I have been playing Magic for a while. Slinging cardboard has been a part of my social life since I was ten years old. I am now 26. I have been playing Magic for the same amount of time that my combined elementary, high school, and university education took to complete. I am not alone. I have met many, many people who have been invested for similar spans – or longer.
When something is with you for as long as Magic has been with me, you start to incorporate it into your identity. Magic goes from just a hobby to a form of creative expression.
The decks you build, the colours you favour, the cards you go back to again and again – these are representative of who you are in the same way that the movies you re-watch and the songs you play on repeat are.
It is the enfranchised players – like me – who get most excited for sets like Ravnica, Shard of Alara, and Khans of Tarkir. We want it to be easy to express our Magical identity and sets that let you say “I am Boros” or “I am Sultai” let you slip into your colour identity like a glove.
The chosen identities of the player base is important to Wizards because it lets them market to – and design for – their players. If you know exactly what each group of your rabid fan base wants, you can easily cater to their desires.
One of the seminal pieces of Magic design writing is Mark Rosewater’s article about the three player psychographics: Timmy/Tammy, Johnny/Jenny, and Spike. Whether or not Rosewater’s piece should be taken as gospel is a matter of debate – but that debate is largely irrelevant, because whatever we the players think, design under Rosewater holds the psychographic trifecta to be true.
And if you came up as a player in the early 00s, you probably spent some time thinking about which of the three psychographics spoke to you.
A Quick Definition
Some of you might not be extremely enfranchised Magic players, if not, here is a quick rundown of what the hell the “psychographic profiles” are:
Basically, they are three categories that Mark Rosewater theorizes most Magic players fall into. What decides your category is what motivates you to pick up Magic cards and play them again and again.
Timmy/Tammy – The conventional wisdom is that Timmy plays to feel something. Timmy is the psychographic that picks pet cards, chooses their colours based on which ones reflect their personality, and goes for the big, memorable plays. The truth of Timmy is showing up to FNM with the same black/white deck rotation after rotation because it’s “my deck”. The perception of Timmy is the crestfallen kid finding out that Stormtide Leviathan isn’t actually better than Tarmogoyf.
Johnny/Jenny – Jenny plays to express something. Each decklist and format is a chance to show off the unique and brilliant mind that lurks within. Timmy picked his cards because they are the ones that he likes; Jenny picked her cards because they are the ones that no one likes. She wants to be the one to prove the world wrong. The truth of Jenny is building – and winning – with decks like Lantern Control and Sphinx’s Tutelage. The perception of Jenny is jamming One With Nothing into deck after deck hoping that one day it will click.
Spike – Spike plays to prove something – whether to themselves or others. Spike is all about testing and improving their abilities. Spike is goal-oriented. They will set a milestone to work towards and then grind along until they surpass it; once they have, they will set another and so on. Spikes select their cards based on what will help them achieve the milestone they are working towards. If a Spike is looking to better understand card advantage, they will reach for a Control deck; if they are looking to crush a slow tournament metagame, they will reach for Red Deck Wins. The truth of Spike is researching sideboarding decisions against Splinter Twin when they should be studying. The perception of Spike is laughing at Timmy because he thinks Stormtide Leviathan is better than Tarmogoyf.
For most of my time with Magic, I have assumed that I was a Timmy. I didn’t have the competitive verve of Spike, nor the Rube Goldberg-ian madness of Johnny. I played the cards I liked and hoped that I could occasionally scrape out a win.
I liked the idea of being slightly rebellious and not playing what everyone else was and I accepted what that would mean when it came to games won/lost.
Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy winning. My desire to see victory more often while still getting to play with unorthodox cards was one of the reasons I got pulled into Commander.
Those early days with the format had me jumping from deck to deck trying to get a feel for one that I really liked – until I had to sell my collection to be sure that I made tuition.
When I inevitably came back, I grabbed the Mirror Mastery pre-con and threw together an Animar, Soul of Elements deck. As you will see, it was an exercise in choosing the flashiest creatures I could get my hands on:
A Very Animar Christmas
My deck was big and dumb. Rather than go for abusive combos, I played fatties and beat faces. The closest thing to “tech” that I ran was Increasing Savagery. And I had a great time. This deck was a blast to play.
While I barely scratched the surface of what Animar could do as a degenerate Commander, I did get a taste of his true potential. My opponents would always be on their toes – they never knew when I was suddenly going to blitz the board with Inferno Titan or similar monsters.
