Support Your Local Playgroup by Mark Pinder

Support Your Local Playgroup by Mark Pinder

I think we all see the price of boosters on a shop shelves or look in their folders and think that the cards could be better priced as you have seen them cheaper online but before you close that folder or walk away from that open box just think for a minute about the added value from buying from the shop than going home to press ‘click’ and ‘send’.

I like to collect magic cards as well as play, I must have a play set of all the commons and uncommons as they are the building blocks of most decks and also ensure I get at least one rare/mythic rare. Only once I see a rare or mythic having a home in a deck I am going to play will I start trying to acquire them apart from dual lands which I always find useful. I am not so keen on cracking boxes anymore, as apart from the loss of being able to draft them or build sealed pools from the boosters, the whole sorting of the cards and struggling to make up the playsets became tedious when I have limited spare time. There are many compelling reasons in difficult financial times to find the most cost effective way to spend your money, however, what is the use of cheap cards if you have nowhere to actually play with them?

I run the Grimsby Magic Club and we have a very good working relationship with our local hobby shop that stocks magic cards, he promotes our events and we send the players to his shop to buy boosters. It would be very easy for me to just over order for Release Events etc and get extra boosters to sell at the club but I feel we have to keep the local shop as a focal point for Magic as they also generate new players. There are many times we go in the shop and see product moving in the shop but not seen who has bought it as it has no play area to hang around in all day. Sometimes these guys will come down to the club and will become new members so it is a very positive relationship. As I collect I also will pick up my Duel Decks, Premium Foil decks etc from my local store.

So what do some of our shops think?

“In the early days of Magic, the only place that you could get your cards was your local shop. The internet was not an issue. So think back, were things better then? For us as a business – sure, for magic as a community? not really.

For every player with rose tinted glasses reminiscing about how much better it was then, I’ll find you three or four that will tell you how unpleasant the scene was back then.

The thing is, not only have WotC got much much better at what they do, the availability of cards from every conceivable retail niche has broadened the appeal and the audience of the game.” – Jim Freeman, Patriot Games, Sheffield

Thoughts are echoed by one of the faster growing shops and community in the UK.

“The explosion of the internet has changed popular perception of gaming geeks and converting mainstream pundits at a rate never seen before. What was once obscured minorities are now becoming an essential part of tomorrows popular culture. People have changed; markets have changed. Finally, gone are the days of dark and miserable little hobby games shop where players are hidden in a tabled corner, almost shunned from the world.

Any aspiring businesses involved in Magic or any hobby games would do well to understand this and seek the opportunities that it brings. As a business we should always be asking ourselves, ‘What value could our business offer its consumers in a way that no other entities can?’. If well observed, the answer in this case of course is face to face social and gaming space.

Shops do not need to run events themselves, historically the best events (like all endeavours) are done by those most passionate. It is of course another revenue stream to explore, but only do so if you have the passion to see it through and there are no other Tournament Organiser’s doing it properly in your area. Personally I would always recommend just offering a social play space and pro-actively collaborating with your local TO to create the best set-up for the players. This approach tend to offer the best returns for everyone involved.” – Tu Nguyen, Manaleak, Worcester

It is not just about playing in your stores events, sometimes these can actually be a loss leader to effectively get you to buy products from the store. If the store does not sell enough Magic Cards do you think they will continue to sell them? I think most of us have seen well run shops close down because they could not make ends meet. If you don’t support your shop, who will run the events in your local area?

Do you play casual magic in the shop?

Do you use their tables and chairs ?

Use the toilet on a more personal visit ?

Even toilet paper costs money so try and pay the store back, buy something, a booster, sleeves or even a folder. Now whilst you may argue that cracking packs is not a good thing, and generally speaking I will agree with you, in this case that is not the point, at this junction we are looking to keep our shop supporting our hobby. Hey, if you buy three boosters and so do your mates, you could always arrange your own draft.

If you were to go into your local store and they asked for £1.00 to play in the shop, how would you feel?

Would you be offended as you buy cards from them?

Think, that’s fair, I am using their facilities?

Consider it a downright cheek as you have no intention of buying anything but all your friends are coming down later to trade cards?

