- HOW TO CONDUCT YOURSELF AND BUILD YOUR COMMUNITY - by Graeme McIntyre (Views: 747)Tuesday 9th November 2010
I started playing Magic in the summer of 1998. The card shop was five minutes walk from my high school, and I already had similar interests (war gaming and role playing), so the appeal was obvious. The shop itself was what I’d now call a typical card shop: poorly situated, bare, dirty and generally uninviting, right down to the thick steel door and filthy blue carpet, complete with holes from wear. The regular day crew were not much different to the building.
So why did I come back? More to the point, why did I go there for two hours *every day* after school, then draft two days a week? Why did I start travelling to events I couldn’t realistically win or even do well at? Why did I spend all that money? What about that time Bradley Barclay and I spent not one but two nights sleeping rough in Manchester train station (I was seventeen, he fifteen) without regret? Not from any inherent sense of wisdom, that’s for sure.
The answer is that I met the right people. I was by no means an easy person to get on with at that age, and in spite of my nature, the card players were decent to me and took me seriously regarding Magic (in a teacher-pupil sense at first, although later as peers, and later still I found the situation reverse in some cases).
Clearly the intent of this article is not to offer a life history, however. In this article, I intend to offer suggestions on how to improve your local community, as well as the larger community, in addition to enriching your own experience of the game.
Anyone who has ever been to a Magic tournament of any size will likely tell you that the game is subscribed to by a very diverse range of people. While a sociological analysis of why this is so might be of interest, it is somewhat beyond the remit of this article. The important consideration here is in how you might treat different groups differently. Some people are pretty noisy when they play, some are quiet. Some take the game very seriously, while others are quite relaxed. Some people like “bad cards” (as you perceive them). Some people play forty-five cards and seventeen lands in sealed deck, and then tell you how unlucky they were. The issue I want to discuss here is actually influencing how I write this paragraph, interestingly enough. I’m a pretty serious player, I take losses hard, I’ll find it hard to hold my tongue if I hear some guy telling me he’s fine playing the land ratio mentioned above, and that he was unlucky to lose to me. That said, maybe you’re that guy, so maybe I shouldn’t be too hard on him.
The thing is, people play the game for different reasons (which is fine) and each group is fully entitled to do as they wish. This means treating people with respect, and not, for example, telling them they’re stupid for playing those ratios, or that “only a fool” would splash a double green 8cc guy in their perfectly good blue-red deck, or any other pointless insult regarding which cards ought to be included. By all means, offer advice to those who actually want it, but insulting people about the cards they’re playing is weak; if I see this, I tend to assume that the “good player” is actually probably not that good, and they’re just stroking their ego at the expense of the “bad player”.
This goes both ways however. Casual players having a go at competitive players are equally bad. There’s nothing wrong with playing to win, nor playing to have fun. Live and let live.
Another problem area that comes up between new players and experienced players is that of error in games. By this I mean slow play as well as misunderstanding rules and game states. Well, as always, if there’s an issue call a judge. But in regard to your own conduct, treat the other player with firm respect, but don’t allow them to do anything you’re not comfortable with. For example, if you’re going to be annoyed with a draw, don’t allow them to play glacially slowly, ask twice, and then call a judge is my position on this, no matter who I’m playing. Allow a take back if you’re happy with it; for me this means I’ll allow a take back in anything less than a PTQ if nothing has happened which might influence them to want that take back, after it has been made (e.g. if I bolt your Canyon Minotaur in response to Giant Growth, no take back, but if you Giant Growth a Phantom Beast…. Well, I won’t make you follow through. Unless there’s something at stake, in which case all your cards are going to the graveyard…).
People will generally enjoy an experience in which no one raises their voice, or feels cheated more than if the opposite is the case. Try to avoid this if possible. Also, if your opponent is new, maybe you don’t need to have them kill their own creatures. The reason I let people have take-backs is because it simulates better opponents, which is a good thing if you want to up your game. The other guy is going to appreciate you being decent to him more than your friends will appreciate your story about how some guy messed up and you won for free. Personally, to me a trip to the Pro Tour is worth more than any of that; it’s really just a question of summing up what the value of a given action is in reality.
