Monday, February 20, 2012

Do's and Don't's For Teaching Someone To Play Magic the Gathering

by Julian

I was watching Nerdcore Rising the other night (documentary about a nerdy DJ called Frontalot) and one scene has a time lapse video of a dude teaching someone Magic the Gathering and stumbling through about 2 hours in the attempt.  It was sad to watch but I’ve seen others struggle with the same problem.  Now I know Magic has about a million and half rules, but explaining it really does not have to be such a daunting task.  It doesn’t require a detailed flow chart matrix and a weekend seminar.  You can teach your friend, your mom, or your kid to play magic in 15-20 minutes by using the right kind of decks and ignoring a whole host of rules they won’t really need until much much later.
Frustrated? Confused?  I'm here to help.

BUILDING THE DECKS
First start with the right decks.  This goes a long way to making the game easy to explain.  You don’t have to debate the complexities of Ice Cauldron if it isn’t the deck.  I recommend building two training decks for explaining to the new player.  Here are some do's and don’t's for the deck building:

I love this card and I'm still unsure about how it works!
DO build mono-colored decks with only basic land.  Need a mana, tap a land. Any land.
DON’T include non-land mana sources or lands that do special effects.  Keep the equation symbol.   Mana comes from tapping lands and this is the only thing lands do. Period.

DO include these five types of cards: lands, creatures, enchantments, sorceries, and instants.  New players need to get familiar with the different card types.
DON’T include artifacts or planeswalkers.  Artifacts come in a variety of types and basically mimic other card types like lands, creatures, or enchantments.  Players will easily get artifacts once they understand the other cards.  Don’t bog them down for now.  Plansewalkers should also be avoided as they are extremely rare and work like no other card.

DO include lots of creatures.  Make it a creature heavy deck.  If new players only get one solid thing out of their first few games it should be the basics of how combat works.
DON’T include creatures with tap effects.  Again, keep it simple.  Creatures tap to attack. That’s it.

DO build a deck with a strong theme and cards that work together.  New players should see how cards can build on other cards as part of the fun of Magic.  Tribal decks can be a good choice.
DON’T build a deck with complex cards, upkeep, or alternate win conditions.  To start, Magic is about summoning creatures and fighting it out.  A few spells for variety and creature boosting is fine, but don’t make them deal with fancy graveyard effects, deck milling, or anything that requires an upkeep.  Focus on solid, straight forward effects.

TEACHING THE GAME

Now that you’ve good built good decks for explaining the game, here are some tips for actually teaching it:
Shove aside your vast Magic knowledge and focus on the basics.
DO tell them the story of magic, but make it quick and simple.  You are both wizards summoning creatures and casting spells to try and defeat your opponent.  Tell them the theme of the deck they are about to play to help them be excited about the type of wizard they are.
DON’T explain their entire deck before they start.  They don’t need to know every card or special ability.  Tell them about haste or deathtouch when a creature hits the battlefield that has it. 

DO explain the cards in this order: Lands (you play one a turn and they are how you cast any spells). Creatures (you summon them, they stick around and your main way of attacking your opponent).  Enchantments (these are permanent effects that modify the game or specific creatures).  Sorceries and Instants (These are effects that happen right now and go away.  They are essentially the same card types except instants you can play out of turn, in response to things, and during combat).
DON’T explain the stack or resolving multiple card effects until it comes up in the course of play.

DO explain the following basics of combat.  Creatures tap to attack.  The defending player may assign untapped creatures to block.  If unblocked, attacking creatures deal their power in damage to the defender.  If blocked, an attacking creature fights the creature that blocked it.  They each hit each other at the same time with their power.  Any creature that takes a hit equal to or greater than its toughness dies and goes to the graveyard.
DON’T explain blocking one attacker with multiple creatures.  For the first game or two, just let it be that one creature blocks one attacker.

DO play with hands revealed for the first few games or at least the first several turns.  New players will have lots of questions about their cards and this will just speed up the explanations.  Likewise, they can see what you are considering and you can explain your choices and why you made them.
DON’T tell them what to do on every single turn.  Give them guidance for the first several turns, answer any questions they ask, and then let them explore their own deck.  Part of the fun of magic is discovery and you will ruin their first play experience if you hold their hand every step of the way.

