In my last article, I briefly touched on the topic of losing. I could have written another 6000 words on it, but I feel it warrants its own article. Whenever I played a game with my father as a kid, he would always tell me

“When you win, say nothing. When you lose, say less.”

(Quote attributed to Paul Brown)

This quote has a lot to say about being a graceful winner, and it’s something that’s always going to stick with me. Plenty has been written about the etiquette of winning and losing, when to extend your hand for the post-game handshake, and whether saying “good game” is offensive or not. I’m not going to get into that, because this article isn’t called the Etiquetteworker.

What I would love to talk about in this article is another quote from Paul Brown:

“You can learn a line from a win and a book from a defeat.”

Rather than talking about how we act towards each other in the wake of a win or loss, I’d love to throw some thoughts out there about what we do in the wake of a win or loss, and how it shapes us as players.

Before we get into this, I’d like to make a few things clear – I lose a lot of games in almost every format. I lose in modern playing combo elves. I lose in Frontier playing Jeskai Ascendancy. I lose in limited playing an archetype I shouldn’t be forcing (in fact, I’ve never won a draft). I lose about 3/4 of all the games of Commander I play.

Commander’s kind of unique, though, because a win percentage of 25% is actually about average. All things being equal (decks, skill of pilots, and luck), across a sufficient number of 4-player games, each individual player will end up winning approximately 1/4 of the games. Put another way, each player, on average, loses 3 out of every 4 games they play. They lose 3 times more often than they win.

This week, rather than doing a deck spotlight or a case study, I’d like to go over some of the things I see in games (as well as some of the things I see myself doing in games).

When someone starts winning, the loser’s phone comes out.

I think I see this more than I see any of the other behaviours I’m going to talk about today. The player who’s behind a couple land drops or just had their board wiped asymetrically whips out their smartphone and starts texting their friends or browsing memes. When play comes around to them, they’re totally oblivious to the board state and make hasty, uninformed decisions because they’ve already convinced themselves they’re going to lose.

What should you be doing?

Pay attention! I can’t stress this enough. When one player is running away with the game, pay attention to the cards that are on the battlefield. I like to imagine myself in the winner’s shoes and think up their fastest lines to victory given my knowledge of their deck. You can do this by asking yourself “If I were in my opponent’s shoes, what would I tutor for right now?”. Once you’re done analysing the presumptive winner’s lines, analyse your own! What could you top deck or tutor for that will get you out of this situation? Could any of your opponents top deck or tutor something that would get you out of this situation? Talk about it with them! Some people don’t know what the right target is for their disruption spell, so they just sit on it until it’s too late.

When someone starts winning, people scoop prematurely.

Scooping prematurely is something I used to do a lot. Interestingly enough, my views on it changed after watching this video.

 For those of you who are at work, this is a video of pro player and national treasure Luis Scott-Vargas talking about a local vintage tournament he played at. LSV was playing storm and forgot to put Tendrils in his sideboard as a target for Burning Wish. He made top 8 at this tournament because his opponents in the Swiss rounds instinctively scooped to the Burning Wish because they assumed he had the win.

What should you be doing?

Make them have it! If any one of LSV’s opponents in Swiss rounds had said “Let’s see it”, the outcomes of the games would have been different. In Commander, I often see people scoop to an infinite combo that doesn’t actually kill anybody (but is actually a precursor to being able to kill somebody). These can be things like creation of an arbitrarily large amount of mana or recurring a creature from the graveyard as many times as they want. Without finishers like Walking Ballista or Blood Artist, that mana and recursion doesn’t actually do anything. Forcing the winner to show you their win condition does three things:

  • It ensures that they actually have a way to kill you and aren’t just bluffing it,
  • It reveals information to all players about ways to disrupt their attempt to win the game.,
  • It gives all players an opportunity to assess the board state to ensure that the winner is actually able to execute their win condition. Sometimes when something like Stranglehold, Gaddock Teeg, Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, or Angel of Jubilation have been on the board for a long time, people forget that they’re there. I can’t count the number of games where someone goes through half of their game-ending combo and another player reminds them that they can’t do what they’re trying to do.

When people scoop prematurely, you’ll often see people having a revelation while they’re shuffling up for the next game.

When one player dominates the game, people don’t do a post-game debrief.

When the salt gets flowing it can be pretty tough to be introspective about your deck’s capabilities. For a format where people take every opportunity to understand its social nature, I am constantly blown away by the number of Commander players that don’t engage in regular conversation about misplays, line choices, and tempo swings.

What should you be doing?

I think these conversations are my favourite part about this format. People love talking about their decks – especially right after they’ve won. Simple questions like “Can you walk me through your combo” or “What would you have done if I Pathed your guy just then” can give you tons of insight into how resilient people’s win conditions are, as well as the degree of thought they’ve put into building their deck.

As a general rule after losing games, I like to think about what the turning point of the game was. Sure, you lost to a lucky top decked Craterhoof Behemoth, but the Behemoth probably isn’t the sole reason why you lost that game. Why did your opponent have the resources to cast it when they did? Why did they have enough creatures on board to take full advantage of its ETB trigger? The answers to these questions often come from much earlier in the game, and it can often be super helpful to make the distinction between “why you lost” and “what killed you”.

