Multiplayer Monsters

Posted in Serious Fun on December 27, 2005

By Anthony Alongi

Are you one of these group-play headaches?

This started off a cool three-part series: monsters, monster-killers, and erratics. Measured unofficially, this first one got the highest reader response of any Magic article I've ever written. By far, the most typical response was, "Thanks...I saw one or more of these monsters in myself, and my friends. I'm going to print this out and show it to them next time we play. We can all improve a little, can't we?" Very rewarding to hear that. Of course, I also got plenty of emails from slightly less introspective guys who said, "You were dead on with that article. My buddy's like that all the time, and I'm going to go tell him what an ass he really is." How do you respond to stuff like that? Answer: you thank them, politely, for grasping the essence of your article. And then you move on.

Two things led to today's topic. First, my recent adventures on Magic Online have led me to a wider pool than ever of players and playing styles. Second, Brian David-Marshall asked me to describe an annoying multiplayer Magic personality for his April 1st column last week.

The two factors converged when I was halfway through a two-page diatribe to Brian about all the things that were getting on my nerves about certain players – and I realized I've been derelict in my duty with the Serious Fun column.

Yes, the primary purpose of this column is to explore alternative (generally non-sanctioned) formats for playing Magic. And yes, I like stressing the positive and creative things you can do for fun; that's where the emphasis should be from week to week.

But part of having "serious fun" is getting the dorks to stop being, well, so dorky. And we're all dorks. Thus, this week's column.

I'm going to compile a list of all the traits so many of us find brutish in other players – and honestly, what other players probably find brutish in ourselves. These "multiplayer monsters," when they emerge, wreck people's fun just so the perpetrator can feel better about him or herself. These monsters are a plague on group games. They're not exclusive to multiplayer Magic's corner of the world, but they certainly speak our language.

Normally, a list like this would require a bunch of disclaimers aimed at not offending anyone. But you know what? We each have a little of one or more of these personalities inside of us, me included – and if you can't recognize that truth and commit yourself to improving, I have no patience for you. No denials, no excuses.

Let's all just read the list and try to be a little bit better next time, okay?

Multiplayer Monster No. 1: The Overreacting Orangutan

We'll start with one I know I do, to be fair. There are times I get really annoyed when I know I'm about to lose a game, or when I'm winning and something very bad suddenly happens. The worst for me is when I feel a game finally turning my way, and I'm one untap step away from establishing control...and someone Terminates the Bringer of the White Dawn I just pinned my recovery hopes on, or Naturalizes the Opposition so critical to survival.

Decree of Pain

At that point, I can (occasionally, mind you! Just occasionally!) get quite annoyed and begin overreacting to even the most minor of slights. Did someone follow up that Spinal Embrace with a Stone Rain on my lonely forest? Did someone just cycle Decree of Pain again? Did that guy just draw a card at the beginning of his turn? Bastard!

In my own case, I'm usually more angry at myself for losing than at anyone else for winning. (My own personal demon. Let it be for now.) But my reason is not an excuse. I owe it to my opponents to appreciate their good play, and to myself to learn from it.

In its more extreme form – I'd like to think I don't go here myself, but I've certainly seen it happen – overreaction can cloud all strategic reason. If you have a Thran Golem with four Rancors on it, why would you get upset when an opponent tries to kill it? Isn't she trying to win the game, too? More broadly, if you present an obvious threat to the players in a free-for-all game, why wouldn't they focus energy on you? It's not an insult – it's respect. Take it for such.

See, that first one wasn't so bad, was it? You could see yourself there, couldn't you? Of course you could. Now you're all ready for the next six.

Multiplayer Monster No. 2: The Whining Willies

Slightly related to overreaction, whining is no fun for the people you're playing against – or for that matter, any teammates you may have.

I have seen people whine about mana-screw (of course), and about losing a bunch of creatures. Done in moderation, this can be therapeutic – and done with a sense of humor, it can actually make people laugh and remember you fondly.

Lightning Rift

But I've also seen people whine when their teammate doesn't make quite the right play. (Note: making gentle fun of said teammate just to get folks to laugh must be perfectly legitimate; otherwise I have no moral authority whatsoever here.) I've seen people get furious when someone plays a good rare. I've seen people try to insult others simply for dealing direct damage to good, attacking, opposing creatures – instead of to a player's head (at 40 life)!

In one extraordinary instance, I was playing with a random fellow I've never met (and I can't even recall his or her screen name). I had Lightning Rift, and my teammate happened to have two cycling cards in his deck – along with a ton of creatures that died to my multiple copies of Starstorm, Decree of Pain, Slice and Dice, etc. The guy accused us of collaboration, called me a liar when I told him it wasn't, and abandoned his teammate in a huff. (Fortunately, I had time between the "liar" comment and the cowardly exit to block him.)

