A few years ago, a friend of mine started having monthly Halo parties at his house. He pestered me a couple of times to join him in the button-smashing marathon. I wanted to attend, but his house was an hour and a half away and I always had some other obligation tying me down. Eventually, time in my schedule opened up and I made the jaunt up for video game madness. A whole evening of beating on a controller for eight continuous hours without interruption excited my inner child. Keep in mind: I had never played Halo before that evening. I figured with my countless years of demolishing video games left and right would make Halo just another game.
I was very wrong.
Everyone showed up at about five o'clock and the Xboxes were soon making their trance-like hum. My friend gave me a five-minute crash course. The other players began to foam at the mouth from Halo withdrawal so we cut the lesson short. For the first couple of hours we played everyone for themselves. Those two hours frustrated me like no other. It became impossible to even get a weapon. As soon as I picked up a weapon, somebody would run up to me and dispatch me in seconds. Often, I never even saw what happened. I began to steam underneath and felt like I was being bullied.
My negativity began to infect the room and my friend had the good sense to switch to team player mode. This helped to alleviate some of my angst. Without everyone gunning for me, I at least had the opportunity to pick up a weapon and learn some of the ways on how to use the artillery. However, it became a little disheartening when my own teammates began to abandon me altogether. As this progressed, my teammates even began killing me. New to the game, I mistakenly began shooting some my own members and they began killing me because of being a nuisance.
The night continued to progress till the point I began to swear like a sailor - not something I am proud of since we had a few younger players. They were plenty old, but it shouldn't negate my improper behavior. We finally finished and I got the final blow to my ego. I was killed an astronomical 250 times, I killed myself 15 times (stupid bombs), I had 2 assisted kills, and 1 kill. I was so frustrated that instead of spending the night since it was already two o'clock in the morning, I drove home. My friend insisted for me to stay, but my state of anger was suppressing my reasoning abilities.
Actually, the drive home gave me some time to reflect. To clarify, I wasn't furious at the other players; I was extremely frustrated at myself. I was also mad at myself for getting so angry. I ruminated over various aspects and eventually came to terms that I was severely outclassed as a noob. That night, I made a promise to myself I would never ever get that upset about a game. Then, I naturally began to relate this to Magic. I began to grow a deep sympathy for younger players of the game and the frustration they must feel at times. Much of my thinking at this point began to revolve around relating my Halo experience to the difficulties and hurdles new players face along with possible remedies to alleviate some of stress on new players.
FYI: I have never played Halo again.
After my event of Halo changing my life, I made the rare event of actually going to a FNM. During the Standard Constructed tournament, I kept an eye on some of the younger and newer players. As the night progressed, I could see a couple of them getting frustrated and see the enjoyment draining from their eyes. At the end of the tournament, I approached one of these newer players, who we will call "Teddy." He was pawing through his deck sheepishly and I can only assume he was thinking about how to improve his 0-4 deck. I asked if I could look at his deck and slowly laid it out. He was playing a watered down version of Scryb & Force with a few suboptimal card choices (Time Spiral was the newest set at the time). I gave him a few compliments and he just gave me a defeated shrug.
Taking my time to give it proper thought, I enforced it was a good deck, but he was trying to do too many things with his deck. I asked if I could look at his card collection. Teddy handed over his binder and I skimmed through it. The card selection wasn't the greatest. I pulled out some replacements for some of his cards and set them aside. Before I made some tweaks to his deck, I asked him to play some games with his original deck with me. He obliged and I decimated him over three games. Proceeding with my original plan, I laid his deck back out on the table.
Taking the cards I originally pulled out, I made the necessary replacements. Instead of just swapping the cards, I took the time to explain to Teddy why I was making each replacement. This brought out a more eager response as he listened attentively. After making the replacements, I asked Teddy if he wanted to give his new deck a go around. He nodded and we played three more games. I still beat him 2 out of the 3 games, but they were much closer. Best of all, Teddy knew and began to smile.
