Jason’s Alticle – Conversion

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Greetings, Salivators,

Ever feel like people getting into Magic now are spoiled?

Thallid Days

I started playing this silly children's card game when I was still a silly child. Even at age 12 I quickly realized that the correct response when confronted by my peers was "embarrassment" followed by "trying to change the subject." But by age 14 or so I had managed to stop caring what pretty much anyone at my school thought and played shamelessly at cafeteria tables all throughout school.

1996 was an odd time to start playing. Duelist magazine was in the double digits, we had four whole editions of the core set (five if you can count) and the newest set, Ice Age, really captured players' imaginations because we were stupid back then and thought it couldn't get any better than Jester's Cap and Stormbind.

One store in town sold these cards and they had a "Magic night" on Mondays which was eight people crowded around a table in a store room with boxes all around. The table was eight feet long on its shortest side which meant it was difficult to see the cards of the person across from you.

I had no idea how to trade and got my pants pulled down a bit trading cards I didn't care about like Time Elemental for cards I did like Chronicles Nicol Bolas. It was a simpler, more innocent time.

It totally blew.

Lacking a driver's license, we were at the mercy of our parents to drive us across town to "Magic night" and when a scheduling conflict came up, our last link to the community was severed. The internet was still in its infancy back then and all of the usenet groups I managed to find discussing the game were a bit over my head. I read Duelist but that could only get me so far.

I was the best player at my school which put me high in the running for "not quite in the bottom 10% of players in the city". A second store kept opening up and closing down in six months because the guy who kept opening them was a total scumbag but we'd try to play events there during those brief windows.

Today the same city still has that same old store that used to run Magic night almost two decades ago, but it also has three other shops within a mile of each other, all fighting for the patronage of a decent-sized player base.

With more than one format to choose from for FNM, a great singles selection given the many different store inventories and competition for players' business, there has never been a better time to be a Magic player in that city. Players are frankly a little spoiled by choices given three locations to play.

You can understand why I was a little confused when I found out about a group of casual players that hung out at a doughnut shop to play EDH.

Glass Houses

Do I know the doughnut shop well? Yes, of course I do. I used to play Magic there. I think the most important distinction we need to make, though, is that I played there because I had to.

I probably pissed the group of them off when I saw a post about their get-together on facebook and told them they were lucky to be playing during a time when there were so many LGSs in the area and asked them to support them. The gist of the response was "Um, of course we support the LGSs," which I admit I wasn't prepared for.

They play on a Sunday when most of the LGSs close a bit early (a business decision I can't wrap my head around at all) but yesterday while they were playing EDH, one of the LGSs was doing an unlimited proxy Legacy tournament. For $4 entry and zero cost per proxy you could play to win Legacy cards like Chrome Moxes, Scalding Tarns and dual lands.

Who showed up? Serious Legacy players and like one person besides me who proxied a deck (I don't get high from my own supply--inventory is inventory).

If ever an event screamed, "Introduce more casual players to Legacy as a format," it's this one. For $4 you could spend the entire afternoon playing Legacy, learning the format and hanging out and supporting the LGS. The event utterly failed to attract anyone other than Legacy players and I can't figure out why.

But We Need to Figure It Out

LGSs are not super profitable. When run correctly they can thrive in an area for many years, but many of them live and die by event attendance.

Wizards has done a good job of moving the prerelease to the LGS to get everyone supporting their store and bringing some casuals out of the woodwork. They play a tournament in the store, meet some new people, have a good time and there is a non-zero chance of turning a few into regulars, or "converting" them.

However, there is a group of players out there in the world for whom something so casual as FNM is much too competitive and overwhelming. How do you convert those people?

I have been pretty successful at finding where they hide out and going to them, bringing boxes full of cards they've never seen before. As anyone who has traded a fistfull of bulk rares for a Snapcaster can tell you, even if you make sure values add up to the penny, you're going to feel like you won big. The best part is, so are they.

So how do we get those people out of their Community College libraries and doughnut shops and basements and get them to come to the LGS to be a part of the larger community? Do they contribute to the LGS in other ways that aren't as visible? Will we never be able to convert those people?

I realize that the article this week should have been more solution-oriented, but I guess this is the result of my worldview being challenged a little bit. I always had a, "if you schedule it, they will come," attitude toward events that make different formats more accessible to non-competitive players, but clearly a tournament isn't the ideal venue for that.

I have a few ideas.

