Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Designing for Timmy and Tammy


Why, it’s Bassie, my faithful dog hound! What’s wrong, girl?


What’s that? Timmy’s stuck in the well?


Oh sorry, I misheard you. Timmy, the broad player archetype, is being misinterpreted as being only children who want to play 9-mana creatures?


I’m on my way!!!

My main player demographic is Timmy, and much of my non-Magic design work is about creating an experience in a box. Thus, when I see people summarize the archetype as people who like big, splashy, expensive cards, I’m able to understand that this is only a fraction of the demographic, and that designing cards with Tammy in mind requires a lot more nuance than making a 20/20 creature with every keyword. I’ve collected my thoughts on the archetype, and designing for it, in this article.

Note: In this article, when referring to specific, male people, I use Timmy, and in all other cases use Tammy. Don’t @ me, Ron.

What Does Tammy Want?

Most of the more recent player demographic articles refer to Tammy as someone who plays Magic “to experience something”. This is unhelpfully broad, and I think it could be better summarized as “Tammy wants to do what they find fun.”

Most Tammies have specific things they enjoy doing. Some are classic and they like casting big creatures and splashy spells. Others adhere to and specialize in specific deck archetypes. (I’d argue that pros like Craig Wescoe and Shota Yasooka, who play the same kind of deck in every meta, have Timmy streaks in them.) Some crave variety, and enjoy formats like Cube where you can do different wacky things every time you play. Even things normally thought to appeal to Spike, like tournaments, might have some fringe appeal to Tammies who enter GPs for the tension and stakes they create.

Thus, what Tammy wants is actually fairly wide, but it could be summarized with relative accuracy as the freedom to choose what’s the most fun for them without feeling like the have to play something they don’t like to keep up with the other players. 

Of the formats currently getting Tier-1 support from Wizards, I would argue that Modern is the most Tammy-friendly.  The Modern metagame is essentially the wild west, and you can play basically anything you want to that’s reasonably optimized and have a good chance of making day 2 of a GP. (Skred, of all things, took down a GP a couple years ago!) No matter what playstyle lets you have fun, you won’t feel like you’re being punished for choosing it, and format rotation won’t regularly force you to play something else. Furthermore, the decks offer a “purer” experience of archetypes because they have a wider selection of cards to choose from: For example, the mono-red deck from this year’s Standard, with its 4- and 5-mana top end, doesn’t satisfy the need for speed as much as red aggro with Lightning Bolt and Goblin Guide.

Weird supplemental variants, like Archenemy and Planechase, are also aimed towards Tammy because they offer a prepackaged experience that’s significantly different from everyday Magic. These are often too rigid for Jenny and too silly for Spike, but players looking to try something out of the ordinary will get a kick out of it.

Commander, the first format people would think of as being a “Tammy format,” does have quite a bit of appeal, but the nature of the format overwhelmingly favors durdly decks with a certain amount of staple cards like Sol Ring, Cyclonic Rift, and signets. For Timmies like myself who prefer aggressive strategies, there isn’t much to work with that doesn’t fizzle out 25% of the way through the game. It’s arguably more of a Jenny format because the singleton decks and commanders are a great method of self-expression, even within its strategy constraints.

What Doesn’t Tammy Want?

Of the three player archetypes, Tammy cares the least about feeling smart.

Jenny and Spike want some challenge in self-expression or in achieving good results because it separates them from other people. Thus, making a goal too easy to accomplish or a deck too easy to pilot is a problem for them. Conversely, Tammy wants to feel something specific, and if that’s difficult to achieve, they won’t enjoy it.

For example, Tammies in general have the fewest reservations about netdecking. Spikes are okay with it provided they know it’s the right decision, and Jennies don’t like it because copying decklists isn’t self-expression, but Tammies enjoy the fact that they can find something tuned that suits their preference simply by searching online a little.

The actual experience of playing should, of course, be mentally strenuous, because that’s what makes it good. But the most important part of making a card, set, or format appeal to Tammy is to not put unecessary extra barriers in between them and fun.