Would a shop charge? Should a shop charge? There is a Feedback section below this article for you to contribute :- )

To be honest though no shop is really going to charge you, they are trying to help build a community and regular players should also be regular customers. Besides, after talking to a handful of shop owners they appreciate there is a line that should not be crossed as players will just think they are trying to rip players off and not offer a service.

At the Worldwake Release Event in Lincoln I was happily packing my Fat Pack into my bag when one of the players mentioned, you do know the market stall sell them for £2.00 cheaper. I had to point out at that point that whilst I could have saved £2.00 I wasn’t aware I could play on the stall or that he was running the Release Event today? You have to show some loyalty to the people who are running the events so you get a chance to play. I’ll buy a box from my other local shop in Lincoln as apart from my addiction to shiny things, the differential isn’t that much from buying direct from distributors (especially if your factor in the promo) but if that means I still get to play every Saturday then that is an investment worth making as that brings a smile to my face almost every week.

So another scenario, you turn up for you FNM? Only six people turn up and the event can no longer be sanctioned. What do you do?

Do you moan that the event hasn’t taken place?

Who is to blame? The shop owner for not promoting the event well enough?

Who is to blame? The players who could not be bothered to show up?

Who is to blame? Did you yourself do everything possible to get others to show up?

Being a Tournament Organiser myself it can be a quite soul destroying process. Sometimes despite everything you do, the number of players you expect to turn up do not materialise. I think it would be fair to say 25% of Pre Release Pre Registrations don’t show up on the day, this wouldn’t be so bad but most never even make contact to say they’ve had an issue.

So apart from buying product from your shop how else can you help?

Well if the shop owner is behind the till, can they help someone learn how to play or just some of the other basics like the ethics of trading. See if you can interact with the newer players and if they ask for help give it but don’t force feed them. Also, there are only so many times a player will take a beating at Magic before they get disillusioned, there may well be a time to suggest new cards to improve their deck or offer them a few of your own spares to give them a leg up. I know several of my early friends gave me some cards to get me started and it seems a magic tradition around the country to help bring new players into the fold.

How else can you help?

Try to recruit new players to the game, don’t you prefer it when eight players become ten and fourteen players become eighteen so you get an extra round of Magic.

“The biggest problem is when players start to allow themselves to become distracted by something else and numbers begin to dwindle. And if a new player turns up on a night that has an unfortunately low turnout, then the chances that that new player will return the following week is desperately low.” – Tu Nguyen, Manaleak, Worcester

This thought is echoed from the many shop owners and tournament organisers I know. From bitter personal experience I have see so many players come for a week, then not be seen again as they chose the one week when attendance’s were really bad, that’s not bad luck if it happens regularly, it’s a crying shame. There is a responsibility for Magic players to show up and support your gaming nights, the hobby is not one that has much outside exposure and chances to embrace new players should be nurtured. Likewise, try to keep your friends interested, see if your friends are coming along to Magic night, offer to lend them a few cards to complete their deck, maybe if en route offer them a lift? Little things can make a difference but it is not one persons responsibility to make a playgroup, it is the responsibility of everyone within it to make it work and not just play lip service to the clubs/shops issues.

Tidy up after you, don’t leave your mess for the shop to sort out. Find a bin, it’s simple manners.

Remember you are in a community and you have to be an active part of that community at all times to help it thrive. Also that community can also be all the games that run in the shop, not just yours, anything that helps the shops bottom line is good for you, besides today’s Yu-Gi-Oh player can be tomorrows Magic player.

Things are quite bright for players and the shop owners on the whole are an enlightened bunch.

“If I want to play but have a small budget, or am just tight with money, I can do it. If I love the thrill of pre-release and drafting my sealed product, I can do it. Never, as a player have I ever been so well catered for.

As a shop, things are always going to be better for us when the scene as a whole is flourishing. If there are 50 local players, we are more likely to make a sale than if there are only 10.

Some players are determined to get a bargain, some are equally determined to support their local store.
My thoughts are possibly not representative of every shop keeper, but I will always work on the principle of support the community and the community will support you. If I can make my store a welcoming venue, a comfortable venue and a supportative venue, then players will come and play. When players come and play, they will by and by spend money on their hobby, and we will be able to pay our bills.

The fact is, we live in a world that has the internet, and online retail is a reality that is not going to go away. We have to consider our choices, as a store, carefully just as players have to consider their choices.