Now, this one is big: No one likes a bad loser. Like I said at the start of the article, I’ve been playing for years, and I really, really care about winning. I’ve also had some pretty bad losses over the years, none of which I’ll go into, partly because time heals the greatest wounds, but at the time, I’d see all the misplays, remember all the turns I didn’t draw a land, all the times he drew the right card, every stupid comment – all that stuff. I’ve also won a bunch of games, some of which I had no business winning, and I’ve had plenty of opponents whine at me for ages about how lucky I was, storm off, throw decks across the room, shout… I don’t remember their stories either, because I couldn’t have cared less, just like your opponent couldn’t. What do you want them to do, concede because they got lucky? It really sucks to lose, but no one cares about a whiny bad beats story. Apart from the people who find it off-putting, whose experience you’re tarnishing with your obnoxious whining.
If you lose, and you feel badly about it, just say “ok, well good luck in the next” and walk away. This goes the other way, too. I remember the last Scottish Nationals; all I needed was a win over three rounds, which I never got in two, so had to win in. I didn’t win that one either. Now like I said I won’t talk about specifics, I’ll only say that if I’d have won, I wouldn’t have done a victory lap round the table (unlike my opponent).
In dealing with people outside of the game context, various people will ask your opinion on various topics pertaining to the game. This is a wide area, one person might ask you “what do you think about Preordain in blue white control in the current metagame?”, another “have you found a good list for RDW(Red Deck Wins)?”, or “what do you think of this set?” or “how many land should I run?” or “would you always mulligan a hand that didn’t have a one drop in zoo?” or “do you think this card has a place as an EDH(Elder Dragon Highlander) general?”. Answering questions is something of an art form; often people are just making conversation, and you need to take into account differing levels of skill, but also and perhaps most importantly you need to consider what the person you’ re talking to wants to hear, due to their own bias. For example, if someone always plays green, and they’re not that great a player, there’s probably no point in telling them to play a blue deck. You need to work within the context.
Sometimes you’ll be dealing with someone who is like yourself, in which case it’s probably quite easy to answer. If you’re not, then you need to think about which answer will bring about the most good. Sometimes people will ask something along the lines of “do you think this card is good?” but they really mean “do you think I’ll have fun with this?”. I’m bad with these ones, in that I won’t be having fun if I’m not winning so the two things are the same. That aside, how am I meant to know what you’ll have fun doing? A few years ago, someone asked me about a card being good or not, and I offhandedly said “it’s a bit slow for extended, and there’s not really a deck for it in standard, so not really that good” or something along these lines, and the guy asking me got quite snappy and said it was very playable in EDH, and it annoyed him that people forgot about that format. I think this quite neatly illustrates both sides of the issue here; on one hand, yeah I could have thought about it a bit more, but if I’m honest, I don’t know anything about EDH, and it’s not like I put “Magic Oracle” down on my CV. Maybe he’d have been better asking someone else about the card, but certainly it seemed out of order to snap at me for this. It’s important to be reasonable and considerate.
As previously stated, the Magic community takes in some societal outliers. This is in some ways a good thing in that it offers some who might otherwise find themselves disenfranchised an excellent opportunity to find unity; to make friends and so on. However, it is also not a coincidence that social groups tend to form on the basis of similarity (if you’re inclined to say this isn’t substantiated, I suggest you put “sub-culture” into a search engine). So if Magic players are for the most part people who are not part of the mainstream, then it becomes difficult to attract people from mainstream social groups into the game.
Now, if you’re interested in getting more people involved in the game and enriching the experiences of those who currently play this has to be a consideration. This is one of a number of reasons to maintain high hygiene standards. It’s also a good reason to make conversation accessible to people who don’t have specialist knowledge; for example, a large number of Magic players are also interested in comics, computer gaming, computers themselves, maths and physics, and that’s fine, but if that’s all you talk about, you’re going to shut certain people out (for example, I don’t know very much about any of those extra things apart from maybe some computer games). This is basic social function, in that it’s nice to try and include people, but often at Magic tournaments, it becomes easy to assume everyone knows what you’re talking about. It ties in with another issue which is elitism. This is a bad thing; it’s free to be nice to people, and beneficial, so just do it. If your ego needs this sort of boost, you have bigger concerns.
In addition to the above, and for the same reasons, if you’re inclined to dress outlandishly, or act the fool, you ought to consider the impact this will have on people coming to play cards. I’m not saying you shouldn’t do it, but every big black trench coat, every Monty Python hat, every fella acting like a clown… you’re outliers.
