Introductions, Part II: Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Blue

Note: The following entry was originally posted in October 2007 on my MTGSalvation blog.

Date: January or February, 1995. I’m sitting in my cousin’s bedroom after having just returned from the mall and buying our first Magic cards. We’d both seen some guys playing it at school (we’re high school freshmen) and thought it looked like fun.

At first, I was a little hesitant to spend my money on trading cards; whereas my cousin came home with two Revised Edition starter decks and a few booster packs, I ended up with just one starter deck, and Bush’s Sixteen Stone CD.

We try our best to decipher the rules and each build something resembling a deck. At this point, we know nothing about the five colors’ strengths and weaknesses, so I choose to try and build a blue and green deck, since I like the actual colors.

Being accustomed to playing card games that allow you to simply draw and play your Ace, I keep dropping my creatures into play without paying their mana costs. Oops. A guy at school has a card called Shivan Dragon that’s 5/5. I got this thing called Craw Wurm that’s 6/4, so it must be just as good, if not better.

Somehow, we interpret the “all mana in opponent’s mana pool drains into your mana pool” text from Drain Power to mean that my opponent loses all his life points and I gain all his life points. We know this can’t be right, but neither of us can figure out what else it could mean, so we continue to play this way, and I continue to win for UU.

And that would be the last time for several years that I could say I was winning games by paying UU. A few days later, I saw a Force of Nature (“He’s 8/8!!! Bigger than Shivan Dragon!!! And he has Trample!!”) and soon discovered Keldon Warlord, Royal Assassin, Sorceress Queen, Sengir Vampire, Johan, Dakkon Blackblade, and Sol’Kanar the Swamp King. I wanted to play creatures, and I wanted to kill creatures. Blue’s creatures were crappy (“Leviathan is huge, but I don’t want to sacrifice my lands!”), and other than Serra Angel, so were White’s. Besides, cards like Counterspell and Circles of Protection were cheesy, cheap ways to play. Anyone playing said cards were immediately scorned in my playgroup (if they were any good, anyway; if we could easily beat them, we didn’t care as much).

     

I couldn’t figure out why anyone would want to play blue or white. Swords to Plowshares?!? Why would you want to make your opponent GAIN life? Boomerang a creature to its owner’s hand? Um, okay, they’ll just play it again next turn. No thanks, guys; I have Terror, which takes care of things more permanently, WITHOUT giving my opponent extra life. Besides, my creatures are bigger.

The only blue creatures that I liked were ones that could copy other, better, creatures. Vesuvan Doppelganger seemed good, and so did Clone.

     

Date: Autumn 1997. I’m sitting at Legends, a small hobby shop inside Towson Town Center mall, ripping open packs of Tempest on the day of its release. In my first few packs, I open the one card I was really, REALLY hoping to open: Rathi Dragon. I’m already playing 4 copies of Balduvian Horde (“He’s Juzam Djinn but better because you don’t lose a life every turn!”) in my mono-red burn deck, alongside 4 Kindle, 4 Fireblast, a single Hammer of Bogardan I managed to trade for, and hopefully I’ll soon be able to get a Thundermare too. Rathi Dragon will fit perfectly into my scheme of haste creatures (Suq’Ata Lancer, Viashino Sandstalker) and burn.

     

In addition to a few packs, I bought this new thing called a “preconstructed deck,” which is neat because it’s a deck that’s already made and ready to play. There are these creatures in the new set called “slivers” that help each other, so I bought the preconstructed deck called “The Slivers.”

     

 

A short while later, when playing the precon for the first time, the card that sticks out at me as being very powerful is Lobotomy.

I had stopped playing Magic at the very beginning of 1996 (just after receiving a box of Ice Age boosters for Christmas!), and didn’t start playing again until September of 1997, when I started to recognize the power of control. My mono-red deck, while based mostly around hasted creatures, often sat back with a handful of burn to deal with any threatening creatures. I also had a tendency to get my opponent within burn range and then just sit with a Fireblast or two in my hand, waiting until my opponent was on the brink of killing me, at which point I’d proceed to sac some mountains and win the game. (The flavor text of the Alpha through Fifth Edition version of Shivan Dragon comes to mind.)

It was around this time that I started entering tournaments at the local mall, and I got my first DCI card. Unfortunately, while my playgroup referred to my mono-red deck as “The God Deck,” (we’d never heard the word “Sligh,” and the term “Red Deck Wins” had not yet been coined), I performed horribly at the weekly tournaments. I had never even heard of a sideboard, and when I did, I refused to build one. I didn’t think it was fair to change your deck to specifically hose someone else’s.

