A Magical Night

Posted in Serious Fun on August 2, 2005

By Anthony Alongi

Anthony and the light of his life start up a 12-step hosting group.

Over the several years I have been writing about Magic – spanning three different web sites, two print magazines, and hundreds of articles – I have only shared my column with a guest once.

And it was such a thrill for me, too. Why, I've barely recovered!

This was early on, during The Dojo days, when I was young and impressionable.

And hairier!

Now that I'm older and wiser, I don't do co-pilots. I don't share. I'm a lone wolf, baby, a master of solitude and reflection, a paragon of –


Ah. Yes. Well. This is awkward. I suppose I should make an introduction – my beautiful but devious wife MaryJanice and I have talked about doing another joint column for some time, ever since she co-wrote a very popular Dojo article with me way back when. We didn't have a good idea for another article, however, until we were talking after one Thursday night when we hosted our Magic group at our house. We had profoundly different views of –

I can't believe you get paid to just babble out the whole theme in one paragraph. Why not just write, “No need to keep reading; I've already spilled the beans!”

Well put, darling. Even if you did split an infinitive. Let's just get started. As readers may have guessed, my wife MaryJanice will be writing in italics.

Like this.

Except that wasn't her. That was me, pretending to be her. This is her:

I want a divorce.

We really do enjoy hosting Magic – we do it about once every couple months, it's a great group of people who come over, and they're a constant reminder of the joys of friendship and family that tie us all together.

Lies. All lies.

Of course, some of them are reading this right now.

I mean truth! All truth!

So we thought we'd share some experiences from hosting, and give the reader some valuable tips on how to host a successful evening of Magic playing.

Yeah, we actually did. It was, like, the only thing the two of agreed on for this whole article. Of course, his idea of a successful evening, and my idea…well, you'll see.

Step One: Make The Invitations

You start off by letting folks know you're going to host. Crafting a proper invitation is a lost art, as I always say, and –

Um, excuse me? Forgetting something, are we?

Oh. Right.

Step One, Take Two: Clear It With Your Spouse

Getting your spouse (or, for some of you, parent, or roommate, or girlfriend, or whatever…but from now on we'll use spouse) to agree to host a Magic group can range from a casual to a heart-stopping affair. It all depends on the attitude of the person who must give permission – and, of course, how clever you are.

What happens is, and Tony likes to pretend he doesn't do this, but he does, he'll invite his pals over, a.k.a. The Freak Parade, and then he'll call me and be all pretending to ask if he can have a party. When I know he's already invited them. And, after twelve years of marriage, he knows I know. But we pretend like I don't.

ME: Gawd, we just hosted Magic, like, a week ago!
HIM: Fourteen months ago.
ME: Yeah, well…can't someone else do it?
HIM: It's our turn. It wouldn't be fair to make everybody else do it more than we are.
ME: It wouldn't be fair to wreck my entire night, either, but you're gonna.
HIM: You don't have to do anything. You can just watch TV all night if you want.
ME: God, you are so clueless.
HIM: I don't think you need to get personal. Um, can you pick up some groceries earlier that night?
ME: [gets a gun].

It's true – she does have a gun. Here are some tips for what to do before she loads it:


My friend. You so don't know mean.


Yes, it's a sad day when you seek out a zombie movie so you won't have to socialize with any of the whack-jobs your husband calls friends. LAND OF THE DEAD is pretty good, by the way.

  • If you mention to your group that you might be able to host, keep it tentative until you can talk to your spouse. She may think you're trying to be devious, but in fact you're doing exactly what you're supposed to do. She can always say "no" – did you not tell the group it was tentative? Or, she can say "yes" and let her resentment fester until there's a joint article to write.
  • Another approach that "works": Offer to do as much of the work yourself as you can. I'll pause here for the requisite feminine snort…

    Oh, he's very big on offering. Mr. Offer, that's him. But what happens is, he “loses track of time”, I believe we all know the phrase? And I have two choices: leave him on his own, and let his guests come over to a filthy house with nothing to eat or drink, or suck it up and do all the work he assured me he'd take care of.

    …and then I'll go on to say that she knows full well she doesn't have to do a darn thing. See, dear, offering to do something and then punishing them when they take you up on it…well, that's just mean.
  • If there are children, you're watching them. "Watching" being a relative term, of course. But the point is, you're home. It's not like you can't hold a kid in your lap occasionally while you play. Don't pretend it's the same as you "not being there at all." In fact, why not give your spouse the night off? She can go to a horrible movie about dumb zombies, or some such.