Please let me know if you find these tips helpful or not and share any tips of your own in the comments!

22 comments:

  1. Great article will keep some of these in mind next time, thanks =)

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    1. Hope it helps! :) Let me know if you hit any snags I didn't address.

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  2. MTG has a learn to play book now; it's called Duels of the Planeswalkers.

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    1. That video game is a fantastic learning tool for those already excited to learn magic. However, if you are trying to convince a reluctant family member or friend to learn, telling them they just have to buy a $15 video game and play for a few hours is not always great sale pitch. :)

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  3. Thanks for this, as two of my sons are big gamers. I don't always get it, but as I say to them, my games are just different. Now I can talk tactics, which will completely throw them off their game ...LOL

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    1. Glad you enjoyed the article, Catherine! Any day I can help a parent throw their kid off their game is a good day indeed. :)

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  4. Seems like a good start but could really be turned into a 5 or 10 part series. Explain the next steps in introducing someone to Magic, how to teach people about deck composition, etc. A "Brief History of Magic" might be helpful as a concise reference about the background of the game. I'd also love to see you do a video entry where you explain Magic to someone from scratch and we watch their progress.

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    1. Thanks for the ideas, Chris. :) Those do sound like they would be fun to pursue! I have a few other ideas for some posts in the near future that I would like to do, but teaching magic does seem like a subject that would be worth coming back to.

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  5. Well stated article. I made the mistake once of trying to explain the stack to a person who had watched some games, but was just trying it out. I felt like I was trying to explain quantum physics to a freshman.

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    1. Thanks! I can understand their confusion. We play all the time and still get into arguments about how the stack works when resolving some card effects.

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  6. Great article! As someone who has been playing Magic for almost two decades, I still find it challenging to teach new players how to play.

    Personally, I found the 40-card promo decks that Wizards often gives away to be fantastic starting points. Many WPN stores don't bother with the packs, but if you ask they can often provide them free of charge.

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  7. Do give the new player the better deck and LET THEM WIN. This is very important. It give the player a good first impression.

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  8. Hi,
    Magic The Gathering is the game which people like to play and make some tricks and tactics their in the game.

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  9. Liked this ... I've been playing on and off since my teens and now my 8 year old is like "can you teach me to play?" as he's seen the cards in the basement - last time I tried to teach someone to play Portal still existed :)

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  10. Why shouldn't you have any plansewalkers or artifacts?

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  11. Fantastic information which I will refer to again in the future. Thank you!

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  12. i think this will help me i started about a year ago and im trying to teach some friends

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  13. DO explain the moneysink nature of "collectable" cards and how this effects gameplay.

    DO NOT play with people with much larger bank accounts than you as half a hundred on a few unblockable trample whatevers to throw at you may not skin their snoot too badly finance wise, but it's hardly a skill play and indicative of your future prospects for strong play w/o investment in evermore and more cards without end. Hate, hate, HATE games that price Players outta play. One of the nations oldest miniature wargame clubs lost countless recruits because the main body of mostly well established engineers with a number of years at this or that plant and the fundage only a professional bachelor nerd can muster chose to require armies of full lead, even though the figures were just dressing on the bases that represented the unit area occupied on the battlefield and we played on university campus at the time garnering much student interest but setting a cost/time (paint) bar far too high for some fresh blood to infuse the group which got VERY thin a few years down the road as members dropped off here and there... quite a few fed up with new edition rules that flipped the script making caverly dominate over infantry and nerfing quite a few armies. Folks will buy the bells and whistles as they can manage if not verboten play for the decorations or weakened via rule.

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  14. Thanks for this. Teaching my six year old son to play and have spent the last few nights simplifying his deck to keep the game moving along but still interesting.

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  15. This is some pretty good advice. Although, I think an important step is laying out each card in 2 rows, permanents and spells (although I'm trying to think of another word to describe instants/sorceries, as since any casted card is a spell so it can get kind of confusing).

    I recently built a mono colour deck for each colour, and a card that goes with it explaining the basic aim of the colour as well as a couple pros/cons kn one side, and the same keyword list for each card on the other. I'm really excited to see how they play out!

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  16. It was wondering if I could use this write-up on my other website, I will link it back to your website though.Great Thanks.
    free mtg cards

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