So What Can We Do?

Posted in Serious Fun on November 23, 2010

No big intro. Just self-entertainment!

    The Most Critical Skill in Creating Fun is Flexibility

No ifs, ands, or buts. You have to be willing to try something new. I don't like using words like "must" and "have" but in this case it's called for: changing what you do is an impetus for entertainment and, quite often, the only path to discovering something entirely refreshing.

We all have favorites and habits. It's a powerful thing in our human experience. I prefer cold pizza, Chinese takeout, and cheese paired with every meal. In the wider world, however, you are faced with far more choices than just what you know is safe. Thanks to the real life magic of "Hey. Try this." I've discovered Indian, Peruvian, Salvadoran, Korean, and Japanese cuisine (among others). Some of it I truly enjoyed and will go out of my way to get again.

Other trials met with disappointing displeasure. However, avoiding discomfort only results in more of the exact same. Sure, cold pizza is a mighty fine way to start the day—but so is oatmeal and fresh fruit, eggs and wheat toast, cereal with milk, and granola with yogurt (again, among others). Having experienced more things that I initially wanted to do I ended up having many more things to enjoy. When something begins to feel old, monotonous, or just plain boring I have a plethora of other options to turn to, all thanks to giving it a go.

In Magic this idea holds just as true. And it's more than simply duel and multiplayer, but the formats and rules around duels (Standard, Extended, Legacy, Vintage, and Block—all Constructed formats) or multiplayer (Two-Headed Giant, Star, Emperor, free-for-all – all can, and do, use different numbers of players) that can be wildly different in terms of how they feel. It's why if you played Zendikar Limited that Rise of the Eldrazi felt so wildly different. It's how the feel of a card changes and evolves as new cards that interact come into existence.

Trying something new is a profound thing in Magic as your experience with cards can change dramatically based on the context of where you're using it. And even if it turns out you didn't like what you tried you can take some of that new experience and knowledge to apply it to the things you do like.

Magic is not just rules and rules on cards: it's a dynamic experience that evolves with you.

    Seasons Don't Fear the Nay-Sayers

So you do want to try something new but those with whom you play are shooting it down? You're not wrong for wanting something different: you just happen to like some different things.

As a resident assistant for four years at my college I ordered a lot of pizzas, sometimes alone but oftentimes with friends. You know how many toppings some of my friends and I both liked? Sometimes it was one: just cheese. The question became "How do we order a pizza?"

We didn't just order cheese every time or compromise and split the toppings to one side or the other: we just ordered things that, all joking aside, I or someone else just wouldn't like that much. As evidenced by children, despite common protesting to the contrary, most vegetables will, in fact, not injure you. Green pepper, onion, sliced tomatoes, spinach, and even broccoli were all pizza toppings that paraded through.

And thanks to "giving in" and just bearing it, I now rather enjoy adding green pepper or spinach to a pizza. Perhaps not all the time, no, but those moments where I do are a result of going with the flow rather than against it.

I used to hate Sealed. Really, truly, I found it a frustrating exercise in the random. While I like decks with a bit of spicy variety in them, I wasn't a big fan of "Here are random cards to build a deck, but your cards are often going to be far less exciting and awesome for you as the cards others players have." It was something I found difficult and painful; something I worked at avoiding even at Prerelease Events and other celebrations.

Then, something changed. While I'm still not the biggest fan of it, I began to actually look forward to the few times I'd play Sealed. I even proposed and jumped into a Sealed league (which, incidentally, is happening again for my local game store this year). I love playing Magic and while saying "I love Sealed." is probably a little bit of a white lie, the fact is my experience evolved from one of revulsion to enjoyment.

Perhaps not a favorite stand-by or always (or ever) at the top of my picks list, but certainly something I've come to get into and will join when prompted. Like the time I was bargained into Magic 2011 Two-Headed Giant Sealed with a local player Don.

Don also happened to be deaf.

Unskilled with ASL (American Sign Language) Don read my lips and we scratched notes for each other, eventually building the requisite two decks from a pool of eight boosters. Even better: he played the control deck. We played well and were just a hair's breadth away from winning the whole night through. Far more importantly, however, was the thrill and fun I had playing with Don without either of us saying a single word.

I would never have experienced something so awesome if I just said "No." to any Sealed event.