At the risk of bogging down this article with yet another sports cliche, you have to be lucky to be good, and good to be lucky. After you start doing this post-game exercise for awhile, you begin to realise that the players that always seem to have it, have built their decks in a way where it’s easier to always have it.

After a loss, the losers don’t think about the big picture.

Losses do a great job of highlighting the losing decks’ deficiencies – this is exactly what we mean when we say that you can learn a book from a loss. I hate seeing people point fingers about overpowered cards or strategies, because quite often the problem is that their meta is woefully under-prepared to deal with them, rather than the objective power of any particular card.

 What should you be doing?
When you lose, take note of the characteristics of the win:
  • Did the winner crush you with permanents, spells on the stack, or a combination of both?
  • What types of things did they do to prevent you from interacting with them?
  • Were you close to winning when the game ended?

With the answers to these questions, we can look critically at our own decks and ask more specific questions like:

  • What solutions are available to me in my colour identity?
  • What can I do in the early game that creates an environment where that win scenario is difficult to achieve?
  • How much of my deck is devoted to advancing my own game plan, and how much of it is devoted to disrupting other players?

During a losing effort, losing players tend to make bad plays that they wouldn’t normally make.

There’s one key behaviour I’d like to call out here:

Rolling dice to decide who you attack (for all commanders except Ruhan of the Fomori). Being a social format, I understand why people do this. They don’t want to hold back attackers against a clear board but they also don’t want to make an enemy.

What should you be doing?

Own your attacks! There’s usually a good reason to attack people in the early game. If someone is likely to use life as a resource in the late game (usually via Necropotence or Sylvan Library), then attacking them early is actually preventing them from drawing cards in the late game. In my books, that’s a pretty great use of a mana dork if you’re not going to use its mana to cast anything.

Similarly, there are some other things you can generally count on when you’re making these decisions:

Aggro decks will generally try to attack the player with the lowest life total. Attacking one of your other opponents can make them a good target for future attacks.

If a player executing their strategy helps you execute yours, it’s in your best interests to keep them in the game as long as possible. This means it’s sometimes appropriate to spend cards or resources to help them out. At the very least, think long and hard about reducing their access to resources in the early game if you think you’ll need them around in the late game.

If you know a player’s strategy either hoses your own or wins in a way that you can’t interact with, it’s generally an indication that you should attack them in the early game. If you’re playing Meren and someone sits down with Anafenza the Foremost, the dice stay in the dice bag. In the same way, Turn zero threat assessment should be throwing alarm bells if you’re playing mono-black and one of your opponents is playing Hanna, Ship’s Navigator.

All this to say that it’s fine to roll dice when all things are equal, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen a situation where all things are equal. If someone asks why you’re attacking them, feel free to explain exactly how you arrived at that decision.

After losing multiple times in a row to the same strategy, people shuffle up the same deck and play again.

There are a few reasons why people do this, and I think the most common one is budgetary constraints. It’s fine to only have one Commander deck, but know that it’s holding you back.

Another thing my dad always told me (and this is the last cliché, I promise) is:

“If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you always got.”

This quote floats around a lot, and sometimes people use different words like “the definition of insanity”. However you say it, it’s really true.

What should you be doing?

Find a way to shake things up. Borrow a deck if you can (I really love doing this). Playing someone else’s deck helps you understand what the game looks like from their perspective, and helps you prepare for things that they’re likely to do at each point in the game. If I’m playing against Yisan and he’s got 5 verse counters, I’m probably going to sandbag my mana rocks rather than rolling them out because one of his options at 6 is Bane of Progress. I could probably arrive at this decision naturally after getting demolished by Bane of Progress 30 times in a row, or I could play the deck once and see that it’s the natural decision given most board states at that point in the game.

Pull out a sharpie and goldfish with some play test cards to see how you feel about drawing them in the early, middle, and late game. This is especially important whenever you make big changes to your deck, because it helps you decide on what kind of opening hands are appropriate to accomplish different things in the mid- and late-game. What kind of a board state can you build if you keep a hand that’s heavy on disruption? What about fast mana acceleration? What about mostly lands? These are questions you should know the answer to, and gold-fishing is a super important part of finding the answers.

These are all behaviours that I see people (myself included) engaging in on a regular basis, but I’d love to hear your stories of losing! What kinds of things do you focus on when you lose games, and how has it contributed to your growth as a player? Next week we’re going to be talking about multiplayer threat assessment, but if I get a few good stories I’d love to share them prior to that article.


If you are struggling with a problem in your local meta, send an e-mail to with a detailed description of the dominant threats in your meta. Be sure to include the commander (and archetype if applicable) as well as the pilot’s preferred ways of closing out the game. Also include your decklist, budget, and any deckbuilding restrictions you’ve imposed on yourself (themes, house rules/banlist, and overall spikiness of your playgroup). Your situation may be solved in a future installment of The Metaworker.




Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.