The Grim Tutor is Wesley Allison.  



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by Wesley M. Allison

One of the most important factors in the growth of any hobby is the introduction of new members.  Magic: the Gathering is no exception.  The good news is that there are a great many people, young and old, who would be interested in playing Magic.  The bad news is that, for the uninitiated, learning how to play Magic can be a daunting proposition.  One wanders through the local games store watching the players as they mysteriously slide cards around the table, only occasionally making monosyllabic grunts of pleasure or disgust.  Though the desire to understand this intriguing activity is overpowered by the psychological need not to feel like a total dweeb.  So, what does one do?

Wizards of the Coast, the makers of Magic have gone to considerable effort and expense to produce a series of Starter level products designed to introduce new players to the game.  The most recent of these products is the Seventh Edition Starter Set.  This set features two very basic game decks and two packages of more advanced cards to add to them to produce two forty card decks.  Also included are a step by step guide book and a more advance rule book. Perhaps best of all, the set features a CD-Rom demo of the game.  Providing you have a computer, this is a great tool.  The production quality is high and it is fun to play, though with this newest edition, there isn't a great deal of replay value.  The two forty card decks and the easy instructions make it easy to figure out the game with a partner if you have one to play with.  

Wizards of the Coast also produce several games that could easily be considered entries into the Collectible Card Game hobby.  Though they differ in the details of play, both the Poke'mon and the Harry Potter Collectible Card Games use the same basic mechanic.  Resource cards, whether they are called energy, manna, or lessons provide "power" to allow you to send other cards, monsters or spells, out to attack an opponent or that opponent's minions.  Though I haven't spoken to anyone at WOTC about it, it appears to me that the Harry Potter game was designed more than anything else, to be a gateway into Magic.  There are so many elements of Magic: the Gathering contained there-in, all the way back to Vanguard cards that are so much like character cards in the Harry Potter game.

Should you start with the Starter Set, should you try one of the other games first, or should you do something different altogether?  Educators often divide up people according to their "learning styles."  It has been known for some time that some learn by listening, some by watching, and some by doing.  These three learning styles-- auditory, visual, and kinesthetic-- once understood, can be great tools for figuring out the most effective and most fun way for you to learn anything new, and the game of Magic is no exception.

Auditory learners enjoy reading aloud, are talkative and love discussion, and find that they can best remember things that they have heard rather than seen.  Auditory learners can spell better in a spelling bee than they can when writing, and while they find writing difficult, they can tell a story quite well.  Auditory learners often become editors, librarians, lawyers, secretaries, therapists, and interestingly enough, writers.  If you are an auditory learner, try the CD-Rom with the 7th Edition Starter set, or ask the proprietor of your local game store to explain the game to you.  You might also benefit from listening to the neighborhood kids tell you about Poke'mon. 

Visual learners learn best by seeing, and memorize by using visual clues.  They tend to be very good spellers because they see the words in their minds.  They would rather be read to than read and they usually remember what they have seen better than what might have been said to them.  Many visual learners become architects, engineers, pilots, photographers, artists, and web designers.  If you are a visual learner, read the rules first.  Purchase the 7th Edition Starter Set and read both books, then look through all the cards before you try a game.  Forget what Wizards of the Coast says in the packaging about not opening the advanced card pack until you have played a few games.  READ IT ALL.  You'll be glad you did.  You might also want to stop by and look at the comprehensive rules there.  Look at the Pojo message board and see what people are saying about the game and about specific cards.  By all means, check out the Deck Garage articles on Pojo and elsewhere, paying special attention to the author's description of how the deck functions.

We come finally to the kinesthetic learners.  When Captain Kirk tells Saavik that "we learn by doing", he's talking about these folks, although I think he may have been mistaken in regards Vulcans.  One need only look at their ears to guess auditory learner.  Kinesthetic learners like to use their finger to keep their place when they read.  The often use body movements to help them memorize.  They touch people when communicating, and they are very physically active.  Kinesthetic learners tend toward active careers like police officers, athletes, dancers, actors, and doctors.  If you are a kinesthetic learner, throw away the 7th Edition CD-Rom.  It is way too structured and talky for you.  And don't read the rules before you play.  Find someone to play the game with-- at school, at home (with the starter set's two 40 card decks), or at your local game store.  If you can't find anybody to play with, sit down and play Poke'mon with the kids.  You can later apply that knowledge to Magic: the Gathering, but for God's sake, DON'T READ THE RULES.  Just play!

The truth is that we all probably have some combination of all three learning styles mixed up in our brains, but it may still be possible to focus our efforts in one particular way to get the best result.  You can find out more information on learning styles from your teacher or local librarian.  Those interested in studying the subject in depth should examine the recent scholarship on "multiple intelligences".  For the rest of you, I hope this gives you a few thoughts about the best way for you to learn the ins and outs of Magic: the Gathering.  The hours of enjoyment that you will find will amply repay your time and effort.

As for the rest of us, we need to help new people learn the game.  I remember, not too long ago, logging on to my Magic Interactive Encyclopedia to play a game.  I asked one fellow in the lobby if he wanted to play, and he responded that he would only play "if I knew the game" since he "didn't have time to teach" me.  I knew how to play the game, but at that point was relatively new to online Magic.  I passed.  I can understand not having a whole lot of time, I suppose, but if you are in a rush, online Magic is not really the game for you.  Log off and play a little Minesweeper. 

In person I have been much more fortunate.  At my local game shops and at tournaments I have played Magic with many people from eight to eighty, both male and female.  At each of these game nights and tournaments, I have witnesses experienced players being helpful and generous to those new players venturing into this new realm for the first time.  But I have also seen players at school or the library sneer derisively at someone asking them a question about this "strange magic they are doing with these really cool cards".

We cannot afford to shut people out who are interested in learning to play Magic: the Gathering.  If we want our hobby to expand and grow, even if we only want the price of new cards to stay relatively low, new expansion sets to continue on a regular basis, or continued organized tournament play, we must encourage new players.  Be a friend to a new player.  Be a mentor.  Be a scholar and a gentleman (or lady).   Not only will you feel good about yourself, you will be helping our hobby and ultimately yourself.

Copyright 2001


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