I love teaching.

I discovered my love of and affinity for teaching last year, when I taught Introduction to Magic at Twenty Sided Store. Every Saturday, I had one hour to introduce completely new players (and/or reintroduce lapsed players) to Magic. Every week, I was astounded by much they would get within the span of an hour. Every week, I had to change my teaching style to accommodate my students’ learning style. Every week, my students taught me how to teach (which I covered in one of my very first, and still favorite Hipsters articles). It was enthralling.

I’ve recently returned to teaching Magic after a long hiatus. I’m teaching only one person to play, but my aim is more ambitious than merely introducing her to the basics and getting her playing a game: I want her to be kicking ass. I want to lose to her in a draft, and have lost without doing her the disservice of not playing to the best of my abilities (for those who don’t want to untangle my triple negative, I want to lose while playing my best).

Student of Warfare

My student is brilliant! She’s got an extensive background in board, card, and roleplaying games. She’s picking Magic up faster than anyone I’ve ever taught. Accordingly, I’ve greatly accelerated my teaching style to match her pace. Normally, I give a twenty minute lecture and walk someone through the first several turns of a game. With her, I spoke for less than ten minutes and launched into a quick game with my custom-built introductory decks. I had already lost the first game less than half an hour after we’d started.

For our second match, I took out three much more complicated decks I’d created to teach an advanced player—UR Scry (with the Knowledge and Power and Sigiled Starfish engine), WB Drain (with Scholar of Athreos, Gray Merchant of Asphodel, and Gravedigger), and mono blue artifacts (with the powerhouse Limited combo, Soliton and Heavy Arbalest). She grabbed UR andI grabbed monoblue artifacts.

Enlightened Tutor

The matchup is pretty straightforward: the UR deck needs to keep monoblue off of metalcraft, otherwise it’ll lose to Chrome Steed and Myr Enforcer. It wants to smash in the air with Prescient Chimera while buying time on the ground or set up Knowledge and Power and kill everything. I know this but want my student to figure it out for herself.

We both keep our opening hands. I know that she’s on two lands but has three Sigilied Starfish to find lands early on and gas later on. My grip is full of Chrome Steeds; very vulnerable to her plentiful disruption, but very strong if she can’t keep me off of metalcraft.

On turn three of our first game, my opponent scries before drawing, doesn’t play a land and says, “Lightning Strike you,” then passes the turn.

Cruel Tutor


My every instinct is telling me, “No! She needs that burn to kill my Chrome Steed! Tell her how to win this matchup! Impress upon her the importance of lands and using burn as creature removal when I’m at twenty life. Help her win!!!” I silence that urge. I play a creature and attack with everything. I continue to do this every turn for the rest of the game. With her being too restricted on mana to disable my metalcraft, she’s quickly overwhelmed by an army of 4/4s.

My decision broke two of my biggest rules for teaching new players: give them time (to learn) and let them win (which is fun and encourages them to play again). It was, however, the best decision I’d made.

Rise to the Challenge

My student/opponent had told me not to help her; she wanted to learn for herself. Rather than be lectured on the importance of lands and the value of creature removal, she instead experienced it firsthand and took the lesson to heart. When next we played, she scried some of her best spells to the bottom early on to find lands , used her burn to disable my metalcraft, and smashed my face… even after I set up the Soliton/Heavy Arbalest combo and wrathed her board! (By the way, that’s a mean thing to do to anyone, not just a new player.)

Her lesson gobsmacked this teacher. She taught me that because I didn’t go easy on her, she had to and did learn. When I go easy on my opponents, I provide them the opportunity to learn, but that’s not the same as needing to learn. From now on, once I’ve demonstrated the basics of Magic and a student gets them, I’ll provide a challenge for my students to rise to.

Shared Triumph

I hope that you all have the opportunity to teach someone else anything, whether it’s Magic, arithmetic, Bangla, or racquetball. There’s no better way to learn people (including yourself) and your passion than trying to communicate what you know to someone who doesn’t know it and doesn’t think exactly as you do.

I’ll be back next week (hopefully) after a pair of PTQs with (hopefully) even more stories to share. As ever, thanks for reading, and I’ll see you next week!

—Zachary Barash

twitch.tv/ZennithGP — Join the livestream!

Zachary Barash has been playing Magic on and off since 1994. He loves Limited and drafts every available format (including several that aren’t entirely meant to be drafted). He’s a proud Cube owner and performer, improvising entire musicals every week with his team, Petting Zoo. Zach has an obsession with Indian food that borders on being unhealthy.

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