Insider: Building a Community at Your LGS

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Hello, and welcome!

My name is Pete, and this is my first article here at Quiet Speculation.  A quick background – I’ve been playing Magic: The Gathering for 23 years, virtually since the very beginning.  I have a Grand Prix Day Two, a PPTQ win, a 1K win, and a few dozen top eights for various smaller events.  I play every format that I can (although Vintage can be tricky to find events for) and do my best to stay well-versed in all formats, an effort motivated by the two card stores that I have owned and operated in the past decade.

Most importantly, for the purposes of articles that I will be writing for QS, I was the general manager at The Chicago Clubhouse in Glenview, Illinois, and I am the co-owner of Johnny B’s Cards and Comics in Lakeland, Florida.  I am hoping to bring a different perspective to you, the reader, and dive into the different viewpoints I have developed from being the guy behind the counter at a few local game stores.

On Building a Local – and Loyal – Community

Today, I am going to focus on the general community at any local card store.  How can it vary from place to place?  How can you, as a player, help the community grow?

First off, it shouldn’t be a surprise that finance is a major factor with every single customer that walks in the store.  With all of the different formats that Magic provides, every player has different interests, and for each interest, they have a specific budget.  The most common format is Standard.  While Standard saw a drop-off over the past two years due to the exorbitant prices of its top cards and decks, there was a long period of time before Khans of Tarkir got printed when viable decks could be acquired for cheap.  Every card store will lack specific product at various points in time, especially with high-demand cards that see endless play.  In real time, some examples might include:

  • Hostage Taker, as Ixalan is a new set and product is still being opened
  • Chandra, Torch of Defiance, as it is a mythic from Kaladesh, a set that was not opened with the frequency of some previous sets.
  • The Scarab God, as it is a mythic from Hour of Devastation, a set that previously had no realistic substantial value outside of the Invocations
  • Carnage Tyrant, a mythic from Ixalan that maintains an over-inflated release date price

With that knowledge, what happens when a player comes in and says, “I want to build a control deck,” and you don’t have the optimal pieces for what would be considered a tier-one deck?  Alternatively, what if you have all of the cards, and the player says, “I only have $20 to spend on Standard,” while you are helping him form a decklist?  Well, the answer is versatility.

Example A: “I want to build Standard Control, but your store doesn’t have all of the pieces."

The first step is figuring out what pieces you are missing.  For this example, let’s say that your player settles on UW Control, but the store is missing copies of Disallow and Fumigate.  Disallow is a pricier counter, but it is a catch-all.  Fumigate is a wrath effect, which can be very important for control decks.

The second step sounds simple, but it isn’t always as easy as it sounds.  The second step is for you to realize that not all players are on the Pro Tour.  There is such a thing as an “optimal” deck choice.  However, as the guy behind the counter, the player is a person who will likely want to simply enjoy playing Magic.  The goal is to make sure this person can play the game and have fun.

That is always the end goal.  Sometimes the ego of a player won’t let them play with “bad cards,” even though they might be good enough to compete.  This is all a balancing act, but you can make informed decisions with the acceptance that you likely aren’t dealing with Owen Turtenwald or Huey Jensen on the other side of the counter (unless you are, in which case, good luck!).

The third step is to come up with reasonable substitutes for the cards that are missing.  Disallow is a counter, but so are Essence Scatter and Negate.  As the store employee, you will hopefully know what other players at the store are generally playing, and can tune accordingly.  Is your store newer and more casual players that are learning the game?  Those players often times stick to cheaper aggressive decks and, statistically, will favor decks based around their favorite cards.

If you know the decks they play, even better.  If you know the statistics of how many win conditions are creature-based compared to noncreature-based, in this case, that is the best scenario, because we have access to both Essence Scatter and Negate in Standard right now. Disallow can be either one of those!

Fumigate is far more difficult.  Right now, Settle the Wreckage is the best substitute option, but what if you are also missing those?  How can a control deck function without a board wipe?  Well, the truth is that UW Control players have won games without drawing Fumigate or Settle the Wreckage.

Not every draw is perfect, and giving your players the element of chaos and the element of surprise will work to their advantage far more often than you would think.  Kefnet's Last Word, for example, can steal the opponent’s best win condition and wind up stonewalling the opponent out.  Supreme Will can do many things and help quite a bit.

The fourth step is to make sure that the player has a list of other options.  This is how you, the player, can help the community as well.  Almost every player assigns value to cards they own.  If you have a $2 card that another player could desperately use, it’s not out of the realm of reality to ask them to trade you for it, even if it’s for another $2 card that you also will not play.  Or, have them buy you a $2 card from the store and give them the $2 card that they need in exchange.  This helps support the store, gives you a wider variety of card selection, AND assists the other player.  It’s win-win-win when this happens!

Example B: “I want a good deck, but I only have $20 in my budget.”

This is much more related to finance, and honestly, is far more fun to figure out.  It’s almost like a puzzle.  Many people have attempted to compete with budget decks just to see if they can, myself included.  Needing to compete on a tight budget is commonplace, to the point where more players play with the cards they already own, or just anything they can get their hands on.  On top of the budget for players, Magic is fun, and sometimes winning with suboptimal cards can be even more enjoyable than winning with a tier-one deck.

