Why I Love Tourney Players (And Should Shut Up)

One of the problems with being a writer is that you can occasionally blow it. Because I’ve heard these phrases time and time again: "Guy wouldn’t let me take back a move. Jerk." "He brought some dumb deck he copied off the ‘net to what WOULD have been a fun tourney and whipped the heck…

One of the problems with being a writer is that you can occasionally blow it.

Because I’ve heard these phrases time and time again:

"Guy wouldn’t let me take back a move. Jerk."

"He brought some dumb deck he copied off the ‘net to what WOULD have been a fun tourney and whipped the heck out of everybody. Jerk."

"Who plays with Armageddons and global resets in multiplayer? That’s SO unfriendly. Jerk."

There is an anti-tourney sentiment out there among many casual players – God knows I felt it quite heavily when I lived in Michigan. You could feel it hanging around the shops that I bought from like an evil mist, seeping into your veins like acid. It may be a local-to-Michigan phenomenon, but some of the emails I get convince me otherwise.

And in my last article, I was actually trying to help DISPEL some of those incorrect images – that tourney players are the enemy, that they are inherently jerky people, and that there is an impenetrable barrier between Casual and Pro and that never the twain shall meet.*

Instead, thanks to poor and hasty writing on my part, I wound up pouring oil on flaming waters.**

Owatta nass sayam! (Repeat these magic words seven times out loud to miraculously understand how I feel. Shout it.)

And so I shall apologize for completely misrepresenting my point. IF there is a schism of misunderstanding between Tourney players and Casual guys – and in my position of reading pretty much every article on the ‘net, I can tell you that I see it daily – it is thanks to misunderstandings, not "right" or "wrong." I have spread said misunderstandings, so kindly read what I SHOULD have written… and then prepare for a shocking revelation.

So let me sum up the points I did, or should have, made:

In casual play, it’s okay to take back a move, or to "tut tut" at somebody’s about-to-be-drastically wrong play. But would you have thought Jon Finkel was a nice guy, had he pointed out that his opponent should cast the Crumbling Sanctuary AFTER he attacks, not before?

No, you would have thought him a fool. And he would have been.

My attempted (but failed) point was that to be good, tourney players have to act in ways that casual players consider to be jerkitude… but it’s simply a difference in the style of play, not a sign that all tourney players are diseased.

In much the same way that Japanese sometimes consider Americans to be EXTREMELY rude and boorish because we’re always asking direct questions (and the Japanese avoid embarassment at any cost), this does not signal anyone’s malice. To win, one must let the opponent hang himself with his own mistakes, which is generally not a nice thing to do. And yet it must be done.

This does not mean that they are not nice people. Pro players are often very friendly and good people, as I will state later on, generously willing to give advice… off the court. But when they play, they play to win. Many casual players may not see that other side of them, and mistake intense concentration for rudeness… which is a shame.

If you hate tourney players because they play tourneys, then you’re probably catching them at the wrong time. Yes, I thought this all along. Read my articles, dammit! And I don’t mean to imply that all tourneys are glum, antisocial events. I know they’re not. Why else does everyone want to be on a team, for Gosh sakes?

Maybe it’s not true for everyone, but it certainly is for all of the pros and pro-wannabes that I’ve known. I don’t say it’s the ONLY way that they get enjoyment out of it, but it certainly is the primary method. They like proving themselves. They like playing with the "best" decks, having the "best" play, being the "best" player. They are, in a word, driven to prove themselves as #1.

This is why they spend so much time on it. This is why they read everything, and go to the tours, and practice. Because they get pleasure from their skills. Because they take PRIDE in it.

This is not universally true with casual players. "Oh, I suck," you’ll see some of them say – notably, me – knowing that they’re substandard, but it doesn’t bother them. They have other goals that are more important to them, or they get enough satisfaction from their level of play. This is not true of serious pro players.

If anyone has another reason why one WOULD spend $700 to go to a tournament in which you stand a good chance of losing both the tourney AND your air fare, as mentioned later on below – let me know. I’m open to suggestions. (Hint: "The thrill of the competition" is pretty much the same thing.)

Tourney players, who want to do their best, will in the long term get bored playing in a casual environment, where the opponents are not driven enough to truly test their skills. Casual players, who don’t get all of their satisfaction from winning but certainly don’t like losing, won’t want to play with someone who’s more-or-less guaranteed to beat them. Fusing the two may seem to work in the short run, but won’t lead to long-term happiness. Which is why, in my opinion, casual players by-and-large avoid tournaments and choose to play with other casual players.

There. Is that so controversial? Yeez.

It doesn’t mean that a Pro player can’t "fly casual" for a night or two, or that a Casual player can’t occasionally play in a tourney and enjoy herself. (Hell, James Grimmett had fun playing with a weirdo Saproling deck and I had a ball going 4-3 at the Prerelease.***)

It DOES mean, however, that in the long run, if you throw Tourney-style players and Casual players together, they will tend to separate. Hence, DCI-sponsored multiplayer Magic is a Bad Idea.