Explosive potential was something I decided I enjoyed. I liked the ability to build towards something grandiose from something that seemed so small.
I eventually scrapped that Animar deck to explore something similar in black/red. But I always had a soft spot for the Temur (Red/Blue/Green) colour combination after that initial Animar build.
Do the Evolution
Magic is a game of incredible depth. What you can do with the thousands of cards that have been printed is nearly limitless. As the existence of the psychographics shows, anyone can play the game however they want and there is no “wrong” way to do it.
In the first near-decade I spent with the game, I really had no idea how I wanted to play or why I kept playing.
I assumed I was a Timmy by process of elimination. I didn’t have the skill of Spike or Johnny, right? Timmy was the hapless kid that tried hard but never really got there – which was me to a T.
Well, it turns out that I just didn’t have the means to properly figure myself out.
In those early days, I was surrounded by Spikes. I played against players who needed to win – to be the best. I assumed I wasn’t good at the game because I was playing against players who were constantly striving to improve – while I was just looking for another creative outlet.
Coming to Commander suddenly opened a new world for me. I was able to properly experiment with deck building and not be punished harshly for it. Once the chains were off, my decks could get a little weirder. The more I played with my weird decks, the more they grew to become decks that also happened to be good.
After a couple of years, I decided it might be cool to revisit the Temur colours. There was a little bit of ill-will in my group towards Animar’s “protection from black and white”, so I opted for Maelstrom Wanderer instead. It turns out that double cascades are just as trollish as protection from the best removal in the format – so that deck didn’t last too long.
Eye of the Dragonstorm – Final Sequence
This is the deck in its final form, before it too met a grisly end.
One of the difficult parts about organizing a playgroup is learning to balance all of the various personalities. My regular group has been rapidly expanding recently, but the core has always been about six people large – and we are six very different people.
For me, experimenting with crazy stacks of spells and seeing how convoluted I could make my turn was fun – for the rest of my group it was essentially like watching me play with myself. Not everyone was into that. While playing Intet was a little less obnoxious than Maelstrom Wanderer, it was still too much for my playgroup’s ideal experience.
Looking back, I realize that I kept building storm decks because I was trying to prove something to my younger self. My Intet list was the kind of machine I could only dream of building in high school – it was the kind of deck I lost to. Having had the chance to develop as a deck builder, I was eager to see just how far that development had gone.
I wanted to know how weird I could make things before they fell apart.
While I firmly believe that you are responsible for no one’s fun but your own, I am willing to compromise to avoid becoming a problem player. A lot of my enjoyment in Magic is drawn from the fun of those playing with me.
There are more ways than one to experiment, and luckily Temur is a colour combination that allows for all kinds of oddities. Even without storm, there were worlds of bullshit to discover. My newest experiment is a different kind of nonsense:
Punch the Face of God
I originally built this Surrak deck as “fight tribal”. I ran almost every fight enabler and a bunch of silly creatures like Stuffy Doll and Mogg Maniac. Now that I have had some time to refine my concept and try it in the field, it has becomes something a little different.
What you see above is a sort of “spell voltron” using BIG pump spells like Berserk and Fatal Frenzy to carve up opponents. The morph subtheme used to be headlined by Temur War Shaman, but now Whisperwood Elemental leads the charge of Willbender, Mischievous Quanar, and other surprising friends.
I started this post as an excuse to write about the deck that currently has me the most excited, but it ended up being pretty introspective (aka self-indulgent, sorry guys). Like I said, Magic has had a decade-and-half to burrow its way into my sense of self, so poking at something as innocuous as deckbuilding can lead to some unexpected reflection.
I was going to use my three Temur decks as the focuses while I discussed my transformation from a Timmy into a Johnny. Instead, I am now convinced that Mark Rosewater’s psychographic analysis of Magic players is inadequate.
The breadth of personal engagement for someone who plays Magic as one of their primary hobbies is too wide to be boiled down into three tight categories. Even if you allow for the overlap between the categories – which has been rolled into the theory – people switch between the psychographics, incorporate elements of all three, or defy them entirely, all the time.
Magic is a game of infinite possibility. Possibility that you as a player can unlock. Don’t worry too much, don’t get discouraged. If you can’t build the deck you want today, maybe you’ll be able to build it tomorrow. Don’t stress about rigidly defining yourself in relation to the game. The drive to identify with a category is strong, but remember: evolution is a key to success.