Power And Toughness

Danny West returns with some Commander lists inspired by some of the toughest days of his life. Read about his remarkable struggle and see the 100-card decks he’s thinking about bringing along with him to the Commander Celebration at Grand Prix Atlanta!

We’re running out of ideas, so my wife is doing the Heimlich Maneuver for the first time in her life. She’s got her hands around my core in front of our
shower, and if it weren’t for the confusion and the pain, I’d be nothing but impressed at how well it’s working for a first go.

This is at my request. Because I cannot cough this evil out of me and I’m giving up.

For four straight weeks I’ve felt unfortunate but hardly the mythical bad everyone warns you about when you get ready to take on cancer. You have ups and downs obviously, and having a little
poison tank you fanny bag around with every couple of days between the living room, the kitchen, and the bathroom isn’t anyone’s idea of fun, but you know,
I did pretty well.

She smashes inward around my center and I cough and lurch. The dogs are baffled in the doorway. When I see the color of the throat and belly junk that hits
the shower floor, I’m a little cock-headed myself. It comes up and burns the infection in my mouth and throat. It’s snotty acid firepower coming out of my
nose, and at two or three in the morning on that long dark night after four weeks of relative confidence and success, I hit the bathroom floor and scribble
on our little yellow communication pad that I can’t take anymore.

My tongue is out of business. My mind is next to go.

A little later, we can talk about being a warrior, but for now, let’s focus on being a child.

Picture yourself as a kid with whatever that toy was, that comforting inanimate object you pretended had life and love and cared about you, the one you
hugged when you were scared. When your immune system is turned off and your wife has you seatbelt strapped into the front passenger seat of your own car
late at night, that teddy bear, that soft blanket, that best childhood friend you had? It gets replaced. My new best friend? A six-dollar bucket. A big red
bucket that I hug harder than a friend at a funeral. It’s full of wadded up toilet paper ribbon and nasty saliva and drool, the powdery remnants of pills
that couldn’t get swallowed because my throat and brain closed up shop.

For the first four weeks of treatment, I was a 30-year-old male. But right now, I’m a little boy.

There are no cars on the road, only lights, and I’d say it took forever, but honestly, time had sort of stopped already. Pain has a way of making your brain go
somewhere else when it’s storming in large enough quantities. Your cognition doesn’t shut off so much as go into a complete helpless tail spin. Sentences
and words lose their order. Sanity becomes an abstract. It’s the psychological equal to when your computer blue screens, except there’s no countdown to a
restart-it’s just brain nonsense going on forever.

Burning. Pain. Unexpected error. Shutting down.

30-year old male. 30-year old male. Obituary. 30-year old male.

I can see the street lights even though my eyes are closed. They come in orange flashes every few seconds and make the dark inside my eyes a little bit

I hug the bucket and cough nausea and madness. My wife puts her hand on my knee and holds the steering wheel with the other hand, determined to get me
help. Determined to save us both.

The Emergency Room is nearly empty. I know things are bad when I’m one of those people that when going through the automatic door, nurses get up and move
around. They put a mask on me. They put me in a chair so they can weigh me. A guy in scrubs approaches me and asks softly about my pain level. When I hug
my red bucket instead of speaking to him, he says, “ten?” and my wife closes her eyes and nods.

They wheel me into a room and help me get on a bed covered in that thin tissue paper that rips the second you touch it. Within seconds, I’ve spit yellow
highlighter all over it and filthed it up. My button-busted torn up hospital gown is already a biohazard, hanging off of me like a shark attack. Experts
appear and disappear.

“Oh my God, you’re vomiting with thrush?”

Pain. Green fluid in a trash can. Fire.

“How long have you been like this? Have you had time to recover from the surgery?”

Cracked bleeding lips. Weight loss. Dizzy and disoriented.

“Can you even speak?”

30-year old male. 30-year old male.

My wife says, “No, he can’t.”

A doctor I’ve never met comes in and says things I can’t remember, talking about nightmares and plans. Then he leaves me alone again.

My wife wipes my face and shuts the door. Every few minutes she peaks through the window blinds to see if someone is coming. No one does, and I gag out
another burning pound of whatever the hell.

Then Bryan comes.

Bryan is in his early thirties. He’s from the coast. He’s a nurse and I’ll never forget him.

Bryan puts on blue gloves and sanitizes a circular region of my thick and heaving chest.

He says, “This should help,” and within seconds, the needle is in, the sky is open, and I sit up resurrected. I’m holding his gloved hand with both of mine
and the first words I’ve said in a day are an endless filibuster of sobbing gratitude for Bryan the angel and all the science that went into that magical
moment of salvation.

A few days later, I’m frail but stable and I’ve made the tenth floor of the hospital my home. Friends and relatives stop by to bring me food and coffee or
whatever. I’m eating again, and I’m making new short-term acquaintances. Some of them are cheery all week long, others stopped moving and closed their door
after a day or two. Some of them are probably already gone.

