A guide to the five major player archetypes in Magic: The Gathering.
Card: Spike, Tournament Grinder | Art: Zoltan Boros
Magic: The Gathering is full of different players, each with their own playstyles. With that said, however, you may have heard a couple of names thrown around to describe players. Terms like Spike, Timmy, Johnny, Mel, and Vorthos.
These are the nicknames used to describe different groups of players and how they play. The names are used both internally by Wizards, as well as the community at large.
Some archetypes have become so well-known they've even found their way onto real Magic cards in various un-sets, as old as Unglued, as recent as Unstable, and even seeing reprints in Unsanctioned.
So, what do these names mean?
Timmies are the kind of players that value the quality of a win over the number of wins. They enjoy big creatures and big spells. If it is flashy and unique, there is a good chance Timmy wants it.
This player is usually somewhat of an optimist and thinks about cards in the best case scenario, rather than the worst case. Mark Rosewater is credited with coining the name Timmy.
It was first used as a stand-in for a kid opening a pack and pulling a copy of 'Verdant Force' but the name stuck.
Maro says, "Timmy reads: Every turn Timmy gets another creature. Another entire creature. It’s small, but in ten turns, he’ll have 10 creatures. A 7/7 creature with 10 1/1s. How does his opponent stop that? It can’t be stopped! Timmy finally exhales. He has found the Holy Grail."
Timmies, at their core, are playing for the experience. That experience comes in many forms. Timmies play for social interaction. As such, many enjoy formats like Commander and Cube as they are venues to gather friends together and have a good time.
Other Timmies enjoy the experience of piloting different decks. That friend with 20 Commander decks might be a Timmy.
Variance is also a key component of some Timmy playstyles. They may relish the thought of piloting a deck that cares about coin flips or dice rolls, or maybe even outright chaos effects.
The Johnny/Jenny archetype features players who are interested in complex and creative lines of play. This player seeks out niche cards and tries to break them. They want to play well and win, but they wish to do so on their terms. Given this inquisitive nature, they may even scout out some diamonds in the rough that eventually go on to become dominant meta decks.
One of the core components of Johnnies is their desire to find combos no one else has found. It may not even be the best combo, but it's their combo.
Like Timmy, Jenny does not care about the number of games they win, they care that they won their way.
Offbeat deck design is also firmly in the territory of a Johnny and may be self-imposed or for mechanical reasons such as the Ikoria companions. Some will take this to the extreme and try to make outright unplayable cards their entire win condition; such as winning with One With Nothing.
Spikes are arguably the player you may hear the most about. These are the competitively inclined players grinding tournaments, posting on Reddit, and scouring the web for sideboard guides and deck strategy.
Their sense of joy comes from winning, typically while playing with the best deck, to the best of their ability. Spikes are likely the easiest player type to design cards for. They like cards that win games.
If the card is good, Spikes will play it regardless of the flavor, style, or cost. Look at your favorite meta deck and it will be full of cards Spikes enjoy.
Spikes come in many forms, though. There is the innovative sort that is particularly adept at spotting which new cards will enhance existing decks or spawn new ones.
Others are very analytical. They win by having the best deck for a particular situation and are often very knowledgeable of the sideboard and meta.
Some Spikes care about perfecting their gameplay. It is less about the meta and more about themselves being better players. These players spend a lot of their time playing Limited and learning even the tiniest interactions so they can take advantage of them.
Mel is a mechanics-driven player. They may even be a game designer at heart. Mel enjoys the intricacy between design and development. Cards with mechanical depth and interesting interactions are what excites them.
Modality is a common thread found in cards that attract Mels given the added layers of complexity.
Additionally, abilities such as Crew that allow you to use your creatures in new ways appeal to Mels.
While most Mel players find joy in the unique cards of normal sets, their true happiness may come from the likes of Future Sight and various silver border sets. The ability to explore zany abilities and fresh design spaces in these sets perfectly caters to a Mel.
Finally, we come to Vorthos. For this player, flavor is king. This includes beautiful artwork, writing (both novels and flavor text), and even breaking the boundary between the game and real life with things like cosplay or props.
Vorthos is a player who carries their skeleton tribal deck in a skull-shaped deck box. They enjoy seeing stories transformed into cards.
For example, Throne of Eldraine was considered a great success by Vorthos players with cards like Flaxen Intruder // Welcome Home hearkening back to Goldilocks & the Three Bears.
Vorthos and Mel often get along well together. Magic is often at its very best when the mechanics of a card are both interesting and tell a story. I believe double-faced cards are incredibly effective here.
A personal favorite of mine is Westvale Abbey. It functions as a land, a mana sink, a late game bomb, and to top it all off, it tells the story of a powerful demon that lies dormant in a church.
The pinnacle of Vorthos card design is seen in the likes of Magic Origins with a cycle of creatures that transform into planeswalkers and tell their own little story.
Why are Magic Player Archetypes / Nicknames Useful?
In the context of game design, Wizards of the Coast uses the five player types as a litmus test. Who does this new card appeal to? Why is it here? What purpose does it serve?
Not every card appeals to every type of player.
A Vorthos mage rejoiced when Yawgmoth got his first appearance as a legendary creature in Modern Horizons (though Spikes and Johnnies were also pretty hype). Meanwhile, Spikes were excited to see Wrenn and Six, a powerful two-mana planeswalker. Conversely, the Pauper playing Johnny was ecstatic when Drannith Stinger was printed in Ikoria, enabling a whole new glass cannon Cycling Storm deck that would soon come to be a force to reckon with in the Pauper meta.
Ultimately, the five player types help guide WOTC in deciding what cards to print and where.
It is also useful as a player to keep these archetypes in mind. When you sit down for your next game, take a moment to think "who is my opponent."
If they're a Timmy, you might want to save that removal spell for the inevitable 10/10 beater they're about to drop. If it's a Spike, try to consider every line of play, no doubt they're thinking about every angle to try to beat you! Johnny sitting across from you might seem unassuming with cards you don't recognize but beware of the inevitable combo.
Maybe in your next Commander game, you'll be able to strike a favorable deal with Timmy if it'll result in a cool play. After all, that's almost as good as winning for some.
So, what kind of player are you? Do you embrace the flashy big plays, or do you prefer to keep a competitive streak? Do you enjoy the flavor and lore behind the cards, or do you like to dissect cards and what they do?
Naturally, there is a bit of each archetype in all of us.
For me, my Spike comes out when I play Limited, but I embrace my inner Johnny when I brew Commander decks. A bit of Mel comes out when I design a new cube. Whatever your playstyle, don't be afraid to let it show in your games!
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