July 7, 2017

So I Finally Learned to Play Magic: The Gathering

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When I was younger, perhaps in the year before I started Soultamer Gaming (as a tiny Wizard101 blog that didn't even share the name) I was in the Redmond, Washington Pokemon TCG League. I had a couple of decks of cards poorly filled with a high variety of Pokemon and too many kinds of energies. And let me tell you - I felt like I was all that. There was something so much fun about going to the game store and talking with your regulars about the game.

This being said, I was tiny. I didn't know what good friendships were, and I got fooled out of good cards through trade quite often. The atmosphere didn't promote a ton of learning, and I was often picked on for not knowing how to play the game, or swearing like a little kid (which meant not swearing at all). After I put my decks away the following school year, I didn't really expect to go back to TCG games - that is, until more and more of my friends began playing Magic: The Gathering. Even my English teacher, who kept d20s on his desk, played students in his room after class. My friend Carl liked a Facebook post the other day that advertised a Magic open house for new players at a local game store, and I decided to try my hand at it.

such a cute location, honestly. source
Since going to the open house was a very snap decision, I got to do all my thinking on the bike ride over. Zulu's Board Game Cafe is a convenient 25-minute commute by bike from where I am, and on a summer day, going to play games was more like an adventure. That isn't to say that I seldom bike the path - Whether it's to the library or to one of my favorite burger stops, I have come to know the contours of the bike trail by heart between towns.

As I turned the first corner, I wondered to myself if my initial thoughts of Magic would change how I approached it. I had seen Magic played not only at conventions, but in lunchrooms and classrooms. One of my robotics friends spent his downtime in our CAD class looking up cards. Not long after mentioning that I DMed D&D and ran a gaming blog would people ask me if I knew how to play (and would be surprised with my answer).  Before long, Magic had established itself as a part of my life that I didn't even participate in.

My reasons for not picking it up? Back when I played Pokemon, even though I was maybe ten-ish, I realized the pay-to-win aspect of the game and withdrew over time from it for that reason. I had read once that Magic was similar in this aspect. I didn't want to get sucked in as a teenager that had more control over money than before, and I also didn't want to fall in love with the game only to get disappointed. As well, I wasn't sure if I could commit to a weekly (or even bi-weekly) play session due to the demands of my upcoming senior year at the community college, backed up with robotics, science club, theatre, and Soultamer Gaming. As I pedaled on, though, I assured myself that it was a good idea to at least know how to play.

After stopping for a brief lunch at the Ranch Drive-In (really good burgers if you're ever around), I walked my bike up to Zulu's Board Game Cafe. I waited for a moment outside of the store for Carl, and we entered together. Immediately, I felt like I was opening a D&D campaign. Wood accents created a tavern-y feeling. A counter separated two areas of tables, a kitchen to its right. We chose a seat to the left and were offered menus that we politely declined. I was impressed that Zulu's appeared to also be a full-service restaurant - I got a sort of MOX Boarding House vibe from it, but closer to home.

I walked into the store with Carl wondering if I would be in over my head. Besides, with all the different colors of cards, the different ways they could be arranged, and all the talking during games (demonstrating to uninformed-me that even experienced players knew only fractions of the game) it all seemed quite complex. Carl recalled some basics and we used a handy single-panel handout that explained each portion of the turn. At one point, I vocalized that I didn't understand a concept, at which point an employee appeared (as if by magic...please laugh...) at my side and explained the concept.



Following a few matches with the 30-card decks the staff had given us, we were given 30 cards more and formed Standard-size decks that we took further down the long, wooden table to play a Two-Headed Giant match. Two players that had each been playing for a few years split us up and joined on either side of the table to mentor and play. Like D&D was for me, Magic was a lot easier to learn when it was being played rather than being read about. Carl and I corrected a few misconceptions about mana usage and turn progression while also picking up on tricks of the trade. By the end of the round, we had been gifted some d20s and d4s from the staff and had learned a whole lot more about the game. As we left, we each bought a booster pack to celebrate the new beginning.

I'm not sure if Magic will become a full-time interest for me. I'm certainly happy that I know how to play, and I'll be paying attention to official play to keep my mind sharp. For now, though, I have a deck (and then some!) of cards that I can lose to my friends with, and I have another branch of the gaming skill tree started. Magic has always felt like a staple of the gaming community, and I feel much more secure about my place in it now that I know the ropes.

Hey! In this post I brought up Zulu's Board Game Cafe. I love them because they have friendly staff and great-smelling food that I still need to try, but keep in mind that they didn't ask or pay me to write this post. Cool cool? Cool cool.

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