Friday Night Magic (Part 1)

Yes, I play Magic: The Gathering.

Yes, I realize I’m over 30 years old and that I have kids who play MTG (in fact I blame them for getting me started on it).  I realize that while some people are out watching movies or drinking or clubbing to start the weekend it’s entirely possible I’m hanging out at Spanky’s Card Shop playing in the Friday Night Magic tournament.

Before you rush to judgement, let me defend myself.

First, I actually have nothing to defend myself from – if you think it’s funny, stupid, immature or asinine that I enjoy playing a card game with friends, family and strangers I’ll be more than happy to drop trou and you can kiss my pearly-white (and nicely toned, I might add) backside.  I happen to enjoy it – not as much as I enjoy sand volleyball out at Volleyball Beach or hitting the Lake with friends, but enough that I’m willing to drop $10 a week to go play in a 3- or 4-match draft for a couple of hours, usually with one of my sons.

Second, try it first before you judge.  You might find that the strategy, the artwork, the social nature or even the investment aspect of it appeals to you.  There are so many

different aspects to the game that I bet you can find something that appeals to you.  It might be the different characters you meet there (shout out to Jeff, Lee, Kevin, Joe and Spanky and the rest of the regulars) – I’ve played against people as young as 9 and as old as mid-40s.  Perhaps it’s the fact that in any given $3-$4 pack of cards you might find a card that you could immediately sell for $25 or even more (like this one – which I’ve had four of).  Or maybe it’s the artwork that you find incredible (I’ve blogged about that before in this post); I’ll collect cards just because I like how they look.
Third, it exercises the brain.  This isn’t like blackjack where you draw cards and add numbers – playing MTG is something I’d love to have as a required course for some of my analysts because it forces you to think on several different levels as well as remember and apply what you’ve encountered before.  On a typical Friday night we’ll go through three stages that work the brain in different ways.

  • The draft.  Each player gets three packages of 15 random cards.  Everyone opens the first package, picks a card, then passes the remaining cards to the drafter on the left.  You do this until all the cards have been “drafted” out of the first package, then follow suit (passing to the right) for the second package and (back to the left) for the third.  In this phase you have to make snap decisions on what kind of deck you’re going to build…with extremely limited information.  You could just pick the best available card out of the package, but you’d end up with a five-color deck which is very difficult to play, and you’d probably have cards that cost so much your opponent would have killed you twice over before you could play any of them anyway.  So you have to be able to decide on a course of action (what kind and color(s) of deck you want), select the appropriate card and know when to change course if the cards you need aren’t coming through.  Are you going for a deck that has a bunch of creatures you just throw at your opponent to weaken them?  A defensive deck that defeats your opponent by running them out of cards?  Or maybe a spell deck that saps their health until it reaches zero.  You really have to figure that out quickly or you’ll end up with a bunch of cards that are useless to your strategy.
  • Deck building.  You’ll draft 45 cards, of which only maybe 24 will be used (although technically you could use all 45 if you wanted).  To keep your deck size down (which increases the chances you’ll draw your best cards) you have to think through what cards you have and which cards make sense to play.  For instance, last Friday I drafted Thatcher Revolt and Banners Raised.   Those two are very complementary to each other since I could cast the former and then the latter and double the damage I caused.  I could have gone for Gang of Devils, instead, but being able to put a bunch of creatures out there and double their damage was more in line with my “death by a thousand paper cuts” strategy (and three small creatures are typically harder to block than one bigger creature).
  • Gameplay.  Because your mana (the “power” you use to cast spells) is limited you have to use it wisely.  You can use it to cast spells or summon creatures during your turn, or you could hold on to it and use it to protect yourself from attacks next turn – or some combination thereof…if you have the cards in your hand to do it.  Each turn you have decisions to make, bluffs to call and facades to put on.  If you have three blue mana available do you cast a creature to help you attack, or do you hold back and let your opponent think you have a card available in your hand that will counter what they’re getting ready to cast?   Does the fact that your opponent hasn’t played a creature yet mean they have a heavy hand and just need some more time (and that you should strike quick), or that their hand is weak or they’re not getting the “starter” cards they need (and you can save your mana for your big hitter)?

See why I think there’s value in it being a training course for analysts?  Having the ability to think quickly and make good judgements based on limited information is pretty valuable in the business world, and it’s how you find success in Magic, as well.

The more I write (and I’m up to one of my longer posts at this point) the more I realize that until you experience it you can’t really appreciate it.  So here’s the deal.  If anyone who hasn’t played before is interested in trying it out I’ll foot the bill for your first draft.  Just find a Friday night you can make it up to Spanky’s at 99th and Holmes at 6pm (plan on playing until sometime between 9 and 10, depending on how many people are there) and let me know.  Assuming I’m there (and I’m there most Friday nights) I will cover the $10 “draft fee” for you and help you figure out what in the heck is going on.  So you’ll get three or four hours of entertainment (trust me – you’ll meet a number of characters; I’m usually smiling the entire time I’m there, whether I’m having success or getting the pants beat off me) and walk out of there with at the very least a 45-card deck of your very own (you keep the cards you draft).  I’d love to do it for everyone but this is a first-come, first-served thing – the first person to take me up on the offer gets me to pay their way.

And, incidentally, that’s all you need.  You can buy a fancy “play mat”…but you don’t have to.  You can invest in 20-sided die…but that’s optional.  You can drop a few bucks on card protectors…or not.  $10 (or free if you’re the one coming with me) gets you into the draft, gets you 45 cards and several matches.  Not bad for a Friday night…plus Kevin usually has a movie playing on the flat-screen in the shop so you can watch that if you’re waiting for a match to finish.

To be fair, Magic: The Gathering isn’t for everyone.  If you don’t enjoy card games you probably won’t appreciate it.  If you despise strategy this definitely isn’t the pastime for you.  If you’re after mindless entertainment you’re not going to find it here.

And honestly if you can’t stand losing then you probably don’t want to start playing a game you’re not familiar with.  I hate losing, but I got over it and used my (sometimes sound) defeats as stepping stones to learn how to play better.  I went from dead last with zero victories to second place with just one loss in a matter of weeks (and now I’m back in the middle of the pack).  You will lose, I guarantee it.  But the beauty of the draft is that everyone has the same opportunity to get “killer cards”, so you don’t end up battling someone who spend $300 to build their deck (which is a losing proposition if you’re using a drafted deck…been there, done that).

Who knows – maybe you’ll play once and love it.  Or play once and hate it.  But what’s the risk?  $10 and a few hours?  Are you willing to make that investment to see if it’s something that makes your life better?  I did (thanks to my boys, who also play) and I don’t regret it.

I hope to see you out there (not next week – I won’t be there on the 6th)!

(post images courtesy of Wizards of the Coast – the people who bring you Magic: The Gathering)

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