Life Lessons For New Players

As a follow-up to his “Life Lessons For Grinders,” this time Mark has some advice for new players to help them get better while having fun playing Magic.

A few weeks ago, I wrote my most successful article to date: a series of lessons and guidelines for “grinders.” The article itself had tons of comments and good feedback and was one of the first pieces that I was truly happy with.

It, however, was not applicable to everyone.

When trying to give advice to “the middle of the road” players, you have to understand a few key points:

1) For people who are already considered professionals, the article only reinforced their good habits rather than helping them improve in individual areas.

2) For people who are grinders, the tips may have helped them.

3) For those who are new to the game, everything I said might as well have been in Chinese, and they understood very little.

Magic is a very complex endeavor. The average player isn’t me, or Todd Anderson, or Luis Scott-Vargas. They are the people who populate our FNMs and reside at kitchen tables, slinging spells for the base love of the game. In a way, that’s how Magic is supposed to be played: for fun and a good time alone.

One thing I get asked a lot on my stream (cheap plug incoming later for it) as well as on Facebook is how to get to the “next level” as a new player. I think this is a complicated question and deserves its own article, so this is my attempt to help new players become competitive while at the same time doing my best to preserve the innocence and great times to be had playing Magic.

Life Lesson #1: Develop Thick Skin

I thought about saving this one for the end, but I think it’s actually the best way to start off.

There is a stigma about Magic players that is both correct and false: they can be jerks. You will have to endure some of the most socially inept people you have ever encountered while simultaneously having interactions with the coolest folks you’ll ever meet. This is one of the greatest joys and biggest burdens of being a Magic player nowadays.

Developing a thicker skin is going to help you deal with some of the less than savory characters that you are undoubtedly going to deal with.

The guy who you beat that feels the need to yell at you afterward?
The person who constantly criticizes your play?
The player who makes snarky comments no matter what you do?

You’re going to have to deal with all of them—probably on a semi-daily basis.

How you handle them is completely up to you, but as a person who has been on the receiving end of those types of behaviors as well as (at one time) was the kind of so-and-so I’m now railing against, the best advice I can give you is to let it roll off of your back and pay no mind to their manners (or lack thereof). 

When I was younger and began playing Magic at my local shop, the climate wasn’t a very healthy one. If someone lost, an outburst was almost guaranteed, and as a new player, it rubbed off on me. I lost? What the hell? How dare you! Blah blah blah. Complain complain complain. I found myself swallowed up in the negativity, and I perpetuated the circle with other players—me feeding off of their pessimistic attitude and them drawing from mine. It was the most pathetic thing you could ever think of.

You, who are reading this right now, can stop the nonsense now by always preserving your sense of self and not succumbing to being a jerk. The world will thank you by loving you as opposed to thinking you are a scumbag.

Don’t be that guy. It’s the most important lesson I can pass on to you.

Lesson #2: Protect Yourself

You want to know what my first trade was in Magic?

A friend of mine that I worked with gifted me with (literally) a giant black trash bag filled to the brim with cards. He had played a lot years ago and just had them sitting around, so he passed them on to a young and eager teenage me (who might I add had much more hair).

Upon learning which cards were “rares” amongst the thousands of cards that I sorted through, I placed them into a little Tupperware box that I always kept my decks in. As the days passed, I grew more anxious to get to my local gaming store because I knew I could trade some of those trash bag wares for all of the Standard cards my heart desired. When I entered the store on Saturday, I went up to some of the people that I knew had tons of Standard staples and told them of my good fortune regarding my new “collection.” Their eyes glazed over. I thought this was going to be great for me!

What followed can only be described as a “beating.” I remember this trade because I thought I was running away with such a deal by getting rid of all these older and unplayable cards:

I gave:
Metalworker x3
Goblin Welder x2
Yawgmoth’s Will x2
Exploration x1
Intuition x2

He gave:
Wrath of God x2
Eternal Dragon x2
Astral Slide x4
Exalted Angel x1

… Yup.

Back then, I thought this trade was waaaaay in my favor. It turns out I wasn’t right, and I took a pretty heavy hit.

The moral of the story? You are the only person you can count on when it comes to protecting yourself. Magic cards are expensive, and sharks—people who basically make it their point to rip you off in trades—swim very close to the shore. They will do many things to try to get your good cards off of you by hitting you from multiple angles. Look for the following signs:

1) They will try to trade without using websites or smart phones. Expect “I just looked this card up today” or “I know almost exactly what most cards are worth.”

2) They will try to rush you. “I don’t have that much time, so we can either make this deal or forget about it.”

3) They will value your cards low and try to value their cards high. “This site is sold out of Voice of Resurgence, so even though it says $40, I’m going to have to make it $50 in case the price goes up” or “I’ve got my Watery Grave at $14 and your Jace, Architect of Thought at $8. Sound good?”

4) They will blatantly lie to you. “Yeah, I know that Elvish Promenades are like $5, but no one is ever going to ask you for these but me. $3 is the most I’ll go, and that’s probably too much anyway.”

