Welcome to the new QuietSpeculation.com format! There are a lot of changes but, fortunately, I’m not on the hook for all of them. What I am here for falls under two functions:
- Editor for all of the casual and fun-focused articles, which you’ll find tagged under “Timmy”
- Writer of a weekly article about casual and fun-focused stuff
It sounds simple but there’s a little bit more underneath of it all I’d like to get into. Before I do that, however, I’d like to introduce the lineup of writers for this week (and weeks after that):
- Myself, which I’ll go into here later
- Kyle Knudson, a Level 2 Judge who will be sharing awesome stories and straight answers to situations in the world of DCI rules enforcement, card interactions, and more.
- Usman Jamil, a cube specialist, with his own blog idratherbecubing.wordpress.com, who will be sharing the theory and principles underlying cube development along with other cube considerations.
- Jay Kirkman, the man behind ertaislament.com will be looking a bit harder at the preconstructed decks we all love and exploring more of how these guys work.
- Robby Rothe, the personification of the color pie through mtgcolorpie.com who will be delivering deep insight into some facet of Magic at least once every month.
There’s a diversity of things there for everyone in Magic – new or veteran, hungry for competition or not – and it’s my sincere hope that those of us who aren’t as keen on other topics being shared on Quiet Speculation will find something here.
The answer is everything that stretches the definitions I’ve so carefully laid out elsewhere.
What casual means to players varies so wildly not because it can’t be defined clearly but that the very definition of casual is so subjective. It’s been referenced before and I don’t think too much introduction to the idea is needed.
However how a writer handles casual greatly influences what they write about. There’s a significant difference between the guy whose definition of “casual” is piling up some very random decks to play against a few buddies and another who believes “casual” is simply not being an aspiring or active professional player.
The framework is wildly different and presents unique views of all things Magical. For the Mothership I strictly adhere to the super-fun and awesome thing things that abound is just playing for the sake of playing – no strings attached. For ManaNation I straddle the middle, sometimes championing the view of super fun and sometimes moving more towards the competitive side to share the features that benefit there.
Quiet Speculation gives me the opportunity to flex in the third direction by focusing on more competitive things. It’s clear that anyone who rides the PTQ circuit is trying to grind their way into a Pro Tour invite.
But what about the player who just has time for one and isn’t placing all their hopes and dreams on picking up a blue envelope? Are they truly a competitive player?
What about the player who shows up to FNM every now and then, jumping into Two-Headed Giant Sealed or Constructed Standard for a day? Are they really being competitive?
The answer is fuzzier than before but I would say that being interested and trying your hand at competition doesn’t mean you aren’t still casual at heart. The three psychographic profiles – Timmy, Johnny, and Spike, which Mark Rosewater described so well – are not exclusive domains. You can score on multiple profiles, even all three at once.
The secret is mostly out of the bag but it’s worth mentioning again: I score as both a Timmy and a Spike. While I would easily say that the Timmy “side” of me is stronger it would do injustice to my mind in the heat of gaming moments and outside of the game itself to say that Spike doesn't appear strong as well.
What I mean is that the Spike angle weaves its way into more than a few things I do. When I play Sealed or Draft I force myself to cut down and make a 40 card deck, and argue gently with others to do the same when they ask me “Should I just 41?” I created a cube and work diligently to tune and understand it; while it’s a slow process that has required enormous learning on my part, the reward has been an incrementally better and better Limited experience and understanding of drafting archetypes.
Even my EDH decks all-too-often pull no punches, laying savage beats through hyper-efficient interactions and as much consistency through redundancy where possible. Yes, I skip including Crucible of Worlds to go with my Strip Mine and Wasteland, but what player was going to let that happen anyway?
I like winning. Actually, I rather enjoying winning, thank you very much. And when I sit down to game I often find myself unconsciously trying to do just that.
No Rest for the Wicked
Self-mitigation and trying to avoid pressing players too hard when we all sit down to not do just that is a skill I’ve had to work on. I understand some of the motivations and desires of my friends and I scale my actions and strategies accordingly. Since I score on both types my brain doesn’t have a problem with that concept and while some of you do the majority of feedback around “You don’t always have to play to win.” has been positive and appreciative.
