MTG: The Fake Spikes

Every day, someone learns something new. You may not know who Spike is, in the context of Magic: The Gathering. It’s hardly likely if you’re reading a blog talking about it – I mean, we’ve had a few months since Unstable launched, but still, it’s possible you missed it. Yet if you had, Wizards R&D has a term for player types that recognise how and why players engage with their game as a player. There are three (five, but seriously, we’re doing the first version of this) basic types of player:

  • Tammy/Tommy, Power Gamer
  • Janey/Johnny, Combo Player
  • Spike, Tournament Grinder

These player terms were introduced to the Magic player lexicon sometime around 1998, and in the intervening twenty years, we’ve grown very used to talking about these player archetypes as labels for one another and for ourselves. Tournament reports will routinely refer to ‘spikiness’ or ‘proper spikes’ or ‘hardcore spikes’ or so on. Players will often use ‘spikiness’ or ‘johnnyness’ as metrics of how they play or the tone they’re going to set for a play experience.

Basically, we know these characters and we’re also pretty sure we know what they mean and crucially how they relate to us. There’s an old joke that Timmy, Johnny and Spike all look down on one another for not really understanding the game but only Spike has any right to, which is funny if you’re a Spike and kinda dickish if you’re anyone else but it’s okay because Spike has so few sources of joy in her life.

What I see rarely, though, is examination of players mis-identifying.

The most recent nonsense that came up with Christine Sprankle and the card Spike, Tournament Grinder got me looking at a lot of people who professed they were Spikes, that they were in the game to compete, and who were unhappy that they were being represented by a woman character. And this got me looking at this population – not individuals, because hey, I’m only seeing a tiny window of time for people, you know? But the groupings of self-professed Spikes, who when they encountered a rule, complained about how that rule made them feel.

Isn’t that interesting?

Now, I am not an expert on these things. I am an observer. But to me, the understanding I had when it came to Spike was Spike didn’t care about changing the structure, Spike cared about the structure as a test. Spike was here to show how good she was, to test herself, to prove herself. But then we have all these people, saying they’re Spikes, who reacted, when presented with part of the game, with dissent and distrust.

Timmy wants to experience something. Timmy plays Magic because he enjoys the feeling he gets when he plays. What that feeling is will vary from Timmy to Timmy, but what all Timmies have in common is that they enjoy the visceral experience of playing.

– Mark Rosewater

There are players out there who think they’re Spikes, because they are Timmies, and the feeling they want to embrace is feeling like they’re Spikes. They get mad about their blowouts and they watch the pro tour and they love their victories and they do the things that emulate the actual tournament grind, the way to push themselves through the circular pattern of feeling like Spike. And the thing is, you can tell how Spikey these players really are because of how they react to being challenged.

Spike seeks a challenge. Spike wants to be challenged. Spike, when confronted with a challenge is going to want to engage with it. But when confronted with a challenge as simple as ‘recognise women exist,’ a lot of so-called Spikes didn’t want to engage. They didn’t want to have that idea challenged.

They just wanted to feel important.

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