Several writers have recently stressed the importance of developing a personal player network â€” and this week, I’m going to show you how to do it. We’ll talk about why a player group is useful, how to find other players, and what you should look to give (and get) out of the friendship. I’ll be drawing on a lot of my personal experiences, especially from when I was just starting off in Eternal formats.
First, let’s talk about the benefits of a play group. Having friends who play the same format as you means that you can borrow and lend cards, which is especially important in Legacy. You can also share the costs of rides to large events and tournaments; since the best Legacy events are often large (and invariably, in another state), it’s useful to have people to split gas and hotel costs with. As a beginning player, you get access to many more events and a deeper card pool; as a veteran, you gain more testing partners and access to newer cards.
As an example, I have cultivated several mutually-beneficial friendships recently where I have been able to lend out older cards (like Wasteland) to borrow newer cards (like Vengevine). As an established player, I have a lot of the staples that a Standard player would need to borrow to play for Legacy. At the same time, that Standard player has the Jaces and Vengevines that I need to borrow for a day.
The point here is that you don’t need to find someone who has been playing as long as you have to see advantages in networking.
Getting to Know the Locals
So now you know why this is a good idea; now, how do you go about finding these players? Let’s start with the easy bits.
If you’re in a town with a university, there are likely several Magic players in the campus gaming group â€” and at least some of them are interested in Legacy gaming. And if they’re not, they likely have friends who are. Ask!
Don’t attend that university? Maybe you’re in high school? Many gaming groups have a listed officer on the university website under the “clubs” section. A little research, maybe by emailing the head of student clubs, can find contact information otherwise. In any case, you can contact the club leader and ask if it is okay if you drop by to play a few games. Pack a casual deck, some Legacy decks, and maybe an EDH stack and offer to get in on some games. It’s certainly a little uncomfortable to walk into a room full of people who know each other and want to get into the group, but your cards give you a convenient vehicle to do this.
Note that it’s a good idea to bring several Legacy decks; this lets you provide everything people need to play, and even someone who is interested in Legacy but doesn’t have the cards can join in.
This plan is also comically easy at local card shops. If you can meet people at FNM or a casual EDH play night, you can usually find a few people who want to play Legacy. After only a little bit of active looking, I found several interested players here in Bloomington. Many people read about Legacy and want to play it, but lack the cards. Bring all the fun of playing the format by getting out your Sharpie and mocking up cards you don’t have â€” it’s unglamorous but still helps you get testing experience. I succeeded in getting several players interested in Vintage by bringing along some decks to events; everyone loves playing with powerful cards, and Legacy has plenty of its own.
If you are geographically separated from other players, you can get in contact with people online and see if they are interested in talking shop. Sometimes, you can even find people in your own area. Forums (especially StarCityGames.com forums) often include a location line in posters’ profiles â€” pay attention and you can sometimes spot people in your area. I have found several people in this way.
Though a lot of the competition is weak or strange, you can use MWS if you have no other options and find people to play cards with online. With Magic Online’s Legacy format heating up, the geographic separations are diminishing over time. Finding people who want to play on MODO is easy and you can set up a small group of interested players that way, too.
Branching Out, Stepping Up
If you are starting off in networking, the best thing you can provide is leg-work. (You can also provide cards, but leg-work is easier.) If you are approaching an established player, you can offer to be a testing partner, or at least work some things out and share your results.
I like to play games with anyone who is interested â€” but I have some requirements that I suspect a lot of other players have as well. For example, I do not want to play against an untested pet deck, especially when I am tuning up for an event. I want to play against someone who knows what they are doing, or at least is willing to ask how to play at certain points (including asking for sideboarding advice).
I prefer to play against people I can sit down with â€” so if all you can offer is online testing, then one great thing you can provide is “two-fisted” testing results. You can, for example, offer to try out a sideboarding strategy or toss a new, trendy deck against an older, established list.
The operative idea in all of your networking is that most people are happy to help out another gamer â€” if they are offering something in return, if they are making reasonable requests, and if they are not a weird human being. This even applies to “high-up” players, although they have many more people jockeying for their time and attention. This is not to say that you should immediately message pro players on Facebook (except Gerry Thompson â€” pester him all you want) but that you should not be afraid to talk to “name” players.
Lauren Lee wrote just last week about getting into Zvi Mowshowitz testing group, just by asking a few intelligent questions and offering to play some cards. Sometimes, you won’t get a response â€” but often, someone’s willing to help you out. In Legacy, a good place to start is by messaging people on The Source, even if it is just to ask a quick question about a deck they’re talking about or a clarification in a tournament report they posted.
The universal guideline of “don’t annoy people and respect their privacy” is worth repeating here. I know a lot of Pro players who will not accept a friend request on Facebook from someone they don’t know, but will respond to a thoughtfully-crafted and brief message.
When I started out in Vintage, I got into it just like many other players did – I started reading some articles online. I read early Stephen Menendian works, and began participating on The Mana Drain. I noticed that a local tournament in Columbus, Ohio was coming up, so I put together a deck and I went to the event. I knew several of the people there by reading their posts on TMD â€” and granted, it was a little intimidating to play against them. I kept in contact with several of the local players, including Steve M. and Kevin Cron. I soon joined their testing group, just by asking if I could tag along. It helped that I knew about the prominent decks and could play them decently.
That said, I had absolutely no collection to speak of. Still, I was able to get a lot of experience with smart players and eventually, join in on rides to events and borrow some of the pricier cards to play the format. By the time Legacy was announced, I had a group in place to talk about popular decks and get in some experience with them.
Keeping Up A Good Reputation
It’s one thing to start networking, but it takes work to sustain it. If you borrow cards from someone, you absolutely must return them as soon as you are done with them. If you scrub out of the event, desleeve your cards and give back things you borrowed. If you are in the event until the end and your buddy, who lent you those fetchlands, already left, then hand-deliver them or securely mail them.
Dragging your feet on getting back expensive or hard-to-find cards will result in having a poor reputation. I don’t want to lend cards to someone who takes three weeks, four emails, two phone calls and persistent pestering to get them back to me. I have even gone so far as to bring envelopes to events and get addresses from friends that I get cards from, to make sure that they get back to their home. When you demonstrate respect for other peoples’ cards, they are more apt to lend them out again later.
You can maintain a good reputation by not being a jerk to other people, by knowing what you are talking about without being overbearing, and by being humble about things you don’t know about. These seem like obvious points, but people mess up on this all the time. (Just ask Geordie Tait — T.F.) Often, it’s when someone wants to impress someone else, especially someone they look up to. They are inclined to make overreaching statements, only to back down when contradicted. It looks sloppy and inconsistent to everyone around.
The Bigger Picture
As some readers know, I am finishing up my time at law school. One of the consistent points about getting a good job is that you have to network with other professionals. The challenge is that networking feels strange – you’re contacting strangers, asking them to help you out. It is completely normal to think that this is unnatural behavior, because we usually find friends and mentors organically.
That said, networking in professions is expected and encouraged, and many people want to help less experienced people who share their passion for the work. At least with Magic, you can offer something to anyone you talk to â€” be it a seat in a car, a ride, a testing partner, or sideboarding tips. Getting some experience with reaching out to strangers pays off in many other parts of your life, especially if you plan to be in a professional career.
If you are already a professional, then Magic networking can either be a refresher course in meeting new people, or a development tool for learning a skill you might not have had before. In any case, Magic networking can pay off, both inside and outside of the tournament setting.
It is the most uncomfortable thing to talk to people you don’t know â€” but every time you attempt it, it gets easier. I promise.