There is a certain phenomenon that occurs in Local Game Shops up and down the country. Fridays are the day of worship, the real meat and bones of tournament play, but day in day out there are players sat in their shop playing casual games, testing decks or involved in the EDH free-for-all. And other people, muggles no less, see us playing and are caught up in the game like a fly in a web.
This is something I’ve noticed happening time and time again. The scene: a fully-laden table at the midpoint in a game, dice and counters piled high on creature cards on all sides, full grips in hand, fanned out graveyards for easy access. A member of the public wanders into the shop to enquire if they stock Settlers of Catan, or perhaps it’s a comic book fan picking up the latest DC title, and Bam! before they know it they’re interested in what you’re doing.
There is a particular type of person who will see the game I have described above and a flare of curiosity will spark in their brain. For example a teenage girl who was just in the shop to buy a Finn (from Adventure Time) hat. She will stand looking at the table, quietly trying to figure out how this game works.
Eventually she will ask:
“What does turning the cards sideways mean?”
And that’s it, she’s in. If this ever happens to you, you are now responsible for explaining to her how it works. This conversation has many versions but almost always must include the warning:
“You can’t have other nice things any longer. All your money will now go on cards.”
Another of these experiences is the old boy who has been dragged into town by his wife. They have to get some bread and a bit of salmon for dinner. His day was one of everyday routine until he was dragged past the cobblers and that odd comic shop. He waits outside the opticians because he doesn’t like the way the man in there talks to him. Biding his time he wanders a few shops down and peers in the window. He sees this strange game happening. The order of the cards on the table has some significance: sometimes they are placed onto a discard pile, other times they have counter placed on them. What does it all mean? It’s some sort of battle, he can see that, but how does it work? His wife comes back and they move on; she wants to get to the post office before it shuts.
It’s one of the great things about this game. There are many great things but this one is somewhat overlooked. Magic has a kind of mystique to the uninitiated. When I was younger, much younger, I remember watching some men play cribbage and it had a similar effect on my brain. What is this game that uses cards that I know but also this cool-looking peg board? Cribbage is cool but it doesn’t have the same level of depth as Magic.
There has been some discussion over the years about the necessity of flavour in Magic. It is at its essence a game of mathematics, with an element of bluff. It can be expressed in simple terms without referring to imaginative card names and whimsical mechanics. There are the people who will tell you that every other mechanic is just kicker in some form or another. In Theros block, Strive was the kicker type ability that lets you target more than one thing if you pay more. It is the flavour of the game that gives it the depth. It makes the ordinary calculations somewhat more epic.
There can be nothing more fun than a full blown flavour discussion during a large EDH game. For example I have been known to have Grozoth, and then bestow a water nymph on it to give it flying
“So this fairy has picked up that giant fish and smashed me in the face with it?” my opponent asks.
Shamefaced I will nod and then try and give it a Sword of Fire and Ice to hold.
It’s the two separate elements together that give this game such an intriguing air. The complicated board state looks intriguing to a certain type of mind, a problem solver sort of person, but the duality of the game means that there is room for the type of person who sees the artwork on Gift of Orzhova and decides he is going to play that card.
It is where these two positions overlap where we find the most fun and fruitful discussion in this game.
Grey Merchant of Asphodel bugs me. It’s a great card and has done a lot of heavy lifting for me in Theros Theros Theros draft but what exactly does he do? He’s a zombie that drains life when he shows up right. Why? It’s not like he’s a Vampire; that I could get. Maybe he’s an eat your brains type zombie but, uh oh, the brain in Magic is represented by the library (okay it’s more like the mind but still). If he was the brainz type undead he should mill them and you a draw a card.
Then we come to Brimaz, King of Oresko. He’s spot on, a warrior soldier. When he goes into battle he inspires his troops to join him. And one at a time they do.
I particularly like Horde Ambusher in Khans. He’s a morph card and will catch a few people out. He’s a 2/2 like all morphs. I like to think of the battle field in Kahns block as the huge steppes of Mongolia. The defending army see the approaching enemy from far off and prepares its defensive positions appropriately and then, when the battle is right on top of them, Ambusher flips, catches the defenders off guard and gets by the staunchly set blocker.
See. Game play and flavour, hand in hand, making the game better.
There are the three player types.
Spike, the serious, focused tournament player. Timmy, the power player, who wants huge creatures, usually green, and he wants to battle with them. And then there’s Johnny, who likes to do things that are complicated with the cards, wants a lot of synergies and whatnot.
This is far from a comprehensive list of each of these players attributes but that is the gist. Somewhere in between these three player types is the sweet spot where these characteristics meet and they form the kind of brain that is impressed by a bunch of cards laid out on a table with dice on top of them. That teenage girl who is silently intrigued by what she sees. The old guy who stands and tries to figure out what it all means. The comic book fan who wants to know who this guy called Xenogos is and why his card seems to have super powers.
All these people plus you, when you were first introduced to this game, have the type of brain that looks upon the game of Magic as a problem to be solved.
What was it that got you interested? Artwork, gameplay, duels of the Plainswalker?