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Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Big Deck Hunting: Casualy Competitive

Recently I have been giving a lot of thought about a very normal topic, staying competitive. The odd part about this is that rather then taking the perspective of fine tuning a deck like the edge of a sword, I have been thinking about it from the idea of keeping a deck competitive in the community sense. Just last week a person whom I am proud to call both a friend and colleague, humbled me by asking for my opinion of a deck he had created.

He asked for my honest opinion, and I really took the time to explore examine this deck from the perspective of the other people at the table. The worst part was after I had critiqued his deck, I was left asking the same questions about my own casual deck. It really left me with a sense that our community is really just the sum of the impressions at each table, and their impact on what we play, who we play, and even if we continue to play. I have come to a realization that a deck can be too good. To this end there are a few topics I would like to address. These thoughts are part of the on going results of my own "fearless Magic inventory". It represent my own self inventory of my game and it's impact on the community, and is not intended as an indictment of any other player(s). It has given me something to think about, and has changed me as a player. Perhaps you too can find some thing to think about here.

Combos

I am going to keep this one short and simple. Combo decks are not fun for anyone else at the table. The point of a game is to interact. While your busy make you 900,000 token creature, taking your 5th consecutive turn, or completing your 18th major action in a turnl, all the other players are bored of their ever loving asses, just waiting for you to finish. It's like letting a dog hump your leg. We aren't getting anything out of it, and we are just hoping that given enough time you will finish, and we can go on with our game. Now combo/control decks have their place in competitive magic, and that really isn't the point. In casual try playing something else.

Proxy cards

Proxies have their place in casual, and like all good things in life, it's brief. Proxy up that new deck, see if it works, tune it out. In the end Magic: the Gathering is a little thing we call a CCG, for those of you who may be new to this concept that's a Collectible Card Game. This implies that at some point you are expected to accumulate the cards you want to be able to play. If everyone just proxies up every deck they ever wanted to own, it just lowers the overall game, and makes those special cards just that much less special. Hey if everyone can use the proxy, why ever bother buying any real cards. You take this thinking to the extreme, and this game dies two deaths. One- the game comes to a halt, because they won't develop, and produce a product that has no market. Second- the game will become a stagnant pool of over power unimaginative super decks, that anyone can own, and everyone gets tired of playing.

On this same topic, you as a Magic player are expected to own some cards. I really do mean just some. Any real player has a small box of stuff, and can field at least one deck that they enjoy playing. It doesn't have to be good, or even ready for a FNM event, but have something to shuffle up. The community really doesn't take serious a player that shows up at game time, and wants to bum a deck to play. Borrowing a deck to see how it works, or to play something new is great, and we all learn a lot from doing that. Trying to borrow a deck that cost $100's of dollars from people you hardly know so you can go play in a major tournament just days ahead of time puts you in a parasitic category. Either tie in to a community on a regular basis, join a team, or otherwise contribute other then gracing with an occasional presence.

Don't get me wrong, I don't expect every new person to show up and poor hundreds of dollars into a new game. I start a lot of new players, at least 1-2 a year, but I really don't put much time into them until they are willing to buy their first few packs/cards. I am willing to provide a support system for new players, but they have to put some effort and resources in up front. You can build a playable fun deck in this game for $5, and that really isn't a lot to put into a hobby. From that point you can build as slow as you want, or have to. Nearly 90% of every card ever printed can be purchased for $2 or less. Not sure how to get started on a budget?- hang out for a while because this is one of my favorite topics, which is close to my heart by necessity.

Power Plays

Now we get to the part that I have found myself guilty of most recently. This game is not an arms race. He who dies with the most toys still dies. If you spend too much of your time building in flawless constructs full of flashy, high powered, or expensive cards you will soon be the best player that no one wants to play against. It's not fun to play a game you are certain you will struggle in and ultimately lose. Everyone wants to be able to win, especially at the casual table. On any given Wednesday night anyone should be able to walk away with a great casual story of how they were the last player standing, or at least how they almost one. When games, especially big games feel this way, everyone has a good time, learn something, or are otherwise willing to play again.

Magic communities die every day, because a minority of players who are so caught up in their own evolutions of the game, cut out the rest of the community, who either can't compete, or don't want to. Communities like ours have thrived, and will continue to do so, by keeping this game accessible and fun for everyone. Flawless consistent victories at the round table ultimately may mean that you are losing the larger game of building and supporting your community. Next time you build a deck, try thinking about it from any of the other chairs a the table. Try building one that is fun to play with as well as against. I promise, in the end you will have more fun, and next time you take a head count, you will find more players then you expected. If not you may look around one day, and wonder where everyone else went, and have no one to blame but your self.

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