When I first thought that I should write this article, it was in response to an article written on the dojo, one that I'm sure many of you are familiar with by now. I admit, I was anrgy and insulted by some of the comments made there and I felt rebuttle was needed. However, as I sit and write this now in a much more calm state of mind I find that its not that he was wrong, mearly of different opinion. Then I asked myself, "What about all those things that were said?" I had to think about that one, and before I knew it I was asking myself not only my opinion on some of those statements, but what being a "casual player" is really all about.
Before I get into that, I must make my rebuttle just so I can clear my own mind on a few subjects. First on the subject of tournament or "pro" players being better than casual players. This was a statement I first laughed at, but when I think about it, its almost right, but then its also very wrong. You see, tournament players for the majority use the mainstream tournament cards (eg: Morphling and masticore), but in only using these cards, many of them never look to the other 75% of cards in the game. In doing this I believe they weaken their total grasp of the entire true environment, which is why decks, such as trix, can blow out of nowhere and demolish people and leave people wondering what happened. In order to become the upper tier of the DCI, you must know the environment and the cards that people usually won't use. This is where the casual player comes in. Casual players love using to sub-par and oddball cards for the most part, they have a much greater grasp on entire card sets, and while they're timing and rules knowledge may be less intense (because it certainly isn't worse) they do have a much greater wholeness for the game in general. Tournament players just tend to handle stress of intense play better and many have a certain bloodlust or killer instinct that makes them want to destroy their opponents as fast as possible, which in their style of play is a good trait.
Of course this brings up the question of how do all these supposedly great tournament players manage to make such a, IMHO, colossal error. This brings me to my second point, Netdecks. To me the term netdeck isn't meant to be a good one, I find its usually used in a state of distaste by many people, such as when you stub your toe and you use a colorful metaphore to express yourself. To me, netdecks are both good and bad, though I find them to be detrimental to the game, but they are a good source of high grade playing decks. The reason I think they are detrimental to the game is thus. You don't have to do any research or thinking to build one. Just download the list and away you go. This is why many tournament players miss many of the other great and fun cards that are printed, because they aren't in the most current power deck on the net. I've personally met a few players who rather than think and learn about the cards they have, just went online, found a good looking list with good winning percentages and then bought the cards for that deck. They learned to play that deck and did so masterfully, but as soon as that deck was no longer legal in a format or they got bored of it, they floundered and were totally lost as to how to even build a decent deck to begin with. Now don't get me wrong, many of the true pro players can name most cards backwards, but this is one of the things that makes them the true pros. Simply put, you can't skip what is probably the most basic required skill in the game and expect to do awesome in tournaments all time. Magic requires creativity and careful thought to be on top of the game, not copies and cheap imitations of someone elses work. Netdecks are a fine resource for people in a jam to get a deck for an event in two days, or for research to make your own power house, but not as the single solitary guiding light in the game.
Now that I've said that I've gotten that off my chest I want to get on with my original point. What does it mean to be a casual player? Many of you will immidiatly have some answer for it, even I do, but when you think about it, what does it really mean?
Is it the absense of tournament play, is it making special rules that everyone in your playgroup follows, or is it simply about screwing around.
An old episode of Star Trek TNG comes to mind where Worf says to Riker, "But sir, if the purpose is not to win, then why keep score?" (no its not a perfect quote, but its close). The same thing applys with magic, why have life totals if you aren't going to use them so to speak. Now I'm not saying winning is everything, because it certainly isn't, but eventually everyone is out to win, just in they're own way. This doesn't nessesarily mean dropping your opponent to zero life, or decking them and having them die somehow. Winning to you could have an alternate goal, such as getting 1 copy of every card in your deck in play all at once, or like something I did, build a deck using only basic lands and no other mana production to get all 5 original elder dragons into play and keep them paid for indefinately. Casual players aren't always only concerned with defeating their opponent, but with enjoying what they're doing when they play. I remember many times just sitting in Denny's at 2 am with some friends having a late coffee and deciding, "hey, lets have a group game." and then being there till its time for breakfast cause we had more fun disturbing the night shift waitress staff with statements like, "I destroy you with a fire ball!" or "suck hot lightning!" or my favorite "I stroke your monkey!" (I was playing with death strokes and my friend loved playing kird apes), then with actualy killing each other.
Other things that make a casual player what he or she is, is that magic becomes more of a role playing situation rather than just another card game, this rings especially true in multi-player games, where skills such as politics, alliances, and backstabbing are all very active. I don't think you can become a master multi-player magic player without some skill in the political side of it. Decks actually take on personality along with the people playing them, rather then someone just playing cards, killing you, and walking off to the next match. Casual players also seem to revel in the obscure, items such as theme decks made after movies and songs, and cards that can't even say they suck they're so lousy.
But there is one thing, above all else, that I believe makes a "casual player" what they are. Its an unwritten and generally unspoken code of honor amongst players.
Where rules such as, don't play to win in 3 turns every game, don't play with yourself all the time in lock downs, and the biggest, make sure you and your opponents are enjoying playing. No one wants to play if they aren't enjoying the game, unless its a big prize tourny, in which case winning takes precident.
The only true differences between tourny players and casual players besides this code of honor is that they often have different objectives for playing. Tourny players are there to win, and sadly in some cases, at all costs, mike long... Casual players are there for whatever reason they want, whether its to win, to pull off a bizzar combo, or to make sound effects for each card they play using their lips and an empty pop bottle. Its that broad aspect of the game that makes the casual players what they are. Not always concerned with winning, but more with seeing what they can pull off next.
Casuals don't need to kill every opponent to have a good time, and they don't need alot of points in a league to know they're good at the game. I would honestly say after playing for 7 years as both a big time tournament player and a casual that I've found more challenge in casual games then I ever did in tournaments. Theres just too many random factors in a casual game to account for, from what cards people are using, to what they intend to do with them. Tournaments get predictable to the point of being dreary, most ponza decks are alike, most accelerated blue decks are alike. Theres very little to nothing to go out of your way to account for. Kinda feels mechanical and machine like. And to me, the game should never be a simple process of build and destroy, repetition even in good use leads to stagnation eventually.
After saying all this and probably missing a dozen points or so I have come to a big conclusion about players. Maybe one that has been realized before, but its never really been spoken of. There is a third type of player, one that is more complete then either the tourny or the casual, one that understands and can complete or play in either format with equal grace and style. These are people who are the innovators behind the latest killer deck, the people who have played since alpha and have seen everything, but still love the game every bit as much as they did 7 years ago. Perhaps one of the best representatives of this elite magic player was Jamie Wakefield before he stopped playing, a person we're all familiar with I'm sure. I don't think he ever could be truely called either a straight casual or a tourny player, he invigorated and inspired so many on both sides of the coin.
So this third type of player goes on, unnamed, and for the most part, unreconized by the masses, mostly due to the rarity of them. But I also think that this is the level of perfection that many players aspire to achieve and is what the game was originally meant to serve. A player who could play anywhere and love it simply because they're playing, and a person who would use any card simply because its there and the challenge to make it useful hangs around it like obscuring mist. This player is the bridge between the sides, that learns from and teaches them both and brings calm to the too often turbulent argument over who is better.
Ura on the CPA
Outpost Gaurdians team leader