You know that girl?
Maybe she's the one who lives in your house, sleeps in your bed, cooks your dinner, and does your laundry.
Maybe she's the one who calls you twelve times a week just to see how you're doing.
Maybe she's the one who passes you notes in the hallway and signs her name with little hearts.
You know who I'm talking about. You might call her your wife, fiancé, or girlfriend. Yeah, her. I've got news for you: she doesn't like Magic. If you're lucky she has a vague interest in it. If you're unlucky she can't stand it. Most likely though, she has no interest in it, but she can still tolerate it. One way or the other, she's not very into Magic, but she's really into you.
Why is she into you?
Maybe you screwed something up while establishing your gamer persona.
Maybe she doesn't know you well enough yet.
Maybe there's a rumor going around that you have, ahem, certain "qualities" to offer her outside of your superior deckbuilding skills.
Nobody knows exactly, but for some reason, she's into you. And she's not into Magic.
So what the hell are you supposed to do now? How can you be with a woman whose interests lie outside of little pieces of cardboard? How can you relate to someone who clearly must be of inferior intelligence since she obviously lacks the desire to play a fantasy card game? How do you show her the way?
Answer: You don't.
If I were to estimate the percentage of Magic players who are women, I'd put it around 5%. Maybe less. I can't explain exactly why so few women play Magic and although many people have tried, it's probably just an inherent genetic thing. Something about the game simply appeals to males. And nothing will change that.
"But it's not fair!" you say. "Why must I go shopping with this girl and spend hours on the phone with her and snuggle with her when I'd rather be playing cards with her?"
Answer: Because she's better than you. Her traits are more marketable than yours. She has control over you. There's something instinctive inside you that says, "I must appease this woman lest I lose her." And it's probably right.
But don't fret. For just as you wish to please her, so too does she wish to please you. The tricky part is that when she makes the effort to enter your little world, you must be careful not to push her right back out. Just like she lets you stop at the game store at the mall while she's shopping, you must make the game as fun and comfortable for her as possible. And that's the tough part. So I am here to offer some tips about playing Magic with your significant other.
My primary assumption here is that your significant other (who will hereby be referred to as “her” or “she”) has no real interest in Magic. If she happens to be a hardcore gamer like yourself, then congratulations. You don’t need advice from me. But if she is a normal woman, the situation is a little bit harder to deal with. Even if she's not already into games, she is still a significant part of your life. The goal, therefore, is to share with her the joy of playing Magic, which also happens to be a significant part of your life.
The first thing to figure out is whether or not she actually does have an interest in the game. If no interest is there, you’ll be wasting your time by trying to teach her how to play. There’s a number of ways to gauge the amount of interest she has in Magic and possibly generate some more interest from her.
First and foremost, you must tell her that you play Magic. As anxious as you might be to play Magic with a female, if you’ve just started dating, you’ll want to give it some time first. A good way to make a bad first impression is by taking a lady out on a first date and then spending the evening talking about the best new cards in Standard. You’ll probably want to wait until you’ve been dating for a couple of months before breaking the news. On the other hand, if you’ve been married for five years or so and still haven’t told her, then I think it’s about time she found out.
When telling her that you’re a Magic player, it’s important not to tell her outright. Just ask randomly about the game in general. Say something like, “What’s the deal with that stupid Pokemon card game? Only losers and little kids would be caught dead playing that. I’ll bet that Magic game is a lot better.” If she agrees with you, then you can begin easing her into the game. If she defends Pokemon and says it looks like fun, you’ll need to break up with her immediately. She obviously does not have what it takes to play Magic with you. If she thinks Magic is just as stupid as Pokemon, then it was not meant to be. You’ll just have to continue playing secretly for the rest of your life. Maybe if you have kids, you can get them into it and say that you’re only playing to make them happy, but for now, you’ll have to stay in the closet.
Assuming that she approves of your game, you’ll need to take the next step and find out if she’s willing to learn more about Magic and possibly play with you. The most obvious way to do this would be to ask her. Although this seems simple and will generate an immediate and accurate response, it’s totally the wrong way to go about things. Women don’t like to be direct and they don’t want you to be direct with them. If you go up to her and say, “Would you like to play Magic with me?” then she’ll think you’re a total loser with no friends. Regardless of how true that might be, you still don’t want her to know it. You’re going to have to be patient. Just keep doing your thing and see if she shows any interest. If she does, then you need to build that up to the point where you can teach her how to play. So how can you build up that interest in Magic?
