If I had a lifetime to train as a fighter, I would specialize in counters. I would wait until my opponent attacked, then analyze and redirect it to throw him off balance, following up with an attack at the newly created opening.

When I play chess, I always prefer to be black because I do not like taking the initiative when the sides are equal. Even when playing white, I would use the extra move to build up a fortified position. As my opponent would mount an offense, I would deftly repel the attack and then take advantage of the weakness caused by overextending. (Skip to the next paragraph if you’re not a chess geek.) I’m sure you’ve seen a bishop dive towards the side of the board close to the opponent’s pawns in their starting positions in order to snatch up a piece. And I’m sure you’ve seen the bishop get chased back by the pawns, leading to the bishop getting stuck in some obscure nook while the pawn player’s bishop, knight, rook, and possibly queen now have room to breathe. I’m the pawn player. They’ve looked to gain a small advantage or equalize the playing field, and I’ve manipulated the situation to deny it and open up more possibilities for me.

When I play Magic: The Gathering, I actually do not choose to go second. This is because I do not have to actively create new opportunities with all my pieces like in chess; rather, a new opportunity presented to me automatically each turn as I draw cards, and going first ensures that I can strike at an exposed opponent as early as possible. The board starts as a clean slate, unlike chess where everything is already defended. Indeed, my Magic playing style is no different than that of chess or fighting: I am what is aptly called a control player. I enjoy playing cards that break down the foundation my opponent tries to set up, or that nullify his efforts and leave his resources exhausted. By locking my opponent down, I can set up for a decisive blow. I also have a somewhat comparable propensity for cards in aggro decks, since constant overwhelming force keeps the opponent off-balance sometimes more efficiently than a control player could hope for.

I should have expected that in mediums with so many different approaches, I would learn more about myself by examining the strategies I used. I approach social situations the same reserve I bring to duels in Magic and chess. I want to predict the best thing to say or do, but that requires me to deeply understand the people I’m dealing with. I strive to be empathic to the point where I’m easily overloaded. I can read a single person, and am comfortable with a group of sociable friends, but group dynamics with an unknown person tend to be too much for me. In those situations I simply blank out: I’m fully aware of what is going on, and will respond to questions directed towards me, but I can’t manage to think of anything to say. Even when conscious of my absence in the conversation, my mind works impossibly slower at generating anything beyond interjections.

I prefer to read and respond. I may start up conversation with you, perhaps lead a discussion, but make no mistake, I’m still of the same disposition, I’ve just analyzed the situation and determined that provoking a reaction was the best move. I mentally jot down potential conversation starters as the talk progresses, ready to whip out the most interesting one when the energy wanes. With groups, talks tend to move around too much for me to complete so many mental calculations. I can always jumpstart a conversation, but I can’t think of ways to insert my own thoughts between keeping contingency plans and reading the everyone’s attitudes.

I’ve noted many times, most poignantly when handing in late papers, that I should lower the standards I set for myself. If I did not expect myself to be able to handle my opponent’s attack, how would my chess playing be affected? Would I not be as addicted to denial cards in Magic? Would I be more outspoken in conversations?

Cristen’s continued presence in my life answers my question for me. Yes, if I changed my attitude, my behavior would change, possibly for the better. But at the same time, I can be wonderful just the way I am.

2 comments on Draw-go

  1. do you notice that america often has battle-related terms and platitudes? “the war against (abstract noun),” “fighting my inner demons,” “i’m wiped out,” and so on.
    yeah, just an observation partially based on your entry. and having taken anthropology, i should analyze the cultural and sociohistorical implications of this, but i’m too lazy to.

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