A first-time player at Friday Night Magic

Look at the shiny supplies!

Yesterday, I participated in my very first-ever Friday Night Magic tournament. I got there not long after 5 pm and the room was already comfortably full of people who had already paid their tournament fees and were playing against each other for fun. The ages ranged from “middle-school kid” to “first-generation, first-edition player” (although I would find out later that he was the father of the store manager and only started playing recently).

While signing up, I talked to the store manager about the changes I’d made to my Standard-format deck in the face finding out that four entire sets of cards would no longer be legal to play with after the end of September. He reviewed my deck and thought that it still seemed decent enough to play with; I was rather pleased with this because it was really tough finding equivalents to the outgoing cards using only the cards I’d previously bought and not buying any additional single cards.

After getting my DCI card and buying some accessories for the deck I wanted to create for my husband (a box of sleeves, a spin-down die, and some boosters from Return to Ravnica, Gatecrash, and Dragon’s Maze), I milled around and finally sat down in front of two players who weren’t in the middle of a game or looking at trade binders. We introduced ourselves, and after telling them my “How I got into Magic” story, I asked them for some pointers. They were both very nice and kind to me; this is a descriptor I’ll be using to speak of every person I met and/or played against that evening.

The first pairings were called and I was matched up against a guy who looked to be my age. As we were setting up, I gave the speech I’d end up giving to every opponent I faced:

“Just to let you know, I’m playing Magic for the first time against other people and this is also my first tournament. I don’t have a sideboard, and I’m going to be reading every card because I don’t know what they all do. Is this okay with you?”

My opponent was great and though he beat me twice in a row, he let me read his cards and explained what they did and sometimes why he chose them, explained why I couldn’t play other cards at certain points, gave me tips on how to better use my Instants, and played a third game against me as there was still time on the round clock. (I think I lost that game, too.) The players seated to our right had finished sooner than we did, and as we played on, they also joined in on our conversation and spoke about how they started playing Magic and how much fun the booster draft afterwards would be.

The next rounds went by rather quickly with me losing more games than winning them. The more I played with my deck, the more I got a feel for the cards and which ones I liked seeing over and over again. I also learned some very valuable lessons in choosing when to take a mulligan, learning very late that even a 5-card starting hand can be a good start to a game if it’s the right five cards. Plays I was very satisfied with included me being able to use a Solemn Offering to destroy an artifact that was really giving me trouble in one game and playing out my foil Jace’s Mindseeker to use one of the discarded cards to destroy an opposing creature that had just gotten too big in another. I was also able to kill a planeswalker at least once; however, I also recall at one point my opponent and I didn’t have any cards in our hands, we were both low on life, and he top-decked a card which was just enough to finish me off. That’s just how the cards go, I guess.

The Top 8 match-ups were announced, and I entered the line to receive my prizes for participating; I chose a pack of Dragon’s Maze and a pack of Gatecrash. In addition, I rolled a high enough score on the d100 to be the recipient of the promotional Dimir Charm. (Now I have to build a Dimir deck around it!) After calling my husband to update him on my progress, I also let him know that I was going to be participating in the draft later that night. I blame one of the other players who between rounds told me that drafts were more fun and easier for newbies than a tournament because it put veteran players on an even playing field with newbies due to the random nature of the draft format. Between rounds, I also made it a point to speak to the only other woman who’d entered into the tournament and ask if she’d be interested in being a founding member of the Lady Planeswalker Society chapter that I wanted to start. She was very excited and we exchanged email addresses and phone numbers.

I left to grab and eat dinner, and when I returned it was time for the Return to Ravnica block draft. Six of us stayed to play, including the guy who’d convinced me to try it, both of the players I met before the tournament started, and my third-round opponent. The manager went over the rules quickly, and asked, “Are there any more questions?

“Sure,” I said, raising my hand. “Could you please go over that again, a bit more slowly?”

