othing should be more important to the casual player than his or her play group. These people are essential to your gaming life. With a lousy group or a non-existent one, you'll end up with no place to play Magic or any other game you might enjoy.
Luckily, you have come to the right place. When I started playing Magic I came to a group that was thriving and excited to have more players. And it didn't hurt that they were already my friends. When I moved, I found a couple of people who also played Magic and was introduced into a long-time, stable group. After several years I moved again, starting my own group. Another move three years later and I once again started from scratch. It has been nine years since then and my current group is loaded with dedicated players. We regularly have eight players each week for games at my house. I am happy to say that each of them is a great guy and a good friend.
Over this long Magic lifetime, I've learned many dos and don'ts in relation to building a strong playgroup. Let this grizzled veteran share his experiences with you, so you can avoid the pitfalls and traps that I've stumbled through, while building your own play group.
The Rule: Remember the People in Your Life
Some of you are lucky enough to have family members or significant others who are gamers. You are the lucky ones. You already have someone you know and trust in your group. These people will be vested in seeing the group grow, just as you are. You will have a partner to help keep things running smoothly. Rejoice!
Art by Willian Murai
For the rest of us, our significant others are not gamers. They understand and accept our love of Magic, but generally don't enjoy it themselves. While it may seem counterintuitive, these people are the most important people in your group.
If the people in your life are not happy, the success of your group will always be in peril. Let me use my situation as an example. My wife and two oldest children don't play Magic. They tolerate my stories about Magic-related events, but for the most part, they just aren't interested. At one point several years ago, I found myself putting in far too much time with Magic and my group. Organizing, preparing, deck building, and efforts to make the group grow were taking up too much time. My wife started to become resentful of the time I was spending with Magic, rather than her. I was able to reorganize my schedule and cut back with Magic a little, giving her and my family the time they deserved. Even with reduced time, my group continued to grow. The importance of your family cannot be understated.
Step One: Determine What Kind of Person You are Looking For in Your Group
Just last week, I talked about the importance of Johnnies in your play group. While that still holds true, what I'm talking about here is a little different. The first question you should be asking yourself is, "What am I looking to do with my group?" Are you hoping this will be a group that plays primarily one-on-one games to test out interesting deck ideas for your next FNM? Is your primary goal to become a better Magic player? Are you looking for a group of people who enjoy Mountain Dew and insane Commander games as much as you?
Determining what you want to do with your group will help guide you in the decisions you make later on. Having a muddled goal will only make it more difficult for you build your group, to the point where you will likely have people in the group who each want different things. This will lead your group down the path to self-destruction. While a mix of personalities and play styles can be fun, if your group consists of the Commander junkie, a Cubist, someone who wants to test for the next PTQ, and you, don't expect any long-term success.
Art by David A. Cherry
As long as we're talking about personalities, you want to think about that at this stage of the process as well. I recommend that you be as open-minded as possible when considering the type of person you want in your group. When I moved to attend law school, I moved to a city that was almost ten times larger than the previous town I was in, where I had a large, fun group of guys to play casual Magic with every week. I thought that with a much larger base of players I could afford to be particular in my search. As a result, my group there never really took off.
The group I play with now benefits from the varying play styles and interests of each of the players. Several of us are open to trying new formats and variations on a theme. A couple of guys are fairly intense players, which has improved everyone's game. There are a few quiet guys and some louder ones. We have guys who talk about decklists, strategy, or Magic finance. The mix really works for us.
Step Two: Build or Borrow
In this step, you are looking to decide whether you want to build from scratch or try to find an already-settled group.
Art by Shelly Wan
Creating a group is, obviously, more involved and takes far more work. You will need to do the legwork involved in finding several people. You will be the one who has to find a location, set dates and times, and everything else needed to keep your group afloat. Attaching to an already existing group is easier. They have already set up their routine. The only work that you need to do is fit in. When I lived in Prince George1 I was lucky enough to find a group that had been playing for several years. I became part of the group quickly and easily.
