Better After the Break

MTG BreakWhy is it that many people who play Magic: The Gathering take a break?  Some say they take a break due to the money involved.  Some say its due to a significant other.  As for me, it was due to my moving away from those I played with.
After about five years away from Magic, I have become a better player.  I have been back in the game for almost three years now.  I have learned more and have been able to advance my play style better then when I played before.

When I learned to play magic, over 20 years ago, my play group included my family and a few of my friends.  My older brother was by far the better player.  He had learned from co-workers and friends how to improve his game.  The rest of us just didn’t “get it” at the time.  We played to beat each other and built decks with only our few opponents in mind.  I had played at a few stores and never did well.  It was just about the fun of the game, and not the competition. I don’t feel that there is anything wrong with this, you just don’t improve.

I’m not really sure what set was out when I stopped playing.  I had to move, and my cards stayed behind with my friends.  I would stop at the local game store in my new town, but never bought any cards.  Eventually, I moved again and this time, when I stopped in at the game store, I bought me a Deckbuilder’s tool kit.  It wasn’t much, although enough, to reignite my spark.  I went to a few Friday Night Magic games, still no luck at winning.  I started listening to a few podcast, and started talking about magic with some of the people that I played with. to get ideas for better decks.

Then, out of the blue, I realized something; I saw the game in a different way.  I started to notice when to play cards and when to wait.  I started to see the synergy in the cards.  I started to see combo pieces in the cards.  I started to notice the different ways my opponents played, and how to use their play style against them.  These are thing that I never would have seen before my “Magic Break”.  If I had not taken my leave of absence from this game, I don’t think I would have ever changed the way I played.

Now, I go to FMN with a tested deck.  I go to see if I can get first place.  I have become a much better player, and I have my break to thank for it.  I have the people that helped me as I got back into the game to thank for it.  Having a new play group helped me realize my new view of the cards.  Magic has become a whole new game to me, and I found a new way to enjoy it.  I still play for fun.  I still enjoy the casual game, whether I win or lose.  But now, I am also able to enjoy the high amount of competition that Magic has to offer.

So… if you find yourself on a “Magic Break”, remember that Magic will be here for you when you return.  It will be the game you remember and it will be better.  Not only will the Game be better, but so will you.  Take the break that most players feel they need.  But don’t venture off too far, we are waiting for your return.  I hope to see you on the battlefield of a FNM, PPTQ, or Grand Prix in the future.

Mono-Red Basics!

GTT-MTG-003__62264_zoomThe mono red deck is one of the most well known and mostly played decks in Magic: The Gathering.  With it’s easy to play style and inexpensive card base, it is a good starter deck.  It is a good choice when you don’t know the meta in a new area.  When it comes to playing, the steps are simple; play mountains, cast creatures, turn creatures sideways, repeat.  Following these steps and with a little luck you will be winning your FNMs in no time.  OK, maybe it’s not that simple.  Mono-red can be a simple deck to play with, but it still takes a certain skill to win.  I would like to go over a few of those skills and tips.  I am going to focus more on general game play over specific card strategies, as mono-red can drastically change based on the current sets available..

The first thing to remember when choosing to go mono-red is that the longer the game goes, the lower your chance of winning.  The first game is in your favor.  You need to take full advantage of this and plan on hitting your opponent’s life total as fast and hard as you can.  Closing out game one as quickly as possible.  Your burn spells in this match are best used to hit your opponent.  With the occasional burn spell removing a blocker or two.  Your creatures are your best resource here, but don’t be afraid to lose one or two in your quest to attack.  Losing a creature to let two more through is one step closer to getting your opponent within range to finish them off with the burn spells in your hand.

With round one over, and hopefully a win, you move to where the mono-red skill test starts.  At this point, your opponent has had the chance to sideboard against you.  The next game (or two) are going to slow down.  You will need to plan accordingly.  When you go to your mono-red sideboard, you need to ask your self, “What is the most efficient way to get my creatures through combat?”  Adding more burn spells or combat tricks to help clear the way against heavy creature/ mid range decks.  Adding what card advantage red has against the more controlling/ slower decks.  Removing your lower costed spells from your main deck to replace them with higher costed, better spell.