Designing for Tammy

Cards aimed towards Tammy don’t necessarily have to be expensive or powerful, they just have to do something cool and not require a lot of work to achieve it. One of the best examples is Eye Gouge. Jenny doesn’t like it because being able to exploit it depends on what the opponent plays. Spike is okay with it, because knowing when it’s good enough to take out of the Limited sideboard does require some skill, but it’s basically an on/off card with not many uses. Tammy loves it to death, however, because even theoretically killing your opponent’s cyclops by stabbing it in the eye with a spear is extremely cool and actually pulling it off is a great story.

Having strong, well-defined set archetypes is the best way to orient a set towards Tammy; they want whatever archetype they choose to build into to feel like something specific. The Abzan in Khans of Tarkir convey a strong impression of an entrenched siege force slowly rumbling towards the opponent, as well as a family working together to share their skills and knowledge. The Temur, on the other hand, didn’t feel like much of anything besides a mishmash of fun midrange toys, and thus didn’t feel unique to the set. Novel archetypes that significantly alter how you play the game like Lost in the Woods or Goblinslide are also great.

Because Tammies enjoy a wide variety of playstyles, it’s hard to quantify how to design a mechanic specifically for the archetype; in general, if something plays well and leads to interesting decisions that other sets don’t have, it should be good for Tammy. The one mechanic I can think of that was specifically good for Tammy is cascade, as the semi-randomness made for an exciting mini-game every time you played a cascade card. (It’s also one of my favorite mechanics to play with.)

All this said, big splashy effects are primarily enjoyed by Tammy because they enjoy the viscerality of plays much more than Jenny and Spike. There is some truth in the narrow definition; it’s just important not to sort a large number of players into it.


The point of player demographics isn’t to separate players into Gryffindors and Slytherins, but rather to remember that different people play Magic for different reasons. If you’re reading this article, you’re probably very enfranchised, and when you’re this deep into Magic it’s hard to remember that there are people who just want to pick up their favorite deck and jam a couple of games with their friends. 

Tammies aren’t just children who learned how to play yesterday, and in fact comprise a wide variety of experience levels and tastes. However, what all of them have in common is a desire to have a blast. Whether you let them by introducing a new archetype that plays unlike anything before in Magic or by making a card that improves someone’s favorite deck, it’s important to make sure you keep it in mind in the first place. 


  1. Oh! Yeah, I think that's a much better way of describing Tammy/Timmy.

    I find myself instinctively drawn to Jenny/Spike, to finding cool exploits, but I actually often have the most FUN when I play more Timmy, and pick something that feels good.

  2. Thanks for this, Jeremy. Lots of good stuff here.

    You start with “Tammy wants to do what they find fun.” All Magic players want that. The psychographics exist to help us understand what kinds of fun different players want. You later mention they value freedom from doing what others say is optimal, and I think that's true, though it's in partial conflict with the assertion they enjoy net-decking. (Part of the problem being that Tammy is not monolith and there is a spectrum of them.)

    I characterize Tammy as loving exploration and improvisation. There is an appreciation for the core experience a game designer presents, as well as an expectation that it will be varied and novel. Tammy is more open-minded and willing to try new things, but will often be disappointed by rote gameplay and a lack of surprises.

    1. Netdecking doesn't necessarily mean taking the most dominant deck in the format - it could be buying a tier-3 list because you like the way it plays.

      That's a very interesting characterization and it sounds right to me.

  3. I wonder if Timmy/Tammy is the Hufflepuff House of Magic, where there are some well-defined traits, but everyone else gets thrown in by default if they don't adhere enough to one of the other types.

    I have to quibble with the idea that archetype specialists are Timmies. We already know that "liking variety" is tagged as a Timmy trait, with diversity gamers (different formats with offbeat rules) and adrenalin gamers (randomized effects) being examples of Timmies. There might be some Timmies whose definition of fun only includes a small subset of the things you can do in Magic, but I think they're the minority. So, back to archetype specialists, I would call them Johnny, for two reasons. One is that it's a form of self-expression, being known as "the combo player" or "the mono-red player" can be a part of your identity, and even set you apart from others because most people don't go super deep into a single archetype. The other reason is that forcing an archetype naturally sets constraints, and Johnny likes the puzzle of figuring out how to make the available card pool work within those constraints.

