Reducing Anxiety: Pre-Game Procedure

Playing paper magic can be a bit overwhelming for people like me who struggle with social anxiety. I have been reflecting over things I wish I had been told when I first started playing competitively and having a “pre-game procedure” was high on the list. Practice makes perfect. When you have a procedure to follow, the unfamiliar task of getting to know and start a match with a strange opponent becomes manageable. This is my strategy, which hopefully you find useful and applicable.

Part 1: The materials checklist

Maybe it’s a bit basic but just keeping my supplies at the top of my backpack and not stressing over where my deck is helps keep me calm prior to starting the round. I usually wrap my dice bag, deck and life pad up in my playmat. My dice bag also holds pens so I don’t have to fish one out from the bottom of the bag or scramble to find one as I prepare to play the round. Every little bit you can do to avoid fretting over things that are not game-play help keep your mind calm.

Part 2: Greeting the opponent

This is the biggest stressor for me. I’m introverted. I enjoy talking to friends and I don’t hate other people but making small talk is hard and I’m pretty awkward. I find that I tend to worry about what to say or how I will come off and that worrying will send me spiraling into caring way too much about things that are not the match ahead of me. I want to reduce the amount of time I spend worrying about getting along with my opponent. I came up with a routine to help smooth out this process. The first thing I ask is for my opponent’s name and spelling. Then, I immediately record this information on the life pad. I ask my opponent what they like to be called because it’s not always what’s on the slip. This accomplishes a lot. It creates a non-threatening environment. You’re signaling respect to your opponent by caring about their name. Also by writing it down right away, you won’t forget what to call them during the match. Sometimes an opponent will want to introduce themselves right away, before I have my life pad out. I make sure to always follow the routine and still ask what their name and spelling is, something such as “I know you told me your name, but I’m sorry I didn’t have a chance to write it down. What was it again?”

Part 3: Deck check

Forgetting to de-sideboard is an unfortunate part of paper magic. I had it happen to me before and luckily discovered the card in my opening hand. I was able to resolve the issue prior to the game starting (by mulliganing after fixing my deck) but adding a deck check to your pre-game procedure will greatly reduce the chance of it happening. Doing one quick pile count to guarantee no lost cards and one quick check of the contents of the sideboard puts me at ease. It’s hard to have your mind wander when you’re counting. It adds control. You become present instead of stressing out over what the match result might mean, what record you need, what punts happened last round, etc.

Part 4: Determining order of play

I decided a few years ago that I cared most about creating a non-hostile game environment. Insisting on 2 dice vs 1 die, insisting on even/odd instead of high roll, insisting on any part of how order of play is determined just put me in an argumentative state prior to the match. When I feel threatened by my opponent, it’s hard to keep the game fun. I find I just want the match to be over and I play worse because of it. I play competitive magic to win, but I also play to have fun and enjoy myself. Some opponents are superstitious and asking them what preference they have will ensure a non-hostile environment. My set phrase is “Do you have a preference for determining who will go first? Do you like high roll or even/odd?” It’s pretty easy to develop this habit and in my experience the opponent has always appreciated being asked.

And that’s it! As always, feel free to leave me feedback 🙂

Episode 51 – Season of Growth

Teresa, Zyla and Chantelle explore the importance of growth oriented mindsets, the results of MCVI and what to play in Standard. (Spoilers, it involves food!)

Keep up with the cast: @CombatantsMTG and or check out our Patreon at!
Chantelle Campbell: @ctellecampbell
Teresa Pho: @teresapho
Sarah Zyla: @babyberluce

A Woman’s Guide to Supporting Other Women in Magic

I am still trying to figure out woman/woman relationships, because they are complex. If by the end of reading you feel like you have constructive feedback, I would love to hear it. This is a bit of my journey from how I went “I’m not like other girls” to joining a podcast centered around promoting non-male grinders in Magic, AND THEN changing my attitude to supporting my fellow grindettes.

The first step: changing the mindset of women as competition to allies. When you feel like you’re not like other girls, you feel like you have to do something to stand out amongst the crowd, to distance yourself, to be better than the others. We’re all competitive–that’s a huge part of why we play magic. I understand that drive, but it’s toxic to see your fellow women as competition. I read a post after a woman qualified for the PT that was along the lines of “I was expecting [criticism] from men, but what really hurt was that it came from women”. That deep-seeded jealousy is driven from this way we only see other women as our competition. It prevents you from truly celebrating fellow women’s accomplishments. It turns you bitter. The other fault in this mindset is you devalue women and can even make you misogynistic. You want to put them down to raise yourself up. I had an ex-friend of mine who never truly respected or valued me. She told me I was flat-out not good enough to play a GDS for example. She didn’t trust my opinion on drug choice after explaining drug mechanisms which given that I am a pharmacist was a bit insulting. Her lack of respect for me and my intelligence was one of the driving forces for me ending the friendship, but I feel like this is a common trap woman/woman relationships surrender to. You have to value your fellow women as allies who can help you, instead of worrying that they will steal your spotlight or one-up you if they show their intelligence or skill. Not everything has to be a competition. At GP Richmond this past weekend, my friend Tania who was also battling in day 2 blurted out how she was convinced I was a better player than her. I told her to stop. We don’t need to compare ourselves to one another. I don’t want to be a better player than her. I don’t want us to be in competition. (AND side note she placed higher than me in the GP!) I wanted her to be there supporting me on day 2, and I’m sure as hell thankful I get to support her too after the rounds. It feels great to complain or rejoice depending how the round went to someone who just gets it. She gets every part of it–the fire to qualify, the setbacks, and the sometimes rampant misogyny. She was my strongest ally that weekend and it is MILES better than when I attended GPs without my woman network of friends. I used to read manga alone on my phone between rounds and eat by myself. There are so few of us, trust me it is so empowering when you do not have to deal with it alone.

The second step: being there and respecting your allies. I feel like often this gets confused with throw money at your fellow women content makers. And that could be a way to support people who have taken the plunge (Jamie “Topples” comes to mind) but I would argue this is almost gross negligence for the day to day fight we are making. Money doesn’t change attitudes. It doesn’t help stop sexist jokes or harassment. It doesn’t help create the atmosphere where we feel comfortable competing. I signed up for podcasting largely because I did not know what it was and it seemed like a great opportunity to get to know some serious grindettes. When you’re an adult, it’s hard to make friends. (We take these freebies). But the opportunity turned into me realizing how much I had to learn. Not only does it feel so good venting to those who GET IT, but it feels incredible to hear from fellow women with SO MUCH INSIGHT. And when you’re listening to their plights every week you just feel so in sync. It helped me be happy for them when they accomplish their goals, instead of jealous. Chantelle said something like there’s plenty of room up here for all of us and it’s fucking true. Because one of us qualifies for a PT does not mean she will be the only one to qualify, and the more of us who qualify I hope will mean the more space we take at the table. The more men will have to accept we have a right to that space at the table. It’s not zero-sum (as in it has to be me because it can’t be both of us—it CAN be all of us grindettes). If we want to change the attitudes of all of those in the game, we have to adjust our own first. We have to be in this together. I don’t know how many women feel this way, but I’m at my happiest when someone asks me about my opinion on a play, a deck, a draft pick, etc. Treat your fellow grinders like the smart, talented resources they are. And for those of us who are more experienced in the game, be a resource for the new blood. I see a world where we are a network of grindettes helping each other, coaching new blood, discussing deck choices, draft picks etc. AND making it so Wizards at least orders unisex shirts for the PT welcome bags because so many of us qualify.