Of course, I could be wrong. That whole point is arguable. But I think history proves me right.

Note that this does not make anyone "wrong." It’s just that what you like is different. Talking about "casual versus tourneys" is like "mustard versus ketchup." (I meant the versus to be "as a comparison," not, "Celebrity Deathmatch: Jon Finkel versus Anthony Alongi." Oops.)

I saw this in Aaron Forsythe article, and I still disagree with it. True, some "casual" players eventually become Pro players… but there are also many former pros who’ve given it up for casual games. Your inherent nature will out, and you’ll eventually settle into the style of play that you’re most comfortable in.

Have I clarified any of them?

This is my new point.

It has been noted elsewhere that many popular decks evolved from "casual" groups and players, who are sometimes far more adventurous in creating weirdo decks than pros. (It is, of course, the pros who hone and razor these suckers up until they’re sharper than a finely-folded katana… but the initial idea came from elsewhere.)

In addition, casual play’s place in Magic is to bring other players into the fold. Almost every player started over some dorm room table somewhere, just goofing around – you don’t pick up the game by dropping by your local PTQ. (Although, now that I think of it, that might be a great thing to try as a practical joke.) It is the relaxed atmosphere that sucks people in so they can be spit out as the next Trevor Blackwell.


What part does the tourney scene play in Magic?

I’ll say something I haven’t said before simply because I assumed it was a given, implicit in all my writings: For all of my anti-tourney ravings, tourney players actually make Magic a better place.

Shocking revelation!

Let me say that again. Something that nobody thought I’d ever say – but apparently, I need to:

Magic needs the pros.

Magic needs tourneys.

(And incidentally, I say this quite outside my editor hat. One of the things that quite took me by surprise is that, since I am the editor, everyone assumes that I am speaking ex cathedra and am the official voice of Star City. For God’s sake, get it straight: When my column goes up on the page, it means that I’m the same easily-ignorable dweeb that I was before I got the edi-nod. I got the job because I write cleanly and have book experience, NOT because of my vast wealth of Magic experience or my impeccable opinionage. Jeez, I’m surprised to find so many of you taking me seriously.****)

Tourney players have brought Magic out of the depths and into the light. They have led the way for us casual players, and we owe a debt of gratitude to them for subsidizing the goofy games that we like. Hell, I owe a debt of gratitude to them – without tourney players, you think StarCity’d be here? No way.

Lest you think that I am being facetious or a total suckup, let me detail the positive aspects of tourney play:

Without Tourney Players, Magic Wouldn’t Be Here. Those of you familiar with my writing know that I used to buy Magic for 900 retail stores. I put a box of Magic in every store, and you know what my major concern was?

How do I get the pros to come to Waldenbooks?

Pros are the ones who buy cards. You and me, we’ll buy the occasional box if the set’s good enough***** – but Wizards would have gone out of business a long time ago without the pro players who need cards like a fireplace needs wood. StarCity is kept afloat on a sea of tourney players.

They spend the money.

They kept Magic alive during Homelands, when there WERE no good casual cards.

They are the backbone upon which my nattering exists. (Yes, I do make a habit out of biting the hand that feeds me – I’m a Ferrett, ain’t I?)

I know, perhaps better than any other writer in the industry, that in the economic field of collectible card games, the pro players hold all the cards. Take that underpinning away, and Magic collapses like a house of cards. (Hee -a double play!) They’ll complain, they’ll say the game’s getting too slow, they’ll sell their cards and leave – but within a year, maybe two, most of ’em are back in the fold. When it comes to the all-important dinero, tourney players are THE most dedicated Magic players, wallets down. God bless ’em.

Tourney Players Make Better Decks… For Everyone. Everyone talks fondly about their five-color, hundred-and-fifty card deck with twenty lands. But does anyone remember what it’s like to play that deck?

I do.

It sucked.

You spent all of your time hoping for the right card, thrilled to pieces when you got it – because most of the time you didn’t, and quite frequently you lost the game because you couldn’t needle out that one Lightning Bolt in your haystack full of cards.

Thank God everyone else was just as bad as you were.

It was the early "pro" players who came up with the important ideas that have trickled their way down to everyone’s decks today: The mana curve. Card advantage. The idea of redundancy. Life being the least important factor in Magic. "Splashing" colors.

We take ’em for granted nowadays, but they mostly came from the top.

And it still does. Like NASA’s research trickling down to the public in the 1970s, resulting in the all-important food technology advances of Tang and freeze-dried ice cream******, the work that pros do to hammer their decks together makes the game more fun for all of us. It enables us to take our sometimes-substandard ideas and make them playable. Or take a good deck and make it Strong at your Friday night game.