Step Two: Make The Invitations

As I was saying before I was rudely interrupted above, crafting invitations properly is a lost art. You don't need to send out engraved paper – but you do need to give basic details:

  • When will the event start?
  • Can people show up earlier than that? (Hint: No.)
  • How long will the event last?
  • What will the play format be?
  • If a limited format, who will supply the cards – and will people have to buy in?

At the end, you may use the en vogue sign-off: "RSVP". You may not say "RSVP please". RSVP is a French acronym for repondez s'il vous plait – and those last three words (the "s'il", the "vous", and the "plait") mean "if you please". So when you say "RSVP please", you're saying "respond if you please please". This is asinine.

Yawn…wow! Ladies and gentlemen, he's STILL talking!

Okay, fine; but I just needed to say that.

Step Three: Decide Upon A Format

You might, during the course of making the invitation, leave the format "open" for now. This is a good idea as long as you don't want to do anything complex. If you want folks to make brand new decks, put the format in the invitation and send the invite out as soon as possible. ("ASAP please" works, by the way.)

Don't be afraid to suggest something new! The host should always have the option of pushing a new format. If your guests show up and they hate it, you can always switch out after a few games.

Step Four: Choose The Menu

What's more important than the game you play? The food you eat!

In our play group, we play on Thursday nights. Since this generally includes the dinner hour, it's proper for the host to provide something substantial to eat.

How far you go is up to you – and your budget. In our play group, the menu varies week to week, from Tacquitos and candy to a home-cooked, multiple-course Asian buffet. Anything is fine, really. Be nutritious, provide variety, and don't forget to buy or make enough for your family.

If your spouse is an awesome cook, like MaryJanice, you can ask her to make something. However, if your spouse has low tolerance for frivolous requests, like MaryJanice, you may want to pass. It's just as easy for me to go get something for the grill; and then we share flipping duty.

He's really living in his own world, isn't he? Call it Tonytopia. What he forgets is, after I've brought home a tasty selection of hot dogs and Cheez-E-Brats (because you know who “lost track of time”), he does put them on the grill. Where they die, shrieking in agony. Occasionally, he'll remember they're there and fork them onto a plate, where his gooney friends may or may not notice they're shoveling charcoal into their maws.

Then. Then! He forgets to turn the gas grill off. So the next time I need to grill something, whoops! The gas is empty. So I have to disconnect the almighty heavy thing, roll it to my car like a circus bear with a drum, hoist it into my trunk, drive nine miles to the nearest propane facility, fill it, repeat.

Then he gets all mystified when I don't want him to host Magic anytime soon.

Step Five: Prepare The Room

So the big day has arrived! Have you decided where all these people are going to fit? Some groups are only three or four people; but others top a dozen. (Ours is approaching epic size, to the point where we're actually considering closing the door to new entries. Apparently, everyone wants to play Magic with the husband of the famous MaryJanice.) You'll need a place where you can play cards and talk without disrupting the rest of the family.

I'll say that again: without disrupting the rest of the family.

Even in apartments, this is possible. (As long as someone can close a door, you're ahead of the game.) But in addition to respect for your family, you'll also need to consider the following:

  • Are people playing all at the same table, or at two or three different tables?
  • If people sit on this couch, are they too low to see the cards on the table? (Helpful tip – use comforters and blankets to boost the height.)
  • If a large adult is sitting in this chair right here, will people be able to get by?
  • Is there enough light for everyone to see their hand and permanents on the table?
  • Do I want people eating and drinking in this room? (It's okay if the answer is no – just do dinner first wherever you want them eating, and then go to where you want them playing.)
  • Where are people going to throw all of their empty water bottles, card pack wrappers, and dirty paper plates?
  • Are they going to fart, and then pretend they didn't?
  • Are they going to essentially chase you out into the street to the nearest zombie movie, just so you can get the hell away from these people?

She's classy lady, ain't she? Stay away, gentlemen – this one's mine!

Step Six: Greet Your Guests

Your guests, being the polite ladies and gentlemen they are, will not show up until the time you designate.

I see we're back in Tonytopia again. The fact is, due to certain people losing track of time, at least one person shows up early. To make it really fun, I've got a rotten memory for names and faces, so I never know who it is. So I stand there and pretend like we've met before. Last time we hosted, the early bird and I actually hadn't met before. After awkward small talk where I'm frantically thinking to myself, “Fred? Gene? Karl? Mark?”, I showed him the food and vanished into the living room. Which, sadly, was only about ten feet away from the food.

I mean, who comes to a house, greets the hostess, KNOWS he's never met her, and doesn't introduce himself? One of Tony's whacko friends, that's who.

