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m_hoop

Fun vs Winning

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Hey guys,

So, Enrique (@magonista66) posted an interesting question on twitter last night that I've been thinking about quite a bit, as of late. The actual tweet is: "Keep seeing comments about playing Magic as either fun or about winning. I think it's contextual. & when is it both? Would love ur thoughts." 

I think this is an awesome topic and I, too, am interested in everyone's thoughts. 

One of the reasons I'm personally interested is because I find an interesting paradox in my own play philosophy. I'll try to break it down coherently so as to facilitate discussion.

First and foremost, Magic is a game. While games are designed to be a number of things; fun, engaging, thought provoking, evocative, adaptive - most of them (and MtG is not an exception) begin and end with the idea that there is competition, a winner and a loser. Now, why any individual chooses to get involved with any aspect of MtG is completely independent of the requirement to play. But, if you are playing, you are subject to the idea of a binary (with the exception of draws) end state. Win/lose. 0/1. Personally, I think it's important to start a conversation about 'winning' and it's merits by determining what kind of player you are. If you just like to play because it kills time, if you're an art lover that collects, if you're an investor, or a person that doesn't really need/want to return 'value' to your time/purchases - this discussion isn't really for you, right? However, if you are the kind of person that has the primary concern of gameplay, point number one is - you need to reconcile in your mind that it is OK to value winning. 

Pause button - Winning is important, that's the punchline. However, this assumes a certain degree of decorum, sportsmanship, and propriety with regard to the game environment. You don't have to be a part of whatever social issues, political discussions, or 'movements' that are taking place around your environment or competitor. But, you need to be respectful of them as a human. I tell my employees all the time, 'if you're having a bad day or being confronted with someone who's hostile, rude, or confrontational - retreat to professionalism, not to their level.' The same applies in MtG.

Ok, back to 'play.' There will be people that say, 'oh winning isn't important,' or 'it's most important to have fun.' That's fine, but it does not take into consideration that winning (if you're a competitive player) is just flat-out more fun than losing. Ask yourself when you sleeve up a new deck you're excited to play and go to FNM and have a garbage fire of a night, let's say 0-4, did you have fun? Maybe. But, if we're being honest and you enjoy competitive play, would you have had more fun going 3-1 or 4-0? Probably, right? You should never feel bad about that truth. It's the nature of competition. It's why there is a GP, PPTQ, and PT circuit. Without winning there should be no aspiration to get there. 

Second thing; I would argue that fun is subjective and dependent on a wide variety of factors unique to the individual - experience level, for example. If you take someone fresh off the street and plop them down in their very first FNM - wait, actually, let's assume you gave them some training first. Let's assume you're a decent teacher and managed to get them excited about playing MtG. Now, first FNM. They bomb. 1-3. Maybe 0-4. Did they have fun? Maybe. Maybe not. I offer that winning is far less subjective. It is, or it isn't. There's no, 'I kinda won.' I think this point is valuable to those players who are trying to search for more out of their MtG experience than, 'I just want to go have fun.' 

That brings me to point number three - how long can it be 'fun' absent winning (but not considering losing)? I've been playing MtG (off and on, like most) for a really long time. And, if I really get down to brass tacks, there are a few things that, ones cards start getting shuffled, help with interest. One, obviously, is a winning record. Getting to 0.500 or above is nice. It keeps me (personally) chugging along and motivated to keep playing. But, there's also the idea of playing other formats, playing in different venues, and having peripheral involvement with MtG (deckbuilding, collecting, etc.). I can say this from experience; the primary reason to get into or stay into magic of any variety is to play the game. I think if you looked at the volume of folks who actively engage with the MtG universe (I'm not talking about people who have a box of cards in the attic and haven't seen them in 10 years) most people play. And, again, at core of it - it's a game. Games are meant to be played. Played games are meant to be won. I think there is a huge space out there for people who cosplay, collect, whatever. But, I think the bulk of the 'fun' available is in the play space - because it's so much MORE available.