People use the term “on tilt” to describe a situation where a player loses early on and subsequently plays poorly throughout the rest of the tournament. Where tournaments are concerned, I was “on tilt” from late 1997 until about 2002.

Date: September 1999. I’m sitting in the cafeteria at Villa Julie College, teaching a classmate how to play Magic. She’s playing with my mono-green beatdown deck, using cards like Argothian Wurm and Rancor. I’m using this red/artifact deck I built based around Wildfire and a lot of artifact mana, with support from Masticore, Cursed Scroll, and Covetous Dragon. I had actually happened to take a look at an InQuest magazine and see that a deck really similar to mine won a Pro Tour, piloted by a guy named Kai Budde. I only recently started playing again; the second half of senior year and then my first year of college were filled with too many distractions. Over the summer, I bought a few boxes of Urza’s Saga and Urza’s Destiny, and was hooked again. I heard about a card that people are calling “the best creature ever printed.” It’s called Morphling, and I can’t figure out why it’s so good. It’s a 3/3 for five mana, which is nothing special. It does have a few good activated abilities. I guess that’s why it’s good. Another creature people are raving about is Masticore. I pulled a foil one from a pack, and then I sold it for $30 to a guy at the weekly tournament at Towson Town Center mall.

     

On Tuesdays I play at a store called Strategic Castle, where I recently saw a blue green deck that used Deranged Hermit with Equilibrium to make tons and tons of squirrel tokens, and then use Gaea’s Cradle with Stroke of Genius to make you draw your entire deck. Apparently, this is what’s known as a “combo” deck. A friend of mine is trying to get all the cards to build this deck.

     

In the meantime, I’m working on a combo deck of my own. It uses Oath of Druids to get a Serra Avatar into play, which I then Fling at my opponent for the win. I run Bloodshot Cyclops as a backup to Fling, and Sneak Attack as a backup to Oath of Druids. I’m planning on picking up the last few cards I need at the prerelease for the new set, Mercadian Masques. Speaking of which, I heard about this card in the new set called Two-Headed Dragon, which I can’t wait to play with!

Yeah, that Fling deck never worked out. I was probably just not playing it correctly, and then I got tired of it too quickly. But it was my first attempt at playing combo.

Date: July 30, 2002. Today is my 22nd birthday. It’s been almost three years since I last played Magic (not counting a trip to the Invasion prerelease in 2000 where I didn’t have the money to play and didn’t really know what I wanted to trade for). For the past few weeks I’ve been reading some articles online about the current tier 1 decks. Last month, I found a website called MTGNews where people talk about Magic strategy and all kinds of stuff. They gave me some advice about a casual Reanimator deck I’m building. It goes: turn 1 Dark Ritual, Entomb a large creature (Reya Dawnbringer, Laquatus’ Champion, Iridescent Angel, and Penumbra Wurm are my current favorities), and then play Exhume to get that creature into play on turn 1. Crazy fun!

     

I’m at a card shop called Walt’s Cards, where I’m trading with an awesome group of guys for a bunch of commons and uncommons for the Standard deck I’m working on. It uses Wild Mongrel as a discard outlet to get Anger in the graveyard, fueling a hasted fast creature beatdown, supported by Browbeat. It’s not long before I see the light, and I’m switching the red out for blue: Wonder, Circular Logic, Careful Study, Æther Burst, Merfolk Looter… I can’t believe it, I’m actually playing Counterspell!.

It didn’t take long (about a month, if I recall correctly) before I was playing a Hunting Grounds deck, packed to the gills with cards like Repulse, Exclude, Mystic Snake, Wrath of God, etc.

     

However, slinging a few permission spells here and there does not a blue mage make, and I still had a few more stops on the road to favoring Islands.

Date: December 2002. I’m at my friend’s apartment, playing Magic on his living room floor. I play a turn 1 Duress, followed by Innocent Blood, Chainer’s Edict, and Mutilate; meanwhile I play out my Cabal Coffers and Mirari, then Corrupt him to death.

     

I had been bitten by the control bug, and my next deck was MonoBlackControl. I posted entirely too much on the MBC thread over at MTGNews, but it was good because I felt like I had really mastered this deck.

I can’t say I switched over to playing control exclusively; I had a good run with a Goblins deck during Onslaught block.

