Pattern Recognition #256 - Player Types (Part 1)

Features Opinion Pattern Recognition


22 September 2022


Good day everyone! My name is berryjon, and I welcome you all to Pattern Recognition, TappedOut's longest running article series. I am something of an Old Fogey and a definite Smart Ass, and I have been around the block quite a few times. My experience is quite broad and deep, and so I use this series to try and bring some of that to you. Be it deck design, card construction, mechanics or in-universe characters and the history of the game. Or whatever happens to catch my attention each week. Which happens far more often than I care to admit. Please, feel free to talk about my subject matter in the comments at the bottom of the page, add suggestions or just plain correct me.

Welcome back everyone! This week is something of a last-minute choice as my original plan was starting to look a little vindictive, so I needed to step back and work on something different to clear my head. And thankfully, Wizards provided this week with our Unfinity spoilers. What they provided was an excuse to step back and get really meta with the game, and talk about the players who play the game.

You see, Wizards has created a pair of complimentary demographic charts or graphs that represent the two major metrics by which players interact with the game of Magic. The first and most famous is the Timmy/Johnny/Spike trio of player archetypes and preferences, while the other trio is still be developed and defined, being the Vorthos/Melvin/Meta.

Now, I want to say one thing right up front. The Wizard' gender-inclusiveness means that most of these names have variations on a name when the default name isn't seen as gender-neutral enough. To whit, Timmy is also Tammy, Johnny is also Jenny, Spike is neutral, Vorthos is neutral and Melvin is also Melanie, while the Meta is neutral. I respect and agree with these choices, but for the purposes of writing here, I will default to the names I know best as I write. This is not be saying one is better than another, just that when I say one or the other, the other gender variant name is implicitly implied.

And that I have to even give that boilerplate annoys me because we're all Magic Players. Your gender shouldn't matter, just that you enjoy the game with the rest of us.

Anyway, on with the show.

The first and original tri-part demographic is what Wizards describes as a Psychographic profile, which in more layman's terms, is an attempt to categorize how a player plays the game. And I want to make one thing clear here. These denominations are not exclusive to each other. They are not points around the edge of a circle, they are range bands that overlap with each other in different directions. A person can be one or more or even all or none of them. They are descriptive, not prescriptive.

Timmy (and Tammy) is often described as the player who plays the game for "The Big Plays". They are the ones who look for the largest spells, the biggest effects, the most powerful and over-the-top cards and seek to play them as often and and and quickly as possible. If you ever see a card in the game with a huge cost, and a commiserate effect, it's probably a card aimed at appealing to Timmy.

Timmy, when faced with a horde of 1/1 tokens, won't cast Pyroclasm to take them out. They'll cast Wildfire instead. Not because it's better for the task at hand, but because it is bigger. Timmy and Tammy will throw everything they have into a single spell because "Why Not?" Spells with in their casting cost appeal to them because it gets as big as they want; from the classic Fireball through to March of the Multitudes or Torment of Hailfire.

Timmy, as a Power Gamer, is a firm believer in bigger being better, and they will go to great lengths to prove that to themselves and to everyone else at the table. On the positive side of things, these are the players who will see their plays as not only massive and great in of themselves, but they want to share the sense of entertainment when they do their thing. To them, their best plays are a showcase of not only their own skill and dedication to the end-result, but also a tribute to the cards themselves that make it possible.

But on the other hand, Timmy's desire to go big has negative values attached to it as well. Their desire for strength and bigger numbers can lead them into punishing gameplay where the only thing that matters is being bigger, with more cards, more lands, more creatures with bigger numbers; and challenging them leads to them either doubling down or taking their inability to be the best out on other other people.

Mark Rosewater describes them as the Experience players, those who play the game for the positive experiences they get from the game itself, and while it includes the above description, it can also be the Social aspects to the game - Timmies can love multiplayer formats more than others for this reason -, or the joy of watching their deck just work.

Timmy's natural colour is , as that is the colour with the biggest creatures, the best ramp, and the largest ability to generate the largest effects. They can be in any colour, but 's slice of the colour pie is where many of them start, and many of them stay. Look at the flavor text in the card image above, and in the most recent printing of Timmy, Power Gamer. In both, they reference what was the most common "large" creature at the time, the ones most likely to be played by a player who embraces this archetype.

Yes, used to have the largest creatures, it was a thing. Leviathan is bigger than Force of Nature.

Moving on, we get Johnny and Jenny, the Combo players of the game. If Timmy and Tammy are the Performers of Magic, then these players are the Technicians of Magic. Combo Players of this stripe look at the interactions of the cards in Magic, how the mechanics and the rules touch each other and they see the game as a Great Machine whose intricacies are beautiful in design and execution. To them, there is no such thing as a bad card, just a card whose use hasn't been uncovered yet.

Everything is a resource to Johnny, and of the three primary archetypes, they are the ones most willing to try something new, to try something different and to see if what they think will happen, will happen or not. The more complex the interaction, the more detail-oriented the cards, the more fringe things are, the better they view themselves. On the bright side, they know all the rules interactions, so Jenny will be a good person to ask a rules question of, as they will be more likely to have an answer without needing to refer to other resources.