Bring Them With You

If you're going to where casual players hang out, make the case to them directly. Get your LGS to set aside a block of time just for Magic durdling. Most stores don't have their schedule booked solid and there is likely time and space to get some casuals into the store.

Even if they just do EDH or casual durdling, they may spend some money and do some trading. There's no guarantee you'll get people uprooted from where they're comfortable hanging out, but if you convert even one person, it was worth it.

Pre-Releases Are Key

The guys who hang out in the doughnut shop in my example are mostly players who also spend time in the LGS, but even more casual groups of people are less likely to know about things like the prerelease. Make sure you let them know what the prerelease is all about, when it is and how many events there will be.

New sets are exciting, the gimmicks Wizards has concocted to make those events appeal widely are working and there really is no better introduction to the LGS than that. Make sure you set your LGS up for success by bringing the target audience to the event.

Find Out What Would Bring Them Out

The best way to design an event that would get a large number of casual players to make their first trip to the LGS is to ask them what they want to play in. Sometimes the answer is "nothing" and at least you tried, but sometimes something as simple as a sealed league will do the trick.

A Brief Reminder

The whole reason you want people to come to the LGS is that it's still the number one best place to develop the community and individual players. People congregate naturally, the game is a social one. Having more people in your community increases the talent and card pool and keeps the case stocked as people open cards they don't want and sell to the store. Bigger events means bigger prize pools.

As much fun as it is to bring your binder to groups of total casuals and have them react like you're a magician when you produce an entire playset of promo Bident of Thassa, it's more fun for those players to get better and contribute to the larger community as well.

The LGS isn't for everyone, but it never hurts to see if you can convert a few people into regulars. This is a social game after all, and even if you get people who do support the LGS to support it more, you'll find that the value you get is paid back tenfold when new trade binders, decks and money comes into the community.

Or you can keep impressing a group of casual players with your ability to show up every week with more copies of Colossus of Akros. I can see the benefits of both approaches.

Planes, Trains and Automobiles

So let's talk about the Grand Prix. It almost didn't happen. Flights were cancelled due to weather, Dallas was paralyzed by sheets of ice on the roads and even people like Corbin Hosler who live a few hours away didn't make the trip because the modest drive time was estimated to have been quadruple the normal duration.

Reports of judges slipping on the ice and getting injured (including one poor guy who broke some bones) have been coming in, and people are still in Texas a few days later trying to get out, because why would you want to stay in Texas?

Only 800 players managed to play in the event, which sounds like a big GP for 2003 but it is not a big GP for 2013. Do we discount the results accordingly? A lot of snark monsters on twitter seemed to want to based on how they reacted to Huey Jensen losing in the finals.

I'm going to pretend like this was a normal GP and the results are a good sample of the metagame because that's really all we can do.

Grand Prix Dallas/Fort Worth Coverage

It looks like it's a good thing that they bothered to have an event because Standard has been shaken up slightly.

There is a relative newcomer in the form of Orzhov Aggro which is actually a B/W Humans build from the look of it. Pairing the mono-white aggro shell with cards like Orzhov Charm and Xathrid Necromancer, this deck is just another option for players who don't want to play a monochromatic control deck.

Orzhov Control is also a new thing, and the event's winner, Marlon Guitierrez ran this type of deck, obviously to great effect. It's an odd deck considering Esper Control is nearly a thing of the past. Many of the Esper players have dropped the third color in favor of a more stream-lined Azorius control deck. To see Orzhov control pop up and do well is heartening. Quite a bit of variety is possible in Standard.

There was a lot of Mono-Black Devotion in the Top 16, which is odd since it did so poorly last week. It still has capability so ignore it at your peril.

Huey Jensen's Azorius deck looked boring. Any deck that relies on Elixir of Immortality should be strangled in the cradle before it grows up to teach other decks that it's okay to entirely lack win conditions. One Elspeth and two Mutavaults as your only way to attack for damage is just annoying. I'm not glad he lost, but I am glad he didn't win. Would it kill you to jam one Aetherling in there for me?

Carlos Becerrea Reyes came with an interesting deck, a kind of Gruul-colored mostly red deck. Devotion is a powerful mechanic but players are already finding ways to splash other colors for spell versatility and it has made for an entertaining meta. For a while there it was Mono-Blue and Mono-Black duking it out but it looks like Standard is a bit more interesting than we feared.

Soldier of the Pantheon may no longer be a long-term hold. It's at an all-time low so now may be the time to get in if it's going to see more play in Standard than we thought. Mono-colored decks are no longer the only option and more and more dual-colored creatures are creeping up, with removal packages following suit. I'd buy them under $2 on TCG Player if you can. I think they have a lot of promise.

