Summary: This article by Mark Rosewater detailing the common issues with teaching Magic and showing how the Duels of the Planeswalkers video game mitigates a lot of them, at the same time providing a handy guide to how you should approach teaching. According to MaRo, Duels of the Planeswalkers has taken the place of the core set as the "Casual Intro" tool, and the Core Set is the next move from there. Duels of the Planeswalkers 2014 is the current release, also available for X-Box, PS3 and iPad.
Magic's R&D have spent the last 5 years modifying the system to make introduction easier, and there are some great articles by Magic designers and Magic developers on how to do exactly what you want. Also, for guidance on how to introduce any game, I can't recommend the "Extra Credits" episode, Sharing Our Medium enough. It's focused video games (which may in fact be where you want to start, see below), but a lot of the general ideas translate really well.
How To Play
- Know your audience: Don't give your tactical mate a Green-Red Raargh deck, and don't give your 12-year old cousin who likes explosions a control deck where they don't hit anything. Better yet, before playing spread a couple of starting hands from the decks out in front of them and see what they gravitate to. You can even adjust this during the game, focusing on the bit they're into. If they like the art, let them root through the deck.
- Use Simple Decks: Obvious, but tricky. What makes a card too complex? What makes a deck too complex? A simple-sounding mechanic (+1/+1 for every creature in graveyard) can become really complicated with a bit of graveyard manipulation. Tom LaPille's advice here is great. Flying's pretty obvious, Milling, not so much. Don't introduce multiple win paths until you think they understand the basics.
- Choose something that opens big: For Magic, this translates to which decks you choose to start with. It sounded counter-intuitive when I first read it, but Tom LaPille makes a good point that the starting deck should be two-colour. His reasoning is that it makes it easier to understand the mana system, but there's another good reason: Gold Cards are cooler. By contrast, monoblue denial decks are the least cool thing ever, especially as an opponent.
- Add a little bit of Awesome: One mega card and a couple of things at the "Serra Angel" level. Some vanilla's and basic spells, a couple of things that are obviously good things to have(TM), all built around one major player. Basically that's what a purchasable Intro Deck is.
- Allow them to control their deck: Obviously, they need a pre-built deck to start with, but give them a sideboard of cards they might like. Include some cards they're not going to click with so they can choose to swap them out. Play in the same colours so they can trade with you for that card that they really love-hated.
- And then, once they've built their deck? Let them walk away with it. Obviously, you need to make sure you didn't show them any card you wouldn't be prepared to give them, but by giving it to them, you now have an opponent to play with. And who knows, they might return the favour come the next block release.
- Start Playing Quickly: "Cards have costs. Lands allow you to pay the costs. You play spells, attack with creatures, I block, then you get another chance to play spells. Then your creatures heal up, and it's my turn. Your creatures can't attack on the turn they come out, to give me a chance to respond. If you have a card with the type "Instant", you can play it on my turn at any time. Okay, let's get started." - Obviously you'll want to be interacting with them more, but the information above is all you'd need. And yes there are some minor over-simplifications in there. That's deliberate.
- Don't Worry About Them Making Mistakes: YOU ARE NOT PLAYING TO WIN AT MAGIC. Repeat it. REPEAT. IT. The game you are playing is "Convert My Friends to a Game". If losing puts them off it, you need them to win. If winning suspiciously makes them feel patronised, you need to adjust for that. If being mana-screwed puts them off, allow them to mulligan without losing a card till they've got a hand where they can see where they're going with it. And most importantly of all: If they make a mistake and play a card which they shouldn't have, allow them to take it back, and then play as if you haven't seen it. Don't not attack because you know they've got an attacker-killer. Don't not play your creature because they've got a Wrath of God. Surest way to make them not like the game.
- Don't Be Afraid to Tweak the Rules: When playing a game with someone new to it, hidden information actually drops in value for the new player, to the point where it's actually a drawback. Not only do they not know a good move, they're hesitant to ask you about their move, then get annoyed when they realise they made a bad move. Easiest way to solve this? Draw face-up. If you're following the advice I told you to repeat above, you won't be trying to memorise their hand for your own advantage, so there'll still be a trace of hidden information.
- Make Sure They're Having Fun: Seems obvious, but don't confuse your own fun with theirs.
- Make Them Feel Good: Best way to do this is to listen to them. Answer their questions. If they've been mana-screwed over, tell them about your most childish mana-screw strop. If they like a rubbish card, don't criticise it.
- Another Game?: If they've had a good time, offer them another game with the same deck. If they lose badly, swap decks and try again. If they decide that a card sucks, trade it and play again.
Different Player Types
Most board gamers have heard of Magic, in the same way that most footballers have heard of Manchester United, and almost all board gamers want to be introduced to more games. It helps that Magic's quite quick, especially by board game standards. So a lot of the heavy lifting's done for you. Try reading Mark Rosewater's "Timmy, Johnny and Spike" to work out which type of player they are in other games, and then bring out the deck during the setup phase for Mansions of Madness. As for what to use? Probably one of the latest intro decks or the duel decks. All pre-built decks are designed for intro use (see New World Order for how they use rarity to help with this)
In my personal opinion, the best thing to buy for a "true casual" player would be the latest version of the Duels of the Planeswalkers game. It was clearly designed as an intro system, and it's got a good subset of the core rules, and because they're computer determined, (including the default decks), it's less intimidating in terms of making a mistake. It also avoids some of the disadvantages of competitive play:
- You can play on your own to show them how it works. Even better, as you play, they can start "back-seat playing", and as they get more into it, you can then hand over the controller.
- The AI is significantly less frustrating to lose to. It isn't judging you, it doesn't suggest better plays you could have made, and you don't care about its opinion of you.
- It allows them to play against a consistent opponent in the AI (and at the early levels, a deliberately beatable opponent).
- When they lose against the AI, they can just jump straight back in, no shuffling, no post-game argument.
- The rules don't change on them. You don't forget the new changes to the Legend rule, or that Damage is no longer on the stack. Their mistakes are their own. Just make sure they always hit to stop the "instant clock".
Duels of the Planeswalkers 2014 just came out, available on PC & Mac, and Wizards has clearly realized they're onto something with this.
Another option is to get them into a Free-to-Play TCCG that isn't Magic. My wife is now a chronic Solforge addict (70 hours and climbing). She wants better deck control and the ability to takeback after a play mistake? If only I had this deck of a very similar game right here...
Making Magic, Latest Developments, Extra Credits