"No Man is an Island" is a paraphrased statement from English author John Donne. The statement comes from his work Devotions upon Emergent Occasions, written after recovering from a serious illness. The general understanding is that we're all dependent and connected to one another even though at times we feel that we aren't. We want to be an individual and stand out, but at the same time, we all want to belong and feel welcome. Through Magic: the Gathering we can do both in a positive way.
This is true not only for those we play Magic with regularly but for other people in our lives that haven't played the game. If you're enjoying something you almost always want to share it with others. Whether it's a friend, a relative, or someone you just happened to run into, we intrinsically want to have them join us.
In a previous article, I told the story of sharing the game with my boys throughout their youth and into adulthood. You would think, that being a game, sharing the fun of Magic is easy and enjoyable. For the most part, it is, but there are always good and bad ways to involve and instruct. Today I hope to impart some of the lessons I've learned to assist you and anyone you might bring into the game.
1. Make It Fun!
Pretty simple and obvious, right? Definitely yes, but possibly no. If you've ever taken a personality test or tried to see what Streets of New Capenna family you're part of, you know that each of us enjoys things differently and processes information in different ways. Taking your new player to an unfamiliar setting, like a large tournament, might be overwhelming for them or just make them uncomfortable enough to not enjoy the experience. Starting them at an appropriate level is important.
If they've only been playing at home, are they ready to tackle a local tournament or an upcoming pre-release event? Pre-releases are great events for newer players. They're generally very casual and everyone starts on a similar footing. It's still important to make sure a new player is ready for it. Are they comfortable playing against people they might not know?
Try taking a visit to where you'll be going ahead of time and get them familiar with the setting and the people likely to attend. If the place has some familiar faces, make introductions and enlist them in welcoming your new player. Helping to ease anxieties beforehand increases the opportunity for fun.
On the other side of the coin, be attentive when your new player isn't having fun. My oldest, Chase, had a moment when things were going fine—until they weren’t. We were playing in the Conflux pre-release and he drafted a deck where he was able to cast this big boy:
I believe it was the second game in the third round where he was finally able to live the dream! He had ten lands, two Kaleidostones, and the massive hydra in hand. He was so excited, not even to win the game, but just to be able to level up. He tapped everything, cast Keeper of Progenitus, and in response, his opponent played a most devastating card:
Chase blinked a few times and just about cried (mind you, he was 11 at the time). He didn’t want me to console him, so I had to let him work through it. Fortunately, a few of the other guys reassured him that he did everything right and shouldn't feel bad. A couple of them even sat with him for a little bit to help him get through the frustration of the moment. Situations like that can make or break having a good time.
2. Find Out What They Enjoy
As I mentioned, what your new player enjoys may not be what you enjoy. Drafting is what I enjoy the most within Magic, but it wasn’t for either of my boys. Adjustments needed to be made. Allow your new player to get a feel for different aspects of the game. Do they like easygoing games at home or are they ready to jump into competitive play? Maybe they simply just have fun opening packs? Get their input and don’t force them into anything. You may be surprised by what they’ll latch onto.
As you play, try to figure out what’s important to them. Here are some questions to have in your mind to help figure out what your new player enjoys:
- What themes or formats do they gravitate towards?
- Do they enjoy tribal decks, like dinosaurs, angels, or bears?
- What color combinations do they like?
- Do they want to win with the best deck or just have a good time with a pet deck?
- What level of complexity are they comfortable with?
- What playstyle do they resonate with? Are they an aggro, mid-range, control, or combo player?
During the Innistrad/Return to Ravnica standard format, Jarod had an Izzet Dragons deck he wanted to make work. He played it for a month and it just wouldn’t win. Every week it was an 0-4 or 1-3. Finally, he decided he wanted to start winning instead of playing his pet deck, so we developed an Esper Spirits build to good effect.
