How to prepare for your first Friday Night Magic
FNM Cultures: Every shop is different
Here is the Wizard's of the Coast FNM page if you are looking for an event near you. FNM's can be great fun and a way to meet and hang out with others who enjoy this awesome hobby, but I've found that some players are apprehensive about going to an official event, and there are some common themes in "FNM horror stories" that will be addressed so they can be mitigated by the proper attitude and social conventions.
One thing that you cannot determine without research or referrals is whether the store has a casual atmosphere where people are running their best "kitchen table" deck or is a "PTQ Dojo" where people are playing to win with decks that are either designed by pro-players or have won recent high-level events. Each atmosphere has it's advantages, casual shops simulate the proverbial "kitchen table" so may be more comfortable for a first time FNM experience. PTQ Dojo's generally allow for a higher level of play and are in tune with the culture and commentary around magic - making it easy to start up a conversation if you follow the magic commentary on the web.
FNM's occupy a unique space between kitchen table games and tournament level magic. The enforcement of rules is less stringent for an FNM, so some play mistakes which would earn you a game loss at a tournament may result in warnings, and in many locations there isn't an official DCI Judge to officiate so that responsibility falls on the tournament organizer/store owner, and any time I use "judge" it can also mean the tournament organizer if a there isn't an official judge available. The culture of the store makes a large difference as to rules enforcement as some stores encourage a very laid back, "we allow take-backs" atmosphere and other stores tend to simulate the more technically stringent Pro Tour Qualifier experience.
If you don't know whether your opponent will allow you to "take back" a bad play or a missed optional trigger, ask your opponent. If you assume that your opponent will allow some type of "take back", you may be disappointed. It is within your opponent's rights to insist you "play your mistakes" at an FNM, and would be absolutely mandatory at any high level event. The competitive players may glare or scoff at you, but you won't know until you ask. The Infraction Proceedure Guide discusses "Rules Level Enforcement" and while it isn't "required FNM reading", it can help as a reference at the PTQ Dojo's.
On the assumption of fairly stringent rules enforcement, you have certain "rights" under the rules. The first is that you are allowed to ask either your opponent or the judge for the official rules text of any card played by your opponent, so you are never required to "take their word for it" when it comes to text. You can also call a judge to determine if a certain line of play is legal, however, a judge cannot give you advice on what is a "good" play only whether a certian play is "legal", i.e. allowed under the rules. A judge can also tell you how to properly correct a play mistake. Most players will recognize that this is your right under the rules, and those that give you a hard time for calling a judge are categorically wrong.
FNM Jackasses: Don't let 'em get you down
One issue that many people have faced at their first FNM is having their first opponent or two be some sort of unpleasant human being. Some people who play magic do fit the "awkward, severely lacking in social skills" stereotype portions of the public at large have of gamers.
One particular type that has been complained about in the forums I visit is the "wanna-be pro' magic player jackass" who feels he can berate other players for their lack of skill, rules knowledge, or poor deck choice. It is unfortunate, but Magic attracts its fair share of jackasses who's egos have over inflated due to winning a few booster packs now and again.
If you run into one of these players that' just lacking in social skills or takes themselves and the game way too seriously, please try and brush it off and see if there are any worthwhile players at that particular location. One or two jackasses may not be representative of the entire culture at a particular store.
Also, be aware that even the friendliest magic player can get frustrated from time to time after a particularly harsh loss. A feeling known as "tilt", of pinball and poker origin, by competitive players. If your opponent "tilts", just let him recover in his own time and hopefully they'll be able to enjoy the rest of their evening and be their normal pleasant selves after the feeling passes.
First things First: Your DCI Card
Also, one other formality prior to playing will the the issuance of a DCI card so that your newly minted tournament career can be tracked by the DCI and you can earn Planeswalker Points. A DCI card looks something like this:
|A Temporary DCI Card|
Looking the Part: MtG "Accessories"
One thing that will mark you as an FNM newbie is what magic specific equipment you bring to the table. I mention it more for the ease of passing as a person who's attended FNM's if you want to "blend-in" as a seasoned FNM player. Equipment that is considered "de rigure" for Magic players in order how magic specific the item is, with explanations to follow:
- A deck of 75 Magic cards in opaque card sleeves.
- A deck box.
- A box of beads or dice for counters.
- A play-mat.
- A pad and pencil for tracking life and poison totals.*
- Token cards, if your deck generates token creatures.
- A bag/backpack to contain the other items on this list.
- A trade binder.
