Sunday, December 8, 2013

A Bit of Crossover: Learning to play Magic the Gathering

For a long time I have wanted to learn how to play Magic. In grade school, the only kids that played it were some of the nerdier boys and when I tried to ask them to explain it to me they never really wanted to. Instead, I joined up with local Pokemon leagues, and spent my weekends playing the Pokemon trading card game with my sisters, friends, and competitors at our local comic book store The Annex.

This spring, however, when I started working at Wistia and making new friends, I found a burgeoning Magic community that I wanted to get in on. I started by going to Monday Draft nights,  playing with my friends at the office, and even once going to the competition. Through all of these experiences it became abundantly clear to me that I had a lot to learn. Magic, unlike most of the other pastimes that I have picked up, was not something that you could just start doing and would understand. There are a number of complex steps, even within each turn, and the truly great Magic players have knowledge of all of them (and how to use them to their advantage). The idea of an impossible-to-know-completely game both intimidated and encouraged me—it's interesting to know that there is a game out there that you will never be the complete master of, especially because new cards (and standard game play rules) come out each year.

Along with the standardized rules that are abided by in tournaments and drafts, there is the Wild West of EDH/Commander decks which follow a different metagame and a whole set of rules. The addition of that knowledge to my arsenal completely intimidated me, as did the people who whirled through every turn and didn't stop to explain something if I was curious. This was disheartening and almost made me stop trying to learn Magic forever. What is the point of playing something if it's no fun, and the people you're playing against just want to beat you without any additional explanation? I'm fine with losing every time, but I expect each loss to at least have come with a learning opportunity.

It was because of that that I downloaded the MTG Online app for my iPad. It essentially recreates the game experience as though you were playing in person, and helps you to learn more of the mechanics of the game as well as get a feel for the color pie and card basics when playing against a specific deck. Because I already had a pretty solid understanding of how the basics of the game worked, I was excited to start their tutorials about turn phases, and how they could be manipulated with different varieties of cards. The opportunity to play against (and with) different decks strengthened my understanding of the meta game as a whole and encouraged me to try new things when competing against people in real life. That being said, here's a list of my pros and cons regarding the MTG Online App:

-It allows you to slow down a usually fast paced opponent turn phase and get a better understanding of the tactics that they are employing.
-It forces you to start off with a random deck that you didn't get to choose, so you might end up playing a really aggro deck when traditionally you play control.
-It is portable and you can play it anywhere without any other humans, so it makes for great practice.
-It is a free app, unless you want some of the advanced features like deck composition. Even then it is only $9.

-The "pause" functionality to play instants or regenerate your creature isn't the most intuitive, and I have lost many solid win opportunities because of it.
-There is no middle ground between basic and advanced levels, so I spent much of the first week of play just ignoring everything it said.
-You can not "import" the cards from your own IRL decks and play with them, which means that you can't really "playtest" your changes in your deck, or see how they come up against different compositions.

While there are more, this list of pros and cons does a pretty good job addressing what I think would be concerns of beginning Magic players. If you can relate to anything I said in the beginning of this post, I would recommend giving the app a try, even if it is just the free version.

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