Welcome back to my ongoing series, The Science and Art of Hosting Home Magic Events. Last time, we covered some of the starting points for running a home Magic event, and today I’ll be delving into some hosting tips so your guests have a nice, fun and relaxed experience.
Do you want people who mostly know each other well, or are you looking more to forge new friendships, Keith Ferrazzi-style (author of networking best seller Never Eat Alone)? I’ve tried to play romantic matchmaker and don’t think I’ve succeeded in two-way interest yet, at least at a Magic event, but that doesn’t mean I won’t keep trying! I’ll do some events where it’s all experienced players and others where there are multiple casual/newer folks. Let your friends know which type you’re aiming for before they commit to manage expectations.
“The guest list matters. People have to be able to get along with each other (to) have fun… When there’s a hardcore group, anyone new who comes in will have a hard time with in-jokes and generally just feeling left out. I’ve seen this happen when I host D&D at my house. It’s not just a Magic phenomenon, it’s a hosting phenomenon.”
Yet, Mark came over as precisely that one new to the group and enjoyed himself for a flashback Dominaria draft: “I just dug the environment, the amount of prep you put into having all of the relevant paraphernalia (mats, counters, lands, etc) and the people.”
Something I’ve never tried but kind of want to – invite three close friends and have each of them invite someone they like that I don’t know well. Then one of y’all finds an eighth.
What about if people invite themselves? Up to you! One fellow I played a few times at our local game store (LGS) told me he felt bad that I hadn’t invited him to a home event – I think he was friends with someone I’d invited. I told this feeling-left-out fellow I would be happy to have him at the next one. He indeed attended, but soon after moved out of state, so it didn’t end up being the start of something.
A few different people asked if they could attend my husband’s and my wedding – we were flattered but had to tell them sorry, there were several people we wanted to invite but couldn’t in order to stick to a budget. For Magic, you might substitute “budget” for “complete pod.” Still, if someone has the guts to express interest, maybe give them a chance, maybe not for this event but the next one? Certainly don’t feel obligated though – your party, your choice! Telling people reason(s) why you may not want to invite
Them specifically can be harder than sparing a 7-10 split, but sometimes being direct can clear up misunderstandings and lead to better relationships.
What if you need more magic-playing friends? Meet folks at your LGS, GPs, online and through other friends. Get “friend digits” and follow up. Advertise how you play Magic, online and IRL. Once I got back into the game after a long break, I was surprised how many of my (adult) water polo and swimming teammates were also current or previous Magic players. And “grow your own” by teaching the game to friends. As you likely know, it’s not a game for everyone. For many brave enough to try, it doesn’t stick. But it’s satisfying when it does! Take Greg, who went from learn to play kits to a few home drafts to the main event at a Vegas GP within a few months:
“I recall fondly when you came over with the pre-built starter/sample packs… I felt very welcomed to the game by these free little packs and your guidance. It really made it easy to get into it… The game isn’t hard to understand, but difficult to master. Friendship and inclusion really helped.”
And Emily reminds us experienced hosts how, “Especially for new players, playing at a shop can be intimidating, so playing in a more intimate setting with a familiar group of people can make it a lot more fun.” Greg’s knowing not only me but also a couple other players, common friends, likely helped.
Many prefer calls/texts/DMs (and yes, I still think Dungeon Master). The personal Gaea’s Touch (6) is great! Others looking to save time do a blast message where there’s no limit of people or where the first folks to reply get the spots (and there can be a wait list). I often DM my closest friends and/or the ones I haven’t seen in awhile to gauge interest and see what times/dates work well for them. Sometimes I have a poll. Then I set the date and either DM more folks until I get the number I want or do a big blast at that point.
Blast messages can have a public recipient list or not. Pros and cons to both – folks often like to know who else is invited before they commit – they may DM other invitees before committing. A con is some people may not love potential replies to all or their info shared with folks they may not know (you can ask!).
No matter which way you do it, like at weddings, if some folks get invited much closer to the event than others, some people may figure out/suspect they’re not “A list.” I’ve certainly gotten last-minute invites (or invitations to the wedding, not the rehearsal dinner, e.g.) and think, “hey at least I got invited.” I also can be in the mood to attend a Magic event where I don’t know most people. But not everyone feels this way. I personally like making invitee lists public so the friends who get invited in advance know they are special to me. But definitely do what feels right for you.
We covered who but also there are what and how (format and rules), when, where… and even why. You may think, to play Magic of course, but celebrating birthdays, updated Cubes or the presence of someone new and awesome all can be great reasons to spell-sling. If you’re not a detail person, maybe enlist the help of a friend who is… or try stretching yourself!
