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I’m Not Casual, I’m Grind-Adjacent

Tuesday, November 30th – Are you a casual player? Am I? What is a casual player? Geordie Tait investigates these questions, as he tries to find the “casual player” in himself.

Are you a casual player?

Am I?

I’ve been thinking a little lately about how much “casual player” I have in me. You’d figure that with all the times I’ve needled that particular demographic, there wouldn’t be a drop of so-called “casual” blood left in my desiccated thirty-something husk, but perhaps that isn’t the case. Before the carapace of high-level gamesmanship keratinized upon my back, I
was

a “casual” Magic player.

At least, I think I was.

Just what

is


a casual Magic player? Perhaps we should ask self-proclaimed casual players how they define themselves. I actually attempted to do this, and answers were varied. A Google search for “I want to spoon with Kelly Digges” brought me to the Casual Player Alliance, a well-meaning band of informal magicians. I clicked on their “Mission Statement,” but it contained no definition of what a casual player actually is.

I had to look around and guess at the nature of a casual player by examining their surroundings and interests.

Articles for “Casual” players tend to be for formats like Elder Dragon Highlander or good ol’ chaos multiplayer. If you play those formats a lot, does that make you a casual player?

Other articles for the “Casual” crowd feature fun and quirky decks that are Tier 2 at best and well below competitive at worst. These decks are ostensibly to be played casually or at Friday Night Magic. If you play quirky decks like these at Friday Night Magic, does that make you a casual player?

What if you’re pretty good when you do play, but you only play once a month or so? Is that a casual player?

What if you play a bunch, but it’s just one of twelve different gamer hobbies you engage in? Does that make you a casual player?

I guess there’s no easy answer — casuals can’t be so effortlessly pigeonholed. They’re young and old, thick and thin, and they direct their copies of Niv-Mizzet both in open war and covert guile. Some of them will offer cheerful non-resistance while being stomped by a Tarmogoyf, reaching up past descending boot to merrily shake the death-harbinger’s hand. Others will angrily pack up their cards in the same situation. Still others will join your game and then concede if you cast a Spell Snare. Casuals are like the fabled scrotum that got stuck in the blender.

A mixed bag.

I’m afraid to form a definition of casuals myself — too many preconceptions. It’d be a little like putting the Orkin Man in charge of defining the word “termite.” It’s better if I examine the works of a man who actually knows what he’s talking about, like Anthony Alongi.

Ten years ago, Anthony had this to say about casual players and their grinding counterparts. I reproduce it here, paraphrased:


“Casual players play Magic for longer and burn out far less often than those involved in the tournament scene. Emerging tourney players tend to be high-school or college-aged and in a time of great personal and professional flux in their life. Coming into and leaving the world of Magic is natural for them. A large contingent of casual players, however, are older. They use the game not unlike a poker evening: a chance to get together with friends on a regular basis and just connect around something entertaining.”

Well, I’m now older, and I no longer have dreams of winning the Pro Tour (I instead dream of the Toronto Raptors someday becoming more than a way station for European castoffs… but I guess that won’t happen as long as our best apartments don’t come with League Pass on the cable box). Perhaps I’m now transitioning into the sort of gamer that Anthony describes.

Maybe it’s time to break out the Shivan Dragons and Illicit Auctions.

Maybe it’s time for a casual renaissance!

Okay, okay… let’s slow down a little. I know I can’t just claw myself all the way back into the womb, slap a couple of fallopian tubes over my ears, and slip back into blissful in-utero Magic. I’m too far gone in the other direction, and the Breeding Pit + Ebon Praetor combinations that enchanted me when I had a struggling beard no longer hold the same charm.

Multiplayer, for example — the time-enema that evacuates hours from a day like so much accumulated waste. I ran afoul of this old warlock just a few days ago, when I learned that in order to play EDH head-to-head on MODO, I’d have to find a third party who would join and concede, since it’s a multiplayer-only format online (for no good reason). As I bitterly complained, someone asked me “There’s an EDH game with two seats open right there — why don’t you play in that?”

“Well, RukiaSoulSociety96,” I responded, “those games tend to drag a little.”


Like a rusty radiator hitched to the back of an arabber’s cart,

I silent added.

Multiplayer games move like Brandon Roy on the second night of a back-to-back. Online, every time something triggers, it requires more “yays” and “nays” than a congressional vote. In much the same way that an old man rolls gingerly out of bed every morning, the well of youthful pep that once resided in his loins long-ago depleted, the substance within the Magic-young that enables multiplayer will one day evaporate.

Still, it occurs to me as of this writing that game speed and desire for a higher level of competition aren’t necessarily the reasons that I no longer play chaos multiplayer. The true reason is that I don’t have a big group of friends that regularly partake. I’m not equipped to turn multiplayer games into the “poker evening” experience that Anthony Alongi describes. A group of such friends would make the waiting tolerable, as the conversation would pick up mid-turn where a drunken magician’s brain had left off. With other stimuli present (and perhaps pretzels), I’d be a lot more inclined to forgive a fruitless thirty-second tank.

