June 04, 2015

My Magic Endings

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"Every new beginning comes from some other beginning's end."

While Semisonic's "Closing Time" was one of the perennial choices of graduation songs through the early 2000s, it's that line that's stuck with me through the years.

Fated Retribution | Art by Jonas De Ro

Setting my still-unsettled teenage angst aside, looking at origins—beginnings—as a theme always leads me to endings. I'm an admittedly cynical and self-deprecating person, so it feels natural to me to think about the exact opposite of a given perspective. (My pragmatist side points out that looking at opposite points is great for exploring one's own perspective. It's healthy!) However, it isn't negativity that pulls me to consider endings when I look over my Magic beginnings: Every new step I've made with the game was also a transition—end—in how I experienced it.

And all of these endings are just another beginning.

A Third Eye Blind

"Have you seen this yet? It's pretty awesome."

I learned to play Magic in middle school. The cards were from Ice Age and Mirage eras. Tempest wasn't yet out—at least, not how I remember it. It was an old cigar box, the fancy kind with a sliding lid and glued cotton wrapping the corners. Worn, it carried a sweet tobacco aroma and a distinct smell I couldn't place.

That smell was Magic. I liked it.

Cards, mingled with some dice, penny sleeves, and an Ice Age rulebook spilled out onto the kitchen table. The rules seemed simple, though the steps to put them together revealed that wasn't quite the case. But in the span of an afternoon I had learned enough to know two things:

  • Giant Mantis was an amazing, unstoppable killing machine; and
  • I wanted to play more Magic.

That moment—that smell—is something I will never forget. But that wasn't the beginning.

It was another friend, who lived just down the road, that I kept playing with. While he didn't have the sweet cigar box and awesome dice, the cards and themes were mostly the same. More importantly, he had more cards. Those cards and the box they came in passed on to me soon after we started playing: his parents didn't find the game quite the hit I did.

That end—a friend walking away from Magic, never to touch it again—was the beginning of my life of Magic.


"When do we draft?"

The blank, quizzical look on my face said it all: I had no idea what he was talking about. I was a resident assistant in college, and had found my small box of Magic cards at home after another contacted me about "dual lands coming back."

It was true, and I was dumbfounded.

The years that followed learning the game were split between playing with the friends who played at lunch, and setting the game aside for tennis, theatre, and part-time employment. School and life were full of non-Magic too, and it should be. So the game I loved moved to the back seat, then the trunk, then the closet where I didn't really live.

But hearing about unbelievable cards coming up led me to moving it back to the front seat next to me, buckled in tightly. With my hall duties including providing fun yet educational events for students from 19 to 20-something—an oxymoron of epic proportions—I ventured that Magic, with its deep strategy and fantastic art, would qualify as educational enough to pass muster.

After leafing through my hall director's binders, filled with white-bordered legendary creatures and Ice Age rares, we agreed one event each month would count toward my goals, though I was free to schedule more and make use of the tables and lounge space.

The first event was simply a place for people to bring cards and play. I planned to share the game using my own cards, but everyone arrived with their own. Up to that point, Magic had been a schoolyard experience. It was private and intimate between a few friends over lunch or visiting on the weekends.

Magic was far bigger than I dreamed.

I was quickly taught what Booster Draft was, and began reading everything that came to MagicTheGathering.com. Without any local stores near my rural college, I discovered online retailers and, the following year, began ordering sealed product to use in events.

While my college began a flourishing Magic community (It would go on to start a campus club, with funding and even Prereleases, shortly after I graduated.) it was the end of how I played the game before. Absorbing, dissecting, discussing, and nigh-constant playing led me to decisions and decks unlike anything my friends at home had.

Magic was still exactly the game and cards we played years prior. Our games didn't match up, and our experiences began to differ too much. My friends didn't walk away: It wasn't the friendships that ended but our shared passion for Magic.

I had started down a larger path of Magic, filled with new cards, professional players, and dozens of websites of ideas, decks, and information. It was the end of Magic as a micro-world of my childhood.


"Do you have an EDH deck?"

I had been in the Washington, D.C., area for several months and found that something was missing. While keeping up with friends through online gaming was fine, my introduction to "the real world" outside of college began with 60-hour work weeks. Independence had its price, and I was lucky enough to have been earning it early.

Changing two jobs into one required a move into dense traffic, but came with that implied benefit: More people nearby than any other time in my life. After feeling out of sorts for months, I decided that returning to Magic would help.

The local game store was ten minutes away. In traffic.

When I arrived the first time, it was empty aside from a group of miniatures players. A quick check revealed that I needed to come back on Thursday: That was—and still is—when Magic players gather to just play. (Friday was the domain of Friday Night Magic—something I'd start attending a few months later.) When I arrived, the room was full. Thirty or forty players had made it out, packing the parking lot and creating a steady queue at the store's register. Multiplayer games with wacky decks and wild rules were alongside Chaos Drafts and what I'd learn was called Group Game Draft.

I took my time through the queue and discovered that Eventide had enough multicolor to satisfy my Ravnica-based expectations. While my journey into Group Game Draft wasn't long after I started going out Thursday nights, it was another format that made its introduction first. I saw a tall pile of cards next to each player, and colorful legendary creatures sitting next to each one. Lands, Equipment, enchantments, and Dragons were the weapons of choice for most decks, though Saprolings and Forests in one guy's control interested me most at first. Back and forth creatures, removal, and haymakers flew as the creature beside each deck popped onto and off the battlefield a few times over the games.

A game ended and one player took his leave: It was time to make the traffic-filled trek home. Another turned to ask me if I wanted to play. Without a deck or a clue I said as much, and Troy walked me through the rules:

  • You have a legendary creature.
  • Your deck is only lands and cards that aren't the other colors of your Legend.
  • You can cast your general over and over, but it costs {o2} more each time.
  • If you take 25 damage from any general you lose no matter what.

He asked me what kind of deck I liked. I don't recall what I answered, but the result was he placed a Crosis, the Purger deck into my hand as he brought out a Treva, the Renewer to shuffle up. With spells like Earthquake, Damnation, and artifact-based mana I quickly had Crosis swining into others. There was a Living End I suspended. There was a crucial Terror I used to make a lethal opening against an opponent. A swarm of somethings boosted by Overrun took me out from 25 life.

It was the most fun playing and losing I had ever had with Magic.

While I don't have the original, first list I created for the format, I do know which deck it was and still have the earliest version of it documented:

Stybs's Kresh the Bloodbraided (Circa 2009)

COMMANDER: Kresh the Bloodbraided
Planeswalker (2)
1 Garruk Wildspeaker 1 Sarkhan Vol
99 Cards

Ripped from the second article I wrote for MagicTheGathering.com, it was Kresh the Bloodbraided after the Shards of Alara Prerelease that I went in on. Taking opponents' best creatures, whacking them over the head, sacrificing them for some effect, and pumping Kresh in the process…it was a calling card some would come to fear.

Of course, the glass cannon approach left itself thin on its own creatures. I'm not sure I'd build a deck with that few creatures today, but revisiting Kresh is something that's been on my radar for months. The game has evolved in the past six years, and the cards available to make a deck like Kresh's shine have been piling up for me.

When the world of Commander and multiplayer opened before me, being limited to 60-card decks closed off. Now, building with new legendary creatures is being pulled against by revisiting my old favorites. I brought Rhys the Redeemed back from the abyss of old decks I'd taken apart, so now I want to relive my old favorites in mostly new ways.

It's a new beginning for playing with Kresh the Bloodbraided, but it's likely the end of both my Pharika, God of Affliction and Mogis, God of Slaughter decks. That's my question for you: What would you put into a Jund-colored Commander deck, and why?

  • Feedback via email, in English
  • 300 word limit to explain why you chose the card
  • Sample decklist (does not count against word limit)
  • Decklists should be formatted with one card per line with just a leading number, such as "3 Mountain"—just a space (no "x" or "-") between the number and the card name, without subtotals by card type (Submissions that don't follow this rule will be ignored.)
  • Name and email required (non-personal information to be used in column)
  • Your Twitter handle if you use it

Jund pulls from three colors—black, red, and green—so decks that use any or all of those colors are helpful. While I've been toying with Prossh, Skyraider of Kher using draft scraps and cards I traded for, sitting down to truly build a new Commander deck with all three colors hasn't happened in a long time. I'm looking forward to what you recommend.

Thanks for reading and replying—this week and every other. I'm looking forward to what endings you'll help me create next.



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