I must give proper credit to Kriz (of the sorely missed The Girlfriend Bracket podcast) for this post’s existence. I initially told this story as part of a Girlfriend Bracket fan challenge, and recent events in my life inspired me to revisit it. You can find Kriz on Twitter and on WordPress. Now that we have that out of the way, on to the meaty part. (P.S., thanks, Kriz, you’re great.)
Sometimes People are Awful
I started playing Magic in 1996 at the age of 11. I was lucky to have many friends who played between school and my Boy Scouts troop. However, after a year or two of reading articles, studying cards, and building decks, I grew bored. My playgroup was all aggressive, combat strategies. I built a mono-blue Type I (back when Legacy [and/or Vintage?] went by Type I) control deck focused on bouncing permanents, relying on Black Vise and Iron Maiden as win conditions. That deck quickly made me the least popular person in the playgroup. However, I tasted control and it had me hook, line, and sinker. Next, I built a Type I Limited Resources control deck in Naya (WAY before Shards of Alara renamed W/R/G to Naya). People really hated me. In retrospect, I kind of deserved it; mass land destruction is super Not Cool.
My friends gave me an ultimatum: either I play aggro/overrun, or I don’t play with them. They said that control was “not playing the game correctly.” That killed my desire to play, and by 2003 I quit. I played a tiny bit during college, and intermittently through adulthood. Being told I didn’t play the game correctly really stuck in my head. Kids can be real assholes.
I did not play for a long time, and lost 13 years of great sets. Ravnica, Return to Ravnica, Zendikar, Innistrad, Khans; I missed all of them. Recently, I jumped back on board with Eldritch Moon, all because I disallowed myself to experience Magic outside of that playgroup. I’m here to tell you that it doesn’t need to be that way.
Your playgroup does not define you, nor does it define your relationship to the game you’re playing. As long as you aren’t cheating, there’s no harm in playing the game a certain way. Now, here’s the thing. People may not like your style of play. Maybe they feel that you violate the spirit of the rules. Maybe your strategies are not something your group views as fun. Sometimes, your playgroup and you simply don’t want to play the same games anymore. You all started playing Magic and everything is great. But eventually, someone wants to try WOW. That’s fine. WOW is a solid game, and millions of people play. But as months and sometimes years pass by, you aren’t excited about gaming anymore because you have no interest in WOW, and they have no interest in Magic. At that point, what do you accomplish by staying?
Walking away from a playgroup is tough. You spent a lot of time and money. There are so many epic stories, embarrassing pictures, and hilarious inside jokes. So many evenings, weekends, text messages, Skype sessions, and all-nighters passed between then and now. Then was great, but now is not. You tried to reconcile, but it all comes down to this: you simply do not fit with your playgroup anymore. WOW just isn’t your thing. They’re bored of Magic. Maybe you all tried Hearthstone, 7 Wonders, and Sentinels but none of them really stuck. Perhaps you all experimented with pen-and-paper RPGs like D&D or Shadowrun. Those games are great, but they weren’t the magic elixir for your playgroup. That’s fine, but your love for your hobby need not end there.
You don’t need to ever sacrifice (MTG pun not intended) who you are for a playgroup. You can and will find another playgroup eventually, but you have to do the work. Don’t do what I did. Don’t give up a game you love just because you had a bad metagame experience. If you give up things you enjoy, it should be on your terms. There are other Magic players who like playing control mirrors. Sure, maybe you’ll spend a year or two on MTGO against strangers, or flying solo at GPs and FNMs before you find them. It sucks to be without a group but you will eventually find one. When you do, I hope you have counterspell wars that go eight or nine deep. I want you to storm or combo off on turn three. Find the people who let you play your game without apology.
What I really don’t want is for you to hate gaming in the interim. Just because some people are terrible doesn’t mean that the game needs to die with the group. Be honest about why you don’t want to play anymore. I get it. It’s hard to pick up another character sheet when you walked away from a level 16 half-orc bard that you put years into. Raiding Throne of Thunder with a pickup group isn’t as fun as it was with your old guild. But if half-orc bards are your thing, that’s perfectly fine. Set it aside for a while and see how you feel in a few weeks, maybe months. Chances are that you’ll feel more optimistic about rolling up a dwarf rogue or an awakened troll face. Pass priority, let the stack resolve, remember what you love about the game itself, and run from there.
We live in a time of unprecedented support for gamers. Take advantage of it. Local game stores often have slews of events for pen-and-paper RPGs, the big three TCGs, board games, and miniature wargames. MMOs connect thousands of people from all over the globe. Meetup is a great non-Facebook site to organize gaming events yourself. Every friend you have now was, at one time, a stranger. Finding a new group is hard, sometimes harrowing, but worth the investment. Don’t let your anxiety or fear of making new friends sap your will to play, and don’t let memories of your former group haunt you. If you allow your former group control your feelings about the game, did you really walk away in the first place?
Dante Buccieri is the resident comic book savant of The Geek Embassy. He’s been reading comics for as long as he can remember, and now that he’s a librarian he gets to advocate for comics in libraries and get paid for it. He’s also a tabletop gaming fan, especially those that involve cards, with favorites including Sentinels of the Multiverse, Magic: The Gathering, Bang!, Smash Up, Star Realms, and 7 Wonders. Dante is a library professional at Portland Community College in Hillsboro, OR.