Middle Children of Magic

Oh, I've got an Interrupt for that...

I’ve got a confession to make: I don’t play in every Magic tournament.

I don’t go to every FNM. I don’t go to every PTQ. I don’t drive 2 hours to get to the latest Legacy tournament on Sunday morning. Midnight drafts on MTGO don’t work for me ’cause I got to be at work the next morning. Currently, I don’t have a playgroup where we meet every week to test our decks hoping to break a format in twain.

Most of you would then classify me as a “Casual” player. That’s perfectly fine and understandable; I know you would call me that. Here’s what my twitter followers said after I asked what’s a casual player (and links for what they write):

BottsThoughts: @mtgcolorpie They don’t pay high $ for “tourney pedigree” cards. They don’t bother w/ sideboard(s/ing). And they slack on technicalities.

MagicWithMJB @mtgcolorpie Some people define Casual players as people who don’t play to win. Instead they are people who win in unusual ways. (dalkoncledwin on 99EDHProblems.com)

Mechtroid @mtgcolorpie I’d say me. I don’t try to win, I try to play a game that both players enjoy. THEN I try to win.

CharmanderLynch: @mtgcolorpie Someone who doesn’t care about pricing or winning all the time, more Johnny/Timmy than Spike, doesn’t use sleeves either.

GonSmithe: @mtgcolorpie Someone who plays creatures that are horrifically bad, or decks that they know will not win, but they enjoy. Slivers, etc.

iNils: @mtgcolorpie very tough to define, someone who doesn’t sink a ton of $$ in the game and rather plays cube/EDH/STAR w/ friends than FNM imo (mtgdecksource.blogspot.com)

joelniddrie: @mtgcolorpie someone who loves the game plays a lot but, does not play in organized tournaments regularly, and does not chase single cards.

mtgmetagame @mtgcolorpie Someone purpose of playing is solely for fun and they have as much fun losing as they do winning. IMO (mtgmetagame.com)

the_stybs: @mtgcolorpie Casual: It’s the how everything around game was played rather than the goal of the way the game was played. Grins not wins. (Serious Fun‘s Adam Styborski)

wrongwaygoback: @mtgcolorpie my buddies: would rather play a weird rogue, cheap deck over a kitchen table than power in a competition. (wrongwaygoback.com)

Clearly I must be a casual player then. I love to play rogue decks, and I play EDH (as well as write about it) and I play with my Japanese playsets and can’t wait the next day’s Magic articles on dailymtg, and SCG, and Mananation, and ChannelFireball… Wait, what?

I do know that Jund is ruling the standard environment at the moment. I know that several people were disqualified from Worlds for cheating and heard their sides of the story. I keep an eye on the rumors about what’s happening with Worldwake. When a set comes out, I buy at least a box (always more). I make time to go to an event like States or a Pre-release and keep those as sacred dates.

Sounds like a paradox, right? Believe it or not, I believe I make up a good portion of the Magic playing population.

But am I a casual player? Are you one?

None of the people who gave me an answer for what is a casual player is wrong; none of them are dumb (except for that mtgmetagame guy), it’s just what they believe when they heard the word casual. It’s clear that the lingo in Magic is if you’re not a Pro (good enough to be on the Pro Tour), or Semi-Pro (not the Will Ferrel movie), or trying to go pro, you’re a casual player or even a noob.

Most of the blogs and words written about Magic pertain to one topic: trying to go pro (or staying there). They’re all about how you can win mathup A, or which card you should draft third out of this pack, or tournament reports. They write for that group because those are the people that will go and read them, it helps them get the most eyeballs on their site. But they don’t reflect me and my game. All of that is perfectly fine and I read them from time to time because they help me become a better player. I couldn’t tell you the win percentage of the decks I play, nor what kind of archetype I should draft before I’ve opened my first pack. I’m not that person.

But where do I fit in?

I spend money on Magic, I know what I’m doing most of the time, I play with and have good cards (a playset of Baneslayer Angels and Tarmogoyfs, 7 Force of Wills), I plan to play at the Star City Games Open Series when it comes to Seattle (and try and play both days). I won’t play test as much as the other people, but I’ll show up, deck sleeved up ready to give it my best. I know I won’t win, and I’ll only get 2 points for showing up and not travel to the East Coast to try and get more points. I’ll do my best though.

See, Magic isn’t the only thing in my life: I have a lovely wife, a house to maintain, family and friends to spend time with and a non-Magic job that pays me money. Being in my mid-20’s I’m at a prime demographic for Wizards of the Coast: a geek willing to have some disposable income to spend on their product which I love (less then my wife). Currently, I go to my local store at least once a week to hang out. Sometimes for 10 minutes, other times for a few hours.

I know that if I wanted to get better playing Magic I should spend more time playing it. My life doesn’t consist of more time to play cards though. You know what, I’m pretty okay with that. Sure, I would love to spend a little more time slinging cards but for the most part I’m okay that I don’t go to the PTQs or FNMs every weekend. Some days I’m craving to play cards and get sad that I can just go and shuffle up, but I get over it.

To me, Magic is a hobby; something I do to pass time with friends with an activity I enjoy. Just because I don’t try to become a Pro doesn’t mean I don’t want to play like one from time to time. I get that because I don’t play test enough I don’t know what the proper situation should be if I’m facing a matchup. I do know my deck and what it can do and play for that. It’s not the best answer all the time, but it’s enough for me.

Wizards has given names to different player psychographic profiles: Spike, Timmy, Johnny, Vorthos, Melvin, each with their own special meaning. These are how/why they play/see they game of Magic. I’m a Spike/Johnny/Melvin if you follow that list (And please MaRo, update it) which means I like to play to win in my own way and love the pieces of the puzzle of Magic fitting together. But there’s nothing about the extent of in terms of what they play in the game. I know Spikes who draft rather then play constructed, I know Johnnys who enter into every FNM with a different deck just to see what happens, I know Timmys who bought FtV: Dragons and like to play Warp Word in PTQ’s. Wizards likes naming profiles, and I want to know where I fit in.

What do you call me?

And I’m sure I’m not alone. I’m sure that there are people wearing business suits, thinking about what deck to put together for the one night they’re not entertaining clients. I’m sure that there are players in college/rural towns that have the cards, but no one to play against. I’m sure there are parents trying their best to raise their kids and hopefully have some time, money and energy to go play cards once in a while. None of these group would consider themselves casual, but most likely get grouped in as well.

I’m not saying casual is bad; casual is not a dirty word. Just like “geeks” you get a certain image with the word. Casual is most likely the largest group of players of the game. Being lumped in with these people doesn’t bother me at all, but that’s not where I feel I belong. It’s like calling me a nerd because I play Magic, but feel like it fits if you call me a Geek. If you asked the other regulars at the store and asked them if I was a casual player, they’d laugh. “He just doesn’t play enough,” is what the response would be. “He doesn’t play normal archetype decks, but they look alright on paper.”

And I’m sure there are more people like me. Just like how I don’t believe we’re the only intelligent life in the universe, there are Magic players out there who are in my situation. To you people out there who read this and know what I’m talking about; don’t worry, you’re not alone.

I know how you feel.

The lost people between the wanabe pros and the casual crowd.

We’re the middle children of Magic.


22 thoughts on “Middle Children of Magic”

  1. This article really hits home for me. I’ve always felt like the semi-hardcore casual player was in the majority while the pro/wannabe pro players were the focus of 90% of dailymtg/SCG articles. Thats why I enjoy this blog. It’s right where I am as a Magic player. Its my hobby, and I play to win most of the time but above all its a great way to spend time with buddies. I appreciate the time it takes to balance the game for the pro level and I attend big events when I can.. but I have no desire to “go pro”. I feel like I, and Robby, can both talk about Magic on the highest of levels (and enjoy doing so from time to time).. but in the end… The casual, EDH playing, Mythic Foil chasing, Darksteel Collosus wielding crew is the one I feel most at home. I think the word you’re looking for is “Robby” Ill start using it if you do.. I’m a Robby. There, I said it. It’s in stone. Johnny, Spike, Timmy and Robby.

  2. I am exactly in this position. I’m not a PTQ road warrior, but I keep tabs on the competitive metagame and like playing competitive decks – as well as less competitive ones – with my friends or at FNM, and I go to every prerelease. I don’t think casual play means you are just as happy to lose as to win – I much prefer to win with a crappy cat tribal deck than lose with it.

    I tried to define casual in an article at mtgcast once and came up pretty blank; though arguing that my BG Rock deck featuring Goyf, Thoughtseize, Damnation, Kokusho, Cabal Coffers etc was a “casual” deck because it wasn’t a tuned Legacy deck led to a lot of laughs and derision from my buddies. First turn Overgrown Tomb into Thoughtseize always gets groans of “Ughh, not the /casual/ deck!”

    Cheers for the article. I’m not sure if recognition of our type means anything, but its nice to be recognised.

  3. I have often felt the same way about myself, it is nice to hear some one else is in the same boat. I am interesting in that I do not even play the game that much. I go to a prerelease or release when I can, and draft once every few months on MTGO and that is it. But I do spend money the game, as I love to collect it. I buy 3-6 packs a week, more if have money, less if I do not. I often wonder if I am alone in that, if Wizards even realizes people like me exist, and if they care.

  4. I can second everything you said in here. This is exactly how I feel, 100% of the time.

    I tried to do the play all the time thing. I played every FNM, I went to GP:Philly, and I almost started going to PTQs. Then I realized that isn’t what I want. I don’t want to “go pro”, or even try. I want to have a group of friends that I can enjoy my hobby with, and I think I’ve found that finally with two different disorganized playgroups from work – one for normal multiplayer and one for EDH.

