Defending the Commander Social Contract

Category: Team GDC

Black Sheep (Featuring Dave and Cass) – Advice for Finding New Playgroups and Building New Friendships



Roughly one year ago, everyone here at General Damage Control was busy writing about the amazing time they had at GenCon 2015. As it turns out, GenCon was a truly life changing experience for our crew – out of the core team, the three of us (Sean, David, and Cass) are no longer living in the same state we were when we packed our bags, grabbed our EDH decks, and headed out to meet up in Indianapolis for The Best Four Days In Gaming.

Not only have we all moved and changed jobs, but we’ve also made significant decisions about how we wanted our futures to look. Changes like this aren’t small, and they aren’t easy – either to orchestrate or to manage emotionally.


Without fail, the decisions we all made were based on fulfilling dreams, spending time with our families, and (critically) being kind to our future selves by laying the foundation for better lives. While this is hopefully great down the road when things have settled in, the current process to make it all happen is a lot of hard work. One of the hardest things we all have to do is set up new connections and friendships in our new communities. This is hard for normal circumstances, but for dedicated gamers, it is both very important and very stressful to accomplish. We’ve all spent years developing playgroups and connections around the games we love and – if we’re honest – rely on to keep us engaged, entertained, and happy when we’re not working or enjoying time with our families. There’s no question that these connections and experiences go a long way towards happiness and mental/emotional well-being, and while it may sound a little trivial to the non-gamer, anyone who identifies as one knows how important this is.

Between the three of us, we’ve learned quite a bit about forging new friendships and finding playgroups in a new area.

How to Make Friends and Impress People (with your Magical prowess)

More than anything, patience is the key to success. Our friendships from our previous homes took years to get to where they were when we left. While the need for connections and friendships is immediately apparent and very important, those kinds of amazing relationships just don’t happen overnight for many reasons. Being happy at home and successful at work obviously take priority over making friends and finding a new place to play cards; to be successful after a large move, you need all the support your family and current friends will provide, so that takes priority. Fully immersing yourself in a new group of friends will cut into the time you have to foster the connections with your spouses and children, and those are the most important- as hard as it is to create a new connection with a group, it’s much harder to find that person you love and can live with.

So take your time. Understand what you want to find, but respect the time and the process it will take to get there.

However – and this is important – don’t confuse patience with reluctance. When an opportunity comes along to meet new people and it doesn’t interfere with your professional and personal life…take it. It’s easy to let yourself retreat to the safety of solitude, fearing the change and lamenting the loss of what was a good thing, but this is the path to new and potentially great friendships and connections. Don’t limit yourself, either – while we all play Commander, true friendships are multifaceted. If someone invites you to listen to live music, try out a new restaurant, watch them do Parkour in a public park, or drink smoothies where you have to pedal on a bike to run the mixer (it’s a thing), try it. Hanging out and making friendships is about the ‘campfire experience’. It’s about having something to sit around, talk and connect over. Commander is a ‘campfire’, but there are many others – and the connections are always more important than specific activities.

Let’s face it – fun is a lot more about the attitudes of those involved, rather than just the specific activities and actions.


[Dave] As your life gets more complicated, this doesn’t get less important – just less simple. You have to be creative and flexible and understand that you can only really have about three priorities; everything else is a ‘nice-to-have’. So if you want to prioritize, for example:

  • Family
  • Job
  • New Friends

…Then you’re going to have to give up some sleep or whatever to go pedal that smoothie or sling cards, knowing full well you’re waking up at 5:45 the next morning to watch the kids.

That’s what prioritizing is. [/Dave]


Reaching Out

One of the hardest things for most people to get through is that you need to put yourself out there and be outgoing. I know a lot of people are introverted, but understanding what that means is really important. While the common perception of introverted and extroverted means you are either shy or outgoing. Recently a popular theory about explaining the personalities has less to do with actions and more to do with what drives us. Introverts get their energy and drive from the time they spend alone, being in crowds can be enjoyable will drain them. In contrast extroverts get their energy from hanging out with others and the time they spend working alone can drain them. Introverts are largely seen as shy because when they are already tired, spending time with others feels exhausting. The secret to being an introvert and being outgoing is to make sure you give yourself your alone time before heading out to meet with a new group. You want to be full of energy before your meet-up.


[Cass] I’m the absolute king of introversion. One of the reasons my move was so terrifying to me was that it was the first time I ever left my comfort zone – my closest friends are ones I’ve had for decades, and my LGS was only mine because Mr. P introduced me to it years ago. I’ve only recently felt truly at home there – which by personal definition is “I don’t feel a twinge of nervousness when I go there alone.”

I absolutely gain power from being alone with my thoughts. Frequently, I’ll arrive somewhere way early just so that I can sit in my car, relax, collect my thoughts, and prepare myself for whatever it is I’m about to do.

Long story short – this “finding a new group of friends” thing is NOT in my wheelhouse.

