SCG Daily – The Five Sense of Magic: Touch

Noah continues his journey through the five senses of Magic. Today’s article concerns the stickiest of senses: touch.

Touch is another one of those senses that doesn’t have much to do with genuine success at the game. There are certainly people who play who have lost some degree of muscle control. I’m sure Stephen Hawking could play Magic Online, and he’d probably be a damn fine player to boot.

It’s not like you physically interact with your opponent. That’s the whole point; it’s a “mental sport” for “ungainly dorks”. Physical dexterity only comes into a play at a very few points. The chaos-type cards, for example – which don’t actually exist, although I’m sure some players know the perfect way to drop The Orb. Flipping a coin comes into play once in a while, although people are so distrustful these days they insist on an odd/even die roll. There is only one big common dexterous interaction in Magic, and that’s the shuffle.

I love shuffling cards, I really do. It’s a good thing, too; I’ve been doing it for ages. Not too many people know this, but in a past life I was a casino dealer. In fact, these days I still do occasional work as a Blackjack/Poker dealer for Christmas and graduation parties. I bring this up to emphasize the fact I’ve shuffled a lot of cards in my life. A lot. The original blackjack training was a rather intense affair: three weeks long of 6-7 hour training days. The first session, the entire class time was taken up with how to shuffle cards. Six hours of pure shuffling. I’m not the only one that day who had bleeding pinkies by quitting time. Every day after, some portion of the session would be dedicated to shuffling. At first, I was annoyed with the process. I did come from a card-based background, and felt the experience gave me a leg-up on the rest of the class. This turned out to be somewhat true, but in not any noticeable way. Casinos want two things with their shufflers: randomization and card preservation. And we all sucked at that.

Most people who riffle their cards are absolutely awful at it, in the sense of integrating two piles into an XYXY formation. It’s actually a pretty rare ability; most people I know (myself included) can’t do it with a 52 or 40 or 60 card deck. On a good day I could come close, but again, I’ve been doing this for a while.

To make up for that lack, I shuffle like crazy before every game. My mana bases are generally good, so I prefer randomization over big cheats. My method goes:

Take the deck and pile shuffle. That is, lay out your cards in piles a la a solitaire game. The number of piles I usually make is eleven or thirteen. It’s tougher to stack your deck with those big primes, so I want to show my opponent everything is on the up and up.

Take the piles in a random order and place them on top of each other, then split the deck into three stacks of equal length.

Take two of these stacks and riff them together as best as possible. If you want to protect your cards, the best way to riff is two bring the two stacks together so the corners make a slight “V” shape. Then, keeping your four fingers flat, use your thumbs to lightly lift the corners of the V and bring the two stacks together. This is infinitely easier when you use your index fingers to press into the decks for stability, but is much harder on the cards. I will do it anyway for Limited decks, on the assumption that I don’t care about preserving most of those cards.

Take the 2/3 stack and riff it into the 1/3 stack. Since they’re unequal sizes they won’t riffle perfectly (XXY-XXY), but since that’s near-impossible anyway, don’t worry about it.

Finally, I like grabbing a clump of cards and moving them somewhere else. A lot of players like the hand-over-hand method, but I think it’s hard on the edges. I personally grab a stack in the middle of the deck, put it on the bottom, then take a smaller piece from the middle, put it on the bottom, and so on. You can also do the casino “strip” shuffle, which is to hold the deck about a foot off the table, then take a quarter off the top and put it on the table, repeating for the remaining three quarters.

Finally, end either method with one more riffle, for good faith, and present. Chances are your opponent will be bored by this point, but in truth, the whole process takes about a minute. I may repeat one or two steps if it’s an important game, but that’s the essence of my randomizing, card protecting method.

This works pretty well, and it’s not tough. The only part that requires practice is keeping the four fingers flat while using your thumbs to lift the cards, basically letting gravity do the actual work. That being said, whatever method you use, make sure you shuffle your opponent’s deck. There are some insane sleight of hand artists out there, and if you randomize well, you’re probably doing your opponent a favor anyway. When MTGO takes over the Earth, good shuffling won’t much matter, but until then, it’s a nice skill to have.

As I type this fourth contribution, I must confess something: I’m sick. That isn’t a parlay into some social rant (“I’m sick of the color Red!”) nor is it a gentle intro to the denouement speech (“I’m sick Pa… real sick.”). No, I’m just mildly sick. Of the Common Cold variety.

It’s the weather, I think; my body can’t keep up. The temperatures have been 75 degrees, 45 degrees, sunny, rainy; all within the span of a week. Apparently, quite an issue for my immune system.

Touch, touch… my poor nose has been blown raw. It hurts to use a Kleenex, and it hurts not to. Even as I write this I know yesterday was a little worse, and tomorrow will probably be a little better. It’s a cold, for god’s sake… not some kind of debilitative, terminal malady. Right? I mean, here I am, typing away. Runny nose be damned, I can still spit out a daily as long as I avoid dripping on the keyboard.

Alright, why not play some Magic? Maybe hit a few poker tables too? My eyes itch but my fingers work, my brain is still conscious. Unpleasant though they may be, I’d like to think actual activities are still as doable as ever.

I would think so, but I’d be dead wrong. Magic? A pitiful performance? Poker? A costly mistake. Being sick, it turns out, isn’t just a physical state; it affects all kinds of mental functions as well. For me, being sick means being stupid. There’s probably a better description somewhere, but, you know.

The worst part, the stupid part if you will, is that I already know this! I’ve known it for years! Every time I try to do something that requires just a hint of mental acuity when I’m feeling under the weather, the results are laughable. I don’t know why I forget this basic lesson, and in truth, these days I’m better at remembering it then five years ago. Oof, five years ago…

I know the temptation; I’m sure some readers do as well. You’re feeling like sh**, and you want to feel better. Why not load up some MTGO or PP and go to town. Win a few bucks, crush a few dreams, and maybe you can forget about your head being stuffed with cotton.

Never works of course. You’ll miss a mulligan here, miss an attack there, get defensive, get scared, and then you’re done. Now you’ve lost something, and you actually feel worse for the experience! It’s not just being upset after a bad beat, it’s a tilting before your loss, and making everything worse. “Oh just one match win, I’ll even hit the 4322 queue, can’t take a loss there…” Now you’re in for it. Or I guess I am… maybe I’m the only stupid one. If I’m not the only person to make this mistake, can I have some award for repetition?

So, your sense of touch. How do you feel? Things good, got your head on straight, your germs under control? Are you going to sneeze all over your cards and/or your opponent? Let’s put it another way: are you going to be too busy being sick to have a chance of winning? Then maybe, just maybe, you’ll want to skip gaming today. Okay, if you’re in Charleston and your team needs you, drain some Day-Quill and suck it up. Personally I think your team is doomed, but maybe adrenaline will get you to Day 2. It’s a rare case; I think in most instances, in all the individual or inconsequential events, your best bet is to stay at home and recuperate. I don’t care if it’s the only PTQ in your area for 3 months, you have no chance and you’re going to feel worse after. Turn off the computer, or at the very least, don’t do anything of consequence. How long do you want your illness to go on for anyway? Take your sick time as it is, and minimize the damage you can do to yourself.

I think I’m going to bookmark this one, for the next time things get drippy. I’ll see you tomorrow for the final senses.

Noah Weil