What’s the Magic Word? by Liam Casserly

What’s the Magic Word? by Liam Casserly

Right then. You’ve bought your intro packs and you’ve plucked up the courage to go to your LGS for FNM and…Whoa… hold it right there. LGS? FNM? What does this mean?*

Magic is a hobby that loves its own language. Nicknames, slang, initialisms (I bet you thought I was going to write acronyms, didn’t you?) and, of course, large words for no reason. The use of pointlessly big words is ubiquitous.

This behaviour does, however, serve a purpose. It helps to bond the ‘in’ group and identify the ‘out’ group. The trouble comes when you attempt to become the ‘in’ group yourself. The language is a huge barrier. It does a really good job of making sure newcomers feel like they are out of their depth.

Grizzly Bears“Tap two lands, play Smoke Teller” the new player says confidently.

“Oh cool. That guy, he’s just a bear. With upside.” the 18 month veteran replies, nodding.

The new player looks at the card and thinks the other player might be confused. The card he played was a human shaman not a bear. He worries that he might have to tell the seasoned player his mistake.

This little tale will happen in various forms up and down the country at your *Local Game Shop on *Friday Night Magic. No-one is really in the wrong here but it can be tougher on the new player to get to grips with an already complicated game when things like this don’t add up.

I also don’t point out the fact that the experienced player here has only been playing a short time so that we can hate on them for their arrogance. I mention it for two other reasons.

One: The game has gone through a massive growth in recent years and it’s much more likely that you will play someone who has been playing a relatively short space of time.

Two: It doesn’t take a lot to start to understand the ‘in’ groups language.

So a bear’s a bear right? Creature type is not important. If it has 2 power and 2 toughness and it cost you 2 mana, it’s a bear. Why is this? Because even though us magic players like to think we are players of supreme intellect we make short cuts. We use a fixed reference. You know how your Grandma calls all tablets Ipads, well it’s the same as that for Magic. The first or the best card to do something will often be the shorthand for that type of card, or even a style of play.

Mill for example. Put a card from the library straight into the graveyard or, in some cases, exile. It’s a much beloved strategy for casual players. It gets its name from the card Millstone.

MTG Passing Turn End of Turn Match

One of the things that was a bit weird to me when I first started playing was the formal way in which the turn was ended and passed.



Or my favourite, the little hand gesture, like when you get back from the bar with a large packet of McCoys. Rip them open and then with an open palm at 45 degree angle you offer them to your companions as if to say “This is yours”. It’s a small thing but it is important. How many of us have sat for five minutes or more waiting for an opponent to finish their turn when they are waiting for you to act.

There is also a funny nicknaming convention where a card seems quite different from the famous card but it gets the colour alternative name. In M14 there was a Deathtouch Spider that was occasionally known as the Green Doom Blade. As a newer player it is sometimes hard to make these logic leaps but after a while it does become easier to see why they’re compared. They both kill something.

In Kahns there is Treasure Cruise. A lot of people during prerelease played this on turn six or seven and said “I will Ancestral Recall” and then exiled seven cards from their graveyard. It’s an exclusive joke. I’m not on a campaign to stop people talking like this, I just think its worth noting that the language we use is significant to new players.

Abyss is another example. This is a weird one. The original card is an enchantment that made you bury (destroy) a nonartifact creature in your upkeep but it’s now mostly used to describe a board state where one player has a huge creature without trample that is going to make the opponent chump block each turn. That’s the trouble with a language article, where should I draw the line? Do I need to explain chump blocking?

WUBRG Colour Pie

U? What does U mean? It’s not intuitive to a new player. A few years ago I read about a university professor who wore spectacles that flipped his vision so he viewed everything upside down. After a short period his brain automatically switched the message. The input was still upside down but his brain was reading the information the correct way. So your brain can receive one set information and then process it to a completely different set. Like U=Blue. At first it seems crazy but before long it’s as obvious as the rest of the colours in the WUBRG shorthand.

JUND JUND JUND. Go on say it a few more times. Most words turn into a weird collection of noises after a dozen or so repetitions but I wanted you to get a bit more of a feeling of what it’s like for a new player. Older colour groupings are hard to grasp. The new clan wedges have caused no end of conversation in my shop. People who spit on the floor when someone says Temur instead of RUG (Red Blue Green) and others who dive into new conventions with gusto. The five new wedge names are, I think, easy for the newer player to get a handle on because Wizards are marketing the identities so they will become familiar to all. The older Shards are much harder to stick in the brain box. Guilds are going to be less prominent now Ravnica has rotated out but two colour pairings are easier because there are less complicated computations.

Have you ever had the better/strictly better conversation with another player? It’s one of my favourites. It’s a simple concept. With over 12,000 cards printed there is bound to be some overlap. Over the years cards have been printed and then later another card has come along and it is a better version of the previous card. But it can only be considered strictly better if it matches up on all the criteria. Just being a 2/2 for 2 mana with a cool ability will not instantly make it strictly better. Sure its better but not strictly better. Whut? That is how we roll as a collective… we want precision in our language unless we want it vague.

Magic Players FNM Talking

After games in your local shop you will hear tales of the board states being told in our rich language. Anyone who has even a relatively short amount of time in the game should be able to follow what’s being said but the new player will listen and smile and then wonder if what was being said was even in English.

“Yeah so I end step Helixed him to the dome, looking for the top deck for the win but I was so flooded at that point that of course I drew another land.”


“Man! I drew no gas and they just ticked up their walker to the ult and pinged me all the way. By the time I found my wincon I was too far behind.”

They probably don’t seem like crazily complicated explanation of a game but to a newer player its a hard thing to grasp.

In part two I’m going to look at card nicknames and deck names but, until then, use the comments to tell me the most ridiculous slang, Magic speak explanations of a game state. Be nice to the newer guys and put an explanation in there.

Liam Casserly

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