This entry is part 4 of 10 in the series The Social Contractor


Last time y’all heard from me I was discussing the semantics of “douchebag” in Commander. This week I’m examining another phrase that segments of the Commander community have decided to embrace that I either don’t think has much of a place in our vocabularies, or we need to consider what these phrases mean before we keep firing them off. Some of them are mean-spirited, and these are always the worst ones. I gave “douchebag” a thorough look last week because it had permeated so deeply into the fabric of Commander communities that the stank was impossible to ignore, and it needed a thorough washing to get it out of our systems. This next phrase isn’t nearly as bad, but is an easy one to address and deal with. The “easy” part is good, because I hate hard work sometimes.

“Oops I Win”

This is a phrase that has the unfortunate double-whammy of not just being applied improperly in most situations, but also being incredibly dismissive to a player and their entire game plan. You may have noticed that very few players actually winning ever say “oops, I win”; instead, it tends to be the players in the process of losing that label the victory as an “oops, I win” moment. As we get into why this phrase is the mark of a salty loser, let’s scope the situations it’s most commonly applied to and look at why I think this phrase is a steaming pile of poopy when used in them.

COMBO VICTORY: Is calling combo “oops, I win” appropriate? The connotation is that here, the combo player just so happened to draw into the pieces s/he needs, or topdeck the missing element of his winning combination. So herp derp, what a lucky guy, right? Maybe he didn’t even realize Hermit Druid works that way!

Wait a minute…

I can understand that these wins can feel jarring, and maybe a bit ‘Oops’-y as a result. After all, if the game has mostly been conducted along one axis and then a player wins by acting along a totally different line of play, it DOES feel strange and abrupt when the game comes to a close. Sometimes, it doesn’t feel good. But dismissing those paths to victory as accidental in the manner “Oops, I win” does is inaccurate and really makes you look sore. A combo win composed of pieces stashed within a player’s own deck is about as far from accidental as possible, unless they’re literally realized during play that this produces an infinite loop or something (those situations are different, and should be celebrated as a player gains better awareness of how their cards interact). You might not like it, and you’re free to bitch about it when you lose, but trust me, it wasn’t an accident.

Instead of branding a combo victory as ‘Oops I Win’, why not just call it like it is? Somebody else won. It happens all the time (unless you’re stomping those kids at the school into the dirt, which they probably deserve for being such smug bastards with their ‘recess’). Shuffle up and next game maybe you can accidentally win with your Worldgorger Dragon and Animate Dead.

HAPPENSTANCE: Sometimes, you just get a winning combination of cards and aren’t even yours! This usually involves making use of an opponent’s resources with something like Lilliana Vess or Necrotic Ooze. This is about as close to a legitimate ‘Oops I Win’ situation as exists, but even then, I don’t think the term is appropriate.

Cards aren’t in your deck because they fell in there while you were dusting the lab and you thought, “well… whatever” (unless you’re crazy/awesome). You place them in a Commander deck knowing every one of those 99 slots beyond your general are precious resources, inherently limited, and the cards you choose have to serve specific purposes. Since Magic is a pretty complex game, some cards have potential to get into wild situations and interactions beyond their obvious scope, but these cards are well-known for these attributes, or at least you probably have an idea that this can happen. This is doubly true in Commander, when we fully expect to see six-plus mana bombs being thrown around the table; when such powerful cards are going to be used by their controllers and owners, we all recognize the value of Clone effects, Shunt cards, and Spelljack stuffs.

When you put a card like Necrotic Ooze into your deck, you have to accept that sometimes playing it will result in you winning. Believing otherwise is a bit naive. You never know what will be in graveyards; you can’t always control what your opponents will do. When you’re presented with a buffet of abilities and resources by your opponents, then you should be ready to pig out on them to the fullest in any situation (gotta get your money’s worth). Accept the implications of using a card like Ooze carries when you put it into the deck. Using Ooze, realizing there’s an infinite combo built into it because of your opponent’s graveyards, and not using it is kind of like when a player rolls a die to determine his Identity Crisis target. You’re using the card, you know what it does. Put it in the deck with intent to use it.