As per my usual pattern, I stopped playing for a short time in early 2003, but started back up again in the summer.

Date: September 20, 2003. I’m in Virginia at the Mirrodin prerelease, trading for Troll Ascetics and Solemn Simulacrums.

Date: Early October, 2003. I’m sitting in the food court at White Marsh Mall, where six years earlier I was playing my first Magic tournaments. I’m in the process of ripping open 72 boosters of Mirrodin on my 30 minute lunch break from work, hoping for Chrome Moxen.

Date: December 2003. I’m at Barnes & Nobles, playing with a Mirrodin-only MonoBlack Control deck using Extraplanar Lens, Promise of Power, and Barter in Blood. It’s nowhere near as good as my Odyssey-Onslaught Standard version. I’m working on an affinity deck using Broodstar as finisher.

And of course, everyone knows who was released in Darksteel. I think I managed to get a playset for ~$20.

Date: June 13, 2004. I’m with Ryan, a non-Magic-playing friend of mine. We’re at the movies to see Harry Potter and the Prizoner of Azkaban. He mentions a card game he heard about called VS System (Ryan’s a huge fan of comics), and asks if I’ll play with him if he gets some cards. I recently found out that Joe, my best Magic-playing friend, would be moving from our home state of Maryland to live with his dad in Texas, so I figure I won’t be playing much Magic in the foreseeable future. So, VS System, I’m in. In fact, within two days of this conversation I’ve bought a box of Marvel Origins and I’m trading for $25 Sabretooths.

     

I’m not going to lie; I loved playing VS. Having been a Magic player, I carried over a lot of the same strategies and was able to play the game at a higher level than most of my friends at first. A lot of times people would ask me if VS was a better game than Magic. And while VS did have certain aspects that I liked (its resource system, specifically), I could never quite say that VS was a better game, even though I was playing strictly VS and absolutely zero Magic. In hindsight, I realize that what I liked most about VS were the friends who played with me.

Occasionally I would be at a VS tournament and see some people playing Magic, and I’d take a glance at what was happening, and peek at some of the new cards (some Japanese set, or something). It was a lot like being out and seeing an ex-girlfriend; you want to look and see if she’s better- or worse-looking than she was when you were dating. Honestly, from what I could tell, Magic was just as good-looking as she ever was (and she’d mostly gotten over that whole “metallic world” phase).

I started to entertain the idea of a little Magic on the side…

Date: May 21, 2005. I’m by myself at the Saviors of Kamigawa prerelease. I’ve never gone to a prerelease without my friend Joe before, but since he’s been in Texas now for several months, I don’t really have a choice. None of my other friends play Magic.

I’m waiting for my flight to start when I hear a familiar name over the intercom, being told that his round is about to start without him. As it turns out, Chris—a guy who’d started playing Magic along with me in high school ten years earlier—was playing Magic again and was at the Saviors prerelease. Wow, awesome. We chat and make plans to get together and play.

And when we did get together, Chris absolutely smashed me with a monoblue control deck. It didn’t matter what deck I played. He’d counter anything relevant that he couldn’t steal with Vedalken Shackles, and win with either my creatures (under his control), or Meloku the Clouded Mirror. I wanted to play this deck. (I also loved the Unhinged Islands that Chris was using in his deck.)

     

Chris showed me the power of blue. For so long, when I thought of powerful decks, I thought of powerful creatures, or fast creatures that would win before the opponent had a chance to stabilize. Even having used blue to supplement certain strategies (UG Madness, Hunting Grounds.dec), I’d personally never really thought of blue as a force unto itself. I’d seen monoblue decks before, but never like this.

It took more than ten years from that first day playing Magic (incorrectly) and winning with Drain Power, but over the years—picking up bits and pieces of various strategies, feeling confident as I answered opposing threats (rather than playing a threat and worrying whether or not it would stick)—I’d finally learned to stop worrying and love the blue.

Because seriously, why should I worry? Now I play my threats with counter backup.

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2 responses to “Introductions, Part II: Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Blue

  1. I love this post. Brilliant. For anyone who doesn't know I'm the opponent in a lot of these scenarios. I was probably doing something obnoxious the whole time we were playing too. I mean, the 14 years we have been playing. 🙂 Hooray for nostalgia!

  2. So after this blizzard, what say we throw down at my apt for old time’s sake. *I wonder what I did with that MBC deck???*

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