Explorations #46 - How to Get Your Girlfriend to Play Magic
Hey everybody, and welcome to an unconventional week of Explorations! I spent all of last week at an AI conference in San Francisco, and didn't really have any time to write. I did throw together 90% of an article on the plane home, but that's one for a future week. While trying to figure out what I was going to run today, Kathryn totally bailed me out and came out of nowhere with a writeup on how Magic players can get their girlfriends to play Magic!
In my article A Walk in the Woods, lots of people mentioned in the comments how lucky I am to have a girlfriend who likes to play Magic. I agree completely - it's awesome! Hopefully this article will help a few other players live the dream. This one is going to focus on some stuff that's particular to paper Magic, since that's how we play together, but just about all of it can be retrofitted to Magic Online.
Next week I'll be back with a casual deckbuilding article using some new Zendikar cards, but until then... take it away Kathryn!
Making Magic Fun for a Reluctant/Unskilled Player
I’m never going to be a stellar Magic player or win any tournaments. I doubt I could even build a deck worth entering into one! I just like the cards, the game is intellectually challenging, and I have fun playing… but not always. Like when I have a bunch of cards that seem really great, but I have no idea how to think about using them to win. Or when I do have a plan and it’s destroyed in two seconds by a card I didn’t even know existed. I swear I sometimes feel like I’m a bad person for letting my favorite wolf/elf/fairy/unicorn get slaughtered. Why couldn’t I keep the poor guy alive?
|Won't someone please think of the wolves, elves, faeries, and unicorns???
What follows are some tips from my experience playing with Steve. Compared to my level of experience, Steve may as well be Jon Finkel. It’s basically completely impossible for me to beat him unless I get extremely lucky and he gets extremely unlucky. But we can still enjoy the game together, and I hope these tips help you get your reluctant girlfriend/boyfriend/wife/roommate/friend into the game!
Note: these tips assume your girlfriend has a basic working knowledge of the rules, but is somewhere on a scale of hopeless to fumbling when it comes to strategy. If you're interested in a way to teach her the rules, then there are a bunch of resources available for this. You could start out with the video series linked here, for example.
1. Match Your Decks
Start with decks - for both of you - that are balanced against each other and have only a few “tricks.” In other words, stay away from blue and black. Green, white, and red decks that win via straightforward attacking and blocking are simpler and less frustrating for a beginner. Preconstructed decks and “duel decks” are a good place to start. Steve and I have a whole closet full of these decks, and we often grab two decks out of there from two different blocks and play them against each other. Time Spiral vs Kamigawa is a lot of fun! Mirrodin also has some cool preconstructed decks.
2. Know Your Decks
Make sure she reads every single card in BOTH decks - hers and yours - before you start playing. This will save you some reading time during the game, and it will also make her less likely to be completely thrown for a loop by some new rule or ability. Use the same decks for as many games in a row as you can stand without getting bored.
It’s always tempting for me to grab a new deck each game because I love discovering new cards and cool new abilities, but the reality is I have no idea how to use these brand new cards effectively. It's a lot harder for me to learn strategy if I keep forgetting what my own cards can do. When I play again and again with the same cards, I actually start to figure out how my deck works and to use it in a more effective way. Learning this type of strategy is fun, and makes me want to play more.
3. Infinite 7-card Mulligans
Think of this as a golfing handicap if you want. Or refer back to Steve’s article where he pointed out that a set of cards on his side of the board are just not as good as the exact same set of cards on a Pro-Tour player’s board. This may sound weird, but it's reality.
Even if I draw new hands twelve times until I have the ULTIMATE starting hand for my deck, I’m still not going to get much utility out of the cards because I’m not a very good player. So I’m not really starting with a “better” hand then you – I’m starting with one that will actually give me a tiny bit of a chance. And I need that chance to enjoy the game! Chances are you'll enjoy the game more also, you may actually have to work a bit for your win!
4. The Perfect Opening Hand
If you could have any 7 cards from your deck in your opening hand, what would they be? This is probably a good exercise for players at all levels. I remember the first time Steve asked me to do this, I had no idea where to even start. When I finally came up with something, I realized for the first time ever playing Magic that I actually had a plan for how my first few turns of the game would go. “Ohhh… I need a one-drop, two-drop, and a three-drop. Marvel of marvels!"