When-wise, you may want to avoid weekends that are (pre)releases or big events like a nearby Grand Prix. Generally, I host my events later in formats but this is personal preference – many hosts like doing it right when a set is fresh. I like to plan the event at least a week or two in advance, sometimes more, but others prefer shorter time frames. Also, re: start time consider if you will have time to clean the bathroom and get the area, maybe food, ready before guests arrive?
When-wise also ties into how often. Monthly leagues, quarterly drafts (e.g., each Standard-legal set) and even weekly events (like Thursday poker nights I enjoyed in grad school) can be very fun and give you the opportunity to see friends regularly. Like Marshall Sutcliffe recommends for podcasts, stay consistent – try hard not to cancel/skip and you’ll build better momentum.
Keep in mind hosting regularly is a much bigger commitment to hosting standalone special events (my style). Aaron successfully hosted monthly Sunday noon drafts (often Cubes) for several years. For him, it worked well because he didn’t spend much time organizing food, details, prizes or even a certain number of people. Sometimes we drafted with seven, other times 11. But he kept getting a great crowd back because Magic is fun, it’s great to play at someone’s house and Aaron’s an awesome guy.
He does advise to think through the pros and cons of which style you choose. Aaron needed to invite a pretty big pool of roughly 40 people to get approximately eight to 10, partly because folks (like me) would think, “oh I can skip and go next month.” Remember, “the star that burns twice as bright burns half as long” (great flavor, not-so-great-card-even-then from my childhood). Regular events can lead to host burnout, so maybe rotate the location/host for your league!
Where-wise, does your space have enough comfy chairs, table space and good lighting? Where’s the food going to go? Where are the basic lands (bonus points for dice, playmats, sleeves and tokens!) gonna go? If there’s a not-as-comfy seat or yoga ball, I’d sit on it yourself, host. How long will the restaurant let you stay? If it’s an outside event, what’s the bad weather Contingency Plan? Much as I love the outdoors, Just the Wind and outdoor card events can be enemies…
Now for the what and how, definite biggies…
- How many rounds? How okay is it for people to leave early? You decide and let folks know your preference.
- Prizes or no? What are they? I elaborate on prize ideas in the later section, “Wacky Prize Events”.
- Brackets or no? There are pros to “play whichever opponent is ready” when you finish – you get more games in with less downtime, and guests have a little more influence whom they play (“I really want to play you Aaron – can I get next game once you’re done?”). However, if you’re doing prizes, I recommend for fairness a random bracket and structure whereby you first play the person across from you (if a draft) and people with the same records play each other.
- Timed matches? If people have to leave at a certain time, you may want to time matches. If you do, make it clear each round the end time and what happens at time to determine a winner (five more turns? Highest life?). Maybe delegate and appoint a timekeeper?
- Judge? Probably don’t need one. Usually pairs can work things out themselves, and if there’s a question, they can ask the common group. If you’re really worried about this, maybe try no prizes?
- Cancellations unfortunately happen. Plan on it now, ahead of time. Will you try to find a sub, or do a seven-person draft (not terrible) if there’s not enough time to find someone? You may want to pivot to 2HG Draft where then there would be no byes (just one player drafting and playing both decks). As host, you can offer to do this unless someone else really wants to. Similarly, I, as host, would offer to take the first bye in a odd-person draft if there are no prizes. If there are prizes, random first bye is probably ideal. Beware of a last-minute cancellation of a 3v3 draft. That leaves you with five, which is tough to draft.
- Latecomers unfortunately also happen. Again, I’d count on this, especially if your event is a weeknight and folks are coming from work. I try to be clear about the start time of the event versus the start time of the draft, e.g., “arrive as early as 12 p.m. for social hour; we really want to start the draft at 1 p.m. because people need to leave by 5 p.m.” Sealed and Constructed can work fine for latecomers – if Sealed, they have less time to build. If someone is routinely late for your drafts, I recommend talking to that person, trying to empathize but also trying to get them to empathize with the big group all waiting. For one casual event, one fellow was so late visiting a lady that I drafted his Return to Ravnica deck next to my own for him! His visit went well and he seemed super happy to play his Izzet deck that got passed a Niv-Mizzet, Dracogenius.
- You can set up mini-rewards (advertise these!) to being on time such as “punctuality packs” (as a gift, last person gets last choice) or voting on things like prize pack distribution or formats (are we doing regular draft or Two-Headed Giant Draft)? Those who are late can’t vote. But some may think this is silly for grown adults – I once was a teacher of kids so I think of stuff like this sometimes.
- Food and Drinks: Saving the best for last here, Vanessa Williams style! Best practice for happy guests is planning food, and bonus if you provide some. As Anton pointed out, extra special bitters brownie points if the food’s on theme: “I’ll provide tasty IPAs,” not only meant there were hoppy beers available but also a clue to the secret format our friend Mike had planned! Invasion-Planeshift-Apocalpse draft 😊.
