Summer is here. Time to get ready for the Core Set prerelease and release events over the coming two weekends. Just think of all the new players that have gotten into Magic during the last couple of years with the back-to-back success of Innistrad and Return to Ravnica blocks. How many of them will be playing Sealed with infinitely less experience than you? Just think, the prize pool is bigger and the average skill level is lower. So much EV!
How many newbies can you crush with superior knowledge and play skill? How many sick trades can you make early in the format, dumping Sealed bombs that will be junk rares for cards that are bound to go way up in price? If you are looking to take advantage of the wave of new players that have been brought to the game by Magic’s recent success, then you are in the right place. It basically boils down to one super secret tech. Act like a mentor instead of a leech. Wait, what?
OK, no one can fault you for the inner glee at thinking that you, the experienced competitive player, will net an advantage from a flood of new and possibly casual players. Maybe they could, but not without being preachy. It’s just human nature to be happy about improved odds. Magic players in particular have a downright divine ability to appreciate value. But let me try to convince you that to extract the most value from this situation is to concentrate on giving away your edge. Sound paradoxical? It’s really not. Can you guess why? Scroll down to discover the well-guarded secret only to be exposed today for the first time ever.
Q: Why is the best way of extracting value from the influx of new players to reduce the gap in knowledge?
A: Magic is a game that is played with other humans.
Let that sink in for a bit. I know it’s a shocker.
The thing is, humans are emotional, even Magic players. Look at the overarching theme of lead Magic designer Mark Rosewater’s writing: “People try so hard to run their life based on their intellect but, in the end, we are ultimately run by our emotions.” The fact that your opponents in this game are other humans is actually a highly relevant fact.
Everyone starts somewhere, even the pros. The person you just annihilated because they forgot about your Slivers buffing each other could someday be a peer, vital to your own success at competitive Magic. They could be someone you win a team GP with. Or someone whose testing results in you winning a PTQ. Or maybe just someone who ends up lending you key cards for a tournament some time. The important thing is that they will remember how they felt when they first interacted with you.
What do you think is better, for you, in the long run?
(A) Savor the dream-crush of the new player by mocking their play and making them feel stupid.
(B) Interact with your opponent as little as required to play with them, then move on.
(C) Take every opportunity to give away your “insider” knowledge.
I’m pretty confident that anyone who would answer “A” either quit reading after the first paragraph or is not serious about competitive Magic. A lot of you may lean toward “B,” thinking something like, “I already have my group of Magic friends, I’m not there to make more, just to win.” But the answer really is “C” even if all you care about is winning.
Remember that the concept of helping yourself by helping others isn’t new to competitive Magic. Most drafters understand the benefits of cooperating with the person you are passing to on color choices. After a match in a GP or PTQ, it benefits you to discuss sideboarding choices and lines of play with your opponent; them having a higher win percentage directly helps you. Teaching new players is basically an extension of this concept beyond a single event. The benefits may be less direct and tangible, but that doesn’t make them any less real or important.
Teaching Is Tough
Think about where new players are coming from. Most have actually played casually for years and are really just new to competitive Magic. Many others come through Duels of the Planeswalkers and just haven’t mastered good habits yet. Almost all of the rest are brought to the game by a friend. Probably one who knows more and is more enthusiastic about the game than they are. Most likely someone who is more likely to be overwhelming than helpful.
Umm, what!? First I tell you to be helpful to new players and now I tell you it’s easy to wig them out with helpfulness? Yes actually, it’s frustrating but true. Even if you agree that it’s in your long-term competitive interests to mentor new players, chances are high that you are terrible at mentoring. I actually spent the last year getting a friend into the game and documenting the process along the way. We called our project Booster Victim. I had great intentions, and teaching people things is something I excel at in the daytime job. But, I really failed spectacularly at supporting his learning curve. The experience sparked an interest in figuring out how to actually impart Magic skills to others.
A great resource to point people to for limited in particular is the Limited Resources podcast by Marshall Sutcliffe, who just wrote an article on this very topic. They cover the basics like limiting your deck to two colors with maybe one splash, sticking to only 40 cards, card evaluation skills, etc. All while still managing to provide useful information for experienced players as well. Good information on teaching Magic includes “To Teach Their Own,” written around M13’s release, as well as “How to Teach MTG to New Players.” And if you like podcasts, check out Episode 14 of the Deck Tease with Adrienne Reynolds.
So it’s our job to help new players, eh? Do they just get to sit back and be taught? Of course not! Real work is needed to improve and there are some things players can do to make the learning curve less precarious. (See: “Life Lessons For New Players” and Question no. 2 in Part 1 of Craig Wescoe’s recent Twenty Questions).
When someone plays mono-enchantments against your heavy removal deck and they win anyway, try to keep the judgmental bad-beats-sneers to yourself. If they lose and seem open to advice, see if you can be helpful. Do be careful, as it’s easy to be insulting or judgmental. Unwanted advice-giving will shut someone down and put them on the defensive. An obviously willing-to-be-helpful demeanor will encourage and inspire. If you become good at it, you might even be rewarded by creating a niche for yourself as a Magic coach. A what? Just the no. 1 Magic Job That Doesn’t Exist Yet.
What Goes Around
Some of the benefits of teaching others may be more direct than you think. Explaining a concept to someone else results in understanding it at a much deeper level yourself. This is one reason why pros stream matches and make draft videos. Interacting with new players also has a way of rekindling your own passion for the game. Before you say this is something a nuts-and-bolts Spike wouldn’t care about, imagine two players of identical skill level. What if one is cynical about the state of the format and all the things wrong with it but the other is excited by Magic? The player who is actually interested in and enjoying the game has an advantage; it simply takes less mental energy to pay attention when you care.
Maximizing your own success includes trying to assist others to be the best players they can be. And this same rationale applies to trading. Many players who are new-to-competitive are also new-to-trading. I used to naively ask, “Is this a fair trade?,” which made me an easy mark. But guess if my willingness to go digging for cards to lend at the last minute is correlated to whether the person asking had ripped me off early on? Stuff like that sticks and it’s just not worth it. You’ll derive more benefit in the long run by building trust than sneaking a few dollars. Folks notice when you’re always saying to someone who may not know better that “This trade isn’t good, you should find another $2 rare from me.” When you get that reputation instead, people start consciously making trades to your advantage.
(Thanks to Jer Banks for brainstorming about this article and Adrienne Reynolds for some quick feedback.)
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