But Sean is right – you push through, and you overcome your hang-ups, because it leads to better things and new connections. Since I am still away from my family (I’m renting a house in Cape Cod while my wife and children are still at the home we own in New Hampshire), I found that I had the time to get out there and look around…I just needed to make myself actually do it. As a result, I’ve found a shop that I really like, and I’ve spent several nights there so far – playing games, talking shop, and just hanging out. It feels like a great place to be. [/Cass]


Aside from being shy, people tend to also be afraid to be outgoing because they are afraid of failing to make new friends or start new relationships. This is primarily a maturity issue; each person takes a unique amount of time to come to grips with the reality that they will inevitably fail to start and maintain some relationships in their lives. Not every person we meet can be someone we will be connected too for the rest of our lives, so the best thing you can do is to just let the failures happen and accept it’s not anyone’s fault. Not everyone connects in a meaningful way. You can still be a friendly acquaintance without being soul-mates.


[Cass] This is also a good point. My first experience down here on the Cape involved dropping into the first shop that I found. I read a bunch of promising Facebook posts and reviews, and actually found myself writing off some of the alternate options that I came across; I was so anxious to find ‘my new place’ that I was preemptively writing off other options in favor of ‘The One’ – and ‘The One’ was somewhere I hadn’t actually set foot in yet!

As it turns out, getting out there and trying these places out made a huge difference. I found that I couldn’t connect at all in the first shop – the people weren’t inviting or inclusive, the area it was in was not so great, and as a result, the atmosphere just wasn’t comfortable. (Not to mention – no Commander players!)

I failed to connect there, and that was a little upsetting at first; eventually, though I realized that it wasn’t in the cards (pardon the pun!), and that forcing something that wasn’t a good fit was not going to help my goal of finding new players, playgroups, and (most importantly) friends at all. [/Cass]


Bringing Yourself to the Table

There are things you can do to help increase the odds of forging a meaningful connection; the most important part is making a good first impression. Making a first impression isn’t about putting on a false sense of yourself in order to sneak into a situation where you spend time together with others; it’s about removing reasons for people not to give you a chance. Think of it as a job interview. During an interview, you are trying to show people exactly who you are. You want them to listen to all you have to offer. You stay positive, you make sure you look sharp, and you make sure you are shower-fresh because you want them to focus on you and what you are saying. You embrace the quirkiness that makes you unique so that you stand out based off exactly who you are without your appearance being a distraction.

The other crucial part of getting a ‘campfire conversation’ rolling is to listen. It’s really tempting to talk about yourself, because let’s face it – you are an expert on the subject. However, people are more likely to learn about you if you extend the hand of friendship first by listening to them. A new area gives you a perfect opportunity to listen to others; after all, you need advice on things to do, places to eat, and areas to explore – they don’t. The best listeners do something that is very difficult; they shut off that portion of the brain that compels them to think about the next thing they are going to say while someone else is talking – the “chess effect.” Here’s the thing…you are trying to find friends. That means when you do, you will have all the time in the world to tell them about yourself later. For now, don’t worry about telling them about yourself, unless you get prompted to do so.

You also need to understand the source of all of this advice. If you can learn how close your likes and interests are, you can gauge how likely a new acquaintances’ advice will help you. When you are just starting out in a new area and you find a kindred spirit, follow all of their advice that you can. The best way to show you value someone’s opinion is to actually take their suggestions.

When they inevitably ask about you, let go of your secrets. We all have secrets; unless they will get you put in prison or fired, stop holding them back. People connect faster and open up more when they really know who you are. We’ve all done terribly embarrassing things, and it’s usually hilarious to share this stuff – these are the things that make you human and break down walls. Like, “Sean once danced on stage in a white spandex sailor suit cut for a teenage girl…If you look hard enough, there may actually be video on it.” There could also be some dark times; things you don’t usually bring up, but there may be no reason to hide them. Life is tough, and we’ve all been through hard times; sharing that little piece of potential personal misery really does make you connect on more emotional levels with others. Now, I’m not saying you should just blurt out every terrible and embarrassing thing in your life…but just don’t bottle it inside. Let it out and use it to connect.

Closing Time

The last year has been miserable and memorable, exhausting and fulfilling, heart breaking and life changing, and it’s been life. We’ve all grown and we hope that what we have learned can help all of you in your journeys through life. Please let us know what advice you have for moving to a new area and starting over. This is just some advice, and we want to hear everything you’ve learned from your experiences.

-Sean (and Dave and Cass)

The GDC Un-Review of Dragons of Tarkir

As of last Friday, Dragons of Tarkir is available for purchase at your favorite local game store, online at a vast number of wonderful Magic-specific retailers, and…er…well, Target and Walmart. (Let’s hear it for big box stores!)

Here’s the thing – you’re likely expecting a set review. And we refuse to deliver.

Well, sort-of, anyway.

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