Now onto game play.  Getting your opponent into burn range is still the plan of attack.  Starting out fast is important, hitting you opponent for half their life by the end of turn three is a great goal.  After turn three, however, you will also need to slow down.  You just being one turn faster is how most of these games will go.  I have won many games with my opponent saying, “If I had one more turn, I could have won”.  Being on the offensive is still the roll you need to play.  However, just turning your creatures sideways to attack every turn will no longer work.  Your creatures are an expendable Asset.  With each attach you want to force your opponent to have to choose whether to lose creatures, or lose life.  If blocks are declared, don’t let you creatures die without purpose.  Combat tricks are your best friend here.  If those fail, or you don’t have any in your hand, burn spells are a good second.  Keep in mind while playing with a mono-red deck, using two cards to remove their one, is a good trade.  This goes for blocking as well.  I am a fan of the double block.  Setting up a double block is a great removal tool for the red player.  Blocking a 4/5 with a 2/2 and a 3/1 while letting a 3/3 slip by, is a regular scenario.  X/3s are much easier to remove with a burn spell, then a X/5.  Plus, combat tricks still work great hear too.   As long as you still have some in hand.

The last thing you want at this point is to run out of cards.  Unfortunately, this is what mono-red does best.  Running out of cards right before you can close out the game is very common.  The top deck is where you will find many of your wins.  Luckily, we get cards that have the text, “Exile the top card of your library.  Until end of turn, you may play that card”.  I would definitely recommend at least two of these cards in your sideboard.  I bring in these cards almost every post-board game. Good examples are Outpost Siege and Chandra, Pyromaster.  Having the ability to have that extra card a turn will often be the difference between winning and losing.  By this point in the game, you should have the mana available to cast anything you exile.  One of the big advantage you get from this is that it gets you past your lands.  Letting you draw something you can use.  Don’t let these card go to waist.  Your opponent will know what that card is, use that to your advantage.

These are just the basics when playing mono-red.  Of course, the best play tip is to practice with you deck.  While doing that, keep in mind these final notes.  Game one is almost always in your favor, own it and end it.  The longer the game, the shorter the chance of winning.  Sometimes it takes two cards to remove one.  Creatures start the game, Burn spells finish them.  If your losing a creature, make it count.  I hope this is helpful to those trying mono-red, and I hope you can enjoy it as much as I.

Magic: With Children

Angle Cardboard Crack ComicNot long ago, I was looking at Twitter and noticed a hash tag; #mtgdad. I had see this before and had not thought much about it, just had a sense of understanding. This time however, I clicked on it to see what other people were saying. I read lots of tweets about dads and their magic sacrifices in the name of their children. I saw pictures of children, to young to play, showing off cards that had been given to them by their dads. The rest of the tweets were about; gifts given by children, stories with children, and how dads make time to play Magic around their child’s and families’ schedule.

This brought me back to memories of waiting till my baby went bed to meet up with friends on MTGO. A few years later, memories of my daughters asking when they could learn how to play as they watched me build decks and play. Fast forward a few more years, and I now have two daughters that both play my favorite game. This has been a great experience for me as there have been many ups and downs. I have learned that playing Magic with children, and having my own children take the leap to playing at an FNM, bring with it many trials.

My rule for my daughters had been, “when you are able to read the cards, I will teach you how to play”. Time had past and eventually, at the age of 8 & 10, both of them regained their interest in learning. Duels of the Planeswalkers was a great teaching tool. Then the challenge of teaching them how to collect and care for the cards. Followed by the transition from playing on Xbox to playing paper Magic. Finally it became time to play and get the experience and teach them the little things that would eventually get better. In the end, the older daughter (now 12) will play once in a while, while the younger (now 10) enjoys FNM and loves draft.

Throughout this long process of teaching and playing with my own and other children, I have gained a new look at how to act when I sit down to play, and across the table sits a child as my opponent. The following are things that I have learned.

