Casual Friday-Keeping it Casual
Have you ever had a new guy join your casual Magic group and have him dominate every game that didn’t involve teaming up against him? Maybe you had some awesome deck encouraged a collective groan from the group as you started shuffling it. There are plenty of tournaments that encourage players to bring their strongest, most competitive decks, and it can be tough when decks made to win a tournament play against more casual decks. Casual play always seemed like the place to get away from playing to win as fast as possible and trying new strategies or just focusing on the fun. Here are some of what I think are the best ways to make a deck more casual and more fun.
Magic cards are built to have some cards be clearly better than others according to their rarity. The best cards are naturally going to be in shorter supply than others. Some more competitive players, used to just buying whatever is needed to make a deck great, can run into the problem of making a deck too strong for casual play against players that just make decks out of whatever they find in booster packs. Thus there needs to be some balance between the strongest cards of your deck against everyone else’s cards.
This is a really hard thing to avoid because the coolest cards are always the most rare. Engulfing SlagwurmEngulfing Slagwurm is a really cool card, eating up all your opponent’s creatures instantly. It’s an awesome blocker, and with LureLure, it is a devastating attacker. A friend in our play group had this combo in his deck and could play it by turn 5 or so. Any kill spell could easily take it down but when he follows up with Eldrazi there eventually comes a point where nobody can get rid of these huge creatures. I always dreaded playing this deck because I always feel I have to rush and focus on taking down this one person before they can get too much steam and become unstoppable.
Of course it’s no fun to deliberately put awful cards in a deck, but when the odds are stacked in such a way then games may end up turning into Archenemy whenever someone play’s their ultra-powerful deck. Some formats have also been created to avoid these gross imbalances of power. Pauper Magic and other similar types that restrict players to only commons or limit the number of cards at higher rarities can allow newer players to build a more competitive deck while forcing veterans to stretch their creative muscles building a strong deck without the strongest cards.
I am probably most guilty of making a deck that is too complex. I love creating the most convoluted schemes to achieve victory and the most complicated battlefields in Magic. Yet sometimes decks can get too complex to be any fun for anyone else in your playgroup. Some people don’t like having to take 10 minutes looking at the field before making a decision as simple as playing an awesome spell or even to not do anything at all.
I made a deck like that before. It used one of my favorite cards of the whole Scars of Mirrodin block: Knowledge PoolKnowledge Pool. A card that stops everyone from playing their spells and forces them to pick some other spell? The only thing better than that would be two Knowledge Pools at the same time! I almost immediately got 4 of them, easy enough because nobody else wanted them, and filled it with cheap and nearly harmless spells I could swap with others. I played the deck against 3 other people, able to play two Knowledge Pools at the same time. If you’ve ever used this card, you can imagine how excruciatingly long it takes to do anything. Needless to say, that was the first and last time I ever played that deck.
Make It Unpredictable
A deck of 60 cards, with 24 lands, only needs a minimum of 9 different cards. Why not make those cards that will always lead to the win? Red decks, the color that is supposed to love chaos, seems to benefit the most from this. Throw in 4 Lightning BoltLightning Bolt, Ball LightningBall Lightning, Lava SpikeLava Spike, and others and you can win pretty quickly. It’s great to have that consistency in a competitive format but when playing just for fun with a casual group, it can be pretty boring to play a deck that will always do the same thing. It’s great to mix it up with a wider variety of cards even if they are really powerful.
The Highlander format really embraces this strategy. When there can only be one, it’s a lot harder to know what the deck is going to do. It’s a favorite format of many, especially the Elder Dragon Highlander, or Commander. This format is great because it allows some of the more interesting and expensive cards to be used. Where else would someone be able to play Magmatic ForceMagmatic Force consistently?
Let The Opponent Play
Land destruction is, I hope, the most hated ability among most players. Even if you’re playing great, if all your lands are gone you’re probably going to be stuck with whatever you have on the field until the game ends. Then you have all sorts of really cool cards in your hand without any way to play them. All that’s left to do is sit around until your opponent gets the upper hand and kills you.
The same situation occurs when locked down with counterspells. Strong combos like CounterbalanceCounterbalance and Sensei’s Divining TopSensei’s Diving Top are not very fun to play. Really, a lot of the most powerful combos are frustrating because really good decks will be able to win the game with them in only a few turns. One of the worst new combos I’ve played against was Splinter TwinSplinter Twin with Deceiver ExarchDeceiver Exarch. It’s a horrible infinite combo that makes you lose the game against an army of millions of copied creatures. I really hate when my friend plays the deck, but avoids using the combo even though it could easily win him the game. I don’t know if it’s just me, but I hate winning only because someone else chose not to win when they clearly know they could. I think it’s best to remove these types of combos if you want to have fun casual games.
This is tough to do with some decks in multiplayer games because some just have to focus on another player to play effectively. Mill, Discard, and Burn decks become less effective as it plays against more than one opponent. Most people can accept being targeted by these decks as it is the only smart choice, but other decks can usually do okay in multiplayer at least.
I’m mostly referring to decks that are made only to play against another particular deck. There’s nothing wrong with responding to the meta game, like including more counterspells in decks if everyone tends to tap out for huge creatures and spells. However I have seen people play a deck with Blue Elemental BlastBlue Elemental Blast, Absolute LawAbsolute Law and other similar cards to use every time someone pulls out their favorite red deck. These one-sided matches are never very fun to see.
These are some of the most common problems I’ve seen playing casual Magic. When new players join your group these problems can come up again and again. Have you run into players that have decks that are way too competitive? Have you made rules to keep casual Magic fun and casual?