Darren Minard has three copies of Spark Trooper in his sideboard in the Top 8. Now I've seen everything.

Take a bit to go over the deck lists here. Even some decks within the same archetypes are making pretty different card choices and that's only good for Standard.

Somewhere Sunnier

The SCG Open in Oakland may have gotten a bit of an attendance bump as stranded travelers audibled to a sunnier climate with an airport that actually allowed people to land.

SCG Oakland Standard Top 16

Five different decks in the Top 8 is encouraging. The only overlaps were the three copies of Mono-Blue Devotion, which can't really be helped.

U/W Control may be here to stay as it won this event piloted by Joe Lossett. Lossett's strategy involved playing a few more win conditions than Jensen and that may have gotten him there. Be able to beat this deck, and expect a blue-white temple to be worth some actual money when the next set is out.

I like Chained to the Rocks in a mono-red shell. It probably works just as well in mono-white splashing red since you have four Sacred Foundries and can hold off a good removal spell until you find the Mountain late in the game.

Stormbreath Dragon is a bad Thundermaw, but a bad Thundermaw is better than no Thundermaw so expect it to maintain its price. The decks that want it want four. Warleader's Helix is worming its way into 75 cards again, which I like. The same adage that applies to bad Thundermaws applies to bad Lightning Helices as well.

Mono-Blue looks the same week to week.

I like Zacarias Milton's Golgari beats deck. I think his removal suite is one of the best in the game right now and his creatures are solid. Mistcutter Hydra may make its way maindeck in this sort of build soon if all this blue nonsense persists.

Reaper of the Wilds is a decent card but I feel like there was never a good time to buy to make money. Unless SCG restocks at $5, this was a bad spec but it is getting about as much play as we can expect. "Good in block" sometimes translates, sometimes doesn't. Watch what SCG restocks this card at, I guess. Right now its spread is at 50% and that's about average for a fringe-playable card.

I bet on the wrong pony when I bought a bunch of copies of Hammer of Purphoros. I sold for an amount of money I am relieved to say can be classified as "not a loss" but these things are everywhere in binders and showing up as one- or two-ofs in decks.

Still, Spear is popping up, which is good. I think Spear of Heliod and Bow of Nylea have the most casual appeal and are decent bets to go up over time. How long it takes might depress you, though. I wouldn't invest now.

Spear sure is doing work right now. It can't deal with truly annoying stuff like Blood Baron, Stormbreath Dragon or Aetherling, but it can make sure you only take three from a Reckoner and help you win the race. Not a bad use of extra mana late and it's bonkers with Assemble the Legion. Who needs creatures?

Mono-Black still is and always will be a thing.

This deck is one of the few that intrigued me. I like it a lot and it's nice when new decks pop up. I'd sleeve this up for FNM if I wasn't having so much fun ruining lives with Scion of Vitu-Ghazi. This deck is basically Junk Goodstuff and it's fun to see goodstuff in a sea of "I picked a color" decks.

Let's onward to Legacy.

SCG Oakland Legacy Top 16

Right off the bat, it's safe to call Doomsday the "Pet Deck of the Week".

Elves could have taken that title but lately, as in, "Since they printed Deathrite Shaman," Elves has become a legitimate deck in Legacy. It's a fine deck, most builds are comparatively pretty cheap and it's fun to play tribal. I wish there were more than three viable tribal decks (four if you count Slivers, which I do), but whatever. I'll take it.

"Oops, all spells?" More like "Oops, your deck name is $%^&ing stupid."

Death and Taxes is probably going to put at least one copy into the Top 8 for the next year. I'm cool with that. I have played that deck in Legacy since it still ran Mangara of Corondor.

Esper Stoneblade and other blade decks are going to do well in a post-True-Name Nemesis landscape. I played Sam Black's Bant in that Legacy tournament on Sunday and my toughest opponent was fatigue.

Having my land blown up was bad, but boarding in Gaddock Teeg and riding a Nemesis to victory with Supreme Verdict stuck in their hand got there. I played like a total monkey because I don't play much anymore and the deck just carried me.

Legacy is going to figure out a way to deal with True-Name Nemesis. People are already starting to play cards like Stifle to deal, and Supreme Verdict is good against everything already.

