My world has changed dramatically in the span of just one short, but chaotic week. Last Monday, I was excited for Magic Fest Detroit in my hometown and the prospect of immersing myself in a weekend of IRL Paper Magic with fellow fans and enthusiasts.
It became increasingly clear the threat posed by the Covid-19 Pandemic was reshaping the world outside my door. On Wednesday, #MTGDetroit and all large public conventions (including professional sports) were suspended as a measure to contain the spread of the virus.
After hearing the news that there would be no convention, I made plans for an overnight evening of Battle Box with one of my best friends in Ann Arbor. The following morning, I awoke to learn the Canadian government had issued a travel advisory against all non-essential travel across the border, meaning I’d no longer be able to visit my friends and family in the USA for the foreseeable future.
The unexpected didn’t stop there. My wife, noticing my disappointment at the termination of my long-awaited paper Magic weekend made an extremely kind gesture:
“Would you teach me to play Magic?”
We’ve been happily married for over a year and a half (together for three years) and she had never expressed an interest in learning to play before. While I knew the gesture was largely for my benefit, I was genuinely excited to share something that is important to me with her and hoped she’d enjoy playing the game with me, and that the experience would ultimately be for our benefit.
You may be doing your part and social distancing with friends or loved ones that you’d like to share your enthusiasm for Magic with. Today, I’ll talk about my experience teaching this extremely complex and intricate game with a non-gamer, along with some helpful tips and suggestions that have worked for us.
GAMING IN A “SELF DISTANCING” WORLD
Luckily for MTG fans, there’s no shortage of ways to play Magic at home. MTGO and MTG Arena are both platforms that provide a near infinite capacity to game at the click of a mouse. I anticipate online gaming is positioned to become even more popular at a time when individuals are strongly advised to stay in.
Obviously, my heart goes out to all who are negatively affected by Covid-19 in any and every capacity. I personally know and care about many individuals who work in the LGS (Local Game Store) industry and can’t imagine the circumstances are good for stores whose greatest asset is providing a space for people to gather and play games together.
While we’re going through a moment in time that demands social distancing, I think it’s also true that that everybody is looking forward to going back to how it was before and would like our LGS (and gatherings such as CFB Events’ MagicFest) to be waiting for us at the other end once the pandemic is over. So, if you’re going to stock up on games (or anything else, for that matter) keep your neighbors and local businesses in mind when and if possible.
TEACHING MAGIC TO A FRIEND OR LOVED ONE
The complexity of a game, such as Magic, is part of what gives it depth and replayability, but it also makes the ceiling of entry for learners high to break through. No matter the subject or skill you hope to teach a friend or loved one, it’s important to remember that patience is always the most important virtue to keep in mind.
Pacing is also important. It probably took you years of experience to cultivate all of your skills and knowledge and we can’t expect a new player to soak it all up in a half hour! There’s a steep learning curve and it takes time and practice to absorb even the basic strategy.
There’s no one right way to teach somebody to play because everybody learns differently and at their own pace, but there are certainly plenty of pitfalls that can be the wrong way, most of which involve either ‘not being patient’ or ‘pushing too hard’ or fast.
Most of the time when a friend, family member, or loved one asks us to teach them Magic (or, agrees to give it a try!), the motivation for learning is to better understand and share in something that is important to us. For instance, I’m fairly certain my wife isn’t going to start grinding the Arena ladder, but rather Magic is something we can play at the kitchen table together as we wait out the virus.
A SIMPLE BATTLE BOX FULL OF CARDS YOU LOVE
I thought it would be neat to introduce my wife to Magic using the same cards that I learned to play with over twenty years ago with my trusty Old School Battle Box. One thing I quickly realized was that some of the cards were a little bit too complicated and convoluted for beginner play, so I whittled it down to the bare essentials:
I’ve found a small, simple Battle Box is a fantastic way to teach a brand new player the ropes of how Magic works and I highly recommend this approach.
If you’re looking for a more traditional approach to playing the game, I’d suggest two simple preconstructed decks, or two decks built with simple cards that cover all the various card types. Take into consideration what the person you are teaching would find enjoyable.
