Hall of Fame pitcher Satchel Paige is famous for saying, among other things,”Don’t look back. Something may be gaining on you.” But, it’s the end of another year, and looking back is an exercise that we tend to do. Especially those people who love lists. You should already be seeing things like The Ten Best Films of 2002, The Ten Best CD’s of 2002, and The Darwin Award Nominees for 2002.
I always like to take this time to look back and see what happened this year and what I’ve learned … If anything. Since this is ostensibly a column about Magic, I’ll try to focus on Magic. But, a lot of times, we learn lessons about one area of Life that apply to another.
For example, in February, I learned that discarding stuff is okay if you have a greater purpose behind it. I’m a pack rat. I keep anything that either has fond memories attached to it or that may be useful in the future. But, sometimes you gotta clear out unused stuff. During Spring cleaning, I made a few bucks, too. So getting rid of that old stuff did me some good.
As that cleaning and discarding applies to Magic, sure – we’d seen discard used well before Torment. But usually, it was used defensively. Cards like Duress stripped opponents of cards that black couldn’t otherwise deal with. And, there were always a few decks that wanted to get cards into their graveyard. Plus, Odyssey gave us Threshold. Torment, however, upped the ante and showed us that we might actually want to discard our own cards. True, only four Madness cards (out of ten) from Torment made any impact, but what an impact they made.
Take Fiery Temper. Yes, Lightning Bolt is back! Okay, yeah, you have to discard it in order to get three damage for one red mana. Not a problem, though. Just mix red with its old pal green, and put in Wild Mongrel. To make it more likely to get that three-for-one spell, toss in Patchwork Gnomes, too.
Of course, we also got the ridiculous Basking Rootwalla, too. A creature with a built-in pumping effect that you can cast as an instant for NO MANA?!? Even those of us with sub-1800 ratings could see that was going to be good.
We also learned that, no matter how much you try to skew something, quality will win out over quantity. Geordie Tait and I both cranked out a lot of words this year…. And yet, people will still rather read boring play-by-plays as long as Kai Budde involved. Kai is the Anna Kournikova of Magic. You throw his name into a piece as a way to get a hit, even if you don’t really have anything relevant to say about him. Like this whole paragraph.
As for Quality vs. Quantity, Judgment proved that it doesn’t matter how many cards of a certain color are in a set, people are going to play the best cards available. Wizards gave us Torment, which had more black cards than any other color and fewer white and green cards.”Surely this will force people to play black. There’s so many more black cards.” True, a ton of black decks began popping up – but this wasn’t due to the quantity of black cards, it was due to their quality. Chainer’s Edict. Nantuko Shade. Shambling Swarm. Mesmeric Fiend. Faceless Butcher. Ichorid. These were the makings of one heck of a deck all by themselves. Of course, green got the fewest cards in Torment (along with white) – but two of those, the aforementioned Basking Rootwalla and Arrogant Wurm, are seen all over the place.
Then, Judgment came along. Yes, the set that was going to level things off for white and green. In once sense, it did. Once Judgment was released, all five colors had the same number of cards in Odyssey block. The Phantom mechanic is incredible, and Suntail Hawk and Battle Screech were supposed to signal the beginning of a new era for white weenie decks. Alas, Quantity did not equate to Quality. Glory was pretty much the only white card that showed up on the tournament scene.
Two-thousand-two was also The Year Without Elves… Or Goblins. From the perspective of a Pro-Tour Wannabe, that may not seem very important – but to the rest of us, it was just plain sad. Sure, we had the various guys who were left over from 7th Edition. But Odyssey block totally eschewed the classic creature types for red and green. We even found out this year that we won’t be getting Llanowar Elves back in 8th Edition! Boo. Hiss.
Of course, 2002 was also the year that the Elves and Goblins came back. It just wasn’t until the very end. Thanks to Onslaught, you can’t swing an Ostracize without hitting a Goblin today. Yeah, I know that Elves haven’t really made a big comeback in Standard – but they are huge in Limited. Goblins, however, are back with a vengeance at Constructed tournaments. In fact, when you consider Goblin Piledriver, Sparksmith, and Co., Goblins have become so good that people who wouldn’t have looked at Goblins in the past two years are trying to play Sligh decks like the one Alex Smith used to win the 2002 Colorado State Championships.
