Wednesday, March 26, 2014

New Player Perspectives: Session 3

[New Player Perspectives is the ongoing story of my non-gamer girlfriend's introduction to Magic.]

Another month, another duel. As before, Freyja had a fairly clear recall of the rules despite not having thought about them in several weeks. This game was an epic struggle; I was up 29 -7 while she drew land after land, but eventually she stabilized and started sending in the flyers. My Axebane Stag was triple-blocked, Gravediggered, and finally Rebuked to squeak out a win from 2 life. If all my games were this exciting, I'd attend FNM a lot more often!

What did you enjoy about the game?
Despite grim odds, I destroyed my opponent.
Were you certain that you were going to lose?
I was fairly certain. I hadn't had a game that was quite so dramatic before.
What did you not enjoy about the game?
I was hanging on a thread for a while.
Observe that "What did you enjoy?" and "What did you not enjoy?" have essentially the same answer! Winning, by itself, brings little pleasure. It's the risk of losing that makes victory worthwhile. The longer the odds, the sweeter the triumph.

What do you mean by that exactly? How did you know you were behind?
Well, I was out of cards, and it was unclear that I was going to be able to destroy my opponent's heavy, uh... big guys. Whatever term you want to call them.
I was curious if she would cite the difference in life totals as evidence that she was behind. However, by the third session, she was at least somewhat aware of the notion of card advantage. It doesn't take a Pro Tour champion to figure out that running out of cards is a bad thing.

They're called "fatties", for future reference.
Oh, okay.
What was the favorite card of yours that you played?
Probably the Moon Heron.
Well, it's a fairly strong card. It's not like some of the flying cards that have low points [power]. And it allowed me to deal some fairly significant damage that otherwise I wouldn't be able to, since land creatures can't block it.
What was the least favorite card of yours?
Island? Land? 'cause I had so much of it, and it was the last thing I had in my hand, so it was my secret card that I couldn't do anything with.
In a previous session, I'd mentioned the practice of sandbagging a land to bluff a trick or discard to Mind Rot. Apparently she remembered.

What about cards that I played? Were there any that you particularly feared or didn't fear?
The Axebane Stag.
Because it was really hard to... I mean, every time I blocked it I had to lose a creature. And it was hard to deal damage, because it could block almost everything I had, except the flying creatures.
Fatties are tremendously threatening to a new player, since the opportunity cost of their steep price doesn't really register. I think it's telling that big common creatures have had an upwards trajectory in the last several years. (Consider, for example, Craw WurmAlpha Tyrranax, and Vulpine Goliath.) Between that and the demotion of Doom Blade to uncommon, fatties are finally starting to live up to their promise.

What was the experience that was the most fun? What would you remember?
The end of the game, where I managed to draw just the right cards to kill and/or prevent you from blocking me, so that I could deal deadly damage. That was kind of a surprise.
This sort of exciting play comes from cards whose efficacy varies dramatically depending on the game state. Griptide is amazing in a tight race, but less impressive when you're behind. Fireball is underwhelming on the turn two, but marvelous on turn ten. When the right combination of circumstances makes your hand play out perfectly, that creates a memorable and satisfying experience.

What was your least fun experience?
Feeling like I was going to be subjected to instant death.
What about the rules was most surprising or unintuitive for you?
Nothing really. Some of the Lifelink cards were annoying, but they weren't surprising.
What did you learn about strategy from this game?
Sometimes you just have to go with it and wait until you get a good card, and you can only do as good as the cards in your hand. There's some amount of luck to it, so strategize as well as possible, but to some extent it's out of control.
My favorite thing about high-variance games such as Magic is that they teach good life lessons: "Do the best with the hand you're dealt with." "Accept that the future is unpredictable." I don't think it's a stretch at all to apply these principles (which most skilled gamers have internalized through experience) to other aspects of one's life. In fact, I would go so far as to say that playing games has made me a more resilient person.

What else would you like to share about your impressions of the game so far?
You know, I think the cards are pretty easy to understand, and it's simple enough that I feel like I can make plays and strategies that actually work and not get tricked by a card being vague.
By the third session, Freyja had definitely grasped some rudiments of strategy. She was chump-blocking when necessary to keep my ground creatures at bay while flyers pecked away. It's essential that new players feel they have some control over the direction of the game as soon as possible; for particularly cerebral types, this means that they have to start dealing with strategy early on. For others, it may just mean casting spells and turning guys sideways.

Anything else? Final thoughts?
Four in a row is pretty good. I thought it would take me a lot longer to win a game. Are you deliberately losing?
I'd made a few bad attacks in some games to maintain the pace, but no terrible "throw away the game" plays.

I'm really not. It's possible that your deck is just better than mine. We could switch sometime.
That would be interesting. Then I might have to lose.
Are you looking forward to playing again?
Yeah. I'm getting comfortable enough with this set that I feel we could branch out with some different types next time, maybe. We can switch decks and see what that's like.
Of course, the true replay value of Magic comes not in the gameplay itself, but in the experience of trying out new cards and decks. In our next session, we switched, and she got to give the G/B deck a spin. Tune in next week to find out what happened!


  1. She seems on the inevitable slope now.

    The "fatties" moment was interesting, as that's definitely not official Game Terms but was still vocabulary. (Not to mention how weird that term is divorced of context).

    1. I think "fatties" is, despite its usefulness, rather unimportant. Players can say "big guys" or "large creatures" and it doesn't affect their experience.

    2. Oh, absolutely. I just noticed it was symptomatic of a whole new set of vocabulary, which probably ranges widely depending on the specific situations.

    3. Indeed! A friend of mine calls all removal spells "control", which I've never quite accepted.

    4. I would have gotten confused by "heavy" but I feel "big guys" is just as much magic lingo as fatties.
      the other confusing terminology that was used was "land guys" to a experienced player "ground guys" the distinction here is probably made because lands have such a important role in the game that has nothing to do with creatures.

  2. Just chimming in to say I really like this series and appreciate the effort it must have taken you. The fact that she did not enjoy being behind, seems to indicate that new players do not often see that they could topdeck a haymaker. This is probably due to them not knowing their decks, yet it leads to a very bad feeling. It is important in the early games for new players to win. The comeback in this game was a very nice thing to happen to a begginer, but I feel that often, new players are discouraged from continuing playing due to a combination of complexity and of loosing games. You did well in creating fairly balanced decks and not playing superoptimally.

    1. I had a friend that we taught how to play then shortly thereafter build his own deck brought it to a local standard event, won first place, declared himself the master of magic, sold his deck (which had gained value because in had stoneforges in it) and never played again. this all happened in the span of a week.