How do you make sure that this player’s deck will be competitive?  Fortunately, Friday Night Magic is great for the store more times than not.  If you’re lucky enough to have highly competitive players, they tend to use FNM to test decks fairly frequently, and sometimes even to play fun ideas that they had themselves to blow off steam.  If the Friday Night Magic scene is not competitive, that is also fine, because it means that most lists you build a player will be fairly competitive.

There will always be the nagging thought process of “no tier-one deck costs $20,” but the majority of several decks in current Standard can be built on the cheaper side.  That is a direct benefit of having powerful uncommon spells, something that has not been seen since Return to Ravnica was in Standard, that can compete directly with many of the rare and mythic cards in the format…and in some cases, such as Rogue Refiner, uncommons can simply be better than many rares for winning a game.

There are some excellent examples in this new version of Standard, since the entry level is much more financially reasonable.

  • Can Ranumap Red function without Hazoret the Fervent? Yes, the deck can still win games.  It will be less powerful, but the deck becomes very affordable.
  • Can Mono-Blue Flyers make an impact? Easily, especially at a Friday Night Magic event.  Flying is a powerful keyword and a deck of commons and uncommons built around Favorable Winds can definitely steal games.
  • Are two-color decks viable with a $20 budget? Technically, yes, but it is much more difficult to make it work, as the land bases will single-handedly push the player close to budget, even today with check lands and cycle lands.

As a community member, it is very easy to help budget players put decks together if you have a decent inventory.  Financially speaking, every card has a value, but hanging onto cards that cost less than fifty cents will likely never get you anywhere, especially if the card sees no play.  If you have leftover cheap cards from drafts that you will never use, it’s incredibly helpful to new players to just give them the cards.  It makes them feel welcome, and costs virtually nothing.  It’s the fastest way to build a better local community.

This also helps the store in the long run every time.  Sure, the store can make an extra quarter on that bulk common or uncommon, but a happy player is a loyal player, and if the store is good to the local players, they will keep coming back.  I’ve used this model to success, and have worked hard at becoming a competent player for the primary reason that I could help my own customer base as a store owner.  Fortunately, this also resulted in making many friends along the way within the community, and today, I preach the same model to help the Magic community grow from the base foundation.

Thanks for reading!


@smash_pacman on Twitter

7 thoughts on “Insider: Building a Community at Your LGS

  1. First off welcome aboard. Second, I love this statement;”Sure, the store can make an extra quarter on that bulk common or uncommon, but a happy player is a loyal player, and if the store is good to the local players, they will keep coming back.” We have one store in the area that went from having 200+ player pre-releases down to not being able to fire FNM with 8 people because the store owner views the players as walking wallets and doesn’t foster playerbase growth. I’ve seen a lot of players leave the game in the past year or two and I personally believe a lot of that has to do with local stores not fostering the playerbase to keep players happy and to encourage them to grow (maybe from casual to semi-competitive, etc.).

    1. Thanks for the warm welcome, and for the feedback!

      It’s incredibly painful for stores to have ownership that doesn’t care about the player base at a personal level. Since we are in a luxury industry, the assumption is that card store owners are “doing what they love.” Unfortunately, there is the occasional owner that, after opening a store, doesn’t realize that he is not a positive influence on his own community, but rather sees the customers as “walking wallets,” as you said.

      I can think of at least one store owner who has made the joke that he “sees his customers as dollar signs” as they walk in the door. It’s an unfortunate, toxic mentality that can stop community growth in its tracks. My sympathies go out to any player who has experienced this in the past.

  2. One thing I don’t see in your article is mention of the store regulars. It’s by far not uncommon for the owners and operators of my LGS to point someone my way if the store either doesn’t have the cards they want, or can’t sell at a price that makes the buyer comfortable. That’s where I have come in on multiple occasions.

    I am more than happy to trade with such people, taking a large handful of bulk off their hands in order to get them the cards they want or need to play with, or to work with them to find the right build for their budget. As a player at the store, I want more people to come and play more often. It means I continue to have a place to play. These newer players remember me and the store as a place that didn’t just try to take their money but actually tried to help them, and they have a better experience overall.

    I find that many stores overlook this aspect of their community and might benefit from fostering it. Nothing is going to bring the customer back more than knowing that they can walk in and talk to the guys who play there, play some games and trade well with them. My LGS takes care of me because I take care of their customers and keep them coming back with their friends.

    1. You’re definitely correct about the store regulars, and how having friendly people who are consistently at the LGS can help to foster a better community as well. I suppose I take for granted that my various LGS have had these type of regulars, and those players certainly deserve the credit for helping the community in their areas.

      In future articles, I will likely be touching more on individual examples of these types of players. Thanks for the feedback!

    1. Can’t escape (incorrect) opinions from the past! Fortunately, that was long ago and incredibly irrelevant today. Sticking to other communities, especially Magic, was a better decision. Glad to be here!

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