Next, I asked him to play his hand revealed and I would do the same. He wanted to know why and I told him that I thought he should have beaten me during one of the games. One of the bigger mistakes I showed him was the fact he could have been tossing down a Spectral Force on turn three. A quizzical expression appeared on his face and I showed him how it could be done by using Scryb Ranger to untap his Llanowar Elves, replay the land, then use the five mana to play the Spectral Force. We played a little longer and I gave him some critiques on his plays. I was going to take the time to go over his sideboard, but the store clerk began to shout it was time to vacate the premises. I took the opportunity outside to suggest further improvements he could make to his deck and sideboard if he had any of the cards at home. Teddy left and a person who I will call Bob asked what the hell I was doing. I told him I was just helping Teddy tweak his deck and I gave him some suggestions on how to play it. Bob shrugged and his face expressed a futile attempt on my part.
The following week I attended the FNM. Teddy was there and he anxiously showed me the changes he had made. I made sure I gave him compliments and I could tell he was nervous about the tournament. In a twist of fate, Teddy was paired against Bob. Keep in mind; Bob is no slouch at Magic. After the round, I went outside to get some fresh air. Soon after, Bob joined me for some fresh air and appeared a little irritated with me. I asked him why? Teddy had the great opportunity to play a Spectral Force on turn three twice during two of the games. Bob lost and Bob doesn't care for losing. Bob responded "I really wish you wouldn't have taught him that trick." This memory still makes me chuckle a little bit still to this day. I don't remember much else about the FNM, but I do remember Teddy smiling more than previous week and had an even bigger grin when he actually won a couple of packs.
To be honest, I have been stuck on second-shift limbo for the last few years and my Magic time has been nonexistent. The good news is that I will soon be joining the normal world with better hours. Due to the previously-mentioned tutoring experience, I have aspirations of maybe trying my hand again at mentoring more new players. My problem is that I have a lot more questions than answers. As many of you are aware of the numerous internet sites dedicated to Magic, there is very little information out there about actually teaching Magic. There are no mentoring forums. Very few authors dedicate themselves to writing exclusively for newer players. Even magicthegathering.com has gotten increasingly more complicated over the years with their articles becoming slowly more complex. If I reverted to a more innocent state, I can only imagine how many of these articles might as well be in a foreign language.
The optimist in me thinks I should express my thoughts to Wizards in an intricately, well written letter or try to instigate a movement calling for more veteran Magic players to become mentors. A louder pessimistic voice in me thinks I am just wasting my time. I don't know. I ask myself, would a mentor program or forums be an advantageous thing for our game? Again, I don't know.
Optimistically, I could foresee a section much like the judge section at Wizards dedicated to mentors. People seeking to become mentors would have to pass a certain amount of tests pertaining to rules knowledge. Mentors then would have to meet with a level two mentor and perform a certain amount of tasks to become ordained as a level one mentor. Once ordained as a new teacher, these mentors could register new players. The registered new players could have access to a web address where they could give feedback on their mentor directly into a database controlled by Wizards. Much like the Judge program, mentors could be given promotional cards and, more importantly, feedback from Wizards.
As a side note, I don't think Judges should ever become mentors. They are the perfect candidates for such a thing, but I believe this would blur the line between a Judge's role and a mentor. In my humble opinion, it would cause conflict and too much confusion for a new player.
Pessimistically, Wizards and other players won't go for such a program. It's unnecessary and more work than it's worth. The game is doing fine and numbers are up. I am just being pest.
Pros, Joes, and Teddy
Regardless, my Halo experience has made me increasingly aware of the segregation growing in Magic. The more elite of us tend to associate only with other elitist players; the Joes hang around casually while the Teddies sit awkwardly by themselves. This is only natural. Better players will always seek out competition equal or better than themselves. It's how we get better at our game. Yet, I wonder if segregation only makes matters worse for Teddy. He comes to a FNM to pay his 5-10 dollars to only get trounced and frustrated in the process.
Finally on a 9 to 5, I got a chance to draft Alara Reborn at the FNM. The scene was chaos as usual. When we were finally sitting in our pods, I noticed the guy sitting across from me. He acted quite out of place. The organizer asked if everyone knew how to draft. Everyone nodded in agreement. We started and the John Doe across from me asked how draft works. Nobody around me lifted a hand to help John Doe. I tried the best I could during the draft, but my draftees to my right and left glared at me. I zipped through my picks in order to do this and probably suffered for it. I still ended up forth and with some packs, but I definitely made some poor picks trying to help John Doe.