This became a turning point for him. He started to pay more attention to the trade-off between what he wanted to play and what was actually good to play. Sometimes a card can be both, like Goldspan Dragon these days. Other times, it can be Hypersonic Dragon (not very good). It can take time to figure out what actually works, but the joy is in the journey.
3. Information Overload
One of the wonderful aspects of Magic: the Gathering is that there are so many ways to play the game. There's Standard, Pioneer, Modern, Legacy, Commander, Old School, Canadian Highlander, Limited, Pauper, and that’s just scratching the surface.
There are close to 24,000 individual Magic cards. The comprehensive game rules are 265 pages long along with another 55 pages of tournament rules. Add in the immense amount of online information available, including articles like this one, and it's not hard for a new player to become overwhelmed.
You can help mitigate this in a few different ways. First, is the choice of formats you steer them towards, and then the cards you share. If the new player is beginning with Limited or Standard and they’re happy with it, think before you thrust them into a format like Legacy with a card pool nine times the size of Standard. If they’re thirsty for more, go for it, but remember that Magic is a complex game. Pushing them into trying to absorb this many cards and interactions could turn your new player away.
4. The Art of Teaching
This one isn’t all-encompassing but is still something to be aware of. Pay attention to your audience. Realize that along with being a fellow player, you’re also teaching. They are looking to you for guidance on how to learn and enjoy this game. Are you helping more than one person? Are you sharing the game appropriately for each player?
One line of thought on how people learn involves the four general ways people process information. This is called VARK, or, Visual, Auditory, Reading/Writing, and Kinesthetic (hands-on). How does your new player learn the best? Is it easier to show them or do they need to practice to really grasp what you’re sharing?
Enfranchised players that have been in the game for quite a while can rattle off a simple explanation of Magic: two players, two decks, 20 points each, whoever hits zero first or can’t draw a card, loses. When you get into more detailed items like timing, triggers, state-based effects, replacement effects, etc., it can be important to understand how each new player best learns and processes information, and provide them with what they need for maximum understanding.
Fortunately, we can all learn through repetition, so if it takes some time, that’s ok. Help your new player to not get discouraged. If they get it wrong the first five, ten, or forty-two times, it’s ok, they’ll get it eventually. Again, help them find joy in the journey.
5. Event Preparation
When going to events outside of the home, prepare for your events ahead of time and take note of what you need to bring. Depending on where you're headed, the list can change. Are you local or driving a good distance from home? Is it a large or small event? If your focus is on your new player, minimize what you bring. Consider leaving that trade binder at home.
Depending on their age, be careful with younger players holding onto the cards they play with. Limit their access and time carrying them. It can be an initial irritation, but it's better if you keep your cards than for your new player to leave behind the deck box in a restroom. As they get used to what needs to be done you can both be more comfortable with them carrying their own items.
Plan ahead for food, drink, and any necessary medications. I finished the Planeshift pre-release back in 2001 with a major headache, so I always remembered to bring some aspirin for myself. Once my youngest started traveling with me, I made sure we had enough for both of us. It wasn't always needed, but when it was we were glad we had it.
Event prep also includes teaching new players how to react to in-game situations, especially when things get messed up or confusing. Help them understand what they should do in certain game situations, and when they need to get a judge involved. It can be intimidating to some people to have to raise a hand and yell, “JUDGE!” I know long-time players that don't like to call a judge for that reason.
Judges are there though to ensure fair play and make sure everyone is following the rules. Familiarize new players with calling for a judge, and let them know that judges are there as a resource for the benefit of all players. If it makes them more comfortable, feel free to either introduce them to one of the judges or at least point them out so they know who to talk to if they have a problem and can't reach you.
In non-game situations, make sure they know what to do and where to go in an emergency, where you'll be at, and as always, where that restroom is.
More To Come
There's still more to discuss regarding getting new players into Magic. We'll revisit this topic in a couple of weeks. In the meantime, I hope these tips give you some food for thought and help your new player to have a great time gaming. What's one piece of advice you have for helping new players get into Magic? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter.