All the Things—Wizard’s School

(ALL THE THINGS is a less Spike-y, more slice-of-life Magic column by Zac Clark.  It covers the social aspect of the game, game theory, and the occasional Magic aside in the form of rants and short fiction.  Basically, it’s a non-tournament article that showcases his love of Magic and gaming in general.  He loves the competitive side of the game, but there’s another side that appeals to him as well, that’s the side you’ll read about in ALL THE THINGS.)

No surprise here, I didn’t make day 2 of Grand Prix AC. I could write a tourney report about losing at a big event, but I wanted to contribute something a little more positive to the blog this week. One thing I did notice was the overwhelming amount of bored girlfriends at the tournament. Reading magazines and/or sitting somewhere near their boyfriends during the later rounds of the Grand Prix.

“How miserable is that?” I thought. All around you there are people (guys and girls) having fun playing games and you’re sitting around waiting for the fun to end. That’s such a huge fail on the shoulders of so many people.

If you took all these bored significant others and you gave them all an EDH deck they’d likely all be a lot happier socializing with each other than waiting for this thing to end so they can go get dinner.

I thought back to my experiences of teaching people how to play the game. At the earliest was my little brother. I found out how to play from a friend in Boy Scouts and my friend Paul and I set out to spread the “virus” to our friends and relatives. Anyone who would give us twenty minutes to learn the game.

My little brother, Bryen, was the most receptive then. We played D&D together so a “travel” version of D&D was an easy sell. My dad often loaded up the car/camper and took us on these totally boring (but ultimately great) road trips. Car games ranged from the ABC game, where you had to find a word on a billboard that stated with the next letter of the alphabet, to my dad just making up weird songs about Goats in Boats in Moats that didn’t Float (you get the gist of it). Magic seemed like the ultimate car game.

Granted, I barely knew the rules enough to teach the game and we were always doing something wrong, Bryen learned about as quickly as I did. He was receptive, though. Like I said, this was an easy sell.

The next was my sister, Holly. She was sick of being left out of the fun after I had started getting into the game more heavily. I built her a green deck with mostly creatures and taught her how to play. She picked it up quickly but wasn’t that interested in playing after she learned. Dungeons and Dragons wasn’t her thing either.

We come from a family of gamers. Dad even patented a board game that combined Atari in the early 80s “King of Video Mountain”. I picked up the game gene, Holly wasn’t into it, though. So 1-1 on teaching the game. I executed the process twice but it only stuck once.

Holly was the control though. She was not the target audience of the game at the time. Especially in 1996, there wasn’t a lot a 15 year old girl could get into in this game. I would have hang outs with my friends (most of which were nerds by her standards). Sundays I would go to the mall and spend the day in a comic shop and played cards. She liked that because of the attention she got in there.  Socially, it wasn’t her bag. And that was ok, she never gave me shit about it. I had my friends and she had hers. I couldn’t imagine the sort of pressure a 15 year old girl would have to deal with if the school found out she was playing Magic. I took my life as a teenage pariah in stride. I’d rather have friends that let me be me than pretend to like football or try to believe in Jesus (youth group was a big thing in my High School).

Moving on… I took a job at the local comic shop, where my job was to teach kids to play Magic. To help spread the game to customers, and to create a scene for the game locally. I was incredibly successful at that. I must have taught hundred of kids to play the game. This method was easier mostly due to two things. The environment was conducive to learning the game.   And they came to me. They were willing to try it out, or their parents had bought them cards and they wanted to know how they worked.

Flash forward to Grand Prix Atlantic City, 2013. Nearly, 13 years since I’ve successfully taught anyone how to play. I get to thinking. What are the best ways to teach the game? How can I teach the game without over complicating it? How could I avoid having a bored girlfriend at one of these events?

Then we have my girlfriend, Victoria. Classic non-gamer girlfriend. (Though she did play a Star Wars RPG on AOL as a teen).  She has the spark of a future planeswalker in several ways:

1) She listens to me spout verbal nonsense about the game from tournaments I attend.

2) She reads the blog more regularly than some of our contributors. That’s dedication!

3) She’s heard enough that she tries (bless her heart) to make Magic jokes and references. My favorite being when she asks if I won with Jace the Mind-Potter. (Apparently, she thinks Jace dropped out of Community College art classes.)

