Even More Life Lessons For New Players

Life’s lessons can be hard to learn, and everything is easier with a teacher to show you the way. Today, Big Papa Mark Nestico shares his advice for all the new players out there or anyone just returning to the game, anyone a bit out of their depth who could use a lifeline or two.

It’s long past one in the morning, and I’m finally packing up my things after a successful Game Day. Abzan Control served me well, but that isn’t what I was focusing on. Slippery roads, the sound of rain crashing off of the roof, and a table in the corner occupied by about five or six players that are still talking about Magic.

I envy them.

They haven’t been playing for too long, but they’re good. I mean… as good as you can be without much experience, but I see them trying. They battle with brews or different takes on established archetypes, and talk about their choices. Each week some of them will bring a new deck and ask for advice on it. I always see them inhabiting our local game store, 2 Drop, and recently they made the trek up to Orlando for SCG’s Regionals to get a little bit more of a big-tournament feel. I played against one of them in the finals just a few hours ago, and they all crowded around him. Their collective sighs and shrugs when I won made me remember what that was like when I was trying to find my way when it came to Magic and the “crew” I had developed. How we weren’t just a foundation for each other, but instead we wanted to be the shoulders our friends could stand on to reach greater heights.

The idea for today came from a friend. Joe “Sweat, Baby” Sweat. He just went through a Texas drought of not playing Magic and selling his collection a few months back. We talked a little bit about what it’s like being a new player or when you’re trying to get back into the game after an extended hiatus. I thought to myself: “well… you already did this, remember?” It’s true. A few years ago, I wrote some tips for new players. You can find that here. That was well over two years ago. The game has changed so much, and to be fair, I’d barely scratched the surface when it comes to things to take into account as a person just getting into Magic, or a returning vet.

So here we are.

Tip #1 – All Kids Out Of The Pool

Let’s be controversial right out of the gate.

Pooling your cards with your friends is a terrible, terrible idea.

Ohhh… shivers.

Allow me to set the stage for you: perhaps it’s three other friends and yourself. Magic, let’s face it, is expensive. We don’t live in the era of Caw-Blade anymore, where the best Standard deck was around a thousand dollars, but to have a bevy of choices you need quite a bit of money. You all collectively decide to buy a few boxes of the latest sets upon the direction of your local store owner. Three or four hundred dollars later, you’re all staring at massive stacks of cards, rares, foils, and mythics.

But what now?

After a few Google searches, you start to compile lists and lists of decks and what cards you have and don’t. Now you’ve stumbled on to websites that sell singles, sleeves, and supplies. After telling your friends all about it, you guys and gals want to fill out those missing spots in your budding collection so you can build more decks that stand a chance at winning. Many hundreds of dollars later, your team has a very expensive collection that each member owns an equal share of.

A few months pass, and Friend #3 doesn’t really care for Magic as much as the rest of the team does. They barely play and are becoming slightly resentful that their investment is being enjoyed by everybody but themselves. In short, they want out. And that means a quarter of the collection is getting sold so they can recoup their expenses.

How do you determine what gets sold? How many decks get taken apart to pacify their claim to the collection? Is this going to ruin your friendship?

I used to be a part of a card pool, and let me tell you: it ended miserably and almost destroyed multiple friendships.

We’ve all seen it happen dozens of times, but if you’re reading this because you’re new to Magic and you want some of the best advice a person can give you, it’s to never put friendships at risk. Money is a powerful motivator, and when someone wants out of your pool and that comes at the expense of selling multiple cards you never wanted to, it can be a dagger to the heart of that group.

If a big collection, tons of decks, and the ability to play whatever you want is your desire right out of the gate, see Tip #2. If you want to make sure that you preserve the friends you’ll make while playing Magic, keep money the hell out of it.

Tip #2 – Allllllllll In

When people find a hobby they enjoy, they tend to push all their chips in the middle and bet on it being something they’ll love for the rest of their life.

There was a gentleman I’d met a few years ago who had just started playing Magic. Blessed with a great career in real estate, he had a mass of disposable income. Must be nice, right? He would watch us play, ask a lot of questions, and finally decided to take the plunge and buy into Magic. Cool!

Except that when he did, he bought everything. I mean everything. Literally everything.

He went from having almost nothing to playsets of every single card in Standard overnight. Immediately he set about building decks that he didn’t have the knowledge or experience to play, but because he was naturally a smart guy he expected that he’d pick up on them very quickly. He didn’t. Frustration began to set in, and of course he became discouraged. Thinking that maybe he should get into a more player-friendly format, he bought an entire Commander deck… the expensive kind. Complete with fetches, dual lands, and premium foils. Then he learned the lesson of “if you pay an entry fee, people will be competitive.” Getting his ass kicked on a weekly basis didn’t have much appeal, so in a dying effort to save this hobby he really enjoyed, he sought other formats were where he should lay his head.

