Windborn Musings – Building a Casual Playgroup

Dear Robby,

Last week, I read your article at gatheringmagic.com.  You provided a list of things that you wanted to do before your child was born (congrats!).  One of the things on the list includes building a casual playgroup.  You asked, “If any of you have had success building a casual playgroup or building a pauper Cube, or if you have any parenting advice, I would love to hear it.”  While I have no pauper Cube, and my parenting advice is likely suspect, I was thrilled to find that I had an article idea for this week! 

Magic the Gathering Online has been a godsend for tournament players.  With an ever-ready group of opponents of all skill levels always available to test your constructed decks or to draft with, the ability of players in isolated places to become dramatically better at Magic has increased.  Even the casual player has benefited from MTGO with casual rooms, tribal themes, 2-Headed Giant and multiplayer games. 

But there is a weakness to MTGO that leaves many casual players staying with cardboard:  the lack of camaraderie.  When I started playing Magic, it was with a group of friends and it was always multiplayer.  Magic was our poker night, our chance to meet up at a friend’s place and just have a great time!  MTGO just does not offer the interaction that you get face to face.

I have some experience building a playgroup.  My initial playgroup fell apart when I moved from the city I was in at the time.  It was a group of friends who started playing together and never tried to add anyone to the group.  As some players dropped from Magic and others moved away, the group shrunk and eventually died. 

Another playgroup was formed in my new town and was a flourishing success even after I left that group to attend law school.  The group reached a dynamic size so new players were regularly added as other players dropped Magic or just played less.  There were always at least four players around for a multiplayer game every week. 

During my three years in law school I discovered what not to do to try and form a play group (I’ll get to this later on). Troyand I made efforts to add more players, but in the end it was just the two of us dueling it out during our get-togethers. 

Since I graduated, I have been building up my current group.  What started as four or five players shrunk to three, then expanded slowly and has now reached a point where I have had to turn down some players.  We regularly have 8 or more coming to my house every week, with a group of more than a dozen on the email list. 

I thought I would start with building your group, then look at what needs to happen to keep the group going. 

The Rule:  Keep your wife happy.  She is going to be a new mother soon.  She is going to be sleep-deprived and irritable.  Calling this an opportunity for her to spend time with someone other than the baby is good, but in the end, you are playing Magic.  It is awfully hard to get up from the table to change the baby when four other players are waiting for you.  You are going to be looking at her to do most of the parenting during this time, while hosting four spouses.  Keep your wife happy, or your Magic evenings at the house will quickly disappear. 

Step One:  Determine what kind of person you are looking for in your group. 

Your article made it pretty clear what you wanted from your group:  “I don’t only want my friends over; I want their wives and girlfriends to come over as well. This isn’t to have all the girls spend time in the kitchen in order to banish them elsewhere; it’s so both my wife and I have connections to the outside world.”

Based on this, are you willing to teach your current friends how to play Magic?  The reason I ask is because of the hardship this may end up being for your wife.  If you find Magic players in a similar situation to yours, then their spouses/girlfriends will all be unknown to your wife.  While you will have Magic as a common bond with these new people, your wife will only have the fact that their significant other plays Magic as a common bond.  Hosting a group of people your wife has little in common with could be very hard on her and you don’t want your wife to dread these Magic get-togethers. 

With your current friends, you are getting a group of people your wife already knows.  This could make things much easier for her. 

Assuming that is not an option, your initial get-togethers are going to be far less about Magic and far more about getting acquainted.  Whether it is everyone doing a wine and cheese or a game of Pictionary, you are going to want the first few times to be everyone getting to know each other.  Abandoning your wife to a group of strangers is not the way to go. 

Other readers might be looking for a playtest partner or something different.  This step exists to give you some clarity in what you are looking for, so you have a better idea how to tackle the next steps.  I recommend that you be as open-minded as possible at this point.  When I moved to go to law school, I was moving to a city that was almost ten times larger than my previous town where I had a sizeable, fun group.  I was far too specific in my search for players during law school, and as such, never managed to form a solid group. 

Step Two:  Create a group or attach to a current group. 

You are definitely looking to create a group.  Your needs are very specific and it will be impossible to find a group that fills your needs and is willing to start playing at your house. 

This is a far bigger issue for most of the readers, since they are not necessarily looking to play Magic in their home.  Creating a group is more involved, since that requires several people.  Attaching to a current group is easier, but any group you find will likely have a person or two that is a little irritating. 

Step Three:  Finding Players, aka. Advertising

Use a particularly big mouth.

1.  Word of mouth is still the best way to find Magic players.  Talk to people about wanting to set up a group.  Even if someone doesn’t play, they may know someone who does. 

Your situation is very well-suited to word of mouth.  Trick Jarrett and Brandon Isleib are both married and new in the Seattle area.  I think Trick’s job puts him in contact with a couple of other people who play Magic as well? 

2.  Twitter will likely work well for you as well.  @mtgcolorpie has a significant following and would likely produce a local player or two.  Essentially this can be electronic word of mouth.

3.  The Magic Locator search tool on Wizards’ homepage isn’t just for tournaments!  Search Seattle and find out what is happening:  you may find stores hosting multiplayer events or casual gaming events that have just the people you are looking for. 

