CASUAL FRIDAYS #83: Diary Of An Emotionally Weary Canine

Man, this site has gone to the dogs – and so has Anthony’s column! Turquoise, the Alongi family canine, details Anthony’s”Magicpalooza” week.

by Anthony Alongi

[Note from AA: A few days ago, while searching my hard drive for that list of Laffy Taffy wrapper jokes I deem terribly amusing, I found a file that astonished me. It appeared to be written by Turquoise, our family’s fine half-German Shepherd, half-Border Collie, and contained detailed knowledge of my Magic goings-on for a rather extraordinary week when I had no family commitments. What surprised me isn’t that the dog was at the computer – she answers my reader email all the time – but I had no idea she kept military time.

In any case, I am really wiped after all the Magic playing and don’t have the energy to do a column, so I’ll just use her as slave labor and collect my pay from Pete Hoefling anyway. It’s a blessed time in a man’s life, when his kids and dog are just getting old enough to do most of the chores around the house and handle his second career for him. Now if I can just get my wife to shave my face in the morning….

I am not completely certain what "A.M." stands for. I would like to think that her pack mentality would lead her to use the term "Alpha Male"; but I have a sneaking suspicion that it’s her abbreviation for "Anthony-Moron." You be the judge.]

TUESDAY, MARCH 20, 2001. 07:45.

Well, A.M.’s finally gone. I watched him drive off, after returning repeatedly from the driveway to remember his keys, then his coat, then his money clip, then his Magic cards, then his brain. Someone please remind me how homo sapiens managed to make fire a second time without writing down the instructions?

The woman and brats are gone, I think for about a week. Something about a vacation with grandparents. That leaves me alone with Einstein, which means I had better find a way to reach up to the kitchen sink and get the faucet going, if I want water anytime in the next 168 hours.

I have heard him talk about "Magicpalooza," his endearing (and by "endearing," I mean "trite and tired") Generation-X-styled term for neglecting me for seven evenings straight while he goes off to play cards with his buddies. One presumes these buddies have nothing better to do at the dawn of Spring than entertain this fool.

Despite my firm instructions to forgo these outings (whispered subliminally to him in clear, unaccented English at three in the morning, as I always do), A.M. is certainly not planning on spending much time with me this week. I believe he will kick off "Magicpalooza" tonight at his brother-in-law’s house – I’m guessing his brother in-law has also been left unattended due to this family vacation – and play some basic chaos and emperor-format Magic.

He has about six new decks, several of which he has described in recent Casual Fridays. There’s one I don’t think he has mentioned, which is simply an attempt to mess with the game using cards like Warpath, Tangle, and Orim’s Chant. I guess we’ll see how that goes when he comes back after midnight.


A.M. surprised the hell out of me by stopping by after work, before going to his brother-in-law’s. It’s a good thing I heard his car come up the driveway. It was all I could do to log off of www.spayedandsplayed.com, clear the web page history, activate the screen saver, drag the chicken carcass out of the kitchen garbage, chew it up a bit to make it look genuine, and then scuttle back to my bed in the family room before he got the front door open. (No doubt I was helped by the fact that he forgot said front door’s keys in the car, and had to go back to get them.)

Turns out he wanted to take me for a bit of a walk, chuck me some treats, and rub my belly. I have no argument with any of the above (though this new trick where I have to keep a Beggin’ Strip balanced on my nose until he tells me I can eat it is nothing short of humiliating), but it looks to me like a guilty conscience.

Anyhow, half an hour later he’s back out the door. Hope you get manascrewed, chump.

WEDNESDAY, MARCH 21, 2001. 01:30.

Well, look what the cat dragged in. A.M. made it in during the wee hours, mumbling something about how poorly his Warpath/Tangle/Chant deck did. I don’t know what he expected; the mana balance was obviously wrong, and he didn’t bother putting in any dual lands to fix the problem.

He also made mention of another game they played that evening – a board game based on Lord of the Rings. Various scenario boards, lots of cooperation between players, good times I gather. I don’t hold much stock in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, though; I never cared for those books OR the prequel, where every canine was treated as evil. Apparently, J.R.R. Tolkien was a cat guy.

So as I was saying, A.M. stumbles in, miraculously remembers to let me out for a spin around the yard, and then collapses into bed. A bit of sleep, a shower, some clothes, and he’s off again six hours later. Says he’ll be drafting at Dreamers, the store where most top players in the state hang out, and probably won’t be back until after midnight again. Is this any way to run a pack?


Oscar, the Rottweiler from across the street, swings by and relieves himself on the baby pine outside the front door. What is it with guys, anyway? Creep.