Edit- I have been asked to "Please stop suggesting that [stifle] is a viable solution to True-Name Nemesis". Since Stifle does not stop them from selecting a player and therefore not help you, I am officially out of ideas. You can wrath True-Name or you can just bend over. Wizards has designed the perfect card that can't be interacted with and it costs 7 mana less than Progenitus (someone check my math). I will no longer make any suggestions at all about how to True-Name Nemesis because nothing works the way I want it to. If your opponent resolves Nemesis, just go to Game 2.

Affinity? Why not. That deck always has a chance but it doesn't get played much anymore. It's somewhat easy to hate out, but who's bothering? Etched Champion can do work right now. Cranial Plating on him can be just as scary as Batterskull on True-Name....who am I kidding? It's still potent, though.

Delver decks are starting to jam the Nemesis, and some are even also jamming Stoneforge. UWR is going to be a real deck for the foreseeable future.

OmniTell and no other Sneak decks confused me. I guess TNN is the new card of choice for people who hate playing fair.

Dredge is another deck that does well when no one is hating it out. Now is a good time for this particular unfair deck. If it does much better it will be hated out but for the time being it's fun to see it pop up every once in a while.

That's all for now. Join me next week where I'll think of something to write about at the last second.

14 thoughts on “Jason’s Alticle – Conversion

  1. I think the biggest reason a lot of casual groups don’t hang out in an LGS is a combination of two things, atmosphere and attitude. The legacy tourney you spoke of was a great example for my point. An unlimited proxy legacy tourney for $4 sounds awesome and is a great way for casuals to enjoy the legacy format and convert them to a regular at the LGS, but look who showed up. A bunch of spikes that are hardcore legacy players showed up. When you don’t own a deck or know the format the last thing you want to do is sit across from a player that’s playing high tide or is annoyed you don’t know what his counter balance top combo does.

    I think down time or as you said durdle time is the best time to try and get these people into the lgs. Invite some of the elite members of the LGS that have the temperament to slow down and help out the casuals with understanding interactions and the like. Maybe have a proxy legacy tourney and separate it into veterans and beginners and have a more experienced player help out the beginner tourney.

    I just think that for a lot of casual they are very unaware of the competitive magic scene (which seems crazy in this age of digital info) and feel very intimidated when they interact with it. Let’s be honest competitive magic players can be some of the snarkiest most arrogant people you have ever met.

    I think for more casuals to be welcomed into an lgs there has to be a culture change in the player bases attitude toward casuals and the atmosphere has to be welcoming to new players.

    1. Good points. I would add that if these are multiplayer (1:N) playing casuals, which makes sense if they play EDH, they might not care for 1:1 games. This is also true for me. I’ll take playing a game of Magic over not playing, but give me a 1:1 game or a 1:N game and the choice would easily go towards the 1:N game. I’d probably even go for the 1:N game when I could easily win something in the 1:1 game. There’d need to be a lot I could easily win or perhaps my opponent being a girl I fancy for me to even consider playing 1:1 over 1:N.

      In Amsterdam we have The Gamekeeper as our main LGS. I like the shop, actually I am reasonably close to the guys working there, but they just don’t do anything that’ll get me to buy there. They don’t organize anything I like (they organize little at all) and their prices are even higher than those of a non-gaming oriented store close by. There are some other events, but rarely something I fancy playing in as they same to either take place when I have other plans that I would prefer over 1:1 Magic play or they play something I don’t particularly enjoy such as Standard, Draft or Sealed. I’m just not enticed to go out and play anywhere in my city, I might as well find a nice place to play with friends.

      When I visited the states for work I went to an FNM at a local store there. While there all people playing were invited to a party at the store the next night. The hosts made sure to catch up with me every now and then and would help me find opponents. That was a place I would consider playing at, if it wasn’t at the other side of an ocean. That does mean though that I could be convinced to attend events around here too.

    2. You\’re ascribing a thought process to that group that you should know didn\’t take place. They didn\’t say \”Yeah, I\’d like to play Legacy but that crowd is too competitive\”, they said \”if you keep ordering coffee refills, they can\’t kick us out!\”

    1. Seconded. TNN’s ability cannot be Stifled. “As x…” does not indicate a trigger. Please stop suggesting that this is a viable solution to TNN so as not to confuse Stifle players who do not know how their card works.

    2. I was wondering the same thing. The “As enters, name player” ability is *not* a trigger. It’s a replacement effect.

      The only argument I could see would be stifling an equip? But that just seems like bad value and delaying the inevitable.

