Hey there troopers! I’m going to take a quick interlude from exploring storm conditions in EDH for the week. We’ll be back on that track next time. Today I want to talk about being an old hat wizard slinging spells with newbie mages.


In the beginning Garfield created the mana and the spells…

I’ve been playing Magic pretty much since it came out in Australia. Literally two decades of slinging spells and sliding sideways into the redzone. That, friends, is officially two-thirds of my life spent as a player of our fine game. What I am getting at is that through sheer bloody experience, optimising my lines of play, choosing card sequences, and bluffing and reading opponents is as natural to me as breathing. But things were not always this way.

I was once a newbie myself mixing up sequencing of my untap, upkeep and draw. Holding back from the attack due to not seeing the value of the pressure swing. Not wanting to wrath the board, as I didn’t want to lose my own creatures. Some of the reasons why these were mistakes have taken longer to learn than others. The plethora of available places to play, people who happily teach new players, and information online to teach and develop play have led to a modern generation of competitive players growing up much faster than I was able to. In my generation of slow dissemination, we trawled the BBSes and delve into hardcopy like Duelist and Scrye to keep up to date and share information.

Garfield said, “Let’s play a game,” and there were players…

Cutting to the chase, what has gotten me reminiscing like this are some recent experiences playing with my lovely wife and chief proofreader (the one who generally makes sure, provided I don’t finish and submit something at 2 am, that I am not making basic linguistic blunders – literally the ox in the Oxford Dictionary Shop). We’ve been married two years now and together around seven. However unlike me, she has been exposed to the game as a player for only about four years. As full-time workers, neither of us has a lot of spare time. As such her time to learn, play, build, test and master is limited.

Magic is also not her primary interest, even if she takes me on a 30th birthday weekend retreat to play a prerelease. She does say “Hey, there is a new set you have been blabbering about coming up, wanna split a box?” She was one of the earliest participants in our LGS Ladies League and as such plays infinitely more Standard than I do (the League has a focus on new/casual players and hence Standard is its official format). However, due to commitments and other interests she does not have or want to devote the same amount of time and money that I do to Magic.

When we split a box of boosters, as I am sure many of you out there do, we play mini masters, we build sealed decks and duel. We get more than just a box of new cards – we get a few fun weekends as we play our way through our purchase. Seriously, if you are not doing this with your friends and loved ones…why not?

And Garfield said, “Let there be a location from whence the purest mana may be tapped,” and Islands were printed…

Here is where my problem lies. We’re both competitive people, and we love winning. I sadly have to admit I almost drove her away from the game when she first started out. It turns out that nearly 20 years of familiarity with the game make me a really daunting opponent for a new player. That, combined with instinct-level play and deck building skills, can make me a really demoralising person to play against if you are not confident in your game play. While she has been exposed to the game since shortly after we met, that doesn’t exactly translate into skill and confidence. In fact, hearing my post game blow-by-blow accounts after Wednesday night EDH, she has been known to ask me “What? Are you still allowed to play there?”.

Recognising this, I have endeavoured to level the playing field. I don’t build constructed to play with her. If I do, I limit myself to the contents of whatever box I have recently opened. Otherwise we minimaster, we play sealed, replay prerelease decks or preconstructed decks, or borrow one of her decks. The idea here is to bring my resource pool to a level with her own. Magic is one of my primary hobbies, and as such it soaks up a solid percentage of my weekly “fun budget,” much higher than what another person to whom Magic is maybe five or six on the list would consider a reasonable spend.

An extension of that is that while I personally play with dual lands in my EDH decks, and still respect a deck that runs on pure basics, for me part of the fun is playing with my toys.  I also like to borrow other EDH players’ decks at my LGS. I do that because sometimes I want to play on their playing field as opposed to mine. Sometimes I even lend out one of my pimped out panzerfausts, just so they can get into my headspace. As such I have some to the conclusion that the problem…the demoralising factor…

Is me.

And Garfield said, “Let the islands teeming with mana imbue power on the most magnificent of spells,” and lo they did…

What I am getting at is that I can’t tune my play down. I’m not saying in any measure that everyone I play against is a lesser player. I am proud to admit that my wife more and more is able to out play me. I am happy if I win a game at EDH night and get drubbed the rest, as long as the journey is fun. But I do have to ask myself constantly, “Is what I am doing fun for more than just me?”

I have an ingrained habit of taking whatever resources I have and playing them well. That is, pitching the pressure of my play at whatever level I deem necessary to win a game. From there, whenever anyone applies pressure back, my instincts kick in and I notch my play up another gear. If this is an instinctive response, a reflexive reaction in how I abuse my resources, what are my options if I hope to not drive new or unfamiliar players away from my group?

My other concern is growing skills. There are a lot of skills involved in this game. Some, you learn instinctively by playing; others you learn by rote. It took me damn near 15 years to learn the value of a good wrath. For so long I coddled the few creatures I played. I am a Vintage player predominantly and as such see more value in spells than the red zone. I did, however, play on the tournament scene during the early days of type 2 Sligh decks. (Anyone else remember those?)

I guess my point is that I don’t see the value in not demonstrating good play. I don’t see the point in not addressing threats as they appear. Well okay, let me redact that last bit. I do see the value in letting shit hit the fan once, once being enough for people to see why something needs to be stopped. Perhaps I need to talk more about why I do things?

Garfield saw everything he had made, and indeed the game played was very good…

Once players get to know me, things are generally fine. They get to know that my decks are not all-dominating. They learn that while I love playing with my toys, I am not the asshole always playing goodstuff.dec. Sure, I sometimes bust out Arcanis combo/control to police problematic situations. Yes, I have a deck that is borderline goodstuff, but I do not like playing it or the Arcanis deck unless it is requested or I talk through expectations first. As we like to say, the Social Contract is a big part of things in this game (and format) we love. I guess I need to talk to people more.

So the key, it seems, is communication. That is not something that comes easily for me. Like many of my fellow geeks and nerds, I am a stereotypical social misfit (and damn proud of it). For various reasons I don’t like starting conversations with people I don’t know.  When conversation does start with unknowns, often as not it is some nasty snippery based on preconceived notions.

“Oh it’s another Maelstrom Wanderer deck.”
“Bet you can’t name a sliver in your Sliver Queen list.”
“Sharuum huh? 99 combos.dec?”

I’ve taken to carrying around a few unadulterated Commander preconstructed decks alongside whatever toybox I am packing for the night – it’s the other half of good communication: packing the tools necessary to adjust based on expectations and creating a fun play experience for everyone.

I guess the question I want to throw out to you all is:

How do you talk to someone who is new to the group? And what power level do you prefer to pitch that first game with them at?

I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

[Wifey edit: It’s ok sweetie, even though you beat the crap out of me when we’re slinging cardboard, I still love you 😛 ]