It’s a new year — time to make some resolutions. I won’t bother talking about mine — like winning a PE, judging more, and getting articles in on time — because those are pretty boring. Instead, I’ll offer a few ideas for anyone looking for another resolution or two. Here are some suggestions.
Try Out the Other End of the Casual / Competitive Divide
Over the years, whenever I have both 1) needed an article topic and 2) felt like kicking over ant hills, I have been able to write about the casual versus competitive rift. The Magic world, after all, is divided into two camps. There are the heartless, cruel, money-grubbing, fun-sucker-outers who play only for profit, and the frivolous, brainless, know-nothing kids and idiots who misplay casually.
Actually, the world isn’t that neatly divided that way, any more than the world is divided into those people who like sub sandwiches and those who like pizza. In most cases, people like both, although usually not at the same time. Casual / competitive is a spectrum, and people routinely move back and forth on the spectrum.
Many people, maybe even most, do tend to spend most of their time at one place on the spectrum. I know that I have been spending nearly all my online time in the draft queues, and almost none in the casual play or multiplayer areas.
If you do play mainly on one end of the spectrum, try another. If you play casually, try attending a Friday Night Magic, or a small store tournament. In Madison, several stores run free or very low cost tournaments. If you play nothing but tournament Magic, try playing a multiplayer free-for-all with a theme deck sometime. It’s all Magic, and it is all fun.
Say “Thank You” to a TO
The next time you attend a larger event — anything with over 100 players — if the event went reasonably well, thank the tournament organizer. The odds are that the TO will have had a long and exhausting day, and an unexpected “thanks” will catch them off guard. The look of confusion and surprise can be priceless. The same is true of the scorekeeper.
Seriously, though, the judges, scorekeepers and TOs do a lot of work both before and during an event, and if they do the work well, players will be aware of almost none of it. These people often have a couple more hours of work to do after the event, and a simple “thanks” can really brighten a long day.
Just a thought.
Play Online / Offline
If you play Magic online, try playing the real thing sometime. Check out a local store, either for a FNM draft or during a casual/open play evening. Even if you don’t have a deck, odds are someone will loan you something, or provide spare cards to help flesh out a precon. The social aspects of the game are infinitely better in real life.
A few weeks ago, a strong online player and writer, Lord Erman, wrote an article about, in part, going back to play paper Magic at a local shop. Here’s part of that section.
I stayed at the shop for more than four hours and had great time. All the other players accepted me into their group (they didn’t have to) and they were all very nice to me. I promised them to show up for the coming Worldwake prerelease and release events and left the shop with many questions in mind:
Why-o-why didn’t I do this before? Why-o-why didn’t I move my fat a** and didn’t go to a prerelease before? And why-o-why did I allow myself to forget the pleasure of real Magic with real cards?
If you play online, try the real thing.
On the other hand, if all you play is paper, try playing online. Having the game take care of timing, triggers, etc. can be kind of nice — and having enforced rules tends to make people better players. Online is less social, but it comes with huge advantages.
First of all, it is as close as your computer, and is ready when you are. Yesterday, my dogs started barking at something at 4am. I could not get back to sleep, and started thinking about different builds for Jund. By 4:20am, I was playtesting the changes. Without Magic Online, I would never have been able to do that (well, unless I woke my wife and dragooned her into a playtest session, which would not have made her happy.)
Second, Wizards has finally got the message that new players won’t have a lot of fun if they start with no cards, or have to begin playing in drafts or sealed events before they even get used to the interface. Instead, Wizards gives all new accounts a set of special, gold bordered cards. Players cannot trade those cards, or use them in tournaments, but they can build decks and play them. These are not all bad cards, either. They include Wrath of God, Loxodon Warhammer, Reya Dawnbringer, Broodmate Dragon, Corrupt, etc. etc. Each new account gets an initial 200+ card set, and additional “Planeswalker” gold-bordered sets are available in the online store for just $5.
Work at It
One “secret” to playing successful Magic is to play Magic. Kai Budde was once the most successful Magic player on the planet because he playtested more, and more thoroughly, than anyone else. Nothing substitutes for actually playing the game.
A corollary, though, is that you need to play well and not slough off. This means concentrating, and thinking through everything.
I noticed that I was not doing this last night. I was playing a Jund variant in a Standard event at the local store. My opponent had brewed up a Runeflare Trap / Howling Mine / Fountain of Mythos deck with lots if burn. I was swinging with a Putrid Leach, and generally not pumping. I was basing pumping / not pumping on my “feel” for the game and the number of cards in his hand. What I wasn’t doing, however, was calculating the odds. I knew — or should have known – how many cards he had drawn for the last several turns. I knew when the Mine hit play, and when the Font of Mythos resolved. I knew how many lands he could have played in those turns. I could reasonably assume that he had 20-24 lands in his deck. I could have, and should have, calculated how many of the cards he had in hand were probably spare lands. However, I was just playing for fun last night (although I did win the tournament — but that was fun, too.) I wasn’t working at playing as well as I possibly could.