So, I know that was long winded, but competition means a lot to me. Also, let me say this; I'm not a very good player. That's the paradox I alluded to earlier. I love to play and I love to win, but I don't actually accomplish winning all that much. I insist on my own decks, I don't spend much money, etc. So, it's hard to actually scrape together wins (in constructed). But, to me I view the game like a sport - winning is important for all the same reasons winning in Football, or Soccer, or Rugby, or Formula 1 are. I think losing is equally important. It would be a drastic shame (to me) for the idea that 'it's ok to lose' would become acceptable, unless it was known from the outset that you actively don't care about winning or getting better. Because, ultimately (to me) that's the punchline - if you want to get better at this game, you need to win.

Open for discussion?

M.

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Glad you created this thread, you made some interesting points.  I've been thinking about this since I read @Magonista66 tweet yesterday

 

I think a lot of it depends on the individual and their expectations.

For example, when I play with friends at my place it's usually casual.  We worry more about what we will be eating and drinking that day than what we're playing.  Multi player game fun and rarely does anyone get upset they lost.  Lots of trash talk but it's all in fun.  So if I lose all day, it's not really a huge deal.  It's always fun spending time with friends and family.  Don't get me wrong, it's funner to see a janky deck go off and kill the other players in a multi player game or make the game miserable by making them all discard, mill, take life ect. but overall the expectation is to have fun.

When I play at our LGS or if my playgroup organizes our own tournament, the expectations change.   I usually spend more time and money on those decks, lots of time testing and looking into cards and interactions.  Those games get taken a little more seriously, it's a different mindset.  Part of that is you don't want to show up and go winless after all the time you've spent on a deck.  You want the time and money you've invested to have some kind of return.  

Even when you go 0-X if you are paying attention and finding where you went wrong you go back to the drawing board and make improvements.  You get better and come back next time more prepared.  I'm not a very good player so I try to take the many losses as a learning experience and try to improve.

For me, a lot of having fun even in defeat is your opponent.  If your opponent is respectful then it's not as bad, if they are a bad sport then I get more invested and competitive.  So those losses aren't as fun :)  Even though I spend more time and money on those decks, my main goal is to have fun first and win second.  If I play Magic with a bunch of poor sports and I manage to get first place every time, I'm not having fun.  I'd rather be doing something else with my time than spend it with unpleasant people.  That may be my outlook because I a good amount of friends who like playing Magic or want to learn, so I'm lucky to have options.  

 

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For me I'm right in the middle.  I care very much about winning, and tend to be pretty bummed when I play poorly, but I'm not willing to sacrifice the fun of brewing and building to win more often.  So, I can't say I'm either fun or serious, because I'm not willing to give up the fun of building to win more, but I still build my decks to win, and care very much about it once a game gets started.

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8 hours ago, m_hoop said:

So, I know that was long winded, but competition means a lot to me. Also, let me say this; I'm not a very good player. That's the paradox I alluded to earlier. I love to play and I love to win, but I don't actually accomplish winning all that much. I insist on my own decks, I don't spend much money, etc. So, it's hard to actually scrape together wins (in constructed). But, to me I view the game like a sport - winning is important for all the same reasons winning in Football, or Soccer, or Rugby, or Formula 1 are. I think losing is equally important. It would be a drastic shame (to me) for the idea that 'it's ok to lose' would become acceptable, unless it was known from the outset that you actively don't care about winning or getting better. Because, ultimately (to me) that's the punchline - if you want to get better at this game, you need to win.

Open for discussion?

M.

I had this philosophical struggle myself a few years back.

For me, I broke it simply down into "what can I do that can help me improve while also attempting to maximize fun?" That way, I keep things fun and educational - or at the minimum not stressful, while putting in the least amount of required monetary resources (standard constructed is expensive, etc). And I realized that for myself, I kept to the limited events - draft especially, but sealed when prerelease time comes around. This allowed me to practice card quality, finding synergies, and doing so in a semi-not-really competitive environment that rewards hard work and good gameplay decisions while keeping things pretty chill. I've written off standard as a format due to its costs, and that way if I want to do constructed I can do so either by playing Legacy/Vintage and Commander, or by building silly modern and pauper decks.

