To Gimp Or Not To Gimp? A Competitive Gamer Playing Casual Magic: The Gathering

Welcome, brave adventurers of unknown ability, to the sadness that is my bedroom floor. If you're well-eyed, or just very good at reading headlines, you'll note these are cards from Magic: The Gathering, a collectible card game created by Richard Garfield in the 15th or 16th century. It feels that old, anyway.

A little less than a year ago, I got back into got into Magic: The Gathering. I want to say "got back into", but I never dived into this paper-handed gentleman's sport with the gusto needed to declare it a pastime/hobby/obsession. Sure, my parents bought me some Alpha edition booster packs when I was a tinyling, but messing around with a bizarre assortment of sub-optimal cards including Time Walk* and Ancestral Recall*, configured in such a way that I was just as likely to draw an ace of spades as I was a basic land, is not what I'd call "playing the Magics with skills".

I gave up on collectible card games a long time ago, after somehow shedding my addiction to the most excellent Legend of the Five Rings, which, I maintain to this day is a superior game to Magic. If it wasn't for the former's learning curve, shaped much like a vertical slab of never-melting ice, that made it difficult to entice new players, I'd still be injecting it into my eyeballs today.

So yes, a year ago. A group of friends had started playing regular games of Magic and I joined in on the fun, borrowing a deck as I was, embarrassingly, deck-less. Fun was had, but part of my enjoyment of any game is mastery -- understanding the systems so completely that any loss or failure is a result of my lack of skill, not knowledge. This is something I simply could not obtain playing with decks strapped together from booster packs, missing playsets and compromising on efficiency.

It's at this point I jumped online and sunk a few hundred dollars into buying singles. My credit card sat huddled in a corner as I tried desperately to tempt it into my hands, where its embossed numbers could be transferred from eye to finger and converted to electro-credits, the universal currency of the internet.

The next time I rocked up (about two weeks later), I was sporting a shiny "Red Deck Wins". The idea behind the deck is that it runs cheap "burn", or direct damage, spells, along with a bunch of super-cheap creatures. We sat down, the four of us, and I was looking forward to seeing the distraught faces of my soon-to-be vanquished opponents.

I was the first player out. My existence was ejected harshly from the battlefield faster than you can play a Lightning Bolt.

"What the hell?", I yelled mentally, staring at my deck. Sure, I net-decked (copied from online) the crap out of you, but come on! This combination of cards had won tournaments, recent ones too. How could it have failed so utterly?

The thing is... tournaments are one-on-one affairs. Not one-on-three. To put it crudely, I disgorged my package prematurely, haphazardly zapping monsters and players until I was top-decking (drawing the top card of my deck into my empty hand and playing it immediately), leaving me with nothing to play in retaliation. My opponents had little to fear -- my hand did not exist. All I had was what was in front of me. And it was weak, man. Weak.

Subsequent plays of the deck revealed a massive flaw: it lacked staying power. And so, dissatisfied, I returned to the internet and converted another hundred or so dollars into coloured bits of cardboard. This time around, I decided to build my own deck and I purchased the most powerful, yet reasonably priced, cards I could find.

The end result was an "Infect" deck. It was a piece of work, that deck. It was an anti-social construct, a fun-sucking compilation of fantasy entities designed to do one thing: tear players new ones.

What's this Infect thing? Essentially, it was a new rule that circumvented the tired-and-true system of attrition built into Magic: hit points. Instead of eating away at a player's hit points, Infect dispensed "poison" tokens. Once a player had accumulated 10 of these tokens, they lost. There was no way to easily remove these tokens and they were dealt the same way combat damage was.

Bluntly, it's a shit mechanic.

For me, it meant I'd gone from one extreme to the other. While I didn't outright win a lot of multiplayer games with this Infect deck, I did take people out in an uncomfortably speedy fashion. Our group didn't enjoy the deck and I didn't like slaying their fun in such a clinical fashion.

One might say "Stuff your friends! If they can't hack losing, that's their problem." I'd respond by saying fair enough. But casual Magic is not competitive Magic -- it's not easy organising a bunch of people with different schedules to get together, socialise and play a few hands of a CCG.

As a competitive player, I was at first annoyed I couldn't build soul-crushing decks, lest I be ostracised by my friends. But, slowly, I began to see it as a challenge, to build a deck that was both fun to play and play against.

Have I built this magical deck? Not just yet, but I certainly have plenty of cards now to have a crack at it.

* I'm joking. These cards are probably the most powerful ever printed. They're worth THOUSANDS of dollars today.


Comments

    I myself have a blue deck with lots of counters and sme good heavy hitters like Jokulmorder teamed up with Second Wind and Portent teamed up with Tunnel Vision. The First time I hit a friend with both combos he nearly started crying. I almost felt bad.

      I have found that anyone who doesn't play blue, hates blue.