The two things I really like about using a Battle Box to teach Magic is that nobody ever gets mana screwed and players can always cast their spells. It also naturally teaches a player how to sequence their lands. The other thing I like about using a Battle Box is that it allows a new player to encounter playing with and against all five colors of Magic and get a sense of their feel and flavor in relation to one another, rather than learning the game from the perspective of a specific match up.
80 cards felt like a nicely sized learner stack, but hindsight being 20/20, if I could do it over again I would have started with a 40 card stack of the most simple cards and added a few cards each time we played through the stack. Learning a bunch of cards is a big step and so allowing your pupil to become acquainted with a core group of staples does make things significantly easier.
The most important thing you can do when teaching somebody to play is to be patient, take it slow, and make sure they are having fun (or, at least as much fun as is possible while being bombarded with an absolute mountain of complex and intricate information).
“KEEP THINGS SIMPLE TO START”
I’ve mentioned this several times already and I can’t stress how important it is. The way we started was to go over the basic card types and describe what they do.
This is a LAND card. You can play 1 LAND card per turn. LAND cards “TAP” (turn sideways) to make “mana” of the color shown in the textbox. MANA is the resource used to cast SPELL cards. Any card that is not a LAND is a SPELL.
Even the most basic components of Magic are intricately complex. Try to stick to the absolute necessary building block information without getting bogged down in details that won’t matter until further down the road.
One of the most challenging parts of teaching a new player is keeping things simple! As an experienced Magician of over 20 years, I often want to respond to a simple question by saying something like: “Well, it’s actually more complicated than that when you consider X, Y, and Z…”
As experienced gamers, we strive to perfect our understanding of these intricacies. A beginner is not there yet. While the intent behind the detail is well intended, it’s often more likely to confuse and discourage a new player.
One piece of feedback I’d like to pass along from my wife is that she said learning Magic often feels intimidating. All of the plays seem to come automatically to me and it feels embarrassing when she makes a mistake or doesn’t understand something right away.
It’s easy to take for granted the vulnerability of sitting in the learner seat and that’s something to always bear in mind! Even if you as the teacher were to do everything “correct” (whatever that means) Magic is still difficult, challenging, and complicated source material to learn for the first time.
“PLAY OPEN-HANDED, WALK THROUGH GAMES”
The primary way I taught my wife to play was through open-handed games. Magic is, at the core, a game about interactions between various types of game pieces. Walking a new player through some open-handed games and teaching them how those interactions work is a great way to become comfortable and familiar with how the game works.
One thing I immediately recognized after our first open-handed game was that some of the cards in my stack created too many interactions that were overwhelming. It’s an easy mistake to avoid by leaving the more complicated intricate cards until the learner has a solid understanding of more basic concepts such as attacking and blocking.
Learning to play and enjoy Magic is a lifetime endeavor and there’s no need to rush!
If you’re considering using this unique moment in time of mandated social distancing to share your love of paper Magic with a child, friend, family member or loved one, pace yourself.
You’re not going to turn your apprentice into a master with a five hour cram session. Go at their pace. My wife and I will typically play one or two games and take a break and do something else for a while.
Encountering, learning, and internalizing a lot of new information is mentally taxing. On the other hand, don’t underestimate how taxing it is to stay patient and be a good teacher of complicated material to another person! Everyone is different, but be conscious to go at a pace where you are both having fun and enjoying the journey together.
“EVERYONE LEARNS DIFFERENTLY!”
I think it’s safe to say teaching somebody or learning to play Magic is a big commitment. It’s a lot of work on both sides. It’s also safe to say that we are likely to teach or learn to play Magic from somebody we care for or who cares about us. Paper Magic is truly a shared experience.
Everyone is different and learns/processes information differently. Be open to that, roll with it, and go with the flow.
My wife is a notetaker (I would be too if I learned Magic right now).
There are many different teaching and learning styles, the point is to adapt to what works for the person you’re teaching to play.
Just remember to be patient, start simple, pace yourself, and most importantly HAVE FUN WITH IT!!!
If you have a story, approach, or advice you’d like to share in the comments I’d love to hear it. I’m also happy to answer questions and be of service in any way I can to new players who are teaching or learning the game at this unique moment in time. Learning and playing Magic is a journey and not a destination.
Most importantly, be safe and remember that we’ll all get through this together!