Journey to Nowhere #1 – Other Side of the Table

I suppose introductions are in order.

My name is Dan, and while you don’t know me yet, I’m confident that you know someone just like me. They may not have started when I did (back in ’94, when The Dark was released). They may not have left the game and come back the same number of times I have (left after Homelands, back for Invasion, left after Saviors of Kamigawa, back for Time Spiral, left after Lorwyn, back for M10, left for . . . wait, still here). They may not even have spent the same amount of money as I have on the game (. . . don’t even want to think about that).

However, I am part of the unsung warriors of the game . . . .

Not the Pro Tour players or the SCG Open ringers.

Not the PTQ grinders or Grand Prix attendees.

Not even the casual crowd, headquartered around kitchen tables and college lounges.

No, I am “Other”.

I’m the guy that keeps up with the metagame and reads the latest articles at all the major sites, yet never attends more than FNM and the occasional local tournament. I’m the one you always see at the local game shop, but never anywhere else.

I’m the overlooked middle child between the casual players and the competitive players.

And I am not alone.

. . . I hope I haven’t scared everyone away.


Hmm, guess I am alone. Well, an empty room has never stopped me from talking before.

I feel that there is a key trait that keeps me in the gray nebula of not-quite-casual, not-quite-competitive: I don’t care about being the best, but I want to be the best I can be.

Being the best matters very little to me, as does winning. Winning equals beating your opponent, and I don’t much care for that. What keeps me from floundering in a competitive environment and provides success is the desire to play optimally. Correct play will lead to winning. However, the victories are merely a byproduct. When I take down an FNM, I don’t congratulate myself on winning. Instead, I tell myself that I played well, so, yay me. Oh, and winning packs and store credit is nice, inasmuch as I get to keep playing more Magic.

This same mentality applies in a casual environment. I don’t care about winning or being the best player at the table. I do, though, want to make sure I still play correctly, as well as build casual decks optimally. There’s a stigma associated with casual players about being unskilled or playing with “bad” cards/decks. I’ll tackle that issue in another article, but I overcome it by making sure that my decks, even while silly and “fun”, are still focused and synergistic. I tend to have the best decks among my casual play group, but I rarely get picked on or hated out. Part of that has to do with the personality of the people I play with, but a large factor is that my casual decks aren’t designed to win. They’re instead designed to accomplish something. Granted, by succeeding in whatever it is the deck in question is trying to pull off, it usually wins. But, like in the competitive environment, victory is the byproduct.

As you may have noticed, I haven’t written much in the way of Magic strategy so far. I’ll occasionally post up rogue decks I’ve come up with (I grew up in an age of Magic where “net-deck” was a four letter word; I haven’t really been able to fully shake that sentiment). Aside from that, I’m going to leave a lot of the strategy to my fellow writers. I’m also going to leave a lot of the theory crafting to my comrades as well.

So, if I’m not going to be writing about tactics or theory, what exactly am I going to be writing about? Philosophy and people. Magic is one of the greatest avenues for human interaction, and it is just rife with areas of debate and places to ask, “Why?” Why did you make that play? Why did you include that card? Why did you choose that deck? Why do you play that format?

Why do you play?

Personally, I’ve been discovering that one of my favorite aspects of the hobby is teaching other people. I’ve always been one of the better players in my group of friends, and I strive to learn more so that there is something new that I can keep providing to them. Some bit of advice. Some bit of tech. Some brainstorming idea.

I’ve taught all of my major girlfriends the game (and yes, I will definitely be writing up my take on the “Girls and Magic” subject), and one of my favorite things to do at the game store is help beginning players to better understand the game. I am rather proud of my ability to feed information to someone without overwhelming them.

Ironically, when it comes to story telling, I’ve been accused of rambling and never getting to the point.

. . . Where was I?

For me, any non-single player game is about interaction. When you sit down for a game of Magic, you’re playing against the person, and the cards are merely the weapons. As such, a lot of my beliefs and enjoyment are intrinsically linked to this idea of interaction. Combo decks bore me, because I feel their sole purpose is to end the game (and at most, stop you from stopping them). That’s not to say that I would never sleeve one up if there was ever a tournament I really wanted to win and I felt a combo deck would give me the best chances. But, then we run into the aforementioned concept of winning not being a primary motivator for me.

Certain cards also encapsulate this idea. One of my favorite cards of all time is Savage Beating. I’ve always had a fondness for double strike, and the flavor of this card just grabbed me. However, after playing it a many, many times in multiple casual games, I had to retire the card. Why? Every time I played the card, my opponent would just scoop. They knew I was competent enough to have done the math and to cast it when it would be lethal. This means that the card never did anything, save declare that the game was over.

On the other side of the spectrum is another one of my all time favorites, Pernicious Deed. When that card comes down, the game is changed, for everyone. It either blows up the board (and changes the game), or it makes people play differently (. . . thus changing the game). The effect of that card is directly tied to what your opponent(s) are doing. That kind of interaction is the epitome of what I feel Magic is about, as a game.

My goal with my writing is not necessarily to get people to challenge conventions and preconceptions, but to simply look a bit beyond them. I don’t believe that being a casual player means playing bad decks or not possessing high level skill. I don’t believe that being focused and driven makes you a competitive jerk. I don’t believe that succeeding in tournaments requires a “win at any cost” mentality.

I do believe that people are a metagame unto its own. I do believe you can be devoted to the game without being serious about it. I believe you can be serious about the game without being devoted to it.

I believe there are a lot of people that don’t identify themselves as explicitly competitive or casual, but somewhere simultaneously both and in between.

I am one of them.

Dan Hoang

Twitter: @WombyMTG


About WombyMTG

Dan "Womby" Hoang has been playing Magic on and off for way too long. Unfortunately, not long enough to have been able to hoard a set of power or dual lands. He does still have his Revised Birds of Paradise - the first playset of rares he ever traded for.

Posted on March 31, 2011, in Articles, Journey to Nowhere and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Holy Maloney, were we separated at birth? One of the major themes to my own website is instruction of the game to new and returning players, and I too keep up with the “current meta” yet never venture past my local FNM. Weclome, Dan the Other, looking forward to seeing your column develop!

  2. So, now that you’ve perfectly described me what does that make me? I fall into exactly this category. I stopped playing after Homelands and only started again with Scars yet I’m something more than casual yet not quite effectively competitive. In fact, I find myself feeling guilty when my Kuldotha Red spits out turn 3 wins. I’m so lost. I feel like I’m back in high school again.

  3. I know what you mean. I play casual, yet follow the tournament scene. It gets kind of annoying when your friends don’t do so, and you beat them most of the time. Most of my friends are Timmies, and I’m a Spike.

  4. @ertaislament Thanks for the praise! I’ve been following you on Twitter (and your website) for a while, so it means a lot to me.

    @Stric9 I can definitely understand this. One of the tricks I’ve used when I play a “competitive” deck with a “casual” crowd is to play a mid-range deck. Full on control can be frustrating for the other player, as you’re just negating or stopping everything they do. Full on aggro can end the game before it actually becomes a game. Mid-range decks tend to have a lot of incremental decisions, so it lets both players feel like they’re in the game.

    @koga305 I think one of the important distinctions to realize is the difference between “playing casually” and “being a casual player.” I think that’s where a lot of the frustrations come from when “casual” players complain about people being too “competitive”. Personally, I just view my casual gaming buddies as a different metagame. But, it does make testing ideas for the tournament scene difficult. Just because your deck is winning at the kitchen table, doesn’t mean it can handle Caw-Blade/Valukut/RUG . . . .

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