Looking at my city from the longue window, I remember how relative luck is. It’s horrible to be fighting this as a 30-year old male. It’d be even more
unlucky at 45 or 50 when the healing has slowed and my strength is half of what it is now.

Plus, I get to have honest conversations. It’s something I’ve always gotten off on.

One nurse in particular has been caring for me for days. She can’t be more than 27 or 28 years old. Every time we have a conversation about phlegm or
constipation I remember how horrifically boring it is to talk about the weather.

One evening before bed, my honesty went too far and I put her into a misty-eyed stammer.

“Do you take this to bed with you?” I ask. “Obviously everyone needs a paycheck and I know you aren’t a volunteer here, but you could be doing something
else. I edit and coordinate content for a living. I smother myself in my hobby and its culture. Some people fix cars or cut up animal meat. When you go to
sleep at night, do you remember that you save lives? That you give comfort to people that have none? That that is what you do?”

She sniffs and nods. It’s as much of an answer as I’m going to get out of her, but it’s sufficient.

You’ve moved onto other people and other pain. But thanks again for taking away so much of mine.

When you’re fighting something like this, you’re really only two different people: the little boy and the warrior. When you wake up each day, it doesn’t
feel like you have much choice in which one you’re going to be.

When you’re the boy, you’re this buckling little needling who needs mommy or daddy. No matter how old you are, you’re the lost kid in the department store.
You need someone to buy you candy and pet your soft head while you curl up in a hospital bed and try to focus on your toys instead of your worst case
scenarios. You feel sorry for yourself relentlessly, and truth be told, as this little boy, you’re so astoundingly limp-wristed useless it makes you angry.

Fortunately, anger helps bring out the much more useful warrior in you.

Thousands of years ago, if you didn’t kill, you didn’t eat. Hundreds of years ago, if you didn’t die at forty, you died long before. Disease has always
been here. War has always been here. And if it weren’t for the fight and the will of millions of ancestral grandparents none of us ever bother to remember,
we’d all be dead a lot younger.

The next time you don’t want to suffer through a needle push or a long work day, the next time you’re down on yourself or down on your situation, the next
time you scratch your head and wonder what your purpose is for doing anything at all, smack yourself good and get on the horse.

Cave dwellers. Illiterate and exploited serfs. Teenagers sent to war.

They all taught us a little something that we still use to live just a little bit longer than the last generation did. The collective efforts of millions
of human ghosts have marched tirelessly and died so that we could squeeze another tenth of a decimal on our life expectancy.

And we owe those people.

Stand up. Stretch your neck. Push.

A lot of people had to die to get us here.

So let’s fight like warriors.

Kresh, the Bloodbraided
Danny West
0th Place at Test deck on 09-14-2015

It was a week full of painkillers and blurry memories. My friends showed up to Cube. My relatives showed up to be supportive and to give me love and hugs.
My wife showed me that that whole “in sickness and in health” thing isn’t something she just sort of said without a lot of thought.

I hallucinated a few times (it isn’t as trippy as you think, you realize stuff isn’t there really quickly after it happens), and I talked a lot about Magic
without really knowing what I was saying. One poor soul just wanted to see how I was doing, but I insisted on talking about Binding Grasp. Why the hell
didn’t I tell her about Control Magic or Volition Reins or something more playable? My wife has a now well-worn famous clip of me shirtless in the hospital bed, ranting about how you
(yes, you!) can’t possibly hope to compete against me for $10,000 in what I can only assume was the weirdest idea for a Magic event ever conceived.

And yeah, sometimes things are dark and deathly and dreary. But dammit man, you just have to learn to have fun with it.

Grand Prix Atlanta

What would I have done in the hospital without Magic in my life? What would I have done without my incredible job and the wonderful people that kept me
safe? Big-time health problems make you appreciate the great things in life. Magic is by far the most powerful non-human entity I have, and man, does it
feel good to embrace that. Richard Garfield. Pete Hoefling. Helene Bergeot. Mark Rosewater. Aaron Forsythe. Cedric. The goons that ran Inquest magazine.
The names are endless, but God, I am so glad these people exist and that they’ve done what they’ve done. Because of them, I didn’t spend the hardest week
of my life bored, alone, and depressed. I spent it inspired to build decks, to design Cubes, to embrace who I am.

I play Magic. I am Magic. And I love it.

Between Opens, GP Charlotte, and Invitationals, I’ve missed at least four major events this summer that I was very much looking forward to. Fortunately,
I’m going to make up for it by celebrating Commander and community with thousands of my Magic friends. If you’d like to play Magic with me, I’d be happy to
oblige you. If you’d like to talk about Magic, I’m all ears. If you’d like a handshake and a hug, good, because it’s been a while since I’ve seen a lot of
you, and you may get some love whether you’re prepared or not.

Did I mention my birthday is the week directly after the Grand Prix? A fitting gift, I’d say.

I’m going to celebrate. And I’m going to be a 31-year old male when I do.