There are pitfalls to online shopping, import duty, vat charges at customs and release fees from carriers. For every guy that gets his box for peanuts, there is a guy that gets hit.” – Jim Freeman, Patriot Games, Sheffield

And from our sponsor…

“Personally, I feel that a shop and the local playgroup should have a symbiotic relationship. In this day and age, one can not successfully exist without the proactive support of the other, certainly not in the long term. Both should be adding value to the other, using assets unique to them.” – Tu Nguyen, Manaleak, Worcester

And this is echoed by a new Magic venue.

“As a store/gaming club that has only been open for a year, it’s understandably difficult to become established, and introduce new players. Since ‘stand alone’ gaming clubs have had their power to host certain events taken from them, and ‘Reward Cards’ have been stopped as an incentive for players, I would imagine there has been a significant drop in people joining the Magic community. These two factors were huge mistakes.

We try and offer a selection of options for our customers/players. You can trade in cards for store credit, and get some other Magic cards that you actually want, for free. You can buy brand new product in store at reduced prices. However competing with companies that can bulk buy product, and sell it at heavily reduced prices makes regular trade difficult. So we try not to compete.

Instead we offer decks for new players to use. Advice and support from all our staff, and continue to introduce people to each other, who in turn introduce new players, and feel comfortable coming back to the store/club. There are many other services available, but the best thing you can offer a Magic player, is the knowledge that they can always go somewhere to relax, play a few games, and get what they need, when they need it.

Supporting local stores/clubs goes a long way, and is a great way to socialise. There are always places to buy things cheaper, but it’s a small price to pay when you consider playing Magic with new faces and friends” – Peter Clarke, Warlords of the Coast, Skegness

Shops are here to make money yes, but they are also offering you the player somewhere to play but somewhere just to hang our and talk Magic too. The best way for shops to make money is to also promote somewhere that is pleasant to visit and gives you the player good memories.

The thing is shop owners can also be players too and many of these guys love to play too. I run events but also like to play, but that has not stopped me in the past when running a much bigger event like a Pre-Release, stepping back and not playing. It is important that players get customer service and with a new set there are always regular calls for you to make.

Why do we play Magic, what drives us, one opinion is below…

“However I choose to spend my time whether it be work or play; I always try to approach it with an investment mindset. As such I methodically ask myself “How do I maximise the return for my time and effort” and in this case “How can I get the most enjoyment from playing Magic?”. Time, after all is our most precious commodity and we should do our best to make the most of it.

I like– no –LOVE Magic, because it brings me so many hours of joy and inspiration– and you do too! This joy is not from just playing the cards but also from engaging with other people who play the game; the like-minds that inevitably become an integral part of our social circle. It is very important to recognise and appreciate this.

Now ask yourself, “How do I get the most out of this experience?” and planning ahead, “What happens if it is no longer available?”. The answer as I am sure you will come to understand once you’ve gone through the thought process has everything to do with the players.

When you are entering a tournament, the vibe– the energy –that you are both consuming and celebrating is that which is being created by the unison experience of other like-minded people. This is why you feel so much more enthused when entering an event of 60 players as oppose to entering an event of only 10 players.

If we love this game and want the experiences to last then it is therefore the responsibly of each and every one of us to attract new players and nurture them. The other way to make a massive difference is by doing our best to always turn up to events held by our local play-group. Players always seem to underestimate the significance of their attendance at tournaments.

Remember that Tournament Organiser’s do not really get any form of meaningful financial compensation for running these events for us. They are people generous with both their time and energy (even when there is not much to spare of either) trying to provide you an environment that they hope you would appreciate. Without Tournament Organiser’s you will have nothing, your game will just fade and die. Without Players, there is nothing.

One of the saddest and most dangerous scenarios for the game is when players in a gaming group start to downgrade their attendance from regularly to sporadically, and new faces turn up on the unfortunate days when player attendance is more sporadic than regular. In this situation, the chances of that new face coming back the following week is near to zero. In fact its contagious; too many quiet nights will also put off the most enthusiastic supporters and the downward spiral develops more momentum. Not good.