Answer: Rebecca Guay. My wife loves Rebecca Guay. Not all women do, but I guarantee that your significant other is more into the art than the game. She’ll think some cards are beautifully illustrated and she’ll laugh at the flavor text in others. If you want to eventually put these into a deck, that’s great, but you don’t have to. Just show her some cards that you think she'll like. She might ask about the meaning of some of the stuff on the cards, but most of her comments are going to be geared towards the flavor. Even though she’s not yet playing, you’re still getting her interested in the world of Magic. As long as she's interested in a part of the game, she’ll be more willing to play.
In addition to art, she also loves shopping. All women do. They like to spend money and buy things that they will later return for other things they like more. It's inherent. The closest you come to shopping in Magic is cracking open a brand new pack. I know you want to save your packs for limited formats, but you'll need to make an exception. So when you buy that booster box or win those prizes at the prerelease, hand a couple of packs over to her. She'll actually be excited about the new cards since she's seeing them for the first time. If she knows how the game works, she'll ask questions about new mechanics that she hasn't seen yet. She'll actually want to play with some of the specific cards that she likes. So which cards does she like?
Answer: Dragons. She loves dragons. And she will continue to love dragons. Dragons are cool. Dragons are awesome. Dragons are the penultimate deck for her to play with. If you have not yet built a dragon deck, build one now and let her play with it. She will love it. And she will win with it. Dragons are big. Dragons can fly. Dragons are cool. Let her play with dragons. If the dragon deck gets stale after a while, you can mix things up, depending on her personality. If she’s nice, make her an angel deck. If she’s evil, make her a demon deck. The key here is huge, evasive creatures. She will love them and have more fun with them.
Of course you can’t just hand her a deck and expect her to play with you, no matter how much she likes the cards. You actually have to teach her the game. The most important thing to remember here is not to be critical. Teach her the rules and if she messes one up correct her, but don’t tell her what the best play is.
Since she has a limited interest in the game, her knowledge level will peak early. She won’t be out on the internet reading articles about maximizing deck efficiency or reading about draft strategy or checking out the spoilers two months before a new set is released or anything like that. What you should expect from her is that if you put a pile of cards in front of her, she will be able to play the game and interact like an opponent should. Mistakes will be common, because for her, spending time with you is its own reward. Winning the game is second. For this reason, don’t criticize her playing unless she shows an active interest in becoming better. Let me present you with an example scenario that we’d like to avoid:
Her: I’m going to cast a Spined Wurm. Then I’ll attack you with my Grizzly Bears.
You: Hahaha! You stupid noob! My Nekrataal has first strike, so your bear is dead! You could’ve at least waited until after combat to cast your wurm. Then you'd have an untapped land and I might think you actually have some sort of combat trick to play before damage gets put on the stack. You suck.
Her (after beating you senseless): This game is boring. I think I’ll go watch TV or something.
This sort of reaction from you will ensure that this is the last time she plays Magic in a long time. A more appropriate response might be the following:
Her: I’m going to cast a Spined Wurm. Then I’ll attack you with my Grizzly Bears.
You: Are you sure you want to do that? Look at what I have to block with.
Her: What does first strike mean?
You: It means that my creature will deal its damage first and kill any creature with toughness of 2 or less without dying.
Her: Thanks, I forgot. You’re so good to me. Let’s make love.
You: Can we finish this game first?
As you can see, it’s okay to help her out. Just don’t make her feel bad about any decisions she makes. And don’t correct any mistakes that have no bearing on the outcome of the game. In the above example, it’s not necessary to point out the fault in casting a creature before attacking. She probably doesn’t care and she probably won’t remember since it really didn’t affect her. On the other hand, she probably will remember to check for first strike in the future. Again, you need to remember that she’s not going to be dedicated to improving her playing. The goal is to play together and have fun, not to always be victorious. This brings me to my next point: faking it.
Often in life, your special lady friend may fake certain things to make you feel better about yourself. In Magic you can easily return the favor. If she makes an obvious mistake, instead of capitalizing on that mistake, just make a mistake in return. I know it’s hard to actually go through and not play your optimal game, but it will increase her enjoyment of Magic and make the games more interesting. Combat math is tricky to master, so most of her mistakes will probably happen then. If she attacks into a bad situation, don’t give her the worst possible outcome. Try to turn all her mistakes into a one-for-one trade, so that she can see that her creature got killed, but it won’t be a total loss for her. If she’s not attacking, you can attack her instead, even if it's a bad decision. This will in turn help her feel better about her play skills since she is beating an experienced master such as yourself. And the better she feels about her play skills, the more likely she is to be willing to play with you in the future.
