This is a story about Sam.
You probably read the title of this article and groaned but hear me out. We are trying to make a better world through Magic. If you stay with me, I promise it will be worth it.
A few months ago one of my best friends Randall and I sat down to play some Commander (pre Covid-19, so, you know, no face masks, no constant fear, etc.). Commander is king at our shop and most people indulge in it with as many as 20+ people a night showing up to battle. Pods are aplenty, and everyone has a good time
On this particular day our friend Alex brought his girlfriend Sam with him. She had learned to play Magic back in September and finally decided to make the trek to see what it was all about. Alex jumped into a competitive pod as Randall and I shuffled up. We saw her sitting in the corner goldfishing her deck.
"Hey!" I yelled, because I am obnoxious, "you wanna join us?"
Luckily, she agreed and came over. She was battling with Syr Gwyn, Hero of Ashvale. I was playing Phenax, God of Deception mill and Randall was playing some pile I can't remember. We played for hours, laughed, and made a new friend. This is important for several reasons:
When you are in your store, talk to people. This is not easy for everyone. If you are talkative like I am, you can have a pretty simple time making friends. But not everyone can. Magic is escapism for a lot of folks. You can often find yourself immersed in a world of make-believe, heroes and villains, and storylines. It is not hard to overlook the people in your local game store because they have their own world and you have yours. If you see someone alone, talk to them. Take a chance. Make a friend. You would be surprised to see what can happen.
Years ago, a local player, Bronson Magnan, was kind of a loner. He was great at Magic—evident because he won the first Modern Grand Prix some time back—but was a competitive player in a non-competitive area. I was fresh off winning Florida Regionals (this was in 2009) so naturally I was interested in playtesting with him. Bronson was known for being pretty serious about the game—a borderline rules lawyer—but I knew if I wanted to keep getting better, he'd be a great playtest partner. So one day at the shop I asked him for his number. Surprised and taken aback, he gave it to me. The next week I called him up.
"Let's drive to FNM together so we can talk about what we're playing," I said.
And we did. We had a nice drive where we talked about Fairies and the tech for the mirror match. He had a vast collection and was very generous in offering me cards to fill out my decks. This was great! I had made a new friend. Over the years Bronson and I became closer and he opened up. No longer was it just him, but instead it became a large group of us! He was at my wedding in 2011 (boy can that man drink), and we became better and better friends. We traveled to every tournament together weekly, roomed, playtested, money drafted (shhh), and engaged in general debauchery. To this day he is one of my best friends and I am proud to call him brother.
You can do it. You can walk up to a group of people at your store and ask to join or if they mind you watching for a little bit. You can ask for tips, or why someone made a certain play. Ask about their decks, their draft strategies, or why they chose a certain Commander. Do not be afraid. You are awesome, and in doing so you could make friends for life.
One of the first things Randall and I did after playing a few games with Sam was ask her if she could lay out her deck so we could check it out. It had some issues with curve, lack of ramp, rough top-end—it had an excellent theme but not much direction. Randall immediately pulled out his binder and started handing her cards that would make her deck better.
"What do I owe you for these?" she asked.
"Nothing," he replied.
She seemed a little shocked, but it was a bunch of uncommons and some rares. This was a huge gesture. After all, Commander was founded as the dollar rare format. A few cards could make a big difference, and they cost him almost nothing to hand her.
Since I do not have a binder, I offered my expertise on the format. Randall, who is no slouch, joined in. Together we spent over an hour discussing deck theory, the merits of curving into your threat, synergies, and Sam got excited. She was interested in Magic for sure, but this was new. This was players dropping knowledge bombs on her. To his credit, Alex, who is a fantastic player, taught her very well. She was not a blank canvas for sure, but he combo kills people and we like long, drawn out games. That is just us.
Giving of yourself does not just mean handing out cards like they are candy. It means sharing your knowledge. Why keep all the interesting thoughts you have in your head if you can share them with others? Some people are absolute experts in how to build mana bases, or perfect curves for the type of deck someone is playing. Randall is great at analyzing decks. We know people who have encyclopedic knowledge of cards that you would never think of. This all comes together in a perfect storm to really power up someone's deck and give them a real fighting chance at a table. Within hours we tuned Sam's deck into a killing machine.
But that is not all. She built Golos, Tireless Pilgrim. Over the last two weeks we have spent a ton of time talking about card choices and reached into our collections to offer Sam cards to make golos, tireless prilgrim a blockbuster Maze's End deck. You think that sounds silly? She has dominated several of our pods. This is not a joke deck, but for semi-competitive players she was whipping us up. They were some of the most fun games I have ever played in my life. This past Tuesday set the bar for enjoyable games. When the shop closed, we were genuinely bummed out because the games were that good.
Some communities can be very hostile. The "good players" lump together, the casuals stick to their own games, and somewhere in the middle people get lost in the spaces in between. This is where mixing and mingling can be key. No matter who someone is, everyone deserves a chance to feel like they belong. Magic is the greatest game in the world and each person that plays it should feel like they have a spot at the table. You know how competitive I used to be? If my deck did not kill you on turn three or four it was a failure. At that point no one wanted to play with me since I could basically lay my hand out and show you how dead you were. That was boring to most people. So, I toned it down and built a few decks that were much lower on power level and much higher on what people considered "fun." This bridged a huge gap in our community; if I was willing to drop the cEDH decks, maybe other people could too? This started a renaissance in our stores where people decided to build new and different decks. The competitive players started battling with the casual players, and the decks meshed into one big group where you could walk up to anyone and jam pickup games without feeling like you were going to get mangled. It was awesome!
I agree with the golden rule: treat others the way you want to be treated.
Magic is a game that people who are not necessarily the communicators flock to. We are the island of misfit toys. Did you remember people making fun of you in high school for playing at the lunch tables, or your parents looking at you like you had three heads when you tried to explain to them what Magic was? It sucked. It freaking sucked. You felt like no one would understand you or this cool hobby you were trying to pick up. But then you found your local game store, and suddenly there were dozens of people that were participating! You were not alone anymore! These were all folks that knew the game, loved it, and all had different takes on it. You could belong for once. This is the feeling that we strive to create amongst our new players. Make them feel like they belong. Invite the new kid to play. Teach someone. Make sure they know that for once in their lives they are a part of something. You never know what kind of impact you could make. Magic has saved my life more times than I can count. You could save someone, too.
Anyhow, Sam and Alex are moving into a new place. Sam is so excited for their game room, and over the last month has been giddy because she loves hosting and wants a game night where we all eat, drink, and play Magic until the hour is late and I should have gone home a long time ago.
And it is all because of one simple sentence:
"Hey! You wanna join us?"