Johnny as a Combo Player, is a firm believer in knowing the game, knowing the rules, and knowing the cards. They will demonstrate their depth of knowledge about the game at the drop of a hat, and will gladly help other people with their interactions. To a Johnny, the worst possible thing you could be is wrong. Mistakes? Those happen. But never wrong. And because of this, they tend to be extremely innovative and off-the-wall with their designs. Johnny and Jenny were at the forefront of trying to figure out how to make the infamous (at the time) One with Nothing could possibly work. Before Madness and Hellbent were mechanics.

But of the three primary types, I view Johnnies as the most... well, let's go with self-absorbed. They want their combo, and come hell and high water, they will get it. I've been at EDH tables where a Chulane, Teller of Tales player goes off, and starts moving pieces around the board, doing this and that and something and another thing, so I got up, got a can of pop. Drank it. Went back to the table and asked if the Combo player was done yet. 10 minutes later. The answer was "No!" and the Johnny didn't see what was wrong with that. A Bad Johhny will play the game at the expense of everyone else, for their opponents are obstructions at the worst, and irrelevant at the best.

Rosewater describes Johnnies as being a Creative force in Magic, always pushing boundaries and bringing new life into old cards. They seek, they strive, and they create works of art with the same cardboard that other players see as nothing more than a stack. If you ever see a card that seems incomplete, it is because it is a card designed with the Johnny in mind, and it is open-ended to allow them to fill in the gaps.

Because of all this, Johnny's affiliated colour is , the colour of knowledge, planning and options. They know what they want to do, how to go about doing it, and one way or another, it's going to happen. Nothing personal, you see, they just have a setpiece they want to assemble. And like the other cards representing them, the flavor text reflects a slightly viable infinite combo from Mirrordin block. A more modern reprinting would include a more modern combo-order, probably involving Jhoira, Ageless Innovator

Spike. Spikes are, unlike the Performer or the Technician, are the Efficiency players. They play to win. They play the best cards and the best value and build the best decks they possibly can. Of the three core archetypes, they are the most competitive. To them, their deck is the epitome of their skill and their desire to win, and they take great pride in the effort they have gone through to do their best.

Spikes view the game as a test of skill and cunning. To them, every new set is a chance to iterate their existing deck designs, looking for that one trimmed card that could be replaced, that one slightly better piece of cardboard. They know their decks inside and out, and know the best ways not only to pilot their decks, but also how to respond to the actions of other players. They strive to perfect their game at all levels, and will take the opportunity to hit that sweet spot if it becomes available to them.

Spike is a Tournament Grinder. They don't give up. They will fight to the bitter end if that's what it takes to win. They will look for paths to victory that are narrow and perilous, but still possible. They are the most dedicated archetype to their craft, and it shows. But despite their desire to win, to have and be the best, a good Spike will respect being beaten. Because to them, an honest loss just means that there is room for improvement, that there is still something out there that can be better still and that is a goal worth striving for. Constant improvement.

On the flip side, Spikes are perhaps the quickest to flip on an opponent. The switch between Respectful Nod to Punish You for Playing can be very easy to cross indeed. I disagree with Rosewater on this - the Griefer isn't a Timmy, they're a Spike. They want to win, and if you ruin their fun, they can take it very hard. A bad Spike gets angry - at themselves, at their deck, at the other players - for their loss, or even just the perception of losing, and that quickly spirals out and ruins the enjoyment of the game for everyone else.

I agree with Rosewater that the Spike is the most competitive archetype, and plays the game for the love of playing the game and in the challenging and being challenged. In a set, the cards with the most disproportionate effect to their cost are aimed at the Spikes, to give them something to work with and to encourage them to take that risk with the new rather than the old

It's telling that Spike, Tournament Grinder is . Or rather is . Phyrexian Mana, the payment of Life instead of mana for a spell is an extension of the core conceit of - that there is no cost to great in the pursuit of victory. All that matters is that you win.

With that out of the way, join me next week when I talk about the other three types of players, the Secondary Archetypes. They're even more fun and interesting! Talk about your experiences with these player descriptors below in the comments, as I'd like to hear what you think.

Until then please consider donating to my Pattern Recognition Patreon. Yeah, I have a job, but more income is always better. I still have plans to do a audio Pattern Recognition at some point, or perhaps a Twitch stream. And you can bribe your way to the front of the line to have your questions, comments and observations answered!

This article is a follow-up to Pattern Recognition #255 - Queza, Commander of Agonies The next article in this series is Pattern Recognition #257 - Player Types (Part 2)

I would still say that the Griefer is a Timmy, just because Griefing correlates with explosive punishing plays. Spikes are likely to perhaps blow up in real life, but they don't usually play with the cards that are grand and explosive.

In fact, I don't know the traditional "bad player" names, but I thought of some.

The bad Timmy is the Griefer.

The bad Johnny is the Lockdowner.

And the bad Spike is the Stalifier, grinding the game to a stalemate.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on this ^_^

Great work as always, I always get a good deal of joy reading your articles.

