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A Casual Division of Unity
By Eric Turgeon
Wow. I may have sparked a debate. In case you didn't get caught in the storm that has arisen, I submitted this article a week ago, defining what being a casual player means to me. I'll be the first to admit that the title (Defining Casual) comes off as being a bit absolutist, but I think anyone who took the time to read the article knows that all the points were made from a personal, rather open perspective. In fact, most of the contention arises from my views on competitive Magic, not the casual side.

As I said in the beginning of the article, I wrote it well over a year ago, when I was still just discovering all the Magic-related information to be found on the internet. Aside from a few exceptions at the Magic homepage and Star City Games, my search went something like this: Deck tech, tournament report, deck tech, tournament report, deck tech, tournament reportů and that's about it. The Casual Players Alliance was the first site I read that wasn't entirely dedicated to deck tech and tournament reports. My Magic-playing at the time was almost entirely kitchen-table Magic, with no formats or metagames. At the time, I had entered three "organized" events in my life: all non-DCI sanctioned. I didn't even have a Magic Online account.

The point I'm trying to make is that my perception at the time was that you either aspired to play Magic professionally or you never even entered a tournament. In that regard, I disagree with some of my own past opinions. Now I think a lot of casual players do enter tournaments and I would have changed that before submitting, but honestly I'm very lazy and I liked the way it was written, even if my opinion has differed. But I guarantee there are people out there that currently agree with what that particular point.

Well, like most everything I submit here, Defining Casual was met with a handful of replies, mostly positive, and the overall response of, "nice article, see you next week." That's cool. As long as someone thinks my stuff is actually worth the time it takes to read it, I'll keep submitting. But when someone thinks my stuff is worth the time it takes to read and respond to with an entirely new article, criticizing mine line by line... well, that's something special.

In this case, the respondent was Shawn "Houts" Houtsinger. In his rebuttal article, Houts basically said, "You're wrong. Here's why." If this were the first thing I ever submitted (and it almost was), I might have been devastated and discouraged, never to submit my opinion in a public forum again. But at this point in time, I sort of know Houts. And although I disagree with what he wrote, I probably understand the spirit of his piece more that 95% of the readers on here. I'm not trying to defend his article, but I would like to encourage everyone to at least read what he's done in the past. Remnants of his writing archive can still be found at TCG Player and here at the Casual Players Alliance. Read what he has to say and then judge his article. At least take the time to look at his article on cheating, his rules of Magic and this interview of him by Sean Roney. As you may be able to tell, he's perfectly cabable of coming across as a literate, well-spoken representative of the Magic community. He's got an English degree, so he knows what he is writing. Right now I could be writing an equally unintelligible response that perhaps only Houts would appreciate, but I also understand that I'm not writing for him or myself, but for anyone who happens to stop by this little site and click on that blue link of death. So I won't fault him for his style. But I will comment on what he had to say. Call me an ignorant, illogical, liberal idiot, but I take what he writes to heart.

The thing that bothers me the most about Houts's response was the completely absolutist take on a very undefined subject. In his piece, everything is black or white, right or wrong, truth or fiction. In reality the whole topic of casual players is very open. Every single person will have their own definition of what it means to be a casual player. Again, this is something I tried to stress at the beginning of the article: "Being a casual Magic player means a lot of things to a lot of people." Perhaps making it the first line wasn't obvious enough.

It's possible that Houts is taking this stance simply as a parody of my 20-Point Fireball writing style. Or maybe he takes exception to the title of my own piece. Maybe he's simply being ludicrous for the sake of being ludicrous. Maybe he's trying to make me look smart and trying to help me gain favor amongst the greater CPA community. I'm not sure, but I do know that he definitely makes some points throughout his article. And those points, serious or not, are definitely cause for discussion.

Before I begin defending against his article, I have to hand out some props. How does Houts define the Magic community? A common division of unity. Wow. That's profound. Borderline genius. A Common Division of Unity. Two groups that do the same thing, but they work in completely opposite ways. Casual Magic, Competitive Magic: it's all the same game, played by the same rules. But each type of player takes a different approach to the game. That's you and me, Houts. That's you and me.