Have your GF play at least one game with the deck before figuring out her ultimate opening hand. Then, once she picks out those seven cards, let her play you with them. She just might even win the game! This is also a great way for her to develop the first concepts of a "plan", which is her first real step into a larger world of strategic thinking.
5. Um, Can I Undo That?
If she makes a really dumb mistake and realizes it, let her take it back without complaint. But don’t offer advice unless she asks for it or seems completely frustrated. Magic is an extremely complex game, and when I play my brain often feels like it’s completely overstuffed.
I tend to play like the person across from me has a deck of 60 lands, and will never do anything to mess up my plans. It’s just too hard for me a lot of the time to try to imagine how my opponent’s cards (even if I only consider the ones I see on the table) will interact with my strategy/plan - if I even have one!
I don’t see everything that will happen because of a particular play. I see maybe one or two things, and I know that there are all these other invisible dominoes that will fall, but it just takes too much brain power (and memory) to figure out what they all are, so I tend to react rather than plan ahead. Compared to an expert player, I'm fumbling around and making a LOT of guesses and plenty of mistakes. If I actually recognize a mistake and want to take it back, that’s a good thing. It means I’m learning.
6. The Strategy and Rules Guru
If she asks for help making a decision, help. It's more important for her to learn the right plays in these instances than it is for her to keep her hand and strategy a secret. A lot of times, I just need to remind myself of the rules. Like, I can’t use the tap ability on a creature with summoning sickness, but I can use the mana ability. These things aren’t always intuitive!
7. Let Her Gloat… but Make Her Earn it
Okay, so maybe she only won because you let her make her own opening hand, or because you got stuck on one land for five turns, but she still won the game. She needs that feeling of success to stay interested and invested in getting better.
On the other hand, don’t ever dumb down your own playing! First of all, it’s offensive. I may not be a great Magic player, but I’m not stupid, and I want to know how to play the real game, not a watered-down version.
My tips above may seem like watering-down, but they really just allow the beginning player to get the most utility out of cards she may have no idea how to use. These changes don’t alter the actual game play at all; don’t let your GF’s protests: “no-no-no please DON’T kill my elf!” stop you from playing the game like it’s supposed to be played. Even if she cries.*
* In the case of tears, it may be wise to stop playing for a while, or you may never get to play Magic with her again! **
** Yes, I have cried in Magic games. Usually when I was extremely frustrated because I thought I was finally “getting it” and making good decisions, but then everything backfired because I didn’t take a certain rule into consideration or Steve had a card that I didn’t even know existed that destroyed all hope of success...
8. Never Concede
Even if you know you're going to lose, she probably has no idea. For all she knows, you have some ethereal, never-before-seen card in your deck that will ruin her obviously superior position. When I first started playing, I was constantly surprised by cards and effects that I had no idea existed, and usually wrecked whatever plan I had. This concept of there being these perfect, super-powerful cards out there that do the exact thing I don't want done at any given point in a game is probably a curse of every beginner who doesn't know all the mechanics in the game.
In addition to this, I often spend my time focused on some completely irrelevant cards in play, spending my time deciding what to do with them instead of spending my time just winning the game. We've ended lots of games where Steve has said afterwards, "If you had done X, Y, then Z you could have just won." I still miss ways to win a lot, but at least the ways I'm missing are getting a lot more subtle and complicated as time goes on!
There are two reasons you shouldn't concede. First of all, she needs that experience of pounding you into the dust for the gloating reason described above, but secondly, she has to have that experience of following through until you're down to zero life simply to know how it's done. If you concede and she doesn't play the game through to the end, she may miss some important strategic point or never really understand how to get into a winning position and stay there.
On the other hand, if she wants to concede and you know there's no way she can win, you should let her. Don't let this be an excuse to stop playing whenever things get tricky, though!
9. Praise Good Plays
Your girlfriend needs to know that she’s getting better. It’s not fun to know you’re bad at something unless you feel like you’re improving.
When we were playing the other night, I had a card that let me change the color of one of my opponent’s lands until the end of the turn (Tideshaper Mystic). Steve was playing blue and black. (Remember tip #1? I need to follow my own advice!) Anyway, he had one untapped Swamp and one untapped Island. I had a creature to cast (Avian Changeling) and it occurred to me that blue has a lot of counterspells, so Steve might have one in his hand. I could use the mana ability to change the only Island he had left into something safer and try to protect my spell!