If you really want to get better at Magic, make working at it a New Year’s resolution.
Attend a Big / Little Prerelease
Prereleases come in two flavors nowadays.
The big regional events have artists signing cards, gunslingers, lots of dealers, hundreds of players and a ton of events. In terms of social gatherings, they are like rock concerts.
The small stores can also now run prereleases. These are much smaller, usually 10-40 players, and much more intimate. They are more like a dinner party.
Neither is really “better.” They are different — and they are both a lot of fun. The prize payout is high relative to the cost, and the prerelease foils are now generally quite playable. If you haven’t attended a prerelease, go. If you are used to attending a small store event, consider going to the regional events. If you do attend the big events, look at whether some local stores are offering prereleases on Sunday, or launch parties the week after, and try those. It is still Magic, it is still a release event, and variety is good.
Play More Formats
Players tend to specialize. They tend to draft a lot, or just play Standard. Don’t be like that. If you only draft, try playing sealed, or drafting other formats. If you play Standard, try modifying some of your old Standard decks for Extended or Legacy. And, if you play Constructed, play some Limited on occasion.
You will learn things.
Nearly every strong Constructed archetype was first “discovered” by someone in a Limited event, or by someone playing casually. I have often seen someone playing a combo or synergy casually, then built a competitive deck around that. Legend has it that that was how Trix and Pandeburst first appeared.
Try some multiplayer, too. That is a great way to see a lot of strange and wonderful decks.
I mentioned Standard and Extended above, but they are hardly the only formats. Limited also includes sealed deck, booster draft, Rochester draft, Winston draft, DC-10, cube draft and pack wars. Constructed has Standard, Block, Extended, Legacy, Vintage, plus EDH, Commander, Pauper, 100 card Singleton, Creature Feature, Vanguard (if anyone still has those cards), Planechase, Tribal, Standard Singleton, 5Color, Rainbow Stairwell, and Prismatic Pauper Singleton — just to name a few. In multiplayer, you can play 2HG, 3HG, Emperor, Chaos, Grand Melee, Star — and the list goes on.
The best thing is that they are all Magic, and Magic is like sex: even the worst is still pretty good.
Play Somewhere New
Most people have a regular store or group they play with. Some lucky ones — like me — have several. However, all of us have additional opportunities to play that we are not using.
If you go to the mothership, and look at the left border, you will see a box labeled “store locator.” Guess what that does: it finds local places to play Magic. Different stores and locations have some overlap, but they often have very different atmospheres, metagames, and players. You may find that they are nothing special, or you may find something at a new store that you really like, or missed. Variety…
You won’t learn anything if you don’t try.
Read a Magic Novel
Or not. I am a voracious reader, but I have had very mixed reactions to the few I have tried. However, the people who do read the novels have a slightly different, and probably deeper, take on the flavor text and artwork than those of us who don’t read them.
Actually Look at the Art
I don’t tend to look at the art on Magic cards. I just never got into the habit. I recognize the cards, but not by the art itself.
A few blocks back, a fellow judge had some time, and a paper cutter, and cut the art out of a bunch of Time Spiral cards. We then tried to identify the cards just by the art. I sucked.
My resolution, this year, is to actually look at the art, to the point that I realize what is actually in the picture. It could be amusing. (For some examples, check out Bill Stark list of 5 biggest art blunders over on the Starkington Post. It goes from Hyalopterous Lemure to the sex monkeys.)
Attend a Marquee Event
Finally, resolve to go to a big event. Qualifying for the Pro Tour and attending as a player would be amazing, of course, but consider going just for the spectacle (and the side events.) The big events are pageants as well as being full of Magic. They have dealers, artists, traders and players everywhere, and tons of Magic events.
Worlds is obviously the biggest and best, with celebrities, artists, lots of Wizards folks and four day of gaming. It is a must-see, but since it is in Japan this year, it’s not really feasible for a lot of us.
The next step down are the Pro Tours. These are almost as big, almost as long, and almost as good. This year, the Pro Tours are in San Diego, San Juan, and Amsterdam. Wonderful, but all of them are a several thousand mile drive from where I live, even without the wet spots* in the road.
A step further down the scale are the Grand Prix. These are larger than the Pro Tours, and they are open to everyone. They are also worth experiencing. A word of warning, though — I have been to at least two that grew so large that they filled all available seating. At those events, side events did not start until mid afternoons, simply because we had no place to run them.
Finally, consider going to the StarCityGames.com Open Series. StarCityGames.com really has created a second Grand Prix series. These are large events, with pretty much everything a Grand Prix has (albeit fewer Wizards employees.) They are worth attending.
Whichever you can make, go.
I have to quit now, or I am going to violate my “get articles in on time” resolution.
“one million words”
* also known as the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean.