Welcome back to another session with The Epic Experiment. Today, I wanted to tackle something a little different. I often provide players with budget selections and tips to try and help players get the most they can out of their cards. However, there is so much more that goes into helping a player be successful in the current world of Commander, and I wanted to take this week’s article to speak about what I think is being omitted.

Our podcast has been recording weekly content for over two years now. The most commonly discussed topic has been, undoubtedly, the discussion around Rule 0 and the pregame conversation that sets the setting for the game. This conversation is critical to ensuring success. But in my estimation, the amount of discourse we have seen over the last couple of years has been at the expense of other topics that also play a key role in helping to have a positive game experience.

One development I have noticed is that there have been many more content creators who stream on Twitch or upload gameplay videos to YouTube demonstrating how to have a Rule 0 conversation. I think seeing those who are confident enough to showcase they’re approach to the Rule 0 conversation is a great development and will allow players to pick and choose the methods that work for them. We often forget that Commander has a huge and diverse player base that may not know how to have this discussion.  They may not be experienced players, or lack self confidence, or have other reasons. But seeing your favorite YouTube personality engage in it on a video is only going to help make it easier for players to have a productive conversation.  This is a very positive part of laying the groundwork for a strong game, but there is more groundwork that needs to be done in order to ensure that we have successful, positive gaming experiences more often.

What Gets Lost in Translation

Like I said, there has been a tremendous amount of ink spilled around the Rule 0 conversation and how that should proceed. However, every game starts long before we have the Rule 0 conversation. There is a whole networking piece that is intrinsically linked with playing Commander that no one ever discusses, but it strikes me as being among the most crucial aspects to ensure success.

When I say ‘networking’, I am not referring to shaking hands, kissing babies, and handing out Paul Allen’s business card. I mean networking in the sense of finding a group of people with whom you are familiar with, where you already know many of the players. Finding a place where you fit, where you are comfortable, and where you can feel like you can fully articulate what sort of game experience you are looking for is vital, but yet we don’t really talk about it.

The networking I am speaking about is where you take the time to grow familiar with the people who you share the table with.  This familiarity is the ability to sit down at a table, ask the people about their day, about their job, about their families, and then move on to cards, preferences, and share a little history about the game situation that took place last week. This sort of familiarity we took for granted prior to the pandemic, but we most certainly can not take it for granted now. Consequently, we also need to be a lot more intentional in building those relationships and basic familiarity so that we can feel comfortable enough to ask the Urza player to not run his list back for the third game in a row.

With the world slowly coming out of the pandemic, many play groups that were put into a nuclear winter are starting to come together. Others never stopped meeting weekly to play. However, many players migrated online to play over Spelltable and had to strike out into the world of online MTG communities in search of a new place to play. Reopening means that we are going to see these many different player experiences re-emerging together in local game stores, in basements, in Commandfest, and other large scale events that are slated for the spring and summer months. These varied experiences over the last 2+ years are going to be difficult to get past as we blend the variety of experiences we have all had throughout the pandemic.

How Do We Network?  

The pandemic has played a key role in fast tracking certain social developments, including a reliance on social media as a way to connect with other players. Discord has really emerged as a prominent tool for Magic: The Gathering players, and I would encourage players to continue to explore these online communities. I firmly believe that there is really no backtracking on these online communities and there is little doubt that they are here to stay. It might be as simple as getting a rules interpretation, making a trade with another player, or a reliable online partner with whom you get to play regularly, but whatever the method there is considerable value in an online presence.

When players return in person at a local game shop, it may be that their favorite game shop has undergone a transformation.  Perhaps your game shop closed, or the crowd of players is now very different, or perhaps you had to relocate for personal or professional reasons throughout the pandemic, so your existing social play group is very different. There may be an impetus to try a few other stores or play groups, but regardless of where you are playing, the key part is that we need to build relationships with our fellow players and reforge the links that we had 2 years ago that may have waned.

Why do I think that it is so important to build these relationships now?  Well, yes, the return of in person play is an important factor, but with large scale events on the horizon more and more Commander players coming out to play in person, we need to keep the longer view of the game in mind. I would encourage all Commander players heading into a new environment to focus more on meeting new people, learning about the people you are playing with, and put a reduced emphasis on winning because it is the relationships that will ultimately ensure whether or not you enjoy your time.

Magic has evolved into an extremely complex game with a series of social dynamics that provide depth, meaning, and richness that few games can ever touch. However, there is little guidance on how to manage this complex social framework and so it falls to players to determine how best to proceed. We would all be well served to keep in mind that a large portion of the appeal is the time spent with other people and making new friends. Forging those relationships will allow us to build better gaming experiences, have more fun, and hopefully allow us to find the right group of players for an extended run of fun Commander games.

Well, there we have my early thoughts on networking and building strong relationships for our Commander games. While I’m very excited for the prospect of playing with my friends again and in person play, I think it important we keep in mind what is important: the relationships we build and the memories we create.

If you enjoyed my thoughts or have something you would like to see explored in more detail, please check out our decks and much more each week on our podcast on iTunes, Google Podcast, Spotify, Amazon, and anywhere else you find better podcasts. Just look for the name The Epic Experiment Podcast! We’d love to have you join us!