Devin Koepke: The Golden Rule

It’s 7:30 in the morning, and you and three other people drove four hours to sleep in a mediocre hotel room. The air conditioner won’t turn off and you’re pretty sure you caught some strain of pneumonia. After taking a hot shower with some hotel soap and realizing that the other people in the room used all the towels, you’re ready for your first tournament outside the friendly confines of your local game store.

Devin Koepke

Devin Koepke

The tournament turns out to be much bigger than expected, and as a result you feel much smaller. You keep muttering to yourself that everything is OK, and you’re going to smash your Round 1 opponent regardless of who they are. You sit through the player meeting and the terrible jokes that come with it. After trudging through the sea of sweat, you finally make it to the pairings board. The anticipation to see your first victim’s name is almost too much to take. You find your name, block off the other names on the piece of pink paper, and slide your finger over to your opponent. Your body turns hot, your heart beat increases tenfold, and you begin to contribute to the sea of sweat.

After finding your seat you pull out all the equipment you will need for battle. Midway through this soon-to-be ritual for the day your opponent sits down without a word. Just pulls out a deck and a pad of paper and waits for you to do the same. He doesn’t smile, doesn’t show any any signs of happiness to see you, and isn’t what you thought of when you ventured this far out of your comfort zone. You go through the motions of introducing yourself and he does not reciprocate. The only thing he is here for is to play the match and walk away. Somehow the confidence you had at the beginning of the day has vanished; a small chill crawls up your spine and is quick to make it to your head. You’re intimidated and you hate how it makes you feel. You muster up the guts to ask for a high roll. Your opponent rolls two dice without saying a word. You win the die roll and feel a slight reprieve. The match starts and immediately you know that it’s a bad match-up and all you can think is how unlucky you are. That small chill has mutated into something much greater and is currently engulfing your body.

All of a sudden, you win Game 1. The chill subsides and an adrenaline rush brings much need warmth. The match-up is still bad post board, and in Game 2 you make a motion to block a creature that will devour yours without a scratch. Then you take a step back, re-evaluate, and decide not to block. Your opponent thinks damage happened and without hesitation bellows out for a judge. You didn’t know how much bass he had in his voice. The judge ends up ruling in his favor due to some wordplay and you lose the game.

Beaten, but not broken, you present for Game 3. After a grueling game, you end up getting incredibly lucky and win the match. Your opponent furiously signs the match slip and bolts for the door. No handshake to be had on this day. You’re incredibly happy that you won, but you lose the next three rounds, all to opponents with the same demeanor. After the tournament you think about your experience and wonder if you ever want to go through it again. You wonder if this will continue to happen, if you will continue to get crushed by unsportsmanlike conduct and mental harassment. After days of thought and deliberation you decide not to go to the next tournament, or the one after that. You think that Magic: The Gathering is full of hatred and lies, and you spend your time elsewhere.

Your opponent.

Think about how many times this has happened. Think of how many times someone was rude or unsportsmanlike in a match. Think of how many time you have done the same. Now, try to think how Magic has impacted your life and the joy it has brought you. Every time something like this happens you steal that same joy from someone. If you take pleasure in taking this joy you may want to go get that checked out, because you may have bigger problems than not winning a tournament.

Every person has their own threshold of how much stress they can handle, and it can change from day to day. Maybe the day where you wake up incredibly early to play a card game for 10 hours could add some stress to the occasion. I know that I’ve woken up to that exact hotel room I described, and I legitimately contemplated my life decisions and decision-making ability. Most people don’t realize how big of an affect they have on each other. Others go out of their way to put doubt in the certain, fear in the fearless, and anger in the calm. So unless you take pleasure in watching other people feel uncomfortable I have some tips and tricks on how to make the experience more enjoyable for both yourself and your opponents.

Tip 1: Introduce yourself and ask how your opponent’s day has been going.
Even if you could not care less about how their day is going it is good to show that you have a working vocal chord. It cuts the tension of a match and will make both players more at ease, which in turn helps lead to a pleasant match.

Tip 2: Don’t make idle conversation during your opponent’s turn.

Imagine that you are in a very complicated turn that takes every bit of your mental fortitude, and your opponent asks you if you have a dog. If so, what is the dog’s name and why does he urinate on the carpet? If you’re thinking of the answer to those questions instead of what you need to be doing on your turn, it breaks your focus and lessens your chances of winning.

It may seem like a great idea to use idle chit-chat to break your opponent’s focus and increase your chances of winning, but is it really the way you want to win? If so, see the previous advice about seeking help.

Tip 3: Recognize signals and use them to decide whether to offer or not offer a handshake, say good game, or wish them luck in the next round.

Remember what I said about everyone having their own unique level of stress? This is the perfect time to trust me on that.

Anybody seen my umbrella?

If there is one thing you can count on in Magic it’s that you will run into at least one salt factory per tournament. This person will be disgusted with how the match ended even if you have taken all the appropriate precautions to make sure the match was pleasant for them. You’re going to want to treat these opponents like a Siberian tiger in the wild. Sign the match slip and walk away from the table in a slow and easy motion. Be sure not to make any sudden movements, or show your back to them. Turning your back to a salty tiger is the easiest way to get mauled.

Even if you don’t care about the people you meet, you have to care about the game you spend so many hours playing. Imagine if every person’s first tournament experience was like the one I described above. How many of those people don’t come back? 5 percent? 10 percent? 50 percent? People always hark on how great and wonderful the Magic community is, but I can almost guarantee that every one of you can remember an opponent that made you want to stop playing. What if you were that opponent to someone?

The moral of this story is extremely simple: Be nice to people. You never know if the next person you meet is going to be your wife, husband, best friend, roommate, and so on. Every person you are cold to shuts off a potential resource in the future, and you can take that however you like. The asset depends on the person. Are they rich in the traditional sense? Rich in humor, rich in friendship? Don’t let something as little as losing burn bridges that could lead to the promise land. Just remember that every person has their own story, including you, and we all have a part to play.

Devin Koepke is a Midwest grinder who will jump in a car and travel off to a far off land at any opportunity. Specializing in whatever the tournament is that weekend, he has a wide range of knowledge and skills that he is excited to share with you. So sit back, crack open an ice cold beverage and get your Hot Pocket out of the microwave, because this is going to be fun. 

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Devin Koepke