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Checking out a new shop can be intimidating, even for Magic veterans. A new venue is always a unique experience; you never know exactly what the store, players, or meta are like until you show up.
When a brand-new local store opened near me, I just had to go check it out. Today, I'll talk about how game night went, and then I'll share some do's and don'ts that are sure to make your next new LGS Commander experience smoother and funner.
The Newest of New Stores
The store in question, Sky High Comics and Games, is certainly a wild card. As the name suggests, they have comics, but they also carry vintage video games, pen and paper RPGs, and a variety of TCGs. They just opened a week ago, and this would be their first Commander night ever. I planned on spending a long night playing as many games of Commander as I could to get a feel for the player base.
I showed up very early because I wanted to check out the store's inventory, and incidentally, another player I knew also showed up. This was surprising because this store was further away for them, and they often commented on how long the drive was to the closer store. In any case, there was also another player who was ready to play, but no one else.
We all decided to play a three-player game and quickly went over a couple of Rule Zero ideas. None of us were looking for a fully competitive game, but one of the players only had one deck on them: an optimized, but not yet fully completed, Grimgrin, Corpse-Born pile with a few infinite combos, but lacking in tutors. I took this as a queue to run something with lots of removal, so I played Chun-Li, Countless Kicks, and the other player ran Sheoldred, the Apocalypse.
We wound up with a nice back-and-forth game with me in the middle of two mostly black decks that were running the exact same cards. Both players landed The Meathook Massacre and cast Gray Merchant of Asphodel. Between death triggers, Gary, and Sheoldred, my life points evaporated, and soon Sheoldred took the game. It was a fun warm up-game while we were waiting for others to arrive. I'd like to say we did not have to wait long, but that would not be accurate.
A Chance to Play Legacy and Pauper: Enter the Yu-Gi-Oh!
As our game finished, a new player showed up, and another was interrupted by a work call and excused themselves. The new player busted out a Yu-Gi-Oh! deck and challenged either of us to a duel. I sat and watched until the person came back from their work call.
Not wanting to interrupt the intense Yu-Gi-Oh! action, he asked me if I had any non-Commander decks with me, and I mentioned I did have a Pauper deck. Well, he had a Legacy deck, and I was fine with playing.
Legacy versus Pauper: who will win? Well, no surprise there. Turn one Dark Ritual, Entomb, Reanimate on Griselbrand killed me easily. However, I did take game two with a timely Fog that stopped his Animate Dead- enchanted Grisel from gaining life on attack. Since he had already drawn a bunch of cards by paying life, he was low enough that he died from my attack. Of course, game three I was on the draw, and died horribly. Still, my entire deck was 1/100th of the cost of that deck, and I had fun scoring a win. Once our individual duels cleared up, we joined together for a pod of four, and this game was quite a bit different.
A Trend Emerges
Two of the four players only had one deck with them. One had the Draconic Rage pre-constructed deck, and the other, a partially-completed cEDH deck with Tymna the Weaver and Thrasios, Triton Hero. In my head, there was no way to reconcile the power level difference, so I talked about expectations and really leaned on the pre-con player to spell out what would make the game work for them.
They were only interested in seeing the game progress, and did not care if it was over in two turns or lasted an hour. Since all the players were fine with pretty much anything, I picked a higher-powered deck in Tivit, Seller of Secrets because it ran a lot of counter magic, even though the only threat was Tivit himself. In this set, I basically sat back and allowed two of the players to play, keeping up counter magic and removal to prevent the game from ending.
Even though an Enlightened Tutor fetched up a Counterbalance for the Tymna player with Sensei's Divining Top in play, I feared no evil because I had a Nimble Obstructionist in hand. Tivit hit the table and made me a ton of Treasure tokens; Counter Balance hit play and we went around the table.
My draw was too good: Expropriate! After attacking and generating a ton more Treasures, I cast it. The player piloting the cEDH deck knew they could not stop a nine-mana spell, because cEDH decks don't typically run nine-mana spells. Extra turns resulted in eliminating a player, playing an Archaeomancer to get back Expropriate, and re-playing it the turn after. With several extra turns coming up and another Flicker effect ready, the remaining players scooped.
During that game, a lot of players arrived, and multiple pods were firing. There was a pretty large wait until my next game as people made purchases, grabbed a snack, used the restroom, or paired up for other games. I used this time to talk to store management and ask about future Commander events. They were open to suggestions and mentioned the events they already planned. I mentioned just a couple of ideas to spice up the format, but wanted to interact with more players to see how interested they would be in variants. Turns out, quite a bit.