What to do:

Be patient

The child might need to read cards being played, and they may not be a fast reader. Don’t try to rush them, it only adds to the frustration they are feeling. My daughter was afraid to play at an FNM because she thought she was taking to long to shuffle sleeved cards. They know that they are taking longer then others, pressuring them to hurry will only make it worse. This goes with mistakes as well. It’s a good chance they are still learning. A simple step back and an explanation off the rules/ how a card works, will come up from time to time. Actually, the same mistake may come up multiple times.

Explain what your doing

If you are making a play that is complicated, ask to see if they understand what you are doing. If they don’t, take a minute to go through it step by step. It will be more enjoyable for them to know what is happening and they will learn from it. I was watching a game in which a player was able to combo off and mill out his child opponent. The child was just watching and had the “deer in the headlights look”. The player then explained what had happened and why the child was going to lose, now that he no longer had a library to draw from. Then he asked, “Do you understand why you lost?” It took the child a few seconds of thinking to understand before he started to nod and say that he understood.

Be friendly

By this age they don’t bite (hopefully). One thing most parents discover early, is that children love to talk about themselves. I usually will ask something about them. This may or may not be magic related. I often ask about their school, or how they started playing magic. It reassures them that you are here to have fun, just like they are. There is a balance to this however, part of being friendly is to also keep the game moving forward. Being to talkative can distract from the game, and then you have the challenge of getting back to the game before time runs out. This was one of the hardest lessons I had to teach my daughters while learning how to play.

Finish on a high note

When the game is done, give a compliment and maybe a pinch of advice. Remember, they will be a little disappointed if they lose, but a “good game” or if your life total took some good hits, “You got my life down to ___, that was close”, can go a long way to a child. If time permits, and they don’t mind, an extra game with a few tips for there next match is helpful. I have lost count how many times my own and children of friends came away from a loss happy because their opponent taught them something new. Now they can share this new information and use it later.

What not to do:

Don’t treat them like a child

This statement sounds counter productive to this whole topic, but the point here is don’t talk down to them. Treat them as you would any other new player. This goes for the “Should I go easy on them?” idea we all get. When I am asked this question concerning my daughters, I have learned to say “No”. This doesn’t mean give them a total beat down.   Just, learn to play at their level. It is usually easy to see the level of most opponents that you come up against. As for the little ones, its even easier as they don’t try to hide it. I have kept this rule the full time I have taught my children. It has made them better players, while allowing their opponents to still have fun. Lastly, comments like “I just got stuck playing a kid, he took 5 minutes to read each card”, or “You lost to a kid, how pathetic”, are unnecessary. Trust me, they hear you when you say it.

Don’t lie to them

Telling a child that their 80 card, 5 color, 20 land deck is good, is not helping them as a player. Just like the rest of us, they want to improve. Lying to them will do no good, and half the time, they will know you are lying. If you are the kind of person that finds it had to say the truth without being harsh, that’s fine. Just leaving with a “Good luck on you next game,” can be good enough.

Don’t be afraid to say something to their parent or guardian

This is mostly for non-Magic related stuff. If they don’t realize they are doing something wrong, it will never get fixed. You don’t even need to say it to them, tell the person who brought them. For example; My daughters had gone to 3 FNMs before the store owner finally told me that he had multiple complaints about my daughters kicking their feet under the table while playing and it was starting to upset the other players. My first thought was “Why didn’t they just tell me, or ask them to stop?” what I soon found out was that most of them didn’t want me to feel bad or stop coming due to what my daughters were doing. I can’t speak for all parents but, I would rather someone say something so I can get it fixed, before it becomes an issue.

I hope this has been helpful to those of you that have and will play against a child one day. I would like to note that this is from my experience and that from other #mtgdads that I have had the privilege of knowing. That being said, I would love to hear the opinions of those that I have not got to know. Is there anything you would like to add, or maybe something you feel I got wrong. The final thought I would like to leave with is this. When you are at a local game store for an event, and you see one or more children playing, they are brought there because the environment and players are a good playing group for those children. Let’s all work together to keep it that way, and we can keep this great game fun for all ages.