The Beige Cat stalks across the back yard. Normally, A.M. is here to hear me growl a bit about this. He gets a kick out of letting me loose to chase the cat away. I would call him a twisted freak; but I have to say I rather enjoy it, too. There’s no feeling like wiping the self-satisfied smirk off a feline’s face and replacing it with sheer terror.

Okay, maybe I get why Tolkien didn’t care for my kind.

THURSDAY, MARCH 22. 02:30.

A.M. floated in a few minutes ago, rather enthusiastic about his play at Dreamers. Apparently, he won the whole turkey bone. I wanted to ask him if more than two people showed; but before I could get that cynical he did mention it was a field of sixteen, including all the regulars. He’s pretty sure this will put his limited rating somewhere back in the neighborhood of 1800.

What seems even more important to him than ratings, though, is the fact that he has apparently joined forces with two of his casual group friends to form a Limited team on a mission to qualify for PT: New York. He’ll probably write about this in one of those Casual Fridays columns of his, or perhaps he’ll treat the matter separate from his casual play; in any case once I learn more, I’ll get it in the diary.

A.M. assures me that tomorrow evening (actually, it’s THIS evening; but I don’t expect him to follow the complex mathematical pattern of a day) the Magic action will be here at home, so I won’t feel lonely. This does make me feel better; I do enjoy jumping on guests.


Well, today’s festivities ended within the scope of a natural day! I extend to A.M. my heartfelt congratulations on making it into bed before midnight. (This is difficult business sneaking down to the family room to use the computer; but A.M. sleeps like the dead…if the dead cannon-snored, that is.)

Eight people showed to do a Rochester draft. This is a format that interests the group, since it takes a while and there isn’t often time to do it. While it sounds very formal and competitive, in fact it is one of the best formats for a casual group to undertake, since it helps newer players "get up to speed" on how to value cards and how to build decks. It’s not much fun for new players to spend an entire year getting the snot kicked out of them, never really understanding why some cards that look so good just never work and why others that seem so poor always seem to turn the game around. A format like Rochester forces conversations (you can time it to keep the ball rolling, and just give each player three "lifelines" where they can stop the clock and ask everyone for advice) that many groups otherwise wouldn’t have. Since the draft is followed by a series of duels, it also gives newer players the opportunity to test their skills in isolation, independent of group dynamics, so they can get smarter about concepts like threats and card advantage…and then apply that learning to the more complex field of five-player chaos.

Or all that’s what A.M. tells me, anyway. Is it just me, or is it weird that they guy talks so much about Magic to his dog?

A.M. did well again, and in fact he made peace with the red/black color combination that screwed him a few weeks ago at Dreamers. Of course, it helps to have Tsabo’s Assassin and Void in your deck. So his new rule is: don’t draft red/black, unless you get Tsabo’s Assassin and Void. Then, go ahead and draft it.

FRIDAY, MARCH 23. 17:55.

I don’t believe it. A.M. told me this morning that he just planned to come home and relax this evening, and that he needed a day’s break before hosting an all-day Emperor event tomorrow (Saturday). But instead, he comes home from work, gives me a quick walk…And then builds a Type II deck and dashes out the door!

He claims he needs to go to the Wizards of the Coast store in the Mall of America and see Friday Night Magic for himself, for once. Plus, he has never played in a Constructed event before (and has been somewhat mystified by his sub-1600 rating…perhaps John F. Rizzo is doing so poorly with the Universal Net Deck that it’s starting to affect OTHER people’s ratings…) and wants to see what the fuss is all about. He’s certainly familiar with how Constructed deck tourneys play out; but as my grandmother-collie told me once, there’s nothing like the cheap thrill of digging your own grave with your metagame mistakes.

He took a Fires deck. It was, he insisted, the only deck that he had close to the cards for. He felt a little guilty about taking the #1 deck to a "casual" tournament that promises to have more 16-year-olds bopping around than a junior prom; so he toned down the sideboard so that he could experiment with some "fun" cards. I think this is a big mistake; but we’ll see.

SATURDAY, MARCH 24. 00:45.

Yup, big mistake. It was the largest Friday night turnout the store had seen (thirty-plus), according to the employees, and the average age was young but certainly higher than sixteen. A.M., if he is to be believed, fought valiantly to make top 8. He encountered a random color-change deck (and A.M. was inordinately pleased with himself that he had thought to put two Distorting Lenses in his sideboard), a black-red rush deck, and a Skies deck. Only the Skies deck took a game from him; the other six games and his own ineptitude were no match for the raw power of the Fires deck.