This leads on to another point. Any one ever noticed that there’s never been a female Pro Tour champion? This strikes me as odd, because it’s roughly 50/50 if you’ re male or female, as a human, right? Well, I don’t think this is down to some innate characteristic males have which make them better at cards, I think it is a social construction – you don’t see many women at FNM, either. You do in bars and clubs, but there’s less physics talk (and less hats!) there. It’s not a coincidence. Poker is a good example of this, in that women do well at the higher levels of poker, certainly compared to Magic, but then poker is more mainstream. I don’t have space in this article to write about this fully, and to do so would be to go off topic somewhat, but this is a good example of how a social group (a whole gender) is largely closed out of the game, and I think this is in great part down to the social structure of the game, rather than the mechanics. This is a bad thing.
If you play for long enough, and have the ability and dedication, you’ll become one of the senior members of the local card community. This is a difficult one in that people will come to you for advice about cards more, expect you to know stuff, and you’ll need to be nice to people more, even when you can’t really be bothered. You ought to do it, however - it’s the old guard who shape the ideas of the new players, who construct the ideologies of the next wave of players. If you’re one of these people, every time you laugh at someone’s stupid idea in front of a less experienced player, not only do you hurt the community for the reason above, but you infect the player, who is only doing the very thing he ought to be doing - attempting to learn from you - with that same contempt. You teach that to be good is to be contemptuous of others. Is that something you want? If not, then keep your ego in check.
Maybe you’ll end up leading your own team. This is unfortunately often something that people with a lot of ego and contempt end up doing, because it’s a great place for stroking that ego; as a leader, you get to decide who gets into the inner sanctum. This is obviously a very important role in the community, as this person essentially controls who can be involved in the competitive aspect of the game within a region. Again, I urge prudence, and therapy if you’ve got low self esteem, not alienating and disenfranchising people at the cost of everyone in the community.
That said, sometimes as a leader you need to let some people go because of various clashes; maybe player A cant get along with player B, C and D, so player A is out of luck. Maybe player E is just too bad. Maybe player F is fine, but G is disruptive or doesn’t work hard enough, and they’re brothers, so can’t be split. When this happens you ought to try and be reasonable and direct people where appropriate to another group of players who are more able to accommodate them. If this can be done without people’s feelings getting hurt, that’s close to ideal, where ideal is everyone gets along…. But realistically, that won’t always happen.
I ended up working for that card shop for a few years after I left high school. I obviously wanted to draft, so this incentivized me, but really anyone working in a card shop, or organizing things in a community, should be doing this. If you don’t have numbers to draft, you need to be able to phone round and get them. Don’t just wait on people, sometimes people will be lazy that day, but if you call them and say you only have seven, they’ll come in. this is, people will often make excuses, but it’s easy to manipulate them into doing something they want to do really. Phone round, put guilt on them; if they really can’t come they won’t, so no harm done. If not, get them out of bed and into your draft pod! A strong community is one that consistently runs events, if this is erratic, you lose players through disappointment.
The reason I was able to do this so easily was because I made a point of doing things with new people outside of cards. This brings them in to the group, makes them feel part of things. This sort of acceptance is critical to many people. I’m not saying I didn’t like any of them – some of my best friends I made like this – but at the same time, I didn’t like all of them, but how hard is it to give someone a call and ask them to come see a movie with you and your other card buddies? These sorts of bonds make for a healthy community, greatly enriching the experience of whoever you’re including, and have the added benefit of making you friends.
I’d like to say thank you to Craig Mason, Clark Swan, Joules Jardine, Gary Campbell, Rob Brooks, James Mitchell and Mark Wooton. I can only hope that those who I taught gained half of what I did from you, and I hope most dearly that this article compels its readers to make the experience of those they come across as rich as my own.
- Nik Nadzru Iskandar - November 10, 2010, 18:06 Great first article, Fodda! Keep up the good work yo and keep on writing.
Nik the Greek
- Allan Holland - November 10, 2010, 22:07 It is a great insight into the psyche of the magic player. Having been a player who has played for years myself (Since about 1994) I have experienced many of the issues raised. I feel this is a great article for new players coming into the game should read as it answers a lot of the questions i had coming back to the game. The only change i have noticed in the game since i started to now is the intensity of the some players and it can be over powering to new players and a bit intimidating. I understand there are ranking points involved but magic is also supposed to be fun as well and i feel some players can forget that. Fooder Love the article mate and cant wait to read your next one in fact it has gave me the bug to get back into playing again. Hopefully i will see you in a few weeks.
- Joao Madeira - November 11, 2010, 11:58 Nice article man, keep it up!
- Rob Mackay - November 11, 2010, 17:28 Nice Article Man!
- Mark Glenister - November 16, 2010, 19:00 Fully agree with your sentiment, which applies to life in general, not just Magic - Be nice to people and enrich your life!