Friday, 21 September 2012

Willy Wonka

(Note: I initially wrote the majority of this piece almost 1 full year ago after promising the guys at CommanderCast I'd do it. Then RL intervened and it, and the 8 or 9 other pieces I'd started, never got finished. Fuelled by an increasing desire to get it out there rather than dive back in to try to provide the most polished version possible, here it it in all its ugliness.)

You may not realise it, but this guy -> is probably sitting beside you at your Commander games.

He's definitely on the forums that you're reading. (No, I'm not talking about Joz, though the resemblance is uncanny!!)

It's certain that he'll appear in this post again without me needing to post the image. (It's kinda all about him and someone called Charlie but I'll get to that.)

What you don't know is that, for some of you, he is also the face that stares back at you when you're checking yourself out in any reflective surface you come across. Yes, my fellow EDH super-enthusiasts, we are fast becoming the principal consumers of green hair-dye, fake tanning cream and white dungarees and most of us never even realised it. In short, there's a lot of Oompa-Loompa's around.

Confused yet?

First off, what the hell is an Oompa-Loompa? Wize Wiki tells us:

Oompa-Loompas come from Loompaland, which is a region of Loompa, a small isolated island in the Atlantic Ocean. 

Ok, sure.

The Oompa-Loompa would end up being preyed upon or attacked by Whangdoodles, Hornswogglers and Snozzywangers, which also lived there. 

Typical really, I never trusted those Snozzywangers.

Wonka ended up inviting them to work at his factory and get away from their natural predators. As each bad child makes his/her exit, Oompa-Loompa sing moralising songs accompanied by a drum beat, and tend to speak in rhyme.

Or, to put it another way: they annoying, moralisizing little shits that live in a strange, enclosed world and speak funny.

This is the 99% true story of Charlie (some very slight artificial licence), the luckiest boy in the entire world, who won the golden ticket to play Elder Dragon Highlander Commander because he likes playing magic with his friends when his mom let's him out and he was given a Commander pre-con for his birthday. Like I said, lucky boy.

Charlie tinkered about with his Kaalia deck a little bit, adding a couple of cards, taking some away and decided he was going to hit his LGS the following Saturday. Candy filled dreams of crushing angel/dragon/demon victories rocked Charlie gently to sleep that night.

Roll around Saturday and Charlie is finally there, the mecca known as "Know When to Hold 'em Games", and, how lucky, there's a Commander game about to get under way. Could Charlie possibly join in?

But of course, toothy grins reply! Charlie, stars in his eyes, sits down with the sharks. Starting to his left we have Augustus playing GAA, IV; Veruca Salt playing Faeries; Violet playing Gaddock; and Mike, the resident Spike, playing Sharuum. 

The game draws a crowd. (I mean, a couple of chicks playing Magic, why wouldn't it?)
  • Augustus gets greedy, overextends and bites it early.
  • Violet, ignoring Sheldon's advice, knocks her soda over her deck and quits in a quite spectacular rage.
  • Veruca tangles with some squirrels and ends up falling to an Overrun.
  • Mike tries to go infinite infinite times and has to stop when he starts to bleed from his ears. 
  • Charlie is left alone at the table, trying to get to 14 mana to replay his general.

And thoughout all this, everyone around has something to say about everthing transpiring in front of them: "Tunnel Vision is a DB move!", "Girls don't have the temperament to play Magic!", "You don't fuck with the squirrels!", "Don't bring a knife to a battlecruiser fight!" and, of course, "
\partial_t g_{ij}=-2 R_{ij} ".

Personally, as I watched from the counter, I felt sorry for Charlie.

We had a chat afterwards to get his back-story but he was essentially an onlooker in his first ever game of "unprotected" Commander. He was only ever attacked or targetted as an after-thought, it was almost as if he just wasn't worth considering until the other sharks were dealt with.

Unfortunatly, I made the mistake of asking to look through his deck before the other Oompa-Loompas had cleared away (of course I'm an Oompa-Loompa too!) and they flocked round to begin the real beatdown in ernest. There was not a single Oompa-Loompa who refrained from moralising Charlie about his choice of deck, cards or even opponents. It very quickly became Charlie's "fault" that he had choosen to sit at a table at which players with "tiered" & "tuned" decks resided. How the hell was he to know? The kid had never played Commander in the store before and this was his reward.

And, this is the kicker, no-one around was intentionally being mean or nasty to Charlie, they genuinely believed that they were good samaritans helping this lost soul, this Commander noob, tweak his deck, become a better Commander player, make better card selections.

