The term "kitchen-table Magic" refers to Magic played between a small, closed circle of friends and associates. It is a form of Magic that many of us start with and many of us stay with. But sometimes we find ourselves so locked into the game that we want more.
My first "kitchen table" was a cafe right next to the comic store where I picked up my first Magic cards. Fast-forward a year or two and I'm playing in college constantly with a circle of friends. I had a deck that was doing great against everyone on my small campus. We heard there was a gaming convention that would also have a big Magic tournament, so I thought "This is it! Let's take this to the next level!" I was sure I'd do well.
When we arrived, I played a casual match before the tournament. I was building to an epic play on turn eight, but found myself looking at a Llanowar Elves, Elvish Archers, Erhnam Djinn, then, oh yeah, an Armageddon for my troubles. I didn't know you could end games that fast!
My immediate thought: Wow, there is a lot about Magic that I don't know about yet.
I didn't end up playing in that tournament, because I knew I wasn't ready after that match. But where would be a good place to start? Where could I go to start learning the intricacies of more competitive Magic without being thrown into the deep end?
Where do I go when I want more out of Magic?
It took me many months of stumbling around newsgroups and play environments to take those next steps. For many new players starting today, however, the answer is simple: find a local store that runs Friday Night Magic.
The Next Level
"I honestly don't remember my first FNM. I was about twelve years old and I had no idea what was going on. I just knew I wanted to play Magic with others. I knew I loved the game, and wanted to play in a more serious setting than with some friends after school. While I didn't even know a good amount of the rules—or even what "FNM" truly meant or how my deck would fare—I just knew this was a way to become better at the game."
—Chaz Volpe, Magic content producer
I've said before that Magic is many games in one. Just changing the cards you can play with alters the game dramatically. But it's not just changing cards that changes the game; changing the people you play with affects the nature of games as well! Having a space where you can encounter new people and perspectives on Magic you wouldn't otherwise be exposed to is one of the great joys of the game.
Friday Night Magic supports this by encouraging stores all around the world to host small tournament events every Friday.
Why leave the kitchen table to come play at a store? What can you expect to get if you attend a Friday Night Magic? In terms of that kitchen table (be it literal or metaphorical), Friday Night Magic does one of two things: it "extends" the kitchen table, or it can "upgrade" it.
By "upgrade," I don't mean improving. I'm really talking about going deeper into the competitive Magic experience. FNMs give you a taste of how tournaments are structured, from Swiss brackets to timed rounds. You'll get a glimpse of what technical play and competitive deck building look like. It will teach you a lot about how your deck performs "out in the wild," and potentially what aspects of your play can be improved.
Extending the kitchen table is all about playing more casual formats and extending the network of people you play with! With the expansion of FNM last year to include casual, unranked formats, stores can get creative and run noncompetitive events as well. Even dipping your toes in more competitive formats gives you a chance to play Commander in between rounds or after the tournament ends. I've seen a few casual groups born from folks who meet at FNMs.
I play regularly at the FNMs at Nerds in Hudson, NH, and I get a mix of both extending my social group and upgrading my knowledge of the game through playing more serious matches. I am always testing new brews, and the local FNM provides just enough competition to give me a sense of the brew's viability. It's fun to see a brew evolve through testing and tweaking week after week.
Even more fun is hanging out with the many regulars at the store and having the opportunity to meet and sometimes help new players. I had the privilege just a few weeks ago of helping a player who had been away from the game for almost ten years. He needed to know if his deck was Standard-legal. After looking through it, we found only five legal cards (not counting the Forests). From there, I and a few others walked through rebuilding an easily attainable version of his mono-green deck for Standard. The deck was surprisingly effective, but more importantly the player had a lot of fun and came back next week.
It's these moments that make FNM so special to me. It's fun to win games, but meeting new people and making friends are the kinds of wins that you can't fit into a tournament bracket.
So you want to go to your first FNM...what should you do?
- Figure out what you're looking for. Do you want something more casual or do you want to test your mettle? Do you prefer Limited formats over Constructed? Stopping to ask yourself what you really want makes the following steps run more smoothly.
- Find a store. The easiest way to find a store running Friday Night Magic is by using the store locator.
- Call up the store. You can confirm the store's hours and the formats they play, and also get a sense for the environment you'll be playing in. How many players do they usually see? How long do tournaments last? Is there food nearby? Do they have events on other nights as well?
- Get a deck. Starting out with the best deck you have on hand is fine; it gives you a real sense of where what you built currently stands and what you need to fix. Make sure it's legal by researching the deck-building rules for the format. You can also stop by the store and talk to people. I've been at many stores that will help new players build a deck for any format. Don't be afraid to ask for assistance!
- Get your supplies. Deck sleeves, dice, and any tokens you need are the basics. Getting everything lined up early will make the rest of the night a breeze.
- Play! Get there early for sign-up, but also to trade with and talk to other players. Maybe you can get a few warm-up matches in!
You can feel a desire to go to a store and play at an FNM but not feel comfortable enough to go.
It's easy to think that the only way you can play outside of your local group is to play the most cutthroat, competitive Magic imaginable. You'll lose every game and have no fun. I understand that concern, but at the right place, with the right group of people, it doesn't have to feel like that.
"It's all about atmosphere, the other players, the tournament organizer. I did terrible in every single FNM I participated in. I was in or near last place every FNM for nearly a year...The people I played against were amazingly kind, however. They were able to give me tips without being condescending, helped me understand the ever-changing environment of Standard, and most importantly were good people who became good friends."
—Deo Gallatto, blogger
The truth as I and many others experience it is this: FNM is mostly about community. No matter what format you run, a great group of people playing a great game cannot help but be fun. Sean Hajra, a regular FNM player, told me, "A good community is the best feature of a good FNM. When you know the regulars at a store, every FNM turns into a cards night with your friends."
My advice to players in their first FNM tournament is don't worry about your record, and make sure you talk to people after your matches. Focusing on learning and interaction makes sure the game stays fun and gives you a better chance to connect with more people.
Being in the Right Place
I've so far focused on people looking to make the step from kitchen table to FNM, but I want to take a moment to talk about what makes a store the "right" place to play at.
First, what makes a place the right place?
"[It has to be] supportive of all levels of experience, and create a safe environment for players of all kinds, not just the entrenched crowd."
—Dave Chalker, blogger
Dave's words resonated with my experience that great environments are great because they accommodate the new and the old. Any place where people are able to answer the needs of an established customer base while taking time to work with newer customers has the makings of a fantastic FNM location.
Leaders of communities, whether they are store owners, tournament organizers, or prominent players, also teach by example. Kris Carter, owner of my local store, Nerds, suggests that stores "foster in the community a willingness to make everyone else around you better." Enthusiasm is contagious, and getting people enthusiastic about welcoming the next wave of gamers while also helping the regulars improve their play benefits everyone.
The Next Next Level
"But Quinn," I can hear some people say, "I want to play more seriously. I want to play at a level where consistent high performance is the goal rather than community-building and socializing."
That's a valid goal too. FNM obviously does not need to be the final stop in your Magic journey.
So, where do you go when you want a lot more of Magic at the highest levels?