As I sit here in my home looking over deck lists and sorting through my collection of thousands of cards, it dawns on me….has it already been a year? Little did I know Twelve months ago when a close friend asked me if I had ever played Magic the Gathering that I would find myself face deep in Pro tour streams and spoilers. Anxiously awaiting the next set with an excitement not unlike a five year old child on Christmas Eve. NEW CARDS!!!!! NEW DECKS!! PRE-RELEASE!!! Praying that the gods smile on my Golgari Deck and smite the control decks that haunt my pro tour dreams.
The obsession started like most addictions “Hey, wanna have some fun? Try this. Here’s a deck you can keep”. Oh yes….the first one was free and it sent me DEEP down the rabbit hole. I knew right away that this was going to take over a large portion of my spare time. What I didn’t know was that the journey I was about to take would be one of community rather than monsters and magic. And like the new kid in town, you will have to find your niche. Here are three of the experiences most new players will have.
THE SHALLOW END OF THE MANA POOL
Ah innocence, how I miss thee. The initial period of just playing with some friends. Not knowing an instant from an artifact but having a blast laying cardboard to tabletop. Learning the game with friends is the most common way I’ve heard of people playing the game for the first time. Like a communal disease it spreads among the group and only takes one carrier with a deck to start the epidemic. When you first start playing, you’re the infant. The gentle child who must be coddled and nurtured. Every mistake is cute to the veterans at the table. “Awe…he didn’t activate his cards abilities…he’s so new! I remember those days”. They encourage you and take their time with you. Even when you take 5 minutes to play a land…its fine…take your time. Killed a creature? AWESOME JOB!!! GOLD STAR! Held back a creature to block. YOU ARE A MASTER TACTICIAN!!! TWO GOLD STARS. Each game that goes by you learn new and exciting strategies with your newb deck. All the while watching as your friends lay huge creatures or board clearing spells while thinking “Wow, that looks like its good”. Not knowing that foil wrath of god is worth more than your whole deck.
Ah yes, to you, everything is just a piece of cardboard to get you to your goal. After the games, you discuss strategies with the clique as you reminisce over the epic battle that just occurred. You understand some of the conversation until a new language you’ve never heard begins to be the common tongue. EDH, Grixis Control, Mana Flooded, Bomb rare, Fetch land. It’s like being Antonio Banderas in the 13th warrior. You sit by the fire trying to piece together little sentences to make sense of it all. As you start to pick up tidbit by tidbit you realize that this game is much deeper than cards and spells. The chess game that is magic is a vast and complicated world. This is but your beginning.
MEET THE GATEWATCH
As time goes on you’ll have learned the basics and more importantly that your beginner deck isn’t the powerhouse you thought it was. Your friends have begun to let loose the power of 5-15 years of collecting the best cards available and you need something to fight back. So, you look for your local card shop and take your first steps into the real house of MTG…the local game store (LGS for my fellow NEWBS). As you walk in you see a few people gathered around playing EDH and a couple of guys sorting through cards. None take much notice to you other than a head nod or maybe a quick “hey”. As you take a few steps in you see the display and are set aback by all the shiny nice things. So many cards you’ve never seen. Soon you are greeted with “hi there, you new to MTG?” Oh Yes. Your blank expression at the schmorgesborg of cards has given you away. You explain your newbness to the person behind the counter and they begin to spit out cards you could want. They all sound great but the prices! You don’t know what a Tarmogoyf is but DAMN!!! A hundred bucks! Unless you’re stacked with cash, these are not on your radar right now. The staff will suggest to you that you draft if you’re still learning. It’s a great way to learn the game and start building a collection. He leads you to the store website and you agree to come back after a little research.