Nowadays, I don't mind losing a well involved and good match where I did all I could, but I get internally salty as all hell when my own deck decides to not perform via mana issues (flooding or screw). I'm also especially considerate when it happens on the other side -- it wasn't a real game of Magic, if you're sitting there drawing land after land and you're dying to that bear from turn 2. :(

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I 100% agree!

I love playing Magic, it is by far my most favorite hobby. I love every aspect of it, and I love how it allows any player to basically play as they wish and enjoy the game for any number of reason. However, when I sleeve up a deck I just spent  real hard earned money on, I want to win. When I go to FNM I want to aim for 4-0. I would have fun even if I would go 0-4, because you learn more from losing than you do from winning AND I am playing Magic with people I enjoy interacting with. Learning is a huge factor and part of the fun for me as well. "Woah, that's a combo that you can play? Let me note that down", "that's a sweet interaction, I never thought about that","damn I lost because XYZ, now I know how to improve my deck", so on and so forth; but at the end, I have much more fun if I win. Even when playing with friends I can see that people feel much more "accomplished" when they win.

Just as a quick analogy, let's look at videogames. When you play with friends at home, at an arcade, online, or in any non-competitive scenario where you have nothing to gain or lose from either a win or a loss, which one do you prefer to see on your screen "YOU WIN" or "YOU LOSE"? "LEVEL COMPLETED" or "GAME OVER"? "HEIR OF FIRE DESTROYED" or "YOU DIED"? I am pretty sure for the majority, it's the screen that let's you know you did a good job, that you accomplished your goal, that you were the best among the competition and won. I feel this same concept translates to MTG as well. You can have a ton of fun and lose, but you would probably have more fun if you had won. This is even more true in scenarios where prizes are on the line and you payed some sort of entry fee, such as FNM and other tournaments.

I enjoyed reading your post, very well thought out and written. Would really love to hear more from you in terms of issues, hot topics, or general talk in MTG.

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Awesome answers so far!!

For me MTG is everything at different times. I will take a strong competitive deck to a PPTQ or the occasional PT that we get here in Sydney but rarely to an FNM.

For Gamesday, given there is a playmat and better prizes on the line I will also take something that I know should do well.

Each FNM however I like to take combo jank and just enjoy myself. 

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i have an odd relationship with Magic (& so many other things in life) in that I'm not driven by a need to win or be the best at something, always aiming for perfection.

I come to the game with the idea of having fun as a casual scrub. If I win, then I win & it was most likely luck over skill/deck. If I lose than that is that (unless it was a dirty loss but that's a different matter).

So I am in the fun camp but also can't stand the uber obsessed players who look to win at all costs, challenging every play, reading every card, jumping on every misstep. More so if they dispute solely to disrupt play & break up flow/concentration. People like that kill my fun & were part of the reason that I stopped playing in the mid 90's.

To be honest, I don't have a great temper & get annoyed by people easily but do have a lot of self control so seldom bring the issue to the table unless it's a consistent thing with a very, very tiny amount of individuals (overall, my experience with Magic & TCG players has always been positive & supportive) then it will take away my urge to have fun, turning it into a need to run the person who ruined my game.

This tends to be why I like to stick to casual games & events because win/lose doesn't really matter & you get to see some interesting things.

In the end, I see playing Magic as a social experience & not a major part of my life &/or identity. I love deck building & thought exercises around MtG, I love interacting with so many top people & learning new things from every opponent that I face. So it's all about fun because I know where my skill level is & what my limitations are -which aren't enough to take me to wins at FMN.

