Right now, the hundreds of Magic: The Gathering players to have qualified for this weekend’s big Pro Tour Magic Origins event are descending upon the Vancouver Convention Centre for the last major tournament of that circuit’s regular season. With the recent launch of Origins—the card game’s latest set, which may be getting some Gameological love of its own in the coming days—and this high-stakes competition taking place, Samantha Nelson brought us a look at what it’s like for some of the people who travel and compete on this global Pro Tour circuit.
But competitive Magic isn’t all Hall Of Fame rings and massive prize pools. For the rest of the Magic-playing world, it comes down to tiny tournaments at local hobby shops. As with all things that involve competition and other human beings, your mileage may vary. The Space Pope recalled a particularly demoralizing outing:
I’ve played in exactly one Magic tournament. It was at a local game store a few years ago. I went because two of my college friends who are avid Magic players were going, and I thought it might be fun to play along. I was mistaken. Not because the other players were stinky or maladjusted or any other nerd stereotypes. It was just that I’m really, really crappy at Magic: The Gathering. I’ve never won a game against another human being in my life, and I certainly didn’t start then.
The other reason was that the other players took the game so very seriously. The 14-year-old boy who was my first opponent just gave me an uncomprehending stare as I tried to joke about my impending loss. I wound up apologizing to my friends and leaving as soon as I was eliminated. Nothing against the other players, but their idea of fun just didn’t quite line up with mine. Also, and I can’t stress this enough, I really really sucked.
After having not played the game in almost 10 years, my brother convinced me to enter a sealed-deck tournament with him. I ended up having a surprisingly good time, enough that I kept playing for a few more months.
The problem for me is that I never find the game fun unless I’m playing with friends. It’s like you said, most people take the game really seriously. It’s a game that requires a lot of focus and concentration to play at high level. Most strangers I’ve played against interpret any attempt at levity to be some sort of psychological trickery.
And Hold On Now Youngster talked about finding the right community within the community:
I play Magic today. I’m about good enough to regularly win against the kids who show up and tell me about the super-sweet rare card that their best friend three towns over got that’s borderline unplayable, a bit above par with most of the other casual attendees, and rarely able to beat the “good” players.
Just about the only thing that got me to play the game consistently was finding a local store where my casual play style is welcome instead of viewed as a detriment. I’ve had a few negative experiences putting up with competitive-types, but for the most, part the ability to joke around with friends and not take the results too seriously has been a boon.
I’ve also viewed it as a learning and teaching opportunity. When good players trounce me, I talk to them about what went wrong and what they were thinking. When I trounce newer players, we talk about how the game went and give one another constructive feedback. The important thing is to do it with a smile, and remember that you were the new kid once upon a time too.
And Chris Ingersoll filled us in on the well documented phenomenon of pretty good players—competitors who might toil around the top of your local scene but can’t ascend higher—being the most unpleasant:
An odd thing about the competitive killjoy experience: It’s only seen at the “grinder” level, those people trying to break into the higher ranks. At higher levels of play, everyone’s as friendly as they are at the kitchen table (although less forgiving of rules mistakes, obviously, but that works both ways).
The phenomenon is sometimes referred to as “the Levine Trench” or the “Levine Ravine,” named after a tournament judge who discussed it in one of his articles. Think “uncanny valley” but for acting human rather than seeming.
Along the same lines, Mercadier recalled a three-category player profiling system described by Mark Rosewater, Magic’s current head designer:
There was a Wizards Of The Coast article talking about the three kinds of Magic players: the Timmy, the Johnny, and the Spike. Timmy is your 8-year-old player, who gets excited at the sight of a big giant dragon and wants to play that and just be amazing and win with big, powerful, cool cards. Spike is the competitive one—can be jerk, can be nice, but always wants to win. For Spike, the challenge is in the competition, no different from poker, sports, or anything else. Johnny is the more creative one, who wants to find something unique and craft a deck that works elegantly. It might not win, mind you, but its more about self-expression.
The article in question, “Our Three Favorite Players: Timmy, Johnny, And Spike,” goes into far more detail about each of those three categories and the ways they can overlap. It’s an old article, but still an interesting look into the ways the game’s designers analyzed their audience and made sure to create cards that would satisfy different kinds of players.
Elsewhere, Sacks Romana reminisced about the important role Magic played in their life—before having to give it up because of the expense:
I played Magic pretty seriously (not remotely professionally) from the time I was 11 to the time I was 14—from 1994 to 1997. My mom also loved the game, and we’d travel to local tournaments together and even went to GenCon two years in a row. I got to meet the artists and all sorts of other cool “industry” insiders. High-schoolers and college kids would get pissed when a junior-high kid and middle-aged woman would beat them in tournaments (they were far more deferential and polite to my mom), and I semi-regularly got to the prize-awarding rounds at my local shops (winning maybe 3+ booster packs; I never got top 3 in even a local tournament). It was a great game and a great time. I had a real drought of friends from the end of 6th grade to the end of junior high, but I have a lot of great and fun memories from this age because of Magic.
That’s one rad mom.
And with that, Gameologerinos, another week comes to a close. After some scheduling weirdness (listen, even an editor needs to take a vacation every once in a while), we’ll be back in full force next week with the return of a beloved Gameological feature. It’ll be a special week for a certain topic, a Gameologist might say. We’ll see you then!