(pause for effect)

Now, to defend my honor. Or simply to offer my analysis on the rebuttal. Whichever you prefer.

What is the definition of a game? I could spend all day finding definitions that say winning is the ultimate goal or that winning is not a necessary result. When you play peek-a-boo with a baby, is that not a game? If it is, who is the winner? What about Hacky Sack or Frisbee or good ol' catch with a football in the backyard? Games can certainly be played with no regard for the winner. Obviously Magic is a game with clearly defined rules to determine a winner. But is that the only reason to play the game? Is every loss a waste of life? Not for me, but that's up to each player to decide. In the end, I think every person must choose which definition of the game they affix when they're playing and maybe that's what determines whether or not they're a true casual player.

What makes a profession? I was actually thinking along the lines of doing something full-time, but I think that Houts' definitions may easily be applied to Magic players. First he contends that professionals require education. In reality, many professionals require no education. Most actors, musicians, or artists of any kind never went to school to be good at what they do. Does that make them unprofessional? It just means they have that certain something that lets them do their jobs. In this regard, Magic might even require more education, because to become great, you can't simply rely on talent; you must study the rules, the sets, the formats, and test. Then he says that a profession is any job in which you make a living, which only two Magic players do. I didn't think it was plausible, either, looking at some of the lifetime winnings on those Pro Player cards. $50,000 in two years? Subtract all the expenses that go into travel and living the Pro Tour high life and it's amazing anyone can afford it. But then I hear stories about all the perks they receive. Free airfare and hotel expenses? That's something that does and will continue to anger me. That's my money paying for their plane trip to Tokyo and their rooms at the Hilton. If I could save a quarter per booster pack by canceling the Pro Tour and making everyone on it get a real job, I'd do it in a heartbeat. But that's just me. Finally, I'll contend that playing Magic can be deemed a profession because, well, a lot of people are called Pro Players. Today's lesson in abbreviations: Pro is short for professional. That is how they define themselves.

Why do websites cater to tournament players? I know it's because of the demand for tournament information. But no one's paying for the good writing. It's an investment. David James Bruce probably makes this point better than I could, especially with his greater tournament experience: The people who pay for premium content want a return on that investment in the form of tournament winnings, or possibly fame, or possibly ratings, or possibly just a better performance. They think that these writers can provide this. There's plenty of good casual writing at StarCityGames that doesn't go premium simply because it won't provide secret tournament information. I don't care how bad the percentages are for people trying to win a PTQ or trying to make money on the Pro Tour. People still dream about doing it and that's their goal and that's what they're paying for. There are plenty of places to get free opinions on the game.

Is winning the only point of playing Magic? I guess I just don't have that mindset. I'm one of the most fiercely competitive people I know, but even if I win all the time, if I'm not enjoying myself, I won't keep playing. That's the bottom line for me. There's nothing wrong with trying to become a better player, but if I went and downloaded some tournament decklist and played it against all my friends and always beat them, there's no way I'd have any fun (or any Magic-playing friends, for that matter). Like I said, casual players like to win on their own terms, and don't play the game ONLY to win. I like to think that even if I lost every game of Magic I ever played for the rest of my life, I'd keep playing because it's still fun and flavorful and just playing the game is worthwhile, regardless of the objective or outcome.

Does a tournament bring out the worst competitive nature of a person? Perhaps it is not as extreme as I had alluded. But I do think that even the most adamant casual player becomes competitive when entering a tournament, where winning is the sole objective. If you're in a tournament and your opponent makes an obvious mistake, do you correct them or do you try to take advantage of the error? Do you try to help them learn? Do you try to make the game more fun for everyone involved and not just yourself? I think there is a casual player's mentality. Maybe there's not, but I like to think that there is. And it's hard to maintain in a tournament setting. That's all I'm saying.

