Episode 30 of Yo! MTG Taps! is up – click here to listen to it. Topics this time around include M11 release events, EDH play, expensive decks, and more.
And namechecking me twice, which is always nice. 🙂 It also means I have a little bit to contribute.
Notes on casual play
Joey and Joe interviewed Adam Styborski, who writes about ‘casual’ play for both Daily MTG and Mananation. I generally find Adam a cogent, easy-to-follow writer and speaker, and I appreciated his take on the whole you’re doing it wrong discussion about Elder Dragon Highlander (EDH).
I thought Adam made a nice analogy this time around between the unspoken social contract that is often present in a casual game and the unspoken behavioral “rules” of competitive play. His main point was that as you enter a new environment, you’ll find that you need to figure out how to behave. Very true.
However, there are still significant differences between the two situations. I’d make an analogy that goes like this:
The accepted social rules in competitive play – such as the idea that you’re likely to concede to an opponent if a win keeps them in contention but a win does nothing for you – are similar to the “don’t eat food and touch my cards” social rules in casual play.
In contrast, the other social rules of casual play, such as “Don’t counter too many of my spells” or “Don’t play cards that let you take extra turns” are like an unspoken version of the Tournament Rules. In fact, running afoul of these invisible rules of casual play often has a first-blush similarity to running afoul of a tournament rule:
Player A – “Judge!”
Player B – “What?”
Player A – “My opponent missed her Dark Confidant trigger.”
Player A – “Dude! That’s so uncool. I didn’t know you were like that.”
Player B – “What?”
Player A – “We don’t do land destruction here, ’cause it sucks.”
The chief difference is that the Magic Tournament Rules are written down, so there’s a unified place everyone can go to learn about them before they ever go to a competitive event (and recall that you’re really talking about PTQs or higher before this will really, really be an issue).
Now, you may be thinking, “Well, we can communicate in casual play, too.” You sure could. In fact, if you do, I’m thrilled. But this doesn’t always happen, and the problem is twofold.
First, some people just don’t think to do it. They assume their idea of casual is everyone else’s idea of casual, so they don’t want to spell it out.
Second, and much more problematic, is the issue that people don’t know what their rules are.
In the interview, Joey brings up the idea of the social contract, and Adam seems to take it that “social contract” by default means “make sure everyone has fun.” Really, though, a social contract is any set of rules that a bunch of people operate by. The deal with it being a “social” contract is that you didn’t, you know, sign a legal contract. So, a social contract can be anything from the rules at the place where I used to train BJJ (i.e. no striking during practice, since that wasn’t what we were there to learn) to a general agreement that if you take a Coke out of the fridge, you grab another one from the closet and stick it in the fridge.
This doesn’t mean that “Try to make sure everyone has fun” can’t be a social contract, but it does mean that this tends to be a messy, hard-to-follow, hard-to-enforce social contract. I’ve written about this before, and the gist of it is that for a lot of gamers, casual seems to informally mean, “Keep the game close, and let me play the way I want to.” The problem with this is that it means that someone who is in a position to dramatically outperform you – say by being a more experienced player, or simply owning more cards – has to then choose to suck by some ill-defined amount to give you that experience.
Set aside whether that’s fun or not for the “better” player – it’s simply a hard thing to do. Wizards has developers who spend significant amounts of time balancing two decks against each other. For someone who’s just showing up for the weekly game, not knowing exactly what everyone else is bringing this time around…it’s nigh impossible. And this means that they’re stuck trying to figure out how to best “throw, but not quite throw” the game once it starts.
Without, of course, letting your friends know you’re throwing the game.
I’m certainly not telling anyone they’re doing it wrong. The number one rule remains “have fun,” so if you go each week and you and your friends all have fun, you’re gold and nothing else matters. What I am saying is that statements like, “It’s about making sure everyone gets to play” are content-free. They’re not actionable. They don’t help other gamers figure out how to achieve this goal.
This is why I like structure, no matter what that structure is. Although I do tend to cleave to the “competitive” formats, my casual play in the last year has included cube drafting and playing with Duel Decks, and they were both awesome. But you’ll note that they’re also both structured – get the cards, play the cards. I didn’t have to try and throw the game a bit to make stuff fair in the cube drafts; we just drafted and played.
Well, really don’t.
Joey and Joe talked for a bit about a commenter who wanted some serious discussion about banning Jace, the Mind Sculptor. The context as given was the idea that Jace is “everywhere,” and that decks that “have no business running Jace” are nonetheless using him.
But I think the subtext is pretty clear – the card is really expensive.
Cards don’t get banned for being expensive. They just don’t. That would murder the heck out of the game’s salability if they were, and it wouldn’t help, since beheading the format’s price list would simply drive new cards up to the top of that list.
Cards are banned for causing problems, whether these problems are procedural (e.g. Sensei’s Divining Top) or format-skewing (e.g. Skullclamp). Jace is neither. He is a good card, and good cards show up in decks. Once they show up in enough decks, they rise in price.
But as our two Js point out, Jace is not format-skewing. The solution to Jace? Play creatures and certain kinds of removal. If there were no Jace, what would many decks out there want to do? Play creatures and certain kinds of removal. One of the genius aspects of planeswalkers is that the solution to any (any!) planeswalker is to just do what you were going to do anyway. Summon monsters, attack. Cast burn spells. O-Ring some stuff. Deny it with a Mana Leak, take it with a Duress.
This is not 2007-era Extended Dredge, where you either dedicate half your sideboard to the matchup or cross your fingers really hard and hope for good pairings. The solutions are already in your deck anyway.
Sure, it can be frustrating to not have ready access to all the expensive cards. But cards shouldn’t (and won’t) be banned for financial reasons.
For the last year or more, the consensus best deck has never wanted to play Jace, and has been relatively budget, as J&J pointed out. And really, they hit the mark in addressing this issue – no matter what, having a competitive deck will cost you. It’ll either cost you money, as you pay increased secondary market prices to buy the cards for a proven design, or it will cost you time and effort, as you develop your own. There is no third option.
Anyway, enough of that. If you haven’t listened to this week’s Yo! MTG Taps!, go do so (right here). And then check out the Magic Effectiveness Project and fill out a survey, if you haven’t yet.