    Offense Is Not (Acceptable) Defense in Having Fun

You like what you like—great! But telling others they like that too doesn't typically work in the long run. In the same vein as being flexible and trying new ways to play it takes a bigger person to be humble enough to lay off forcing anything.

No one finds fun in being bossed around; taking your time with changes and letting those around you adjust is the right thing to do. Moving from building just an ordinary deck from the latest set right into trying out EDH is a tough hurdle for anyone to jump.

Excitement, even the most pure and innocent, should be tempered against the needs and feelings of others. Just as we want to share everything we love so much about the game, not everyone is ready for everything at any time. Dominating the spotlight with the things you enjoy naturally precludes others for bringing up something different they want to try.

The process of change can be give and take for everyone involved—and that's a good thing because of the next idea.

    Don't Assume Your Deck Is Going to Show Off the Best

Everyone has different tastes. Just as some decks play lots of creatures and swing across the battlefield for massive damage, other decks prefer to cast more spells and interact through noncreature things. Any way to play has a few different flavors within it.

Your deck may not be the best way to show how a format works.

Really, it's not a secret or anything unusual: when talking about something, in particular personal preferences, can make a big difference. Just like toppings on a pizza (see above) and just about everything else, what you prefer may not be anything I enjoy—and vice versa.

When you're looking to share something new be sure to point out a lot of different ways things can go, even if those aren't ways you would choose. Your friends might just find one of those alternate paths a lot more thrilling.

    You Don't Need Rares to Have Fun

There's a myth that began from the early days of Magic: you need those rares if your deck is going to do anything. The fact is, however, what makes a deck "do its thing" is it being the deck you want it to be. Whether you plan to swarm with big or little creatures, cast lots of spells, assemble a writhing contraption of artifacts, or something else entirely, what's important is that you're doing what you want to do and not what you think you have to do.

Whether it's cards like Imperious Perfect or Tumble Magnet, Isochron Scepter or Rancor, cards that aren't of the gold or coppery orange expansion symbols can be wonderful. While you won't find any planeswalkers among these lower rarities, you will still find just about anything you can imagine thanks to the fact that most cards printed in the history of Magic have also not been rare or mythic rare.

    Don't Force Your Opponents to Kill

Nobody likes being the first one out of a game, especially when it looks like said game may be continuing on for quite a bit longer. Some of us actively avoid knocking other players out right away, if only because we like being the nice player who, you know, doesn't knock you out of games.

Kelly covered a lot of the ideas behind when, or even if, to knock someone out of the game shortly before I took over. I'll let that speak for the balance between bringing bazookas and bubbles to a firefight.

    All Fun Is Perception

You have just cast a ton of mana-making spells, like Rite of Flame and Seething Song, and now have nine mana, some of which is red. What comes next? The answer, in this case, is most likely a Dragonstorm that will fetch out a dragon for every spell cast so far.

If that sounds exciting, great! However, I can guarantee that some of the other players in your game will not take kindly to a bevy of Dragons slipping into play so easily. In fact, seeing four, five, six, or more Dragons drop down like that will be terrifying.

And if you're dropping Dragons thusly you're probably more than aware of how you can use them to win games.

What you find fun is so subjective that it can only be best defined as a personal preference (see, not one, but two of the topics above). But this doesn't mean you can't have your cake and eat it too. I talked about how cards and interactions can be perceived and changing both your own perception, and understanding that it can be shaped in other ways will go a long way in keeping games fun for others—even if you like big, splashy, powerful things.

Magic Should Always Be Fun

While the power of perception will keep everything in Magic from becoming an Internet meme of captions like "ZOMG! THIS IS SO FUN!" the idea that much of Magic being slung between friends is something fun makes this principle easy to understand.

There is so much out there to play and so many things to try that finding the fun is merely a matter of time and trial, with some errors along the way too.

I hope crafting the ways and means to having fun becomes just as important to you and the unique cards and decks you bring to the game. The challenge to creating fun requires all of these ideas (and probably a few more) and is something that will change for you over time.

Now you tell me, beyond formats and individual cards how do you find the fun in playing Magic? Is it in randomness like Limited and EDH? Is it in the creativity bred by restriction of Block Constructed or Standard? Is it the underused and offbeat cards that are scattered across the game?

While you can share it with me, my hope is that more of your will share it with each other, finding the fun as a team rather than opponents. Join me next week when I plan to imprint some things upon you!

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