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.

Where Do You ‘Magic’?

Magic coffeeI think everybody has a particular favorite place to play Magic: The Gathering. And there are a lot of factors that play into the decision – the surprisingly important decision – of where you sling your spells.
Comfort. Convenience. Availability of other players. Ease of finding space.
For me, that place is the local coffeehouse. I’ve been playing there for seven years, off and on, though it hasn’t always been that way.
Before I started playing there, I played at home. At that time I didn’t know any other players, and I simply played Magic with my brothers.
I tried once playing at a gaming group at the local university, but that just wasn’t my scene. And gaming stores were just plain too far away for me to get to conveniently. Playing at conventions is hit or miss, and tends to be fairly restrictive.
But the coffeehouse worked out great – and continues to. First of all, for the local players, it’s a place they’re all familiar with and, generally, able to get to. Second of all, its one of those places where people just plain tend to gather and do what they want – read, do homework, hold meeting, and, yes, game. I’ve seen (and played) all kinds of gaming going on at the place, from in-depth board gaming to mah jong to RPGs of varying kinds. They hold a weekly chess night, for Pete’s sake. The fact that the place has it’s own board games to borrow also speaks volumes – it’s a gamer-friendly space.
But, honestly, that’s not the only factor to playing there. A lot of places in my town, honesty, are gamer-friendly. I’ve played Magic at a sandwich chain located in the downtown, for instance. More and more places nationwide seem to be eager to let games come. Another coffeehouse of my acquaintance even holds gaming days.
No, the main reason I play there is the atmosphere. The minute you walk in, you smell coffee. And its always bustling, and filled with bookshelves and racks of vintage vinyl records. It’s an eclectic place, and it suits me.
Every once in a while, someone will stop and ask us what we’re playing. Or a former player will ask what format we’re engaging in. Playing Magic at a table there, we’re like islands in a river, with the movement of the people flowing around us. It’s nice.
So, where do you play Magic?

Being a GamesWalker

3003858When it comes to Magic, I’ve been around for a while. Played a lot of games, been in a lot of playgroups, entered into a good number of events. And I’ve found that amongst Magic players, there is a certain sense of fellowship, a Brotherhood of Man (and Woman) to which we all belong.

I speak, of course, of that ancient and august guild, Homo Ludens – in Latin, the Human who Plays Games.

Put another way: we’re all GamesWalkers.

Seriously, in all the years I’ve played Magic, there is not a single solitary Magic player I’ve ever encountered who isn’t a geek (in the kindest sense of the word) for games, not just Magic. Case in point: the first playgroup I was ever a part of (we met casually over coffee and mostly played preconstructed decks) included a guy who absolutely LOVED board and card games. So much so that, before work and life took him to another corner of this great country of ours, he introduced me to BASHCon, a wonderful little gaming convention in my region.

Gaming conventions are the great piazzas of the GamesWalker world. Here, you may not only play Magic in all its myriad forms, but encounter other games: D&D. Call of Cthulhu. Miniatures games. Card games of every conceivable permutation. Wargames. All coexisting cheek-by-jowl across sprawling tables and in cramped meeting rooms.

Let’s face it – by and large, for most of us, Magic is not our only gaming vocation. Certainly, it may take up a large amount of our leisure time, discretionary budget, and our closet space, but Magic lives in our lives, likely, as one out of many gaming choices to break out and roll with.

I, for instance, have always been a gamer, ever since I bought my first Milton Bradley Game Master board game, Samurai Swords, nearly 20 years ago. (Yes, I’m that old. Deal with it.) My brothers and I played annual pre-Christmas games of Risk and Axis & Allies. In grad school, I discovered HeroScape. When I was 25, I discovered the joys and pleasures of Dungeons & Dragons. And then Magic. And then from there the great universe of “alternative gaming” was opened. [Note: By “alternative gaming,” I largely mean games that you’re likely to find only in specialty stores, not in the toy aisle of your local Target or WalMart.] Indeed, I now find myself enjoying an online round of Lords of Waterdeep on my iPad, amongst my other gaming loves.

I’m sure a lot of you have similar tales. I know that our friends on the MTGYou podcast themselves are not only devoted to Magic, but also dabble across the great Multiverse of gaming.

What is it, exactly, that drives our desire to roll the dice or play a hand of cards? Anthropologists at one point thought that the fact of human game-playing set us apart from the lower orders of animals (until zoologists, of course, discovered that other species engage in game-like activity as well). Whether it’s an interest in healthy competition, or a proxy for battle and training for war, games have been with us almost as long as we’ve walked upright.

So Magic players, embrace your GamesWalker spark. Walk the planes of the gaming world with me.

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MTGYou Fight Club: #GW Hate Bears vs U Tron – Modern

Link to Rich’s GW Hate Bears deck list:

Link to Blades’ U Tron deck list:

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Link to BW Midrange deck list:

Link to UW Control deck list: