How Important Is Winning?

Because I identify with Red, Blue, and Green, I’m sure you’ve already guessed that I have many contradictions and conflicts inherent in my personality. After all, Red and Blue are enemy colors with the Emotion vs. Intellect conflict, just as Blue and Green conflict over Nature vs. Nurture. Although I often take Green’s side of the U/G (Blue/Green) conflict, today I am going to side with Blue.

Everything you know how to do, you learned how to do at some point.

No one is born knowing how to speak, to read, to run. No one is even born knowing how to planeswalk. Sure, some people have a spark, some invisible trait inside them that one day may manifest itself, and others do not, but they have to learn how to use that ability. Untrained, it is the same thing as if they had never possessed the spark at all.

The same can be said of anything. All processes must be learned, even if an individual has a particular talent for something. Tom Brady, Stephen King, and Barack Obama were all babies once, and none of them knew how to throw a football, write a book, or inspire millions of people with one speech. They all learned their crafts.

Everyone starts as a beginner in Magic, too. This, of course, is the most difficult time because there is so much to learn. If you are skeptical of this, it is because you have never tried to teach someone how to play. Not only do you have to leave out strategy entirely when trying to understand the game, you also have to ignore most of the rules. Please don’t let this intimidate you, because the rules quickly become second nature, but trying to learn all of them at once will surely intimidate and frustrate the new player so much that they won’t have any fun, and will not care to play anymore.

Here lies my dilemma:

A few years ago, as I was reflecting upon my early childhood, I remembered how my parents and I used to have races in the backyard when I was about 4 years old. I suddenly realized that they had let me win! I had thought I had won those races fair and square and that I was actually faster than them! This sounds very funny to adults, but to my 4-year-old mind, it made perfect sense.

I am a very competitive person. I like to win, but I don’t want to win unfairly. The nice thing about Magic is that there is an element of luck and that sometimes the less skilled player will defeat the more skilled player. Now, more experienced players may protest that this is not a “nice thing,” especially when they lose, but it really is. The overwhelming majority of the time, the more skilled player will win, and if either player is paying attention at all, any significant gap in skill will be obvious. The “nice” part is that every now and again, the less skilled player will get just enough luck and the more skilled player will be just unlucky enough, that the less skilled player will triumph. This allows for a sense of encouragement and keeps less skilled players playing the game. This is extremely important, because nobody likes to lose, and people play Magic on their own volition. Without this tiny element of luck, there would not be enough players to fund the game. There would be no Pro Tour, no World Championship, no Modern Masters.

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View original comic at

So I wonder to myself, when we eventually teach our daughter, Liliana, how to play, do we ever let her win? If not, do we go easy on her? Do we divide our duties and let only one of us lose games while the other remains undefeated? At 7 months old, she is already displaying signs of fierce independence and competitive spirit, and I don’t want to discourage her by winning everything all the time, but I wonder if it is dishonest to let her believe she won something by her own merits when she did not. I think I would feel like I would have lied to her. I would still want her to realize the mistakes that she would make so she could improve. Perhaps I should just let the luck of the game help her to a few victories at a time?

I’d like to know what you think. What do you do when teaching someone a new game? Do you let them win? Or perhaps you do something like this:

View original comic at

View original comic at

If you like the comics in today’s post, be sure to check out their creator’s website:


One thought on “How Important Is Winning?

  1. I think playing games and learning to run fast are different things entirely. There are no rules in learning to run fast.

    Running faster than your parents when you are 4 is awesome and amazing!!

    I personally would like a rematch. I bet I could beat you now!

    You’ll figure out how you want to handle it though. No way is 100% right. As Lili grows, every year she’ll be bigger and stronger than the year before. She’ll see and feel those changes, even when she’s not comparing herself to you.

    I don’t think she would get discouraged. She might just try harder!


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