Another way to keep the game fun is by getting more people involved. Three-ways are a lot of fun. (Note: If three males are playing a game of Magic, this is called a “triangle match” – not a three-way. On second thought, they both sound pretty gay.) They’re also useful when one of the participants is not as experienced or skillful. Usually, the two best players will focus their games on each other, giving the other player an opportunity to take advantage of their oversight. In general, three-ways make it harder for any person to win the game, but it’s also easier to not be the outright loser and that also might make her feel better about playing.
An even better situation arises if you have a friend who also has a significant other with a minor interest in the game. In this case, you can play team formats such as 2-Headed Giant or 2 vs. 2 as couples. Since table talk is permitted, you can help her with game decisions and win or lose, you’ll be doing it together. It’s important to be careful when helping her out, though. You want to give her suggestions, but ultimately let her make her own decisions. You’re not just playing with two decks, two hands and 40 life – you’re playing with her. If she makes a mistake without consulting you, don’t shake your head and sigh – just let it happen. As long as your friend is playing by the same rules, it should still be an even game. If she makes a big mistake that will assuredly cost you the game, try to make an even bigger one to cover it up. Make her feel like a partner – not a liability. It’s okay to lose together.
Just as there are many ways to keep her enjoying the game, there are also a number of ways to lose any goodwill that may have been built between her and Magic. Here are a few strategies that should be avoided when starting a game with her:
1) Don't play discard. Players with a passing interest in Magic often have trouble deciphering between a helpful card and a potentially helpful card. For this reason, you should avoid forcing her to discard any cards. All she'll see is the wasted potential. She’ll be seeing enough wasted potential once you get fired for playing Magic Online at work, so for now, we’d like to avoid it. It’s okay to let her play discard because you can take it like a man, and in general, it's easy to play. Cards like Coercion and Distress are ideal because they’re not too powerful in the wrong hands and over time, she’ll start seeing which cards she should be forcing you to discard. On the other hand, cards like Cabal Therapy and Cranial Extraction are useless to her, since she’s going to have very little knowledge of card names.
2) Don’t play control. At all. Don’t let her play it and don’t play it against her. Control decks are slow and boring and hard to use. For an experienced player, there’s nothing more exciting than mastering when to play your Counterspells or when to break out the Wrath of God, but for someone who’s not completely into it, it’s boring and worthless. Playing against control decks can be annoying and frustrating. So put them back in the box and save them for your hardcore Magic buddies, because as slow as control can be, it’s about the fastest way to keep her away from Magic.
3) Don’t have her evaluate cards. If you’re as into Magic as I am, I’m sure that as soon as a new set comes out, you read through the spoiler and check out all the articles rating the new cards and which ones are best for each format. She doesn’t. She doesn’t care enough to find out and you shouldn’t expect her to. Therefore, don’t do drafts. Drafts are much more complicated than you think and picking the right cards and then making them into a deck is hard work and a slight misconception about power can totally throw off an entire draft. I can almost guarantee that if I drafted Betrayers with my wife, she’d pass me Umezawa’s Jitte. If you haven’t played with or against it, it might seem too situational and complicated to be any good. So if you want to have fun, avoid the drafts. However, if you still want to play some limited with her, try doing sealed deck. There will still be a lot of decisions to make, but this time, after both of you build your decks, switch them. So it will basically be her deckbuilding skills + your play skills vs. your deckbuilding skills + her play skills. The matches should end up about even. I’d suggest doing the same in a draft, but typically she’ll want to play with the cards she drafts. That’s why she’s picking them – because she thinks she’ll enjoy them. These choices are much more streamlined in a sealed format.
So there you have it. I have imparted unto you all the knowledge necessary to get that special someone to sit down for a few games when she's not busy cleaning the house or popping out babies. If you play by these rules, things may even change. Her desire may grow into something bigger, just like it did for you. Then she'll be going out on the internet and reading all the strategy and in no time, she'll be kicking your butt. Eventually she'll dump you and run off with some young stud like Julien Nuijten or Terry Soh. But at least you'll have enjoyed her while she lasted and be all primed up for the next lady in your life.
You know the one.