Lessons from Beyond Commander

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Last week I let you all know that I was moving to L.A. and looking forward to meeting a new Commander community down here. I did play some Commander, but I never really got a big game together, and one-on-one Commander is a different beast entirely. That said, I did meet a lot of new people, many of whom play Commander, so I expect to play a lot more soon. Despite a drought of actual games, I did make some headway on the issue of how I ought to be play Commander in this new group.

The Given

I talked with some of the people who I played against, and as you might expect, they were able to brief me on some of the group's rules. I found out that some people play combo, and so I was lead to assume that the group was pretty competitive. Nonetheless, I stuck to my guns and played my weakest deck. Why? As I said last week, most people aren't really aware of any sort of baseline for Commander because of the format's noncompetitive nature. I was told the format had some combo, but the decks I saw wouldn't stand up to any sort of Hermit Druid or [card Tendrils of Agony]Storm[/card] deck. I lost games to Emeria Angel and Magmatic Force. These weren't Combo decks, but rather decks with 'combos' like Unnatural Selection + Spirit Mirror, a different level of competition altogether. Pissing people off makes things unfun for everyone, so be cautious; better to lose games than to lose friends.

About Face

Most of my weekend consisted not of Commander games, but of Sealed events. Innistrad was a blast to play, and I'm looking forward to playing a lot more of it this PTQ season. And for anyone who didn't make it to Prerelease, let me tell you: I was skeptical of double-faced cards, but you really do need to play with them before judging. After having done so, I'm convinced they're Magic's best game-play implementation since Planeswalkers!

I didn't do so well in the sealed events: 2-2 on Saturday, and 1-2 on Sunday. And while I can't say I was happy with the results, I still had a good time. Not so much one of the players I defeated. That's when it hit me: my article from last week was missing a lot of important information. I stick to the assertions I made then, but a large part of meeting a new Commander group is playing with new Magic players in general, and I didn't cover that topic as thoroughly as I should have. The Prerelease is over, but lots of people are going to show up to this weekend's release events as well, so you should have plenty of opportunity to implement some the lessons I learned last weekend.

On to the first: don't rage. Losing is part of the game, and as the pros will tell you, getting caught up in your losses will make you lose more. That's not the issue here. As any of you who has ever had an opponent complain about bad luck after a game knows, it's aggravating. When my opponent gets mana screwed, I empathize. It's a miserable way to lose. Here's the thing: if you got mana screwed, your opponent already missed out on a chance for a fun, interactive game. If it ends with you complaining, they aren't going to look forward to playing more games with you.

Assert Authority

Be an authority on what you know. I know the rules. The store I played prerelease at, All Star Cards LLC, is pretty small, so they didn't have a judge. Of course, that didn't stop players from calling for one, so I made sure to rise to the occasion and answer the questions I heard. By the end of Sunday's prerelease, people were specifically coming over to me when they had rules questions. I was glad to clear up rules issues, but more than that, by establishing myself as an expert in the field, I gave myself a role in a new community.

When somebody new enters your playgroup, there's always going to be a period when they're the outsider and the rest of you are regulars. But what exactly is a regular? I bet somebody in your group is 'the foil guy' or 'the aggro guy.' [Editor's Note: I'm both.] You'll get to know people better the longer you know them, but at some level, putting somebody in a box allows them to feel less alien, so as long as the box you make for yourself doesn't bring along a whole lot of unwanted assumptions, really pushing one identity can help make you feel like a known factor to a new group more quickly.

On top of the benefits of familiarity, coming off as confident and knowledgeable simply makes you more appealing to hang out around. This isn't something you can force, and straining to jump into every situation will make you seem overly aggressive. If you're comfortable taking an authoritative role, there's no reason to stifle it just because you're with a new group of people.

Getting on the Same Page

After the main event on Sunday, another player and I organized people to go to a nearby Thai restaurant and draft with prize packs. We didn't have any additional prize structure, so we decided to redraft the rares at the end, but one player was anxious to have an opportunity to pick up some Double-Faced cards as well. Soon we'd decided that the uncommons would all go into one pile to be drafted in place of a rare, and started the draft. A few picks in, I realized that we'd never discussed how to handle foils. From the rest of the rules we'd laid down, it was pretty obvious that any foils would also be redraft picks, but I decided to clarify anyway.

Obvious is a dangerous word.

Writers who use phrases like “obviously I wasn't going to block” are often reprimanded. If it's so obvious, why did you bother putting it in your article? The thing is, what's obvious to one person isn't to another. Obviously giving somebody who's playing a casual game advice on a play is fine. Unless it isn't. Obviously making an alliance with some one and then stabbing them in the back is just good strategy. Unless it's a dick move. Obviously making a deal is fine. Unless teaming up is unfair. It's hard to see a different viewpoint when you've been living with one for a long time, but as with a group's Commander taboos, it's better to make things a little bit awkward than to really upset somebody.


And finally, we come to trading. As those of you with insider accounts have read from some of our amazing financial staff, it's easy to build friendships in the trading world. You have a great excuse to meet a new person if they have a card you want to trade for or vice versa, and moreover, you'll both come out of a good trade feeling good. You get a chance to talk while looking through binders, and asking about a card is an easy way to avoid an awkward pause.

Even beyond the first meeting, trading lets you reconnect later in the day by being on the lookout for cards your trading partner wants, and doing so will help establish some mutual goodwill between you, as much so as saving somebody in a Commander game. All in all, trading is a fantastic way to connect with new people in your community, and how else were you planning to get a foil Collective Unconscious for your [card Wort, the Raidmother]Wort[/card] deck?

Closing Time
I hope some of these tips and anecdotes help you connect with new people at your local Innistrad Launch Party this weekend. Feel free to share your own experiences below. I'll be battling at All Star again this week, so if you're there make sure to come say hello! Otherwise, I'll see you back here next week. Thanks for reading!

Jules Robins
@JulesRobins on twitter

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