Fun and Fair for Everyone!

Recently, a question was posted by Max Knowlan, an L2 judge from British Columbia on the Canadian Judges’ Facebook group that caught my interest.  The scenario posted was that two young friends are at their first GPT ever and, when randomly paired against each other, they both agree to modify the game rules and play “Draw two cards and play two lands each turn” because that’s how they play at home.  The question was then raised: how do we fix this and what is the penalty?  (Because judges love penalizing people!)

The thing that caught my interest was not so much the question itself but the diversity of responses judges left in the comments.  Some judges called it game loss – drawing extra cards, some said disqualified – improperly determining a winner and some said disqualified – cheating… while I was tempted to say, “Screw it, just stop doing that and play on.”  What is the right answer?  Who cares; it doesn’t really matter.

We can all agree that Magic is made better by more players.  As our little game grows bigger, drawing in more new players, both judges and players alike are going to encounter situations like the one I quoted more often.  And with more stores running their first ever GPT with a judge who is head judging their first ever GPT, the response to these inexperienced players is going to be varied.  This problem is compounded by the fact that there are lots of house rules that people may want to use, heck, even Duels of the Planeswalkers, teaches you to play Magic wrong sometimes.

How do we help new players adjust to playing at stores?  How do make sure that this fun game that can become a lifestyle for some of us can still just be a fun game for little Johnny who wants to bring his casual token deck to the GPT?  We usually just get one shot to make a good impression and if someone doesn’t have a good time on their first time out, they probably won’t come back.  When I returned to Magic after taking a 7 year break I got called an idiot, to my face, by someone at my draft table and I almost got up and left right then and there.

I think of new player in game mess-ups the same as pedestrians getting hit by a car: the amount of immediate care the person receives in the first hour after the injury makes the difference between life and death.  The TO is the hospital, with all the tools to fix the problem and the judge is the paramedic with the skills to get the player back on track.  But you are the first response first aider who was driving the car.  Sure, it probably wasn’t your fault, but this person’s life is in your hands.  You can speed off and leave them on their own or you can get out and help as best you can.

I want each and every one of us to think about how we interact with a new or beginning player and really ask yourself, “What can I do to make sure that this person sees how much fun this game can be.”

It’s the TOs job to make sure their customers have fun.  It’s the judges’ job to make sure everyone plays fair.  But at the end of the day, TOs and judges aren’t the ones actually playing Magic with these players: you are.  In the wise words of Uncle Ben, “With great power, comes great responsibility.”  If little Johnny gets a game loss for registering his deck wrong and another game loss for doing something else and ends up going 1-5 only because he got a bye in rounds 6, and he still leaves with a smile on his face, we have all done the impossible.  Who knows, you might even have fun too.

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