Of course, I also learned this year that I just can’t leave well enough alone. (Okay, that’s actually something I knew all along, but I started getting paid to not leave well enough alone this year.) When I look at this deck, I see way too many rares. This deck is going to cost upwards of $200. I’ve been working with an all-common and uncommon deck that is just gonzo. It looks like this:
LANDS – 21
2 Barbarian Ring
4 Goblin Sledder
4 Goblin Taskmaster
4 Goblin Raider
2 Firecat Blitz
2 Raging Goblin
OTHER SPELLS 19
4 Reckless Charge
4 Volcanic Hammer
4 Lava Dart
Since this deck doesn’t pack the thinning, fetch lands Wooded Foothills and Bloodstained Mire, we want to be able to use those extra lands that we might get. (It’s tough to think of having”extra” lands in a twenty-one land deck, but it happens.) That’s where the 5″X” spells come in. People are constantly asking me why I always have Blaze in my red decks. I can’t count the number of times that my opponent was three and could kill me the next turn when I drew a Shock instead of a Volcanic Hammer. Or she was at four and I drew the Hammer. If only it had been Blaze, I could have ended the game.
I also learned – or, rather, relearned – that Goblin decks really should pack Goblin King in the sideboard (if not the maindeck). Remember, Engineered Plague out of that black sideboard is really, really bad for Goblins.
Oh, and one other thing while we’re on the subject of Goblin decks. Please, please, please, start putting a single Forest in your main deck if you’re using Wooded Foothills so that you don’t get hosed up by enchantments. (Obviously, this is for Naturalize or Tranquility out of the sideboard). Most of you red mages are thinking,”The only enchantment that I care about is Circle of Protection: Red, and Flaring Pain handles that.” That’s partly true. Flaring Pain can stop COP: Red for a turn or two. But what if you can’t make an alpha strike in time? COPs buy the white mage a lot of time. Also, Worship can just smack you upside the head. Flaring Pain does nada against Worship.
This was also the year that The DCI shook the very foundations of Extended. My reaction? Yippee! I could never really compete in Extended simply due to cost. (Others would also point out that I couldn’t compete in Extended because I make a lot of mistakes.) Dual lands are about a bajillion dollars each, for starters. Now, except for Tempest Block, we’re playing exclusively with cards that have been released since I started playing Magic. Of course, I still only have one each of Morphling and Masticore, but that’s better than zero dual lands. And I have no Cursed Scrolls, but it will still be cheaper to get four of those than to get four Savannahs.
Which led us directly to the Duress Championships. After the first of the”new,” post-Onslaught Extended Pro Tour, everyone was just absolutely stinkin’ positive that Duress would need to be banned. It was almost as if The DCI had a new rule that all Extended decks required Duress and Vampiric Tutor.
Then, a funny thing happened: Sligh made a comeback in Extended, and it ripped the lungs out of all of those black Reanimator decks. So it looks like Extended is alive and well and ready for some cheapskates like me to play it. Will white weenie make a comeback, too? Boy, I hope so.
Two-thousand-two was also the year that I got bored with Magic. Tournament Magic, anyway. For the first time in the three-and-a-half years that I’d been playing this game, I just stopped playing in tourneys. Odyssey Block Constructed bored me to no end even as it simultaneously thrilled me.
Yes, I know that seems contradictory. Hear me out.
The format had a short season. Unlike Invasion Block Constructed, however, there didn’t seem to be any new decks. In IBC, there seemed to be a new”best deck” every week. In OBC, the decks were pretty much set before the season even started. I was simply tired of playing with or playing against Blue/Green Madness and mono-black decks in every single match up.
But Odyssey block was great, too. It was the block that made me realize that the folks at Wizards R&D are extremely creative people. They may never run out of ideas. They did a bang up job with Odyssey, Torment, and Judgment. To me, Flashback, Threshold, and the Incarnations are pure genius. The Phantoms are inspired, too. And there are a ton of unexplored cards in this block.
