Casual Magic: Having Fun While Playing an MTG Group Game
My name is Dylan Schettina. I’ve been playing Magic: the Gathering since Mirage, I typically blow up my decks after a few weeks of playing them (deck construction and tinkering are my favourite aspects of the game) and I’ve never top 8’d anything. While I can’t give sage advice on being the Spkiest-Spike at your local game store, I’ll share my insights on playing the game, building decks, and how to maximise fun while flopping cards in a group game. Casual Magic is a beast unto itself, and more often than not, winning takes a back seat to having fun and enjoying the game.
I spend more time playing group games in a kitchen or living room than I do in a FNM at my local game store. I play with friends, roommates, and family members. As much fun as playing Azorius control/lockdown is, the others at the table might not be enjoying your impressive boardstate as much. Think about it; Magic talent scouts aren’t going to burst into the living room and offer you a tournament spot because you turn 6 shut down your opponent and her little brother at the table. Hope you’re proud of yourself there, champ.
I’m not telling you not to play your best game, but there is grace in realising some decks are more fun to play against than others. How many decks do you have? If you’re like me, chances are you’ve got a few laying about. Hell, I even have some stashed in the console of my truck. I make decks for specific reasons and occasions. I’ve got some decks that are good at teaching someone how to play the game, while others are themed and tell stories via coloured cardboard, and of course I’ve got my competitive styles. I typically take three decks with me when I go out and play at a friend’s place. Variety is the spice of life, and when you play a game of Magic, it’s as if each player at the table has brought a dish with them to share.
Each dish is made up of different ingredients, by a different chef, and under a certain set of circumstances (let’s be honest, we’ve all built countermagic/bounce decks out of spite at some point in time) Everyone sets their dishes down at the table, and when play begins, the taste test ensues. Each deck will play it’s own game, and will win if it can play faster, sneakier, bigger, or more domineering than their opponents can. And that’s the best part of playing casual Magic. How can I do my own thing, while still play an emphasis-on-fun, competitive game of Magic? It’s all about what you bring to the table. Each deck fits into a flavor, and certain flavors are in poor taste at a kitchen table game. So, without further ado, the menu:
How sweet it is…
Our first deck is “sweet”. It’s typically a green or white base and it excels at playing a long, metered game. If someone is less familiar with the game, or doesn’t have a deck with them, you’ve always got a spare, and you can feel good knowing it’ll play a solid game of Magic. For all intents and purposes, this is a thirds-all-around-deck. Meaning, a third is creatures, a third is spells, and the final 20 or so cards are lands. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it and the “sweet” deck will rally behind it’s creatures and spot-removal until it clears itself a path to victory.
Why is this “sweet”? Green and White both love big beat sticks, have a penchant for speed, enjoy large numbers of creatures, and artifact and enchantment removal. “Sweet” decks control the game with boardstate-depth. They can rush all players at once, can pick on a certain targets individually. It’s an ideal low-impact offering to any casual play table because attacking with creatures in combat is the most direct way to get your opponent’s life to zero. When playing in group games, the “sweet” deck will dole out damage at a consistent rate while protecting itself and it’s assets. It’s as mid-range as you can get, and that’s never a bad thing.
That’s a spicy meatball!
Next up is something a little “spicy”. The decks I own that fall into this category run the gamut of colours and combinations, but essentially they are all mid-range decks that skew slightly towards the Aggro end of the spectrum. Reality Smasher is my Favorited “spicy” card. As a creature, it’s big and fast, but out of combat it’s tough to deal with. It’s reach extends beyond that of the current board. Browbeat and Phthisis also fall into this category because they do not oppress the opponent’s play style, but begin to press the future turn implications of the game at hand.
Why is this “spicy”? This is “spicy” because essentially, it plays the same game as “sweet”, building up boardstate-depth and keeping threats in check, but it begins to dabble in the affairs of your opponent’s tempo. Subtle discard and more concentrated removal spells Anguished Unmaking fill out the spell third of your deck while auxiliary creatures (Sunscape Familiar) reign, and your beat sticks often enter the battlefield with a purpose, Frost Titan.
The world is, indeed, a bitter place.
“Bitter” decks play in the mid-range/control spectrum. Blue and Black synergies favor “bitter” decktypes. These decks employ strategies that are focused on disrupting their opponent’s game plan. They use not only spot-removal and tempo manipulation, but alter the board-state and game in more intangible ways. Everlasting Torment and Winter Orb are prime example of “bitter” cards. These decks play a really competitive one-on-one match up, but often overwhelmed when facing off against foes on multiple fronts. I once played a W-U-B (Esper) deck that used Forbidden Alchemy to rush into a Massacre Wurm & Unburial Rites as soon as possible. Then I’d spend the next turn Sudden Spoiling and Infesting for the win.
Why is this “bitter”? It’s not that I wasn’t happy with the deck, I wasn’t excited about playing it around other people. “Bitter” decks play to win, even if it means the others at the table aren’t having so much fun. This is the deck I bring around If I know the room leans a little more competitive in nature, or I want to show newer players what more non-traditional decks can look like.
Those grapes are probably sour anyway.
“Sour” decks are just that. They are filled with hate and vitriol. Wow, you’ve got a land destruction and mill deck there? That’s cool. I wanna’ be just like you when I grow up. All the most tedious and degrading aspects of the game are on full display in a “sour” deck. A playset of Mindslavers aren’t exactly going to win you any popularity contests.
Why is this “sour”? Obviously, if you wouldn’t have fun playing against the deck, it’s probably not going to perform well in a group game. As much fun as generating the ire of the table game after game is, it might not get you invited back.
Magic is all about playing within a community. The goal of any game is to win, but fun should always come in a very close second! I hope you had as much fun reading my first article as I had writing it.
Until next time, stay sweet!