Magic: The Gathering – The New Player Experiment (How I convinced my family to play MTG)

When the ATGN team visited the ‘Magic on Tap’ media events in both Sydney and Melbourne, we were (graciously) inundated with Shadows Over Innistrad product for review.  So when another box filled to the brim with Shadows Over Innistrad goodness landed on the doorstep of the ATGN office, I began to worry how we could review this product in a way we hadn’t already covered recently.

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We’d spent time discussing the cards, how to maximise your pre-release event, and what cards you should be looking at for a Standard Constructed deck.  But then it dawned on me. At all stages we had assumed the reader was well versed in the ways of Magic: The Gathering.  What if we had readers who knew nothing about Magic: The Gathering at all?  I’m not talking about those who had casually played a few games over the kitchen table or vigorously played other trading card games and therefore knew of MTG and the basics.  No, my mind wandered to people who had barely heard of the game and never sat down with a TCG in their life.  Could they figure the game out without any help beyond the printed material included in an Intro Deck?  Could they open a booster and spot the value?  Deduce what cards would benefit their deck?  Was it possible for someone who had no interest in playing the game to learn to play it and become competent?  And where the heck could I find such recluse, sheltered people?

“Daaaaaaaaad?!? Can I have some afternoon-tea?”
“Husbaaaaand?!? What time are you heading out this weekend?”

DING!

I think I just found some guinea pigs.  While I love my wife and daughter very much, neither of them could really be labelled as ‘gamers’.  Apart from short bursts with a few video games like Minecraft and Animal Crossing, the bulk of their tabletop gaming could be summed up as Uno and Monopoly.  Perfect candidates then for my little science project.

I pitched them the idea, suffered collective groans, offered bribes and wound up with a unanimous “If we have to.”  The plan?  To have them open up a Shadows Over Innistrad Intro Deck each, shuffle it and see if they could play the game just using the provided ‘Learn to Play’ sheet and not receiving ANY help, advice, support or suggestions from me.  After they completed a game they were to open the boosters that came with their Intro Decks, along with a Deck Builders Toolkit. Using the knowledge they had acquired from the first game, they had to determine what cards (if any) they wanted to add to their deck to improve it.

I have to admit I was a little apprehensive. You see, despite not being ‘gamers’ in any traditional sense, both my lovely ladies are fiercely competitive and normally it’s in my best interests to keep the two from playing against each other.  So as far as I was concerned the only reason for my presence would be to observe and maintain the peace.

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I allowed the ladies to mutually agree who got what intro deck.  They had a choice of Vampiric Thirst or Ghostly Tide.  Ultimately my daughter was keen on Vampiric Thirst while my wife opted for Ghostly Tide.

FamilySOI03Decks were shuffled and away they went!  My wife had looked over the very brief rules reference card but it really offered little help beyond a reminder on the parts of a turn.  This wasn’t going to help them learn the game.  Thankfully, the card did contain a link where more information may be found: the online Quick Start guide.  This proved to be a lot more useful for my budding gamers (although I did notice that it appeared to be outdated, circa Origins).

It wasn’t all peach tea and roses though. There were many aspect to the game my inexperienced Planeswalkers just couldn’t grasp, and ultimately it got to a point where both were stuck and frustrated.  Rather than create a negative experience for my family, it was at this point I thought that it was time to change tactics and speak up and help them both play the game. I reminded them of move-through-turn structure and offered suggestions on how to play.  This bolstered morale enormously.

Game one concluded successfully with my wife and her Spirits out-manoeuvring my daughter’s Vampires.  I explained to my daughter that her deck was designed to be much more aggressive and that she could have won if she had attacked more often.

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Now for the fun part that EVERYONE enjoys, whether they play TCG’s or not.  Cracking packs!  With great gusto, the ladies tore into the two boosters that were bundled with their intro decks.  I informed them that their goal was to look through the cards and put aside anything they thought might be useful.  While they did that, I opened up the Toolkit and went through the cards, sorting them into three piles, one for cards that might interest my daughter, one with cards that might help my wife and a third pile of everything else.

Oh! An ‘Archangel Avacyn‘.
“Daddy can I have that card in my deck?”
“No sweetie this one goes in daddy’s special folder.”
“But why?”
“Because hush.”
“Meanie!”

The next fifteen minutes or so were spent reading cards and deciding what might go well in their decks.  At this point, beyond pulling out some cards that I thought they might like, all decisions were made by the ladies themselves.  While my daughter thought that a 120 card deck with only 20 lands would be fine, I convinced her to whittle it down.  My wife, on the other hand, grasped the concept of side-boarding a little better.  Ultimately, I persuaded them both to keep their decks to under 70 cards. They both did this very literally, with decks both 69 cards apiece.

