Wednesday, April 2, 2014

New Player Perspectives: Session 4

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

Freyja tends to get drowsy in the evening, and was more or less asleep for both of these games. We traded decks for the first time, giving me W/U tempo and her B/G fatties. I promptly mulliganed to four Plains and a Stealer of Secrets, whereas she kept a one-lander but peeled land after land. I was still able to put up a fight for a few reasons: she didn't know how important it was to block Stealer of Secrets, and used combat tricks and removal inefficiently. (Giant Growth on Giant Spider pre-combat, Pharika's Cure on my Soulmender, etc.) At the end of the game, she realized it was okay to throw away creatures on an attack for lethal.

I mulled to five again in the second game and got soundly trounced.

The pre-combat Giant Growth was not wholly surprising. People naturally want to cast spells, not hoard them. New players often forget that instants can be played after blockers have been declared, especially if they haven't taken the time to sit down and read about all the steps and phases in a turn. (Which, of course, Freyja hasn't. I don't think she knows what a step or phase is.) Heroic was designed partly to reward such play, and seeing this in action reminded me why "things people already want to do" make good triggers for active incidental reward mechanics.

Casting a removal spell on my Soulmender seems like a terrible play to you or me, but recall that LSPs massively overestimate the impact of life gain, especially unbounded life gain. A terrible one-drop can feel like a ticking time bomb to the right opponent.

What did you enjoy about the games?
I won both of them! It was really fun to see that using a different deck, I didn't feel like I was either advantaged or disadvantaged, really. I just felt like I was dealing with different... well, I felt like I still had equal control over the game. I was happy with how I was able to play.
How did this deck feel different from the other one?
I felt like the sorcery cards gave me an advantage. I think the other deck I played with didn't have cards quite like that. That seemed a little different.
You mean, things like Assassin's Strike?
The "hard" removal spells in the other deck are cards like Divine Verdict and Paralyzing Grasp. Playing with completely unconditional removal spells apparently felt quite different.

Did you notice any other differences? 
Yes, but not anything wildly different. They're a little bit different, but essentially similar.
What did you not enjoy about the games?
What was the favorite card of yours that you played?
Assassin's Strike.
It was a fun one to pull out. It was unexpected. Also, the Rootwalla was very useful, because if I planned ahead then I'd have extra power.
It didn't take her long to figure out that saving mana for Rootwalla activations was a handy thing. But she did activate it pre-combat, of course!

What was the least favorite card of yours?
I didn't really have one.
What about cards that I played? What did you like or dislike?
Griptide was annoying because I didn't expect that. A creature I can deal with, but that's like, "Oh, crap, I couldn't have planned for that."
What was the experience that was the most fun? What would you remember?
The lifelink creatures. I feel like I didn't have them in the previous deck that I used. That empowered me to take greater risks because I was able to build up more life, and take more risks that involved losing life without worrying too much about it.
Although Freyja still has that LSP obsession with life totals, cards like Child of Night give her the freedom to attack without feeling unsafe. I hadn't realized how important Lifelink is at common for new players.

What was your least fun experience?
Nothing in particular.
What about the rules was most surprising or unintuitive for you?
I didn't realize that sorceries were sort of like instants, just because I haven't played with them before.
Awkward! Of course, if we could go back to Alpha and put Flash on sorceries, that would fix this problem. As it is, we just have to live with some unnecessary terminology.

You seemed surprised that flying creatures could block nonflying creatures.
Yeah, I guess I sort of assumed that flying creatures only blocked flying... I don't know why I thought that. Maybe because land creatures can only block land creatures.
Also, there's Vaporkin...
Yeah, I think maybe that gave that impression.
What did you learn about strategy from this game?
Risk-taking. There's some amount of loss that must be put up with to inflict damage on the other player. Not being quite so peevish about that.
As before, Magic teaches valuable life lessons.

What else would you like to share about your impressions of the game so far?
I can play it even when I'm sleepy.
Are you looking forward to playing again?
Yeah. I think I'm ready to start trying new decks.
Should I build a new one?
If you want. I mean, I like these ones.


  1. I wonder if cards like Furious Resistance that _have_ to be used while blocking can be a good way to teach the value of casting pump spells midcombat.

    1. No doubt, but the narrowness is problematic. Divine Verdict seems like the right direction.

  2. I think that is one of the hardest lessons to teach new players: As a default, do everything at the last second you can.

    Of course, the reason for this is twofold, as discussed here:

    A) When a player realizes they have a card that makes their life better, they are excited because they have "solved" the game they are playing, and they want to do it immediately. (Turn 1, Lightning Bolt your face anyone?)

    B) The timing system is terribly complex, and understanding when the last time you can play a creature, play a combat trick, etc etc is a non-trivial task. I would bet a ton of people reading this don't know there is an end of combat step that you can exploit with effects like Celestial Flare.

    Even intermediate players very often don't so much understand the rules as memorize phrases to say, as though they were magical incantations, to perform specific actions.

    From reading this, it sounds like your GF has a way stronger understanding of Magic and strategy after six games than I imagine is typical.

    1. This is exactly why Kaijudo only has one main phase and no instants.

    2. I haven't even mentioned the word "priority" yet. (I suspect only a small minority of players know what that is!)

  3. When you played the other deck, did you play it optimally, so that she would have seen you pump during combat, and casting creatures after attacking, etc, like you did by telling her you can keep lands in hand to bluff you have a spell?

    1. Yes, I definitely cast a post-blockers Giant Growth at some point. But since there were weeks or months between these games, she probably didn't remember.

  4. RE: Timing, saving spells, and other higher strategies:

    I have a few prebuilt decks that showcase different aspects of strategy - combat tricks, control, tempo, and 'suicide' effects (sacrificing and paying life for big reward). By letting my friends watch how I play, I notice they pick up the ideas quicker.

    Likewise, I usually teach deckbuilding strategies (such as the concept of a mana curve and mana base) by playing Solomon draft. They get to see how I prioritize certain cards - and I explain my decisions with each pick - and usually pick up the same concepts relatively quickly.

    After teaching by example, come step two - teach by application. Try to guide the board state into situations you know will reward certain higher-level plays (like a counterspell, for instance), and in doing so help your friend to apply the concepts they've learned. Solomon Draft is nice in that it combines example and application into one step.