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 🙂