CASUAL FRIDAYS #136: Epitaphs

What do you want to be known for? And what does Magic have to do with it?

This article requires a rather depressing setup. Hang in there, especially if you’re a parent or hoping to be one.

A friend of our family recently had trouble with a pregnancy, about seven months in. It turns out the child was stillborn, which meant the mother had to go through the unbearable pain of childbirth, knowing full well there would be no living child at the end of it all. (You don’t get an anesthetic in these cases, because the mother must know when to push – since the baby is unable to help deliver itself, as it usually does.)

After a few days of private mourning, the friend was kind enough to get in contact with some of us and let her know how they were getting along. The most poignant part of her letter for me was when she described what the hospital sent her – mementos of the visit, in case she wanted to keep them. Included was a blanket which she knew immediately (I don’t know how – I assume color, or pattern) was not her child’s. They had sent her the wrong blanket, and there was no way to figure out how or get the right blanket. Worse, it meant that some other poor mother, somewhere, had the wrong blanket, too.

While initially angry, this mother demonstrated amazing wisdom by finding strength in the knowledge that she was not alone in this ordeal – it happens to other people, and there is a sense of companionship on that horrible, lonely road. She hangs onto that blanket, now, as if it were her own, and it is a wonderful testament both to her and the child.

(A few minutes after I read this email, I flipped over to an Internet message board where some idiot was whining about why we had to choose between”birds” or”elves” for Eighth Edition. I gotta tell you, folks, we don’t say it enough around here: To misplace so much fury toward a game, when there are so many other pursuits and events that require our most powerful emotions, is a shame. You can play and enjoy Magic without trivializing your own passion.)

This very real and powerful incident has, unsurprisingly, put death on my mind quite a bit of late. (It doesn’t help when your young daughter is visiting with her grandparents for half the summer, and you cannot check on her every ten minutes.) It’s also made me think about the impact we leave behind us, and whether we’ve each been up to the task of life.

Like I said, hang in there – this article lightens a tad before the end.

While Magic as a game is a trivial pursuit, it has a powerful indirect effect on us. As an excuse to get together at events or online, it brings us closer to old and new friends. As an exercise in strategy, it enhances skills we may already have. As an endeavor in luck, it teaches us patience. As a fantasy-based game, it tickles our imagination and transmits a contagious creativity.

All of these things this silly little game gives us. When do we truly do them justice? Do we take each gift that the game gives us, and use it to the fullest extent?

Let me be specific. Your Magic friends – do you see them at all, outside of the game you play? I see some of mine… But heck, not all of them. There are parties, dinner dates, trips to wherever, celebrations of life, interesting conversations, that aren’t happening. That’s wasted opportunity, right there.

Or how about the skills and imagination you pick up by playing more? How does your career use your creativity, or your math skills, or whatever dimension you feel most passionate about? Are you doing (or studying to do) something you truly love? We have all made it further than that stillborn soul did. Are we using the time we got to the fullest?

Every once in a while, we as a community like to slap ourselves on the back and congratulate ourselves for being so creative.”Look at all the unimaginative, ‘dead’ people out there – how much better we all are!” Or maybe we just complain about how dead, how like those people we disdain, we really are.

I’d like to push us a little further along down the road than that. Below are ten or so different opportunities nearly every Magic player gets in the course of a Magic career. I’m not giving rock-solid life advice, here – just asking questions. I have found seeking the answers to be fruitful, and I hope you do too.

THE SPARK. When did you realize that Magic was special to you, something that was worth your time and energy? Why did it make you feel that way? Do the other things you do in life make you feel the same way?

FINDING THE FRIEND. How did you find enough players to play with? How did you connect with them? Why do you keep playing with them? When do they make you laugh? When do they make you want to scream?

KEEPING THE FRIEND. If you had the chance, would you change any of the people in your group? Would you kick any of them out? Would you leave the group entirely, and find a new group? If so, do you think this new group would want you? (Now, all high-school-essay-like, answer”why or why not” to all of the above.)

BEATING THE SUPERIOR PLAYER. When was the last time you beat someone you had never beaten before? Did you think beforehand that you would win that game (or match)? What made the difference, the last time around? Have you beaten that player since?

LOSING TO THE NEXT SUPERIOR PLAYER. If beating the last guy was so darn easy, how come you can’t handle this character? What makes him or her different? How do you need to adapt and change? Can you get this guy (or gal) to help you out at all?

THE WHINING. Why are you always so manascrewed? Why don’t you ever topdeck the card you need? Why did so-and-so get so lucky? Why do you keep losing like this? Most importantly, when are you going to cough up some guts and start working on what you’re going to do about it?

THE YOUNGER PLAYER. Is there someone over there who could use your help? Do you remember sitting in that same chair? What resources can you give this kid – cards? Advice? Encouragement? Playtest time? Friendship? Do you expect anything tangible in return?

MORE WHINING. Why doesn’t Wizards reprint every Alpha rare you like? Why do you have to choose between Birds and Elves? Why do things have to change? Why doesn’t Mark Rosewater reply to every brilliant, cutting, insulting email you write? Why do you need Mark’s approval in the first place, which any human being implicitly (and perhaps unconsciously) asks for every time he or she brings up a specific name like that? (This paragraph included.)

THE OPPOSITE SEX. How the hell did that girl get in here? Is she attached to some other guy? What would impress her? (Five minutes later…) Okay, that didn’t work. What else would impress her? Why am I trying to impress her, anyway?

OVERCOMING INSTINCTS. Why do you act like everyone else in your age group (this is good for any age group, not just the juveniles)? What would make you stand out in the crowd? What do you have to offer that no one else around you can offer? Why do you use a”snappy” signature line?

EPITAPHS: If you quit the game tomorrow, what would you want everyone to say about you on these Magic Internet sites? Would you want a Friday tribute day? Would you want people talking about The Best Fatty Ever Printed as if it was your brother? Would you be content with respectful silence? Would you be truly content if no one noticed at all?

It shouldn’t take a rocket scientist to see the parallels between these Magic-specific questions, and questions you might ask yourself in the world beyond a single, enjoyable game. You are blessed, that you have already lasted long enough to answer them, or scorn them, or just keep asking them for as long as you have left around here.

Which I hope is a little while longer, at least.


Anthony Alongi

[email protected]