I could see his face slowly melting from a sort of inner pride that he hadn't necessarily embarassed himself during the game to a hollow, pasty pallor of someone who's been had the rug pulled out from under them and were afraid they were going to get dumped on their ass again.

After waiting to see if there was anything really constructive in the offing, I stepped back in again and shooed the oompa-loompas away, to their huge annoyance. I put the decks to the side and we got to talking about games and movies and cards and stuff that's cool. We talked about Magic tournaments and "competitive" level play. Charlie admitted that he'd come to the store expecting to feel that special Commander comraderie he'd read so much about, an acceptance of what he finds "cool", but instead found he was being judged against much stricter standards. As of that moment, he didn't have any particular desire to come back to the store.

The moralists, perfectionists and "strictly better" crowd had managed, in a single afternoon, to put a new player off the format by "helping".

You see, the Willy Wonka Sweet Factory that is the Commander format is filled with a lot of great stuff but coming in from the outside with your pea-flicker and facing down the howitzers can be a harrowing experience. The store owner, Willy, offered to start up another game and sit down with the two us for something more convivial and suited to Charlie's current level, a 3 way Commander precon battle.

He had a blast, we all had a blast and, even though Charlie didn't ultimately win the game, he'll remember it for the laughs and swingy plays that are the hallmark of the format and he'll remember it for being an integral and important part of the game, not just an afterthought.We got up from the table with his promise to come back in to play again sometime and then he headed for the door.

There was an additional disappointing footnote to his afternoon in the shop though as another Oompa-Loompa (I swear that guy is part Whangdoodle!!), who had been watching the second game, started on what plays he should have made and what he should have dropped with Kaalia at what moment. Charlie mumbled his excuses and sidled out.

[Warning: here's my brief attempt at moralising!] At least Charlie got to go home with the keys to the factory, though, seeing how some people keep it, that's not necessarily always a good thing. I'd like to think me & Willy set him on the right path to enjoying the format, I'd like to think that he'll actually take some information and positives from the first game and the dissection he endured afterwards but I wasn't so sure about that at the time.

I actually met Charlie on the street about 2 weeks after first meeting him in the shop and he seemed quite up-beat about the format. He'd convinced his friends to play a game (though he'd made the decks and, of course, the one he kept for himself was better and Kaalia whupped them easily) and thought he could get them to play  more. He did admit that, had he left the shop before that second game he'd never have come back and he gets the idea about the relative levels of the decks at the initial table after inflicting similiar treatment on his own friends, albeit at a much scaled down level.

Now that it's a year on after starting this piece, I can say that he has been back to play, not often but still some, though I've never seen him come in with any other kids. Maybe he spiked it a little too hard with his friends (or maybe they're just not that into Magic?)

How we act at the table & after the table has a huge impact on young players coming into this game and an equally huge effect on players coming into the format. People with experience at Magic will be able to pick the format up easily enough however more inexperienced players will feel out of the loop in terms of card access, rules and interactions and general Magic knowledge.

While I don't want to say that it's our "duty" to help newer players out without moralising and lecturing, the future of the format and the overall enjoyment behoves us to encourage and nurture these players coming in.

This isn't exclusively for the under-prepared or card-shy players coming in to play with us as Charlie could easily have soaked up everything like a sponge from the first game and come back with the griefer deck to end all griefer decks, some sort of hybrid Azusa / Ad Nauseum nightmare-combo. That wouldn't have been very beneficial for him either as the general community (not represented by Violet, Veruca, Mike and Augustus or, for that matter, the Oompa-Loompas) wouldn't have taken kindly to yet another power gamer concentrating on the W and not the J (that's "Journey", btw)

So this is where I bring my rambling to a close. I suppose the message is that sometimes your good intentions are not received in the way it's intended and you need to be as careful about how you present them as when you sit down at a table across from someone new.

And, more importantly, stay away from the Whangdoodles, Hornswogglers and Snozzwangers!!


  1. Interesting story. Its a message we could all do with really.

    My question is though, if the Oompa Loompas are the bad guys here, why should we stay away from the Whangdoodles, Hornswogglers and Snozzwangers?

    Isn't the enemy of my enemy my friend? ;-)

  2. I I see the Oompa-Loompas are the moralising but ultimately well meaning hangers-on. The Whangdoodles, Hornswogglers and Snozzwangers are totally the players from the original game. :o)