Do's and Don'ts of Introducing Your Friends to Magic: The Gathering
In an ideal world everyone could wander around with one or two of their favorite Magic: The Gathering decks in their pockets, busses and bus stops would have fold-down tables for random games, and, “I play green/artifact, how about you?” would be a perfectly acceptable manner of introduction to new people. But sadly even at a Magic convention only two scenarios out of the three listed become realistic. Thus we have the seemingly simple question: How do we get more Magic players? The best place to start is with one’s friends.
The best introduction to Magic comes as a response to a friend’s initial interest and curiosity. Letting friends come with you on quick card shop runs to pick up booster packs or singles, is one of many ways to generate initial interest. Having friends with no initial interest along for a three hour dig through boxes of uncommons on the other hand is a terrible way to generate new interest in the game.
If you’ve bought a bunch of packs and need to go through them in a hurry for the most valuable cards, then asking friends to help you quickly sort cards can be another way to generate interest; as this not only lets your friends see the artwork, but it generates the question of why one card is worth so much more than another. And while some cards like Lion's Eye Diamond require a great deal of explanation for a non-experienced player to see the play value in, other cards like Soul Warden have in-game value that is immediately apparent even to non-players.
A third way to generate interest is by just asking a friend whether they’d like to try playing the game. There are a multitude of reasons to invite a friend into their first game. This can be to help you test a deck that you’ve never used before, because you suspect that they’d like the game if they ever gave it a try; or even so that you can challenge yourself by building a deck that you think would suit their style of play. If you invite a friend to play, then be willing to take “no” for an answer, and don’t be too persistent if they do say, “No.”
There are truckloads of other ways a friend might become interested in playing the game. From watching a game that’s already in progress and seeing something which appeals to them like an infinite combo or the taking of another’s turn, to finding out about the game’s massive storyline. But once a friend is interested in the game, then where should you go from there?
Giving them a simple introduction to the game using basic rules is the perfect way to start a new player’s Magic experience. Being patient, answering questions simply, and making sure that you’re answering the right question can make all the difference to a new Magic player. The complexity accompanying a detailed explanation of Nettle Sentinel as a lynchpin to the “Elfball” combo may dissuade a novice player from continuing to playing the game; especially when the only answer they may have been looking for was, “It’s part of a famous, game-winning combo.”
It goes without saying that fairness, and good sportsmanship about winning and losing can also make all the difference to a new player. But using an overly complicated deck on either side of the table is nearly guaranteed to frustrate both yourself, and new players. Playing a game thirty seconds at a time, so that you can cite rules and call judges to prove you’re not cheating, can be just as bad if not worse, than a game that ends in thirty seconds every single time because the experienced player is using a Vintage deck. And most players won’t be interested in a game that takes an hour of explanation to play so that they can eventually go infinite and win.
At the end of the day we must concede that there can be no single, comprehensive, “how to” for creating new Magic players simply because every person is different. What works perfectly with one person fails completely with another. Still further, some people don’t have the temperament necessary for the long-term play of the game.
On a personal note, I introduced a friend to the game, and after ten minutes using a green deck to successfully fend off my black deck he asked why there wasn’t a deck which would allow him to stop me from doing anything, and kill off my life-points immediately. I then built him a red burn/blue counter deck which worked exactly to his liking; only to have him inform me once he’d beaten several opponents in a row that he was done with the game forever because now that he knew it was possible to keep beating opponents in the manner he’d described; there was no reason to continue playing.
Another friend who used to play magic, saw all of his painstakingly constructed decks destroyed by a child who’d taken it upon himself to color on the cards and make them prettier. He hasn’t played a game or bought a pack since that day.
Still other friends have told me that they simply don’t have the time, or the money at this point in life for the mastering of a new hobby. But these same friends don’t mind the fact that I enjoy the game; and aren’t opposed to me sharing little bits of my excitement with them.
Writing this article brought a final revelation: Magic players by our very nature are never completely satisfied with our decks; they are always a work in progress. We are constantly adjusting, updating, and refining our decks, and our knowledge of the game. Magic, both the storyline and the card game, are all about the next step: Evolution, if you will. Some want to be a part of the journey, and others are fine with watching from the sidelines. But there’s never harm in extending the invitation.