Isn’t it a lot more fun to win with a deck that consistently gets what you need, when you need it, rather than just waiting on a pile? You know it is. And using those laboriously-constructed principles to make YOUR whacko concept actually win is a debt that falls on the Tourney side. Curse ’em for combo decks if you must, but thank them for the expertise they’ve lent you. You owe ’em a beer.

Tourney Players Aren’t Afraid To Share. They may not tell you what they’re playing when you’re sitting across the table from them, but pretty much every top-level player writes (or has written) for somewhere – our own David Price, Zvi Mowshowitz, Mike Flores, and so on.******* And I don’t think that’s just because they get reimbursed for their time writing for TopDeck, or wherever. By and large, most of the big-name tourney players seem not only happy, but downright eager to share their ideas with everyone – in other words, they want to raise the collective consciousness of the Magic community. Does that level of generosity happen anywhere else? Do competing football coaches write weekly columns detailing the best ways to train their teams? Not that I know of.

Tourney Players Are Incredibly Brave. The top-level players will wander from town to town, flying out at their own expense for quite possibly nothing. In this respect, they are like professional Poker players.

But in Poker, you can get screwed by drawing bad cards.

In professional Magic, you can get screwed due to bad cards, a misjudged metagame, a last-minute ruling that destroys your deck’s strategy, going up against a gauntlet of your deck’s worst matchups (or terrible booster packs saturated with Pale Moons and Snags – take your pick), or any number of other issues.

Playing good Magic involves a fair amount of skill, true, but there is perhaps more luck involved than in just about any other high-stakes event – and anyone who’s willing to put his or her money on the line, day after day, is someone who has a lot more guts than I do. That’s something I admire, simply because I couldn’t do it.


Does that mean that I’m all warm and fuzzy towards tourneys?

‘Course not. I still find them personally repellent. Wouldn’t wanna go to another Constructed Tourney, ever (though I kind of like Sealed). But I do acknowledge that their presence furthers, not hinders, Magic. I’d never have my well-loved Bouncing Weasels deck without the tourney scene.

Do I still believe that anyone can be a Pro player?

Absolutely. It’s an investment of time, intelligence and desire – and I assume that if you’re reading this, you’re intelligent. ("Can you unnastan the words that are comin’ outta mah mouf?"********) The time and desire must be provided by you, but I think that really turning pro is a matter of using the right net decks, losing a lot, and honing your skill. There’s no great secret.

Others may disagree with me. I’m sure you’re better than everyone else you know.

Do I still believe that tourney players get the majority of their "fun" through winning or otherwise proving their superiority?

Final lesson.

As Chris Senhouse (editor of The Dojo, a site which has really picked up drastically in recent months and one you should again be visiting daily) said to me, "You do have a really strong tone to your articles."


I do. I write strong. I tell the truth as I see it, which may or may not be correct.

But I also write with about ten tons of salt in my words, and if you’re always taking me seriously, well… you should probably learn something. Don’t take my opinion as gospel, don’t take my words as final, and don’t think that just ’cause I’m an editor I know what the heck I’m talking about. Use yo’brain.

The tourney players I write about are the ones I know, the ones I’ve played against, and the ones I’ve read extensively and the impressions I get from their articles. The casual players are likewise. I have a fair amount of experience… but I don’t know all of ’em, and I could be wrong. If you’re a serious (and by serious, I mean qualified for the Pro Tour) player who really doesn’t get the majority of your jollies from attempting to be the "best that you can be," then email me.

I’ve held a contest to prove that I suck. Tell me about your tourneys. Tell me where you DO get your thrills from. Prove me wrong again.

Hey, ya never know.

NEXT WEEK: Forget Creature Feature. It’s Never Happening. Nobody Cares, Anyway, Considering That I Have Alienated Both All The Tourney Players And All The Casual Players In Two Weeks. Give It Up. I May Give Up Writing Altogether, And God Knows I’m Not Really Joking… Whine Whine Whine.

Yrs. Trulified,
The Ferrett
[email protected]
Visit The Ferrett Domain if you’re not easily offended. Matter of fact, stay away if you’re offended at all. Probably it’s best if you leave now, really….

* – They SHALL meet, but not regularly.

** – That and the cheating article. Oy, so many of you were pissy about that one. Man, the hatemail’s been flowing, which is, quite frankly, a bit of a bummer when I get up in the morning. Anyone have the usenet address where they were talking about me?

*** – And I woulda been 5-2 if I hadn’t gotten manascrewed. But isn’t that everyone’s excuse?

**** — Man, I should have made this whole section a footnote. But then none of you would have read it.

***** – Invasion isn’t, in my opinion, but buy all of the singles from here, wouldja?

****** – Oh yeah, and various polymers, plastics, aerodynamics for cars, electronics, and what-have-you – but would you rather have Tang, or the internet? Come ON. One’s space-age!

******* – Jon Finkel, come here. I’ll wash your car. I’ll clean your house. Just write for us.

******* – Blatant John Rizzo ripoff line. I may have to include one in every article.