone stupid, nor does it make any threats. It tells people what you're trying to do and how you're feeling. That's the tone you need.

Time Stop
Option 3: Opt Out Of A Few Games. Be careful. This is just one step short of not playing with the group at all, and it won't take much for you to either jump that extra step – or for the group to push you. Even if you're perfectly poised and positive about it, an immature enough group will use the opportunity to end your time with them.

It would go something like this, via email or in person:

Guys, I've noticed that none of you seem comfortable when I play. I feel horrible about this. I think I would contribute more to the group if I slowed down a bit and skipped the next night out. That would give you time to assess each other more carefully, without my presence warping everyone's analysis.

After one or two nights, I'd really like to come back and enter a game where everyone can see each other as equals. I think we'd all have fun with that.

Again, notice I use virtually no negatives here – everything is a positive statement, with the goal of having you get back in there as fast as possible and helping everyone have fun.

Who knows? If you say it right and they hear it right, you might solve the problem right there and then, and won't have to skip any games at all.

One last word on this – you get to use it once. That's it. Don't use your presence or absence as a constant bludgeon. It stops being a tactic to help the group, and starts being a self-indulgent tantrum right about the second time you try it. If you leave, and then come back, and then leave again – you're leaving for good. It can be pleasant, it can be friendly, it can be whatever you like. But it is the end.

What About You, Freak?

Readers may reasonably ask how I perceive myself in our own group. Am I the best player? After all, I've got this column and I appear, at times, to know what I'm talking about. So I must win all the time, right? Which must infuriate our group, so they pile it on. Right?

The answer is no – I'm not the best player in our group, and I don't win all the time. I have some threatening decks and I win my share, but I can think of several players from our weekly game who are superior to me in one or more aspects of the game.

That said, I still often find myself the target in free-for-all games. This happens because I think like an alpha, which gets me into trouble. I'm loud. I love provoking people. But beyond that, some members of our group just like to beat The Guy Who Writes Articles. It bugged me for a while because it offended my love for Good Threat Analysis; but I've gotten over it. Kinda.

It doesn't happen nearly as often as it used to, because our group plays team formats far more often than it plays free-for-alls. That's one of the final solutions for ganging up – break up the battlefield so that everyone has a teammate. It protects the alpha personality and it challenges that personality to work with someone else and share credit. So it's good for everyone.

What if you have an odd number? One way to "team" loosely with an odd number – especially five players – is to adopt a "star" format. I've explained this in past articles and many players do it by splitting up into mono-color decks. The basic idea with the five-pointed star is that the players to your immediate left and right are allies, and the two furthest away are your enemies. You can only attack (and with some groups, only target) those two. When those two are dead, you win.

By switching up the formats of the group, you can take a lot of heat off of yourself – whether you're the best player in your group, or just someone who thinks he is.

Anthony Alongi has played various Magic formats for over seven years, and has been writing for much longer than that. His latest book, Jennifer Scales and the Messenger of Light, will be in stores June 2006.

Latest Serious Fun Articles


Hedron Alignment by, Bruce Richard

When I first looked at my preview card, I couldn't really wrap my brain around it. The card does so much that I wasn't really understanding its value. Kind of a "forest for the trees" thi...

Learn More


Eternal Pilgrim by, Bruce Richard

When religious belief turns into religious fervor, things get problematic—particularly on Zendikar. When the Eldrazi were originally imprisoned, stories were told to ensure no one would t...

Learn More



Serious Fun Archive

Consult the archives for more articles!

See All

We use cookies on this site to enhance your user experience. By clicking any link on this page or by clicking Yes, you are giving your consent for us to set cookies. (Learn more about cookies)

No, I want to find out more