(ALL THE THINGS is a less Spike-y, more slice-of-life Magic column by Zac Clark.  It covers the social aspect of the game, game theory, and the occasional Magic aside in the form of rants and short fiction.  Basically, it’s a non-tournament article that showcases his love of Magic and gaming in general.  He loves the competitive side of the game, but there’s another side that appeals to him as well, that’s the side you’ll read about in ALL THE THINGS.)

No surprise here, I didn’t make day 2 of Grand Prix AC. I could write a tourney report about losing at a big event, but I wanted to contribute something a little more positive to the blog this week. One thing I did notice was the overwhelming amount of bored girlfriends at the tournament. Reading magazines and/or sitting somewhere near their boyfriends during the later rounds of the Grand Prix.

“How miserable is that?” I thought. All around you there are people (guys and girls) having fun playing games and you’re sitting around waiting for the fun to end. That’s such a huge fail on the shoulders of so many people.

If you took all these bored significant others and you gave them all an EDH deck they’d likely all be a lot happier socializing with each other than waiting for this thing to end so they can go get dinner.

I thought back to my experiences of teaching people how to play the game. At the earliest was my little brother. I found out how to play from a friend in Boy Scouts and my friend Paul and I set out to spread the “virus” to our friends and relatives. Anyone who would give us twenty minutes to learn the game.

My little brother, Bryen, was the most receptive then. We played D&D together so a “travel” version of D&D was an easy sell. My dad often loaded up the car/camper and took us on these totally boring (but ultimately great) road trips. Car games ranged from the ABC game, where you had to find a word on a billboard that stated with the next letter of the alphabet, to my dad just making up weird songs about Goats in Boats in Moats that didn’t Float (you get the gist of it). Magic seemed like the ultimate car game.

Granted, I barely knew the rules enough to teach the game and we were always doing something wrong, Bryen learned about as quickly as I did. He was receptive, though. Like I said, this was an easy sell.

The next was my sister, Holly. She was sick of being left out of the fun after I had started getting into the game more heavily. I built her a green deck with mostly creatures and taught her how to play. She picked it up quickly but wasn’t that interested in playing after she learned. Dungeons and Dragons wasn’t her thing either.

We come from a family of gamers. Dad even patented a board game that combined Atari in the early 80s “King of Video Mountain”. I picked up the game gene, Holly wasn’t into it, though. So 1-1 on teaching the game. I executed the process twice but it only stuck once.

Holly was the control though. She was not the target audience of the game at the time. Especially in 1996, there wasn’t a lot a 15 year old girl could get into in this game. I would have hang outs with my friends (most of which were nerds by her standards). Sundays I would go to the mall and spend the day in a comic shop and played cards. She liked that because of the attention she got in there.  Socially, it wasn’t her bag. And that was ok, she never gave me shit about it. I had my friends and she had hers. I couldn’t imagine the sort of pressure a 15 year old girl would have to deal with if the school found out she was playing Magic. I took my life as a teenage pariah in stride. I’d rather have friends that let me be me than pretend to like football or try to believe in Jesus (youth group was a big thing in my High School).

Moving on… I took a job at the local comic shop, where my job was to teach kids to play Magic. To help spread the game to customers, and to create a scene for the game locally. I was incredibly successful at that. I must have taught hundred of kids to play the game. This method was easier mostly due to two things. The environment was conducive to learning the game.   And they came to me. They were willing to try it out, or their parents had bought them cards and they wanted to know how they worked.

Flash forward to Grand Prix Atlantic City, 2013. Nearly, 13 years since I’ve successfully taught anyone how to play. I get to thinking. What are the best ways to teach the game? How can I teach the game without over complicating it? How could I avoid having a bored girlfriend at one of these events?

Then we have my girlfriend, Victoria. Classic non-gamer girlfriend. (Though she did play a Star Wars RPG on AOL as a teen).  She has the spark of a future planeswalker in several ways:

1) She listens to me spout verbal nonsense about the game from tournaments I attend.

2) She reads the blog more regularly than some of our contributors. That’s dedication!

3) She’s heard enough that she tries (bless her heart) to make Magic jokes and references. My favorite being when she asks if I won with Jace the Mind-Potter. (Apparently, she thinks Jace dropped out of Community College art classes.)

She’s interested at least enough that going out with me doesn’t seem to bother her (in fact she seems like to like it a whole lot). I try not to shove it in her face, but I do play a lot and I talk a lot about my friends that play.

Last night, I asked her if she would be into an experiment for the blog.

“You want to teach me Magic?” she says in a way that seems like she was expecting this conversation eventually.

“Yup, I want to try a new way to teach the game. Plus, you’ll have a better idea of what I’m talking about. And it should make reading the blog a little more fun for you.”

She agrees to be taught.

I don’t have good teaching decks built so I decide to just pull out RDW and American Flash. I take out the counter magic from American flash and replace it with other cards. Counter magic makes games last longer and punishes new players for casting spells. The game is more fun for both players when all the spells happen.

STEP 1: Showing the Cards

So I take apart her deck (RDW) and I show her each different card. And I split them into spells and creatures and land.

In the spells there are sorcerys and instants. I explain what each card does, since they are all damage spells its pretty easy to see what they do. Then I explain the difference between a sorcery and an instant. We look at the casting costs of the cards as well. She understands that to play a spell you need to be able to pay for it. Great! This is working better than I expected. Her eyes aren’t glazing over at all!

Next we look at creatures. “We’ll ignore their text for now. The important thing is that they have three main features: Casting Cost…”

“Just like the spells!” She’s learning fast!

“Yup! Then they have their Creature Type.” I pick up an Ash Zealot. “This is a Human Warrior. They have Power and Toughness.” I point to the numbers on the bottom right.

