about two years ago, i got back in the habit and started playing magic: the gathering again.
i stopped sometime in high school around the time fallen empires was released — some 20 years or more ago. my friends and i would save up our quarters and make weekend trips by bike and foot to the store where packs would sometimes go for a dollar a pack; a steal by today’s standards.
there were two stores at the opposite ends of a plaza.
star market was a grocery store where i picked up some of my first comics. they had a set of tall wood and glass cabinets near the front of the store on the south side, filled with expensive baseball cards, sports memorabilia, and one out-of-place box of revised boosters.
we had to ask for al every time we wanted something.
on the other side of the plaza, a few stores away, poor richard’s almanac. they sold office goods. they also sold random music cd’s and other knick-knacks.
but we just wanted magic.
i never pulled a shivan dragon or a vesuvan doppelganger. and i traded away all of my dual-lands without hesitation because i didn’t know any better.
what i did know — i was good enough to get second place time after time at the local private school. and i could never beat my brother in an ante game. if we weren’t gambling, it was a wreck fest. but as soon as we placed bets, the top card was always something i couldn’t stand to lose.
since i got back into magic, i’ve thought about starting a magic club at school.
last year, a student walked in to my class during lunch, introduced himself, and asked if i would be an advisor for his board game club next year. at the time, my room was known as the chess room — a few times per week, students would come in and challenge me to a game.
i didn’t make any commitments, but i told him i was open to the idea. i know students can be fickle, and i’m not the type to make plans that far in advance. “come back next year and ask me again,” i told him.
he followed through. he’s a student of mine for computer science, and he created a club that meets on two days. on tuesdays, the kids hang out in room 4 to play board games. after school, they roleplay dungeons and dragons.
on wednesdays, they set up the tv in my room and play video games. it gets so loud, the rest of my students know to steer clear as soon as students start pulling controllers and consoles out of their backpacks.
i started to make plans to create an unofficial club for magic. the local gaming store, mythic games, supplied us with a box full of welcome decks. i bought sleeves and deck boxes from bcw. i created a slide presentation containing a broad overview, league rules, and an faq.
a handful of students came in and paid their $5 due. ms. brown, the co-advisor for the game club, came in and dropped off $10. “use the extra $5 for anyone who needs it,” she said.
the kids waited impatiently for the first official day of the unofficial magic league.
at lunch, they came in. i passed out score sheets. and that’s how the magic league at gonzales high school was born.
the club has grown to 19 students with very little advertising, and we’re about three weeks in.
we started with less than 10, and the numbers swelled after i made bringing a friend into the league an achievement worth 20 points.
20 points gets you four commons or two uncommons. those are real rewards when you’re trying to create a vampire deck or you’re building green-blue merfolk.
in a way, i feel like a kid again. magic seems new, as if i’ve gone back into the past. usually, when i buy a pack, i head straight to the back three to see which rares and uncommons i get.
now, i’m seeing cards i’ve passed over in draft become real threats. i’m seeing the game from a new perspective where things like tapped dual-lands are critical. a 3/3 at three mana is a game-changer.
on the other hand, it makes me laugh when a player grabs a handful of cards from the box that only gain life.
though i try not to give my opinions of cards, i can’t help but say, “these cards are bad,” whenever i see them.
“but life! how can you beat me if i keep gaining life?!”
i haven’t gone into the prize box yet, but it’s only a matter of time before i’ll have to. they all started as beginners, but they’re gaining on me. out of 12 games, i’ve lost two. it’s a big deal for them.
“i beat jacob! i beat jacob!”
in a way, i’ve started to love losing.
i posted my league guidelines on reddit and received great feedback. (thanks, reddit!)
i also got to read how others ran their club, which helped me set expectations.
i can say it’s been a success here, and i wanted to share what i created and learned.
here’s a link to my guidelines. feel free to use it for your own club.
also, head over to wizards of the coast to request a welcome kit and a club kit. that will net you some welcome decks, a couple of posters, a bag of spindown counters, two planeswalker decks, a deckbuilders toolkit, and a playmat for teaching. (thanks, wizards!)
if you’re a teacher or organizer, play with your club. i made myself, the co-advisor, and my teacher’s assistant bounties for weeks one and two.
on that note, make the game interactive. reward your players for playing, losing, and teaching others.
but don’t give away too many cards. make the players earn them. find that balance where the players who are good and participate are ahead of the curve, but they’re not so far out that the students who are busy with other extracurriculars don’t drop out.
magic league is best when players progress together at a good pace. don’t overwhelm them with deckbuilding, playing at a competitive rel, and game theory. ease them in and build good habits.
make it fun and have fun.
and maybe, like me, you’ll look up at the clock, see that you’ve been at school way past the bell, and shrug because you’ve got one more game to go.