A big spread isn’t necessary; you could say you’re providing light snacks only (read guests: bring a full belly) and you can request folks bring their own drinks if they want something particular.
Do not feel obligated to buy any food yourself! So many other options: you can organize a pot luck whereby everyone brings an item to share, and people can list in advance what they’re bringing – caveat caupo, pot lucks left to their own devices can tend towards a glut of carb/sugar-heavy options of chips, cookies, fruit, soda and beer. My 16-month old daughter would be in heaven. Maybe not for the beer.
You can also buy/cook and pass (some of) the cost to the attendees as part of the “buy in.” You young whipper-snappers who may not recall life before Venmo probably haven’t experienced latecomers who are “almost there, just have to find an ATM.” Or having to find a payphone to call the host and let them know about the even-worse-than-normal LA traffic. If you do charge, I recommend keeping the cost per person low if you can and letting folks know about the cost before they commit. I’d also give people the explicit option to opt out or bring their own instead. They may have dietary restrictions (or allergies to foods or pets). They should let you know so as not to be included in the number eating.
Some hosts like to place a delivery order during the event. That can work well, but maybe try picking a place beforehand and advertise it before people commit so that folks can opt out.
Emily reminds some finger foods – lookin’ at yous, Cheetos – while tasty are not ideal for touching cards. Provide napkins!
Perk of hosting: you may end up with a lot of leftover food and drinks for your trouble, yay! If you don’t want it, definitely try to give it away before people leave. Or save it as an excuse to host again: “We draftin’ again to finish the great food ‘n’ dranks y’all brought last time!”
Let them know some of those deets you Pondered above. I’ve gotten single-sentence invitations with bare bones format, date, time and address, nada mas. These might lead to surprises, assumptions and expectations that don’t pan out for guest or host. But too many deets is also bad. Keep inviting until you get the number you want (see advice to guests on being a Maybe – up to you if you’re counting them as Yays or Nays). Now wait and get excited!
If you’ve gotten things scheduled a couple weeks out, try a reminder a few days in advance about how excited you are to see them and play. Do virtual intros with people who don’t know each other to start convos. Build up what you like in the people which caused you to invite them. Sure, you can say they’re awesome at Magic (many a Spike like good competition), but in home drafts, EQ beats IQ, and an 0-3 who makes three new friends is likely more successful than the 3-0 who won top prize but was kind of a jerk. Mark remarked, “It’s not about winning for me…it’s about having fun, learning the game, and hanging out with friends.” So maybe in the follow up build up other great things about them. On that note, bravo if you pull off 3-0 and you make new friends. Totes doable!
Damn! Someone had to cancel and can’t find their own sub. Good thing at least you followed up per the last tip and reminded them they committed for this – better than an unexpected no-show. And, you planned on this, so you know what you’re doing.
If it’s a couple days or more out, I usually DM individuals, typically waiting for their decline before inviting the next. If they don’t respond quickly, try a call/email/Tweet if the text didn’t work. If it’s been over half a day with no reply, maybe move on. I’ve gone to my LGS just to invite folks in-person with success. If you run out of ideas, maybe ask some of your friends attending to invite someone. The more friends asking, the quicker you’ll probably get someone, but also you may run into multiple interested. It’s not ideal at all to rescind, so depending on the event, you may want to consider accommodating both folks who said yes by sitting out yourself and just being host. Or draft with nine. Who knows, someone else may cancel.
This always takes longer than I think it will, and I’ve hosted a lot. Clean bathroom? Are you playing music? What music and how? Do you need to shop for food or not? Are drinks going to be in a cooler of ice or just in the fridge, easily visible for people to help themselves? For small groups, I recommend washable dishes to be more environmentally friendly, but you do you! Set up and organize them tokens for the cube if you have time. Think through all of the steps of the event – including parking and getting into your place, especially for folks who’ve never been.
Check in early and often on your guests. Expect the unexpected and try to roll with the punches, and don’t be afraid to ask for advice and input. Put yourself in the shoes of a nervous guest and check in more if someone looks off, maybe in private. Offer beverages when they arrive, no matter how late. Try to take the time to check in on everyone at some point, not just the early arrivers and the people you play against. Maybe even favor playing an aggro deck to finish rounds earlier to check in more. Seriously! If your friends are having fun, you’re probably gonna be having fun.
Some of my favorite Magic events (not only home events) were followed with us going out to eat after. This can be a good time to get verbal feedback on the event… or you can do that over email or call/text later and spend the in-person time catching up with your friends about non-Magic related things, too. The written option has the advantage of being easy to revisit later, but not everyone may get around to it. My buddy Mike had paper handout feedback forms at the end of his Cube asking for first picks, last picks, other thoughts – I was very impressed. Feedback really can help you improve your events and strengthen your friendships.