What is my Magic experience? Well, I've been playing for about 11 years, I guess. My estimate might be off, but it was a little before 4th Edition came out. I think that was about 11 years ago. I have never run a card shop, I never became a judge, and I didn't start writing until last August. Quite frankly, as much as I enjoy the game, I am happy with the portion of my life it presently occupies. I've never played with the Pros or entered a PTQ or Grand Prix or even FNM. I guess that means I have no right to criticize the people that do. But what I have done is play with anyone and everyone. I've played with kids that think like me. They go to the local store, buy their booster packs, rip them open and build crappy decks with big fat crappy creatures. Most of them have never heard of Magic outside of their friends. They play their noob games and they're happy with that and I'm not about to tell them about everything that lies beyond their little circle of friends, because that's when the game changes. They'll get better on their own. They know the objective and while they play, they try to win. A lot of them don't care what I have to say about their decks and their decisions and that's fine, because it's not my right to tell them they're wrong. Others ask for my advice and experience and that's fine, too, because they want to get a little better. And some are probably better than me already and don't even know it. So there you go. Those are my credentials. I've been in Boy Scouts and gone to the open game nights at the local store and played at colleges and I've easily gotten to know over 50 Magic players and only a handful of them ever graced a "real" tournament. So while some people mingle with the Pros, I've mingled with the people that represent the majority of Magic players. And it is the majority and always will be the majority, so don't be fooled into thinking otherwise.

Is the casual/tourney relationship really symbiotic? Houts says it goes both ways. I say poppycock! I could be wrong, but I'd have to see some numbers to be convinced. I'll refer you to my resume above. I've played a lot of Magic players everywhere I've been over a long period of time and I have never met someone who said they only play for the tournaments or started playing because they heard about tournaments. The game would survive without sanctioned events. Local stores and casual clubs and groups of friends would start their own. Friends would keep playing at home on Friday nights while drinking Code Red and listening to Weezer. They'd keep buying cards and keep playing in their little circles. They don't need to go to tournaments to meet other players. Maybe if they did, they'd learn that they're much better than their circle of friends, but maybe they'd just learn how insignificant they are and how little they know about Magic. The game wouldn't die away. And so what if it would be like Dungeons and Dragons? Does anyone play Magic because they think it's popular? Ha! I play because I like games and it's the best game I've ever played, far better than D&D. Magic games take less time and use a different sort of creativity and make me think and have fun at the same time. The success of Magic is dependent on the design of the cards, not the structure of the tournaments. If anything, the tournaments are built on the shaky ground that is the card design. Just look at what happened in Urza's block and Mirrodin. Small mistakes become amplified because everyone needs to have the best deck and the whole system crumbles unless they start banning cards. Artifact lands and Disciple of the Vault convince people to stop playing on the first turn of a game. Not without tournaments!

(pause to catch breath and reflect)

Sorry for the rant. Mark this down as one of the crappiest articles I've ever written, but some things had to be said. Hell, I think I killed about three other article ideas I had by making points that I was saving for entire pieces. Oh well. Maybe I can come back and elaborate on them later. It's kind of silly arguing over such a subjective topic, so hopefully some day, I can read about what being a casual player means to Houts instead of what it apparently doesn't really mean to me.

I can't conclude this without again acknowledging that I have nothing but respect for Houts, his opinions and his writing. In his entire article, there were exactly two things he wrote that actually bothered me. First, he called me "Young One." Sure, I'm relatively young, but seriously, how old is he? Early thirties, at the oldest. Puh-Leez. You'd think he watched his buddies die face down in the muck in 'Nam, the feeble old man. With all due respect, Kiddo, using a term like that only comes across as an intentional means to demean my knowledge and experience. I'm sure he'll write it off as being light-hearted and jovial. Speaking of which, the second disturbing thing was when he called me a "silly bear." WTF? Please tell me that was supposed to be a clever and witty reference. I'm not the type to question a person's sexuality, so I'll just say that's a really weird thing to write, you big silly goose!

But I suppose that's just another thing that makes us different. A common division of unity, you might say. That's you and me, Houts: a common division of unity. I think you know what I mean. Maybe not. I won't assume. But try to remember that when you're preparing to tear this article apart. I'll be looking forward to it.

Read More Articles by Eric Turgeon!

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