So while these kind of happenstance victories do occur, they’re still not ‘Oops I Win’ situations. They happened because somebody consciously decided to use a card that can create these situations, whether that was necessarily their intent or not. This isn’t to say your table’s players all grab a guy and forcibly manipulate his hands to make him combo with Ooze and Kiji-Jiki in a graveyard if he doesn’t want to (“stop tapping yourself!”), but if he doesn’t want that kind of thing to happen, he probably shouldn’t be using Necrotic Ooze in the first place. And when those victories do happen, you should appreciate them, if anything. The way Magic cards can happen to produce these circumstances is interesting. That’s part of why we like the game, isn’t it?

‘TOPDECK’ OF CHAMPIONS: Sometimes in the early game, somebody drops a small squad of beaters and then rips Armageddon. When everyone is developing mid-game and things are building momentum, somebody occasionally hits Myojin of Night’s Reach. When people are staring at each other across moats of creature tokens and giant beaters in the endgame, sometimes a guy draws an Insurrection. Sometimes a game has been going on forever and Exsanguinate for 40 happens. None of these, contrary to the beliefs of some, are ‘Oops I Win’ scenarios.

There’s the parallel to the above, first of all. Why do you have Insurrection in your deck? I’ll take three guesses:

1) Somebody had a Lotus Cobra in play and it seemed worthwhile to invest eight mana into getting one back from your land drop, just because it will be Mythic Rarity Mana.

2) You plan to temporarily abduct a swath of powerful creatures and permanently kill your opponents with them in one swing.

3) You think the art is sexy.

If you answered #1, you are weird but awesome; if you answered #3, e-mail me later and maybe we can… nevermind. You answered #2 anyway. You put these cards in your deck with the intent to win games using them. Single cards need to be exceptionally powerful to win multiplayer games, but their existence is hardly a secret, and their game-ending nature is well-known. Like characterizing winning by assembling a three-card combo a mistake by calling it an ‘Oopsy daisy!’ moment, calling the guy who rips Insurrection off the top an ‘accidental victor’ is insulting to them, their deck construction skills, and of course their luck (maybe most important of all).

Sometimes you get a good topdeck, but those cards aren’t in the deck by accident. There’s no Game-Ending Card Fairy who goes around inserting backbreakers into people’s stacks (besides, all MtG players know fairies are fucking evil and would never do something like this). Like a combo, it can be jarring. But when I hear complaints about cards like Insurrection, I can’t help but remember that an oft-cited reason to play Commander is getting to use super-expensive, powerful effects… like Insurrection. So what’s the deal here, really?

When we say ‘Oops, I Win’, what do we really mean? Most of the time, I think it’s another manifestation of frustration over losing a game in a way that feels abrupt, especially in a game with an extended buildup. Other times, it can be used to express displeasure with certain victory conditions like combos. In these cases, it’s easier to just ask the person why they use what you take exception with and address the issue at the root instead of throwing an off-the-cuff remark. Like I’ve been trying to stress, if we want a social format, we have to socialize sometimes. It’s scary, but we can do it. At the end of the affair, you’ll better understand your opponents, build your community, and work towards mutually agreeable games. I think that sounds way better than kind of calling a guy a dick in the long run.

Wrapping it up, I don’t think ‘Oops I Win’ is nearly as damaging as douchebag’s institutionalized rudeness. It’s just a phrase that gets thrown around a lot more than it should. Why do we need to hate on each other’s wins? I’m all for some ball busting, but at least be funny with it. This is more of a snide asshole remark that lots of people might not realize carries these connotations. Or, more often, they do, but think it’s a clever way to say it. Turns out, if somebody with acute herpderpitis like me sees through it as just another case of UMAD, it’s definitely not clever.

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