      I play a lot of blue.

    Ive found that the best decks for multiplayer games are just behemoths.
    I once had a five colour, 150 card deck built around the crew of the weatherlight that was the most fun deck I have ever played with simply because it could do anything.
    The important thing about it was that it was fun to play against as well because of the unpredictability.
    The only real mechanics that were used were land fetching and life gaining, beyond that, well, stuff just happened:)

    As a VERY casual player, I found I had the most fun with decks that didn't really follow a strict strategy.

    Currently I have three decks, with my favourite being a white blue spirit deck that is just all sorts of random.

    My favourite deck I ever played was what I dubbed "The Deck of Annoyance". Basically, the instructions on the card had to be at least 5 lines long. Every game included many flipping of cards or coins and a huge collection of counters. much amusement for all (well, mostly for me...)

    Noob at magic, have played once only (borrowed deck) and was thoroughly beaten. I have a question - apart from the banned power 9 cards, is magic the gathering at all "pay to win" the way say pokemon seems to be?

    What i mean by "pay to win" - say you buy a pokemon deck, in it you wil get say two EXTREMELY powerful basic cards, (for some thing like the explosive edge pack, its the card shown on the outside of the pack) with like 4 times the hit points and 3 times the attack of a normal card. So it seems like the incentive is to buy a few decks or booster packs and stuff your deck with the obviously OP cards and throw out the junk (and obviously you want a better mix of evolution cards to basic cards than the original deck has, etc).

    Is magic at all like that? Could you just buy a deck and no booster packs and not be completely gimped? Or is the starter deck deliberately, overtly designed to be fail?

      The starter decks can be good, but they aren't very open strategy wise.
      I find that most of the cards on the front of decks to be useless for what I want, but they have gotten better with building starter decks.

    I had a couple of fun ones that were fun for all involved.
    One deck used Goblins to fuel Dragons into play (feed/sacrifice goblins to get dragons into play)
    Another made everyone redraw their hand each turn, then damaged them for each card they draw.

    1) Have fun designing and building your deck.
    2) Test it out on your friends.
    3) If it decimates them, success! Go to (1)
    4) If it doesn't outright win, go to (1)

    You made your killer Infect deck, congrats. Now make something different. There's no fun playing 'friendly' with one deck that always wins.

    shouldnt playing with the exact same deck each time make you easier to beat, as your friends come in with counters already? If they can't counter it, even knowing it in advance, then yeah it's probabaly a good idea to ditch it.

    playing the exact same deck each time and your buddies comes up with a counter doesnt always mean they will win with it. there are a lot of ways that they could loss like they not having enough lands which are like the batteries in a tv remote, you might have the remote (aka the card), but without the batteries it wont work. Since land cards are apart of your deck ( and are required for almost every other card) there maybe sometimes where u have all the cards you want but not enough lands to use them or the other way around all the lands not and enough useful cards.

    As for starter decks they are not overly great to any degree but they do give a good starting point to making your own deck and learn how cards work together. From there the possibilities are almost endless, i have heard of a person making a deck with only cards that had goats on them

    And if you dont want to spends lots of money you can do what i did and made a deck entirely out of 10c cards i found at my local card store. Not all the fun is winning with the best cards but with some of the worst cards out there XD

    I've got a good dozen decks, all but one are theme decks slightly augmented with my ebay hack cards (that my friends detest). The custom deck though...it's an absolute wonder. It only really works maybe one in five games, but when it works it's amazing. The premise is to fill your graveyard with super expensive artifacts using blue discard cards, then using another card to bring them straight into play without paying the cost. Then you play another card that turns all artifacts into artifact creatures with strength/power equal to their cost. So you end up with a good 6-12 7/7-9/9s on the field. then you make them indestructable. then you boost the ever loving balls out of them, give them flying, trample, protection from black and...red?, and a whole bunch of others. When this deck works there is no countering, there is no defence. It's a one-hit kill. It's worth the losses to get to the one game when it works.

    I'm a casual player and my group and I usually have a game with 4-8 players although they have been bigger (but they're horrible because they are so slow).

    We generally have 100 card decks for these sorts of games although 1v1 we'll usually do 60-80 card decks.

    I guess gameplay changes depending on how many people are involved.

    If you want to keep your friends and do reasonably well play Ramp. Control and Combo upset people but nobody will have a problem with you slowly building a mana base before going off. You may become the main villain they ally together to defeat but it makes for a more entertaining game.

    Building specifically for a multiplayer environment can be difficult, especially if you care about winning, but it can be done. If that get's too difficult consider Two-Headed Giant or team formats. The're better suited to people playing mean decks.
    There is always Commander as well. If you aren't scared of games running long it can be one of the most entertaining formats. People are rarely shut out of interaction and often politics are the deciding factor.

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