What is casual Magic: the Gathering? In the general sense, it is Magic played for no stakes, short of bragging rights and the opportunity to meet with friends, play a few games – and perhaps to show off some cards and strategies in your possession.
Casual Magic is also not defined by the two-player duel setup, but often also takes on multiplayer dimensions, such as free-for-all and teams. Casual Magic then, as a result, becomes less strict. Most of the time, the format is Vintage, which allows for use of any of thousands of Magic: The Gathering Cards, from Alpha to the current set of Onslaught. Penalties are more along the lines of civil courtesy and personal interaction… For instance, the punishment and penalty for being a jerk is that no one will play with you. No need for disqualifications or suspension of DCI privileges; someone who accidentally draws before his appropriate draw phase is reminded not to draw, but is not disqualified and kicked out of the proverbial kitchen table. Banned and restricted lists are not necessarily strictly adhered to.
And that seems to be the issue at this point, doesn’t it? How do casual groups, which tend by nature to be fluid and harder to define, decide how to be rigid and strict? How does a diverse group decide on a simple, solid guideline?
By doing the same thing that professional players do: Adapt.
Conceptually, there are two things that affect the casual magic "metagame" that do not affect the professional/competitive metagame: Peer pressure (not the card), and politics. These two factors mean that the casual gathering will usually result in a greater diversity in decks, as well as a different approach in deckbuilding.
With that greater diversity, one must account for more possibilities in threats.
Of the two, politics is the more… Microeconomic of the two. It works more within games than outside of games. It’s reflected in the statement, "the way to win in multiplayer is to not be a threat." Do not draw the ire of your friends and opponents, while building up your resources until you can lay it all out. For instance, you will make many friends by using your Disenchant to get rid of an enchantment that troubles everyone. Conversely, you will make many enemies by casting a Wrath of God when everyone has gotten their creatures in play.
It may be the best thing for you to do, but it may still upset some players. Politics makes alliances during a game, and can strengthen and test friendships outside of the game.
Peer pressure is what discourages people from playing degenerate combo decks that end in non-interactivity. Humans are, by nature, social creatures and as such, enjoy the approval and acceptance of their fellow humans. Therefore, it can be predicted that people will work to gain their fellows’ approval. Don’t bring that Tolarian Academy combo deck, since no one will be having fun. Don’t play Stroke of Genius/High Tide decks. And more recently addressed – if they really hate it, then don’t play creatures with Shadow.
Now, according to the article that Jimmy Chow posted, and the follow up thereafter, the conclusion could be made that people should work to gain his approval. The problem is that people don’t like being told what to do.
Mr. Chow addresses the casual/multiplayer public as a homogenous community, with all groups having similar problems and environments. Worse yet, in his followup article, he makes the suggestion that the solution that this diverse community has is yet another exercise in conformity – packing Nevinyrral’s Disk as a sort of catchall solution.
Allow me to interject at this point-playing with suboptimal, and just plain useless, cards does not make you revolutionary. It makes you consider how far you have to go to improve. Winning one game in the only scenario where Tahngarth’s Rage proved useful proves nothing.
The community has gone on to illustrate that the cards that Mr. Chow has suggested for banning can all be easily worked around.
Now, there was a recent article on Magicthegathering.com on why Shadow was a very tricky mechanic to work with. I won’t delve into that here, but suffice to say that any group that doesn’t have a player that enjoys removing creatures needs new blood, or at least a change of pace.
Crystalline Sliver? Come on. A sliver deck? It’s fun. It’s powerful. It’s rare. What makes me wonder is that Mr. Chow states that Crystalline Sliver makes burn useless, but also touts in his followup that burn is low, and well… Cheesy. If that was the case, you’d think he’d see Crystalline Sliver as his favorite card.
The distinction is made between Crystalline Sliver and other untargetables because the sliver "improves all other Slivers." What a revelation. There are two issues I have with this statement, which acts as an example of how politics and peer pressure works to solve "problems." One, is that Crystalline Sliver is made the example. What about Dense Foliage? What about Steely Resolve? These are enchantments that have the same purpose as the Sliver – and yet they’re not worthy of his attention.
"These can be disenchanted," one might say. And in the case of two Sterling Groves in play? Should we work to ban Sterling Groves as well, or even restrict them? Then do we go to Dense Foliage and Steely Resolve? The arguments for (or rather, against) Wellwisher are similar – and the answer is similar, with the added notation that ridiculously high amounts of life are easily dealt with because it is essentially a delay and not a solution… Unless you’re running Test of Endurance. And if they are, so what? Next game, you bash their heads in before things go awry.
That, sir, is the power of politics and peer pressure.
Allow me to list a few non-rare mass removal cards:
- Tranquil Path
- Calming Verse
- Multani’s Decree
- Breath of Darigaaz
- Slice and Dice
- Canopy Surge
Remember that mass removal does not necessarily mean clearing the board, much less resetting it. Heck, in a sense, Haunting Echoes and Morningtide are mass removal for things like flashback and the incarnations.
Opposition requires instant speed or creature-based, non-tapping based enchantment removal. Under what circumstances does Mr. Chow play against Opposition? Is this in a duel? If that’s the case, that’s the power of Opposition. If in multiplayer, then what are the other players doing? There’s no way (unless the Opposition player is also running Squirrel Nest/Earthcraft) that the Opposition player has enough permanents to keep everyone from either destroying it or destroying him.
