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Tilt: What it is and how to deal with it
How to deal with tilt is an interesting subject. I think we need to start by figuring out what tilt it and analyzing why it affects us as players. Tilt is a slang term that originated in poker but can be applied to any game involving strategy and chance. In poker, usually Tilt is described as a state of mental confidence that negatively affects the player’s ability to make good decisions. There are many ways to achieve this state of mind, but in almost all cases, it is considered a very good way to lose money.
Tilting in Magic comes in many forms. There are many things that can trigger it but almost all of them are “feel bad” moments. One common trigger is excessive mulligans. If a player is unable to realistically keep their 7, 6, or 5 card hands it is very common for inexperienced players to go on tilt. Conversely, if a player’s opponent mulligan’s excessively and then wins it can tilt the player that didn’t. Neither of these things are something to get angry or tilted about if you want to win. As much as people want to say that Magic is a game of skill and that the most skilled player wins, it is not always the case. There is an element of chance that keeps it interesting and makes the game have a margin of error that makes it more fun than chanceless games like Chess.
The least common (at least in my experience) reason for people going on tilt is the behavior of their opponent. Sometimes people will go on tilt because their opponent is rude, inexperienced, or gloating/complaining too much. I usually don’t have this problem because I’m a very “go with the flow” kinda guy. The best advice I can give you on this situation is to try to ignore your opponent or if that is not possible, ask them to stop. Most people don’t do things intentionally to tilt their opponent so simply asking them to stop is usually a very effective course of action.
Realizing you’re on tilt is the next important thing. When you become angry or discouraged you will play worse than if you’re confident and excited. In my third round of last FNM my opponent sat down to play me and immediately made the remark that his deck sucked and he wasn’t going to win. That’s an extremely poor attitude and is a very easy way to lose. Never go into a match feeling like it’s unwinnable or that you cannot win it. Every match is different, every outcome is different. You could play 100 games with the same person playing the same deck and never get the same results twice.
The last and most common way people are put on tilt is when they perceive luck as a statistic that can be manipulated and is currently not in their favor. Luck exists in the game, this can never be denied. You as a player must realize that your opponent does not control their own luck or yours and consequently you cannot be angry if it is not in your favor. This most often happens when your opponent plays a miracle and devastates your board. Bonfire of the Damned and Terminus are some of the most tilting cards in Magic right now because when your opponent gets a discount on the cost you inherently feel like they were “lucky”. You will often get the same amount of “luck” when playing and simple discount it as your deck working as intended. No matter how well your deck is constructed there are combinations of bad cards and ways for you to lose the game based on draws. It’s likely when you win games that you drew well enough to be considered lucky. Bad loss situations sting but you cannot let them change how you feel about the game. The simplest way I can put it is shit happens to everyone, today was your turn so just deal with it and move on.
Dealing with tilt is something that I sometimes even have trouble with today. There are a few main strategies that I try to use to calm myself down. If you notice you’re on tilt go use the restroom, drink some water, and have something to eat (not candy or anything sugary). If it’s accessible, go outside and get some fresh air. Just some time away from the game can help a person deal with the loss without going on tilt. If that doesn’t work you can go talk to your friends and explain to them what happened. Maybe the situation was unavoidable and they can comfort you on your loss or maybe there is something you overlooked that they could point out so you can do better next time. I always value the information I’ve learned by losing more than the lack of information I gain by winning. To get better you truly have to accept loses, no matter how bad they feel. The last thing you can do is educate yourself about your deck and figure out things that may be problems before they occur. For instance, my deck last FNM was a Maze’s End deck that featured 1 of each gate, 4 mazes ends, and 28 lands total. This means that only half of my lands come into play untapped and a lot of them don’t produce colors to cast most of the spells in my deck. With this in mind I was expecting to have to mulligan fairly often because a hand with Maze’s End, Izzet Guildgate, Boros Guildgate, and Farseek don’t really work well together. If you’re coming off a large string of loses my next piece of advice is to take a break from the deck or format that you’re playing and do something else. Sometimes this means stopping playing Magic entirely for a week or so to let all the anxieties dissipate naturally. If I find myself performing poorly in constructed, I will sign up for a draft or play a game of EDH, and try to get myself into a different situation to get my mind off of losing.
