I have a Thursday Night Magic group that has been together for a long time. We pick up new players and other players move on, but that group has been my source for regular games for the last 1- years. In the last couple of years, I've noticed a trend. Our games used to take about an hour to finish, but now they seem to take longer. We used to get through three and sometimes four games in a night, and now it is a struggle to finish two games.
At least part of that is due to the time. We used to play until almost 11:00 and now we tend to wrap things up around 10:00. While that explains some of the problem, I'm pretty sure I know one of the other reasons why games are taking longer.
There isn't one particular reason for my slow play, but I've hit on a few. I suspect many of you are guilty of one or more of these reasons, so I thought I would share them here, and offer some solutions to the issues. We are all in this together. Let's take that first step:
Too Much Talking. As someone who has been writing as long as I have, it should come as no surprise that I like to hear myself talk! Seriously, though this is a tough one for me. Thursday Night Magic is my Poker Night. It is my night to spend time with my friends and share our week. We share the trials and tribulations in our lives, along with the laughs and good times. Magic is more an excuse to get together, as opposed to the reason. When the group gets talking, it can be easy to miss the cue that it is now your turn. A story is being told and suddenly someone asks, "whose turn is it?" The fact that players in the game aren't sure where the turn is at is a sign that your game could be moving faster.
Your Deck Type. Some decks are very reactive. Once commanders are revealed, I can often guess if the game will be shorter or longer. The more blue and white that shows up tends to lead to longer games. Once we've reached the point in the game where the control players have mana available, no one is certain if their spells are going to be countered. The control players know they aren't going to be able to stop every spell that comes along, so they need to pick and choose which spells to counter and which to let through. This isn't always obvious so there are plenty of times when the game needs to slow down and decisions need to be made. To be fair, this isn't just the control player. There are plenty of combat tricks that need to be decided as well. Part of the joy of Magic is the game's interactivity. It is this interactivity that can create moments where the game slows to a crawl.
Careful Play. I'm not going to criticize careful play, but there comes a point in multiplayer games when you must trust your instinct and make the play. Many games have so many cards involved that determining the best play simply becomes too difficult to determine. Many new players struggle with this as they rely on their limited knowledge of the games and the cards involved to make decisions that are best for them. Many seasoned veterans struggle with this too, having been burned by missing an obvious line of play that cost them dearly. These players move through the steps and phases with careful deliberation, determined to make the best play every time. Is it better to hold off playing a creature with exalted until after combat to represent a combat trick or play it before to get the extra +1/+1? Every decision is considered and their turns can bog down as the games get complex.
Analysis Paralysis. This is closely tied to Careful Play, and is something I am often guilty of doing. I look at one point of the game, that leads me to consider another, then another, then another, until I'm back to where I started and feeling no closer to a decision. I recently was looking at a board state trying to determine which creatures I should attack with. I considered various blocking options for my opponent, the likelihood one of my attackers would be destroyed with a combat trick and how much damage I would do, before realizing I just needed to play Overcome to get around most of the issues. I played the Overcome and moved to attack when I realized I'd forgotten the Propaganda in play, which was the reason I hadn't played the Overcome, since I knew initially that I would need the mana to attack. These kinds of results lead to Analysis Paralysis when future situations arise.
We've identified the issues around slow play, so how do we eliminate it or at least minimize it?
Too Much Talking. The answer for this one varies with each group, but I've heard of a variety of solutions people have tried. The easiest one is simply making passing the turn a vocal cue. A wave of the hand or simply ending your turn is not enough. Announcing "I'm done," and making sure the next player heard you is a great way to ensure you start playing right away. This puts the onus on both players to keep things moving.
I've heard of some groups passing an item to show that they are finished. There is never any doubt whose turn it is when the red disk is sitting in front of your battlefield. I think it would be cool to pass a candle around the table, or if Spongebob is part of your playgroup, a conch may be more appropriate. One group liked to pass an egg timer as that encouraged the players to hustle as well as show whose turn it was.
A couple of less invasive rules are also effective. If it is your turn, you are not permitted to take part in any conversation outside of the game. Save the great story about the lunatic you work with for when your turn is over. The other rule involves you not being permitted to leave the table if it is your turn or will be soon. Whether you are looking for a bathroom break or heading to the kitchen to load your plate, finish your turn before getting up.
The other issues have solutions that can apply to each of them:
Planning Ahead. So much of slow play is the result of a failure to plan ahead. When your turn is over, you should already have a pretty good idea what you want to do on your next turn. As each player takes their turn, just look at your course of action and determine if what they did changes what you want to do. If so, adjust your plan and repeat this for each player in turn. When your next turn comes up, you'll know what you want to do. This will resolve much of the Careful Play and Analysis Paralysis often seen.
Playing Ahead. If there are things you can do before the last minute, do them! Sacrificing a land or creature to search for a land is something you tend to want to wait until the end of the turn to do, but if your group understands that you are trying to speed the game up, perhaps everyone can allow a takeback if something changes. This works with Sensei's Divining Top and other cards that let you scry or do some library manipulation before your draw. We want to see the big, flashy plays, not watch someone weigh the benefits of the three cards they are seeing with a Top.
Tapping Mana. I like to play with precision, but I'm okay with someone changing how they tap their mana if they make a mistake on their turn. I don't want someone to spend time ensuring their mana is tapped properly because they are afraid they won't be able to cast another spell if they do it wrong. This involves trusting your friends not to take advantage of new information, but keeping the game moving makes that a risk worth taking for me.
Know Your Deck. If you know all the outs your deck offers, there is less to consider when trying to make the best play or fighting through Analysis Paralysis. You don't want to wonder if you have a way to deal with their indestructible creature; you should know every way your deck can handle it. This also makes playing reactionary decks easier. If you know your deck, you'll have a better sense of which spells need a response and which do not.
Change Your Format. Sometimes the best way to speed up your games is to just choose a faster format. Two-Headed Giant means two players are taking their turn at the same time. When six players can play as fast as three players, a 2HG game makes a lot of sense. Rather than a five-Player Chaos game, why not choose Star? Now you only have to eliminate two people instead of four. Attack Left was the preferred style of play in one of my previous groups. You only had to determine how one person could attack you and how you could attack one person. The format can make a difference!
Change Your Deck. Perhaps you should be running a deck that is a little more linear. Many decks guide you from one play to the next and are still a lot of fun to play. With fewer options to consider, things should move along nicely.
Be Aware. This should be obvious, but it is amazing how many of us who play slowly simply get lost in our own heads. For a long time, I set up the stopwatch on my phone and simply started it on my turn. This visual prompt was enough to remind me that everyone was waiting for me to finish so they can also play. This sped up my turns and upped my win percentage as it demanded I assess the game state and tended to keep everything at the forefront as I made my game decisions.
I would love to hear other ways you have used to keep your games moving! Reach out in the comments below or on Twitter!