Since a kitchen-table gathering shows no signs of coming together, I instead take part in online Magic events populated with random players to whom I have no social connection. Those events necessarily have to provide meaning beyond the social, and do so, in the form of prizes and the thrill of facing a high level of competition. I still use Magic to keep in touch with people, so it’s still a social pastime — just in a different way. And I still wrap myself in the downy comfort of multiplayer Magic. It’s called “drafting.”

Seriously, it’s quite similar. The games still have eight players, and they’re still three hours long.

Bottom line: I’ve given up the Pro Tour dream and become tangential to the grind. I can finally become the “non-tournament” player I once thought I reviled.

Hey, I’m not casual, I’m grind-adjacent!

For me, irrelevant is the new casual, a terminus that mirrors the beginning. Simpsons creator Matt Groening once wrote a poem that was featured in his
Big Book Of Hell.

In it, he told the story of a human being, with each line representing a different phase of life. Both the second and second-to-last lines of the poem were the same:

“You won’t make it. Stop squirming.”

The message, of course, is that we go out with the same indignity with which we came in.

I don’t grind, don’t test. I don’t play in PTQs. Team AWWAJALOOM, if they still existed today, might even consider me for membership. Could it be, that despite all my snarky barbs toward casual players, I’m now a casual player myself? Seems hard to fathom. Whenever The Ferrett mentions casual players on his Facebook, I typically opine that perhaps we should start shoveling casuals into mass graves a la Eradicate, so that valuable gaming tables can be freed up for people who don’t start chumping at twenty.

Whatever my previous remarks, the Groening poem seems to apply. In the months after my Magical beginning, I was making terrible decks filled with jank. And what was I doing all last month? That’s right. Terrible decks filled with jank. I’ve come full circle, an old man drooling his way through his final years in the same manner he once wet his baby-bib.

Looks like I might owe some people an apology. Let’s examine some of my experiences with casual players and try to find the genesis of my vitriol.


I’m closing my eyes and thinking hard. Willing the motes of evenings past to coalesce into a waking dream…


Memory 1:

I’m observing a well-known terrible player at my local card store. We’ll call him Jack. It’s an Onslaught Block Limited event, a Friday Night Magic. Jack is taciturn and surly. He’s a guy who resents it when anyone else is good at Magic.

When asked his opinion of Jack, a fellow store denizen opines: “I tried to be nice to Jack. But then I discovered, he’s just… well… an a**.”

Jack doesn’t play often (the occasional FNM or “fun” game), and when he does play, it’s a mess. He misses triggers, leaves guys in play who should be dead (either accidentally or to attempt the cheats), and tends to scoop if even the slightest thing goes wrong. He’s as Obstinate as the Baloth of the same name. He’d rather scoop than admit that he left a Prodigal Sorcerer in play despite Wrath of God being cast twice.

Jack’s match is the last one going in the round. Game 3 is just starting. Jack plays Birchlore Rangers. His opponent plays Festering Goblin. On his second turn, Jack confidently slams down a Lavamancer’s Skill on the Birchlore Rangers and kills the Festering Goblin. I try to discreetly leave the store so I can chuckle outside, but in my youthful impertinence I don’t quite make it.

Jack understands he’s made a mistake from the reactions of others around him (his match is one of the last to finish in the round), but all it does is frustrate him and inflame his anger at the “elitists” who “think they’re the all-time-greatest Magic player.”

I could sit down and explain to him why what he did is hilarious, that he should learn from it and not take himself so seriously, but I’d be wasting my breath. Jack has no interest in improvement. He’s in it to rare-draft, cheat, and ping people out with Prodigal Sorcerers. He’s a casual player.

Or is he?


Things are getting hazy again… swirling… going around and around. Now I’m in a different place, at a different time…


Memory 2:

It’s a “Type 1” tournament, which is what we called Vintage back when men were men and Springjack Pastures were nervous. My opponent is not a regular at the store — he’s a young man I’ve seldom seen, showing up from out of town just for this event.

I’m playing Necro, and I Hymn to Tourach a Black Vise out of his hand on the first turn. Two turns later, he draws and plays another Black Vise. Black Vise is restricted, so I call a judge. For whatever reason, my opponent gets disqualified.

After his disqualification, he approaches me and gives me an earful for “getting him kicked out of the tournament.”

“Thanks for being such a dick,” he says, sarcastically. “Thanks to you I’m done for the day.”

Hey, maybe read the rules of the format you’re playing next time. How about that?

I don’t say anything to him except for a weak “I’m sorry you feel that way.”

I could try to tell him it’s mostly his fault (with draconian penalty guidelines, possibly applied incorrectly, a close second), but I don’t bother. He doesn’t want to hear that knowing the rules is his responsibility. He’s in it to play whatever deck he wants, and if he did something wrong, well, how could he be expected to know? He’s a casual player.

