Thursday, December 24, 2009

Being a Girl and Magic: The Eightfold Path

I already talked about how I started playing the game that is Magic. But that didn't take much time or effort. Nothing was a real challenge until I started playing Standard.

How does one make the leap from Casual to Competitive? What drives them to that decision? What caused YOU to enter competitive, Constructed tournaments? This is the story I'm really interested in. Especially from the female perspective. There are actually plenty of girls that play casual Magic with a group of friends. They play EDH or multiplayer or various other Casual formats. But when I enter a tournament room, the ratio drops significantly. It's something like 1 girl for every 100 males. Sometimes less; sometimes more. More girls show up to Prereleases and States and things like that. But at even higher levels of competition, such as the LA Regionals or the recent TCGPlayer 5K Philly Open or a GP, the ratio gets worse and worse.

When was the last time a female ran the Pro Tour? I don't even know. I suppose I should ask Brian David-Marshall or Randy Buehler. Certainly no female has ever WON the Pro Tour. Or a GP. Kali Anderson won the SCG 5K recently with Eldrazi Elves. That's the most recent example I can think of where a female won a big tournament. And I'm glad she did. If we get more examples like her, it would show other girls that they can win, too.

So I've noted that there are some obstacles for girls to even start playing Magic, right? Well, there are exponentially more of them for getting girls to competitive arenas. And then keeping them there.

It just gets worse and worse! :(

I'm going to try to break down the Path into Eight Steps. Let's see if this works.

Step One. Have the desire to do better. That's pretty basic. I think most people have this feeling underneath. They want to win. But it conflicts with other things, and that's where people get tripped up. Going back to my previous story, I disassembled my Relentless Rats - Thrumming Stone combo deck because others were complaining about it. It was "dumb" and kind of heading toward the broken side of casual. It also didn't interact with my opponents' decks much at all since I just needed to combo off to win. It just wasn't fun. (I guess it wasn't as good as I thought it would be, either. That's besides the point.)

What happened there is that, though I had an underlying desire to build good decks, there were other qualifications -- decks in casual have to be fun and interactive, too. You have to consider who you're playing with. Sometimes, it's an inner conflict, though. Maybe you REALLY want to use bad cards, or a crazy combo, or big, beastly, over-costed creatures. Maybe you want to maximize the cards you ALREADY have and build decks solely with those. Maybe you just prefer singleton decks. These are all valid ways to play Magic, but in order to play competitively, you basically have to get over MOST if not ALL of those conflicting desires. Winning has to become a new priority.

I think this hump is hard for girls to cross, too. Girls enjoy cooperative games, or games where everybody has an equal chance to win, or games that let them get to know each other better. This might sound like an over-generalization (and everyone can name some super competitive girls), but I think it's still overall true. Games like Munchkin, Apples to Apples, Cranium, trick-taking card games, Clue, or personal-question games like "Truth or Dare" or "Never Have I Ever" are more appealing to females. It's nicer if everyone is having a good time. Uplifting the mood of the whole party is more important than winning.

In Competitive Magic, you have to get over this. If you feel bad every time you crush an opponent or an opponent gets mana screwed... there's no truce; there's no peace treaty you can sign. You ignore it, and you win because there's nothing you can do but play the cards as they were meant to be played. You can sympathize, but you can't make it up to them somehow. Which isn't like Munchkin or Settlers of Catan, where you can at least use diplomacy. "Here, I'll give you some Sheep if you don't build that road there." And you can justify doing bad things to your opponents based on what they do. "I'm going to Curse you because you stole my Kneepads of Allure, you dick!"

Step Two. Spend money money money. This obstacle has just gotten worse and worse over time, especially with the printing of Mythic Rares. Especially the ever-popular Baneslayer Angel, which costs almost $50 apiece. Some find a way to get around it by playing budget, rogue decks. But most competitive decks cost at least ~$300. On top of that, tournament entry fees add around $20-30 per event. I'm not going to go on here because there are tons of written words on this already.

This barrier is common between men and women. Although I think more men see buying Magic cards as a decent investment. Whereas women may prioritize buying other things that they feel are more important.

