A Jumped-Up Pantry Boy

Jesse Mortenson on various

Walk a New Plane: Playing Politics with Starter Decks

A lot of people are waking up to the fact that it sucks to lose a game you barely knew you were playing. Donald Trump swept the board on Nov 8, and he’s already started another round. He plays with manic fervor and sneaky-good strategy. And geez, the victories the bastard walked away with. Ouch. Maybe you placed a token or two; maybe you thought he didn’t have a chance; maybe you just never thought politics was your game.

Well old son, it’s time to learn how to play.

It can be as overwhelming as an eight-hour strategy game. The board is busy as fuck. Counters everywhere you look. But it’s actually not so bad once you get a way of thinking about it. Please allow me to suggest an easy one:

Politics is kinda like Magic: The Gathering.


Here’s the level at which most folks engage with politics: talking trash. And hey! it’s fun! You roll up to the tournament table with your buds and let your opponent know just how bad you’re gonna hand their ass back to them. Gift-wrapped. A bow on top. Everyone on your side gets the inside jokes and jibes, and that sucker doesn’t even know how bad they’re getting roasted.

Shit talk is fun.

That’s why people pass around the John Oliver clips, the small hands memes, the “omg can you believe this hypocrisy” tweets. Etc. Everything is awesome when you’re part of a team (and fuck that other team). Shit talk lets us blow off steam and process some of the bizarre and the absurd.

Talk all the smack you want, but if you’re not playing creatures and casting spells, you’ll never win a match. Meanwhile, somebody else is winning. And they probably don’t give a shit about you.


When you start playing politics, recognize that you’re playing with starter’s decks. When you start, don’t worry if what you play doesn’t match up that well against the opposition. You’re gonna take some lumps. That’s where learning comes from; that’s how you’ll build your deck later.

For now, remember: the most important thing is to keep playing cards.

As in Magic, politics is all about your mana pool. You can’t even mount an attack without building some base of mana to draw from. In politics, relationships are your mana. Connections are your mana. Not like “my dad’s the district attorney” connections - just connections to people. Your friends, your family. Other people who are playing politics.

If you meet one person who ends up being someone you like to work with, that’s golden.

If you can get two friends to take some meaningful political action, that’s golden.

So your initial moves are to just start personal conversations. Not facebook blasts. Get into spaces where you can meet people who are already doing work that looks interesting. Find out what support they need. Here’s just a few places you can start:


Magic endures because there are lots of ways to play it. Taking forever to build up a ton of mana and then summoning a huge, overpowered beast isn’t a guaranteed win. Summoning basic, cheap creatures can still do damage.

And holy fuck do we ever need to do damage.

Bringing a couple friends to a protest is doing damage. Holding a house party to raise $300 is doing damage. Making a pledge with a co-worker to donate a small percentage monthly of your wages to a cool group is doing damage. It still takes mana - those connections - to know where these small actions fit in. But not really all that much of it.

Summon some basic creatures. It really matters. Sometimes a surprising amount.

Let’s take an example: hardly anybody ever talks to their city council members. Developers do. Big corporations do. Police unions do. But hardly any plain old residents. Seriously: in lots of city council elections a majority of the voters are 55 and older. And yet city councils have done cool shit: Seattle sparked a movement by passing a $15/hour minimum wage. Cities passed ranked choice voting (a way to eliminate 3rd party spoiler effect) and now a whole state is going to use it (Maine). Cities passed immigration/police separation ordinances that have Trump pissed off.

Summon some basic creatures on your city council, and you can win pretty big.

You don’t know what your opponent will play until the cards are on the table. You don’t have control over what that next card will be from the other side. The most important thing is to keep playing cards. Some of them will pan out and it will surprise the hell out of you. Look at Occupy Wall Street: a rag-tag group of radical weirdos squatting in a park. How many hundreds of protests like that went down? But that time, a chord was struck. It was the right card at the right time. They didn’t know in advance. They just kept playing cards.


OK, Ok, at some point you do have to get past the starter decks. It helps to play the cards that give you an advantage, that fit with your style of play. A lot of times, folks are afraid to play cards, because they’re afraid of it hurting their own side. “What if I offend someone”? And it’s true, you might get called out.

If you’re not sure you’re bringing the right cards to the table, do a little reading on deck strategy. Look up intersectionality. Read a quck but powerful book on feminism or black experience in America. Look up anti-racism. There are groups of people who want to talk about these things and educate each other. We don’t want to repeat the mistakes of the past.

But nobody has the answer. That’s the important thing. Nobody actually comes to the table with the ace, unbeatable deck. It’s not your job to build one. It is your job to listen and learn. Your best strategy for deckbuilding isn’t supreme knowledge.

It’s just plain not being defensive.

Take a breath and accept criticism. It’s tough. It’s one of the toughest things, especially when you’re walking into the back room with all the folding tables and the sweaty pits for the first few times. But that’s the advanced strategy: listen, acknowledge it, say you need time to think on it. Give yourself time to get over the hurt and the rush to defend yourself.

Defensiveness doesn’t build better decks.


If you’ve read this far, then I owe you an apology: sorry. Politics isn’t actually a game. People get hurt, for real. You only have to look at the spike in post-election hate crimes, at the fear that communities feel who have been threatened by Trump and his nazi bootlickers.

Politics isn’t a game, but it is something you can lose.

So this has been a tad glib. But you know what? We gotta get through this together. It’s absurd that the weight of a Trump presidency - a Trump presidency! - sits on our shoulders. We’ve lost a bunch of hit points. Don’t sweat it. In Magic you can win from any number of hit points above zero: low doesn’t mean out.

So let’s play.