Worship. The solution was so simple: Destroy the creatures. If no one is running black or red, then so be it, the person running worship has earned this win. If no one is running enchantment removal, the same is true. If someone is running black and red, and the rest of the group is not cooperating to remove the Worship player – or if that creature-destroying player is busy painting a big, fat multiplayer target on himself by targeting other players – then so be it. The person running the Worship has earned this win. (Or the black and red guy has given it away – The Ferrett)
Going back to my original statement of adapting, previous examples illustrate a refusal to adapt to the "metagame" that the multiplayer group is running. I am not accusing Mr. Chow of whining, or being a n00b or scrub: I instead make the charge that Mr. Chow is simply being inflexible. He refuses to make the appropriate adjustment, or perhaps it is his playgroup? Magic is not a static game. There are solutions to everything, and most of those are easily obtained.
Counterspells are listed as a solution. Let me state right now that this has been discussed to death. Countering spells is hardly the catchall in multiplayer, because something will slip by. That, and I think you, Mr. Chow, are the only person who thinks that Confiscate maintains the problem instead of solving it. It solves the problem for someone, just not you. This issue was also discussed on Magicthegathering.com, involving a close cousin: Bribery. I won’t go into that here. But suffice to say that people learn to deal with Counterspells and the like; I know I did. Blue is a reality. Just like red.
The misconception is that mass removal is the only solution. The”logical” next step is that 1) mass removal is rare/expensive, and 2) mass removal will come to dominate the playgroup, creating the question, logical if this thread of thought was, as well – what’s better? Mass removal everywhere, or nowhere?
This is not the case, because mass removal is not the solution to all these problems. The entire section of the article concerning the Disk is irrelevant. The Disk is not even necessarily the right answer – just the most obvious one.
Remember my original statement regarding politics and peer pressure? Politics makes a simple impact here. As far as I know, multiple people gunning for me is mass removal; mass removal of me! Very few decks can handle competently-built decks attacking them, even if they are all similar and simple (i.e. Graah! Tap and attack! Which, mind you, could work nicely thanks to superhappy fun things like Butcher Orgg, which is a pretty cheap rare, something I’ll discuss shortly). This goes double for any group with a diverse deck base.
Peer pressure in this case works two ways: First, it can tell someone to improve their own deckbuilding skills – or at the very least, spare some slots in the sideboard or in the maindeck for solutions. Can enchantments get you down? Get in some Naturalizes, Tranquilities, and the like. Are creatures your bane? Innocent Blood, Chainer’s and Diabolic Edicts, and the like. For pity’s sake, are Rath’s Edge and Shivan Gorge bothering you, and that player is playing Pyramids? Epicenter.
Which leads me to my next point of discussion. Because something is rare does not make it unattainable. True, things like Wrath of God, Mutilate, and Pernicious Deed are expensive; that’s always going to happen. But what about cards like Rout, Kirtar’s Wrath, and other Wrath of God-like effects? There are cheap cards lurking out there. There are a lot of fun, cheap cards out there. There are a lot of cheap, fun, and effective cards out there. The various reprints of Balance make it particularly affordable. Someone who refuses to spend even a little money on Magic, but complains that they can never compete, is someone who should learn to live with that limitation.
We have someone in our playgroup never buys cards… But he trades. He makes hilarious and effective decks with what he has. He has my admiration, not only because of his patience and non-materialism, but because he never complains when someone breaks out a sixty-rare-card deck. He plays. He has fun. He wins occasionally, but he plays to have fun.
Some rares are expensive… But not all of them. Money has to be spent, or trades have to be made. Why play a collectible card game if you’re not willing to collect? Play poker instead, or any of a myriad of strategy card games that don’t require additional purchases. Board games apply here. Settlers of Cataan and the space-based successor are also wonderful, strategic games that don’t require accumulation.
Finally, despite my earlier statement of not condemning Mr. Chow to be a scrub or a n00b or a whiner, I will make the statement that perhaps Mr. Chow needs more time to develop as a Magic player. Consider that Mr. Chow has cut out creature-theme decks that offer ways to protect and enhance the creatures as bannable. Consider that Mr. Chow has also shown opposition (no pun intended) to control decks like Worship and Opposition decks. Consider now that he considers burn decks "cheese" and "dishonorable," while combodecks are even worse.
What is left?
Graah. Tap and attack.
I make the case to Mr. Chow and the rest of the multiplayer community. We are a large, fluid and diverse communities. From people who insist on using the latest and greatest tournament deck to nuts like me who make a deck out of Nantuko Shrine and eggs, without Coat of Arms, we have to set our own ground rules in our games. When groups collide, there will be some necessary friction, but in the end, if the groups cannot come to a calm, agreeable decision, then it is perhaps best that those groups do not mingle.
Casual, multiplayer Magic is by definition, less strict. Jimmy, don’t tell us how to live our Magic lives. We’ve all seen in the responses how everyone has their own solutions, and the type 1 restricted list is a good start. Banning ante cards except where you wish to use them is also such a start. But telling us how we should lead our lives is not. Don’t tell us "you can’t play control, burn, or combo" then tell us that these card banning suggestions are just suggestions.
Magic is a social game. Let each social group decide on its own what to limit. That is the only true Banned list any casual player should have – Don’t let some person out there tell you what you can or cannot do.