Or is he?

Flashing forward now… zipping through the eons…


Memory 3:

I join a game in the tournament practice room. I cast a Counterspell. My opponent concedes.


Memory 4:

I start a 100-Card Singleton game. I Hinder his first play. My opponent concedes.


Memory 5:

The game ends not with a bang, but with a Wasteland.


Memory 6:

Avalanche Riders lays another contest gently down to sleep on turn 3.


Memory 7:

After a considerable wait, my opponent joins the game, takes a mulligan, and then, obviously not liking the looks of his six, concedes.

Okay, I’ve had enough. Clearly I’ve been traumatized. I can’t be objective here.

Wait, what are these other thoughts I’m experiencing?


I’m so tired of Geordie watching me play. His exhalations of breath at every attack he doesn’t agree with… his rolling eyes when I play one creature instead of another… the way he elbows his friends when he thinks I’ve screwed up. Sorta makes it difficult to have fun when this dingleberry is watching over my shoulder. He only acts like that because he reads the Dojo and thinks he’s a big deal. I’m not here to get my play corrected by a guy who spends his evenings playing those god-awful video games based on the Romance of the Three Kingdoms. I’m here to have fun. I hope he dies in a grease fire.

Wait, really? Gee, I…


I’m tired of Geordie coming into the store and breaking up our multiplayer games by starting team drafts. Just because I don’t want to draft, he looks at me like I’m an idiot. Drafting is expensive, and I’m not very good at it — why would I want to waste the money just to fuel that guy’s giant ego? This game is supposed to be fun. Why should I have to fire up Netscape and dial onto the internet just to read articles by this Gary Wise person, just to play Magic? Magic is supposed to be fun, not research. Why doesn’t Geordie understand that?

Hey, if I’d known you felt that way, I would have…


Listen to this guy writing about how he wanted to ruin multiplayer games by playing Cad Bloom with a Hurricane kill. What a bag. Somebody should thank Sarnia, Ontario, for housing this burglar for twenty years and keeping his BS from spreading to the rest of the northeast. What Geordie has never understood is that his sensibility isn’t the only one that makes sense. He projects his own way of doing things onto every player. Or, at least, onto the players over which he feels he wields a superior prerogative about what’s important in Magic and how it should be played. The idea that “casual players” should change their habits just to satisfy his beliefs is nothing more than unwarranted self-importance.

Okay… I’m getting the message. I feel like Ebenezer Scrooge, being led around by the Ghost of Christmas Past. I should apologize to anyone I’ve offended over the years with my behavior. Players have different priorities; I know that now. For every time I laughed at a misplay and then justified it with
“Heck, that person should thank me for pointing it out. Isn’t the point to improve?”

I apologize. I was young. Thought I knew it all. Not only about Magic, but about what people wanted to get out of playing it.

You guys did stink at Magic, though. At least admit that. I mean, I did too, but come on…

Okay, okay! Sorry!

Old habits die hard.

I realize now that my problem isn’t with casual players at all. It isn’t even with bad players.

When I complain about premature concessions, people who rail about the shuffler, or “lucky pros,” guys who get upset at losing but
don’t try to improve, people who don’t learn the rules, and then run afoul of them, I’m really complaining about
buffoons.

While there’s often some overlap, a buffoon isn’t the same as a bad player or a casual player. Buffoons are players who are inconsiderate, selfish, and foolish, with a massive sense of entitlement.

When I complain about people taking forever to take their turn, people who don’t realize how lucky they’ve been to win, people who play
formats I find pointless, people who read and write articles that don’t interest me… these are all examples of
me projecting.

Neither category has anything to do with casual play. It’s not the format; it’s the person. I apologize to any and all casual players I tarred with the buffoon brush. While I still heartily believe that rubes who complain that “pros are jerks, eff the shuffler!” probably have Darksteel where brains usually go; those people don’t say stuff like that because they’re casual players. They do it because they’re dumb, loud, and opinionated.

I’ll leave you with this. If you’re the sharp-tongued guy who gives that twelve-year-old kid a dressing down for his play at the card store, make sure you stop and think about whether he wants to hear it or not. Maybe he’s just passing through on his way to Yu-Gi-Oh!, you know? And if you’re like me, and arriving at the second half of your magical journey, with the gravy train chugging away in your rearview, well…


Welcome back. You’ve been here before. And as Magic gets older, there are going to be more and more of us.


Let’s sleeve up some 100-card decks and see who can blow the other out first with some absurd interaction.


If we make mistakes, we’ll make fun of each other just like we used to do to others when we thought we were good.


I want to make a deck based on Zur the Enchanter.


Who have you got?


Teneb? Cool.


Fair warning — if I Prismatic Omen and Last Stand you, I’m putting the screenshots up on Facebook.


What? The MOMIR event is starting in fifteen?


Boldwyr Heavyweights, here I come.

Grind-adjacent. It’s the place to be.