Friday, August 2, 2013

The MTG Personality Types

Mirror, mirror, on the wall, which Riku is the fairest of them all?

Many of you know about the Myers-Briggs personality test. It labels your personality based on four different dichotomies: Introvert vs. Extrovert, Sensing vs. Intuition, Thinking vs. Feeling, and Judging vs. Perception.

I've come up with a similar test specifically for Magic players, after observing the different kinds of people in the game and their unique play styles.

This isn't anything like Maro's Timmy, Johnny, and Spike categories because it isn't about what you enjoy in Magic. It's about the kind of player you are and where your strengths lie. It's about what motivates you to play and how you make in-game decisions.

I believe understanding yourself as a player will help you use your strengths more wisely and help overcome your weaknesses. A certain level of self-reflection is needed in any player with the ambition to win a tournament—whether it is FNM, a PTQ, or a Pro Tour. Knowing more about your own play style and preferences will also help you connect better with others, such as teammates who need to combine their skill sets. (Voltron it up!)

Note that everyone has some of each quality; no one is 100% one or the other. But often they will have a stronger preference for one over the other. The question is, which is stronger for you?

Internal (I) vs. External (E)

This dichotomy is about how much your views are affected by others. Do the people around you affect how you make decisions? How relevant is their opinion?

Everyone is affected by the world around them, but some people find that their motivations and beliefs come largely from inside. They care less about recognition or the opinions of others because their own opinion is the one that really matters. If you told them they were a bad player or a good player, it wouldn't change their judgment much at all. They have their own set of guidelines, and they keep their personal goals hidden because they don't see a need to share.

They have a ladder that they are climbing, and it doesn't have to look like anyone else's ladder. It's more important to them that they designed it themselves.

Their reasons for doing things might not be automatically obvious to others. If they haven't learned to explain their internal way of thinking, they can run into difficulty making others understand.

They're less influenced by external measures of success. They care less about their relative rank or status. For them, their biggest enemy is their own set of limitations.

Internal types have a hard time listening to advice and/or taking it. If you offer them advice, but they feel you don't fully grasp their way of thinking, they're likely to ignore you. This can be problematic if they've chosen a wrong deck for a tournament and can't be talked out of it. Internal types are liable to fall into traps they set up for themselves—but at least they then have no one else to blame.

External types, on the other hand, care a lot about what other people do and say. What other people offer—in terms of advice, information, and support—is of great importance. They actively seek opinions from people, to get a sense of what they should be doing—whether it's how to sideboard, what deck to play, or how to become better players.

They enjoy receiving encouragement, and it can be vital to their good mood. They're likely to surround themselves with people who are positive influences in order to keep themselves elevated.

External types don't struggle as much with their goals. They believe the goal is obvious: whoever is on top is the winner. Relative rank and status are how they measure their worth. Unlike Internal types, they don't bother building a racecourse; they just drive the car. All of this can translate into strong motivation to succeed and freedom from internal conflict.

Of course, when other people's opinions matter, that makes them vulnerable to what they say. If they receive too much negative feedback, this can deflate them. Also, they can hurt their own chances of success by following bad advice or going with the crowd.

Intuitive (N) vs. Analytical (A)

This dichotomy is about how players make in-game decisions and which method the player finds more reliable.

Intuitive players do not need to consciously consider every possible move. A combination of gut instinct and experience combine to guide them to the correct answer.

Intuition is a much faster tool for decision-making; the brain can make split-second judgments and produce an emotion-driven response that tells the body what to do without interference from bad reasoning or overthinking.

I believe the phenomenon of "being in the zone" involves a heightened intuition; somehow the brain and reality connect on a level where the player makes accurate plays with confidence, as though the answers are flowing directly into their fingertips.

Building strong rapport, bluffing, and other moves that rely on facial cues and body language are helped most by a strong intuition. This level of gaming requires immediate responses to unique situations, and there's often not enough time to think through all the possible reactions. With good instincts here, winning can be made a lot easier without a lot of mental expenditure.

The disadvantage of being an Intuitive player is that they often require a ton of practice. In order to master a deck, they must witness firsthand all the in-game situations, card interactions, and opening hands to develop their intuition into a well-oiled machine. In fact, they likely need to see these situations repeatedly to ingrain them into their subconscious. Without the practice, they are lost and don't know how to win games.

This process can be time-consuming; mastering a brand new deck means starting all over again, which might not be worth it. It's likely that Intuitive players stick to one or two archetypes across multiple formats.

Brad Nelson is a good example of a strong Intuitive player. I'm also a fairly Intuitive player. (So being out of practice, I pretty much suck right now.)

Analytical players are puzzle solvers. They enjoy examining board states or other complex problems and simply think about them until they discover the perfect response.

They use an incredible amount of focus in order to hold multiple lines of play in their head at once, calculating the viability of the different outcomes. While Intuitive players have a vague sense of probability, Analytical players can calculate the actual probabilities in their head. This can result in more accurate judgment calls.