These are just a few of the strategies they’ll employ. Always be on guard. Always look up the value of your cards.

Protecting yourself doesn’t just mean knowing what the worth of what you have is; it also extends into constantly being on guard against thievery.

Stealing is a subject that has continued to come to light recently, and that’s because dirty thieves seem to keep preying on innocent people.

What can you do to stop this epidemic?

1) If you bring a backpack, make sure that it’s zipped up at all times and that your eyes never leave it. When you’re playing, place it in front of yourself with one of the straps around your leg.

2) Report shifty people who seem to be walking around the room not talking to people, craning their heads to see trades, texting someone while a deal is going on, or asking unnecessary questions about the worth of certain cards. These people will simply be watched, not carted off the premises.

3) Don’t bring tens of thousands of dollars with you. The story of a man’s collection being stolen from his car that was worth $80,000+ rocked the community, but unless he was planning on selling all of it, there’s almost no cause for you to bring that much money in assets with you. I’ll put it like this: would you just leave like $50,000 in your trunk unguarded? It’s the same principle.

4) Drum these jerks out of the community. If someone you know steals cards, make them suffer for it. Tell everyone you know! Make Facebook posts. Tweet about it. Let all the local storeowners know, and if they show up at a major event, be sure to tell the T.O. so judges can watch them like a hawk all day.

I’m sure there are plenty more steps you can take, but these are among the most basic. Magic costs a lot of money, as I’m sure you already know, and no one has the right to steal from another person. Period.

Life Lesson #3: Accept Criticism and Advice

A most curious phenomenon occurs in the Magic world from time to time…

You tell a person a potentially better play or offer them a few words after a match, and they scoff at you or completely dismiss you.

You’re a human being; you think almost everything you do is right because you wouldn’t have done it in the first place if you thought it would be wrong in the long run. When someone swoops in and says, “Hey, you could have done this, and it would have worked out better,” your first inclination is to disagree and make an immediate excuse because you are right and they are wrong and you are amazing and they have a stupid face.

Now, they may have been correct, but that doesn’t mean they have the right to call you out like that, does it?

Well…yeah, it does, especially if you want to get better at this game and avoid costly mistakes in the long run.

One thing I see new players do and do often is refute the help that some of the more well-meaning players try to instill upon them. A rookie is defensive because they understand that they know nothing but don’t want to admit it because that shows immediate signs of “weakness”—and weakness is something a player of minimal experience can ill-afford to admit.

In direct conflict with that mindset is that accepting a weakness is the only way to turn it into a strength. You cannot understand what is wrong unless someone is there to show you the way.

Accept the guidance of friends, other players, and potential mentors. It’s the only way you’ll improve.

Life Lesson #4: Do Your Research!

You’re here, so congratulations! You’re already living lesson number four!

When you’re trying to ascend to the next level, one of the easiest but most important steps to take is the one you are partaking in at this very moment: reading.

Doing homework might have a negative aura around it, but it can be fun when you’re dealing with Magic. StarCityGames.com gives you tons of articles, videos, and content to mow through on a nightly basis, which you can feast on in order to gain an abundance of information. This is very valuable in getting yourself ready to play in bigger tournaments because let’s face it—how many of us want to travel, pay for gas and a hotel, entry fees, and then, to top it off, buy crappy convention center food at fine dining prices only to fail miserably? Sure, these tournaments are also huge amounts of fun for the casual crowd and havens for friendships to flourish, but at the end of the rainbow is always a coveted victory.

These awesome tournaments are like a final exam, and in order to do well you have to study before them. Every day you can check the results of MTGO (Magic: The Gathering Online) Daily Events to put your finger on the pulse of what decks the Internet is playing and how prolific they are in appearance.

Patrick Chapin provides charts on a weekly basis that break down SCG Standard Opens as well as other events like Grand Prix and Pro Tours. How crazy is it that you can see what percentage of decks to expect at the next contest you play at? Find out how much Jund and Reanimator is in your future? These are the kinds of things that can lead you to make strong metagame predictions that can result a win, even at the infant stages of your Magic career.

Also, as a side note, staying up every night until midnight to read all of the articles on this site is one of my favorite pastimes, and I hope it will become one of yours, too.

Have these tips helped you? For me, writing this gave me an insight into when I first picked up Magic cards. I wish someone would have told me some of these tips because it would have saved me headache after headache.

For those of you that have been playing the game for a while, pass this on to a new player that you know and let them have a little look into what they could do to make themselves better, be safer, and have more fun!

This game has given me my best friends, the money to buy the home I live in and the car that I drive, and countless memories that I will cherish for the rest of my life.

If you’re new and want to go further, good luck. You’re about to go on one of the coolest journeys of your life. Cheers.

Catch ya on the flip-


*Special thanks to my friends, namely Ashley for giving me this idea since my writer’s block was killing me.

**Also special thanks to everyone who came out for my first major week of streaming Magic!