Hello readers! This week, I decided to take a step away from Standard analysis, and instead offer some advice on the proper way to find and play in Friday Night Magic. This experience comes from running hundreds of events at regular REL over the past year and has given me great insight into the best way to tackle this beast. Let’s begin!
Finding Out Where to Play
Asking your friends where they play is a great way to find a place to game, especially if you want someone to chat with in-between rounds if you’re the type to constantly alienate those you come into contact with. Making sure you have a safe space, in case you’re worried about making a bad impression, is definitely something you want to have available. If your friend comes with you, you can also talk behind the back of whomever you just played, just in case nobody else in earshot is interested in how you rolled that poor sucker and his 42-card deck. Make sure your opponents are in earshot of this, but we’ll cover proper tournament etiquette later.
Now you likely already have an LGS that you prefer. However for those that don’t, or who want an alternative location before embarking on the proper way to play FNM, the first order of business is to find a place to play at. Other than asking friends, the easiest way to find a great place to play is to call up and grill the employee or judge on the phone about what the average Elo rating in the store is. If they won’t release that information or claim they don’t know it, ask about any leaderboard standings or anything of that nature. If that fails, then it’s time to ask about Planeswalker Points and how many Archmages they have around.
Avoid Archmages at all costs, and the same goes for any description that starts with an S: Sharks, Spikes, Shahar, and so on.
Now they may give you the run-around and use flowery language to talk about their play group in “positive” terms like, “welcoming,” “helpful,” and worst of all “fun.” Admittedly this is better for business so you can’t fault them for it, however by ignoring your requests they should bare the full brunt of your inquiries regardless of how long you keep them on the phone or annoy them. Make sure you use a fake name when calling since it’d be bad if the guy on the phone remembers you when you show up.
The Correct Way to Sign Up For Draft
Now doing this the proper way takes experience so don’t feel bad about if you don’t hit every check point in one go.
1. Call ahead of time.
Call ahead to confirm the time of the draft, ahead of time being two minutes before it starts. Ask (demand) that they delay the event until you arrive in five (15) minutes. Proceed to run the above after delaying the draft considerably.
2. What’s my DCI number?
If you don’t know what your DCI number is, the best time to ask is never, just let the judge track you down before the event starts and ask you for it. While all the plebes dilly-dally and waste precious mental energy remembering and writing down their DCI number, by completely ignoring any instructions to write it down you unlock a valuable and widely unknown personal service. If you don’t know it, just insist that: ‘I’ve played here once before, it should be in the system, look it up.’
Of course, there will be times where this isn’t an option, and you should instead complain loudly about how wretched it is that the employee taking your money doesn’t know your number (regardless of whether he’s running the event or not), and just ask him what’s so hard about giving you a new DCI number. If you have a really old DCI number that you may not remember precisely, make sure to sound confident and repeat it as if the judge is a complete moron for not being able to find it.
3. Scribble Your Name
I can’t stress how important it is to make your name borderline illegible, because it gives me something to break up the boring tedium of getting everyone added to the draft and ready to play Magic. Playing 3rd grade Hangman is a wonderful diversion, and when I finally get a proper name out of it, make sure to complain about your name being misspelled. If you manage to win the prize of being able to stump the judge and he/she is forced to repeatedly call your name out before the draft starts, don’t come up until they’ve finally given up all hope and already made pods.
Bonus: Sign your name on a sheet where everyone else has printed their name. This can also apply to writing your DCI Number—I know it can be difficult to make numbers indecipherable, but I have faith in you.
4. Sign your name when nobody is looking so you don’t have to pay.
Proper Draft Etiquette
Even if you know how to draft, make sure you raise your hand when the judge asks if anyone hasn’t drafted before.
Talk incessantly during directions—bonus points for the sick DI humblebrags about what you might open. Ask everyone at the table about how much cards are at all times, and make sure to keep a price guide in your lap if the judge told people to clear off the table. Be sure to completely ignore any instructions that might have been given during this part of the draft, especially anything to do with zone drafting or where to go for deck construction.
Be your own boss! Make draft zones wherever you want and as many as you want! Make the draft pod move along at your own pace.
Make high-pitched squee noises when opening packs and start mumbling loudly so everyone at the table knows you’re thinking far harder about the decision between Tablet of the Guilds or Pack Rat. No one can know any part of your secret strategies that you read about on the internet.
With that said, when drafting it is essential to let out a loud ‘Hah!’ or ‘Really!? THIS is still here!?” every single time you are passed a playable card. Everyone else at the table is bad at drafting and it’s important that they be reminded of this at every opportunity. Explain in great detail that they have no idea what signals are and flash late pick rares even when the card is worth a quarter or less.
Open pack two and got a money card? Make sure you flip that foil Ash Zealot face-up and shine it around the table at every single drafter until the guy that opened [card jace, architect of thought]Jace[/card] shuts up about it. While the draft is going on, make sure to take any tokens you want without asking, and if someone complains just tell them you REALLY want it.
Before leaving the draft table, look for any value food left on the table or at the floor of any chairs. Look around and see if anyone would care if it was gone and then take it. You need sustenance to ensure your victory, and you not only free-rolled it, but potentially deprived someone else of much needed nutrients.
When done drafting, immediately get up and move away from the table, running into people still seated and leaving trash covering the table. You can’t give away your sick Doorkeeper plan to the common peasantry at the table.
