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Back to Basics: Relearning to Play in Person

After nearly 18 months of dealing with That Thing We Don’t Like to Talk About, we’re finally starting to return to life as normal. Sports stadiums and concert venues are opening up to near full capacity. Some places have dropped mask requirements. Before we know it, distancing measures and no-contact regulations will be behind us. If you are lucky enough to still have a playgroup (or one of the very lucky ones to still have a friendly local game store) you have probably already returned to in-person games, or likely will be soon. As we transition back to playing MTG on a table with people it will be easy to get swept up in the excitement, but we still need to be responsible and mindful of our fellow humans as we shuffle up for the first time. Consider these points as you venture back into the world.

Not Everyone Will be 100% Comfortable

And that is completely okay. Some of us are feeling more bold and undeterred by risk. Lots of us are still a little wary. Neither of these perspectives are inherently better or worse; they just are. There is still a lot of tension and stress surrounding the vaccine and the waning days of lockdown. Not all of us are ready to venture out sans masks yet, let alone sit within six feet of a stranger. You may disagree with an individual’s decision to continue wearing masks or continue to physically distance themselves, and that’s okay. The important thing to focus on is that if they’re at the store or visited your residence, then they’re trying. Be supportive of differences in approach. Don’t berate, insult, or jeer anyone for doing what makes them comfortable; just be happy that you have someone to play in person with.

Be Mindful of Personal Property

We’ve been by ourselves for the last 18 months. No one has touched our cards except for us. Keep that in mind before reaching across a table and grabbing someone else's card. Just because you don’t mind when someone touches your cards does not give you carte blanche to touch someone else’s. This wasn’t cool before the pandemic, and it is especially uncool now. We all should be aware by now that touching things is a great way to spread diseases like the common cold and the flu, not to mention that touching something that doesn't belong to you is downright disrespectful. Considering how the last 18 months have played out, please be considerate of the fact that lots of people are still apprehensive about letting strangers handle their possessions. Individuals are allowed to have their reservations, even if you disagree with them. Ask before reaching across the table to read someone’s cards or taking someone’s deck to cut. If they do not give you permission to touch their cards, respect that decision. Cards are personal property and individuals have the final say on who can or cannot touch their cards, end of story. You might find it annoying, but you are not entitled to handle your opponents' cards. Ask permission first, and accept whatever answer they give you.

Wash Your Hands

Everyone has a horror story about playing with someone who handled their cards with remnants of salt, deep fryer oil, and ketchup all over their hands. Like our previous guideline, this wasn’t cool before 2020, and it’s still uncool now. The Thing We Don't Like To Talk About reinforced the importance of keeping our hands clean. If you’re going to handle other people’s cards or shake their hands after a game, the common courtesy you can extend to your other gamers is clean hands. "But the cards are in sleeves!" is not a valid excuse. No one wants to shuffle a card sleeve covered in Cheetos dust into a deck and spread it to 98 other cards. We’ve all gotten used to carrying a travel-sized bottle of hand sanitizer anyway; continue using it liberally.

Socializing is Hard

Let’s be real. Most of us play this game because we are social misfits, and learned the game with other social misfits. MTG players as a whole are not famous for our social prowess. But even so, this is a great time to get back into stores and reconnect with friends. Even the most introverted of people need social connection every so often. You can and should be making efforts to reconnect with old friends or make new ones at your LGS. Just be aware that we all have different social tics and may not be comfortable back in a non-quarantined world. The themes of this article are patience and empathy, and I’m about to ask you for more of both. We’ve all been socializing through Zoom for over a year. For some of us, being back in a social setting with real people will be just like riding a bike. Others may need more time to figure out how to conduct themselves without a digital interface. Both of these scenarios are perfectly okay. Communicating without being able to see someone’s whole face is difficult enough at the grocery store; have a little patience with someone who’s having difficulty socializing and communicating while playing one of the most complex games the world has ever known. We are all going to do something weird and unorthodox in our first several game nights back in the world; have a laugh about it in good faith, and move on. We will all find our groove eventually.

Be Kind

The only thing that any MTG player wants to do is get back to slinging spells in-person. Your local game store wants you back too. Just remember that MTG players come in all different shapes, sizes, colors, and genders. If someone asks to join your 3-person pod, let them in and make no assumptions based on their appearance. We’ve all been isolated for too long to play gatekeeper. MTG is a game for everyone, no matter their background; everyone in the game store just wants to play without feeling like they are being singled out. We gain nothing and stand to lose future friends if we can’t treat fellow human beings with dignity and respect. Card choice criticisms and play sequencing criticisms have no place in EDH; it is a non-tournament format, and the stakes could literally not be lower. Salt belongs on french fries, not on Magic cards. It is in everyone’s best interest to be kind, and foster a warm, welcoming environment for literally anyone who walks into your LGS. EDH takes 4 people to play, and it’s easier to get people to play with you if you practice kindness. If everyone focuses on creating an optimal play experience for everyone else, the result is everyone supporting a common goal.

Other People Are Playing with You

We all know about the Rule Zero conversation. Have it before the game starts: what kind of game are you looking for, how fast are your decks built to win, and what do you prefer to not play against. Everyone is allowed to have their preferences. You are even allowed to think their preferences are stupid, but we should all strive to respect the person’s expressed desires. Having conflicting preferences is okay; there is always a middle ground to find. Be honest, forthcoming, and cognizant of your needs, your nice-to-haves, and your dealbreakers. If someone is dead set on wheeling with Hullbreacher or Narset by turn 3 and you're not down with that, you can (and should!) just walk away and find another pod. Most pods can find a happy medium where everyone is getting most of what they want in their experience. Commander isn’t about you; it is about everyone at the table. Lots of us have not played a ton during lockdown, and our experience is just as valid as yours.

It Will Never Be the Same

Her highness, the Dredge Queen Erin Campbell, frequently repeats an adage on Magic Mics: you can’t know where you’re going if you don’t know where you’ve been. The pandemic changed the world, and all of us with it. We can’t rewind the clock back to 2019 and just pick up where we left off. Like it or not, COVID changed the landscape of MTG forever, and we're only just beginning to see the ripples. The single biggest mistake we can make as an MTG community is go back and forget everything we learned in lockdown. The only thing that hasn’t changed is that MTG is a game we all love to play. COVID taught all of us the value of connection, community, and the gathering. Do not take it for granted. Remember to foster friendships, cultivate community, and to be the role model you wish you had when you started playing. Nothing will ever be 2019 normal again, but we have a choice on how we want to frame the new post-COVID normal. The choice is yours, and I think we can build something great. Don’t you?

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