    Most Timmies like Commander because being killed before you get to do your awesome thing isn't fun. Commander games (especially multiplayer) tend to drag on, making it more likely not only that Timmy will get to do something awesome, but that the other players will as well, so even if Timmy doesn't dominate the table he still gets to go home with a cool story. ("Telling cool stories" is how I exhibit my Timmyness.)

    I think it's not necessarily that Timmy doesn't care about feeling smart (granted, all Magic players I know cite "feeling smart" as a motivation, but my anecdata is skewed toward tournament players). What he really dislikes is feeling stupid. Spikes are willing to learn a difficult deck if being good at that deck helps them win a lot. Johnnies can get invested in learning complicated decks if it helps them feel unique (and some will treat added layers of convolution as a positive). Decks that require a lot of practice to play competently, or cards that require re-reading a lot to understand what they do, are barriers between Timmy and Timmy's fun. Simple and linear cards will probably please Timmy most of the three. In addition to your Abzan example, I would suggest Every. Tribal. Ever.

    I also don't like the Eye Gouge example because it does require a lot of work to achieve something awesome, namely, your opponent has to have a Cyclops. Otherwise, it's a -1/-1 for 1. Womp womp. Some examples I think meet those specific criteria better:
    -Thorn Elemental
    -Loxodon Warhammer
    -Any planeswalker with generic abilities
    -Miracles (and the adrenaline rush of the topdeck in general, particularly for aggro Timmies as their hand tends to empty out faster). Johnny and Spike will use fancy tricks to set up their topdeck for the perfect Miracle, Timmy will have the most enjoyment off a timely blind flip, and might not want those setup pieces in his deck at all.

    Personal story time: I'm a Timmy/Spike. No one believes I'm a Timmy, because I "have a weird definition of fun." Specifically, I like to be a villain. One of my favorite cards of all time is Wasteland. My favorite decks are the kind that people whine about hating to play against, like Ramunap Red, Lantern, and Tron. (The Spike side is fulfilled because by definition these decks have to be somewhat competitive; people wouldn't be so upset if they could win easily against them). However, I don't like Dredge and Storm, even though they approach the game from an unexpected angle, because they require a lot of moving pieces before they accomplish anything of note, so that goes back to simple plans being best. And while I tend to favor aggro because it's easier for me to play, I don't deny that control and combo are capable of being awesome.

    1. This is a really valuable contribution, thank you very much!

      I picked Eye Gouge as an example both because the ceiling is very exciting and because it appeals much more to people who want that story than people looking at it from a strategy perspective. From those standpoints I think it's still fine.

      Your point about Tammy not wanting to feel stupid is more accurate than what I wrote tbh, very well put.

      I can see where you're coming from with that last paragraph, I remember Maro has fielded a couple questions from confused Stax players who didn't know what archetype they fit.

    2. re: Eye Gouge, it could also be argued that Timmy is the psychographic most likely to look at the ceiling of an effect, rather than the floor. Other examples would be a coin-flip card whose fail case is "nothing happens," or Lord of the Pit - Timmy will probably be more sad at the drawback trigger than the inherent drawback of a card costing 4BBB being stranded in the hand a lot.

    3. Thanks for this great share, Jenesis.

      As a data point, I think Eye Gouge is for Vorthos and not Tammy.

    4. Are there cards that aren't designed for any of the three psychographics? (TJS, V, and M are all on separate scales. Form of the Dragon, for example, is a T/V card.) e.g. Is a vanilla creature "designed for" LSPs rather than being made with any of TJS in mind?

  4. In the end, I really kind of grew to respect the Tammy-oriented enrage mechanic in Ixalan. (It did reach out to Jenny and Spike, and then kind of ruined the Tammyness of it with too strong combos in Rivals) It made combat interesting when you were playing against somebody with dinos, and the other tribes didn't really do that. It was actually fun to play against (until they drew that dino tutor), and you can't really say that about many mechanics.