She’s interested at least enough that going out with me doesn’t seem to bother her (in fact she seems like to like it a whole lot). I try not to shove it in her face, but I do play a lot and I talk a lot about my friends that play.

Last night, I asked her if she would be into an experiment for the blog.

“You want to teach me Magic?” she says in a way that seems like she was expecting this conversation eventually.

“Yup, I want to try a new way to teach the game. Plus, you’ll have a better idea of what I’m talking about. And it should make reading the blog a little more fun for you.”

She agrees to be taught.

I don’t have good teaching decks built so I decide to just pull out RDW and American Flash. I take out the counter magic from American flash and replace it with other cards. Counter magic makes games last longer and punishes new players for casting spells. The game is more fun for both players when all the spells happen.

STEP 1: Showing the Cards

So I take apart her deck (RDW) and I show her each different card. And I split them into spells and creatures and land.

In the spells there are sorcerys and instants. I explain what each card does, since they are all damage spells its pretty easy to see what they do. Then I explain the difference between a sorcery and an instant. We look at the casting costs of the cards as well. She understands that to play a spell you need to be able to pay for it. Great! This is working better than I expected. Her eyes aren’t glazing over at all!

Next we look at creatures. “We’ll ignore their text for now. The important thing is that they have three main features: Casting Cost…”

“Just like the spells!” She’s learning fast!

“Yup! Then they have their Creature Type.” I pick up an Ash Zealot. “This is a Human Warrior. They have Power and Toughness.” I point to the numbers on the bottom right.

“Power is how much damage they do and toughness is how much they can take?” she asks. I’m impressed she’s been listening to me ramble on about this stuff and it seems like she picked up a thing or two.

She looks at Falkenrath Aristocrat, I pick it up. “This card is gold which means its more than one color.”

“Red and Black, that’s a thing! It’s uhh…” She’s really excited!

“Oh yes! Rakdos! That means Red and Black.” I told her about the shards and guilds and the colors when I was sick last weekend.

Now she’s seen the spells and creatures I show her the land. And I explain “tapping”. “You turn it sideways to show that it’s used and you can use anything that’s tapped.”

STEP 2: Execution

So we shuffle up. Flip a coin. I win. I explain Play or Draw. I choose Play and I tell her for the first game we just want to attack each other every time and play openhanded so I can help her.

On to game 1!

My Turn one: Island…Pass

Her Turn one: Mountain, Rakdos Cackler she chooses to Unleash him. (I explain Summoning Sickess.) Pass.

My Turn two: Glacial Fortress Augur of Bolas. Get a Sphinx’s Revelation.

“That’s that card you like! Why is there an X?”

I explain the “X”. She gets it. I pass the turn.

Her Turn two (Hence forth turns will be shown as Z#turn number or V#turn number): Mountain Ash Zealot. (I explain Haste, she seems pleased.)

“Right so the main phase is broken up into three parts. First Main Phase, combat step, and Second Main Phase. So when you attack you tell your opponent that you ‘Declare your Attack Step.'” She was a little confused by this and thought it sounded complex but she went along with it.

“I declare my attack step.”

“Now you choose attackers.”

“We attack with everything right.”

“Yup just for this game, so you can see how it works. To choose you tap the ones you want to attack with.”

Instantly she taps both creatures. “Cuz my warrior chick has haste? Right?”

“You got it! Then I pick blockers.” I put the Augur in front of the Ash Zealot. “OK, now damage. First Strike happens first. Your Ash Zealot has that. 2 power to the Augur’s 3 toughness. He lives. Now regular damage. 1 damage to the Ash Zealot and 2 to me from the Rakdos Cackler. I’m at 18.”

“How do we keep track of damage once the creatures take it?”

“Hold on, we’re getting to that.  So now it’s your Second Main Phase, you can cast more creatures and play sorcery/instant spells.”  But she’s tapped out.

“Can I only play one land a turn?”

“Yup just one.”

“Then I’m done.”

“OK! Now we go to the end step.  Everything heals and you discard down to 7 cards. So my Augur is healed and your Ash Zealot heals too.”


“So my Turn?”

“Yup. I’m still finished. And I have 5 cards.”

Z3: I play a Think Twice, find a land and play Hallowed Fountain tapped.  Attack with my Augur and she finds out that tapped creatures can’t block. “You’re at 19.”

