Card Games · Friday Night Magic · Psychology · Social Dynamics

Why I Hate Playing Magic: the Gathering With My Spouse

Tom and I have just entered our LGS, but we’ve arrived a bit late. There’s one pod still open, but there’s only one seat available. I gleefully flee from Tom’s clutches, running to claim the throne that is rightfully mine. (Don’t worry – another game opened up for him less than two minutes later.) On occasion, I rejoice in being seated far far away from my husband’s artifact loving, graveyard recurring, “life is a resource” quoting self. Likewise, I’m sure he enjoys time away from his politicing, card drawing, sneak-attacky wife.

Tom proudly showing off his favourite mana colour and me supporting him in his life choices.

It sounds horrible, doesn’t it? Let me explain.

The two of us have very different dispositions. Where as I’m the definition of an apologetic people-pleasing Canadian who might ask for permission on any given play, Tom is calm, confident, has an excellent recall for rules and no problems with confrontation when needed. He’s one of those people that seem to be proficient at anything he puts his mind to and he speaks clearly and with authority. Stereotypical INTJ if you’re into that Meyers-Briggs stuff. Me on the other hand? Well, let’s just say that opposites attract. (Har har.) Jokes aside, I ask more questions than Tom does and have a quieter voice that sometimes people have to strain to hear. At the same time, I seem to have an awkward-charisma (going to have to copyright that term) that allows me to make connections with people quickly. My ENFP self delights in the acquaintances I make during my games and, on occasion, how I can best use deals and partnerships to my advantage.

With the two of us in direct juxtaposition, it somehow influences both of our games negatively.

Tom waiting for a game at CardHaven in Bellingham, WA.

For starters, Tom gets targeted immediately if I’m at the table. And hard. It doesn’t matter what deck he’s playing, he gives off the feeling that he knows exactly what he’s doing and nobody’s going to like whatever it is. The Journal of Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking published a study that identified connections between personality types and card games. Tiffany Myers Cole helpfully summarizes the article by pointing out that successful players are generally cool under pressure, decisive, and confident. This could definitely factor in to how Tom is perceived by other players when he sits down at a table – particularly with his helpless, quietly extroverted wife in tow. He looks like the epitome of a successful player who’s been playing for ages whereas I look like I just purchased my first precon. No one would ever guess that we both began playing together and have roughly the exact same amount of knowledge, experience, and wins under our belts.

Due to an assumed “bold and daring” personality on Tom’s part, many players could be motivated by a fear of expected confrontation or failure and decide to try to go all in to preemptively deal with the problem. Generally, before he’s even been able to develop a board state, he’s put into stasis. However, this dynamic seems to change if I’m not there to further highlight his self-assured personality traits. He has relatively normal and balanced games with only a few instances of targeting, but usually in response to a threat that he’s introduced.

Tom and I finishing a game after eliminating two opponents – a rare occurrence! Mugu Games in Everett, WA.

On my side of things, if Tom and I are at a table together, I tend to get waves upon waves of input and suggestions and reminders and advice from other players. My board state gets commandeered by people I’ve only just met and I start making actual mistakes due to a mixture of frustration and anxiety. People tend to assume I’m only there because Tom brought me and that I need all the help that I can get. Endearing as the assistance is, it also puts me in an awkward situation because I might have to have a dreaded conflict in having to ask people to back off and therefore assert myself. (Pretty much the scariest thing ever to me.) My entire game plummets in a whirlpool of nervousness and loss of focus. This is, after-all, primarily a social experience to me and receiving this kind of reaction from others makes me feel like I’m failing miserably.

If I’m at an entirely different playgroup from Tom, opponents don’t make the assumption that I’m only there because my partner is. I’m simply another player at the table. This doesn’t mean that I’m never going to miss a single trigger, but I’m in no way overwhelmed with backseat deck pilots. Instead, I’m able to relax, crack jokes, and react more mindfully to my opponents’ plays.

Caleb Durward wrote an article for Channel Fireball titled On Stress, Tilt, and Anxiety. In it, he points out the psychological factors that influence a game of Chess, which could also be applied to Magic. “Never blame yourself for blunders during a game. Otherwise you may become so obsessed with it you will make matters even worse”, he quotes. Man – if this hasn’t been my experience! Of course Tom is completely faultless regarding the way that other players perceive and act towards me. However, without having potential blunders constantly being brought to my attention, my games are much smoother and I’m able to secure more wins.

The title of this post was a bit misleading. I’ve complained a lot about sitting at the same table as Tom – in part, because it makes this article write smoother. The truth is, I love having a hobby that we can bond, enthuse, and brainstorm about together. Although our games might often suffer when seated in the same pod, it’s still fun to go home and spill the tea about what we thought about our shared matches and how our decks performed.

After-all, EDH isn’t all about winning. Sometimes it’s about what we learn about ourselves and each other along the way.

What’s your Meyers-Briggs personality type? How does it match up to your game-play? Let me know in the comments!

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