It was evident immediately in the second game that the ladies were much more confident with the rules and their decks.  Plays were more thought out, and both now understood the concept of using instant cards to influence the outcome of combat.  While my wife spent time flickering spirits in and out of the battlefield, my daughter gleefully sacked every spare creature she could find to turn her vampire army into something monstrous.  Ultimately, despite including more control in her deck, my wife’s spirits where no match for an extremely aggressively played vampire deck.

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In the end, though, it wasn’t about who won. The whole point was to see if folks with little to no TCG experience could teach themselves to play the game without help from a third party. Were they able to? No. Is that such a bad thing? Not really.

Magic: The Gathering (as with nearly every TCG) is, by its very nature, a social past-time. Relying on others in a social environment to learn that game isn’t such a bad thing. I’d argue that Magic: The Gathering isn’t a game you teach yourself (unlike a game like Monopoly or Yahtzee!), but rather a game you need to be taught. So if you’ve never played the game before and are thinking of checking it out, my advice to you would be to get a hold of a friend or family member who plays the game (the odds are very good you know someone who plays the game) or head down to your local gaming store on a Friday night and join in the action.

Will you see my wife and daughter at a Friday Night Magic? Definitely not. Will they play again over the kitchen table? Probably not. Have I proven that everyone loves cracking boosters whether they understand the game or not? Definitely.

Having said all that, though, my wife (who spends a lot of her time crocheting) is keen to try her hand at some MTG dice bags with mana symbols. My daughter, on the other hand, can now at least understand the basics of what the boys in her class at school are talking about when they get excited about the latest Magic: The Gathering expansion.

For those interested in the details, here are how the two Intro Decks ended up post rebuild.

WIFE – UW Spirits (Ghostly Tide Rebuild)
Land – 25
12 x Plains
11 x Island
2 x Meandering River

Instant – 12
1 x Disperse
1 x Compelling Deterrence
1 x Essence Flux
1 x Negate
1 x Deny Existence
1 x Dispel
1 x Just the Wind
1 x Sweep Away
1 x Catalog
1 x Humble the Brute
1 x Gideon’s Reproach
1 x Smite the Monstrous

Sorcery – 6
1 x Press for Answers
1 x Pore Over the Pages
1 x Gone Missing
1 x Angelic Purge
2 x Chaplain’s Blessing

Enchantment – 6
1 x Tightening Coils
2 x Sleep Paralysis
1 x Vessel of Ephemera
1 x Angelic Gift
1 x Stasis Snare

Planeswalker – 1
1 x Jace, Unraveler of Secrets

Artifact – 1
1 x Chitinous Cloak

Creature – 18
2 x Seagraf Skaab
2 x Stormrider Spirit
1 x Silent Observer
1 x Furtive Homunculus
1 x Niblis of Dusk
1 x Rattlechains
1 x Reckless Scholar
2 x Dauntless Cathar
1 x Apothecary Geist
1 x Odric, Lunarch Marshal
2 x Nearheath Chaplain
1 x Drogskol Cavalry
1 x Fortified Rampart
1 x Reflector Mage

TOTAL – 69

DAUGHTER – RB VAMPIRES (Vampiric Thirst Rebuild)
Land – 22
10 x Swamp
10 x Mountain
2 x Cinder Barrens

Instant – 5
1 x Throttle
1 x Grasp of Darkness
1 x Fiery Temple
2 x Brute Strength

Sorcery – 5
1 x Macabre Waltz
1 x Murderous Compulsion
1 x Malevolent Whispers
2 x Burn from Within

Enchantment – 3
1 x Sinister Concoction
1 x Behind the Scenes
1 x Triskaidekaphobia

Artifact – 1
1 x Slayer’s Plate

Creature – 33
1 x Markov Dreadknight
1 x Sanitarium Skeleton
1 x Elusive Tormentor
1 x Stallion of Ashmouth
2 x Stormkirk Mentor
1 x Olivia’s Bloodsworn
2 x Indulgent Aristocrat
1 x Vampire Envoy
1 x Sengir Vampire
3 x Twins of Maurer Estate
1 x Kalastria Nightwatch
1 x Rancid Rats
2 x Vampire Noble
2 x Voldaren Duelist
2 x Bloodmad Vampire
1 x Gibbering Fiend
2 x Ravenous Bloodseeker
2 x Incorrigible Youths
1 x Kessig Forgemaster
1 x Gatstaf Arsonists
3 x Sanguinary Mage
1 x Mad Prophet

TOTAL – 69

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