The Best Player Syndrome has been making whiny Magic players feel better about themselves for more than ten years. It is time to debunk that myth.
Razjah made a comment at the end of Graveborn Muse’s article about the Top 10 multiplayer theory articles. Rather than send you to the comment, I thought I’d bring the comment to you:
I would love to see someone address the BPS (Best Player Syndrome). I am my group’s best player. I have the most decks, been playing the longest, and win the most. Actually, due to the increasing number of new players, I have been doing even better than previous years. But I am always The Threat. Once I topdecked an Exsanguinate to come back from a game and now I can never be left alone even when I am the only player with the answers to the table’s current threat.
This is made worse by my group’s size. We often have 16 people and 12 at the minimum each week. To combat the large groups and the mismatched skills we randomize who sits at each table. Now the new players don’t believe me about playing a weak deck and to have a chance I always need to play a strong deck.
Graveborn Muse and I were both excited to discuss BPS, so we have put together “point/counterpoint” articles. Expect to see Graveborn Muse use illogical reasoning and emotional pleas as a way to try to counter my unassailable logic!
Abe Sargent first coined the term Best Player Syndrome in a September 20, 2004 article on StarCitygames. As he described it, someone suffering from BPS has three symptoms:
1. Everyone expects the Best Player to have answers to any situation. This is hardly surprising. The Best Player wins regularly, and in such a fashion that everyone remembers the wins. The Best Player plays decks that have answers to what everyone else does and uses those answers to get wins. This leads everyone to expect the Best Player to have the answers since he always seems to have the answers to win games.
2. Killing the Best Player is a point of pride amongst the Best Player’s playgroup. Since killing this player is far more difficult than killing any other player, it is not surprising that other players treat it as a feather in their cap when they can take down the Best Player.
3. The Best Player never gets a break. When the Best Player shows any signs of weakness, everyone is all over him.
Limitations of Definition
Use of the term “Best Player”
My problem with the definition of BPS is that the definition was produced by someone who believes they are the best player in their group. There is no impartial perspective.
Side note: When I capitalize Best Player, I am referring to the Best Player as defined by the BPS. When I don’t capitalize best player, I am referring to the actual best player.
Abe believed that he was the best player in his group because his playstyle dominated his playgroup, winning him several games. I can’t speak for Abe’s group. I don’t know if Abe was truly the best player in his group or simply the Best Player. What I can say is that the two descriptions are not the same.
I define the best player in the group a little differently. The best player in a group is the player that wins the most often over an extended period of time. The Best Player can be the best player, but the best player is not necessarily the Best Player.[i] Let me give an example to try to clear this up.
Consider Daryl.[ii] He plays multiplayer every week with a group of four to seven guys and wins two or three games out of the five games that get played in a night. Daryl’s decks are loaded with Pernicious Deeds and various Titans. The decks smash everyone on the table for ridiculous amounts of damage. It is only due to the concerted effort of everyone he is playing against, that he loses. This goes on for a couple more weeks, until every week when Daryl shows up, he is immediately attacked before he can even get anything going, leaving him to win only sporadically. Daryl is the group’s Best Player.
Consider Bruce. He plays in that same group. He manages to get a win or two every week. His decks have some utility creatures and interesting plays, but he rarely plays anything as splashy as Daryl. His play during the games is generally animated and he laughs and chats with his friends and has a good time, just like Daryl and everyone else in the group. His board position is rarely ever wide open, and rarely is he considered The Threat. Daryl is usually The Threat. Bruce rallies the troops and works with everyone else to bring Daryl down, usually at just the moment that Bruce is able to swoop in for the victory. Bruce is the group’s best player.
Abe, as a proactive player defined the Best Player as the most powerful proactive player in a group that has a slight power imbalance. Abe saw no value in reactive play, and thus never considered a reactive player who wins games that no one even notices, as a Best Player. This produced his biased definition of Best Player.
A year later Abe wrote another BPS article. In it he recognized the problem in being the Best Player, without realizing his bias:
The Best Player must always be prepared for people to attack the Best Player, despite a board condition or deck choice that would suggest other targets are more appropriate… When the Best Player sits down to play at a multiplayer table, that player must be prepared to defeat the entire table, single-handedly.
The Best Player eliminates his ability to use the best resource at the table: the other people playing! This doesn’t necessarily make you the best player, but you likely have the biggest ego.
Best Player is needed to keep games going
Abe’s other comment made the ego issues involved in defining the Best Player clear to me:
…I learned that it is incumbent upon me as the Best Player to winnow the chaff. I have to play a decent deck designed to kill people and keep the game moving, or else the game stagnates and it takes four hours to play. It wasn’t even a four hour Epic Struggle, it was an anticlimactic life-gaining, card-drawing fest. I am the grim-reaper of the table.
For I have learned that the most important aspect of the Best Player Syndrome is the responsibility that I have to take on in order to further the group itself. I have to provide a foil and a reason to keep playing.
After all, somebody has to be the Best Player.