I have to say this dog is rather fond of Fires herself; any deck that features four of a huge jelly-covered dog that can climb trees (oh cats, where will you hide now!) and slowly fade off the leash so it can get some peace and quiet can’t be that bad. But according to A.M.; it is a little boring to play, simply because so many other decks can’t deal with it. It’s a huge step forward from the days of combo-based Type II decks that didn’t care what the other player did – can the Magic community really complain that a creature-based deck is dominating the field? – but at the same time, it would be nice to see ANOTHER creature-based deck that could give Fires a run for its money.

In top 8, he finished off a Skies variant; and then ran into a dead-serious Nether-Go deck that just brutalized him. The sheer countering power of Nether-Go, and the fact that A.M. had opted NOT to put more than one Urza’s Rage in his sideboard, were the end of him. Yes, we all knew sideboards were important going in. Yet another data point for the regression analysis.

A.M. also told me about this movie he had seen after the tourney finished. At first, I was in a blinding rage that he had not come straight home when he could have! But as I calmed down, I heard his capsule review for "Enemy at the Gates": good, not great. Would have been better without the sex-in-overrun-Stalingrad sideline. (Female militia member, fine. Female militia member who must be a love interest, less fine.)

We’re both looking forward to the Emperor event, now. Enough with this duel silliness!


A.M. woke up this morning around ten, with barely enough time to shower, get dressed, and pile me in the car so we can go grocery shopping for today’s all-day Emperor event. He buys summer sausage and cheese in enough quantities to get me as excited as a blue-black mage on the wheel in a Rochester draft who sees opened Barrin’s Spite, Fairie Squadron, Duskwalker, Annihilate, and Urborg Drake…because I KNOW some of that goodness is coming my way. (I assume from that incredibly long-winded simile that A.M.’s rather wordy writing style is rubbing off on me. Drat.)

But to his slight chagrin, many people in his group are running a bit late. Carl shows up and the two of them play a bunch of duels (snore); and then Theo shows and the three of them, being the core of that Limited team I mentioned above, used the opportunity to practice some team sealed deck construction and strategy. No doubt A.M. will get into all of this, someday.

The fun didn’t really start until there were six people, and the first Emperor game could start. The first two games were incredibly satisfying to me: I watched A.M. on the flank of a team that just crumbled in front of Pete, Theo, and Carl. Pete still has his classic Iron MaidenProsperityEvacuation deck going; and that pretty much put the kibosh on the opposition in short order, twice. A.M.’s Super-Hippo deck has adjusted a bit to add creature removal (in the humorous form of Arrest), but this was the wrong metagame.

The Emperor madness continued. A.M. took emperor position now and tested his Punisher deck (Crosis, Seals, Misdirection, Ghitu Fire) there for the first time. With Kelly on his left flank and Pete on his right, A.M. stumbled through all right. I wouldn’t recommend to him that he play that deck in Emperor any more, however. It has too many creatures that serve as "dead cards" in his hand.

Brief aside on game culture: One of the thorniest rule decisions in Emperor (or any team) play is how much table talk to allow. The rule becomes even tougher in the presence of newer players, since a genuine desire to help out or try to understand what just got played, often interferes with a culture that prefers to keep table talk to a minimum. A.M.’s group ran up against a whopper of an issue in the middle of the game; I spent most of the argument holed up with fur shivering under the coffee table. Passion doesn’t usually run so high with this gang! But they figured it all out, everyone shook hands and licked faces and apologized.

Of course, I believe A.M. was completely wrong in his opinion (which I won’t even deign to repeat here). But I may be biased, since the guy thwacks me in the snout whenever I try to sample some summer sausage. (Summer sausage in early spring! Sometimes, homo sapiens whips off some collective genius. You boys in the meat-packing industry, keep up the good work.)

In another Emperor game, with A.M. on Pete’s right flank and Dave on the left, A.M. played some stupid but fun Draco tricks. (Anyone reading this diary who doesn’t read Scrye may want to pick up a copy of issue 8.4, wherein A.M. has a brief article on a Draco deck. The deck he plays now is slightly different; but I will get into that another time, perhaps. Full disclosure: the Scrye paycheck indirectly funds my puppy snacks and chew ropes.)

The primary trick with this five-color deck, as you may know, is to get a Soldevi Adnate and Draco into play, attack with Draco for nine, and then sack it to the Adnate to put sixteen black mana in the pool…enough, with an untapped mountain, to do sixteen damage through Ghitu Fire (or fourteen at instant speed). A.M.’s intent was to hit the general in front of him with Draco, and then slam the emperor for sixteen so that the late game wouldn’t take so long.

