Irvine Welsh called his book about addiction Trainspotting. He said the hobby invokes the same levels of obsession as he had seen in junkies. And that’s what we are. Junkies. We spend our time and energy on these little bits of cardboard. Personally I consume deck techs and draft videos like they are canapés at a wedding. I can’t get enough of talking about the value of different underplayed cards. If anyone in my local games shop wants to venture an opinion on what Modern staples will be reprinted, we could be there for an hour. And I love it. You do too. That’s what a consuming hobby does to you. It takes the weird and unreasonable things and makes them normal. I wonder how many of you have had this conversation with your friend or colleagues?
“So did you do anything over the weekend?”
“Yeah I went to Milton Keynes with a few mates.”
“Oh nice. What did you get up to?”
They nod politely and wait for your answer.
“… I went to a convention where I played Magic: The Gathering. It’s a strategy card game.”
You can see it in their eyes, they wanted a normal response. They wanted you to tell them you watched a football match or went to a pub. They didn’t want you geeking up the conversation.
It won’t stop us, we are all too far down the rabbit hole. I came to the game late, I’m in my mid thirties and have only been playing for 18 months. My story is very similar to most who start to play.
I bought a few intro decks for me and my son to play with. We played with them at home on the kitchen table. We played ten games a day in the first week; we never stopped. My wife thought it was weird but we were so interested in working out what we were doing.
I went back to the LGS (Cheap Thrills) and the guy there sold me two more intro decks. He also gave me one each of the starter packs and handfuls of land and tokens. When we got home, me and my son looked at this huge pile of cards and I remember him saying
“Wow, look at all these cards! We will probably never need another card again. We can probably make like ten decks with this lot.”
And that is similar to what I thought too. I look back at how foolish I was now and shake my head.
Going to your first FNM is scary. I see posts about it from people looking for advice on MTG forums quite frequently. Most people will be like me and my son, they will build and play against each other for a while before going to FNM. And then they will get beaten for weeks and weeks but, like every addiction, they will endure great pain and humiliation just to be able to play.
If you’ve been playing for a while you will remember when things started to click for you. A moment in time when you saw a particular interaction and it was as if someone had lifted a veil from your eyes. It took me a while. I had to consciously study to improve, and what made my slow improvement more exasperating was the fact that my nine year old son was a natural.
In my LGS we used to use a small room behind the shop itself. Most weeks there would be a few overflow tables out in the corridor. If you were winning you were in the room, the lower your table number the more likely you would end up in the corridor. I was always out there. The first few weeks my son was too but then he started winning. He was in the room. I only got to see him between rounds if he chose to visit me out in the corridor.
I would play against the teenagers who were having a bad run that week. Out in the corridor with me they would ask, “How come you’re so bad when Brew is like eight and he wins all the time?”. Talk about kicking a bloke when he’s down.
My son too is an addict. I would feel bad about turning one so young onto such a consuming habit but the truth is it’s a good cover story for those awkward conversations at work.
“Well it’s for my son really.”
People are much more accepting when they think it’s just a game for children.
MTG has a habit of leaking into our family life. We use its language and rules in real life all the time. More than once I have told him that “Get to bed does not use the stack.” Or he has told me that he has “countered tidy up.”
But my favourite has to be when we were having our kitchen remodel’ed and we had only basic cooking facilities. The children loved it because they got to eat all sorts of convenience food that my wife would never normally let them eat. On this particular occasion I was making Smash. The box was on the side, my son comes in and starts chatting to me about his school day. The curious new food stuff catches his attention and he reads the box out loud.
“Instant Mash Potato.”
There is a small beat where I can hear his cogs start to whir.
“Does that mean I can Mash Potato in response?” he asks, cracking himself up.
Man, I love this game.