V3: She Untaps… Upkeep, nothing.  Forgets to Draw… then remembers.  She plays a Dragon Skull Summit.  “I have a mountain so I can use it this turn?”


She plays another Ash Zealot, then a Vexing Devil.  Earlier when we looked at all the cards she immediately realized that Vexing Devil seemed like a bargain.  “He’s really big for what he costs.”  I explained that some creatures seem under-costed but that their Oracle text often include drawbacks to make up for the cost.

“I’ll take 4 Damage,” I say. “I’m at 14.”

“I declare my Attack Step.”  She smiled wryly and tapped both Ash Zealots and the Rakdos Cackler.

“I can’t block, so I take 6 damage! I’m at 8.”

“End Step, your turn.”

“At the end of your turn I’m gonna Thought Scour.  I can do that because it’s an instant and they can be played on any turn.”  2 Azorious Charm into the graveyard and I draw a Moorland Haunt.

Z4:  I draw a land Play a Runechanter’s Pike, EXPLAIN that card’s X, and Equip. Attack for 1 with my Augur she goes to 17.  And I’m finished.

V4: Untap, Upkeep, Draw. (She’s moving much quicker through the steps now!) And she plays a Cavern of Souls.  In retrospect I should have removed this card from the deck, as it’s a little confusing for a new player.  But she eventually settled on Dragon, played and Archwing Dragon and domed me for 10.  I died.

She seemed to get it. So the next game we played with our hands up.  There were only a few times I had to help her with the rules.  So many creatures in the deck have haste she would sometimes play one without and try to attack with it.  That was pretty quickly understood.  Exalted was a little tough to explain and I had to remind her about it, but by the third attack she understood if it worked or not.  The second game she won on the back of two Knights of Infamy with Protection from White.  My turn 4 Restoration Angel got her Rakdos Cackler and the Flash ability caught her by surprise but two 2/1, Protection from White, attacking Knights don’t care about Restoration Angels.

The third and final game I won on the back of Runechanter’s Pike.  She was thinking about mulliganing a land heavy hand but wasn’t sure if she should.  After faltering on spells she realized why mulliganing can help you win.

Overall, the games went pretty smoothly.  Victoria understands the game much better and beat the living crap outta me in two of the three games.  It helps if they win, I find.  No one likes a bully, and teaching someone the game only to crush them their first time just sucks. I’m really proud of her.  She didn’t complain at all, and she picked it up really quick.  This experiment was a total success and I’m particularly happy with the way showing her all the card first went.  She was relatively familiar with her deck and I didn’t have to stop the game much to answer questions.  It was a lot of fun for me, and she seemed like she had a pretty good time too.

Victoria will likely be crushing you at a TNM very soon. Probably with Ash Zealots, warrior princess style. So, WATCH OUT!

Zac Clark, Durdle Magus

13 Responses to “All the Things—Wizard’s School”
  1. thejlina says:

    EDH is totally a great learning tool, particularly if you’re playing 2HG (has anyone every played three way 2HG? Because that would be perfect). Maybe we should have some sort of weekend meet-up at the store where we bring extra EDH decks and get the gamer-curious amongst our friend groups to come in a play a few casual rounds with some fun decks that offer a variety of different interactions and experiences to introduce folks to the game.

    But, yeah. Maybe it’s because I play and my lady plays, but I’ve never really understood the standing on the sidelines thing. What I did find awesome, though, were a bunch of women who weren’t on the competitive plan, but who were either jamming on their EDH decks or carrying around trade binders. If I had a partner who was into trading and who I trusted to make good trades, I would totally love being able to outsource that aspect of the game.

    • Tim says:

      I think the big problem with EDH for teaching, which I already wrote in my comment below, is that there is such a large card pool, and people go out of their way to play complex/crazy/weird/cool/obscure effects that it’s really easy for a noob to get lost. Just imagine trying to teach someone the game with Time Spiral block; EDH is even more complex.

      I think 2HG EDH with one player learning would turn into the experienced player playing two decks while the other player is a spectator who holds the cards for one of the hands and taps things as instructed.