Items 1 & 2 are near universal at FNM's. A 75 card deck, the 60 minimum required cards and your exactly 15 card or 0 card sideboard, are pretty standard at FNM's; a 200 card deck would be an unusual sight. A sleeved deck in a deck box is expected at an FNM.s so if you just pull out a stack of naked cards in a rubber-band, expect a few looks. There are at least two reasons for sleeves and a deck box. The first is that most people don't want to replace their expensive cards on a regular basis, and sleeves prevent your cards from being beat up with shuffling, sweaty plams, etc... while a deck box keeps your cards from getting beat up in transit. The second is that opaque sleeves help prevent cards from being inadvertently marked by wear. The last thing anyone wants to happen is to have a judge look at their deck and say that they're cheating because the cards have different levels of white around the edges and one important spell has a small crease on the corner.
Item 3, a block o' dice is useful and can substitute for both the pad for tracking life and tokens if you don't want to bother so they are a the magic player's multi-tool at FNM's. Beads can be used as well, but once you get into the 1/2 dozen bead range, it just looks silly when they're piled onto a single card.
Item 4, a play-mat, is where you start to signal that you're a dedicated magic player. A play-mat is not universally expected, and it's main purpose is to prevent wear on your sleeves; sleeves do wear out after a few months of regular playing. Play-mats also help when you're in a more crowded venue and playing on the edges of two different tables and they are also just fun personal flair for their artwork.
Item 5, a pad & pencil for life tracking is the accepted practice for competitive players because dice can get knocked over, and it records every life total change, so if the totals don't agree, you can find the discrepancy by looking for the math error or missed life loss, e.g. "Oh, I forgot to mark that 1 point life payment from my Marsh Flats on the pad." All that being said, a majority of FNM players I see use "spin-down" life counters or a 20-sided die to track their life.
Item 6, token cards for the effects in your deck that create them are appreciated, but not required by the rules. Token cards are generally the best "tokens" because dice can get confusing for a number of reasons. It can be difficult to tell if creatures are tapped with both dice and beads and with multiple different types of tokens, it becomes a pain to remember what's what if you have multiple 1/1 Solider Tokens, 1/1 Flying Spirit Tokens, and 3/3 Beast tokens all out a the same time.
Item 7, a backpack or messenger bag, because items 1-6 don't stack every well for transport.
Item 8, your trade binder if you so choose. It is helpful to organize a trade binder in some logical fashion is mentioned because you will find traders at FNM, if you're looking to move a few cards or are looking for that random rare.
The big moment: Playing the game.
You will usually being paired against players with close to your record, so you usually don't need to ask how your opponent's night is going because you both should either have the same record or have been "paired up/down" with a player with one additional or one fewer wins. The number of matches is dependent on the number of players. After the prescribed number of Swiss rounds, the organizer can either award based on standings or "cut to top eight" and have a three round single elimination final.
All of the math for standings and tiebreakers is done by the DCI event reporter software provided by Wizards of the Coast, so if your match results were reported correctly, then your standings should be accurate.
Here's a quick guide for what you do after you sit down across from your opponent at an "official" Magic event.
- Introduce yourself, and insure that you have the correct opponent.
- Offer a random method, e.g. dice or a coin flip, for determining who's on "the play", i.e. playing first but skipping their first draw, and who's on "the draw" playing second and drawing a card. You need to choose this before you look at your initial hand.
- Randomize, i.e. shuffle, your deck.
- Types of Shuffles:
- Riffle and Bridge Shuffle - this is the standard shuffling method for a deck of playing cards, but is difficult to accomplish in sleeves. More power to you if you can accomplish this feat.
- Pile Shuffling - this is taking your deck and dividing it into piles. Be wary, a few pile shuffles can lead to potential cheating; so this should not be your sole method of shuffling.
- Drop Shuffling -cutting the deck then sliding the cards together in an ugly approximation of a riffle shuffle.
- Once your deck is sufficiently randomized, then you can present it to your opponent by placing it in the center of the table and wait for your opponent to do the same.
- When your opponent presents his deck, you can randomize it however you please.
- If you want to simply cut your opponent's deck at an FNM, you can - though more stringent requirements apply at higher level events; if you want to pile shuffle it to count the cards in their deck you can do that as well.
- One thing you can't do is look at your opponent's deck while you randomize it.
- Also, as a courtesy, be gentle with your opponent's deck. Avoid riffling and bridging your opponent's cards unless you ask permission first. Once you're done, return the deck, both you and your opponent now cannot manipulate your library.
- One courtesy that I'd like to make common practice yet is to place your cards into easy to count groups so that your opponent knows you drew the correct number of cards.