Weapons of Mass Distraction: How to Distract New Players

PROVIDENCE, RI Had a great time in last week, thanks for asking. I never did get down to Your Move Games, but I did go to Newport and take a tour on a high-speed rum-smuggling boat, which was definitely a unique experience. This week (albeit a day late) I have for you: My take on…


Had a great time in Providence last week, thanks for asking. I never did get down to Your Move Games, but I did go to Newport and take a tour on a high-speed rum-smuggling boat, which was definitely a unique experience. This week (albeit a day late) I have for you: My take on teaching new players Magic, plus more Rising Waters hate. Go figure. Bet you’ll all be glad to see me finally play in my qualifier and stop ranting. 😉


Faced with having to teach an interested party or two to play the game this week, I thought it would be a good idea to write out my thoughts and philosophies about teaching the game.


This is my list of the most important concepts that a player HAS to understand before you can really get into the game.

1. MANA / LAND: I group these two together, because they’re really the same topic when you’re explaining it to a new player. I rarely delve into alternate mana sources in the first game – it’s much easier to grasp if you can look at the land, and see that the land you have available is equal to the mana you have available. Plus, I’d only use basic lands, and probably the new lands with the big mana symbol at the bottom.

2. CASTING COST: Going hand-in-hand with mana and land, explaining the casting cost is one of the first things I do. I try and include a wide variety of cards in my examples, so new players can see that there are cards with more than one specific mana requirement; I also use at least one artifact example. I have used gold cards as examples in the past, as they’re kind of fun.

3. TAPPING: A large portion of the game is spent ‘tapping’ cards, so it’s important not only to teach what tapping is, but also when it occurs – i.e., tapping lands for mana, tapping creatures when they’re declared as attackers, creature abilities that have tapping as part of the cost…. This last one isn’t as important with new players, but I’d at least mention it before you get too far in the lessons.

4. TYPES OF CARDS: I originally wanted to dedicate two slots to this (called "The Stack" and "Permanents"). But for new players, I think a thorough explanation of the card types should be enough to distinguish what can be played any time vs. only on their turn, and what stays around vs. what goes to the graveyard.

5. HOW YOUR TURN WORKS: Once they understand what the cards do and how to cast them, I explain to them the steps they’ll take each turn.

6. CREATURE COMBAT: The attack phase is especially important to me when I’m teaching new players, because I usually use two decks filled with a lot of creatures. I explain how attackers are declared, how blocking works, and what happens when damage is finally dealt.

7. LIFE AND DEATH: The game-winning criteria. Always important to tell them in advance. ("Hey, by the way, you started at twenty life, but since I’ve done forty-two to you, you’re dead.")

There’s also some creature abilities I try and work in: flying is elementary enough to explain, as are trample, first strike, and landwalk.

I couldn’t find my old Portal set in its entirety, so I pulled together two forty-card decks to play with:

Deck 1:

1x Coral Eel (Portal, 2/1 for 1U)
1x Unsummon
1x Sift
1x Time Ebb
1x Fighting Drake
1x Wind Drake
1x Man O’ War
1x Horned Turtle
1x Metathran Soldier
2x Counterspell
1x Wandering Eye

2x Path of Peace
1x Angelic Blessing
1x Starlit Angel (Portal, 3/4 flying for 3WW)
1x Tormented Angel
1x Regal Unicorn (Portal, 2/3 for 2W)
2x Armored Pegasus
1x Devoted Hero (Portal, 1/2 for W)
2x Fresh Volunteers

9x Island
8x Plains

Deck 2:

2x Incinerate
2x Shock
1x Inflame
1x Hill Giant
1x Viashino Warrior
1x Craven Giant
2x Lava Axe

1x Sacred Prey
2x Grizzly Bears
2x Trained Armodon
1x Striped Bears
1x Blanchwood Treefolk
1x Canopy Spider
1x Panther Warriors
1x Scaled Wurm
1x Giant Growth
1x Symbiosis

9x Forest
7x Mountain

These decks work out to be average Limited decks. The Blue and White have evasion creatures and tricks, the Red and Green have big creatures and direct damage. It’s a good primer for letting a new player feel how the different colors play. I also throw in a Rebels deck I’ve been working on, and a mono-Green Jolrael’s Army deck that I play for fun, figuring if we get past the tutorial fast enough, I can show him how some actual decks work.

I never expect new players to own any Magic – that’s why I generally bring a large amount of stuff with me. I mean, who knows if they want to invest in a collectible card game when they don’t even know how to play? Well, when I arrive, I learn that my new prot?g? has bought the Starter boxed set, along with a stack of Prophecy boosters and a Prophecy pre-constructed deck. Having learned Magic myself on the Portal set, and having taught more than a fair share of players from that same set, I forego my own decks in favor of playing out the Starter game.

