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Welcome to Magic



It’s great that you’ve decided to learn Magic. Truly wonderful. You should, however, take this last chance to reconsider your decision, because it’s entirely possible that this is your last chance to not care deeply about a collectible fantasy card game. Consider instead learning the piano, or taking a stroll through a neighborhood park and listening to the birds titter beautifully. There are plenty of things you could compete at instead, if you have your heart set on competition. Softball is a wonderful sport, playable by anyone.

As a final warning, you will never be more frustrated than at certain points playing Magic. You will be slightly annoyed when you lose a game where you had no possible way to win, moderately angered when you lose a game where you see a path to victory after the fact, and completely outraged when you lose a game and never see how you could have won.

This is your decision. What follows is your future if you decide to go forward with Magic.

You will first learn how to play. This means that you will first be instructed how to play by someone who has been playing for a long while. Almost certainly you know this person already, or you would never have considered taking up the game. If you don’t, please meet this future instructor, introduce yourself, and learn to play from him or her. The process of learning a new rules system is underrated in terms of how enjoyable it is. It will feel like an entire world is opening itself up to you, complete with a nearly limitless number of interactions and possibilities to discover. While there are certainly a lot, keep in mind that there are, technically, a non-infinite number of interactions. There are simply a lot. The number of interactions that are at all useful is much, much smaller than that, and much smaller than you will initially think. You should emphasize your enjoyment at this stage of learning, since it is the last time that anyone will care in the slightest whether you are having fun. Fun, after this joyous and wonderful experience, will be entirely self-directed, and too often zero-sum between you and your opponent or opponents.

Cards will look intimidating at first. Look harder at them, and you’ll see that half of them are from a fantasy aesthetic from the cover of a $6.99 paperback that can be safely ignored. Half of what’s left is italicized text rejected from that book that can definitely be ignored. Half of what’s left after that is jargon that you’ll need to study for a few minutes. The rest just tells you what to do.

Take note that learning the game is not binary (as in you either know how to play or you don’t), but instead an endless process that approaches, but never reaches, understanding Magic. Accept this early on, or you will become frustrated. A frustrated player makes for uncomfortable conversations at tournaments, and it’s best to avoid those.

In your first games, you will have trouble remembering what your cards do. You will have to keep rereading them and reminding yourself what they do. You will forget what your opponents’ cards do, and you’ll lose to them. You will think that your opponents have a near-mystic ability to know what every card does. The fact is that they’re just better at associating the names with what they do. You’ll pick up on it soon enough. It’ll start with the card that causes you to win for the first time. It’s probably not a very good card, so don’t be too disheartened not to see it in every opening hand.

You will be tempted to design your own decks. This is okay. It’s part of the learning process. Under no circumstance, however, should you show other people these decks, because they are not very good. Deck-building should be done in the utmost privacy for as long as possible.

The players who will seem like all-knowing deities of the game are, chances are, nearly as far away from truly understanding Magic as you will be at this early stage. This is not to criticize them; it is simply stating a fact. You will learn a lot from them, and, with luck, you will learn their inadequacies. Eventually, you will beat one of these players in a game of Magic that was not rigged to favor you. It will be easy to tell when this happens, because your opponent will not smile and congratulate you, but mumble and scowl. This means you did something right, so congratulations. After this, you’ve sprung a leak in the levee, and you’ll find it easier and easier to win games without asking for outside assistance.

Here’s where the horrible truth we mentioned earlier about the people you know will really come to light: These people will make mistakes that even you can see. They won’t even seem to care. This means that you should attend a Magic event of structured hanging out. This is called Friday Night Magic.

The average Magic player is, compared to the average person, not as well socialized. Do not interpret this to mean these players are introverted, brooding, and quiet. At Friday Night Magic, you will wish more players were like that. Instead, they will engage in conversation with you at the slightest provocation, and at volumes usually associated with Marshall Stacks. These are sincere people, and they want to be your friends. They would like to assist you in becoming a better player. You are encouraged to accept this offer, but only if you have no interest in becoming a better player. For that, you will need to seek out an entirely different crowd.

The secondary purpose of Friday Night Magic, after socializing, is playing Magic. You will play four rounds. The main purpose of FNM is to meet people that you will be able to borrow cards from when you feel like playing good decks (this is strongly discouraged at the casual/FNM level). Pay enough attention to them that they will treat you as an equal, but not so much that you attempt to use the information they give you about the game. Your record is irrelevant, because everyone else will forget as soon as the tournament is over.