Everyone laughed, and the manager carefully re-explained these following rules:

  1. Each player was given three packs in front of them and for this draft, the packs would be opened in this order: Dragon’s Maze, Gatecrash, Return to Ravnica.
  2. Once everyone had their first pack in their hand, they could then open them, taking out the promo/ad card and the basic land (except for the Dragon’s Maze packs, which didn’t have a basic land).
  3. Each person would choose a card from the pack that they’d opened, and place it face-down in front of them. Then you would pass the rest of the cards to the other player. The rest of your cards you would continue to choose until you were passed the very last card in the pack that was opened. You could not look at the previous cards you’d chosen in your face-down pile until after you were passed the very last card in that pack. During the first cycle, you would pass the remainder of the pack to the person seated to your left; on the second cycle, you would pass to the right; the last cycle, you would pass to the left again.
  4. No more than one pack of remaining cards could be sitting between you and the player next to you.
  5. Once everyone had received the last card, you could look through the cards you’d chosen from that pack. When you were done reviewing your choices, you could then pick up the next pack in the order and hold it up in the air front of you.
  6. When all players had their next pack up in the air in front of them, everyone could then start drafting the next pack.
  7. Once all the packs had been opened, you could then start building a 40-card deck. Basic lands were available for borrowing from the store, but if you had your own additional land, you could use that too.

Before the draft started, I decided that I was going to draft a deck which was in different colors from the deck I’d used for the tournament. This would also be the deck that I would eventually give to my husband to teach him how to play. Thanks to a skit from the folks at Loading Ready Run, I knew that I should be looking for BREAD cards, but it took some more research on the Internet prior to the draft to inform me on exactly what that meant.

However, most if not all of that advice flew out of my head when faced with my first actual pack. I decided to pick just all-creatures at first, paying attention to cards which had neat secondary effects that didn’t require additional mana to use. I didn’t think about how much mana using the cards would cost, and as much as I wanted to start adding cards which helped me get more of the right mana (aka mana-fixing), I told myself to hold off until the next pack at least. After reviewing my choices from the first pack, I decided to focus on Enchantments, Sorceries, and Instants, and picking creatures with low mana costs that would be easier to play during the second pack’s cycle. I think I also picked up my first mana-fixers, paying attention to Guildgates as I’d picked up the Ubul Sar Gatekeepers and wanted to be able to use its secondary ability which required at least two gates to use. The last pack I reserved for trying to pick up some Bears (creatures which only cost 2 mana to cast, have a power of 2, and a toughness of 2) and more cards that would be easy to cast as I still didn’t trust my ability to decide when to take a mulligan.

After attempting to winnow down my cards to a reasonable 40-card deck with a decent mana curve (that is, where I’d be able to play out a creature or spell within at least the first three of my turns), I went back to the manager to ask his opinion on how to decide how much land I should add. He went through my cards and made some suggestions, but also pointed out to me that he was only doing so during this draft as I’d never played in one before. (Since then, I read an article online which stated you should have anywhere from 13 to 17 creatures in your deck, so I may go with that from now on.)

As luck would have it, the very first person I played against in the draft was the person who convinced me to stay for it. He beat me twice in a row, but I had so much fun playing him that it didn’t matter. I did replace some cards with ones from my sideboard (aka extra cards you draft that you don’t choose for deck) in response to some of his trickier cards, and I think that helped me stay alive for a little longer. For the second match, I went up against someone whose deck seemed to be as slow as mine. We each won a game, and then we took so long to play that we went over time for the third game, which ended up in a draw.

For the last match, I faced again my previous third-round opponent. He used the Cipher keyword ability to great effect in copying creatures, but I was able to render them ineffective by casting Thrill-Kill Assassin and some other removal spells. I also negated his Nivix Cyclops‘ secondary ability by casting Guildscorn Ward on my creatures, especially the ones which had lifelink. Alms Beast also came out to play a lot, but since I never really understood how it worked, I didn’t use it to attack a lot.

After he won the first game and I won the second, we were the last people playing in the draft tournament. I had two creatures with lifelink attacking almost every turn, one of them being Blood Baron of Vizkopa, a mythic rare card which everyone had complimented me on pulling. At one point, I had 25 life points to his 1, and I think he may have had a few cards in his hand. Earlier in that game, I played out Hellhole Flailer, but didn’t trigger the Unleash keyword ability. After he played out another card but hadn’t completely tapped out yet, I cast its secondary ability, targeting him directly, and winning me my very first match.

By this time it was almost 3 am. This means that I spent the last nine hours playing Magic and only won one match. However, I think the things I learned about my play-style and the kindness of the people I met while playing will keep me continuing to play at in-store events and learning more about the game.

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