Memoirs of a Magic: The Gathering Grinder (Part 1/4) – Wisdom Fae Under the Bridge
“The biggest fish in the river gets that way by never being caught.” – Big Fish
I’ve been thinking of writing on this subject for a while, but I couldn’t find an effective way to condense it into a single article without it being merely a series of deck lists over an 18 year period and some vague remarks. In the end I’ve split it into a series of articles, each discussing different periods of my time playing Magic: The Gathering. If you’ve started reading this for my weekly Standard list, you’re out of luck – all I’ve got is a stock Mardu Green deck. If you fancy a trip down memory lane though, then I’ll do my best to keep it entertaining.
Living Death – 1998-2000
These were the first two years I played. To begin with I just messed around with random assortments of cards including a mono-black deck with 84 cards and loads of big monsters. I remarked once that the deck would be good if it could play its creatures for nothing, and my mate told me about [card]Recurring Nightmare[/card] and [card]Living Death[/card].
Bizarrely, this was a defining moment in my life, as if it had not been for this encounter, and the subsequent project that was my [card]Living Death[/card] deck. I doubt that I would have been all that bothered about playing Magic, and as such my life would have been drastically different (virtually everyone I know is from Magic, with the exception of people from Warcraft, and some people from university.)
The original was a mess with [card]Morg Thrall[/card] and [card]Vampiric Hounds[/card], and I can’t really remember much about the specifics. It ended up with something like this in the end…
[deck]4 Birds of Paradise
4 Wall of Blossom
1 Monk Realist
2 Avalanche riders
1 Shard Phoenix
1 Verdant Force
1 Phyrexian Plaguelord
1 Deranged Hermit
1 Sliver Queen
2 Spike Feeder
1 Spike Weaver
1 Tradewind Rider
1 Raven Familiar
1 Uktabi Orangutan
1 Coffin Queen
4 Survival of the Fittest
1 Living Death
2 Recurring Nightmare
1 Oath of Ghouls
2 Vampiric Tutor
2 Diabolic Edict [/Deck]
21 land including colourless utility lands, 4 [card]City of Brass[/card] and 4 [card]Reflecting Pool[/card], and 15 sideboard cards, most of which were crude like [card]Perish[/card] or weird singletons which might be useful to tutor for.
Quite the metamorphosis. The deck was really interesting to play but also difficult – I didn’t play any tournaments with it, which is fortunate as I would have been demolished, I’m sure, but I did play loads and loads in the shop. The game had started to change from something I played to pass the time before our roleplaying game started, to something which I thought about in a problem solving capacity, much as I did war gaming. The hook was in.
“The Bargain deck” – 2000-2001
My very first tournament was the Nemesis Prerelease, and I needed quite a bit of pushing and prodding to go. Ultimately it made sense as I was essentially practicing for events I’d never go to otherwise, and I might as well play the tournaments. My Living Death deck had rotated out of Standard. I needed loads of pushing to stop thinking about playing it in old extended, and to play something new instead.
What I wanted from [card]Living Death[/card] was a combo deck, which was unfortunate, because it was actually just a midrange deck with excellent inevitability. I loved playing it, though, so that was fine. However, I wanted to try and play an actual factual combo deck this time.
This was the second deck I played.
Jon Finkel – Invitational Kuala Lumpur 2000
[deck]4 Academy Rector
4 Grim Monolith
3 Voltaic Key
3 Tooth of Ramos
4 Soul Feast
4 Vampiric Tutor
2 Yawgmoth’s Will
4 Dark Ritual
4 Skirge Familiar
3 Yawgmoth’s Bargain
4 Peat Bog
4 Phyrexian Tower
3 Remote Farm[/deck]
4 Phyrexian Negator
1 Circle of Protection Red
[card]Splinter Twin[card] it was not. Instead it was something like Storm, but full of absolutely incredible spells, in Standard. The deck could kill you on turn three sometimes, four regularly. Because I had played loads of Warhammer before I played Magic: The Gathering, I was able to do the match book maths required for this deck better than other people in the shop, and ended up being the only person who could really play it, despite not being very good in general.
Like all the best combo decks, this is full of insanely powerful cards, and total crap. What the deck aimed to do was get a [card]Skirge Familiar[/card] into play at the same time as a [card]Yawgmoth’s Bargain[/card] then draw cards for life, discard cards for mana, cast [card]Soul Feast[/card] with the mana for life, pay the life to draw more cards, eventually draw a [card]Renounce[/card], sacrifice all the permanents it had in play except the two combo pieces, trade those in for more cards, discard them for mana to cast [card]Yawgmoth’s Will[/card] and end up casting enough [card]Soul Feast[/card]’s to kill the other guy.