The Art of Learning from a Loss
Most people consider losing to be the worst thing that can happen to you in gaming. When the goal of a game is a binary state (either you won or you lost) it is hard to quantify how close you were to winning to see any marked improvement. Sports, for example, have a much easier way to show how well you did. Maybe the score was 4-3 and you can reasonably say the game was close and you only lost by 1 point. But if you were a game of Magic and your opponent beat you when they had 2 life, was it really close? Sometimes, yes, sometimes you have no cards in your hand and your opponent has 15 lands in play and 7 counter spells in his or her hand. Is that a really close game? People could argue for hours on this topic so most players just value two conditions, win or lose. Now I will be the first to tell you that losing is better than winning if you want to become a better player.
Losing offers a lot more chances for you to learn how to win later. Losing has a weird effect on how you can improve yourself as a player. Generally speaking, players that win will not try to figure out to play better or correct any mistakes they may have made. Losing offers a player the ability to think about their actions and try to figure out a way they could have won if they did things differently. This leads to a scenario where the best player only strives to be better than the next best person by a small margin, not improving themselves further. If we could rate the skill of a magic player on a scale of 0 to 10, with 10 being the best, players would only do well enough to beat the highest person in their group. If the most skilled player is a 2 and most other players that they play with are 0s or 1s then they have no drive further themselves as a player. The randomness of a card game already offers Magic a kind of parity that allows worse players to beat better players sometimes. If you play with players that are of a much larger skill gap than before, then you are likely to lose a lot more often but also likely to learn a lot more as a result. I would recommend trying to play versus the best competition you can whenever you can and not be intimidated. Losing is the great long road to winning.
Ok, the first step to becoming a better player when you lose is keeping your emotions in check. Don’t get angry. Losing is part of the game and someone has it happen to them every match. It doesn’t matter how good you are at the game, you will always be capable of losing. Accepting it as part of the game and the fact that it happens to everyone is the first step to being able to analyze why you lost. If you’re angry you just ruin the experience for everyone around you and make it much harder to be unbiased when looking at the situation. The best advice I can offer is when you lose a game to congratulate your opponent for winning and shake their hand and actually mean it. Accepting defeat and being gracious about it helps keep the negative feelings from coming becoming a problem.
The next thing to do is to look at your hand and the board state and figure out why you lost. Was it because you had a bunch of 5 mana cards and 4 lands? Was it because you had no cards in hand and they had a ton? Sometimes it’s hard to figure out where you went wrong. Maybe you should have mulliganed your slow opening hand. Maybe you should have not attacked on turn. Once you analyze these things you should be able to figure out the sequence of plays that let you win. And sometimes you won’t. Not every game of magic is winnable and sometimes even if you do everything right you will still lose. That’s part of the game and as you get better you realize that there are less of these situations than you originally thought but they still do exist. The best players are the ones that learn to mitigate these issues and lessen the probability of them happening.
Use losing as a challenge to get better and an opportunity to learn. You may not have thought of certain card combinations or actions you could have taken to win the game. If you win, you learn nothing except you THINK you did everything right.
Triggered abilities use the words “If, when, whenever, etc” There is a conditional statement, that when is true, triggers the ability.
Activated abilities use a template of cost : effect. Generally any ability with a colon in it means it is activated because there is a cost to use it.
Static abilities have no conditional or cost and are considered “always on” ex: glorious anthem (All creatures you control get +1/+1.)
Replacement effects usually have words like “instead” to signify that they occur at certain times but are not triggered abilities. They can sometimes look like triggered abilities because they may have a conditional. Replacement effects happen instead of the usual effect and do not count as the effect they are replacing. ex : Rest in Peace’s 2nd ability “ If a card or token would be put into a graveyard from anywhere, exile it instead. “ is a replacement effect and abilities that would trigger when a creature dies (such as undying) will not trigger because the card is never put into the graveyard, it is instead exiled.
Triggered and activated abilities are put onto the stack. Replacement effects and static abilities are not.