Stop Being a Scrub

You’ve probably heard the term thrown around as an insult, generally describing players who aren’t very good at a game. This isn’t the most useful definition, however. In his book Playing to Win, author David Sirlin describes scrubs as players who create and abide by self-imposed rules that hamstring their ability to be their very best.

These are people who lose the game before it even begins. They’ll eschew tried and true solutions for originality. They’ll dismiss criticism and insist on their superiority and mastery of the game. They blame their losses on their opponents using “cheap,” albeit legal tactics. They aren’t playing to win.

Rarity, Truly Outrageous
Well, guess I’m not eating this month.

However, being a scrub isn’t synonymous with simply not playing to win. After all, maybe you’d rather build an un-optimized version of a deck because paying rent and eating are more attractive than winning your LGS’s weekly pony tournament. Scrubbiness is deeper than that—It’s a mental block that causes a person to outright refuse to drop $180 on that playset of RTOs, simply because they feel it’s not how the game should be played.

Chances are, you’ve encountered a few scrubs. They’re the ones telling you that Truly Outrageous and Carbo-Loader are busted, and they’ll refuse to run them along with Ursa Vanquisher, DJ Pon-3, and any of the “popular” manes. You can tell your opponent is a scrub when he then chastises you for running those very cards against him. That’s the final litmus test in gauging your opponent’s scrub-level.

I see a scrub. What do?

From a competitive standpoint, there’s really no difference between a scrubby player and a bad player. Bad players can get better, but scrubby players will always be hindered by their mental roadblocks. What does that mean for you? Nothing. Defeat them and move on.

Oh, but what if it’s one of your friends? This is a tricky, sensitive issue, and no advice fits every situation. Sometimes, it’s as simple as pointing out their scrubby behavior and directing them to Sirlin’s complete definition of a scrub.

Cheering Up a Friend
Chin up, scrub!

Other times, your friend might be burdened by a deep desire to be better than others at something. This could lead to making up arbitrary rules that makes the game more “fair” in their eyes. They’re not fooling anyone, though—They’re just lowering the requisite skill level enough that they can put up a fight.

Ultimately, only you can determine how best to approach the subject with your scrub friend. But you’re playing a card game where friendship solves all kinds of problems, and presumably watch the show it’s based on—I’m sure you’ll manage.

I AM a scrub. What do?!

Step one: Get over yourself. The game already has a set of rules that all players abide by; No one has the obligation or inclination to abide by any additional restrictions you make up. At that point, you’re not playing the same game as everyone else, and you’re likely not having much fun, either.

What Went Wrong
I just don’t know.

Ask yourself why you exhibit scrub mentality. If you find that a “cheap” deck or tactic is consistently successful, what is preventing you from using it? Why do you get upset that your opponent’s deck costs four times as yours? Why are you even playing this game if the universal rules that everyone plays by aren’t to your liking?

And why aren’t you winning?

It takes a great deal of effort and self-reflection, for scrubs and non-scrubs alike, to overcome our own mental roadblocks. But it’s only when we constantly criticize and challenge ourselves while recognizing and working on our faults that we get better. If you fancy yourself an expert with nothing else to learn, then you’ve already lost.


Airquotes Airquotes is a snarky, sarcastic source of useful opinions that are never wrong. His author is some sort of published journalist or whatever.

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