One of the strangest things about both of the decks I have discussed so far is that [card]Duress[/card] must have been totally instrumental in resolving the important cards. Yet I distinctly remember hating [card]Duress[/card], not knowing when I was meant to cast it, being massively frustrated when they had more than one counterspell when I did cast it, and so on. That will be the lack of talent I discussed last week, I suppose…
Fires – 2001-2002
Other people had noticed that while I could sort of half play constructed, I was still ridiculously bad at limited, and that this might well be because I had played decks where the strengths you learn in limited were less important. In other words, I couldn’t attack or block properly. So the following deck was suggested to me…
Fires of Yavimaya
[deck]4 Birds of Paradise
3 Jade Leech
4 Llanowar Elves
3 Two-Headed Dragon
2 Dust Bowl
4 Karplusan Forest
4 Rishadan Port
4 Chimeric Idol
4 Fires of Yavimaya
4 Saproling Burst
4 Assault // Battery
[deck]4 Kavu Chameleon
2 Reverent Silence[/deck]
This deck later got [card]Shivian Wurm[/card] which was excellent because it was a 7/7 man which got back your [card]Blastoderm[/card] before it faded away, and returned [card]Flametongue Kavu[/card] so you could kill more of their stupid blockers.
I really, really liked this deck. This was also the point at which I started to get reasonable at limited, in addition to randomly doing well at old extended PTQs, and making the final of a block PTQ playing Go-Mar (which was old school Esper Dragons, a pun on the decks finisher [card]Dromar, the Banisher[/card]). By the end of this period, I had graduated from being the shop new guy and bad player, to annoying, foul mouthed aggressive guy who thinks he’s good… but on the bright side, I was at least mediocre.
Trenches – 2002-2003
I also had my own group testing team now, in addition to playing with Rob Brooks a couple of nights a week. Bradley Barclay, Jon Isaacs, Jamie Ross and I considered ourselves the “new guard”, as Gary Campbell et al were dialing it back a bit. A big part of the problem with this was – of course – that without actual adults to take us anywhere, even if our expected ascension had come it remained unclear what it was we were ascending to. Winning the local draft, perhaps? I was 16, and the oldest, so none of us were learning to drive, easy jet was barely in the skies and every single train journey cost a fortune.
In practice I don’t think we played that many tournaments this year, and I only dimly recall playing Trenches (a Jeskai Control deck based around [card]Goblin Trenches[/card]) at Nationals that year, as well as a handful of Odyssey Block PTQs in which I duked it out with Monoblack control, and towards the end UZI (a Blue Black control deck with [card]Upheaval[/card] and [card]Zombie Infestation[/card]).
I top 8’ed some stuff here and there, but generally speaking this was a very frustrating year, as I couldn’t account for my success in the previous year – throughout the year – and my very lacklustre performance over the course of this year. This frustration was greatly exacerbated by having made the final of the block PTQ the year before – a tournament in which I crushed everyone I played, including a bunch of the best Scottish players, but also Pete Norris, who had come up to win our easy PTQ – because it had become clear to me that I could win one, but more importantly that I wanted to win one.
That’s it for part one. David Inglis suggested a new feature I might add to my articles, though, and I’m going to take that for a spin (if these are considered universally lacking, then I’ll stop writing them. Please tell me).
Here’s the first “Magic Player Fable”!
The Tale of the Troll and the Cyan T-shirt
Once upon a time, there was a friendly troll who lived in circus in the far off town of Waspford. The troll, aware of his unusual choice of habitat, was greatly concerned that the townsfolk might try to kill him with fire, or goats, or short people with ginger hair and massive axes, or – much more mundanely – push him under a bus. The troll was considering moving back to his cave in Newpork where he would be safe as no one willingly goes to Newpork, so naturally there would be no bus routes, or people to do the pushing. The troll had no good reason for worrying about this stuff because the townsfolk had been nice to him for years, but the troll was weird and neurotic about being a troll.
Just as the troll was packing his trunk and waving good bye to the circus, a t-shirt merchant’s wagon lost a wheel, toppling and scattering its contents everywhere. The troll assisted the t-shirt merchant in picking his stuff up, and used all his troll strength to get the wheel back on. The t-shirt merchant was ever so pleased, and rewarded the troll with what he desired most: an enchanted cyan t-shirt of “People being nice to you, copying you, and laughing at all your jokes”!
The troll wore the t-shirt, and sure enough, the townsfolk were nice to him, and bought him drinks, and copied his mannerisms, and laughed at all his jokes. The troll was super happy that day; how wonderful his life would be now with his cyan t-shirt! The troll was happy the second day, too, as the laughs and jokes kept pouring in. as he was on the third, fourth and fifth days, and so on for a reasonable amount of time.
Eventually though, the troll wondered if people really liked him, or agreed with him, or thought he was funny. So the troll tried to take the t-shirt off… but couldn’t. Because, you see, as with all items that give you what you wish for, the item was cursed, and couldn’t be removed!
As the months went by, and the laughing, and being nice, and copying of mannerisms continued, the troll was driven completely mad, and had to be sent to the laughing academy.
The moral of the story is: “Always be yourself and don’t worry too much about what people think”. That, or “Never trust a merchant in Waspford”…
All the best!
Community Question: What deck made the biggest impression on you and changed how play Magic?
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