Everyone loves new players. With the game rebooted just months ago the “new player experience” is on the lips (or fingertips) of most of the community. What decks are new player friendly? What are the common mistakes new players make? Should a new player buy two core sets or three?
Seldom, however, is the social experience of new players discussed. Showing up at a weekly meet-up filled with strangers is often not an easy experience. This is especially true for metas have a long history with the game. Established playgroups can have social dynamics that can feel exclusionary to newer players. Seldom do folks try to exclusionary but natural habits can often create such environments, which choke off the flow of newer players into the game. Often, for example, the weekly meet up is the only time people can see certain friends and thus they only want to play with them. Others only want to play with folks they consider to experienced or “upper tier” players since face to face gaming time is scarce so why spend it playing with lesser skilled players?
I’d like to spend the rest of this column discussing a few ways to avoid these sorts of pitfalls and foster a social environment that is open to newer players as the community tries hard to expansion the appeal and reach of the game.
Make sure you greet new players when they show up. This is particularly important at tournaments. In my experience, there are many newer players who make their first appearance at tournaments, particularly since the second edition of the game is so new and the barrier to entry so low. It is very important that someone try to greet new folks as they come in the door. At our recent big tournament here in New York City, Red Saturday, I positioned myself by the entrance and tried to greet everyone as they came in through the door. You’d be surprised at how much people appreciate someone taking even a little bit of an interest in them if they’re new. Just a few questions – Where are you from? Do you play any other games competitively? – can ease a person’s awkwardness and make them feel welcome.
The same goes for at the weekly meet-up. Greeting new players so that they don’t pace around awkwardly is important. Even if it means interrupting a game your playing, it is key to greet a new player as soon as possible.
Speaking of games…
Try and make sure people mix up who they play with. This can be a bit awkward but is extremely important. It is NOT good if meet up after meet up the same players play each other week after week. This sort of set up is extremely unwelcoming and makes it hard for newer players, who may not have any friends in meta yet, to find games. One way to avoid this is after you finish a game look around to see if someone else is free to play and pair your opponent up with them – even if that means you might have to wait a bit for a game yourself. Sitting out for a bit while a new player gets a game or two in, while slightly frustrating on the individual level, is good for your meta. It is also a good idea to try and get people from established friend groups, for example, a group of people who joined your meta together, to play folks outside their group.
While it can be frustrating to move from opponent to opponent or to play a stranger over a dear friend, if you’re interested in building up your meta one needs to put longer term gain over short term pain. As banal as it might be to say: today’s stranger is tomorrow’s metamate. If you create a culture in your meta which tries to mix things up and avoid these pitfalls, things will become self-perpetuating. Since we are so early in 2.0’s life cycle it is important to set up these sorts of social expectations from the (near) beginning.
You need to remember that not all players play for the same reason or have the same skill. Not everyone who joins your meta is going to be interested in traveling to Worlds or, even, GenCon. Some folks may not want to even play at the regional or, *gasp,* store championship level. The game may be a more social experience for them or, perhaps, they don’t enjoy playing the game in a tense competitive environment. There is also the truth that not all players are created equal. Some folks will almost always be better than others – due to their time commitment to the game, the length of time they’ve been active in the community, that they prefer to listen to the White Book over Beyond the Wall, their natural skill, level of sobriety, etc.
All of that said, everyone should get a chance to play and this feeds into the need to mix things up. Competitive level players should play with more causal ones and good players with bad (how else will they get better?). Making sure that players of differing attitudes and skill levels play each other is key to growing a meta. It improves the social experience by allowing folks, who would not necessarily interact, to get to know each other and it also exposes players to differing play styles. A “Jaime” player may fall in love with jank after a few games against a “Shagga” player – or vice versa.
These are just a few suggestions to keep in mind when working to expand your meta and integrate new players into your playgroup. By getting people to mingle, instead of just clustering up with friends, one creates a social environment friendly to new players. This is good for the game in the long term and creates opportunities for new and older members of the community to get games in and shape friendships.
In the end, I’d like to know what other suggestions community members may have in fostering an open and welcoming social environment. Let me know your thoughts in the comments.
 I know it wasn’t for me.
 Some of these may seem like common sense but you’d be surprised at how often such things are forgotten.
 This had the added benefit of letting me greet old friends too.