Taking Fun Seriously

Posted in Serious Fun on March 16, 2010

Magic is as complex and intricate a game as virtually anything else out there. Classifying and understanding the unique pieces along is a staggering mental challenge (and and incredible mental feat for those who know every card). Of course, this is why most of us started small: small samples of cards, a small number of colors in our deck, and small pieces of game play. When we think about Magic we often overlook these smaller things. And perhaps most glaringly we overlook a crucial element to making Magic magical: the "gathering" stapled onto the end.

Mark Rosewater explained, albeit in an abridged manner, why Magic is actually called Magic: The Gathering. While I suspect there is slightly more to the story ("Gathering" had to come from somewhere, right?) it seems quite befitting that Magic can only happen when players gather together. Much of the everyday of Magic revolves around getting together lots of players. The highest profile of Magic is that of the Pro Tour which is at its very core just a big throwdown between players from the world over. And while those who have earned a chance to play Magic on the biggest stage are certainly some of the biggest faces in the game, Magic more often happens at its most basic and essential level: players like you.

How did you learn about Magic? I would guess that somebody close to you, friend or family, showed you your first basic land. And chances are that you learned Magicbecause it was your friends showing you: you liked the stuff they liked already. And that is precisely what I want to talk about.


Aside from rich tales of one Edward Bloom, everyone crawls before they walk. Whether you just started picking up cards or you're a grizzled veteran showing others the ropes, it takes time and space to share the game. One without the other makes it difficult, at best, or impossible, at worst, to really show the game off.

If you're playing Magic already, then time is something you probably already have. You already spend time doing other interesting and fun things, and Magic is just another part of a balanced diet. Regular time for Magic makes it convenient for others to join, if they have the time they join in too. As an added bonus, any game requires practice to understand, and taking the time to play Magic fortifies your play with practice. When and how certain rules apply (and what the exceptions to said rules are), using instant and sorcery cards (and why they're very different), and the unique processes of building a deck to play with are all things that require repetition to internalize—and exactly what's internalized is unique to each player.

However, making time for Magic is an altogether different beast. While I would be willing to go as far as saying that Magic should be a highly constructive and social experience, it's quite a different type of entertainment than, say, heading out to watch a movie or playing Frisbee Golf outside. And Magic isn't for multitasking, as anyone who has patiently waited while an opponent decided to trade in the middle of the game (a fun violation I'm guilty of myself) will attest.

This time element becomes even more critical when you're teaching someone about Magic. When someone is learning something new, and especially when they are truly excited about it, they are apt to spent a lot of time all at once giving it a go. However, as the draw of novelty wears off it, becomes paramount to find the ways that it remains interesting. For Magic this means looking at the various formats of card legality (Block, Standard, Extended, Legacy, and Vintage) as well as variants on game play and interaction (Limited, Two-Headed Giant, Elder Dragon Highlander, among dozens more). Dueling in Magic is a great way to have fun and is probably the most common way to sling cardboard, with chaotic multiplayer games coming in a strong second.

But different people have distinct tastes and needs and will be drawn in different directions. Trying something new, different, or unusual can be a very daunting experience; the unknown is a great source of fear. But for (and with) friends you should be more open and willing, considerate, and experimental towards Magic. There is an unbelievable amount of variety in Magic, and all you have to be willing to do is give it a try. Planar Magic opens up multiplayer games to a new play dimension. Draft and Sealed give players new cards to work with every go around. Constructed formats provide opportunities to explore the rich places between "all the cards available" and "the sets of cards I want to use."

Of course, you may not like everything, and that's normal too. The endless buffet of Magic has many things of strange flavors but, to go with yet another food-based analogy, Magic can also be like a pizza: there are a lot of toppings and finding a few that everyone likes, while challenging, makes for a pizza that everyone can share.

While the time spent with friends playing Magic is a crucial element, the space required is nontrivial. Magic isn't played on a physical board per se, but it still takes up space. A large, flat table works wonders for both sitting down for a game or watching something happen in games. Facing your opponent and having room for multiple opponents (or teammates!) are two important considerations with just about any game. This, I suspect, is why the ever-present gray plastic folding tables are the standard for gaming stores; they're big, flat, collapsible playing space.