  2. Speaking as one of those casual players who never goes near LGS events, I can say Joey’s comment is on target. The Legacy tournament described does sound cool… for the three seconds it takes to realize that the place will be full of hardcore Legacy players. In that environment, newcomers feel about as pertinent as 0/1 Kobold tokens. I don’t think anyone wants to play a game where they are guaranteed to have their butt handed to them on a platter over and over all afternoon; that’s neither fun nor educational, and certainly wouldn’t translate into converts.

    Events aimed at beginners (i.e., those who know the game but aren’t used to playing competitively) could be useful. One way to modify the Legacy tournament described in the article would be to provide pre-fab Legacy decks, rather than allow proxies, as new players might not even know what to proxy in unless they just copy a list from online. ‘Rent’ the deck to them for the afternoon for a couple of bucks so they can see the real cards and learn the deck. Separating ‘Veterans’ and ‘Beginners’ is a good idea; another is just to scale down the prize curve so the hardcore veterans aren’t so interested in playing. Instead of prizes such as moxes, offer $20 of store credit, or a dozen Legacy-era bulk rares (we casuals do latch on to oddball rares, especially ones with nice art or big creatures featured), or something else that would appeal to casuals but not so much to veterans.

    The comment that people at the store need to be friendly and patient w/ newbies is also a key point. After working 50 hours a week, I don’t want my Friday night entertainment to involve three overzealous fanboys tripping over themselves to tell me why I should’ve played a Lotleth Troll instead of a Sylvan Caryatid on turn 2. Being helpful is great, but some folks come on way too strong and just end up scaring us casuals away.

    And just for the record, we casuals do support the LGSs. We have 4 stores in my area, and my wife and I make purchases at all of them. No, we don’t play in their events, but we do buy packs, boxes, other related merchandise (hey, someone had to buy a copy of ‘Sorrin vs Tibault’), and yes, even singles (and yes, they’re often weird singles no self-respecting competitive player would touch with a 10-foot Rod of Ruin).

    Just my two cents, hope it helps shed some light on the casual mentality.

    Oh, and I was kidding about buying ‘Sorrin vs Tibault’, not even I and my wife are THAT casual about MtG 🙂

    1. abc thanks for taking the time to write a very insightful reply to the article. I’m always trying to help my LGS and this kind of feedback is invaluable into getting them to understand the different players mindsets. I will say that my LGS does offer free/good advice to newer players trying their hands at more competitive play. They host a free standard tournament on Saturday with prize support (a few packs for first/second, but still free) and we keep the atmosphere light. I’ve been working on a “Legacy 101 Guide” that I’ll have QS post on the free side so that shop owners might have a generic guide how to teach people who are interested in legacy a bit about the format in an any to digest guide.

  3. I have two reasons for this. First – casual players want to relax and play. They don’t want someone looking over their shoulder and watching them. It makes us feel weird. Where better to relax than the “real” world, where most people have no clue what you are doing? Second – Food and Beverage. If I’m hanging our and playing Commander (a game which takes forever and wins don’t count) for 3 hours, I want something better than a soda and some crappy snack bar items. My friends and I play at the local taco shop because they have good food. Probably the same reason the dudes hang out at the doughnut shop. Because doughnuts and coffee are delicious, the shop likes regular business so they are nice to them, and there is zero chance of being bothered while chilling out.

    1. My LGS has noticed this trend too, though they do sell snacks and drinks they actually sell out almost every weekend and it’s a great source of revenue. I do know that one of the reasons many don’t serve more elaborate food is that (in the US) the health inspector must come and review all stores that sell pre-made food, regardless of how many processes are necessary. However (and any lawyers please correct me if I’m wrong) one way around this is to sell the food frozen and let the people heat it up themselves (i.e. you can sell microwavable food products) and they are NOT required to pass health inspections.

  4. “Wizards has designed the perfect card that can’t be interacted with and it costs 7 mana less than Progenitus (someone check my math).”

    Your math is wrong. True-Name Nemesis costs 1UU. Progenitus only costs either 2U (S&T), 2GG (NO), or occasionally 3UU (Dream Halls).

  5. I don’t have anyone locally that plays Magic, so when I started, I really had no choice but to draft at an FNM. Talk about intimidating, not knowing anyone or even how to play the game well. I have friends out of my immediate area that play, so I knew a bit about the competitive environment, but I get the hesitation people would have. It was straight up scary not knowing if people were giving me good advice or if they were just telling me I could or couldn’t do something so they would win. That kind of anxiety nullifies the fun, social aspect of the game casual players find so great about it.

    I think the durdle time was a great idea, and I’m gonna talk w my lgs tonight about it.

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