The Starter game is very much like the Portal game. It presents the same basic game ideas: How you take your turn, how you lose, how creature combat works. It also presents a couple of examples of where a defending player has to make choices about blockers, and what the consequences of the different choices are. The only thing I DON’T like about the set is that the Starter cards are white-bordered, making for quite an ugly game. (I wonder when Wizards is going to realize that those white-bordered cards are eyesores, and start printing them all with black borders?) (Who am I kidding? I’ve seen the proposed redesign; these guys wouldn’t know ugly if it bit them lovingly on the backside.) We play through the first five rounds, which are pre-determined, and then finish the game, where my student ends it quickly for me. I had two creatures in play, he had three – I was at three life, he was at six. I attacked with both my guys, knowing he’d have to block to stay alive (and not worried about the one 1/1 flier he had) – instead of blocking both my guys, he blocked only one, and attacked with two guys to kill me.

You have learned well, Grasshopper.

So we progress to 60-card games. I explain to him about enchantments and artifacts (those "other" permanents), and how they provide continuous effects, instead of the temporary ones of the sorceries. I also explain about instants, and how he can play those at any time.

We play a couple more games, and then we spread all his cards out and build him a R/G deck with a lot of the big creatures from the pre-constructed deck, and some of the red direct-damage from the tutorial deck I had brought. Time is called, though, and we don’t get a chance to test it out (although he did promise to beat his cousin with it).


I’ve been trying to watch the PTQ metagame week in and week out, and it seems to me that where Rising Waters should be fading out. And yet every time I read a PTQ report or see a Top 8 deck listing, it always seems to me that Rising Waters is either the deck of choice, or still making Top 8’s. I expected that decks with a heavy creature base that could put out continuous threats would push Rising Waters to the back burner, stuff like G/W Rebels or Kowal.dec (I guess that’s the common name for the B/G Jolrael deck). So why is it still a top deck?

Granted, neither of those decks are really foils against Rising Waters. And a Stinging Barrier or Waterfront Bouncer goes a little way towards keeping you alive. But neither of those guys help much against a Blastoderm, which is a four-of in both the decks I mentioned. And I don’t think Waters packs enough counters for the removal AND must-counter creatures of Kowal.dec. AND a Bouncer has no recourse against an active Sergeant (who can go recruit himself a replacement in response to being bounced, if need be). So what is keeping it a favorite amongst PTQ players?

Two weeks ago I mentioned Seth Burn article, in which he mentioned that Rising Waters was going to have to shift to a more aggressive strategy in order to keep winning, and I agreed with that. The recent trend in Rising Waters has been to include Chimeric Idol, which has a different interaction with Rising Waters than it would with Winter Orb. (Winter Orb lets you untap only one land during your untap step; Rising Waters moves that untapping of one land to the beginning of your upkeep, so you can put it on the stack, then respond by activating your Idol.) This gives Rising Waters access to a 3/3 artifact creature, which gives it a more aggressive tone. More versions have been going maindeck Ribbon Snakes too.

In any event, it’s still around. Which is a downer for me, because I really, truly hate this deck. =) And I know come August 27th in Edison, I’m going to end up playing two or three. So my only real recourse: Find a deck that beats Rising Waters.

I harkened back to the Stompy days, where Stompy decks themselves would actually use Winter Orb, because they were more capable of working around it than their opponent. I think that that philosophy can still apply in this format – the only problem is, I don’t think that a Stompy deck is anywhere near as fast here as it is in Standard.

Here’s your main creature base: Vine Dryad is effectively a 0cc because we hardly ever will pay her casting cost; Skyshroud Ridgeback, Deepwood Wolverine, and Stampede Driver are your main 1cc guys (although Mossdog might be fun – would have to check if he’d survive getting pinged through his own ability); 2cc choices probably would include Vintara Snapper, Deepwood Elder, and maybe Rushwood Dryad; 3cc’s are Chimeric Idol and Silt Crawler. I’d almost say you have to go to 4cc to include Blastoderm (because ignoring him is just wrong!), but in the interest of running something that is unaffected by Rising Waters, I’ll hold back on him. For creature pumpers I’d definitely use Wild Might and Seal of Strength, and maybe even Invigorate. And I’d probably use Vine Trellis and Land Grant for more mana production.

4x Vine Dryad
4x Skyshroud Ridgeback
4x Stampede Driver
2x Deepwood Wolverine
4x Vintara Snapper
3x Deepwood Elder
4x Vine Trellis
4x Chimeric Idol
4x Silt Crawler

4x Wild Might
4x Seal of Strength
2x Invigorate

4x Land Grant
17x Forest

Sideboard would include even more Rising Waters hate, like maybe Rushwood Legate and definitely Reverent Silence; Horned Trolls or Blastoderms for against Tap-Out Red; and Lumbering Satyrs against anything with Forests.

Further testing might show that it just gets wrecked because it has no removal.

Another possible addition to this deck would be Tangle Wire, which might buy enough time to kill the opponent. It would invariably delay the response rate for Waterfront Bouncers, et al. Feel free to give it a try. Power Matrix is another artifact that would see good use in a deck like this, and since I’m omitting the Blastoderms, it fits into that 4cc slot rather nicely.


Next week I want to talk about Invasion some. I am really looking forward to this set, for a lot of reasons, which I will share with you. And with the new set, the face of Type 2 will drastically change, so I’d like to look at that. I’m sure there will also be MBC stuff to talk about!

Until next week, keep your oars in the water, and keep reaching for the stars!


Dave Meeson
(Can I just be called ‘Super Guy’?)
[email protected]