Ralphie Wiggum’s Guide to Magic: the Gathering

(Editor’s Note: This might become part one of a series of articles over the next few months. A bit ambitious, perhaps, but I am the king of biting off more than I can chew.)

I recently stumbled upon a program that allows me to play Magic: the Gathering for free. I won’t mention the name because I’m pretty sure that Wizards and Hasbro already know about it and have attempted to shut it down. Why give them more ammunition? Simply do what I did and type in “free mtg draft program” and follow the link that takes you to the program. There is plenty of documentation and also a sub reddit dedicated to the program. You’ll have no trouble getting up and running in no time. I think it took me about 15 minutes. It only took that long because I had to download java.

No thanks, Harry.  I've bought plenty.  I'm good.
No thanks, Harry. I’ve bought plenty. I’m good.

I went searching for the program for two reasons that are closely related. First, I have not been able to make it to the local gaming store that offers a draft on FNM yet. I had been drafting on MTGO to fill in the void. I’m now unemployed for the month of June and I can’t afford to do either right now. I love drafting in all games and especially Magic, so that led me to search for another program.

I could have just visited any one of the several web pages that let you practice draft. In fact, I have. Some of them will even simulate the draft with bots. I also already have another program that serves a similar purpose. However, that program has two strikes against it. It doesn’t draft MM15 and it doesn’t let you really test the deck. You can goldfish, but what fun is that? Actually none of the pages really let you test the decks, either, but the lack of MM15 is a huge let down. It has become my favorite format to draft. It is really expensive on MTGO and on paper. To be able to do it for free is my dream.

Goldfish on the left:  Do you think we're ever getting out of here?  Goldfish on the right:  Nope.  Goldfish on the left:  Well, see you tomorrow.
Goldfish on the left: Do you think we’re ever getting out of here? Goldfish on the right: Nope. Goldfish on the left: Well, see you tomorrow. This is an actual scene from a cartoon that I wrote for my cartooning class in high school. You can see why I am a math teacher and not a cartoonist.

Before I live that dream, allow me a paragraph or two to work out my other issue with MTGO. Let me get comfortable on the couch here, Doc. I only recently became aware of this issue. Had I thought about it for more than a few seconds, it would have been obvious. Hey, I’m on vacation. Thinking is not a high priority for me right now.

In addition to being expensive (and it can be almost prohibitively expensive for a below average to average player like me), MTGO is mostly populated by professional or just below pro level players. At the very least, many of the players are above average. Certainly, they are above my level of play. The reason that this should have been obvious is that I watch many Magic streams now. They are all professional level and they all play MTGO. A relative beginner and lifelong filthy casual like me has no chance in such a Baloth eat bunny environment. And so, I ended up at Google searching for a way to live the dream of free Magic.

You could end up sitting across from the virtual table from this guy.  He looks friendly enough, but he will eat your face with a B/U control deck forged in the fires of hell.
You could end up sitting across the virtual table from this guy. He looks friendly enough, but he will eat your face with a B/U control deck forged in the fires of hell. He’s not the only one, either.

As I said, that dream of free Magic has finally come true. However, this post is not completely about that aspect of the game. Granted, being able to play for free helps (a lot), but I probably would have written this article eventually even with out it. It just might have taken longer and cost much more. The main point of the article is that I’m learning more about the game and improving my play as a result.

Let me explain a bit. I always try to learn from my mistakes. I was playing chess with a friend a few months ago. We also played Othello and I brought my Magic decks but we never got into that. In one of the games, I made a misplay that he found so personally offensive that he stopped the game and gave me a chance to take the move back. I declined. He insisted. I explained to him that I like to learn from my mistakes and that he should tell me why the move was such a huge mistake. He did, we discussed alternatives to the play, and he explained that he is a much more linear player and just about winning as quickly and efficiently as possible. Once he locks into a line of play, he rarely deviates or considers alternatives.

I’m a Johnny player all the way to my core. Games, especially logic based games, are meant to be fun. I’m a mathematician. Logic is my life. Magic and other games are like a puzzle and work best when all the pieces fit together. Against my puzzle metaphor, or maybe completely in line with it, sometimes the puzzle looks better when you recut the pieces or force them in a different configuration. That’s where my often less than optimal decks and plays originate.