    My rating’s sitting at around 1850 – I think I’ve proved I can play if I want to make the effort. But I don’t want to. I just want to enjoy the only thing that’s successfully captured my interest for 15+ years running.

  5. Well, I and my lot have referred to us as competitive casuals for some time… But we’re ostensibly lapsed “semi-pros” that are more likely to dip into the game when time is free than be able to devote anything to it. Ultimately… There’s considerations for brand positioning and public relations in some cases, sure, but when it comes to personal outlook, outside opinions are irrelevant. No one should be fretting over what the uber-Spike thinks if he’s not a friend or loved one. Casual, competitive… It’s always intriguing the social need for people to classify and label themselves and create some kind of faction line.

    Those who only view someone negatively have the virtue of self-filtering themselves into the “irrelevant” category in that person’s life. If you have your enjoyment, then the rest is meaningless.

  6. It’s not only a social need, but I believe a personal one as well. We use labels to describe things in order to communicate well with other people. It helps us identify ourselves and describe it to others. People want to belong to something or they feel alone in the world (such as the common feeling of Depression). It’s this sense of belonging to something that make people join Clans online, that share the same lingo with friends, that go to Cons dressed as their favorite Anime character.

    It’s easy to say that you don’t need to fit with a label when you can identify yourself easily within a group. For people who can’t do that with such luck (mid-life crisis, gender identity, etc), it’s not such an easy thing to do (I’m not saying that a Magic player profile is not on the same level as not feeling home in your body, just an example).

    I do love your last line, it’s a great philosophy of life.

  7. This article encapsulates me. I am every bit the person being discussed in this piece as is the next person lined up queuing a comment.

    I appreciate the nod for my quote. But moreover I appreciate the sheer quality displayed in the pieces you put out their for the public; both general and hardcore. Your writing style is succinct and direct. You don’t meander off on past glories, and/or future endeavers that end up leaving us, the readers, stricken with Tolkien length seizures.

    I believe you, along with other MTG writers, nailed it [the topic] on the head.

    I recently spent time viewing Flores’ video series on “How to Win a Pro Tour”. It wasn’t so much the note taking on “How to Win a Pro Tour” – than it was of me picking up the story being told between the lines.

    The friendships made along the way. The quality of sportsmanship. The stories. The tragedies, “OH NOEZ HE KILLED ME WITH A RANCORED SQUEE!!!”. And of course the experience of every single moment kept for the rest of my life. If and when I ever move away from this game I will have them kept like a bottled cloister (yeah – you like?).|

    @ Gwafahazid: I agree 10/fold. Casual EDH players in my area lament when I drop turn 1: Island, SolRing, Isochron Scepter …

    Even when I decide to slap on Vision Skeins (Great political play in Multi-EDH).

    @Reinhart: I’m a, “Hey it’s Botts”. That’s my handle at the cardshop, or, “It’s The Jew!!”. Long story short – I love play competitively while helping players learn the game.

    I took this lesson from when I played Chess in a league back when I was younger. When I was in a losing position w/o a chance to prevent embarassment (disembarassment is the counter-play for those wondering), I would offer my suggestions as to the quickest and most solid positions to be played to win against me. My teachers/coaches disliked this – but I took a rush from it. And to this day even still; while gripping BBE, and knowing my board position is lethal – I still ask my opponent to talk out their turn(s).

    Realize – the plan
    Visualize – the solution
    Actualize – the completion


    Great article. I’ll see you in Seattle some day. We will sling EDH, and enjoy coffee and conversation. Someday.

  8. Man, this hit home. It’s more about playing something I *enjoy* than winning. I don’t play with truly bad cards, and while my play isn’t perfect, it’s pretty good. What I want is some people I can mess around and play a few fun games with. I’m not going to give up every weekend of my life to go to become a “pro.” I’ll just go to whatever random events are within reasonable distance, and that’s good enough for me. Sigh.

  9. Well, I’m probably somewhere in between middle child and pure casual, but I’ve always felt I didn’t quite fit in with most casual players. I won’t spend hundreds of dollars on a deck, but I will spend a month or two fine-tuning a list for the best 25 dollar deck you can build. While I find almost winning against a superior deck more fun than winning because the superior deck got mana screwed, I still enjoy making the guy with the elf deck concede out of sheer frustration. This was a great article, and now I feel I understand the people next to me on the casual-pro scale a little bit better.

  10. I can definitely relate to this. My friend and I are “casual” in the sense that we only played every now and again, even while living in dorms this year. However, between the two of us we have traded and shuffled about to build as close to a top-8 Jund list, so that when we do play we can run whatever other decks (whether our own brainchildren, or ideas others propose) we have against it. We like competitive play, but have neither the time nor money for the competitive atmosphere.

