It’s likely no secret I have a tempestuous nature. I am a passionate person, and I feel my emotions deeply. One of those emotions, the one I keep the tightest check upon, is my anger. Anger is brutish and ugly and I fear it makes me brutish and ugly when I let it slip out unharnessed. But occasionally I get to use that anger, and in those moments I have access to a force of raw power unlike any other. This can be advantageous tactically, though it extracts a cost on one’s soul should you channel it for too long.


In Magic, the utility of my anger is fairly clear. In my playgroup, I have established a reputation as a person you don’t want to piss off needlessly. Now, I have clear rules around when I get angry at a play. If it’s fair, I don’t care. But if someone stabs me against their own interests, if they cripple me when there’s a more threatening target, or if they engage in a line of play that keeps me from being able to participate, I get pissed. And when that happens, I return fire.


For example, I was once playing Commander with two friends, about four cards away from decking myself. I was the middle threat at the moment, so I trained my guns on the big threat… only to find that the least threatening player at the table stabbed me in the back as soon as I looked the other way. I had been trying to help him, focusing my fire on the big threat with the understanding that the three known cards left in my library meant that when it came down to mini and midi he’d have the advantage since I was unable to beat him in the time I had left in the game. And yet he still turned on me, putting himself at disadvantage to do so.


The maxi threat in that game would likely have won either way—his deck was sweet and his play was tight. But that win came all the faster when I spent my last three turns hammering the mini threat over his betrayal. We left the table friends, of course—my anger at the player didn’t extend to anger at the person—but the next time we were in that sort of situation I noticed he did not fuck around with my board state. Once bitten, twice shy.


Obviously, though, the utility of this emotion extends beyond the battlefield. Anger can make great change, if channeled properly. People on the internet respond well to righteous fury, so long as you keep it within relatable bounds. This can be a problem when the fury is inchoate, when there’s no goal or victory condition or expectation of change. But when directed at the right targets, in response to the right stimuli, and boosted by the right platforms, anger can change the world.


And it’s the conversion to utility where most people falter. Anger is a wildfire, and it can be hard to control. Uncontrolled it consumes you, feeding the flames taking precedent over the goal that sparked the conflagration. You lose sight of the forest for the trees, striking back at individual targets while forgetting the greater purpose. You can see this now in American politics, where the Khan family managed to wedge their way under Donnie Trump’s skin. It was actively against his interests to attack them and yet for at least a week, at this writing, he kept hitting them back, whining about how they had attacked him “viciously.” His focus on these relative nobodies (no disrespect meant to them) has further imperiled his hateful presidential campaign. He lost sight of the bigger picture, and his anger took him to a dark place.


Anger is at its least powerful when there’s no way to soothe it. That’s why a goal is so important. While anger is great at feeling limitless, it burns you as fuel. The longer it smolders, the less of you is left in its wake. That’s why it’s helpful to set limits on yourself, why you need to be able to turn it off before you can use it to your advantage. And turning anger off is hard work, especially when you need to turn it off because you have not succeeded in converting it into a win. But it’s important, all the same.


Side note: I’d like to point out one thing, though. Using anger as a tool is not the same thing as being salty when something doesn’t go the right way. Salt is a combination of disappointment, disgust, and frustration. Anger is a purer emotion. And it’s at its best when it is directed at ideas or actions, not people.


There are other emotions you can mine for value in the interpersonal sphere, but few are as dangerous and volatile as anger. While that means it should be used carefully, that does not mean that it shouldn’t be used at all. Because anger lives within us all. Denying its existence means an inability to come to terms with it, even as it perverts your actions from beneath layers of repression. And if you’re not using it, your opponents can use that underlying influence against you.


Enlightenment involves conquering your anger. It does not involve eliminating it.


Jess Stirba is a valkyrie, only not in Overwatch because that skin doesn’t fit the game aesthetic.

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