Time For A Little Magic

Magic: the Gathering, that is.

Yes, I play. I’m not a long time player, nor am I any longer a serious competitor in the game, but I still enjoy it.

I first started playing back in 2012 when I picked up the habit at Max’s old comic shop. It gave me something to do that was fun and social and not related in any way, shape, or form to anything I’d done before. And it was pretty fun.

That’s what games are supposed to be… fun.

Now, there’s also a dark side to Magic. A bloodthirsty competitive side. That’s not so fun. People can take it way too seriously, and that’s what drove me away from the game.

Here’s where I had a lot of fun though – building decks. I always built my own decks, my own way, ignoring for the most part all the deck lists coming from the pro tours and IQs and other tournaments.  The one trick pony decks designed to instantly kill you opponent. Granted, I did build a few decks designed to put opponents down hard and brutally, but I always put my own spin on it.

WARNING: I’m about to go into some deck theory examples that few people will be interested in… please do skip to the FINAL THOUGHTS ON GAMING section at the end if you don’t really play MtG.

Fun Decks I’ve Built… Reckoner

Continuing the thought above.  For example, I built a Naya Reckoner deck around Boros Reckoner, Frontline Medic, and Legion Loyalist, with Blasphemous Act for the kill. Harsh, brutal, all my creatures live but you have naught before you but a field of ashes and all your life burned away. But because I wanted to, I put a few Sleepy Dragons in the deck to combo with Increasing Savagery. I just really like that combo because it throws people for a loop and off their game plan. A theme prevalent in my most favorite decks. They don’t know how to react to it. Some are smart enough to kill it straight off.  Others just stall their attacks and wait for their win con to work out. Then a dragon eats their face. Or they have enough creatures stalled on the field I can Blasphemous act for 1 red mana. Or a lot of other things could happen. It’s the meanest deck I’ve built as far as speed and competitiveness go, but it’s still fun for me.

That’s how I build though. I build decks that I can play any number of ways. I build decks I can play seriously or sillily, depending on my mood. I build flexibly so that I can still win even if I don’t get a combo off, or so that I can’t be shut down by one countered move. A lot of decks are too rigid, in my opinion, focused on that one perfect moment where you’ve got everything in place, and blow their load.

That’s no fun to me, I enjoy actually playing the game. Not pulling the same trick over and over and over and over and over until I can do it in my sleep. Boring.

I also enjoy the mental challenge of deck building.  I love making Pauper decks. Especially Pauper Burn.

Pauper Burn

A Pauper deck, as the name would indicate, is made up of cheap cards. Magic can be pricey with popular winning cards going for $30-100+ in Standard format, and in the thousands for rarer cards for Legacy. I like taking a $5 deck and instilling a little hubris in the occasional braggart who thinks they’re the deuce because their deck is expensive. I also like just building a $5 deck for the challenge to see if I CAN beat those other decks with it.

You can build one easily enough using cards ranked as Common or Uncommon…sometimes throwing in a Junk Rare if it’s cheap enough (though strictly speaking Pauper decks can only consist of Commons and Uncommons…the lowest ranked cards).

Again, it comes down to fun. You can invest lots of money in it, or a little, as long as you decide to have fun with it, that’s what matters. Challenge yourself as much as you challenge others.

Then there are decks I build just because they are patently absurd. I have a penchant for taking cards viewed as useless, the quirky cards, the ones from the Isle of Misfit Toys, and making them shine.

Slumbering Dragon

The Sleepy Dragon combo I mentioned above is one such instance. The card is a 1 drop dragon that just sits there. It’s a 3/3 flier, but can’t attack or block until certain conditions are met.  Those conditions are that it has to have 5 +1/+1 counters on it, with a condition that says I can put one such counter on the dragon for each creature that attacks me. Normally it just sits there. No one’s going to attack and let me pump it up…the dragon becomes an 8/8 beast of a creature when awake, and grows stronger with every attack launched against me.  Quite vicious. I put it out turn one and stare people down with it. Most players don’t make serious overtures at winning until about turn 4 or 5 anyway, so logically, the card is kinda useless because other players will have built their win condition up while my dragon just sits there, right?  Wrong.  Turn 4 Increasing Savagery puts the necessary 5 counters on it and by this point I’ve pulled a few other shenanigans so you’re taking upwards of 16 in the face from flying double strike added to the little bit I’ve whittled you down early on. Boom. Win. Didn’t see it coming.  (for those unaware who are still reading at this point… you only get 20 life points in Magic…this dragon can eat most of them in one gulp when played correctly)

The card is valued at around 50 cents-$1 I believe…at least it was when I played more.

Goblin Burn

There’s another deck I’ve built around a terrible card called Burn at the Stake…takes 5 mana to play, plus you have to tap creatures to inflict the damage – three times the number of tapped creatures, to be precise. That’s a pretty hefty cost considering most players only have 3-4 creatures on the field to tap at one time, and they’re usually needed for defense.  But, I do things differently. I put it in a fun little goblin deck that multiplies goblin tokens faster than Tribbles, thanks to another overlooked card, Krenko, Mob Boss. Most people only see it as useful for over-running your opponent with little goblins, and play accordingly, somehow preventing them from attacking, etc.  They never see the Burn at the Stake coming.