September 22, 2022 7:07 p.m.

Gidgetimer says... #2

I don't know if people just haven't read the second Timmy/Johnny/Spike article, or if they just don't care about how the psychographics were refined between 2002 and 2006.

The psychographics are defined by why a person plays Magic. Timmies want to feel something, Johnnies want to express something, and Spikes want to prove something (I would go with "accomplish" over "prove", but MaRo said "prove"). MaRo further divides the major psychographics into 4 smaller psychographics each. While the ones explained above are the ones that were in the original article, they are outdated stereotypes when talking about psychographics as a whole since the further refined explanation was released in 2006.

I linked the article above, and everyone can read despite the formatting having broken in the past 16 years. So I'm not going to everything that is in it. I do think it is important to realize that each psychographic is much wider than initially presented.

Reading the 2006 article is what made me realize that it is possible to be a combo player without being a "Combo Player" and while being 0% Johnny. Combo appeals to "Diversity Gamer" Timmy because it is a different way to interact with the game and to "Nuts & Bolts" Spike because it rewards perfecting play patterns. So someone who is predominantly a combination of those two archetypes would obviously fall into playing combo without trying to do it to express something.

I will say that it has been my experience that Johnnies are the group most likely to bring the mood down. Timmies and Spikes seem to at least understand that there are other ways to interact with the game. I can't count the number of people I have heard get salty because something isn't "creative" or that something is "overplayed". I have even heard people say "I didn't lose to you, I lost to the pro that designed your deck". I'm not saying that Timmies or Spikes are never salty. I'm just saying that I have seen far fewer people upset for those reasons (even combined) than for Johnny reasons.

September 22, 2022 8:04 p.m.

That's a good point Gidgetimer. I hadn't heard of that interpretation yet ^_^

September 22, 2022 8:24 p.m.

TypicalTimmy says... #4

Hmm... I wonder what I am?

By the way, Vorthos has her own card now, too <3

All we need is mono-white. I wonder who that'll be?

September 23, 2022 9:24 p.m.

TypicalTimmy my bet's on Melvin being colorless and Meta being mono white.

September 23, 2022 9:28 p.m.

TypicalTimmy says... #6

TheOfficialCreator, playing like an utter asshole is fun on occasion. No, I don't mean targeting a single opponent in a 4-player pod. What I mean is, sometimes it's just fun to let the cannons loose and cause as much possible damage. No aim to win, just pure carnage.

But those games, for me at least, are few and far between. I just want to cast big dumb stupid spells.

As a Timmy, I do not look for combos. Many decks seek to have combos go off to win the game. Combos such as:

  • "Okay, my opening hand has X, Y and Z. If I can get A or B, those combo with X. If I get 1, that'll combo with Y. Z doesn't have the resources yet to go off. Okay so I drew A, so I'm going to XA and tutor for G which produces infinite mana to win."

No, I play like this.

  • "Here's a bomb that can entirely stand on it's own two legs. Oh here's another bomb. Want another bomb? Okay have two more. Overwhelmed yet?? Shit, Damnation. Alright, well let's Reverberate a See the Unwritten and rebuild."

I like to grind the game out with so many resources that my opponents exhaust all of their removal, and still can't keep up. Public enemy #1 baybee!!

If a game becomes Archenemy with me at the helm, I love it. Don't even care if I lose. And speaking of losing, can I get salty? For sure, ask Epicurus. But I don't get mad because I lost, what I am annoyed / angry with is when a deck fails entirely. Take, for example, the Dominaria United precon Painbow. That deck, surprisingly, sucks wet donkey ass. I don't know how many games I played with it where you could do LITERALLY NOTHING. I'm not upset that I am losing, I am upset that I wasted my time and money on something that doesn't function.

Listen, MTG is expensive and EDH is the worst offender (Outside of Vintage). If I drop enough cash into a deck to buy a friggen laptop, or a used car, it better do a helluva lot more than Draw. Discard. Go.

September 23, 2022 9:34 p.m.

TypicalTimmy says... #7

Meta, The Careful Study

Legendary Creature - Human Player


Spells you control that share a name with cards featured in Top 8 decks cost less to cast.

Discard two cards, : Choose a card from your sideboard, reveal it and put it into your hand.


"Hmm, Oracle decks are a bit of a problem. Better sideboard for that."


September 23, 2022 9:39 p.m.

TypicalTimmy oh, I absolutely understand that idea. Believe me, my Korvold deck is much the same way. I'm more referring to the really bad players who just blow things up without advancing their game state in any way.

This could be attributed to bad deck design, though. Not every MLD deck has a wincon where it probably should.

September 23, 2022 9:58 p.m.

berryjon says... #9

TypicalTimmy Wizards beat you to it; Metagamer

September 24, 2022 12:20 a.m.

Delphen7 says... #10

I've never really followed the types too closely, so this was a really interesting read.

That said, I think I'm in the middle of all of these lol. I love comboes, but they have to be splashy. But I won't play them if they aren't competitive. berryjon You mentioned One with Nothing by name in the Johnny section. That happens to be my favorite modern deck :P

September 26, 2022 12:14 a.m.

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