A little while ago, Sam Black wrote an article about GenCon that focused to some extent on lessons he’d learned in other games that could be applied to Magic. This has inspired me to give some thought, from time to time, on lessons I’d picked up in various games that are portable across games generally.
Specifically, I’ve idly pondered what I might have picked up during my Mechwarrior gaming days that transitions well to Magic. I was pretty good at Mechwarrior, most of the time maintaining our highest local rating and “going infinite” in real life tournaments (something you could do back in the day by trading off extras of the premium tournament prizes in online trades for minis you needed). In no particular order, here are some lessons I picked up from Mechwarrior:

  • Research Matters – I improved significantly in Mechwarrior after I spent some time (1) reading ideas from players who were in the game when I came in, (2) looking at successful army builds, and (3) just spending time looking at unit stats. This was important in Mechwarrior in the “rote memory is helpful” manner, inasmuch as you wanted to know how each unit’s stats would progress over time. It was also helpful, however, in letting me know which options I had available, and exposing me to concepts that I wouldn’t have run into via directed search. This is, in fact, an idea I’m planning on touching in over at In Development in the future.
  • Technical Precision Matters – There’s an edge in many games in just knowing how the rules actually work. This isn’t so much a matter of rules lawyering as it is a matter of just knowing what your operating space is. This came up recently in a Magic tournament when I floated a random green mana before sacrificing a land with Knight of the Reliquary and then let that go while my opponent ran through the rest of his turn…until he wanted to go into combat, when I paused him, paid another five mana, and flashed out a Cloudthresher. He wasn’t sure I could do that — hadn’t he said he wanted to go to combat? Of course, the way the game works requires a double priority pass on an empty stack before we can shift into combat (as the judge we called confirmed). My opponent didn’t know this, and walked into something as a consequence.
  • Fast Play Matters – Mechwarrior, like Magic, was played in timed rounds. You benefit, of course, from being able to think and play the game quickly. However, this is more about making sure your opponent is playing quickly. I’ve been fortunate not to run into players who are clearly stalling, but at the same time, there are players who play as if they weren’t really aware that rounds are timed. We had one prime offender in the Mechwarrior circuit who clearly was not thinking about his upcoming turn at all during your turn. This was apparent the first time I played him, as he started each of his turns by adjusting the dials on his units (this is sort of like starting a Magic turn by making minor adjustments so that your land are all nicely parallel, then staring at your cards for a while, then finally untapping…). I adjusted to this in two ways. First, I made sure to urge him to play faster, and suggested that he take care of whatever minor adjustments he cared about on his turn. Second, I made sure to get an early, high-value kill, since I knew that I could only do so much about his play speed, and I wanted to end with a game win if he timed us out. In a Magic tournament, I’d just call a judge on him if he didn’t speed up, of course.

I’m sure there are more lessons that transferred out of Mechwarrior, just as there are more that have come out of other games I’ve played and other areas of my life. It’s a good exercise, and I’d be interested in hearing what lessons other people feel they’ve picked up in one game that transferred into another.