The Grim Tutor is Wesley Allison.  



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“Still Learning”

Let’s face it.  Magic: the Gathering is a strategic and tactical masterpiece of a game, with levels and intricacy that go far beyond what is immediately apparent.  I’m not afraid to say that after several years (of fairly intense study) I am still a long way from mastering it.

I have been an avid gamer for a long time.  When I was a kid, my brother and I played Monopoly and Risk and Stratego and Checkers and Chess and any of a few dozen games that have been lost to both in my mind’s eye and in the public eye.  In the mid-1970’s we got these really cool dedicated electronic games that were the forerunner of the Gameboy—Simon and Merlin and that little Missile Command game.  Shortly after that, I got a Pong game for Christmas.  I will admit that it didn’t hold my interest very long, but a few years later (1982 to be exact) I bought a Commodore Vic-20 home computer with a massive 5K of memory, and have been a computerphile ever since.  In 1977 I bought the boxed set of the very first Dungeons and Dragons (three tiny booklets which I still have), and immediately set out to create my own campaign world—a world that has persisted almost twenty-five years now.  This was followed by a space setting of my own creation, first using Traveller rules, then Alternity, and more recently GURPS.  If gaming isn’t in my blood, it’s certainly coating my arteries.

With all this, you might think that I got in on the phenomenon of Magic right at the start, but it wasn’t so.  Magic came out the same year that I was completing my Bachelor’s degree in college.  Those of you in college might understand me when I say that I had little time for games of any type.  Add to this the fact that I had two small children at home, so the games that I did have time for were either “Peek-a-Boo” or “find the pacifier under the couch”.

It wasn’t until 1999 that I made my first foray into collectible card games.  I had heard enough about Magic to know how it was changing the gaming scene, but it wasn’t my first card game.  My kids had become enamored of the Poke’mon TV show.  At first, we told the kids to stop watching it, but eventually I learned to appreciate it.   (Except for that Tracy Sketcher kid!  Man, I hate him!  Brock is like, a million times better.)  After watching it for a while, and seeing the Poke’mon Card Game craze start to take off among the kids at school, I decided that this was something fun that my kids and I could do together.  So I went out and bought a Poke’mon starter set.

My son, daughter, and I quickly learned the ins and outs of Poke’mon, and went to the Poke’mon league.  We enjoyed playing and collecting, but this really was just for the kids.  As fun as the game of Poke’mon is, it just isn’t seemly for a grown man to be playing with his Bulbasaur.  I had figured out how collectible card games were basically played now, so how much harder could it be to learn magic?

I went out and purchased the Classic Sixth Edition Starter Set, which contained two forty card decks, a basic play guide, and a rule book.  The mechanics of  Magic, Poke’mon, and now Harry Potter are all pretty similar.  You have resource cards—Mana, Energy, Lessons—which enable you to bring in creatures and other powerful things.  Once you get passed the differences in timing and order of turns, and master the intricacies of Instants and abilities, it’s really not too tough of a transition.  My son and I were playing magic within the hour.

It didn’t take me long to realize the truth, that Magic is a grown-up’s game.  The rules, the genre, the background mythos, the flavor text: these are all things that can be appreciated on more than one level.  I quickly handed down all the Poke’mon cards to the kids (although I still helped them keep everything in order, as well as maintained a few really good decks such as “Dad’s Fiery Fist”, a Charizard/Hitmonchan based deck).  But the Magic cards in the house were mine.

Mercadian Masques had just come out, and I bought boosters and tournament packs.  I purchased some preconstructed decks and tried to figure out what made them tick.  I bought Classic Sixth Edition cards, and cards from older sets that were still on the shelves at half a dozen hobby shops around town.  And I started reading all I could about Magic: the Gathering.

It wasn’t too long before I had gathered a sizable collection of cards, had built a dozen or so decks, and had played quite a few games with my son and daughter.  I usually beat them.  They however still wanted to play Poke’mon.  I had to bribe them by promising to play a game of Poke’mon after a game of Magic.  I needed someone else to play with.

I opened a gaming magazine and found an ad for the Nemesis Prerelease Tournament.  Las Vegas, which is adjacent to my hometown of Henderson, was one of the cities listed as having events.  So, I called the toll free number and got the information on where, when, and how much it was going to cost.  I’ll tell you about my experiences at prerelease tournaments in another article.  Let is suffice to say, that although I was trounced, I had a good time, got my first taste of organized Magic play, and went home with some really cool new cards.  I loved Blastoderm right from the start.

After Nemesis, I located a few friendly neighborhood game stores that had Friday Night Magic events.  I created a cool new deck each week, one that tested out great at home, and took it to the store.  And I got spanked…. each week…every week.  The worst was when I took my son with me for the first time, a little boy of eight at the time, mind you, and he came in second….while I was spanked.  Sure, he was using a preconstructed deck, Replicator,…but he came in second!  And one of the people he beat along the way up the ladder to victory was his poor old dad.

It wasn’t until a year ago this month that I actually designed a deck on my own that did fairly well in organized play.  It was at the 2000 States, and while I didn’t win, I placed well enough to keep my dignity—fortunately my son wasn’t there.

The whole point is that Magic is a truly complex and strategically deep game.  It’s like playing chess, when the two players have selected their own pieces from a pool of five thousand possible.  It takes a while to learn.  There are those who have a gift for it and pick it up faster than the rest of us.  Good for them.  But should the rest of us just chuck the whole thing and take up tidily-winks?  No, of course not.  Play for fun.  Play for the experience.  Play because it’s great mental exercise.  And play because one day you are going to wipe the smug look off the little twerp across the table from you.

I’m still learning the ins and outs of Magic: the Gathering.  I am playing because I have a good time playing.  It’s fun to pit my skills, meager as they are, against others in this fascinating and complex game.  I still go to prerelease tournaments.  I’m planning to go to the State Championships this year.  I still play Friday Night Magic, even though last week I was beaten in the first round—by my son.

Copyright 2001

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