Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Why I Keep Coming Back to Play Again

Last week's article got me thinking about the people that I enjoy playing games with.   I am certainly a casual Magic player now, though entirely skilled and able to play at a high level.  I just don't keep up with the format metagames other than Commander.  I play board games, LCGs, and even some miniatures games.  I won't be painting up a 40K army any time soon, but that's due to lack of time rather than lack of interest.

The relationships that keep me in a given game are a big part of this.  For example, earlier this year I found that I was busy enough not to be able to play much, and the odd game out was one of my favorites, Android Netrunner.  I prepared to sell off my collection.  However, I changed my mind when thinking about how much I enjoy playing games with the people in my regional Netrunner player community.  I kept my cards, and I know I may not get to play very often, but I'll enjoy it on the rare occasions when I can.

Once a month, though we skipped December out of scheduling logjam, we have a paid staff team-builder for DSG where we all have dinner and play games of one sort or another.  The hard business rationale for this is to get our people knowledgeable about popular games.  But mostly we want them to have fun, which helps build friendly relationships among them and also helps add enjoyment to their job as a staff member in the company.  Sometimes I'm "game mastering" and don't get to play, while other times I get to join right in, such as for our six-player Warhammer 40K tutorial melee.  These game nights are a delight and I hope the logistics permit us to do more with them.  Our January team-builder will be RPG-centered, using Star Wars Force and Destiny.  Our RPG expert, Tanner, is going to game-master for us.  I'm excited to try that game system.

Every month or two, as children and work and schedules permit, my in-laws visit, and we play board games.  Sometimes we have friends join us, but mostly we keep it small because of the child care aspect.  We let our children play with their mutual cousins and our friends' kids and we thrown down on the game table, whatever stuff I've gotten hold of.  For New Year's Eve we have Codenames and Dead of Winter on deck.  This "game night" is competitive, it's fun, it's an open rotation where we can work in family visitors and such.  We often mix in a "foodie" dinner if the ladies have arranged for it.  I enjoy it tremendously and it's the kind of thing I wish it were feasible to do with more of my friends.  Maybe if my schedule eases up this year...

For constructed Magic, I own one Commander deck.  Just one.  Five-color Progenitus, if you're curious.  I'm in the process of blinging it out to maximum, though I'm allowing that my CE Beta dual lands are as spiff as I am going to worry about getting for those ten cards.  The collecting chase is fun.  I've managed foil Khans fetchlands, but I want the judge foils.  I have Expedition foil enemy fetches, so those are maxed.  By personal preference I want the original Ravnica block foil shocklands rather than Expeditions.  Due to my time as a Level 3 DCI Judge years ago, I am preferring judge foils over most other versions for cards that have them, such as Demonic Tutor, Force of Will, Crucible of Worlds, etc.  I enjoy occasionally joining in Commander Night at DSG, especially when guys like Patrick Hug and Dustin Chapman are there with their absurdly lethal brews to serve as a benchmark for my fine-tuning.

For that matter, I play a game every day with my business partners, in particular DSG's store manager, Patrick Hug.  That game is called Small Business Retail.  So far this session has been running for a few years and we're finally starting to put some quality points on the scoreboard.  It's an expensive game to play, though, and it's a live cash game where you can really end up losing your stack when you make a mistake.  I don't recommend it for the faint of heart.

But when it comes to Magic especially, nothing keeps bringing me back to the table quite like the Gamers Edge Draft Crew.  I have known some of these guys for literally a quarter-century, longer than Magic: the Gathering has even existed.  Others I met along the way: at Wizard's Tower, at Arizona Gamer, then at Gamer's Edge, Ray Powers' store, where the group kind of crystallized for the most part.  I wrote about that store progression in an article a few months ago.

There are something like 17 or 18 levels of erstwhile DCI Judge in that photograph.  Veteran pro players may recognize Ray and the likes of Matt Stenger and Dan Gray (yes, that Dan Gray).  The other guys are unknown to most of you but are just as important to me.  There are a few more that weren't there that day for this photo.  We are the Crew.

Since Gamer's Edge lasted from 2000 to 2005, there was a fall-off in our gameplay for a while after that.  The dominant game store in the area from then until 2012 was Gamers Inn, and though we played there at times, it just wasn't our place.  Until Shadowmoor/Eventide in 2008, Ray still ran the regional prereleases so we all got together for those.  I was rocking the eBay-and-backpack-dealer gig from 2008 to 2011, so I even sold off some of their collections on consignment.  Who knew a Magic boom would end up happening.  If we had known that, I think we all would have kept our cards.  Hindsight is 20-20.

In the years since the end of Edge, rather than playing Magic, we got together for holidays.  Sporting events.  Bachelor parties.  Weddings.  Funerals, unfortunately.  Vegas trips.  Fight nights.  Barbecues. Casino nights.  We've done things we'll never forget, and other things we'd prefer to forget.  There has been trust, and there has been friction.  At least three pairs of us in the group have had fallings out, and one of those pairs mended fences after a while.  There have been babies born, then children, and now teenagers in some cases, picking up the torch and becoming the next generation of the Edge "family."  Most of the original ownership of DSG came from this group.

The group is sufficiently close that we're careful to make sure our significant others have a chance to get along, which can be intimidating for them when one of the single guys meets someone new and brings her into a social group that has so many years of history built up.  Some of the wives are close friends now.  They even have a secret Facebook group where the Edge men aren't allowed.  I assume they're making fun of us 24/7, despite Steph's assurances that they mostly chat about other stuff.

Every few weeks, currently on Mondays, the Gamer's Edge Draft Crew convenes at Desert Sky Games and Comics for a booster draft.  Sometime another venue substitutes in a pinch.  We usually draft the newest set.  There are more than eight of us, so it's virtually assured to fill a pod and most of us don't mind sitting out to give others a turn.  We want to draft "properly" for play value, so we redraft the rares and foils at the end according to final standings.  We've had people join us when we were stuck at seven, but it's a very rare occasion.  Some of them held their own, but others found out what an absolute buzzsaw this group can be on the table.  Think about what happens when people who have been booster drafting for as long as there has been such a thing as booster drafting, play amongst one another over and over again for years on end.  That kind of practice leads to a deep proficiency, almost on the level of muscle memory.  Some of it's pretty insular, knowing tendencies of each other more than format particulars.  But mostly it's broader practiced skill.

A few of the guys draft outside the group and they keep up with archetypes, so late in an expansion's tenure they tend to dominate.  But all of us know the fundamentals of limited drafting, deckbuilding, and gameplay so well that when the set is new, anyone can win any game.  Guys who use their DCI number twice a year at most will put together shockingly effective beat stacks.  Other times one of us will experiment with a derpy strategy and fall flat with it, but it was fun to try.  Some of this group goes and cashes at limited Grand Prix events. Others content themselves to the local game.  Every one of us thinks we could sit down to draft in a Pro Tour Top 8 and put up a respectable fight.  We all have careers, families, lives outside the game, so I don't see us putting in the prep hours like a devoted player grinding the pro circuit.  But you never know.

So as 2015 draws to a close, I hope you all take a moment to think about the people who YOU enjoy your comic or game hobby with, and what keeps you coming back.  The objective with all things tabletop is ultimately to have fun.  When I get to play, really play and not be preoccupied with other things, I have an absolute blast.  This is true with the family and Game Night friends, with my Netrunner peeps, with my store staff, with the Gamer's Edge Draft Crew, and everyone else I occasionally get to game with.  As long as it's still fun, even if the trials of life send me in a different direction for a while, I won't stay away for long.

Thank you for visiting my business blog and I hope you have a safe, healthy, and prosperous 2016!

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