The Beauty of Casual Play

I remember the first game of Magic that I won vividly. I was eight years old, and I had a Black and Red Goblins deck whose contents consisted of cards such as Goblin Chieftain, Siege-Gang Commander, Reckless One, and, my personal favorite, Goblin Psychopath. I can’t even remember what I was playing black for, but it was my first deck.

I was playing against my older brother who had a mono green deck featuring Ambush Commander, Headless One, Thorn Elemental, and, his personal favorite, Rhox. It was the classic Elves versus Goblins match up, and even though it may have taken a little bit of mana screwing on my brother’s part, Goblins prevailed on a lucky Goblin Psychopath coin flip. I absolutely lost my mind. I don’t think I won a single other game that deck, but that one victory was enough to fuel my inner competitive drive for the following 15 years.

Though that deck is long since dismantled, I will never forget the excitement that ran through my veins as my brother helped me build my first Magic deck. We went through the classic steps, he introduced me to the color wheel, and we pulled together whatever cards we had in our small collection that was given to us by our uncle. It was magical.

I am not the only player who has experienced this. I’m sure most players remember first becoming enthralled by the limitless possibilities that are at hand with Magic, not just in the paper game, but in the universe. Today, technology and websites such as scryfall have made it a breeze to quickly look up any cards for any given type of deck you’re trying to build, but being gifted a box of cards that you’ve never seen below, allowing your imagination to run rampant with all the different decks you could build is a feeling that I can only describe as euphoric.

This level of excitement continues to slowly dwindle with each progressing year that I play Magic. This is to no fault of the games, but rather a symptom of being surrounded and in taking the amount of information that I do on a daily basis, which led to my general interest in the competitive aspect of the game.

Competitive play was a fascinating and disorienting discovery that I made as a casual player. Players would compete with decks that played a play set of multiple cards with very few singletons, as opposed to the exact opposite of what I was doing. Past that, players would compete with only the best cards available to them. As someone who grew up in a small town with no local game store within an hour drive radius of us, I couldn’t buy singles without either begging my parents to order them online for me, or drive me the hour to a game shop where I can buy them myself. Because of this, my collection was made up of just booster packs, so, naturally, I did not have only the best cards.

But even past the differences in deck construction, competitive play meant learning why the cards you play are good. Why are these cards the best options for this deck? Having a good deck isn’t enough in competitive play. You have to play better than your opponent can in most cases. It’s unfortunate when games are decided by RnG, but playing well became the most important part of MtG.

This was the hook for me.

Watching competitive play was one thing, but actually playing competitively was something entirely different. When you have such a deep passion for this game, everyone can agree that the feeling of doing extremely powerful things in this game is indescribable. Navigating extremely complex combat steps correctly and sequencing your spells in perfect order created a feeling of gratification that only got better and better with each match I won.

Competitive play is what has kept me in the game for so many years, yet, I can’t help but feel lament for my days as a casual player. As I continued to play competitively, I lost focus on the fact that MtG is just a game, it had become my ego fuel. I needed to win in order to feel good about myself, and I needed MtG in order to win. Winning became the most important aspect of the game to me. This, as you can imagine, ruined the game for me for a while.

I stopped playing MtG for seven months. This may not seem like a lot to some relative to what they have experienced with the game, but it was a long time considering I work for a game shop. MtG had grown from a fun hobby, to a sport, to an obsession, and then to a job.

This is no discredit to the game, mind you. This was caused by negligence of myself, low self-esteem, and lack of restraint. In my seven month hiatus I heavily considered selling out of the game for good. I had completely burned out on the game, and was working two jobs at the time, meaning even if I wanted to play I didn’t have the time for it.

During this time off I contemplated a lot of things about Magic as a game. I ended up selling everything I owned, save for two Commander decks and all of the cards necessary for Scapeshift. Towards the end of my seven months I began playing casually with a new hire at the store named Sarina. Sarina had played Magic for only a year at that time, and was still very much casual. She taught me a lot about Magic that I had forgotten, an aspect of the game called ‘fun’ that was previously lost to me. Casual games were absurd and hilarious games to be a part of. Situations that would never happen in a competitive game came to life playing random decks that we made.

This turned Magic from a job into a passion.

Competitive play is something I still participate in and enjoy, but after burning out so hard, casual play taught me the real reason as to why we play this game. All of the hard deck building choices, all of the immense strategy and thought that has to go into each game, and all of the outstanding people that we met along the way, it was all in the name of a single goal from the community; Let’s have fun.