Best to take the entire bin of basic lands you want, and if you feel generous, throw some onto the table for the other players to take for themselves. That way you don’t need to walk back and forth in case you want to change your land count. Make sure to go to 42 cards because last time you got screwed on land and you want to make sure none of these chumps take a game off of you because of that nonsense. If you don’t have sleeves, make sure to be on the safe side and take the oldest and most beat lands you can find so they stand out from the rest of your deck. What a clever person you are!
Show up late so you can scout your opponent from a distance while they shuffle.
Make sure you only pile-shuffle in front of your opponent and present to him AFTER mana-weaving your deck. If the opponent asks, make sure they understand that nothing shady is going on, you just want to get rid of any ‘clumps’ that may screw up a good game of Magic. Gotta keep them on their toes if they actually try and shuffle it with an insult about their skill/looks/intelligence, and how unconfident they must be to shuffle your deck at FNM.
Obviously you should be sure to riffle shuffle your opponent’s deck as violently as possible before every game. This goes double when they don’t have any sleeves. Any marks or dings can be used to your own advantage in the upcoming games.
Lack any paper, pens, dice, or any way to keep track of important information. If necessary, you have all these other squishy meatbags to beg for the objects you knew to bring before you ever showed up at the store. They may not know it, but the only reason they’re here is to provide you with the necessities and to fill the prize pool.
Since you don’t have any way to record life totals, you really need to pay attention and constantly harass the opponent if you feel they aren’t keeping track of both your life totals correctly. You didn’t sign up for life duty—otherwise you would have bothered bringing a D20.
Whenever you feel a rule or interaction is being handled incorrectly, the last thing you would want to do is call a judge over. Make sure to state your way is the correct way and repeat this loudly until the opponent caves in to your superior reasoning abilities. If this fails to convince them, make fun of them.
Don’t get sucked into the pace of game your opponent wants to play, definitely be aware of the time and use as much of it as possible. Remember all the thinking time is yours to take and you definitely don’t want to make a mistake. A Shark Ringer play is to start playing slowly from turn one forward to convince the opponent that this is the normal pace of the game, and it allows you to truly focus on what land you want to put into play.
If the opponent or judge asks you to speed up your play, casually look back at the clock and tell them you have X time left in the round, so what’s your hurry? Put the onus of time entirely on the opponent so he worries about that in addition to his usual game-play decisions, and gives you another advantage.
In the off chance you go to time in the round, remember that the turns are untimed and treat them as such. Sure, everyone else in the tournament needs to wait for you to finish, but that just goes back to setting the pace of your matches. Everyone will know you mean business when you drag every round 10-15 minutes past time, and if even one opponent scoops in frustration you’ve succeeded.
If match slips are included, be sure to make full use of them. If you’re unaware of the all-purpose match slip, here’s a short-list of excellent things you can do with them: Keep track of life totals, use them as tokens, your personal notepad, and counters.
Always make sure to fill them out 2-0—and don’t bother reading the slip, you’re always player #1!
Alternatively, fill the match slip out normally and proceed to write NO in the drop column for both players. Your opponent will thank you for it when they aren’t accidentally dropped. Once the judge is familiar with this, you can save space by simply writing N in the slot since he won’t be confused the second or third time.
If this is a competitive level event and you disagree with a judge’s warning, make sure to write a rebuttal on the back of it underneath what they wrote on the match slip.
Speaking of the clearly incompetent judge of the event, make sure to argue and appeal everything. There’s no downside and you’ll set yourself up as the dominant presence for all future encounters.
If you happen to finish your round early, it is important to find a game that hasn’t finished yet and ‘bird dog’* it as closely as you can. This involves interrupting both players to ask them what their life totals are and who won the other games, before standing over one player’s shoulder and making faces at your friends whenever he draws a card. Constantly question his decisions if you feel it’ll help him focus up and you’re sure he’ll still give you a ride home after.
*Rail bird, durdle around, Bird, Eagle
If you can, make sure to audibly chortle or loudly whisper to a friend whenever one of the players casts a spell. Picking up cards and reading them out loud is perfectly reasonable conduct and you should be applauded for successfully reading the funny card.
While I don’t trade, I know friends who do and they’ve given me some cracker jack advice on how to maximize my time and EV. If you like to trade, be sure to ask everyone in the room if they want to trade with you at least two or three times during the night. The best time asking for trades being right after someone loses, because that’s when they will be at their most vulnerable state. Make sure to use eBay prices for their cards and retail prices for yours, and never take no for an answer! FNM is for closers.
If you really have to offer splits, make sure to only do so at 0-1 in a match. Even if they don’t take it, your fearlessness and arrogance will shine through and your opponents will fear you much like Kaiba or Yubel (Bonus points if you offer to end the duel by fusing with your opponent).
If you go to time, try to convince your opponent that rolling a die to determine a winner is a perfectly reasonable solution to your issue. Remember that if the table gets hit and your 20 has become a 14 that you can always call a judge over to fix the ensuing mess.
For times when you aren’t super triumphant and receiving an FNM Foil, remind everyone who is getting one that they were lucky and while God was on their side today, you’ll be waiting to strike at next week’s tournament. When you are super triumphant make sure everyone hears about how easy it was and how they could all learn a thing or two.
At the end of the night when you stroll to the counter five minutes after they’ve announced closing time, be very clear that now it’s time to buy and sell cards. Check unfinished auctions on eBay on your smart phone, and loudly rag on the prices of the establishment until they either cave in and sell you cards at a cheaper price or force you to leave the building.
Hopefully this article has given you some insight into proper play and etiquette at Friday Night Magic, and will prepare you for the rigors of actual competition down the line.
*Big thanks to everyone who helped craft the proper approach.