“Power is how much damage they do and toughness is how much they can take?” she asks. I’m impressed she’s been listening to me ramble on about this stuff and it seems like she picked up a thing or two.

She looks at Falkenrath Aristocrat, I pick it up. “This card is gold which means its more than one color.”

“Red and Black, that’s a thing! It’s uhh…” She’s really excited!

“Oh yes! Rakdos! That means Red and Black.” I told her about the shards and guilds and the colors when I was sick last weekend.

Now she’s seen the spells and creatures I show her the land. And I explain “tapping”. “You turn it sideways to show that it’s used and you can use anything that’s tapped.”

STEP 2: Execution

So we shuffle up. Flip a coin. I win. I explain Play or Draw. I choose Play and I tell her for the first game we just want to attack each other every time and play openhanded so I can help her.

On to game 1!

My Turn one: Island…Pass

Her Turn one: Mountain, Rakdos Cackler she chooses to Unleash him. (I explain Summoning Sickess.) Pass.

My Turn two: Glacial Fortress Augur of Bolas. Get a Sphinx’s Revelation.

“That’s that card you like! Why is there an X?”

I explain the “X”. She gets it. I pass the turn.

Her Turn two (Hence forth turns will be shown as Z#turn number or V#turn number): Mountain Ash Zealot. (I explain Haste, she seems pleased.)

“Right so the main phase is broken up into three parts. First Main Phase, combat step, and Second Main Phase. So when you attack you tell your opponent that you ‘Declare your Attack Step.'” She was a little confused by this and thought it sounded complex but she went along with it.

“I declare my attack step.”

“Now you choose attackers.”

“We attack with everything right.”

“Yup just for this game, so you can see how it works. To choose you tap the ones you want to attack with.”

Instantly she taps both creatures. “Cuz my warrior chick has haste? Right?”

“You got it! Then I pick blockers.” I put the Augur in front of the Ash Zealot. “OK, now damage. First Strike happens first. Your Ash Zealot has that. 2 power to the Augur’s 3 toughness. He lives. Now regular damage. 1 damage to the Ash Zealot and 2 to me from the Rakdos Cackler. I’m at 18.”

“How do we keep track of damage once the creatures take it?”

“Hold on, we’re getting to that.  So now it’s your Second Main Phase, you can cast more creatures and play sorcery/instant spells.”  But she’s tapped out.

“Can I only play one land a turn?”

“Yup just one.”

“Then I’m done.”

“OK! Now we go to the end step.  Everything heals and you discard down to 7 cards. So my Augur is healed and your Ash Zealot heals too.”


“So my Turn?”

“Yup. I’m still finished. And I have 5 cards.”

Z3: I play a Think Twice, find a land and play Hallowed Fountain tapped.  Attack with my Augur and she finds out that tapped creatures can’t block. “You’re at 19.”

V3: She Untaps… Upkeep, nothing.  Forgets to Draw… then remembers.  She plays a Dragon Skull Summit.  “I have a mountain so I can use it this turn?”


She plays another Ash Zealot, then a Vexing Devil.  Earlier when we looked at all the cards she immediately realized that Vexing Devil seemed like a bargain.  “He’s really big for what he costs.”  I explained that some creatures seem under-costed but that their Oracle text often include drawbacks to make up for the cost.

“I’ll take 4 Damage,” I say. “I’m at 14.”

“I declare my Attack Step.”  She smiled wryly and tapped both Ash Zealots and the Rakdos Cackler.

“I can’t block, so I take 6 damage! I’m at 8.”

“End Step, your turn.”

“At the end of your turn I’m gonna Thought Scour.  I can do that because it’s an instant and they can be played on any turn.”  2 Azorious Charm into the graveyard and I draw a Moorland Haunt.

Z4:  I draw a land Play a Runechanter’s Pike, EXPLAIN that card’s X, and Equip. Attack for 1 with my Augur she goes to 17.  And I’m finished.

V4: Untap, Upkeep, Draw. (She’s moving much quicker through the steps now!) And she plays a Cavern of Souls.  In retrospect I should have removed this card from the deck, as it’s a little confusing for a new player.  But she eventually settled on Dragon, played and Archwing Dragon and domed me for 10.  I died.

She seemed to get it. So the next game we played with our hands up.  There were only a few times I had to help her with the rules.  So many creatures in the deck have haste she would sometimes play one without and try to attack with it.  That was pretty quickly understood.  Exalted was a little tough to explain and I had to remind her about it, but by the third attack she understood if it worked or not.  The second game she won on the back of two Knights of Infamy with Protection from White.  My turn 4 Restoration Angel got her Rakdos Cackler and the Flash ability caught her by surprise but two 2/1, Protection from White, attacking Knights don’t care about Restoration Angels.

The third and final game I won on the back of Runechanter’s Pike.  She was thinking about mulliganing a land heavy hand but wasn’t sure if she should.  After faltering on spells she realized why mulliganing can help you win.

Overall, the games went pretty smoothly.  Victoria understands the game much better and beat the living crap outta me in two of the three games.  It helps if they win, I find.  No one likes a bully, and teaching someone the game only to crush them their first time just sucks. I’m really proud of her.  She didn’t complain at all, and she picked it up really quick.  This experiment was a total success and I’m particularly happy with the way showing her all the card first went.  She was relatively familiar with her deck and I didn’t have to stop the game much to answer questions.  It was a lot of fun for me, and she seemed like she had a pretty good time too.

Victoria will likely be crushing you at a TNM very soon. Probably with Ash Zealots, warrior princess style. So, WATCH OUT!

Zac Clark, Durdle Magus

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