With newer players working through the features of the game, having an open space to work with will help them organize things (like lands and creatures) and begin to see the visual picture of the game. Places that host usable space, like libraries, fast-food chains (an unfortunate habit of my own), or community spaces, are valuable locations for conducting Magic. As any realtor will tell you, location can be everything. Finding the common (or most accommodating) ground is key to making something like a weekly Magic group work. Rotating locations between personal residences can help keep it fresh between friends, and can work just as well as frequenting a favored spot. Getting together for group things generally comes naturally for everyone, since we're been practicing it from our early years, but ensuring everyone has a chance to get together is vital for continued fun.

    Rampant Growth

So let's say you've got a few friends, who all play Magic, and you have space and time already available. Perhaps it's time to reach a little further.

As Doug Beyer discussed two weeks ago, we live in a miraculous age of interconnectedness and immediate satisfaction. Social tools like Twitter (I'm @the_stybs for instance) and Facebook (or MySpace or one of many similar web sites) are general ways to stay in touch with friends, often with an almost-up-to-the-minute level of detail. However, there are also more specialized tool for more specialized applications: Magic and other Wizards of the Coast games have the Wizards Community. Whether it's commenting on something you read here at dailymtg.com (using the ubiquitous "Discuss on the message boards" link at the bottom of most articles"), having everyone join the same group so the latest get together can be shared, or blogging and showing off (with video and pictures no less!) your epic games and crazy moments with Magic, the Wizard's Community is the one-shop-stop to do it.

But what makes this different from Facebook-like places? It's specifically specific. You can link cards you're talking about, communicate with a worldwide collection of similarly interested (yet opinionated and distinct) players, and clarify that when an event goes up, your group has an update, or you post some sweet video clips, it's directly related to your interest.

What is the DCI?

The DCI is the organization that oversees sanctioning and rules enforcement for Magic events. They are the judges who keep Prerelease and Launch events running smooth. They are the head judges who work with Tournament Organizers to have a full schedule of various events. They are the rules gurus who apply their talent for knowledge to keeping the game working at the local level.

Perhaps most importantly, the DCI is support for you, the player. Your DCI number (of which you can only have one) provides a unique key for your entry into everything from a local drafts and Friday Night Magic through to a Grand Prix and more. If you're regularly heading to events like FNM and Prereleases and use your DCI number, then you may already qualify for Player Rewards, special mailings of cards obtainable through doing what you already do: playing Magic. You'll even receive information about these types of awesome events through your email. It's about as easy as it gets for staying on top of Magic.

It's easy for me to say that there are resources for communicating: I read and write a lot, so I'm used to sifting through things on the internet. But what about personal communication: the sit-down-and-let's-play mentality that I talked about above? That's what the Wizard's Play Network is all about: connecting organizers who set up meetings at the library, community room, school cafeteria, or local store with players who want to play Magic. As a player, you have a local resource that can provide you with a valuable DCI number and great weekly organized Magic.

WPN promoters may also receive special promotional cards to distribute to players who join in the scheduled events. Having a DCI number allows these promoters to track who's showing up every week and, in turn, allows more special cards to flow. It's a beautiful, shiny cycle.

That's a lot of information. In fact, it's probably a little too much information. But, perhaps most importantly, it's useful, important information for players of all types. The basics of friendship, fanfare, and frills are the interlocking drivers for Magic. Without one, the others may fall short.

Magic is as complex as any game can be, with a strong potential to become even more complicated. Recalling, reliving, and reviving the basics of what Magic is all abou—taking your fun just a little bit more seriously—will ensure the next generation of Magic players will continue to learn at all levels.

    Bloodletter Quill and You

With everything above to digest, I'd like to change gears completely and backtrack to last week. Lots of you have quite a bit to say, much of it emotionally charged. It was amazing to see how many of you care so much about the things you like, the things you don't, and the things you feel are—or aren't—important in Magic.

I'd like to make a few quick things clear about who I am and what I write.