Well, it didn’t work. I turned his Island into a Forest and happily cast out my creature, which Steve promptly killed with a black removal spell instead of countering with a blue counterspell. Instead of letting this get me down, I explained my reasoning for the play. “Wasn’t that good? Didn’t I do a good job anticipating what you might have?"
Steve was very supportive and proud of my fairly obvious bit of insight. It didn’t matter to me that I basically got stomped into the mud that game. I had actually thought up and carried out a strategy that went beyond: “Casting this might help. Let’s try it.” And that was enough for me to enjoy the game!
10. Help! My girlfriend won’t give Magic a chance.
Okay, if getting her to actually sit down and try out a game is the problem, you’ve got a little bit more work to do. There are several reasons I can imagine that would scare a girl away from Magic completely. The most obvious being that Magic tends to be lumped (often undeservedly) with other “uncool” fantasy-geek obsessions like World of Warcraft. What follows are a list of complaints and possible solutions.
“Magic is so geeky. Keep it away!”
Give her the book “Jonny Magic and the Card Shark Kids” to read. Watching Jon Finkel morph from a fat, bullied kid to a svelt, ultra-rich dude who can take on Vegas should be enough to elevate the game to unimagined levels of cool. For a more immediate example, turn on the World Poker Tour and point out any Magic players in the room. Casually mention that they’re there competing with the likes of Daniel Negraneau because of what they learned playing Magic.
“The rules are too complicated. Can’t we just play Scrabble?”
Have her try out the Xbox Magic game 'Duels of the Planeswalkers' (Steve wrote a complete review here). Not only are many of the rules are acted out for you, but you don’t have to worry about deck building very much.
Also, there’s a huge bonus: you guys can play on the same team! (Literally on the same team: there’s a two-headed giant mode). Instead of trying to explain why your vampire with deathtouch just took out her angel, you can help her vampire wreak havoc on the hapless computer player. Just be careful not to take too much control, or she’ll sneak away and you’ll be stuck playing by yourself.
XBox Magic also helps address points 1 and 2 in the first section. The decks will be evenly matched, and she’ll get to know her cards really well since they never change very much. Playing Xbox Magic is how I learned that (Wurm’s Tooth) is not the ultimate strategy to help win any game. Chances are that on turn six, Craw Wurm is a more powerful play.
“Leave me alone. I’m watching Lord of the Rings.”
If your girl is even remotely into fantasy of any kind, leave cards around in places where she can’t help but find them. Or pick out some cards with awesome art (who cares what they do) and give them to her as a special surprise. The interesting names and beauty of the card art is something that keeps Magic interesting for me, and I’m sure it could work to woo other girls, too.
I admit that I have a little collection of unicorn cards, and every bookmark I’ve used since Steve and I moved in together has been a Magic card. It’s fun to try to relate the card to the content of the book. Reading the latest Stephen King novel? Childhood Horror or Hidden Horror will do nicely.
“All you EVER do is play that game. No way am I supporting your addiction!”
If Magic Online is actually taking up more of your life than work, food, sleep, exercise, or actual face time with friends, family, and your girlfriend… then that’s something you’ll have to work out on your own. But if you think your girlfriend is unfairly exaggerating your favorite pastime, you’ll have to prove it to her by showing that you can stop playing (even in the middle of a tournament!) for a good enough reason. Like heading out for an impromptu hike on a nice day... or eating a meal she just cooked for you. Your girlfriend just needs to know that she is more important to you than Magic. Once you’ve taken that step, you might try suggesting that if she learns to play the game, you’ll pay extra attention to her and she’ll get bonus time with you that she might not get otherwise. However, be careful with this suggestion as it may do more harm than good in some situations!
Okay, that’s all I can think of for tips right now. Good luck converting your girlfriends/wives/significant others, and let me know how it goes!
Back to Steve... So that wraps it up for this week's Explorations. Hopefully you guys enjoyed it, I certainly did. I love reading articles that are a bit different from the typical Magic content, and I think Kathryn did an awesome job with this one. Make sure to leave comments if anyone actually manages to convert their better half!
I'll be back next week for a Johnny deck based in the world of Zendikar.
Thanks for reading!
th1ckasabr1ck on MTGO