As a TO I strongly recommend giving this a try.  I organize a small group that plays every week at the nearby community Library.  While that group is made up of exclusively 8-14 year olds, when someone asks for information about the group, if I think they might be a better fit for my playgroup, I’ll let them know and we’ll meet somewhere so I can get a better sense of the player and if they will mesh well with the group. 

4. Card Kingdom is there as well.  The local card shop is a great place to find players, especially a card shop that has Café Mox, a licensed establishment that is bound to draw in some of the more mature Magic players in the Seattle area.  A couple of well-placed signs would work wonders.  It is easy to forget that most casual players don’t read about Magic online.  A poster in the store where they buy their Magic cards may be the only way you have to reach them. 

5.  Your article series can be an advertising tool as well.  A quick note at the bottom of the article each week may bring another player on board. 

This is a method that can work for other readers as well.  If a reader spends the time to write a well thought out article with a comment at the end that the reader is looking for players in your area, many sites would be willing to run the article. 

Just a word of warning though:  if you are posting an article about your latest tournament, then you can probably guess what type of player is reading that article.  If you want a casual group, write on your amazing EDH deck.  Keep your target audience in mind. 

Step Four:  Screening

If you have been keeping your target audience in mind, this shouldn’t be too painful.  When someone contacts you to join your group, find a neutral location and meet them there first. I’ve mentioned this above, but it bears repeating.  Remember, you will have a wife and child at home.  Inviting people to your place when you were living alone was a risk to you and no one else.  You have a family to watch out for now.  Meeting in a neutral location means that you get a chance to feel out each new player before inviting them into your home.  Ideally the four of you (the significant others should be there too) could get together for a coffee somewhere.  Ask questions and sit back.  It is amazing what people will tell you if there is dead air in the conversation.

Step Five:  Keeping the group going

Considering you are talking about getting couples together on a relatively frequent basis, you will want a bigger group.  With couples you need two people to be able to come, just for you to have one player in your group.  You are going to have plenty of people who simply cannot be there as often as you’d like, so having a bigger group is going to be a must. 

You’ll also need to remember that you are the host for the entire get-together, not just the group of Magic players.  Beverages, baby emergencies, and the like will interrupt your Magic experience.  I have no suggestions to help this:  welcome to parenthood!

Conclusion

I wanted to take this chance to publicly thank Robby for his suggestions when the Muse Vessel was just forming.  I abused his knowledge of WordPress and harassed him for suggestions about running a Magic website.  I hadn’t publicly thanked him until now.  Hopefully one day my wife and I can get out to Seattle and we can enjoy a group game then!

On a final note, the Muse Vessel is going to take a little time off for the holidays.  It turns out that having full time jobs, families, editing two other articles each week, formatting your own article each week, and writing an article every week since January is tiring.  However, we wouldn’t want to leave our readers in the lurch.  For the next three weeks, each of us will be choosing our favorite article from each Muse Vessel writer and featuring that in the usual slot.  Next week will start things off with Graveborn Muse’s favorites.  The week after will be Seedborn Muse, and I’ll wrap up the final week. 

Best Wishes to all our readers through the holiday season!

Bruce Richard
@manaburned
bnrichard<AT>hotmail<DOT>com

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About Windborn Muse

If you seek limited or constructed tournament knowledge, wrapped up with excellent comedic writing, you are in the wrong place. Planted firmly at the kitchen table, Bruce (the Windborn Muse) is all things casual, focusing primarily on strategies for multiplayer games wrapped up with horrific, train wreck attempts at humour. Bruce is married to an extremely tolerant woman and has three children who will not go near him in public. In real life Bruce works as an attorney and lives just outside Boston.
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2 Responses to Windborn Musings – Building a Casual Playgroup

  1. MTGColorPie says:

    Thank you so much for the advice. I had thought of some of it before, but this gives me a few new areas to reconsider. That one rule, keeping my wife happy, is the only rule. I’ve been wanting to create a playgroup for a while now, but the upcoming baby put things more in motion. I don’t want a bunch of guys to come over, dirty up the place, and leave making my wife mad that I’m not spending time with her, nor making her feel like she has to do all the work around the house (I’ve been doing a bit lately because she can’t, and I’m fine with that).

    You’re right, I am wanting to have people I know come into my house (or vise versa) rather than having random people show up. I am lucky enough to have a couple stores in my area, especially the amazing Card Kingdom. As you know, a wide variety of people visit the stores, including tournament Spikes, and people who rubber band their decks together. Neither of these are bad, but they’re not quite the players I’m looking for (Spikes would take it too seriously while the other people might be upset that I’m using more than one copy of a Mythic (It’s an unfair stereotype, I know)). The other issue is that there are a bunch of kids and teenagers that play near my house, and I don’t want to be known as “that guy” who says “Come over to my house little boy and come play some Magic.” We all know that will end horribly.

    But in the end, this is a work in progress and you’ve pushed me along in a good step. I appreciate the advice, and I’m sure that eventually I’ll find what I’m looking for. When you come to Seattle, I’d love to play. Keep up the awesome work around here.

  2. sarroth says:

    I’ve bought from Card Kingdom online for so long, I’d love to actually be able to see the Brick and Mortar location.

    Great article, it features a lot of good points. I never would have thought of having a little interview for people in the group, but when you’re not just meeting up at the card shop or restaurant but your actual home, that’s definitely important to consider.

    Good luck MtGColorPie! Bad playgroups can be a lot of stress, but great ones can be stress relieving, so I wish you the best in creating one of the latter.

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