      • thejlina says:

        It definitely depends on how you do it. But lately, as an exercise in deckbuilding, I’ve been making a bunch of EDH decks that are capable of keeping up at the table but aren’t overly complex. Like, I just made a Maelstrom Wanderer deck that’s basically just ramp spells and mulldrifters with a few fatties on the top end. It is simple, because it plays out the following way:
        1) Do you have any decent attacks? If yes, attack! If no, go to 2.
        2) Do you have a ramp spell? If Yes, cast it. If no, go to 3
        3) Can you cast a creature in your hand? If Yes, cast it. If no, go to 4
        4) Can you cast your general? If Yes, cast it. If no, pass the turn.
        Rinse and repeat. The deck has some interactions, but none of them are particularly complex, and yet there’s still enough power there to keep up, and potentially learn from other people. So, it’s not totally impossible to create teaching EDH decks, and the causal, friendly nature of the format makes it more forgiving for errors, so long as no one on the table is being a huge jerk.

        But you might be right about the 2HG aspect. I’ve certainly seen that happen in 2HG tournaments (which is SO ANNOYING when they slowplay while doing it). Still, I think multiplayer is better for teaching in general, because you can get advice from different perspectives and it gives a sense that just because Zac or you or me would do something, doesn’t mean there aren’t other ways to achieve your goal.

  2. Tim says:

    I never understood the whole bored-girlfriends-sitting-off-to-the-side-doing-nothing-at-a-large-magic-event phenomenom. Why bring them, they look miserable? My girlfriend has no interest in the game, and she stays home when I go to these things.. and I’m totally ok with that, because I wouldn’t want to put her through that, anyways.

    On the subject of teaching, did your girlfriend already have some pre-existing knowledge base (other than the names of a few cards that you enjoy), or was she pretty much picking it up cold? I know you said she reads the blog, but I’d imagine it’s hard to be able to pick up much without having some basic understanding of the rules. Seems like she picked it up pretty quickly. If I were to attempt teaching a total newb, I probably would’ve gone a step further with the simplification by eliminating instants/flash, all non-evergreen keywords, non-basic lands, and maybe keeping both decks at 1-color before adding those elements back in, one at a time. Of course, this is all just theorizing, as I haven’t attempted to teach the game to anyone for a good 13+ years.. ok, we did attempt to teach my girlfriend once and it ended in catastrophic failure because a.) I think she was at least a little buzzed and b.) it was EDH so there was way too many layers of complexity between the vast card pool, crazy abilities, and 3 other people constantly dumping cards with lots of text onto the board. It pretty much degenerated into the person next to her at the table telling her which cards in her hand she had the option to play every turn based on mana availability and legal targets, so she would pick the one with the most intimidating-looking art and say to use it on me or my permanents.

    • Zac Clark says:

      No existing knowledge. She did play an Online RPG of Starwars once. I decided that it was ok to play two colors as long as her deck was straight forward enough. I feel like the best thing i did was show her everything first. once she was familiar with the cards in the deck she didn’t seem to have trouble with knowing when to play them. I think EDH can be a little tough because there are a lot of different cards being played. (No Dupes). The second time she put down an Ash Zealot it was like they were old friends. We started by ignoring the mechanics until they were played, I told her to just let the game play out and that if she made a mistake it’s ok, this isn’t to win we are just seeing how to play the game. The second and third games I let her use her best judgement as far as strategy was concerned.

      “Remember you want to win fast, so hold back you guys means I might get to live longer, and you don’t want me sticking around to play my cards.”

      The Beatdown plan is the easiest for Newbs to pick up, because they have things to do early, and they win quick. Each game lasted less that 20 minutes. She smashed me but saw the benefits of blocking and how creature damage works. The extra abilities I tried to down play.

    • Victoria says:

      No knowledge of magic or CCGs in general, but I come highly primed for this stuff. My dad did a little war hammer, but loves DBM and DBA historical games, I had been painting 15 & 25mm figures my entire childhood. The pink and purple Dalek i painted at 6 is still in his game room. My brother played D&D and Robotech among other things. I left the majority of this behind in college to buckle down on my tech theatre degrees.

  3. Victoria says:

    Give my geekdom some credit. It was not AOL it was on webchat broadcasting systems. And I started at 12. And I was the XO of an X-wing squad, could sub in on Y-wing dogfights if I had to, and I captained a Nebulon B frigate. As well as hours of character development logged in the cantina room. Do you know the rules to Sabacc? Cause I might be able to dredge that outta cold brain storage 😉

    It kept me really busy and not interested in boys. My parents gladly let me tie up the phone a lot!

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