So if you want to continue to enjoy the game you’ve already decided to invest your time, energy and money in and continue to reap its rewards, then continue to invest in it your support. Remember that you, single-handedly will make the greatest difference between the success or failure of your gaming group and ultimately Magic: The Gathering.” – Tu Nguyen, Manaleak, Worcester

Many of you may remember I used to write articles on another site, apart from being the Tournament Organiser for Grimsby I used to help about a local generic gaming club in Louth which is a small country town in Lincolnshire. At one stage the club was having Magic events with eighteen players and pretty much three quarters of the club had decks, however, things began to decline with an enforced change of venue and consequently night. Magic died in Louth, however, last year one of my friends in Louth still had a passion for the game and asked me to help him out to see if we could get the game established again, everyone who played was still about and had their cards too, nothing flashy about being Standard magic events just some casual fun with whatever cards they had.

We ran six sessions fortnightly and some guys who wanted to roleplay came down as well to help us cover the costs. Well we covered costs just about but the Magic players in town despite promising to show up were nowhere to be seen. Reluctantly we decided to call it a day, at this point their was righteous indignation and calls of us being unfair from the very people who had not attended. The response was pretty much on the lines of, well guarantee you can get half a dozen players to regularly show up each night so costs are covered and we’ll give it another go ? The response was sad, they all said they may come down but didn’t expect to have to be tied down to coming every session. Suffice to say we never ran another session, there has to be an investment of time from both players and those running the events. Despite the best intentions of those running the events eventually we knew it was pointless and stopped. Since you started playing Magic how many events no longer take place, how many shops are closed down and how many old faces have left the community ?

I’ve played in Pre-Releases at Bradford University with over fifty players, Scarborough FNM with over twenty players attending and played with over 100 other players for a monthly standard event in Doncaster. None of these locations now hold events anymore and the numbers some of these events used to attract can only be dreamt of now. Magic requires hard work these days from players and organisers alike.

Wednesday night in Grimsby, is Magic Night, we borrow the War Game’s Club premises and it is a very amicable arrangement. About eighteen months ago the Yu-Gi-Oh players started coming too and they had their own Tournament Organiser until he moved away, the younger lads still come down to play though and most have Magic decks too with a couple even playing semi regularly with us so it’s been a good thing for us. Interestingly a couple of magic players returned to the club after a nine month hiatus recently and one of their first comments after some banging and crashing could be heard from the second room…

“I wish they would go away and stop coming!”

My response took them rather by surprise…

“Well if they do, what will you be doing with your Wednesday nights in the future. There are more of them than Magic players again this week,  you should be thanking them as if they weren’t coming we’d not be covering the rent for the venue and the club would have stopped months ago!”

It was a sobering time for several of the players at this point as many had chosen to ignore the fact that Magic in town was and is struggling, the opinion being it will be okay, it always has in the past as it has turned around. Magic in Grimsby has had its peaks and troughs, currently it is going through a rather large trough. In the past Magic has survived the long anticipated booster price increase two yours ago and  the change in prize support from WotC meaning local events got no booster support. However, this year Magic has been hit hard with first FNM being moved to Friday so the travelling support from local communities hasn’t been down as they have their own shops in Lincoln and Skegness, Player Rewards were cancelled reducing the incentive to play, then just to add to the misery the terrible snow came making it harder for players to make it to the event and with it being Christmas there were all the seasonal parties.

We scraped together eight players once in December and most nights you have been able to count the players on one hand. Now I expect it will start to improve again after Mirrodin Besieged and a Pre-Release late January early February but when all is said and done, the best way a playgroup can ever expand is for each player to introduce a friend, over night you can double your play group.

In many respects Magic is a vibrant and healthy game, however, it will only remain that way with players being involved at all levels of the hobby and supporting their local community.

Please let me know your thoughts and feelings on this whether you are a player, tournament organiser or shop owner.

Thanks for reading,

Mark Pinder

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Mark Pinder
I have competed twice at GB nationals in 2010/2008, was Runner Up at Senior Nationals 2010, Won a Grand Prix Trial which took me to Paris 2009. My love of the game was such that I did previously win a writing competition on MTG Twincast which led to me being a Feature Writer for around a year until the Sponsor sold up but still did the occasional article. There is also a verb "To Pinder"colloquially used in northern magic communities which means "to gain life", I was a solid fan of Martyr of Sands/Proclamation of Rebirth combo and many players have heard those fateful words, Sacrifice Martyr of Sands, gain 21 life against me to see the game go out of their reach with lethal damage available to them next turn.