Whining is evidence of envy – envy of better luck usually, but also possibly better cards or better skill. I know I whine at better players all the time. I shouldn't, and neither should you. Work on self-improvement instead.

Multiplayer Monster No. 3: Apathetic Attitude

Since we were just talking about a player who couldn't handle sticking around in a game, let's tease that theme out a bit. Have you ever sat down next to a player as a teammate – either in person or online – and had that player completely give up on you? Here's what it might look like:

  • The player intentionally makes dumb plays because "we're losing so there's no point anyway" (this is different from making dumb plays by accident, which we all do regularly and understandably);
  • The player starts asking for a rematch on turn two;
  • They dwell on a single mistake all game, missing other opportunities to recover because they can't pick themselves up and move on;
  • The player actually quits the game, leaving you in a two-on-one position.

When you're a teammate with someone, they're counting on you to do your best. When you indulge in fatalism, self-flagellation, or outright quitting, you let that person down. You owe them, at least, an apology. (Use the private chat window in Magic Online; in person, stand up like an adult and say it sincerely, and then sit back down and play if your teammate asks you to.)

Can you quit a game where the opponents have a clear hard lock and they're just toying with you like jerks? Sure (after asking them politely once or twice to speed up). Can you quit a game where other business – your parents come to pick you up at the store, or your girlfriend spills a soft drink on your computer keyboard while trying to get your attention – becomes more important? Again, sure (just take the time to explain and say goodbye).

But don't quit abruptly because you don't like your draw, or you don't think you can win. Have faith in yourself, and your teammate.

Incidentally, it's not just in team games where this makes a difference. Your opponents deserve your best game and positive attitude as well, even in a free-for-all.

Quitting a game, physically or emotionally, without just cause is lazy. It's an easy answer to a complicated problem. The harder answer requires sportsmanship and asking yourself tough questions. Don’t drop the ball, ace.

Multiplayer Monster No. 4: Mosquito-Blasting Bazooka Man

Sometimes in the waning moments of a game, a player will get an urge to show everyone all the different ways they could have buried someone. The opponents are at 2 life and there's a Seal of Fire on the table – but you have to play Bloodfire Colossus, and then Sizzle, and then sack the Colossus in response, and then sack the Seal in response to that, and…and, well, you were a bit of a glutton about two abilities ago.

There's a difference between ensuring victory and ensuring humiliation. Many young males like to do the latter because the young male ego is a fragile thing, and we do what we can to make ourselves feel better – even at someone else's expense. We taste victory and we want more, in the same game, as if that's possible. But why? Why isn't winning enough? For that matter, why isn't just having fun enough? I've lost some amazing games – added all three players to my buddy list afterward, because I want to run across those guys again. People want to hang around with first-rate winners, not with fourth-class show-offs.

Once victory is in hand, showing off makes you look like an amateur. You've been in the end zone before. Act like it.

Multiplayer Monster No. 5: The Over-stiff Ego

This may be the most common affliction among Magic players. No doubt by coincidence, it is also a common affliction among younger (and, my wife suggests, perhaps older) men.

The most common symptoms of this affliction include an absolute unwillingness to admit that someone at the table may have just outplayed you – or that you may have simply made a mistake.

"I only lost because I didn't draw [card X]." But you didn't.

"I can't believe I lost to that weak-ass deck of yours!" But you did.

"I was two cards away from the winning card!" No you weren't. It wasn't the winning card if it didn't win. It was a losing card, in a losing deck, with a losing player. It doesn't make you a lesser man or woman – maybe you just had the time of your life in a good game and it shouldn't matter! Folks, I've lost games I knew I should have won. And I've lost to pure dumb luck. Swallow it and move on.

Don't diminish other people's accomplishments to make yourself feel better. It's a lousy thing to do to other people; and besides, you're only postponing the painful day when you grow up and admit you have to work harder yourself.

Multiplayer Monster No. 6: Over-ownership

For some people, it's necessary to try to convince the rest of the board that everything done works to their advantage, and that their deck is so good, nothing bad that happens is really that bad.

I block their Solemn Simulacrum with a Grizzly Bears and trade. "That's good for me," my opponent says. Yeah, okay, I can see that. The Simulacrum kinda works that way. Nice card.


I Terminate their Flametongue Kavu. "That's fine by me, because it's already done its job!" Sorta. I mean, it never did get to swing for four, which after all could win the game if it happened enough times.

I Disenchant their Opposition. "Good, I need cards in the graveyard for threshold!" Yeah, buddy, if you say so. It's all part of your master plan.

