I. Death Omen
When I’m about to see death, I get an omen in a dream the night before. I haven’t had more than half-a-dozen death omens—my life
isn’t that interesting—and I don’t talk about them beforehand anymore. When I did, others thought I was being morbid. So I learned to
keep them to myself, and in the aftermaths, when I broke down and said “I dreamed about this!” between bouts of crying, I was
treated with sympathy instead.
Sympathy after the fact doesn’t make the death omens themselves any easier to handle, of course. Each death omen is a Koyaanisqatsi of a nightmare that
comes with sights, sounds, and smells. The last one had charred metal, the crackle of fire, the smell of burning fuel.
I received it the night before I was scheduled to fly out to Indianapolis for the Invitational. I didn’t drive myself crazy trying to figure it
out (plane trip, car ride?) or change my travel plans; I’m no fatalist, but I’d rather not make my version of “The Appointment in Samarra.”
I got off work, made it home, and finished packing as I waited for the airport shuttle. I was the shuttle’s last pickup, and I sat in the first
row next to a middle-aged man in a gray three-piece suit. A woman in a turquoise pantsuit was behind us. The driver and I were wearing collared shirts;
mine was black with white stripes, while his was solid blue with a stitched-on company logo.
The early small talk revolved around where we were going and why: Chicago on business, Los Angeles on business, Indianapolis for a card tournament. The
driver and the woman in turquoise were impressed when I mentioned the $10,000 top prize. The man in the gray three-piece wasn’t.
We were on Texas 183 West when the rush-hour traffic thickened. A plume of black smoke was rising from the side of the road. We all complained about
the rubberneckers who were slowing down traffic. We all craned our heads to get a better look.
We got it. When we were up close, we saw a single semi truck at the roadside. The short trailer was untouched, but the cab was wrapped in flames. I was
torn between curses and prayers.
“Where’s the driver?” our driver asked. He put his foot on the gas. “Why are people slowing down? You don’t want to be
next to that thing if it blows.”
We all shifted in our seats as our driver sped past the burning truck. A few hundred yards ahead, two passenger vehicles were parked bumper-to-nose,
and two men were standing outside the vehicles. I only remember one of each: a gold pickup truck, and a heavy man wearing a white dress shirt and a
red-and-blue striped tie.
“Do you see the driver?”
I checked the windows of the passenger vehicles as we sped past. “Two people, two cars. I don’t see a…”
That’s when the burning truck’s engine exploded. The woman shrieked. The suited man gasped. The driver swore and stomped the gas pedal. I
swore next level and then turned back to the woman to apologize.
She whispered back, “I was thinking it.”
I closed my eyes and made a silent prayer for the driver of the burning truck and for the driver’s family. The talk in the shuttle was uneasy
from there to the airport, and as I sat on the floor at the flight gate and goldfished my Soul Sisters deck, I wondered if the burning truck had been
the fulfillment of the death omen or if worse was yet to come.
II. 0-4: Soul Sisters in Standard
It’s just a game, I tried to tell myself. You saw death less than 24 hours ago. This is nothing.
Yet in Magic terms, I was at rock bottom. I was 0-4 in the Invitational, barely holding my emotions together. I’d chosen foolishly for my
Standard deck, piloting a Soul Sisters list that was a week behind the metagame curve, and I was facing Legacy, a format I’d never tackled in
sanctioned play. Why bother? I had my pen poised over the drop box on my match slip.
Then I thought about my mother and took it away. She isn’t going to see me like this.
The StarCityGames.com Invitational in Indianapolis was a homecoming of sorts for me. Indiana is my home state, and my mother drove from her small-town
life to Indiana’s version of the big city so she could see me, chauffeur me, spoil me rotten (she finished out my playset of Force of Will for my
birthday), and have an all-around good time over the weekend.
She’d supported me through the end of high school and through college, traveling to events with me and generally being the Magic equivalent of a
soccer mom. She may not have set up an online calendar for the rest of the world to follow like Megan Holland, and her
legendary dessert is fudge instead of cupcakes, but to me, she’ll always be the original “MTG Mom.”