However, an early Thrull Surgeon wiped out the only Ghitu Fire A.M. had in hand, so he had to go to Plan B: Artifact Mutation.

As Draco faced a Recoil (with Warped Devotion on the board) that would have required ditching two precious cards, the musty but fierce dragon "took one for the pack," as I like to say, and successfully mutated into sixteen beautiful little saprolings that began to gnaw at the opposing general. "Jail break!" A.M. cried out with glee – and I have to say, I had visions of a dog pound gone wild myself.

I don’t know why I found this trick more impressive than, say, infinite sliver tokens, or Avatar-Angelic Chorus silliness. Maybe it’s just this dog and her disdain for higher mathematics. Maybe the fact that you can actually put sixteen tokens out in front of you and attack looks more impressive than just saying, "sack, make infinite tokens, attack, kill you." But it’s also the beauty of the idea: decks that can deal with a 9/9 flying artifact creature usually can’t deal with 16 1/1 saprolings, and vice versa. Not quickly enough, anyway. And when a second Draco came out on the heels of the first, that pretty much put the cap on the town landfill.

Tomorrow, I hear A.M. plans NO Magic. Let’s he if he can stick to it.

SUNDAY, MARCH 25. 12:02.

I don’t believe it! The twerp just took off again. The only redeeming feature of this abandonment is that it’s not to play Magic; it’s to play basketball. A.M.’s early Casual Fridays noted how wonderful basketball is, and how physical activity is just as important as mental activity, blah blah blah. So I guess this is him just finally walking the walk.


I just finished playing four games of mental Magic with myself. Been there, done that. How is this game complicated, exactly?

I was careful to use my teeth to resleeve all of A.M.’s choice rares when I was done; I want him to really wonder how his most expensive cards, when received in near-mint condition and sleeved immediately, can still show signs of wear over time. "Bad puppy, stay away from the cards," indeed!

MONDAY, MARCH 26. 14:45.

No Magic planned for today. I am looking forward to a thorough brushing; the dust bunnies I’m creating just by walking around are scarier than the artwork on Antiquities cards.

TUESDAY, MARCH 27. 23:30.

Well, we’re back on the Magicpalooza gravy train, so I’m alone again in the evening. As I write this, I expect they are starting yet another game. At least they have decided to pick up a fresh format: 5-Color. I’ve seen lots of email come in to A.M. asking him if he ever felt like he would play this format; and while he resisted it for a while (he doesn’t care for ante), they’re giving it a trial now.

It’s a baby step they’re taking: they follow the guidelines on www.5-color.com, but ignore all ante rules. They also allow sleeves. A.M. claims that’s because no one in the group has so many rares that they can afford to just wear down and/or lose to ante; but I think it’s because he’s a wuss. Well, maybe he’ll get a spine later on, once he sees how much fun it is. (I’ve played this format with Oscar, the Rottweiler next door; and it really is surprising how much fun it is. Every matchup is a new one!)

I imagine, as with the team Rochester deal, that Casual Fridays readers will hear more about this day once A.M. gets off his hairless haunches and actually writes something for himself.


Well, this is it, the last day of Magicpalooza. Just regular chaos games, to see the week conclude. I imagine I’ll hear how the evening goes later tonight (or tomorrow morning), when A.M. gets home. The woman and brats return tomorrow, so that will be the end of the nightly festivities.

(Okay, they’re not brats; they’re wonderful and I don’t know how anyone in this family would live without them. But I do get annoyed when the girl starts a game of hide-and-seek by running up the stairs, going up in her room, and CLOSING THE DOOR – hello, non-opposable thumbs here! – and when the boy uses me as a step ladder to get up on the couch. It is a testament to how remarkable a dog I am, if I may be so immodest, that I have not impatiently bitten off the hands of either child in the year and a half I’ve been here.)

I am thrilled to have survived the week alone with A.M.; contrary to expectations, the man did feed and water me at roughly appropriate times. He’s an okay guy, I suppose; but he’ll never hear me say that to his face.

I will, however, continue to whisper in his ear while he’s sleeping, that Maggot Carrier is good in Limited, that Furnace of Rath doesn’t attract too much attention in multiplayer, and Stasis can really make the game fun if you just try hard enough.

COMING SOON: My diary will explore the existential ramifications of revised chaos theory. (Note to self: add whisper in A.M.’s ear for some updated books on this topic.)

Wet noses and slow tails,
Turquoise Alongi