The Crown Duels – Graduating from DOTP to the wider game by Dave Shedden
Perhaps it started with a conversation – a chat of the real life variety, or an IM exchange on Facebook. Perhaps you saw an advert somewhere; perhaps you found something on a forum, or something caught your eye as you logged into the Steam client.
Perhaps it doesn’t matter how this started anymore.
Perhaps you’ve been awake for 27 hours and you haven’t noticed, because you’re too busy gorging yourself on your new gaming narcotic: Duels of the Planeswalkers.
Finally, with that stretched, sleep-deprived feeling filling your head, you achieve the final unlock… and it’s over.
What now? You know there’s a bigger game out there, but it’s complex and sprawling and just a little intimidating for a completely new player.
How can you successfully emerge from the nest and start to enjoy the richness and variety of the greatest game ever designed?
Dear, fledging planeswalker, it’s your lucky day. I’m a fully qualified* MTG Spirit-guide – and I’m here to guide you on your peculiar, cardboard-centric vision quest.
*Does not refer to actual qualifications
So what does this big, wide world look like?
There are a lot of things going on around Magic: the Gathering. As you might expect, the most customisable game in human history has spawned a huge variety of playing methods, sub-cultures and events.
To help you make sense of the landscape, I’ve prepared a kind of Lonely Planet guide to the various regions of Magic culture. It starts at the most casual end of the spectrum and progresses to the most highly competitive – and there are pretty important differences between the two, particularly for players taking their first steps.
First packs, first games
Traditionally, most players started their journey here. Intrigued by the game – and with a couple of mates in tow – they buy some boosters and start working out how to tap mana, bash with creatures, etc.
The good news: you have a leg up on those traditional players before you even begin!
By playing Duels, you’ve already had the best Magic training course ever designed, so you won’t be trying to cast your creatures in your combat step, or untapping your lands on your opponent’s turn, or committing any other basic errors.
Your enhanced skills aside, this is still a great early place to find your feet. Crack some packs, marvel at the new wonders you find inside, have fun slinging spells for the first time with your friends. This formula produced one of the best weekends of my teenage years, so I can heartily endorse it.
Kitchen Table Magic
Players in this sphere of Magic are comfortable with the basics of the game and play friendly games with their mates, using decks of their own design. For most folk, the best place in the house to shuffle up and battle is the kitchen table, hence the well-known label.
Exploring the cards of Magic’s history, building decks around favourite themes (like Angels, Dragons, Lifegain or Burn) and assembling complex combinations which achieve wacky effects are all hallmarks of Kitchen Table Magic.
The players’ collections have expanded through more pack purchases, or trading, or even through buying specific singles from shops or websites – but their decks are still far from being optimised killing-machines. It’s a fun spot to be in and many people choose to continue playing Magic this way throughout their involvement with the game.
Organised casual Magic – Commander, Cube and more
The next stop on our tour is what I call organised casual Magic. It’s a territory that borders the competitive area of the game, sharing many features of tournament Magic without truly belonging to it.
Unlike Kitchen Table Magic, which has no restrictions other than what cool cards you can lay your hands on, this sphere contains established Formats – styles of Magic game which limit the range of cards (and copies of those cards) which can be used to build decks, in an effort to create a particular type of game experience or ‘level the playing field’.
The biggest of these formats is Commander, which has exploded in popularity over the last couple of years following a decision by Wizards of the Coast to print new products in support of it. This is a great sign for players of organised casual formats, because it suggests that Wizards are open to supporting any new thing if enough people are having fun with it.
If a player is interested in all the complexity offered by the game, but isn’t fussed about winning prizes or proving themselves, organised casual Magic is a sphere in which they could spend plenty of time.
Friday Night Magic (FNM) – the first rung on the tournament ladder
As your understanding of the game expands, an urge may surface to compete with other players,win prizes and perhaps start to climb the tournament ladder. To find Magic The Gathering events in your area, use the UK Magic Calendar.
FNM is the casual-ish tournament programme supported by Wizards – and it’s the ideal spot to get a taste of tournament play. The events can be either Constructed (wherein you bring 60-card decks you’ve built in preparation) or Limited (wherein you build 40-card decks on the day using the contents of sealed packs), but one thing they’ll have in common is that you’ll be playing best-of-three matches against other players over several rounds.
A word of warning: when you start attending FNM, you will probably get your ass handed to you.
Don’t worry, you’re not doing anything wrong. You’re simply entering a world where more people have a much better idea of what they should be doing, how they should be doing it and how to do it very consistently.
FNM tournaments tend to be attended by a small number of inexperienced players, a healthy band of intermediate players and a few pretty accomplished players. They’re a great place to socialise, to start understanding tournaments and to get better at the game. Over time, if you listen to the advice that more experienced players give you, your results will improve and you may even start to win prizes.
Eventually, you’ll probably decide either that:
- You’re not really into tournaments, which is fine.
- You’re REALLY into tournaments… and you want to shoot for bigger prizes.
The Grinder’s life – PTQs, GPs and more
For a competitive Magic player, all roads lead to the Pro Tour – the biggest series of events in the Magic calendar. To get on any of those roads, a player will have to pass through the Pro Tour Qualifier (PTQ) and Grand Prix circuits.
PTQs are tournaments which hand out an invitation to a Pro Tour event as their top prize. They are fiercely contested: many accomplished players dream of making it to the Pro Tour and will pull out all the stops to get there. A PTQ might range from 50 to 150 players in size, with a mix of attendees biased toward stronger players and cut-throat decks.
Grand Prix are larger tournaments, second only to the Pro Tour in prestige and prizes. Anyone can enter, but with attendances usually in excess of 1,000, only excellent players will be in the running for the overall prize. The top few finishers in a Grand Prix will automatically receive an invite to an upcoming Pro Tour event.
If you want to be the best – in your city, your country, or the world – PTQs and Grand Prix are where you’ll go to prove you have what it takes.
The Pro Tour
Our last stop is the Pro Tour itself.
Players on the Pro Tour are either part of an established group of the best players in the world, or have won a brutal street-fight of a qualifier to get there.
Winning a Pro Tour event is the biggest single achievement in Magic. It’s so outrageously hard that only a tiny minority of players have ever succeeded in the attempt more than once.
If you’ve just completed the final unlock on Duels of the Planeswalkers, this part of the Magic atlas may seem remote from where you’re sitting. However, if you want it badly enough, if you sacrifice enough, you can follow other new-generation players by clawing your way from the PS3 in your bedroom to the Pro Tour mountain-top.
It will not be easy, but you could end up holding that trophy and a cheque for a large sum of money. The choice is yours.
You have the map – now it’s time to start walking
There are some decisions in your future, about Cubes, PTQs and shaky mulligans – but for now, we need to get you trained up on the fundamentals of the game.
Join me next time, when I’ll run through a list of topics suggested by recent DOTP graduates… and try to pass some of the wisdom** I’ve accrued of the last 20 years of shuffling cards and taking names***.
**May not contain actual wisdom
***Specific name-taking cannot be substantiated