It was very late by the time the final pod started, and it was a group of us all playing slightly modified pre-cons. That game dragged on for nearly two hours due to board wipes, removal, and lack of win conditions. Eventually, I did manage to claw my way into a win by copying three artifacts a turn with a fully leveled-up Artificer's Class, Mishra, Eminent One and Strionic Resonator, but it may have been smarter for us to just call the game sooner because it was such a slog for all involved.
I had just played Commander for about five hours, met a dozen new people, and had a good time. This result begged the question: could my results be replicated? Here are the promised tips to your next trip to a new venue that much better.
1) Do: Bring Lots of (Toys) Decks
This is one of the best moves for a variety of reasons. Most of the other players were relatively new to Commander, and so many had exactly one deck. However, that did not mean those decks were anywhere near the same power level. Yes, there were both extremes present at the same table, those with pre-cons and cEDH decks. Being able to pick something that matches up well with the table will generate a far more interactive experience than picking your best deck to pub stomp.
Obviously, for new players who own one deck, this is not always an option. The idea is that if everyone else brings a few decks, they may be able to lend a deck that can make a better experience for the entire table. Furthermore, some players forgot dice, tokens and play mats. I had enough to help a couple of people out, which broke the ice and made everyone extra friendly.
2) Don't: Expect Everyone to Want the Same Type of Game
Far too often, one player wants to play one deck, and they do not care about the rest of the table. If you want to play a casual deck when everyone else is looking for tournament practice for an upcoming cEDH event, you are the problem.
Want to play your mass land destruction deck and not having luck finding a table that will tolerate it? Having multiple decks is the easiest way to still get games while telling everyone that you are looking for a pod that wants to experience the "joys" of mass land destruction. When the MLD deck meets the stax deck meets the degenerate deck and is completed by the Rule Zero meme deck, you likely have four happy players who are all playing decks that are generally not as well received in more routine pods.
Some players simply dislike mill or infect or control but, of course, others love those archetypes. In an odd-person-out scenario, try your best to gain a new perspective. Maybe it's not the decks or playstyle you don't enjoy, but a combination of previous players and decks that resulted in a less-than-ideal time. At a new venue, there's always room for a new outlook. As an additional option, ask if you can pilot someone else's deck. Maybe a deck you hate playing against is one you would rather be playing.
3) Do: Know What Type of Game You Are Looking For
Slow and grindy, explosive combos, and completely reactive are very different vibes. Expectations that are not set cannot be met. Practically everyone I asked at this new store said they wanted to participate in cEDH events (tournaments for prizes), but outside of that were looking for casual tables.
Another way of saying this is that no one was looking for explicit cEDH tournament practice that night. This mindset is far from unique, but many Commander players seem to not have gotten the memo. There's a very different feeling between simply wanting to cast your Commander and move to combat versus having to keep up mana for responses every turn or play with tight sequencing. In casual Commander, there are a lot of takesies-backsies that will never fly at a competitive event, but are completely permissible at lower-level tables.
4) Don't: Be Afraid to Challenge Your Assumptions
As previously described, a lot of the players who showed up were very interested in cEDH at the tournament level; far more than I would ever expect. While we played, I pressed for details, and a fairly common, unifying theme was the speed of the format. Many of the players at this venue wanted to play a lot of games, and quantity had a quality they were after.
Overall, they were not overly concerned with winning, interaction, or complicated board states. They were more excited to see higher-powered cards and strategies hitting the table, even if that meant the game was over. It was refreshing to see appreciation for a completely different aspect of the game.
5) Do: Bring Something Besides Commander
Whether Standard, Pioneer, Pauper, or Legacy, there is likely some down time between pods as games finish. In particular, there were a couple of "waves" that joined, with a lot of waiting in between. By having a deck of another format available, I could spend my downtime enjoying Magic in another form instead of merely waiting.
However, there is always something to be said for having a good book on hand just in case a game drags on particularly long while you are waiting for a pod to open up. In either case, a tiny bit of preparation can lead to a significantly better experience.
6) Don't: Forget to Have Fun!
Remember: ultimately, everyone comes out to have fun. Other players are fellow enthusiasts, trade partners, and maybe future tournament rivals. You really don't want to give them another reason to go after you in a competitive game with actual stakes on the line, right? Be on your best behavior, and have a good time. It will pay dividends now and in the future.
My New Competitive-Casual Venue?
As for Sky High, It's a very interesting environment with a wide-open meta, at least at first glance. While there was a lot of EDREC style groupthink, there was also enough interest in things like Planechase to keep events fresh. It was an enjoyable new place to play Commander, and I look forward to writing cEDH tournament reports if they do move forward with events as planned.
Currently, this venue would not be as casual and relaxed as another one of my LGS options, and likely not quite as competitive as yet another. So is it too hot, too cold, or just right? That remains to be seen. But as a final tip, I find it can be productive to consider how a new LGS fits into your own local game store ecosystem to get the most out of available options.