As a matter of fact, it kind of reminds me of Urza’s block. Urza’s block was so full of good stuff that we still can’t find the bottom of it. In the Spring, I was mindlessly thumbing through a commons box with Karl Allen, Tennessee’s 2000 State Champ, before a tourney started. I came across Treetop Rangers, a 2/2 Elf for 2G that can’t be blocked except by fliers. Karl and I both said,”You know, that’s a pretty good card. I wonder why no one played it?” There was an extremely short pause before we both said,”Oh, right. It’s from Urza’s Saga.” I think there are dozens of cards in Odyssey Block that are like that: Great cards overshadowed by simply awesome ones. So, while I was bored of the tournament scene during OBC season, the casual play continued ferociously while I tried to come up with inventive ways to use Phantom Flock, Mindslicer, and Anarchist.
We also found out that Kai wasn’t invincible this year. Not that this has anything to do with anything. I just wanted to up my hit count again.
Finally, this is the year that I still didn’t get the name of the woman who modeled for Shelter. Mr. Moeller, please, send me an e-mail. I’m obsessing here.
From Right Field: How To Look Ahead
The name of the year’s first month comes from Janus, a minor Roman god whose two-faced depiction was often used to protect doors and other entrances. One face looked forward and the other back. We’ve already looked back here. So, now, I’m going to look ahead to 2003.
In 2003, Kai Budde will win at least one tournament. He will be hailed by people who like to state the obvious as”a really good player.” These people will also point out that Halle Berry is”really attractive” and that Strom Thurmond is”really old.”
At some point in the next year, you will get mana screwed. This will cause you to lose a crucial game. But it won’t be your fault, so don’t dwell on it. That’s the law of averages. However, this will only happen once this year. All of those other times that you get mana screwed, color screwed, or mana flooded are all just your fault for designing your deck badly.
Wizards will release four more Magic sets in 2003: The final two expansions of the Onslaught block, the first set of the next block, and 8th Edition. No one will be happy with all 1,000 cards. Someone will even complain about Wizards reprinting Islands. (“They’re just too powerful for Standard!”) Many people will complain about not having Llanowar Elves in 8th Edition. Wizards will counter that”we let you have a choice.” Unfortunately, they will not be listening when you point out how”Birds of Paradise and Llanowar Elves” was not one of those choices.
Speaking of which, someone at some time during 2003 will accuse Randy Buehler of liking blue better than the other four colors. Mr. Buehler will finally answer his critics with a resounding,”You betcha!”
There will be at least one card that looks completely underwhelming when it’s released. People will be surprised and shocked at how powerful it is. That card will not be Horned Troll.
Counterspell won’t be reprinted in 8th Edition. This will be Wizards’ way of showing that they aren’t all about blue. Instead, in the UU slot, they will reprint the Portal card called Piracy:
Of course, Wizards can not simply drop Counterspell. This would be too anti-blue. So, they will create a new card called:
Counter target spell. Draw a card.
A woman will play in a Magic tournament. She will be considered an oddity. At least one guy will patronizingly ask her if she plays Magic much with her boyfriend. She’ll answer,”No, I haven’t had a lot of time since Pro Tour: Chicago.” She’ll then proceed to kick his ass.
Jon Finkel will make his big comeback with a Standard white weenie deck. He will win the last game of a Pro Tour finals by swinging with a Suntail Hawk.
In an article, I will mention Logan Owens, a thirteen-year-old girl who plays Magic at our local store. She will get teased about this. But, she’ll point out how she beat me like the North Koreans beat James Bond at the beginning of Die Another Day to make her first-ever tournament finals when she was still just twelve. This will not, unfortunately, stop her Dad and Uncle from teasing her.
In the coming year, someone will win a major tournament with a deck that has never been seen before. Many local scrubs will claim to have been the first to build the deck and will flood web fora (plural of”forum”) with messages to prove that it’s their deck. Zvi will still refuse to split the prize money with them.
Finally, at the end of 2003, I still won’t know the name of the woman who posed for Shelter.
As usual, you’ve been a great audience. Have a Happy and SAFE New Year. Go, Buckeyes!