I play Wrath of God, they lose five creatures, no one else loses anything. "Good, you wasted that spell before I could play another creature!" See, now you're just being an ass.

These sorts of comments are born from a fundamental insecurity. (Sometimes they're born of a desire to "psych out" an opponent, which is crass and ineffective at best. The insecurity is still there, in any case.) It's not enough for the offender to convince himself that he's not screwing up. He also has to try to convince you that you are. It's a greedy thing, this particular sort of insecurity. If you want to wallow in neuroses, try to stick to the ones that don't bore other people. Secret of my success.

Multiplayer Monster No. 7: Center of the Universe Syndrome

Combo decks are not, in and of themselves, bad for multiplayer. If you can come up with a nifty mousetrap that shows creativity and complexity, that's nothing to be ashamed of.

Of course, there's a difference between building decks that can overcome obstacles and pull off a deft feat, and building a deck whose only purpose is to force the entire table to wait for and watch you do go through some endless sequence of cardboard gyrations. You think it's cool to make your buddies wait for you to finish your Ultimate 10-Minute Turn of Amazing Mana Loops? Think again. There are too many parallels between arbitrarily large combos and the widely practiced art of sensual self-gratification for anyone to be completely comfortable publicly indulging in the former.

In my experience, the ones who get the most satisfaction out of these boorish decks are the players who have the least to offer the Magic community in terms of creativity or passion. That's one reason why Wizards hasn't make many cards for this particular market segment since Urza's block – they kill sales.

Honestly, how much fun is it playing with someone who kills sales of Magic, so they can amaze themselves?

Muffling the Monsters

Here are four "silver bullets" that may or may not slay the monsters I've detailed above. Your success rate will depend on your aim, your patience, and just how much of an irretrievable basket case you're facing.

The bullets are in increasing order of force.

  • No. 1: Ignore it. Honestly, when you play a game with lots of teenaged boys, you have to expect some social ineptitude. (This goes for teenaged girls, preadolescent children, adult men, and adult women as well. Everyone else is perfectly well-behaved.) Many offenses are unintentional. Leave it alone, if your skin is thick enough…and if no one's getting hurt.
  • No. 2: Call the offender on his or her behavior politely. The operative word here is politely. Model appropriate behavior. Let them know everyone here was hoping to have a fun time, and maybe this isn't the way to do it. Don't make it all about you.
    You can do it during the game. You can also try to find the player after the game, if you think discretion will work better. Sometimes, a private chat gives a feeling of camaraderie, which in turn gives the offender a bit more comfort to admit they may have gone overboard.
  • No. 3: Ask the other players if you should leave. If the abuse continues in the middle of a game, suggest to the table that maybe you would be more comfortable playing somewhere else. From this point, one of three things happens: (a) the other players agree that you should go alone, in which case you're either the cause of the problem or at a table full of jerks; (b) the other players agree you should go and they'll go with you, in which case you'll start up another game without the problem player; or (c) they'll ask you to stay, at which point you have leverage. "If this guy can take it down a notch, I'll be happy to keep playing. I know we're all here to have fun, and in all other ways this is a great game!"
    Do what you need to do to win the crowd over. Consider the old bar trick of buying everyone there a round. (I say this as a metaphor, not as a concrete suggestion to get everyone drunk!)
  • No. 4: Exclude the other player entirely. Save this for the most serious and abusive cases, and when you're pretty sure other players will back you up. Seek to have the offender removed from the store. Online, see if you can get the other players to eject. (Type "/eject [username]" in the text field. A majority of players have to agree, including at least one teammate if it's a team game.)

If you're online, make sure you block the player while they're still listed in the game – it's possible but harder to find them afterward. (To block someone, right-click on their screen name and then choose "block user.") They won't be able to bug you anymore – they're completely muted as far as you're concerned. If you're seriously offended by something the player did, you can also report the behavior to an Adept. (They have the "eye" icon next to their screen name; there's generally one in every room.)

In person, avoiding the player after ejecting him or her is more difficult – and maybe not completely desirable. No one is completely irretrievable, not even you or me; maybe you buy the guy a soft drink and try to make peace the next time you're both in the store. Or maybe if there are too many guys like that in the store, you take your business somewhere else.

What if…?

Some people are just cursed, and not always for good reason. If you take all these steps and still find yourself in continual conflict with players of all sorts, then one or both of two things is happening: (a) your own behavior is contributing, and/or (b) you have the dumb luck of being surrounded by boorish people wherever you turn. Take a healthy, positive, constructive look at yourself, send this article to everyone you know in the desperate hope they'll understand what you're trying to tell them, and then move to another town. Repeat as necessary.

Anthony cannot provide deck help. He's busy indulging in all seven types of poor behavior in games with his children.

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