It would appear that Chris’s “Spike” tendencies are warping my sensibilities because I’m becoming much more competitive in my deck building and game play. This has manifested in my recent love of draft. I can satisfy Johnny by building sometimes crazy decks and I can keep Spike happy by using those decks to attempt to crush the competition. Now that I can draft without any money investment and with absolutely no pressure, I can accelerate the process of learning and improving my game.

I'm the one in the middle.  Chris is the one on the right.
I’m more Johnny than Timmy. Chris is slightly more Spike than Timmy. We’re both rubbing off on each other (have at it perverts!) and becoming more well rounded players.

I used to curse my losses to bad deck building ( likely scenario) or bad draws (less likely, but still possible). It always came down to luck. I was a “that damn top deck” player and tilted easily. I still am when it comes to Hearthstone, but that game exists much more in the realm of variance and top decking. I started watching streams, as I mentioned. First, I watched Hearthstone, mostly because I did not know that Magic streams existed. Once I found them, saw the quality of conversation when compared to HS, and got overwhelmingly sick and tired of Hearthstone, I now watch them exclusively. Most of the streamers are very knowledgeable and helpful. Because the streams don’t often get to the ridiculous levels of viewers as HS streams, you can actually have a conversation. The viewers are also often helpful and understand the game as well as the caster in some cases.

Sometimes you can watch this guy eat some other poor saps face with his hellish U/B control deck.
Sometimes you can watch this guy eat some other poor sap’s face with his hellish U/B control deck. Viewers do not know as much about the game as he does. I’d bet that less than a handful of people on this planet do.

Both my tendency to learn from my mistakes and hanging out with better players have resulted in better play. The process has been slow and I still misplay quite often, but I am able to identify them as misplays now and within a turn of making the play. If I could just get to the point that I recognize them before they happen more than I don’t, I would be an average or even above average player.

First two games are my last MTGO draft. I signed up for a DTK-FRF pack per win event. In case that is too vague, you win a pack for every match win. Pros scoff at the event because if you’re really good, you can win 5 or 8 packs from other events. If you’re good enough to get only one win in the tournament, pack per win is the way to go. My first pack has a Deathbringer Regent and he can be an absolute bomb in a draft deck. I take him.


I’m still only at the level that I lock into a certain color combination int he beginning and then force them for the rest of the draft. The black more or less locked me into black/blue, which is okay. I like those colors and drafted a decent deck. I’m glad that I picked the Regent. He showed up in my hand in almost every game and had an impact each time. I lost game one, then won game two by wiping the board with him. I also got a board wipe in game 3. Worried about my life total and wanting to accelerate the race, I used Butcher’s Glee on him. I should have saved it.

My opponent was in top deck mode and bricking into lands hard. All I needed to do was get a couple of more hits in while avoiding top deck removal. And, enter Enduring Victory. Son of a something top deck. That’s what I would have said as a Magic noob. Actually, I did text that to Chris. Once I had some time to think about it, I noticed my mistake. Butcher’s Glee lets you regenerate a creature. Damn.

Exhibit B: This one has happened a couple of times. Perhaps I don’t learn from my mistakes after all. Faced with a variety of mana, rather than leave the correct amount of blue mana for a counter spell, I foolishly tapped that mana and watched a counter spell that would have opened the game for me simply sit in my hand as the opponent resolved a spell that more or less won the game. Once, this was preceded by a terrible misclick on my part. Other times, my opponent showed me how counter magic worked when I got overly greedy about casting my bombs before having open mana just in case. Once, I was mana leaked with only 2 mana after casting Massacre Wurm. Then, a Silumgar Sorcerer ate my Regent because I couldn’t pay the mana for a counter of my own. Obviously, that’s part of my game that I still have to improve.

Your “Rawr” means nothing here. Move along, little lizard.

None of this might sound impressive to some of you. None of this might even be impressive. I’m not sure. However, it represents a step forward for me. I’ve gone from having no chance in any of the MTGO events to losing marginally on the new program against more even competition to coming in second in one of the DTK tournaments that I played today. Magic has become fun again and I can’t wait to test out my new and improved noobness at the local FNM draft. I don’t know if any of this will translate and I might still get absolutely stomped because I make one of my world famous misplays and you’ll get to read about it here. Either way, it should be interesting and maybe even fun.

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