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Playing to Win: What Does Winning Mean?
By Westin Playing to Win Posted in Magic the Gathering on March 1, 2020 0 Comments 5 min read
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Hello, welcome to the first installment of Playing to Win, a new article series focused on cEDH and high-powered EDH. My name is Westin, I’m a non-binary agender (they/them) gamer from New York, I love poetry, gaming and music, and I’m currently working on getting my Bachelors in English Creative Writing. I’ve been gaming for as long as I can remember, and writing for nearly as long, primarily poetry. I’ve published a paper and previously written for the Magic website MTG Deck Techs. This is all to say that I have a lot to say and, I hope, the skills and experience to communicate it and discuss it with you. My ultimate goal is to improve and foster the level of communication in the EDH community, so I’m very open to hearing where ideas need refinement, or that they are not communicated well, and I would love feedback on that from you so that I can continue to improve this series both for myself and for my audience.

During the past year we have seen the advent of several new cEDH Youtube channels, renewed debates and controversies over the banlist’s role in the divide between EDH and cEDH communities, and questions about design impact on the format as a whole. People are having more conversations than ever about what power and winning in EDH are defined as or are meant to be, and the continuous popping up of new cEDH channels clearly indicates a growing demand for more high end EDH content.

After the most recent EDH banlist “update” where nothing changed, a firestorm emerged on social media about the role the EDH Rules Committee has in shaping the format. Questions arose of the long-term health of the format on both sides. I’m not here to reignite the debate or insert my own views on the matter, but to discuss the thinking underlying the debate itself. The primary focus of this series will be on what I consider to be the most defining element of high powered Magic gameplay – winning the game. This debate represents a fundamental disagreement over the role winning should or even does play in a game of EDH.

An important pillar of games is that there is ultimately a winner or winners, there is a tangible measure to which someone can achieve the maximum desired outcome of a games ruleset. There are dozens of reasons why people play various genres or styles of games, but they play games specifically because they enjoy winning – winning is a reward and acknowledgement of effort and/or skill, and is an enticing reason to keep playing games. You might play EDH in particular to use as a social vehicle, like I do, but you still chose to play a game to do it. Winning is important, and everyone playing a game wants to win, which I think is important to acknowledge as the underlying misunderstanding of the divide between “casual” communities and high-powered/cEDH communities.

I want to define high powered gameplay as Playing to Win, and “casual” gameplay as Playing and Winning, and I think this distinction is important. Under Playing to Win, Winning is not only the desired outcome but the specific intent and focus of playing – Playing to Win means building your deck to win the game, making any and all gameplay decisions that increase your chances of winning the game. Notably this also means that Playing to Win is a conscious and actionable decision on the part of the player that can be identified with intent and specificity. On the other end of the spectrum is Playing and Winning, where Winning is a natural outcome of gameplay that happens irrespective of player action. This is not to say that players are not important or that their actions don’t matter, but actions are not specifically defined in their relation to winning the game. Instead, winning is inevitable and unavoidable, so players do not actively engage in an attempt to achieve that outcome but instead experience the game as a set of actions that occur and eventually lead to a winner. The focus is placed almost exclusively on the gameplay itself instead of the outcome, and this leads to a much more passive mentality and approach to deckbuilding and gameplay. This is not to define individual players as good or bad, but to understand that the perspective on winning the game differs for players and impacts how they interact with winning as a game outcome.

I have ideas of where I want to take this series already brewing, but a key intention of my writing is fostering communication, so I would love to hear from you about things you want discussed. Playing to Win is very much a mindset and mindsets require ideas and concepts to build off of, and if there is one that is important to you or that you would love to hear more about, please let me know.


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