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This has been good to read. There are so many factors. When we started with FNM it was Standard and there would be from 16-24 players of various ages and approaches. In one night you could face someone really good and someone playing a silly deck, and lots in-between. It was a fun atmosphere. They also provided everyone a pack for participating and also extra packs for people in top places. It was really enjoyable. Better players would give deck building ideas, and play tips to other players. There were at least a few people who wanted everyone to get better so that it would be better for all.

Our Pauper group started at a store where they don't do participation packs, like many places they call it "consolation" prizes. So as players we started with some playsets of cards that would be "door prizes" to those who didn't place in top 3. Over time it has become more competitive and not everyone is a good "winner." Some days its a blast, win or lose. Other days it feels like I'm just paying money to buy cards for the person with the best "net deck." The home brewing has been cut back and decks I built to practice against are now decks I play every so often. Some players talk and socialize in between rounds and others barely acknowledge you even while playing.

So it is definitely a thing of context for me. I started playing later than most, my adult son got me and my wife started. That makes it fun right there. For us it depends on the decks, the attitudes, and often how close we get. Placing is exciting and fun for sure. It's also exciting when we can get the more competitive players a little nervous by getting them to 1 or 2 life, even if they win. It's been a good family hobby for us and we enjoy the social aspect, and like competing enough to go once or twice a week (Frontier Thursdays and Pauper Sundays).

Thank you all for sharing your thoughts.

Enrique aka @Magonista66 (same handle on Twitter)

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Well Fun or Winning???? That's a very difficult question to answer I certainly know some players who are all about the winning and I also know people who play just for a giggle.

Personally I find it depends what I am playing as I build fun decks and serious decks, also it will depend on my mood lately I have been stressed with getting my new job and in leaving my old one so I have been playing fun decks as a stress relieving exercise so I don't care if I win or lose with them. But I do enjoy being competitive such as with the upcoming modern GP in the UK where I am currently on iteration 15/16 of my sideboard so I can try and make sure I am optimising my play style....

All in all I think everyone is a little of column A and B and it really depends on how serious they are going to take things...

Lasraik, Magonista66 and Manticore like this

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Guys this is awesome stuff. Thanks so much for the response, and to Enrique for the initial idea.

I think one of the big 'things' to me is that you get to make the determination about what matters on any given day. I don't feel obligated to say, 'ok, winning matters, so that's all that matters all the time.' A lot of folks have alluded to (or outright said), 'hey, it depends.' To me, that's hugely important.

What I mean is; I can go to a GP having no other intent than to get the experience and play my cards for the sake of fun jankiness. Similarly, I can go to a GP with the intent to be hyper-aware and competitive. What's important to me is that when I make the decision that winning matters - in this match, event, stretch of time, whatever - it gets to matter and it's not 'wrong.' Just as well, when I make the determination that winning matters, I have to be self aware enough to know that fun is in second place and losing is probably going to hit me harder than it otherwise would.

On this vein, too - I think there's a big responsibility that isn't talked about (as much) when it comes to the people that - at any given point in time - decide winning is the most important thing. I have a little ritual I do at the beginning of almost every single match I play. When my opponent hands me their deck to shuffle before we start, I shuffle, cut, and say, 'best of luck, but not too much. Don't play to raise your blood pressure.' It's goofy, sure, but it reminds me that even if I'm on the warpath of winning, I'm playing a game. I am a huge proponent of sportsmanship, so if I have remembered to check myself, I have essentially given myself permission to say, 'game face, winning matters, losing sucks.' Not saying I do this perfectly, but I think maybe if there was a little stronger of a tendency to have perspective, sportmanship, etc as a prerequisite to competitiveness, it'd be easier for some people to slip into that 'mode.'

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If I played at a competitive event (FNM), then winning was the one goal, and I'd do what I could to win (Nothing funny, just play well and play strong decks). When playing casually, I want to win, but I am also not the type to play miserable 'prison' style decks, or be a total griefer. 

 

I used to be much worse about even playing casually, and have had to work over the years to not take it seriously. There are still things that can tilt me, but the list grows smaller..