Through all that time, though, she’d never seen me play a game of tournament Magic. She’s been supportive of me through a passel of
competitions—spelling bees, Academic Decathlon, College Bowl, Magic—but when I was younger, if I knew she was watching, I felt the pressure
skyrocket. Eventually I worked up the teenaged nerve to tell her, “Mom, you’re making me nervous!” I’m sure I broke her heart
when I said it, but she caught my events in bits and pieces after that, and when I picked up tournament Magic, she stayed close by but never went into
the tournament hall to watch me play.
I’ve grown up since then, and for me, the Invitational stood as the
tournament of a lifetime. I was going to take my mother into the hall, show her around, introduce her to folks, and she was going to watch me play for a chance at $10,000.
She appreciated the gesture but warned me, “I’m probably going to watch one round, and then I’m going to go shopping at
Goodwill.” I was fine with that. I can handle only so much thrift-store shopping.
After I registered for the Invitational, I walked around the floor for about an hour as she followed me on her scooter. She parked in the back of the
hall during the player meeting, and when the first round started, she was there, watching. That’s what she told me after my tournament was done.
I didn’t notice her at the time. I was too busy getting macerated by Christian Keeth and his Caw-Blade deck.
After the two-game match, I looked around for my mom, but she wasn’t in sight. Off to Goodwill, I thought. Oh well. I had more matches coming.
They didn’t go any better.
By the second round, I was missing triggers left and right. Most of the time, I merely damaged my chances of winning, but I did pick up a warning for
missing a mandatory trigger on Shrine of Loyal Legions. I lost that round 0-2, and the third was another 0-2 flame-out. By the end of the third round,
I was clearly off-center, but I had a plan: I’d ask my fourth opponent for an intentional draw. A 4-3-1 record looked to be enough to make the
next day, and we could use the time to clear our heads, get food, and prepare ourselves to go 4-0 in Legacy. I knew that at least one Legacy
specialist, Mary Jacobson, was in the 0-3 group, and I was hoping I’d get paired against her.
Even though I knew what he was capable of doing as a Magic player, when I played AJ, I felt “Grown Man Beating Up Little Kid Syndrome” for
the first time. It didn’t matter that he’s a prodigy in Magic terms; I was still stuck in a no-win situation. If I were to defeat him in
the match, my friends would say, “Congratulations, you beat a little kid.” Of course, I would be in for far worse razzing after a loss.
In my time, I’d inflicted GMBULKS on unsuspecting adults in chess tournaments and on the auction floor. I learned how the other half feels in the
first game, when I had Soul’s Attendant and Suture Priest out against his U/R Twin deck, and he kept saying in a small and sad voice, “I
don’t think I can win.” Eventually he scooped, and the sensations of GMBULKS were tempered with the relieving knowledge that yes, I could
win a game of Magic.
Sideboarding gave me Celestial Purge and Spellskite, but AJ had his own sideboarding plans, and in the next two games, I couldn’t muster enough
pressure to finish him off. In the second game, he forced me to use a Celestial Purge on an Inferno Titan, which gave him the opening he needed to
launch about 21 quadrillion token copies of Deceiver Exarch at my face. The third game went long as AJ dealt with my threats and assembled his combo,
and Into the Roil on Spellskite at end of turn led to Deceiver Exarch and Splinter Twin with two lands open to Mana Leak my Celestial Purge.
I’m pretty sure I wished him luck in the rest of the tournament as I signed my name on the form (if I was rude and forgot, I’m sorry, AJ).
Then I had my internal struggle with the drop box, which ended in this resolution:
I’m playing Round 5. If I lose, I’ll play until I win. If I win, I’ll play until I lose.
At the break, I put on the headphones, listened to “Baba Yetu” and “Iridescent,” switched Stoneforge Mystic and Batterskull into my Legacy deck, and
noshed on a breaded pork tenderloin sandwich (the meat-eating Indiana native’s version of comfort food). A hand-wash later, and it was time for
III. 4-0: Affinity in Legacy
Legacy went a little better than Standard. Here’s what I played.