I can't imagine why he didn't try to get to know you better, sweetness.

Step Seven: Keep Your Early Guests Occupied

What often happens, especially if your group has six or more people, is that some show up later than others. You may not be able to start the main event right away, which means the first two or three people will want to have something to do. Here are your options:

  • Show them around the house, if they haven't been over before.
  • Introduce them to your beautiful but devious wife.
  • Have something to eat.
  • Play a quick duel or three-player game.
  • Ask your beautiful but devious wife to entertain you by bursting into song, while offering a platter of hand-crafted crêpes.

Yeah, that'll happen. I keep the food coming and the drinks cold. Anything beyond that, I'm not prepared to handle. Of course, eventually they drive me out of the house (I'll say one thing about what's-his-name, he does watch the kids so I can leave the house when all the weirdos come over) to a zombie movie or the Dairy Queen. It's just a matter of when. Last time I made it until 7:13 p.m. A new record!

I thought she'd never leave. I mean, drive safely, darling!

Step Eight: Begin The Format For The Evening

Once you have enough players, the main show can begin. Make sure everyone understands the rules and has brought the right decks (or booster packs) to make it happen.

My brother-in-law will often make a few extra constructed decks in the format he proposes, so no one can slink out of it by saying, "oh, I didn't build for the format, so I'll just use a regular deck." You know your group best – when do new formats work well? What excuses come up when people try something new? What can you do to neutralize it? When the host picks the format, the host has to take responsibility for making it a success.

Step Nine: Switch Formats As Desired By Your Guests

The format you choose for the evening may not always be a popular choice. While you as host have the right to suggest a format and begin with it, your guests maintain the right to leave if they think you're being an inflexible ass. So find some middle ground before it gets that far. Play the new format for an hour or so, and ask everyone how they think it's going. If you get a positive response, keep it going. If even a couple of people hate it, consider switching to "regular decks".

Our play group always has a Plan B – "regular decks". Most groups have this – it's the format everyone's used to playing, often Extended, Legacy, or Vintage-legal decks. What exact format you play doesn't matter – might be two-headed giant or free-for-all or whatever – but the point is, everyone will have a deck they can probably play when you switch to Plan B.

You can extend this idea and plan to go through several formats in a given night. If so, your invitations should probably hint at this possibility. Every once in a while, someone in our group offers up their place for an entire day and evening of Magic – a veritable Magicpalooza! Multiple formats, prizes, etc. are all part of the deal. And food – lots of food.

To date, I have not asked my spouse once if we could do this.

Keep dreaming, chummmmmmmmmmm…p!.

Ah, dear, you're back! And how was the movie?

I felt sorry for the zombies. They're at least out of their misery.

Very well. Let's wrap this evening up.

Step Ten: Continue Play Until Exhaustion

It's amazing to me how long they can play. I'll return from whatever activity I fled to do, and it'll be about eleven at night, and the kids are not only still awake, they haven't brushed their teeth, they don't have jammies on; it's a nightmare. And the house, of course, looks like it has been bombed with nachos. So I order the children to bed and slouch up the stairs myself. The mess can wait until the morning.

Our children are very persuasive. They have large, overly expressive eyes and soft, pleading voices. How am I supposed to resist a perfectly reasonable request to watch SpongeBob SquarePants DVDs for six hours straight?

Step Eleven: Kick Your Guests Out

At some point in time, people will really have to leave. This point in time is defined as X, where:

X = Y + Z;
Y = the time your spouse thought most decent people ought to leave; and
Z = at least four hours.

Hey, chump, I don't care, stay up all night. You're the one with the day job.

Step Twelve: Clean Up

You know what? I'm screwed on this one. I mean, I generally do well in getting the trash and food out of the way. But point of fact: there are still three card tables and six folding chairs out in our living room. The tables are peppered with basic lands. I'm – well, like I said, I'm screwed. Better just get it over with. Darling – light of my life, apple of my eyes, whisper of my heart – do you have anything you'd like to say?

Whisper of your heart? How about the foot up your rear? You made the mess; it's all yours. I'm not touching those card tables; who knows what those fools were doing to them? Sneezing's only the first thing that comes to mind, and I don't even want to go much further. But you better get them put away before the weekend. You know where the spray cleaner is.

Thank you, sweetheart. And thanks for sharing this column with me today. There's a lot to be said for doing your own column every week. But it wouldn't be as much fun.

Anthony Alongi has been playing various Magic formats for several years, and writing for much longer than that. His new young adult fantasy book with his wife, JENNIFER SCALES AND THE ANCIENT FURNACE, releases in North America today.

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