The downside with these groups is twofold. First off, you have to actually find the group! These groups are far rarer than you realize. Most playgroups are made up of a group of friends who aren't interested in adding a stranger to their group. They play in a particular way, perhaps with their own set of house rules, and aren't interested in teaching someone how they play. These groups rarely advertise their presence and often play in someone's home, so it is hard to stumble into them, no matter how often you are at your local game store. Secondly, adding yourself to an already existing group will mean that you will have to fit to their group. If you are a big Commander player, but the group you have joined plays Commander only rarely, you may find yourself pulling apart Commander decks to fit into their sixty-card games. Over time, you can encourage the group to try a variety of things, but, initially, "Don't rock the boat" is the rule.
When Josh came to our group, he was probably the only player with more than one Commander deck. He also owns the Cube I've mentioned before. Our group almost never played Commander and none of us had ever drafted a Cube before. Initially, Josh stuck with just the sixty-card decks and enjoyed the opportunity to play some decks he hadn't played in a while. Eventually, more players added Commander decks to their arsenal and our Magic nights would see our group of eight split into a Commander table and a regular table. We also try to have a Limited night once a month, where we run a variety of Sealed and Draft formats, with Josh's Cube being a regular part of that. While this has worked well for our group, some groups prefer to stay with what they like. Don't count on the group you join to bend to your wishes. These things can take time.
Step Three: Finding Players, aka Advertising
You have decided what you want from your group, who you want in the group, and whether you want to build the group from the ground up or find a group already running. Now you need to find the players. There are a variety of ways to find players, but these are the methods I've used and found effective.
Art by Jim Nelson
4. Write an article. There are several websites that are widely read and would be happy to post your well-written article. I have written for four different websites (as well as a shared blog) and have added players to my group from each of those websites. A brief note at the end of the article that you are looking for players in your area can produce results. Keep in mind that a single article isn't likely going to be enough to get people emailing you, so this is a long-term method. Also keep in mind that if you are posting an article about your latest tournament results, then you can probably guess what type of player is reading that article. If you want a casual group, write about your latest funky Commander creation or that Planechase variant you love to play. Keep your target audience in mind.
3. The Magic Locator search tool, just over there on the left, isn't just for tournaments! Search your locality and find out what is happening. You may find stores hosting casual events or casual gaming events that have just the people you are looking for. Keep in mind the new Commander decks are coming out in early November. It is likely that some stores will host events using those decks. Magic Celebration draws a casual crowd and is coming up on September 7. Find a store and attend!
As a tournament organizer, I strongly recommend doing this. I organize a small group that plays every week at the nearby community library. We have added many players to that group through the organizer. My playgroup has benefitted as well. If I think a person might be a better fit in my casual group, we'll meet and see if this is someone who would mesh well with the group.
2. Your brick-and-mortar store. This sounds a little old school, but a sign on a store's bulletin board will only be seen by other gamers in your area: your exact target audience. The other option is to play at the store. Once you have others to play with, you can further expand your group by playing in visible, public areas. When people see what a great time you are having, you'll be amazed by the number of people who will want to play. This is a great way to "audition" perspective players for your regular game-night games. I've played Magic in game stores and had a regular game night at a Tim Horton's in Winnipeg. Access to cream-filled donuts with maple frosting in the middle of a game is an amazing perk!
1. Word of mouth is still the best way to find Magic players. Talk to people about wanting to set up a group. Make sure everyone you know is aware that you play Magic. Even if someone doesn't play, they may know someone who does. I recently discovered three of the eight guys on my floor hockey team play Magic, simply because I mentioned my regular Thursday-night games.
Step Four: Keep it Together
You have gone to all that work in creating the group, it would be a shame to let it wither and die. Realize that you are the one who will need to organize it every week. The location, food and drinks, and start time and date are all things that need to be determined every week. If your group does different things each week, you'll also want to ensure everyone knows that you are drafting, or playing Commander, or playing Emperor, and that they should come ready.
Art by Jim Nelson
For my group, this involves a Monday email, reminding everyone about Thursday and what we will be doing. For me, this is also a good way of determining how many people will be here. With eight or more players, I bring out an extra table. For you, it might be a reminder that the games are at Jimmy's house and everyone needs to park around back.
While it is a little extra work for you, the chance to see your play group grow is well worth it.
1: Feel free to search that one on Google Maps. And you thought you lived way out there! (return)
Bruce's games invariably involve a kitchen table, several opponents, crazy plays, and many laughs. Bruce believes that if anyone at your table isn't having fun playing Magic, then you are doing it wrong.