New Guys and Gals – to Robot or not to Robot!
By Paul Gulbis
“Tap, I deal 3 damage to you. Your turn.”
“Sure, my turn, I play Kitchen Finks, I gain two life. Your turn.”
“Okay. Tap, deal 3 damage to, uh, you. No, wait, the creature.”
“Kitchen Finks dies, then comes back, I gain two life.”
How many of you were in a situation like this when teaching someone new to Magic? Not necessarily the same scenario, but one where the person you are teaching doesn’t actually read their opponent’s cards, or take note of what they actually do to their game plan?
I have taught many players since I started playing in 2001. I have had trials and tribulations, from slow learners, players that are just disinterested to the quick learners and competitive players. I will be talking about how I have evolved in teaching Magic to newer players, both to the kitchen table and to the competitive scene.
I’m sure we’re all guilty of this, but the worst way of teaching a new player is to give them some big dumb Green deck, an un-interactive (to the new player) Red burn deck or a creature-heavy White weenie deck? We just hand them the quickest deck we can find just so that they could just tap and cast things. I have done this, and I have found that I end up just teaching my learner to tap lands, play creatures or burn face – that is not Magic.
The single most important thing you can teach new players and even players that have played for awhile is interactivity. Knowing and reading your game’s situation is the single most important thing about a game. Teach your friend/colleague/significant other the fundamentals of assessing the board situation at every turn and you’ll have a player ready to enjoy him or herself more – after all, they won the game with skill.
I have once put myself into the shoes of a new player and wondered:
“This game is dumb, I cast every damage spell I could, but I still couldn’t kill him because he gained 4 life points and that put me out of reach of killing him.”
“I played my three creatures, but my opponent just wiped my board and I lost anyway.”
“Every single creature of mine is getting killed or countered while I die to his 2/2, this is no fun!”
The first three things I always tell a new player.
Mana base, card advantage and board advantage.
The simplest forms – Get good lands. Get some cards that get an advantage over two or more of your opponent’s cards. And lastly, if you’re on a good board position then you can dictate how the game goes.
I always encourage that we give our new players at least a dual coloured deck. For instance, a Red Green big dumb creature deck with Red removal spells. Teach them to cast their creatures and assessing whether an opponent’s creature needs to be removed or not. This is simple interactivity – you make the new player decide whether he should burn face, creature or just play something dumb. Again, I cannot stress that interactivity is the most important lesson for a new player.
Incremental advantage is the name of the game – however that lesson is meant for the intermediate players, but again, you can tell your learner that there is a lot to learn about Magic and that it gets more fun as you find more complex board states, and that it shouldn’t be feared.
Two colour decks teach the player the value of mana efficiency from infancy. That loss of life could be good for that specified mana that turn. A mono Green deck doesn’t care about fixing mana, and you just taught a player that, instead of valuing their mana base. I always make sure that the new player plays with bad mana and then with good mana. Same Deck, same colour distribution if you can, they soon see that it becomes important – you’ll see how quickly they change their tune. Again, this is a stepping stone to incremental advantage.
Another thing to remember is that new players love bad little combos. Give them a deck that has synergy instead of bad two card combos like Vulshok Sorceror and Gorgon’s Head; new players revel in that stuff but the inconsistency ends up frustrating them. You shouldn’t restrict yourself from letting them have fun with such decks, but a more well-rounded deck makes for a more well-rounded learning experience.
When you give a new player a deck to learn with – try to sit with them while they play – do not get frustrated; that’s off-putting. If they make bad plays – let them play them out for a turn or two – after all we are learning. Retract each step if you can whilst showing them the cascading effect that their misplay can do. But this is meant for once they know the turn structure and know the game a little…
To interactivity… and beyond!
Once you get a cool deck idea for your new player, let that player build the deck him or herself! I cannot express how important this to the player. Whilst doing this, the player sees the interactivity of the cards while building it. They will most likely get too many cards in the first iteration; then you can gradually help cutting worse cards out. Let them think of scenarios in their head while building this deck – like if your opponent has two more creatures on the board than him – which spell would be best to deal with such a situation?
From here, the playing starts. Your new found player, fully equipped with his new deck, is ready to wreck havoc upon you.
But wait, there is a problem…
None of the cards are working the way they’re supposed to. This is a bummer we all face, but it hits the hearts of new players a bit more because they have this idea in their head that it should work; they make it work; it will work! And the harder they try to make their deck work the more frustrated they get.
This is where they realize that some cards are just bad and that makes them sad and probably put off – but you can show them that Magic always has a decent replacement and that sometimes their deck needs tweaking rather than a major overhaul.
This way, the player will have renewed faith in his deck and willing to try again with better cards. This will loop until the new player becomes a regular player with a regular win ratio and happier at the next FNM.
Try these tips when teaching your new player. Do not just hand them a deck that will turn them into a “Tap, deal three damage.” robot.