    Plus, I think attitude plays a huge part. We play competitively, but for fun. I have heard so many horror stories (and seen a couple myself) that the idea of investing the time and money to “go pro” at the expense of other things in my life simply seems like it would take the fun out of the game. Whatever you want to call it, MTG remains at heart a game. Play how you love it, and no worries on the rest.

  11. Excellent article man– I can certainly feel ya! We’re the kind of player that’s too often overlooked but we’ve got huge numbers– I see folks like us turning out in droves at Prereleases, States, and FNMs, while missing a fair number of PTQs.

    While Wizards has made great strides in broadening their public focus of late, they certainly still slant pretty heavily towards the Pro player. But I do think that’s changing.

  12. This is an excellent piece. I fit into that category of young professional who has some money to buy cards but not really anyone to play with. I stop by a few shops now and then to talk a bit and hang out. But I spend most of my time playing the old DotP (1997) on the computer.

    For my birthday this week I bought myself a box of M10 to try to bolster my collection in that set and finish off a set. It’s been sitting on my desk for 4 days and I have to say that there are few things in the world that make me happier than cracking a few packs to see what I get.

  13. I totally agree.

    I follow the info, but never compete. I probably know how to handle my own against a top level Jund Deck, but don’t have the funds to build a deck, the time to compete, or really like the way tournament decks are designed. I want fun.

    I wish I could get to play more, but actually spend more time making decks than ever actually playing. I get together occasionally with my other geeky dorky friends, terms we don’t mind, but agree I’m not sure about nerd, but never go play in the local store. I don’t feel like I fit in with the guys hanging out there, who quite often seem to have nothing else (including hygiene). I’ve got a career, a wife, a house, and while sure, I think about Magic (cards, strategy, decks, combos, flavor) and other geeky topics (comics, music, movies, toys, etc.) regularly, I, like you, have other things going on. So, yeah, I could play more regularly if I went to FNM or the Saturday tournaments, but I don’t, because I want to play with friends, and people I like, who are all in similar “life moments” as me. Geeks with lives who like to play Magic.

    Furthermore, I like to win, but don’t mind if I lose. I really just like “the game.” Magic is a wonderfully constructed game (although I think its execution falls short sometimes, and if I had the time I would design my own mock set to play with, with all those brilliant, better-than-Wizards ideas I have, and I know all of YOU have as well). And even though, I really do just like the fun of it, and the idea of it, and the actual play of the game, sometimes I would like to got to a FNM or some sort of competitive match and just crush someone.

    Being a pro Magic player would be cool, (I mean c’mon making MONEY to play MAGIC), yet at the same time, not only unrealistic, but in my mind, absurd. I would need start up capital just to build a tournament competitive deck. I’d need INVESTORS. I’m definitely a “middle child” of Magic, since I don’t have the money, wit, or time to think about Magic professionally. And I don’t know if I would want to. I think that the thought process needed would take away something of my enjoyment of the game. When it becomes solely about winning, and not designing my own decks and playing with friends and the cool interactions of cards, and when every deck played is a near-clone of every other deck, that becomes boring. And Magic, for me, is about anti-boring.

  14. aggh when did the font size of this website get so small? (It’s the same size as it’s always been. Check your browser settings – MtGCP)

  15. /raise hand

    great article, I feel you. I’m simliar (for the most part, just too poor for “real” cards like Goyf and Fow X| ) as far as I approach the game… huh, I guess that’s why I like limited as much as I do, now I think about it.
    Yes we’re underrepresented because we don’t particularly care if we are noticed, to be honest.

  16. I fit this mold too, though I lean toward wanting to ‘get there,’ commitments to other aspects of my life (wife, money, job, etc) keep me from becoming a Magic grinding hermit. This is definitely a plus. :p

    I put enough investment into Magic to consider it the primary hobby. My wife does support my higher level play to an extent, mainly because she’ll get to travel with me. I’m a person who can live with hanging out at home most of the time. She… isn’t. She’s interested in the game, but her mentality would be a kitchen table casual player at best.

    To be straight up, everyone is a casual, EDH is quickly proving that even the hardest high level players enjoy casual Magic in some form or another. It’s how often a player flips the switch to ‘hardcore’ that seems to be the point of discussion. Kitchen table players don’t really flip the switch (0-10%). Local FNM regulars that don’t hit PTQ’s flip it on a little bit(10-40%). PT competitors keep theirs on a lot(90%+). We seem to be the 60-75%’ers of Magic. We enjoy competitive play, but we aren’t willing to sacrifice our lives to do it.

  17. Echoing what several others have said, thanks for this article. I *love* playing Magic. It captures my imagination like nothing else. However, Magic is something I have to squeeze into my limited amount of free time. If I can go play at an event twice a month, that’s a really good month for me.

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