The obvious eyebrow-raiser is the elimination of Thoughtcast in favor of Stoneforge Mystic. In the end, spending two mana for a 1/2 creature and a
tutored-up Cranial Plating or Batterskull is better than spending one mana to draw two random cards. The one maindeck do-over I’d like to have is
a single Inkmoth Nexus for the miser’s Thoughtseize; running just 23 mana sources is a touch too low for a deck that’s running four-drops
and no card draw, not to mention the potential for an Inkmoth Nexus to swing through the air for a one-hit kill when it has a Cranial Plating attached.
After my 0-4 Standard, I won my first three Legacy matches without dropping a game, toppling two U/W Standstill decks and then a Bant list. My second
Standstill opponent was the most fun I had at the Invitational, joking through the whole match even as I fetched up Cranial Plating with Stoneforge
Mystic and told Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas to go ultimate on him. Between the games, his boyfriend razzed him from the sidelines: “Dude, you drew
three cards off Standstill and you still lost!” He just laughed it off. Playing him really got me into a better frame of mind, and I’m glad
After I saw the standings going into the eighth round, I knew I was playing for pride; I’d dug myself too much of a hole with Standard. That
didn’t stop my last round from being a tight and exciting three-game match against Team America. In a freakish bit of symmetry, I lost the first
game but won the second and third, an exact mirror of how my last Standard round had gone.
When the standings went up, I was in 74th place. (Day 2’s tiebreaker action later sent me drifting down to 76th.) After the 0-4 debacle, I was
glad to be that high, and I found the mid-level placement to be something akin to an acquittal—I wasn’t getting more than one Open Point
out of the deal, but at least I wasn’t going home in last place, either.
The rest of the weekend went quickly. That night, I had dinner at Cheesecake Factory, where I watched young women shriek and ruin three-figure dresses
as they dashed into the rain. Sunday brought the Legacy Open, an 0-1-drop job for the Open Point to put me on 13 for the year. Then there was shoe
shopping, a bookstore, telling my mom goodbye in the airport lobby, and an uneventful flight-and-taxi combo to get home.
I saw no more death on the weekend, and I was glad for it. If I’m fortunate, I won’t get another death omen for a good, long time.
IV. A Deck I Know: Adapting Affinity to Modern
The Modern format was announced for the Community Cup, and it
sprang into existence with what I consider to be a well-formed banned list. I agree with the bannings of the artifact lands which tap for colored mana;
as Tom LaPille noted in his article, with decks like Blake McCracken’s Affinity winning Legacy tournaments
while playing Mirrodin-on maindecks, some kind of banning was necessary.
While the banning of the color-producing artifact lands certainly renders McCracken-style Affinity more fair, Stoneforge Mystic gives Affinity an added
dimension. It was down to Stoneforge Mystic or Umezawa’s Jitte for the last ban, and Wizards went with Jitte.
Batterskull and Cranial Plating say that’s a big mistake, and with Blinkmoth Nexus, Inkmoth Nexus, and Darksteel Citadel as options, that’s
the inch an Affinity pilot needs to make a monster. Here’s an early sketch of a Modern list, built to survive in a Hypergenesis world.
- 4 Frogmite
- 4 Ornithopter
- 4 Ethersworn Canonist
- 4 Master of Etherium
- 4 Stoneforge Mystic
- 4 Memnite
- 1 Etched Champion
- 4 Signal Pest
Strong sideboarding ideas include Dispatch, countermagic such as Spell Pierce, and so on. Gold cards such as Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas are much harder
to support with the color-producing artifact lands banned, so I’ve gone with a simpler W/U shell here and used the Tezzeret slots on Ethersworn
Canonist instead. Sunken Ruins or River of Tears may be the key to supporting Tezzeret in the build, but I haven’t been able to test those cards
“Affinity” is in quotation marks because there are only four cards with the mechanic on them (the Frogmite copies). It may seem astonishing
that Thoughtcast is a legitimate candidate to be dropped from Affinity lists, but that’s my take on the deck I know best.
V. Winning: Elder Language Highlander Contest Winners
The Elder Language Highlander contest winners are:
Questing Phelddagrif: Evn Tomeny
Fungal Shambler: Thomas Morgan
Stone-Tongue Basilisk: Kevin Montour
If the four of you would please e-mail me your mailing information at [email protected], along with your
original decklist for verification, I’ll be sending your Elder Language Highlander Commanders on their way.
That brings me to…
As always, thanks for reading.