Your first-round opponent will be a Level 1 judge, which means that he will have perfect information about how your cards work and not the slightest clue what to do with them. Judging by the stack of dice next to his right arm, if anything needs to be counted, randomized, or tracked in the tri-state area, he’ll be the man to call. He’ll drive to this tournament with his girlfriend, and he will be overwhelmingly cheerful the entire time, despite the conversation they’ll have on the way. His response to most of your spells will be a slight pun on each card name, and his overall chipper tone of voice, in even the worst of board states for him, will throw you off, since no one can remain that upbeat in the face of impending doom—other than the most devoted members of apocalyptic-themed cults. Don’t worry that he has some secret trick up his sleeve that’s the reason for his attitude. He’s just a smiley person.

Your second-round opponent will be a cheater. Now, this is not to say that he will cheat in this very match you’ll play against him. That you will have to figure out for yourself. You will, however, have to keep an exceedingly close eye on him the entire time, which may distract from your play mechanics in a harmful way. This is how most people with a reputation for cheating get most of their advantage, since players aren’t able to plan their next turns or daydream about hamburgers when a possibly cheating player has either hand anywhere near a library, graveyard, or permanent. If you are a reasonably moral human, it may take a while to understand the impulse to cheat at a game that you ostensibly play for fun. The first time you encounter a situation where you really, really feel that you need to win, you’ll understand cheaters a little bit. This isn’t to excuse their behavior or to demonize anyone. It’s to understand what they feel. Any cheating player pays a big cost in terms of socialization. Until a player is a good enough cheater to win events, his social circle will be limited by his reputation. This player isn’t quite at that level yet. If he was, it wouldn’t be much use to keep a close eye out, anyway.

Your third-round opponent will be the girlfriend of your Round 1 opponent. While Friday Night Magic is, contrary to popular opinion, not entirely male, the fact remains that any you’ll attend will be exceedingly male-dominated, and no women as attractive as this one will ever be at another one again. The males at this tournament will be far too shy and well-mannered to say things like, “I’d sure like to open that booster pack,” or, “Are you single, or do you need me to remove your last loyalty counter?” or, “Your body curves out like Legacy Zoo,” but they’ll certainly stare just a half-second too long. In her opinion, the attention can be either flattering or annoying, depending on the person it’s coming from and the intensity of the feeling that person holds. This would be the subject of the previously mentioned conversation in the car ride over. The Round 1 opponent will have tried to ask prodding questions about what she thought of the various males at the tournament. He will not have been very good at it. Her opinions of them, in reality, varied between “a nice person” and “icky.”

Your fourth-round opponent will dislike everything. Do not be discouraged by this. If he dislikes something you do, it means you did something correctly, and you should congratulate yourself. He will dislike the self-congratulation as well. You will ask yourself why he plays Magic, since he so plainly dislikes it. Have you answered this question yourself? Think on it a bit. Not during this round, because you will have to make decisions, lest your opponent get mad at you for taking too much time. Your opponent will be mad because no one of the opposite sex will pay attention to him. In the case of your third-round opponent, this will be because of her undying love of him. He will, therefore, be excluded from the previously mentioned range of feeling, as a nonrepresentative outlier, statistically speaking. Do not let your fourth-round opponent know about this, because he will not believe you, and he’ll become angry. It won’t help you win, and it will make other people look at you strangely. His lack of attention from women has served a valuable role as an excuse for his depression. He is quite a bit better at the game than other players at the store, and the depression is a major reason why. He has no faith in his ability to do anything without hours of practice, and no desire to do anything else. If you are serious about becoming a good player, give some consideration to becoming horribly depressed. Not jump-off-a-bridge depressed, but a good, manageable amount. You’ll have plenty of time to think about it over the weekend, I’m sure.

You will enjoy your first FNM experience, despite the near-complete lack of moments you can later recall as having been enjoyable. From here, you will consider becoming a PTQ grinder. A PTQ grinder is someone who goes to a lot of Pro Tour Qualifiers and does badly. Unlike FNMs, the people you meet at PTQs are almost entirely irrelevant. While you have a good record, you will talk to people who are decent players. When you do not have a good record, please avoid listening to other people. They will assume you want to commiserate.

I hope this look forward has served you quite well. Please . . . think this through before you decide to commit. It’s a big decision, and decisions about collectible fantasy card games should not be taken lightly.

Jesse Mason

KillGoldfish on Twitter


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