Yes. He bought a Modern collection. “I like to have options,” he said. Tron, Twin, Jund, etc. He had it all. But if his skills weren’t enough for Standard, how well do you think he fared in Modern? Long story short, after a whirlwind of spending thousands upon thousands of dollars to find where he belonged in Magic, he sold his entire collection to a vendor. Haven’t seen or heard from him since.

One of the common follies many new players partake in is the overwhelming desire to “have it all” when they play. Before really understanding the logistics of Magic and what it takes to compete, they believe that simply owning all the cards will somehow grant them success rather than all the hard work it takes to get good at the game in the first place.

When you’re just starting out, I can’t express to you how dangerous this is. Much like in MMOs, you can have the best gear… but if you don’t know how to play your class, you can’t get anywhere. This breeds a very special kind of disappointment. The entitlement derived from having a huge collection and ton of decks to choose from can be intoxicating, and therein lies the seeds of discontent.

If you’re just learning why you love Magic and you want to play this game for as long as you can, do yourself a favor and take it slowly. A grand collection, options (and all that comes with it), takes time to cultivate and isn’t something that should be forced into existence by throwing money at it. Take your time, pick up cards when you can, and learn how to trade. Trading was my most effective tool for years, and it meant I always had the cards I wanted with as little personal cost to my bank account as there could be. Without a doubt, playing Magic should be a marathon and not a sprint.

Tip #3 – The Game Has Changed

I’m a huge advocate of doing research. I always have been. One of my greatest pastimes for years used to be staying up until midnight every single evening so I could read all the new Magic articles on the web, because that’s when they were posted. I was thirsty for decks, information, and the commentary of my favorite players, and the only way to quench it was to read as much as I could get my hands on.

It stands to reason that as a child of encyclopedias and books, I would advocate absorbing as much of the written word as possible. Hell, you’re reading this right now! But I’m not naive, and I like rolling with the technological punches.

Things have changed quite heavily since I wrote my piece a few years ago. Videos, which are in my opinion the greatest thing in the history of Magic, have become a prevalent medium for teaching and helping new players learn. The VS. Series is, in my opinion, the best example of this. Two very, very good players explaining their thought processes, how their draws steps change their plans, and giving you the scoop on how to handle a board state is ridiculously invaluable in learning Magic and getting better. If you’re new to the game or just returning, these are where I would start.

Even deeper down the rabbit hole, SCG has begun uploading hysterical amounts of content to their YouTube channel. Do you know what I was doing a few nights ago? Watching the finals of a 5k from 2011.

For new players, this is a literal gold mine of information just waiting to be accessed. Statistics show that roughly 65% of all students are visual learners, and that means these videos are going to give them the most pertinent experience when it comes to understanding new and traditionally difficult concepts in Magic. To raise the stakes even further for our new and returning players, Twitch.tv provides a ton of Magic streamers to choose from. Many of the best players in the world take time out of their schedule to stream their matches and, while battling, explain all of their choices to viewers in real time.

WotC and SCG both put on broadcasts on a weekly basis, and the commentary is another fantastic tool to access when you’re new and trying to understand the complexities of board states and strategy. Years ago we didn’t have this, but much like the WWE – there is no off-season. Almost every single weekend there is an event happening, from Opens to the Invitational to Grand Prix or the Pro Tour. This is a ton of Magic to watch, and all of it is explained to you with great detail by some of the smartest minds in the game.

When new players ask me now “who should I be reading” or “what Pros write the best articles,” my answer is now almost exclusively “you should be watching the Open Series on Twitch this weekend.”

Videos are absolutely the future of Magic content.

Perhaps I’ll make some soon… thoughts?

The most important thing to remember as a new or returning Magic player is simply to have fun. It might seem like a given, but I see far too many greenhorns thrusting themselves into the competitive scene and already acting very salty when they lose. The grind is real and never-ending, and we should always be ready to continue moving forward with our abilities and do our best to not let the little things get to us. This is a game, after all. It’s so easy to forget that sometimes.

I think the best tip I can give you doesn’t require a giant bullet point or any extreme defining: make friends, have fun, and love Magic. If you can follow those simple guidelines, the game will be very good to you like it has been to me.

I might be here, but at heart I’ll always be around my kitchen table playing with my best friends – never knowing anything different. Don’t ever lose that feeling, kiddos. Once it’s gone you can never get it back.

Those kids sitting in the game shop at two in the morning just talking about decks and cards…

I envy them.