Lost in the Woods

Likewise, I enjoy making people become Lost in the Woods. Another clunky mechanic most people wouldn’t ever prepare for because to make it work, your deck has to be almost entirely made up of land. A typical MtG deck consists of 60 cards divided into 20 land (mana base) and 40 spell (does stuff) cards, or some ratio close to that. Lost in the Woods, if I recall correctly, has 36 Forests (land) and 24 spells. Four copies of Lost in the Woods, and 20 for support and win cons.

The way this works, Lost in the Woods is an enchantment that affects the field of play that states whenever an opponent’s creature attacks me, I may reveal the top card from my deck, and if that card is a Forest, the creature becomes Lost in the Woods and does no damage to me, then I put the revealed card on the bottom of my deck. That’s why there are so many land cards in the deck, to increase the odds of becoming Lost. With 2 or 3 copies in play, it’s almost impossible for any attacking creature to do damage to me.

I throw out Garruk to generate blockers and absorb any other damage, and some other support and life gain and I’m pretty invincible.  And it frustrates the heck out of most opponents.  Plus I always throw in a few surprises for them to encounter while they’re Lost in the Woods. You never know what you’ll stumble on.

Goats

Probably my silliest deck, Goats doesn’t conform to many standard conventions. It follows the rules, there are only 4 copies of each card, but it’s not a 60 card deck – it fluctuates between 68 and 74 depending – and it’s not sleeved. It’s entirely for casual play and is handily beaten 7 out of 10 times.

But those other 3 times have lead to some epic matches. The core of the deck is Trading Post, a 4 drop junk artifact card that lets you do four things:

1, Tap, Discard a card: You gain 4 life.
1, Tap, Pay 1 life: Put a 0/1 white Goat creature token onto the battlefield.
1, Tap, Sacrifice a creature: Return target artifact card from your graveyard to your hand.
1, Tap, Sacrifice an artifact: Draw a card.

Pair that with some heavy life gain, token multiplication, stat boosting, and a monument that makes those goats 6/7 flying, first strike, protected and all sorts of other nonsense…plus some other artifacts that let me recycle my deck…

I had a guy playing a Counter/Burn deck mill me out 3 times, hit me with every burn spell he had, and I still won with a 67/67 Serra Avatar…because every time he drew me out, I fished the artifact I needed out of the graveyard with the 3rd ability, sacing a multiplied goat from the 2nd ability, recycled the deck, etc, etc, etc.

The match lasted well over an hour and it’s still one of my favorite memories playing.  Ridiculous, but fun.

Legacy Goblins

I think this is my favorite deck. It’s actually a competitive deck in the Legacy format, though it’s not structured like any other I know of.

Legacy is famous for the super expensive cards considered too powerful for regular game play and for decklists that are designed to do one thing supremely well… Turn 1 or Turn 2 win.

I don’t play that way. I’ve only ever played this deck once competitively and when I did it confused the hell out of people. So much so, they walked away with a >~<; look on their faces. People just could not figure out what I was playing because I drew upon 4 different Red Deck Wins strategies to build my Goblins.

One game I won with Goblin Charbelcher, so my opponent sideboarded (adjusted) cards in his deck to counter it. The next, I burned him to death with Storm, which he had no counter for because he adjusted his deck to play Charbelcher.  Third game (for fun) I just kept hitting him with Goblins, because he wasn’t prepared for significant defense and I drew a lot of Goblins.

Yeah, he was entirely furious because I didn’t play traditionally constructed strategies.

But. That’s how I play.

Final Thoughts on Gaming

Typically straight up Burn…I hate Control style play.  I play the cards in front of me and don’t worry too heavily what my opponent may be doing.  I hate memorizing what EVERY card played does, though I pick up enough as I play to sometimes pick apart the threads of their strategy, but I don’t really worry about it. I never play well when I’m worried about countering moves all the time.

I don’t play Magic very much anymore. Usually I’ll play with Max.  Or with my friend Matt on dinner break at work. He’s an old school player, most of his stuff is illegal in competitive play now, but we play for fun. I don’t have a Standard deck anymore either, so it works out.

I hadn’t played in almost a year until recently when I picked it up again. I like playing it. Just got burned out on it.

That’s the thing about gaming…you can take it too far…take it too seriously…and lose sight of the fun.

I’m a competitive person, but I’ve learned winning is fun, but not everything.  It’s also fun to do silly things just to have done them. Like with my Goats. Ridiculousness.

I like it when a game can let you play with serious, focused intent. Allows the glory in your victory as you crush all your foes with wit and power. That’s fun. And then lets you hardly even pay attention to what you’re doing, chat, do cool things, make interesting plays, do the unexpected. That’s fun too.

You’ve reached a happy medium when you can play a game as seriously or as sillily as you like and feel equally as good about winning as not winning. When you can find like minded players to do this with.

I want to play more. Anyone up for a friendly game?