Going on Tilt and the Road to Recovery

Frazier SmithLast week, I did a poll on Facebook asking my friends to give me an article topic. Surprisingly, the vast majority of them were interested in reading about how to recover from going on tilt. Now, if you aren’t familiar with the phrase “on-tilt,” it can be defined as: allowing the circumstances to affect your better judgment, thus causing you to play at a less than stellar rate. I tried to keep it short and simple because I plan to explain what it means in greater detail and with actual examples. Let’s dive right into it, shall we?

Okay, so imagine that you’re playing someone at a YCS or Circuit Series event and you’re on the bubble in game three. Your nerves are going crazy, your palms are sweating, and you know the top cut playoffs are just one game away. Everything else that has happened in the tournament is now irrelevant. It all boils down to this. Some people will go on tilt just from these circumstances alone. They might do something in that final game to punt it away because they weren’t thinking straight. It’s hard to relax and think perfectly when the pressure is on. Believe me, I’ve been there. You have to cool down, take a deep breath, shuffle up well so you don’t feel like you got cheated, and play your game. If you draw poorly, keep a straight face. If you draw broken, keep a straight face.

The most common cause of going on tilt is actually a misplay. We all do it; we are all human. The problem is, after we mess up, we get so mad and embarrassed at ourselves that we stop thinking altogether. You need to avoid this at all costs. If you misplay, slow down for a second, acknowledge that what you did was wrong, and then start thinking about the best play you can make in the current situation. And when I say “current situation,” I mean after you have already misplayed, take a look at your newly available options and the way the game has changed, and still make the best play you can. If you were supposed to make Scrap Dragon but you made Colossal Fighter instead, think about how this Colossal Fighter can win you the game, if possible. Do you need to attack with it? How much attack does it have? Are there any Crimson Bladers in the graveyard? What can Colossal Fighter do that Scrap Dragon cannot do, and what can’t it do? Basically, I am telling you to reassess the situation.

Other things that might send someone on tilt are opponents who talk trash and get under your skin. This can actually be penalized if taken too far.  Some people like to use this as a tactic to get their wins. If you aren’t used to it, it can really knock you off your game. Even some of the best players are capable of this frowned upon tactic at times. Trash talking will typically make people play more aggressively and want to end the game as quickly as possible. I recommend drowning out the sound of their voice and focusing on the situation without your emotions involved. You’re probably winning the game already if your opponent felt the need to throw insults.

Having a judge rule against you can be another factor that puts you on tilt. This is why I always stress educating yourself on rulings, especially those that pertain to cards in your own deck. You should have a broad knowledge of card interactions. Know the difference between mandatory and optional effects, and how simultaneous effects go on the chain. Just knowing these things will cut down on your losses. Also, if a floor judge gives you an incorrect ruling, do not get angry and upset about it. Use your right to an appeal. I have never allowed a judge to put me on tilt because I am aware of human error. People tend to accept the floor judge’s ruling when it’s wrong, and then complain about it after the match, when nothing can be done about it. Then, to make matters worse, they stay on tilt for the rest of the tournament, or just quit playing for the day.

Another common cause of going on tilt is when your opponent draws something ideal for the situation. We all tend to get a little mad when this happens and I do not blame you. What I try to do about this, personally, is think about their outs before I end my turn. That way, if they happen to draw one of them, I have already braced myself for it. Remain a good sportsman, regardless of what happens. We all had our days of good runs. I’m pretty sure I played a whole iPad tournament where I just drew Return from the Different Dimension in every game. On the other hand, I have played in tournaments where every one of my opponents had drawn the card. It happens. There are certain things that you do not have control over.


One of the strangest forms of going on tilt occurs when we draw an absolutely insane hand. We tend to get so ahead of ourselves because we can’t believe how outrageously well we’ve drawn that we start to play our cards poorly. This is probably because we think, “omg, there’s no way I can lose this game.” But who’s to say that your opponent did not also draw insane. Or even worse, they might have drawn the exact counter to your great hand. That can happen, too.

Lastly, what I consider to be the deadliest cause of going on tilt is a prior loss. It happens to be the simplest and most common thing, too, because realistically, we do not go undefeated all the time. You just lost your last round and you cannot stop thinking about it. You have thought about it so much that you’ve carried that stress into the next round and allowed it to affect your judgment. This will hold especially true if you lost because of a misplay, or because of your opponent ripping something great off the top.

Yes, you are supposed to think about your losses and learn from them; understand what went wrong. Think about what you could have done differently to change the game. Also, realize when there is nothing that you could have done, though in this format that is rarely the case. In formats with higher variation, like Dino-Rabbit of 2012, there were too many times when you couldn’t have changed the outcome no matter what you did. However, do not think about all of this so much so that you cannot think about anything else. You still need to play more rounds of swiss to get to the top cut, and believe it or not, but…people top with X-1 and X-2 records all the time. Shocking, I know.

In closing, I just want to say that it’s imperative to avoid becoming unsportsmanlike after something puts you on tilt. Do not start calling your opponent names, do not throw vicious insults, don’t go making a YouTube video bashing him or the company, and most importantly, don’t make yourself look like an idiot (because realistically, that’s what you’re actually doing). If you need to get some space, then take a walk somewhere and clear your mind a bit. Don’t put yourself in a position where you will want to say something negative--I have to work on this myself. Thinking it is one thing, but saying it is another. Remember, we're all human here. Everyone will go on tilt at some point or another. Just be mindful of other people’s feels and your reputation.

Thanks for reading! And Remember, Play Hard or Go Home!

I hope to see you guys at the upcoming Circuit Series event in Worcester, Massachusetts on November 16th and 17th!


-Frazier Smith

Frazier Smith

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