Their greatest strength is their ability to tackle new situations without previous experience. Analytical players don't need constant physical practice; they can logically deduce the correct play, with the given information, or remember similar situations from previous games.

They can also think many moves ahead, much like chess players.

A disadvantage of being an Analytical player is that they can take too long to make decisions. A consistent, fast pace of play is important for many reasons: to avoid drawing the match, to avoid giving the opponent information about your hand, and to force your opponent into matching your pace. If they take too long and a judge is watching, a request to "please make a play" can break their train of thought or cause them to hastily make an incorrect move.

Another problem is overthinking a situation. Without good intuition, Analytical players can think themselves into circles. If they stop the cylinder on the wrong chamber, they may just end up shooting themselves.

Glenn Jones is an example of an extremely Analytical player. (He likes to play games of Magic "in his head" to test a new deck. It doesn't make sense to me either.)

If you've ever tried to play a game of Magic where both players can, instead of drawing, tutor for any card once per turn, that's a good example of an Analytical player's game. On the other hand, if you've ever played liar's dice, that's a good game for Intuitive players.

Proactive (P) vs. Reactive (R)

This dichotomy is about play style and which players prefer. It does not necessarily mean "control" vs. "aggro," but that's an easy line to draw.

Proactive players enjoy forcing the opponent to react to their plays. They want to present threats, not answers.

It's a stereotype, of sorts, that new players enjoy proactive strategies more, presumably because they're "easier." On the surface, they do seem easier and can be played without a strong knowledge of the entire format. However a high-level Proactive player will want to know all the possible answers an opponent might have in order to play around them. This does require a strong knowledge of the format and the opposing player's deck.

The main characteristic of a Proactive player is that they want to win through making progress in the game state. They enjoy feeling ahead of their opponent and actively making their way toward victory, whether that progress is represented through the opponent's steady loss of life or through increasing board control or by digging for combo pieces.

Currently, Magic caters to this type of player more. Even control decks are quite proactive and can be played aggressively, i.e. without waiting for the opponent to run out of resources, to win. This style is encouraged with stronger threats and less versatile answers.

The Reactive player would rather trade or accumulate resources until they reach a point of inevitability. Instead of asking questions, they'd rather have a response for anything the opponent might do.

A Reactive player is someone who likes to set up the perfect position before striking, like someone who maxes out all their characters before taking on the end boss. Even as they lose life or tempo, they will gladly sacrifice these resources early in order to clean up in a later stage with exceedingly powerful spells or interactions. To some, it may seem as though the Reactive player is simply sitting there "doing nothing," but the longer they wait, the stronger their position is. And they know that very well. Drawing cards, making land drops, and keeping the board state manageable is what gets Reactive players out of bed in the morning.

A Reactive player's favorite cards include ones that earn them minor advantages early (Ponder, Augur of Bolas) or that wipe the slate clean, putting the Reactive player safely ahead (Cruel Ultimatum, Sphinx's Revelation).

Reactive players don't have to play control, however. Tempo and midrange can have reactive game plans too.

Reactive players are more likely to be too risk-averse; while Proactive players are more likely to be too risk-prone.

It is fun to see how Proactive vs. Reactive players play the same deck. The two types can use very different styles to get to a win, even with the same cards. However, it is important for both player types to know when to hold back or when to push forward. If they're too inclined to be reactive or proactive, they are likely to misstep. It's important to be adaptable and just make the correct play for a given situation.


I could only think of three really good dichotomies, so unlike the Myers-Briggs test, there are three and not four.

Also, I don't know how accurate the profiles are, but you can be the judge of that yourself. This was just a fun exercise, and I really enjoyed thinking about the different categories. Hopefully you have as much fun trying to analyze yourself and figuring out what your tendencies are.

I'm personally an INP (Internal, Intuitive, Proactive). This differs a bit from my personality in general, which is more analytical. (Obviously, right? I wrote this article. Talk about overthinking everything!)

I need a lot of (efficient) practice to get good at a game, and I rely on my intuition a lot more. (I might also just be getting old; my brain gets tired more easily...)

I tend to play proactive strategies, mainly because I don't like having to predict what my opponent will do. It also requires knowing exactly what card in your 60 matches up with an opponent's given card or set of cards. On the fly, I have trouble doing this. I've got a short attention span and even worse memory recall. The intuitive side of me can sense what cards are relevant in a given situation, but it obviously gets worse when the list of relevant cards grows too long.

Anyway, I hope you enjoyed this, and I hope you get something useful out of it. Thanks go to Raja Burrows, for starting a Myers-Brigg blog, of all things. And thanks go to Thomas Enevoldsen, who discussed Intuitive vs. Analytical players with me. They both contributed to my coming up with this article, which I sleepily composed in my head on the long drive from New Jersey to Roanoke.

I'm not asleep in this photo. Brad is probably counting Goat tokens.

Image credits: (1) Copyrighted by Wizards of the Coast LLC (2) Gerry Thompson, that sneaky bastard