My most formative Magic years were spent huddled around a Magic Online screen with my brother debating about what we should do.
Up until this point, Magic had been purely individual and purely competitive. I built my decks in secret, challenged opponents from the dark, and tried to destroy them. It was me vs. you. This got old. Sitting across the table from someone you love and trying to bash their face in over the battlefield creates uncomfortable separation. So during these early individual years I played Magic only on occasion. Instead we mostly played computer or video games side by side.
But when Magic Online came out, suddenly the game became collaborative. It was no longer about me vs. you, but about us vs. them. At times it felt like it was just about us. We built our decks in the open—together—and debated the merits of various options. We could finally play Magic side by side. This did not get old. So instead of playing Magic rarely, we began to play Magic together every single day for years.
Since then I have always thought of 1-on-1 Magic as a collaborative experience. The questions are whether “we” should keep, how the opponent might prepare for “us,” and how we can minimize “our” mistakes. If I hadn’t cemented this feeling of collective action, I don’t know if I would still be playing Magic every day, 10 years later.
I understand that for many, Magic is a single-player game. But not for me. I think of it as primarily a team sport—another huge influence in my life. I like the “we” language of team sports. “LET’S GOOO!” is a universal rallying cry. “Vamanos!” in Spanish. While this may be an unusual way to think in Magic, I believe my unique experience is worth sharing.
If you haven’t considered the collaborative nature of single-player Magic, you might find it a refreshing new perspective that adds a whole new life to your game. You might feel a shift from adversarial conversation to unstated understanding. You may find the game fuels your empathy with other players and fosters your teamwork skills. While it often plays out as a single-player game, ultimately we have a lot to gain from working together.
If you haven’t yet played side by side with another player, I recommend Magic Online, Duels of the Planeswalkers, and especially Two-Headed Giant. Each put us in situations where our ability to communicate is our greatest weapon. The skill is learning how to disagree on an impersonal level, pick an objective solution, and move forward as one. We learn how to speak of what “our” plan should be, how “we” should sideboard, and possible responses when opponent’s attack “us.”
Another great way to work as a team in Magic is through deck crafting. Sharing and working on each other’s decks is a way for collaborative gain with no loss. It is important to be careful to think about the preferences and card restrictions of the individuals. There is always more than meets the eye, and the solution is in imagining ourselves from each other’s position. None of us are in the same situation, but we are all trying to get better.
My own desire for collaboration over competition is probably why I have slowly gravitated toward deck crafting over deck playing and to writing over playing in tournaments. Deck playing and tournaments are inherently competitive—there are always losers. Deck crafting and writing are inherently collaborative, without losers. I still enjoy the thrill of competition, and I’m okay with paying the price of losing, but if we have a win/win alternative, I’ll often go with that.
When it comes to sharing my deck building guides, I prefer to discuss our goals and options over telling you what to do. I will tell you what I think will happen if we do X, but ultimately I leave your important decisions to you. It all depends what cards you like and what cards you own. From there we will see what happens.
When you read my articles and watch videos, I am always thinking of you. I want to include you, engage you, offer something new and fun you haven’t thought about it. I think about what you can get out of my work and how I can make myself most useful to you. It seems the best way to connect me and you is through “us,” so that is how I speak and think. This is what playing Magic together is all about.
Now I want to know how you feel. Do you prefer playing together or playing against? Do you prefer collaboration or competition?
We would love to hear your story in the comments.