A dominant proactive player is not required for interesting multiplayer games, in spite of Abe’s belief. My current playgroup is a case in point. We have some stronger players, some weaker players, some reactive players and some proactive players. This mix has produced Magic nights that are generally interesting and games that are involved and fun.
The idea that “somebody has to be the Best Player,” is simply the Best Player patting themselves on the back and pretending they are essential to the group. They are not essential to the group; they are chosen by default. If there is one player who has a ton of cards and crazy over the top explosive decks, who plays a proactive style, they are the Best Player. If that person leaves, either the next most proactive player with explosive decks becomes the BP or the group reaches a level where there is equality in the group.
(Avoid) Becoming the Best Player
So how do you avoid becoming the Best Player? If you read last week’s article, you are well on your way. The easiest way to avoid being the Best Player is to simply play Magic. Most groups don’t have a Best Player, but instead have a selection of players with similar talent. Just play your game and you won’t have to worry about being labeled as the Best Player. If you can see yourself beginning to dominate an inordinate number of games, perhaps it is time to limit your plays to ensure you are able to control the strongest person at the table, but never appear to be the strongest person at the table. Just because you can play your Primeval Titan before anyone else can put a creature on the board doesn’t mean you should do it.
I’m also not saying that you can only be a reactive player. You can be a proactive player and still avoid being the Best Player, but you have to be aware that if you are the dominant player in most of the games, you are risking being stuck with the Best Player label. This is much easier to avoid than to get rid of once you already have it, so take care!
But I already am the Best Player
So finally, I get to Razjah’s issue: he already is the Best Player. What can you do about it?
Razjah is lucky enough to be in a larger group that breaks into smaller tables. This allows him to stack the tables if he chooses. Pick the better players in the group and put them all at one table. Perhaps your resonance as Best Player in your group would not ring so loudly if all the other good players were playing in the same game?
Another option is to set up mini, casual tournaments. Put everyone at random tables, then set the winners up against each other at one table. You get the same effect as the earlier suggestion, without labeling the rest of the group as weaker players.
There are really two solutions as far as deckbuilding goes, and each is dependent on your playstyle. If you are a proactive player, Abe Sargent suggested you build your decks based on the assumption that everyone is out to get you. This is certainly an option but not one that I would recommend. Following this route just means that you are going to play every Magic game as though it were an Archenemy game. That gets boring fast, and not just for you. How do you think your opponents feel, being constantly reminded that they have to kill you first before they can think about enjoying a game. I’ve heard the argument that they should just build better decks, but that is crap too. Many people playing casual Magic simply don’t have the time, the money, or the inclination to build better decks. For many players, Magic is a night to relax and not think about work. If it isn’t fun, they won’t continue playing. You risk being the Best Player in a group of one.
A second solution is to ramp down your decks and prepare to lose. Any solution that involves you no longer being the Best Player in your group will demand that you stop winning, at least for a while. Start playing bad theme decks and trying to maximize bad cards. Keep trying to be the best, but find ways to handicap yourself that aren’t completely obvious to the group. You will lose far more often, but your wins will be sweeter and eventually you won’t have to face the constant early attacks that make no sense.
You can try explaining who the real threat on the board is. This solution is pretty dangerous, since you are the Best Player and it will mostly likely come off as misdirection and people will ignore it. However, if you are consistently correct with your assessment, it could push people in the right direction. You will want to explain why you think someone else is the real threat, and you’ll want to do it in a way that doesn’t make you sound like you are whining. Following up your assessment with an “I told you so” after the game is probably not the best suggestion either.
In fact, the best way to make this solution work is to apply it when you have already been eliminated. This eliminates your ulterior motive of trying to win and shows everyone that you are willing to share your accurate threat assessment. This is a very difficult solution to pull off and I don’t recommend this to most.
There are things you can do with your group to limit the Best Player Syndrome. The most important is to stop saying anything about being attacked unfairly. Let’s be honest here; if you are suffering from Best Player Syndrome, then you believe that you are being treated unfairly. You have probably complained about it. I know that I have made complaints when I felt I was being treated unfairly. I distinctly remember saying in an exasperated voice, “again!? But I only have lands out! I am not the threat!” This will only come off as whining and will only encourage people to try to take you out even more.
If you are the best player, step up and be the best player. Be sportsmanlike in the face of unfair attacks. Applaud good plays in such a way that you aren’t denigrating bad plays. “There, finally you made the right play!” is not helpful. Dump your ego, even if you believe you truly are the best player. No one wants to be reminded of it and you are better off not reminding your group either.
Offer to help the newer players in your group. If they truly see you as a better player, many players would love to have you look at their decks and make constructive suggestions. As their decks get better, your decks can get closer to what they once were and you will not be drawing fire from everyone in the group like you were before.
When offering this help, take each player’s situation into account. If they are broke, don’t suggest expensive cards to fix problems in the deck. If they are limited for time, don’t suggest full remakes of their decks. If they are just there to have a good time, make sure your suggestions not only help, but make the deck more fun to play.
Razjah, I hoped I could help you and others suffering from BPS. Please tune in on Monday when Daryl will offer alternative solutions.