I’m not going to talk about Magic today. Sure, there’s still plenty to talk about between Tempest Remastered (a remix of my favorite childhood set), Team Draft League, the Pros debating the viability of Modern, and the still-exciting Khans Limited and Constructed formats. Instead, I’m going to talk about Minecraft, a game which, until this past week, I had never played.


For those who, like me, knew of Minecraft’s existence but didn’t pay it much mind… Minecraft has sold over 60 million copies, making it the most popular PC game in history.

It is shockingly simple and devilishly deep. At the beginning of the game, you appear in the middle of a randomly generated world with nothing but the clothes on the back. And I mean that—nothing. There is no narrative to follow, nor instructions to guide you, nor any obvious goal. You are in an open, vibrant world and you need to learn how to survive before night falls and you are swarmed by monsters.

My girlfriend encouraged me to try the game out with her in multiplayer, and due to some technical hiccups, I started out playing alone. After the better part of an hour of running from mobs (monsters), dying of starvation, dying from lava, dying from falls, and dying from facing mobs in mortal combat, I learned three things:

1. When you die in lava, you lose everything.

2. I can punch trees!

3. I can hold my mouse button down to rapidly click an object.

While these were piddling discoveries compared to the sea of knowledge my girlfriend possesses, they constituted enormous leaps of wisdom for me.

My First Tome

In Minecraft, I am truly a newbie. These days, it’s rare that I have that experience. I’m not being haughty—at my age, I’ve played enough games that I know what kinds I like, I seek out games which match my preferences (i.e. they are similar to the games I’ve already played), and when I play a new game, I have many skills which transfer over. In Minecraft, the only thing I was innately good at is combat, as I’ve played enough First-Person Action-Adventure games to know how to time and distance my melee attacks.

I was completely in the dark—I had no idea how to craft, I had no idea of how to feed myself, and I had no idea of how to make light. I played cautiously as I was absolutely terrified at the prospect of falling from heights (a fear I’ve never before had in a video game). I was overwhelmed by everything my partner wanted: cave exploration, crafting, and redstone. I was happy to stick to the most complicated task I knew: smacking rocks with my pickaxe… which was fun! I knew that eventually I’d get to the more complicated stuff (and sure enough, I’ve come much farther by now), but I wasn’t ready for it then.

Fruit of the First Tree

Once upon a time, we were all newbies. We’d never held a controller in our hands, or tapped lands for mana, or moved in three dimensions, or moved our bodies to control a game. Once upon a time, we knew next to nothing. We probably had someone with us sighing at our lack of experience and our overly reckless or cautious play.

I share this with you for two reasons.

First, when you meet someone new to a game you know well, particularly one as complicated and strategically deep as Magic, cut them some slack. We all need time to experience, learn, and improve. If you respond to another’s inexperience with impatience and frustration, you’re likely to both turn away a potential player and share a miserable time with them. If you let them be bad initially, they’ll likely come back much better next time.

Secondly, I encourage you to be a newbie again. Find a game or activity that’s outside your comfort zone and try it. It’s painfully hard being bad at something, particularly when one is accustomed to being really good at what one already knows well. However, you’ll walk away knowing your limits better, with new skills, and possibly even having a new passion.

And, as always, thanks for reading.

—Zachary Barash

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 improviser, creating entire musicals from scratch every week. Zach has an obsession with Indian food that borders on being unhealthy.

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