John Doe was a complete scrub. He placed his cards face up. After his first pick, he put his first pick back in into the cards passed to him. Once we were done drafting, he didn't even know about putting lands in his deck. I elaborated about how build a deck. He didn't even know about getting lands from the land box. Again, I instructed him on how to build a deck as best I could in the midst of everything and within the tournament rules. John Doe got waxed his first two games and promptly left. I really wish John Doe would have spoke up before the event when more time was available to coach him. Unfortunately, that's life. People don't want to look stupid or ask for help. I am guessing we will never see John Doe again.
Very rarely do I ever see the best players in a shop coaching Teddy or John Doe. When I was over trying to help and teach these players, all I got from the better players was odd and strange looks from afar. Why in the world was I wasting my time with Teddy or John Doe? Regardless, I think it's worth the effort and the time. Not only will this strengthen our player base, but Teddy and John Doe will also have more fun in the process.
Teaching Mrs. Meyou
My wife likes to play Magic every once in a while. She couldn't care less about Magic, but she enjoys spending the time with me on something I enjoy. Since she has very little knowledge about Magic, I attempted to make certain decks as simple as possible. My first attempt was a run-of-the-mill Big Green deck. I had piled in cards like Weatherseed Treefolk, Beacon of Creation, and other hard to deal with green monsters. To facilitate the theme of the deck with mana acceleration, I piled in Wild Growth, Rampant Growth, Kodama's Reach, Vine Trellis, and Weatherseed Totems.
Even though my wife loves the deck, the variety of mana sources confuses the snot out of her. When I built the deck, I thought all the creatures would perplex her. Incorrect, she had no problems with the creatures. She treated each creature like an individual person. Creatures with different abilities were easy for her to grasp. The shear amount of spells, enchantments, creatures, and artifacts all performing the same function was confusing.
To simplify the matter, I removed the Wild Growths and Weatherseed Totems. I decided to stick with only creatures such as Vine Trellis for early defense and sorceries for fetching land. Two Explosive Vegetations replaced the Weatherseed Totems and Wall of Roots replaced the Wild Growths. After I made these changes, the deck was much less confusing for her. To top it all off, she actually enjoys playing her green deck against me. She rarely wants to play with anything else.
From this experience, I have toned down a few of my decks. The major issue is reducing the complexity. If I have enchantments in the deck, I try to stick with just Auras or enchantments only. When I use instants or sorceries, I choose cards that perform similar functions. If I choose a card like Terror, I try to relegate the other black instants in the deck to creature removal. For people like my wife, this seems to reduce a lot of confusion.
One of the problems with having a large collection is the large amount of chaff. Most of it just sits around in binders doing nothing. The best thing about chaff cards is they are usually quite simple. Chaff makes great fodder for making decks to teach Magic. Why not put them to use? It is also convenient to have these decks at your disposal. Best of all, you don't have to spend the time contemplating over decks to give to Teddy, John Doe, or Mrs. Meyou. They are right there. This doesn't mean your decks have to be completely easy. It pays to have decks with different levels of difficulty. You can have a variety along the lines of easy, moderate, and advance. Another option is to have decks for teach about Auras and Equipment.
The biggest correction I have learned: when you make a deck to teach Magic, make two decks. Don't just make a deck, then a bunch of other decks. Try to make two decks that are equal in power. It can be difficult picking decks out of your collection that doesn't have an unfair advantage over the other. The new Divine vs. Demonic or Elves vs. Goblins are great examples of what teaching decks should do, in my opinion. Both decks are different, but allow the student, if you will, an opportunity to see alternative styles. The decks also have great flavor and ideal for introducing new people to the game. Most importantly, they are balanced.
Many at Wizards have touted the need for acquisition, but I don't believe we need to actively seek out players. John Doe came in the shop of his own free will. We didn't need to drag him kicking and screaming. Unfortunately, we kicked him out the door. It makes me wonder if the FNM is the greatest place for introducing new players to the game. It seems flawed. Maybe that is a little harsh, but I do feel we could do better.
Please post in the forums if you have any helpful advice or thoughts. I would be very interested to hear other people's experiences coaching less-polished players. Even though my escapade with Teddy went extremely well, I have doubts my future mentoring may go as planned. What traps and mistakes did you fall into? What is the best approach on coaching a new player? Like I said before, I have a lot more questions than answers.