Box Trapping: Introducing New Players to MtG

Are you looking for a great way to introduce your friends or perhaps your significant other to Magic: The Gathering? Today we have a guest writer from Cardmarket Insight giving his suggestions on how to recruit new players to the game we all love. His advice? Think inside the box!

By Sancho Napora

The worst thing about Magic: The Gathering is how expensive it is! Or is it mana screw and mana flood? It could also be that games can drag on and on waiting for someone to search their library and shuffle it. In actuality, it is none of these things. The worst thing about Magic is having no one to play it with – and this article is a shot at solving that last problem by attempting to address all the others. Today, we will look at how to get your friends hooked on Magic, and not surprisingly, I will argue that a Battle Box is just the way to go!

The Dark Art of Baiting and Hooking

Having decided to dedicate my guest appearance on to arguing why Battle Box is the best format for introducing new players to Magic, my research took a detour down the rabbit hole of addiction, gambling, and the shady science dedicated to getting people hooked to slot machines and freemium games.

It is an interesting read and a subject you may want to enlighten yourself on. But in the end, introducing your friends or significant other to Magic: The Gathering should be about getting to play more games and having fun with the people you love. So let’s not risk turning anyone into hardcore cardboard crackheads, nervously pacing back and forth, waiting for the LGS to open, so they can buy some sweet boosters with the money they made selling off half their belongings.

Attention – Interest – Desire – Action

The first step when introducing someone to Magic is to determine which barriers may block them from enjoying the game and whether those barriers are surmountable. Most people like some sort of game, and most of those people will be able to appreciate Magic in at least one of its many forms. No particular gender, geekiness, or generational affiliation is necessary to enjoy a good game of Magic. While the rules can be complex, you don’t really need a full understanding of all the complexities and nuances to play and have fun. And indeed, when I began playing in the mid-nineties, the people I played with could not be generalized by any other term than “people who play Magic and enjoy it”.

You may need to be highly intelligent or at least willing to dedicate a lot of work into winning a tournament, but casting a Terror on an opponent’s Wall of Ice and then running them over with your big Craw Wurm has a universal appeal to nerds, jocks, young, and old alike.

And Magic is beginner-friendly in the sense that high variance allows a complete beginner a reasonable shot at defeating even a professional player, which gives a sense of accomplishment and awakens the interest in playing more games. An early win which does not feel fake makes the game approachable even for noobs.

Land Go!

The easiest way to learn Magic is just to play it. So take out your Battle Box, tell them that both of you start at twenty life points, and that the goal of the game is to reduce your opponent to zero life. Then deal play some rounds with revealed hands going through each step both you and the player you are teaching take.

Oh, it’s your turn, well you can play a land. Lands tap to give you the mana, the currency of the game you need to play the other cards.

See, some of the cards have symbols on their top which mean they need the matching type of mana to be played, and if there’s a number, that part of the price can be paid with any type of mana.

– You can get new mana from your lands each turn, and you rotate the lands sideways to show that you have spent the mana from it for this turn. Rotating a card is called tapping.

– Yes, some of the lands you have can give two different colors of mana (if your Battle Box is like most Battle Boxes), but the cost is that you cannot use the first turn, because they come into play already tapped.

This card with numbers down in the corner is a creature, and it can attack me to bring down my life closer to zero.

And so on. Of course, you can also let Google be your friend and consult one of the many excellent guides to introducing new players to the game, even if the focus of such a guide is on a less beginner-friendly format.

Don’t bring up things irrelevant to where the game is at. No need to mention upkeep until a card mentions upkeep, no need to explain summoning sickness until a creature hits the board. You will be surprised how easy Magic is to learn, when you don’t begin your explanations at subjects like layers, the stack, and storm count.

A Boat Is a Boat, but the Box Could Be Anything

This brings us straight to an important question, which is whether you should dumb down your Battle Box to make it easier and more understandable for a new player. My answer to that will be a resounding “not too much”. Part of the attraction of Magic is indeed its complexities and the feeling that there’s more to be discovered as unexpected interactions may occur. Actually, if I got nothing else from looking into the science of creating addictive games before writing this article, it is that hinting at new ways to achieve wins or bonuses in games can make players come back for more.

This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t try to make the Battle Box more beginner-friendly. Luckily, some improvements should work to make it more enjoyable for seasoned players as well. Of course, the worst thing about Magic (besides having no one to play with) is already addressed by the format. Mana screw and mana flood are just not relevant issues when it comes to Battle Box and that in itself is the major reason why I see Battle Box as the optimal way to introduce new players to the format. Trying a new game and having some of the very first times you play it be non-games make for a very bad first impression. Likewise, the price of building a competitive deck is not anything to consider either with Battle Box being like a self-contained boardgame.

A third issue mentioned in the beginning of this article was the lull during library searching and shuffling. I recommend that you simply eliminate this from your Battle Box by not having any cards that require or allow this to happen. The task of searching through and having to read a lot of cards is not really that fun for a beginner – and not fun for you to wait for either. The smaller starting hand is definitely yet another plus for Battle Box as a beginner’s format, since it gives the new player fewer cards to read through and keep track of to begin with, only slowly introducing more complexity with each draw step.

You could even consider stacking your Battle Box by only pseudo-shuffling it and having new complexities appear first one-off, then with increasing regularity. But perhaps this is too much work for too little gain. Personally, I also removed any card-milling cards from my own Battle Box, since it doesn’t work well with a common library. Actually, I have nothing related to library manipulation at all except drawing extra cards, since I believe that most such effects clash with the format.

Other suggestions for a beginner-friendly Battle Box would be to minimize the number of wordy cards, removing cards that let you win out of nowhere, and to completely avoid cards that have received an errata where you will have to explain that the card works differently from what the printed text says. Some mechanics are too complex for beginners to keep track of and other mechanics, such as lifelink, can make for long drawn-out games, which in my experience is bad for getting players into the game. Always leave them wanting more when the game is done rather than drained and disinterested is always better.

However, when it comes to the learning curve, I am not afraid to have quite a high level of complexity in my own Innistrad-themed Battle Box. While it may take a little while for a beginner to get a mechanic such as madness, the payoff and sense of accomplishment when pulling it off optimally will be one of those moments when a new player’s face lights up and you see the excitement, the dopamine release that gets them really and truly hooked the game.

Editor’s Note – If you are interested in building a Battle Box specifically to teach new players the game, be sure to check out our Battle Box 101 and this article introducing it.