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9 hours ago, rainman said:

I just feel sorry for the people who can't separate the two things, who only enjoy the game if it's all going their way

A lot of players struggle to do this and get burnt out because they get caught up in trying to win and not just to have fun!

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I would say that I'm probably 70% for winning and 30% for fun.  If I'm playing a match of Magic, then the goal for me is to win.  I'm always trying to get better and improve as a player. The only way for me to measure my growth as a player is by wins and losses.  When I first started playing, I would never want to play against the great players at the shop, but now I want to play against them all the time.  Also, to clarify something since I said I'm much more about winning, I am perfectly fine with losing a match of Magic as long as I learn something from the match.  If I learn something that will help me to become a better player in the long run, then I count that as an internal victory.  I get most of my fun out of Magic with certain formats and with the players.  Formats like Commander and Cube were meant to be player for fun.  Cube allows me to be serious and win (like sometimes if we cube draft for FNM) or it allows me to just play some 4 color, ridiculous deck that doesn't do anything productive.  I'm not a big Commander person, (I generally prefer Canadian Highlander) but Commander also allows me to just relax and have fun and not care about winning.  I also have fun through the players of the game.  It's fun interacting with people who share a common interest, especially if it's an interest that we are passionate about.  I get fun out of doing YouTube and interacting with this whole community.  I spend more time playing Magic than I do focusing on my channel, but whenever I do upload once a century, I have fun creating it and have fun feeling like my ideas and opinions are valued by others.

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Is Fun vs Winning the only two goals? There are a lot more goals to playing magic. Like friendship, learning, networking, and many others that I still don't know the exact words for. I like to support my LGS. I want to make new friends. I want to test ideas. I want to expand my abilities. I want to help others play better. I want to have a better understanding of the players. Is that psychology?

I learned from my dad that winning is not a solitary goal. Do I want to win? Yes, I enjoy winning. But winning is the smallest of the goals. If that's someone's only goal, they missed the whole point of Magic.

So if someone asks me what is my goal in playing Magic, my answer is I want to become a better person. 

I'm only 11, but I hope that answer's your question.

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I like your outlook... It is so easy to caught up in wanting to win, that often times I've found myself (as an old dude who should know better) becoming angry at how my match is going.  In fact, I no longer play tournament MTG because I get too frustrated and annoyed.

I play to have fun, meet people and learn new ways of putting cards and deck together.  Keep the attitude you have here, it will serve you well!

 

best of luck!

 

scott 

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I definitely agree that winning is a goal of the game, but I think to truly enjoy *playing* magic you have to be able to find satisfaction even when you lose.  I enjoy executing clean lines of play, coming back from tough situations, or getting to go off on a big combo.  I also, as a fairly new player, value learning experiences.  

I (Paul) play a lot of Modern, so a lot of losses I chalk up as "experience" and then go home and think about how to beat that deck in the future.  That's a perfect example of how winning is the goal, but not where my enjoyment comes from.  Recently I got just killed by a combo deck playing UW control.  I played the deck again the next week, and still lost, but played a lot better, did much better at holding up mana for counterspells, and made better sideboard choices.   That was a "fun" night of magic.

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I think it's important, based on the awesome feedback, for me to kind of swing the spotlight back on to one of my primary points. 

There can be any number of 'goals' to playing magic. @Rhino pointed out quite a few, and in positive fashion. But, my original point that I may have diluted with verbosity was - you as the individual get to decide what is important to you during any given iteration of play. 

I think there is a population out there that would suggest that if you even consider winning to be the most important aspect of Magic, you're wrong. What's more; you should feel bad. You should not be 'in it to win it,' or care about winning when 'fun' should be the objective. I think, personally, that's garbage. 

Why I want to win, when, how, and the justifications; those are all mine. Just like they are yours when you make that determination. You don't have to justify it because (dirty little secret) - the importance of winning is self evident. But, if you decide winning is the most important thing (more important than 'fun' on any given night) it does not mean that's all you ever care about. You are not obligated to feel today the same way you felt yesterday. Magic is your game.

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