I’ve been an advocate of that idea and I still will be, but not everyone who plays casually doesn’t not care about winning. I know I do and I from feedback I know there is a chunk of you who feel the same way:
- EDH combos and interactions
- Multiplayer Strategy
- Politicking, a huge subset of bluffing in the abstract
- The “casual” deck to win an FNM
I’ve been asked about all of these things in just the past week. These are questions that I sometimes have answers for, and other times find completely compelling and new to me. And they all deserve attention in their own ways.
Which brings me to today’s article, and hopefully every article after this. I want to answer your questions, explore the topics you find interesting, and open up territory new and old for fresh discussion. Beyond a simple “mailbag” or “Letter to the Editor” type column, I’d like to create a place where every week something fresh, relevant, or raw within our Magic community is opened up for everyone.
Let’s start with something that’s relevant for competitive players at even the highest levels but, I believe, has a potential positive trickledown effect for all players: Tomoharu Saito was disqualified without prize from Grand Prix Florence.
Tomoharu Saito, for the uninitiated, is a professional Magic player from Japan, member of the successful Channel Fireball team of professional players, and was voted into the Hall of Fame for this year’s call. In sum, he’s acknowledged to be an exceptional player with a high level of skill and mastery – and has been for years.
The gist of this Florence issue is that the judges felt he slowed down the game based on the time remaining in the round. “Stalling” requires intent and an outside influence (the clock) making the player play slower. The result is aiming for a draw when the board position is often untenable or winning quickly from the current position becomes impossible in a short period of time.
I wasn’t in Florence and, let’s face it, virtually nobody else reading this was either. I can’t pass judgment but I will trust in the DCI and its representative judges in that the events occurred as depicted unless declared otherwise: I’m not here to debate what Saito did or didn’t do, reputation and hearsay aside.
What I do want to key off of is how long some games, especially multiplayer games, can take. Boards are cluttered. Strange, unforeseen cards are being used. Distractions and people not within the same game abound.
I know I’m guilty of taking an extra few seconds to finish a trade when my turn had already popped up. I’ve taken phone calls while playing. I’ve jumped up to greet other players and chat for a minute. I’ve ordered food and tried to eat-and-play. I even (just once) tried to play two games simultaneously.
And I’m not alone.
Abusing time is something that happens at all levels of gameplay. While prizes may not be riding on the games in your basement, glory just might be. I’ve heard too many stories ending with “This awesome thing was happening but I had to leave!” Everyone likes to play games and everyone likes them to finish.
Time running out is not fun.
While there aren’t judges in the formal sense for casual games, the idea of being disciplined and self-governing isn’t. That’s the root of social mores and group dynamics: there are expected behaviors and actions that guide the whole. It’s part “social contract” and part gaming tradition.
There aren’t hard rules and, as gamers are apt to do, rules get broken. Discussions on social rules always fall into grey areas of the world.
But have you ever taken a stopwatch and timed out how much time you’re taking when you play?
While I don’t believe we need to start do this, recognition of the time we’re taking up from everyone else is vitally important. Consider it this way: if the other players you’re sitting with were your paid-by-the-hour employees would you want them waiting on your input?
Decisions can be hard. Politicking invites discussion and others opinions. Attacking in a complex array of potential interactions requires thought. I would never say to simply ignore how you want to play.
But working to move a half-step quicker, trusting your instincts, and aiming to play rather than other activities doesn’t just benefit you but everyone you’re playing with. By playing more fluidly you also encourage others to do the same. The net benefit of everyone moving smoother is that everyone gets to game a little bit more.
And, as it's abundantly evident, adhering to playing to the game in competitive environments is a requirement through and through.
If you’re using time as a way to encourage opponents to made poor decisions, concede, or otherwise manipulate them then you’re doing it all wrong. Step up, play nice: inside or outside of a judge's purview, playing to the game and not any other beat is vitally important. You don't want to be disqualified from anything you're entitled to.