Welcome to the first in a series of interviews of Magic personalities about topics of interest to Planeswalkers for Diversity. To kick us off, we talk to Tifa Meyen, the founder of our sister organization, the Lady Planeswalkers Society (LPS). Tifa gives us her thoughts on making Magic more welcoming to new players. You can also learn more from her perspective as an employee of Wizards of the Coast by reading her article on the “mothership” about LPS and creating playgroups and you can find her on twitter @TifaMeyen and Lady Planeswalkers Society at @MTGLadySociety.
p4d: How did you get into playing Magic?
Tifa: I was first introduced to Magic while working at a local game store. Working the entire M11 Prerelease weekend, I found myself fitting in with the community and falling in love with the fun atmosphere. My boss at the time, seeing a spark already ignited by the community, knew I’d enjoy the game just as much because of my passion for strategy games. With six M11 booster packs, my manager sat me down and taught me the basics. I bought a Red-Green M11 Intro Pack and never put the cards down. Having many friends who were already experienced Magic players, it quickly became my most loved hobby. Within three weeks, I was drafting at FNMs, and merely a few months later, I’d played at a GP and a few PTQs.
p4d: When/how did the Lady Planeswalkers Society come into being?
Tifa: Back in April 2011, a few of my female friends asked me to teach them how to play Magic. They had watched how this game impacted my life, as well as many people in our friend group, and wanted to see what the fuss was about. There were a couple of women who didn’t want to learn from their boyfriends, as well as women who knew how to play but hadn’t had many opportunities to play with other women. It started with four ladies hanging out in my living room, but it wasn’t long before the idea of making this group official was mentioned. Loving the idea of growing this group and creating a welcoming, friendly environment for players of all skill levels, especially women, really inspired me. I approached a local game store that I thought would be a good fit, and they were excited for the opportunity. Before I knew it, we had our first event! Eight players showed up; a mix of men, women, beginners, and experienced players! Looking back, I can’t believe how small it started. Now, we average twenty-five players per event and get up to forty-five on Draft nights, which is far better than I ever imagined possible.
p4d: How important is it that a playgroup such as a local chapter of Lady Planeswalker’s Society and/or Planeswalkers for Diversity have similar interests in terms of competitive level play?
Tifa: When it comes to starting a play group, the level of competition depends on a number of factors. The main factor is the goal of the group. For Lady Planeswalkers Society (LPS), the goal is a welcoming space for all levels. This aims at drawing in both competitive players, as well as beginners. If experienced, competitive players are willing to occasionally help beginners and maintain a friendly attitude to everyone, I encourage them to play in my group. Also, if you have the ability to pair people up with others of a similar skill level, everyone can be happy whether they’ve played 20 minutes or 20 years. This is going to vary from group to group – groups aimed solely for teaching are going to be less appealing and enjoyable for extremely experienced players, and groups exclusively testing decks to get on the Pro Tour aren’t going to be beneficial or enjoyable for brand new players. Honestly, the question of competition has been one of the biggest challenges for LPS because I hold teaching sessions and invite groups of people who have never played right alongside draft tournaments. Over time, there is a greater understanding of the group and we see regulars from both ends of the spectrum. The important interest to share is a shared goal more than a shared competition level.
p4d: What can more experienced players do to help those who are still learning the game?
Tifa: Be patient and understanding. Experienced players who step into the teaching role can do wonders for new players! Teaching Magic is a skill that takes practice as well and in order to teach someone and keep them engaged with the game, you need to commit time and ask questions. If you are not in the teaching role, but are paired against a new player, I recommend being nice, playing slow, explaining every play, and allowing them to ask any questions throughout the games. You don’t have to throw the match, just remember how it feels to be new and try to make this early experience a good one for them. I also like to take time between rounds to help hone beginners’ skills by playing with our hands face up and walking through every turn.
p4d: What do new players need to know to ensure that their experiences playing Magic are as rewarding as possible?
Tifa: Be patient and don’t give up easily! Know that all experienced players suffered plenty of losses before getting to where they are. If you do find yourself discouraged, take a quick walk and a few minute break from the game before trying again. Just like in life, when you make mistakes, learn from them. When you feel like you get crushed in a match, try to replay what your opponent did for two reasons – 1) so that you can replicate those strategies later, 2) so that you can think up ways to evade those plays. Look at losing as a learning opportunity, and keep your eyes on the bright horizon of knowing that someday you’ll be on the other side of the table as long as you stick with it. Plus, you can always teach a friend and enjoy the ups and downs together.
p4d: What do you recommend for new players who are interested in learning to play?
Tifa: Duels of the Planeswalkers is a great tool for learning the basics. After that, I recommend starting with Sample Decks or Intro Packs (especially from a Core Set). Game stores can seem intimidating, but most of them have employees willing to help beginners and even regulars who would be willing to show you the basics or play some games if you’re ready for that. My piece of advice – dive in!
p4d: Thanks, Tifa!