Friday, February 27, 2015

Magic: the Preppering

Not actually Erin.
& is used with permission.
(Warning: This is possibly one of the nerdiest posts I have written. I wasn't originally going to do it, but I was egged on by my fellow nerds on our Facebook Group, so blame them if you like. 

I assure you that all terms will be explained and all relevancies made plan by the end of the article.) 

While I was writing my Bug-Out Bag series, I made two realizations:
  1. I have a tendency to put stuff in my bag to see how it works with the rest of the stuff, and then if I don't like it after a period of trial and thought, I take it out. 
  2. This is exactly how I used to build my Magic: the Gathering decks. 

How Magic: the Gathering Works in Brief
This is going to be grossly simplified so that I don't lose my non-gamer audience. 

Magic: the Gathering (hereafter M:tG) is a collectible card game, which means that it combines luck (physically acquiring the cards you want to use) with probability (how often are those cards going to show up in your deck during a game) with skill (how best to use those cards against your opponent). 

If you're still confused, here's an analogy:  You know those baseball cards you had as a kid, and you traded your duplicates for ones you didn't have?  OK, now imagine you use them in a game against other baseball fans, and the stats on the cards enable them to fight each other. 

So the way it works is like this: 
  1. You construct a deck of 60 cards.
  2. You are only allowed 4 duplicates of any card in your entire deck.
  3. At the beginning of the game, you have a hand of seven cards.
  4. Each turn, you draw a card.
  5. You play cards from your hand to the table (kind of like in gin rummy).

How Is This Relevant to Prepping?
I'm glad you asked. Both M:tG deck construction and bug-out bag assembly are cases of usefulness vs. probability of need vs. space/weight restrictions.

In M:tG, I may have a really cool game-winning card -- but before I put it in my deck, I have to answer a few questions:
  • Will I be able to get it when I need it?
  • If I get it, will I be able to play it?
  • If I can't play it, will it hurt me by taking the space of another card I could use?
  • In general, is it worth the space in my finite deck?

Whenever you get a new piece of prepping gear that you think would go well in your bug out or get home bag, you need to ask yourself similar questions:
  • Does this serve a purpose that other items don't?
  • How likely will I need it?
  • Does its usefulness and likelihood of being used justify the room it takes in my finite pack?
  • If not, what needs to be removed -- this, or other items?

In M:tG, there is a red card called Lightning Bolt. Every player who uses red in their deck ought to have 4 of these cards, because
  1. They are common.
  2. They are easy to play.
  3. They have immediate utility (damaging your opponent or his resources).
  4. Later in the game, you can still use them, but if you need to discard them to retain a more powerful card it's not an agonizing loss. 
Prepping is similar. Let's continue our analogy by talking about a gun in your bug-out bag.

Does this serve a purpose that other items don't? 
If you don't have a gun in your preps, then the answer to this is "yes". If you already have a gun, then you need to weigh its utility vs. the other questions below. As an example, you may be served well by having both a pistol (for defense) and a rifle (for hunting) in your preps, but you may not need both a rifle and a shotgun. 

How likely will I need it?
You may never need your pistol... but if you need one, you really need one. Depending on your bug-out plan, you may never need a rifle, or you may need one constantly for subsistence hunting, or you may find it something useful but not completely necessary. 

Does its usefulness and likelihood of being used justify the room it takes in my finite pack?
Weight is a huge concern when loading a BOB, and so is space. Guns are heavy, and unless they're pistols they're also quite large. What's more, you need ammunition to make a gun work, and ammo is both heavy and often takes up a lot of space, depending on its caliber and how often you think you'll need it. 500 rounds of .22LR is a portable four pounds; 500 rounds of 5.56mm weighs thirteen pounds. 

If not, what needs to be removed -- this, or other items?
Any single-function item needs to do an essential job and do it really, really well to justify its weight. Multiple-function items are beloved by preppers because they maximize utility by minimizing volume, hence the popularity of both the Swiss Army knife and the Leatherman tool. In general, any time you can replace 2+ pieces of gear with a single item you should -- but keep in mind that this rule is in constant conflict with the prepper maxim of "Two is one and one is none."

But what if I'm not sure?
The problem with my bag is I keep wondering "Do I need this?" and "I think I should add-" and it's never finished. -- Mark Brothers, on the Facebook thread which started all of this
Testing is the order of the day! Just like Magic: the Gathering players test new cards and new combinations before taking their decks to tournaments, so should you test your gear before you need it in a survival situation.

Put stuff in. Try it out. Wait a while, then think about it some more when the appeal of a shiny new thing has lost some of its luster. Take the item out, and reflect on how it makes you feel. If, after testing and reflection, you still really really want that item in your bag, go ahead and put it back in.

My reasoning is this:  As much as building a BOB is a logical exercise in probability and resource management, there is a psychological element to it as well -- and a proper mindset is critical for survival. If having an item in your bag makes you feel better and gives you more confidence, put it in! If you truly need it psychologically, you'll have no problems carrying it around.

But if you start having doubts about it?  Well, maybe you don't need all of those Shivan Dragons in your deck after all.

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