Doubly Eliminating Expectations

I have played Magic: The Gathering almost as long as I have been playing RPGs. There have been a few long pauses as time, money, or interest have flagged, but it is always something I come back to. I’ve had some good experiences lately that got me thinking about gaming in general, and I want to share some thoughts about that.

I play at tournaments on occasion, although I rarely rank highly. Most of the time I am content to play casually, chatting with friends over a few hands. Yet tournament rules often influence our play. My friends and I often play Standard, which is the most common tournament type in Magic. In a nutshell, Standard includes the sets from the past two years, so it stays pretty fresh.

Another way tournaments influence our playstyle is that we typically play 2-out-of-3 to determine who “really” won. Like in tournaments, this setup allows us to use our sideboards–a set of 15 extra cards that a player can swap out between matches in order to more finely tune his or her deck against an opponent’s strategies.

Recently a friend and I began attending what is best described as a “casual tournament”; there is no entry fee, the prizes are minimal, and most people are there simply to have fun. If you win the entire tournament, you get a pack of cards.

Thing is, they don’t play 2-out-of-3 there. And they don’t play Swiss rounds, where you keep playing even if you lose and the overall winners are decided by their win-loss ratio. They play one game, and it’s a double-elimination bracket. Lose once,  you get bumped down to the loser’s bracket. Lose again, and you’re done for the night.

Oh, and we can’t use our sideboards. There’s only one match per round, so you can’t fiddle around with your cards to try and better your chances next time. You can’t go fetch the answer you typically leave out of your main deck. You’ve got one chance!

It’s changed the way I build my decks. It reminds me of when I first started playing and didn’t have the greatest grasp on deck-building (though I still don’t). I’ve got this card that works really well against hordes of creatures, but isn’t so good if my opponent is playing a more focused, brutal onslaught… should I put it in? I won’t have a shot at sliding it in later to plug up my defenses against swarm decks. That card I have that totally hoses red players but does next-to-nothing against any other color… is it worth it?

We all get into routines. Now and then we get entrenched in our particular playstyles. Sometimes it’s good to have an experience that shakes you up and shows you that what is typical is not always what is best. If you have the opportunity, try something different. Whether it’s a different system, a new genre, or a crazy shift in paradigm (like if I were to play a comedic game instead of the serious ones I usually do), there are tons of ways to gain a new perspective. A few months back I played Yahtzee for the first time in what felt like a million years, and while I rarely play any type of “family” game anymore, there were half a dozen things I discovered I greatly enjoyed.

Get outside of your particular sphere when it comes to gaming, and who knows? You just might learn a thing or two!

Shaun Welch has been playing RPGs for two decades. He listens to a disproportionately large amount of music from Iceland, and currently lives in Maryland, where he works as a professional unicorn wrangler.

One thought on “Doubly Eliminating Expectations”

  1. Am I the only one to notice that Standard is at its heart a greedy way to get players to constantly buy new cards? 😛 There were some great old sets, like The Dark, that no one looks at anymore. Ah well, I got sick of Magic when I realized the ways to win all felt like cheap tricks to me.

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