Step Three. Research. This is mostly something you pick up along the way, but it can still seem like a huge barrier to cross, when you find out that there are HUNDREDS of Magic cards in Standard, and a whole metagame you may be unaware of.

Before I embarked on Standard, I was totally baffled. There were so many decks! What did they all do? I tried looking around the internet, but there was no real source of knowledge. No encyclopedia of all deck lists that explained the decks people were playing. I caught bits and pieces from the main wizards site, from articles by Mike Flores. If you already know Magic jargon and something about Standard, the resources open up -- there are tons of stuff you can read. But if you know nothing, there are very few places for you to start. You just don't even know where to begin!

Eventually you pick it up. But the research never ends. New decklists come up. New metagames arise. New sets come in, changing everything. There are new articles EVERY DAY. So it's a lot of work to keep up.

If you're Brand new, especially if you don't draft, learning all the cards will take some effort also. But it's not that bad. Your brain is good at categorizing things and remembering things, especially through pictures. So when you start getting used to card images, the more easily they stick in your memory.

Step Four. Go to Tournaments. This is another blockade for some people. What if you don't have transportation? Or don't know how to drive? Maybe the big tournaments are really far away? Maybe your area just doesn't have much of a Magic community? Maybe you don't have time on weekends.

But somehow, someway you gotta make it to the tournament. Because that's what you've been working up to!

Step Five. Lose a lot. But press on. At this point, the "hard" parts are kind of over. You can make it to tournaments; you have cards and a deck; you know the metagame; you want to win more than anything. These are all the obstacles that prevent most people from competing. Most MTG girls never reach this stage. So this is where we leave most girls behind...

But for the rest of us, we have a lot of losing ahead! Losing is very discouraging for people. And if it happens to you a lot, in the end, maybe you'll just decide competitive Magic isn't for you. This is where your own will power and confidence count the most. How MUCH do you actually want to get better at Magic? How much do you want to win? Or maybe you can find a side route -- maybe you can begin to compete for reasons beyond winning and losing. Like being with your friends, cracking the metagame with rogue decks, meeting new people.

But after losing a lot, you can start getting feelings of inadequacy. Or feelings that it's all a waste of time. If these feelings overwhelm you, you should stop. Because the game isn't so important that it should mess with your life. But you should also remember that you always CAN get better at the game on effort alone; there's no real limitation other than yourself. (And okay, money and time. But assuming you can make time, and you have some money, all you need is to get better and be confident in your own abilities.)

Step Six. Deal with the people that play. On this journey, you will meet tons of people. Most of the people you meet will be nice. Some will not be.

Some Magic players are bad losers. Some are just obnoxious. Some smell bad. Some cheat, which is the worst. You have to deal with all of these people while trying to play. It makes the experience a little less fun. But you can't let it scare you off.

I've seen players get so mad, they throw their expensive deck all over the place; you may get hit with card shrapnel. I have not yet see a fistfight break out because of Magic, so I guess I have that to live for. I've seen players call a judge for every minor thing, trying to give their opponents warnings. I've seen players insult others (people they aren't familiar with) repeatedly simply for playing a certain deck or with particular cards. I have also heard of cheaters. Although it is really hard to tell when you encounter one because people can make cheating look like an honest mistake sometimes. I generally give people the benefit of the doubt. Others might be more obvious, but I haven't seen it happen right in front of me.

When you're a girl, it's a little worse. I've gotten hit on by creepy guys that are twice my age. I've had my opponents complain when they "lose to a girl." And people put more emphasis on my gender than there needs to be. "Wow you're a girl that plays Magic!" Yes, it's kind of rare. But pointing it out to me isn't really telling me anything new, is it? Other than that you are really, really excited for some reason. :/ Sometimes guys will have the opposite reaction and be MEAN because you're a girl. As though you have offended them somehow even though you just met!

So far I have to say getting hit on by creepy weirdos is the worst thing. The rest I can totally live with. I wish guys would just assume you're off the market when playing Magic -- because in all likelihood, this is true. Kali Anderson stated she got hit on at the 5K when her husband was RIGHT THERE. Awkward!!!

Step Seven. ???

I can't think of a seven or eight to fit here. This article is already too long. I'm going to stop. :P

I hope you enjoyed!