Draft day comes and you walk in to a gaggle of 6-11 other people. These gatherings bring an eclectic group of individuals. All age groups are present. Some look like stereotypical nerds, geeks and dweebs but some are what look like jocks and business men. What witchcraft is this! You listen in as they joke and laugh and talk of games and new cards. Getting along, no squabbling, at least none that seems out of anger. As you approach the counter to pay, someone approaches you. “Hey, haven’t seen you around before.” You exchange names and pleasantries before they introduce you to the group. Everyone is welcoming, some are less excitable than others but do not give off an aura of malice. It is a far cry from the lax first walk in. You have come to an event so now warrant some attention. So, you relax. You pull some cool cards and a ton you don’t have. Each match is different, some fast, some slow but everyone is super helpful. They walk you through each play and suggest different moves. After the game they go through your deck and sideboard while making little improvements and synergies you didn’t see. Everyone takes a great interest in you. And why shouldn’t they? Your awesome…right! You are the new kid on the block and everyone wants to impart their wisdom and knowledge to you. They walk you through the current Meta and how to choose the type of deck you play. You leave the store with a bunch of commons, uncommons and odd rares donated by the group and feel at home. You have been indoctrinated into the fold of fellow Magic players. There are two reasons it goes so well the first night. One. New blood for the community is always good, and they want you to come back. Magic is a multiplayer game so yeah……need you back. Two……you don’t know it yet….but you’re not just new blood….you’re fresh meat for the prize pool.
ENTERING THE FRAY
Months pass and your collection grows. You’ve won a draft or two and begin to feel ready to compete in the larger tournaments around. If you are in a decent sized city, you probably have that one really competitive store. The one that the smaller LGS players hate because the community that inhabits it are ruthless, rude and outright nasty when it comes to tournaments. These people are future Pro-Tour players in their mind and will stop at nothing to get there. It’s hard to believe them though because all your experiences have been positive for the most part. And besides, every store has that one guy right? The one who is just overly annoying and competitive. Maybe they just had a bad experience. Well……time to find out.
You’re excited! Nervous! Time to join the big leagues!!! You walk in!!!!
…..you know immediately what you heard was correct.
A room full of players at tables…with silence….dead…cold…silence. The looks you receive are not those of curiosity, they are sizing you up. You line up to pay and the staff are short and to the point. “Fill out your decklist and wait for the judges to pick it up during announcements.” Alrighty then…..good start.
You sit down and begin writing yours down, casually looking over at other people. They see this and hide their sheets like the smart kid in class during an exam. You are clearly a spy looking to sabotage their chances and post their decks strategy on a secret facebook page dedicated to their demise!!!
After the opening announcements the pairings are announced and people begin to shuffle to their tables. You get to yours last and buddy next to you in another game has monopolized the space. Clearly his extra large Hello Kitty playmat takes precedence over your no mat having self. You ask for some more space and get the old “I’m stuck here too buddy”…ok…yah….sure…that sounds fair.
You get situated somehow and use your tetris skills to place your deck, spin down and tokens down while your opponent shuffles his deck impatiently as time is already running. “Sorry bout that. Hi I’m (insert name)!” They look up and say “High roll”. Ummm sure….ok. You roll and quickly off to the game you go.
Your opponent plays quickly while you try and figure out what you’re doing with your life. When you do make a mistake or misplay something it is an affront to humanity. Their body language is that of a menstruating Rhino and their patience much the same. You are no longer the cute newb, you are now what is wrong with this world. If you did manage to squeak out a win then your opponent lets off the same aura as my wife before her morning coffee. Your non-meta deck is blasphemy and should not be at this table. How dare you. You should be ashamed.
By the end of the tournament, regardless of your placing, the experience has left you drained. It’s like they say, it’s all fun and games until someone gets hurt. Or in this case, until someone is out of the prize pool. It’s fine to be competitive, and as time goes on you will search out competitive matches. But early on, you will find this type of environment, very, very disheartening.
These are but three of the experiences players will have. Your experience will vary but the concept is always the same. MTG is a game with a vast array of people, places and strategies. It’s up to you to traverse the ulvenwald and find your inner sanctum.
See you next time for 5 types of people you’ll meet at your LGS.