1. I don't work in or with Magic Ramp;D.

Aside from the occasional necessity of seeing a card for preview I get to experience the spoiling of the latest sets when you do. I'm not privy to secret design and development goals or the reasoning for a change, perceived or actual.

2. There isn't a super-secret writing agenda.

When I was informed of "Adventure Week" or "Multikicker Week" that's all I get. There is no secret outline for me of who writes what article referencing which "hot" topic among players. Generally, I write off-the-cuff then let it rest until I give it a pass for revisions—all just the week or so before the article gets to hit your browser.

3. I don't write on behalf of every Magic player.

There's a reason that there is a veritable bonanza of different topics, structures, and writers here every week: we're all speaking as different players, for different players, to different players.

It's clear that I am not a voice for tournament players and strategic theory (but Top Decks and The Week That Was are), a voice for how cards came to be and why cards are they way they are (Making Magic and Latest Developments are), a voice to break down how and why certain cards fit in certain decks and formats (Limited Information and Building on a Budget are), or a voice of the creative essence behind card names and set flavor (Savor the Flavor is). Each week I try to bring something a little fun into the world of you looking for something new, exciting, and different as well as bridge some of the gaps between those of you who ask "I wonder if there is anything else?" and "Is there going to be awesome Magic happening near me?"

I wanted to share these three things with you because I fell short of my goal last week. I shared my personal story of interacting with blue. Parts of the story were neither a positive reflection of Magic interaction nor carried any specifically referenced meaning: I used to be a young kid who didn't understand how important being a good mentor and friend for others was for the game.

More specifically, my story was just my personal experience. It wasn't a secret explanation of any changes you like or dislike, a broad and all-encompassing statement to how to view parts of Magic, or even a planned and overly considered attack against any player type. My story was just exactly what I said it was upfront: "some of my experiences that, I hope, will broaden your horizon."

Some of you really took to the story. I received more than two dozen or so "I completely understand!" and "I went through the same thing!" stories. Some of you, while admitting that you love blue a lot more than I do, said that my story was a good one that could help provide understanding for other player's understanding. Those of you who understood, empathized, or had a new perspective after reading, I sincerely thank you.

But I didn't parse my words well enough.

Some of you felt very hurt by my story and took it as a personal attack against you, as a player, or the things you like in Magic. Counterspell, or more generally any spell that has the text "counter target spell" on it, is a hotbed of discussion and division for a lot of us—there's no questions about that based on the multitude of pages of heated and emotional discussion. There are a lot of opinions about important things in Magic, and even discussing "What is important in Magic?" can be cause for strong debate because we all have these unique values and perspectives.

Let's look at the poll results from the week before:

What do you want to hear more about the most?
Epic Play by Play73929.3%
Even crazier and weirder84833.6%
Revisiting things41616.5%
Something completely different52020.6%

Far and away those of you who commented for "something completely different" want multiplayer strategy (a fine and noble topic indeed). I set the poll up to see what you, the collective body of readers, desired the most. It's clear to see that the large majority (a whopping 62.9%!) of you want even crazier forms of Magic or the play-by-play of said crazy games.

When Kelly was at the helm he took Serious Fun on a diverse planeswalk through part of the multiverse of ways and means to play Magic. While I may now be plotting the course, our ship will be sailing in much the same way: heading to new places to discover a unique Magic to experience.

And what this poll has to do with articles like last week's is that when I'm not talking about awesome games and crazy card interactions, I need to tread more carefully to explain what I mean. I should be carrying the burden of sharing my message, and for those of you who felt attacked I'm sorry I dropped the ball.

The realm of all things fun in Magic is only defined by an individual player. I may share a lot of the same views of fun with you, but just as many of you may find little fun in common with me. And as I have been apt to say: That's okay too. Taking fun seriously means, for me, not taking things too seriously in general. If you agree with that principle, you're going to continue to enjoy Serious Fun into the future.

I know this week has been long and dense but if the first part of this week doesn't prime you for heading into the awesomeness of Rise of the Eldrazi, I sincerely hope the second part will have us sailing in the same sea.

To steal a note from Mark: until next time, may all of your Magic be as seriously fun as you had hoped.

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