I’m a happy man. Why is that, you ask? Probably too many reasons to count…but here are a few.

I’m a happy man. Why is that, you ask? Probably too many reasons to count…but here are a few.

First of all, I don’t have to start playing Vs. seriously. A couple of days before we leave for Origins, Rob mentions that on Saturday there’s the Vs. equivalent of a Grand Prix, with a bunch of slots for the first Pro Circuit tournament. He’s going to play and he wants me to play, too.

Now I have no objections to playing in tournaments that are like prereleases. But I don’t even know how to play Vs. When Rob told me about the Saturday event I had drafted Vs. exactly once (about a month ago), and the extent of my rules knowledge wasn’t much past when you smash something with an eight and it’s a five, the other guy takes some damage and turns his guy over unless he turns some other guy sideways. Oh, and at the end of the turn if you have more than one guy turned over you can only save one and the other ones are dead. Actually, they would be dead except of course that this is comic books so they’re just knocked out, even if it was Wolverine that turned them over.

So what’s a guy to do? Simple… I played Sligh, a.k.a. Burn Brotherhood. Don’t even talk to me about Fireblast – I was doing five to the dome on turn one before we even got to our build phase. The deck would have been absolutely insane if the life totals started at twenty like I kept writing down at the start of matches, but even at fifty, it’s pretty fun to dome someone for free. Some people tried to convince me to play with larger men, but I spoke with the man who knows more about swinging with men than anyone else and Mike Flores explained that since my guys are always going to have +2 power anyway (due to a rather silly ongoing plot twist), why not have lots and lots of them and finish the game before the big men come out?

The end result is that I went 6-2, which won me an enlarged-art foil Children of the Atom card, but didn’t put me in the awkward position of having to decide whether or not to take Vs. seriously.

The best thing about Vs. isn’t the game in any case. It’s knowing that whenever new cards come out I’ll look at some of them and be able to say,”Danny Mandel wrote that.” Check out the regular and foil She Hulk if you don’t know what I mean.

Speaking of Mike Flores, one thing I’m not happy about right now has to do with lesbians. They’ve disappeared on me! I’ve always had some close lesbian friends, but when I met my wife I ended up in lesbian heaven. Suddenly it’s like half my friends are lesbians, and the other half loves to draft. (Just think, one day they’ll come up with a lesbian who can draft, and you’ll never hear from me or Flores again.) From our wedding there’s a shot of us on a sofa with eight lesbians cuddled in. I get asked to be a”donor” almost every time I’m in Boston. But lately, it just hasn’t been working out. One has a new girlfriend so they’re being anti-social. Two others are traveling. Another is working crazy hours. It’s like I’m straight all of a sudden. I miss my girls. Ah well, back to happy stuff.

There’s my daughter. Oh My God is she cute. She’s almost four months old now and when she smiles my heart swells up so much I think I’m going to crack a rib.

Don’t get me wrong. Having kids is not all fun. It’s not even mostly fun. You lose sleep just when you’re old enough to need it, and you lose sex just when you’re old enough to be good at it. (That’s right, most of you aren’t good at sex. You think you are, but you’ll look back later on and realize that I was right. Heh, I love being a crochety old guy by Magic standards. Of course, I’m hoping that in ten years I’ll look back and realize that I wasn’t good at sex now, either!) But hundreds of millions of years of evolution will make most of you want to have them and then it will also make you forget how miserable early parenthood is every time your baby smiles or does something super-human like grip your finger or gurgle or poop.

Of course, I’m also happy about Magic.

Remember my article about brainstorming? One of the reasons I don’t try to build format-breaking decks early on is that I’m not good at it. I’m much better at tweaking existing decks or taking aim at a given metagame. But like everyone, I can’t help building decks and what I find often happens is that I build a bad version of the really cool new deck. I had Twelve Post long before it came out at the Pro Tour, but my version was just awful. And a few weeks ago, I put together the following deck for testing:

ConTroll v. 0.1:

4 Serum Visions

4 Annul

2 Oxidize

4 Condescend

4 Trinket Mage

4 Viridian Shaman

4 Troll Ascetic

2 Crystal Shard

4 Thirst for Knowledge

1 Bonesplitter

1 Aether Spellbomb

1 Engineered Explosives

1 Avarice Totem

Assorted land

Like Matteo Cirigliano, whose GP deck is now the talk of the Magic world, I was excited about the idea of recursing Viridian Shamans with Crystal Shard. Unlike Cirigliano, I then missed the obviously best creature to add to the mix: Eternal Witness. Instead I got excited about the ability of Trinket Mage to fetch artifact land or situational one-ofs, like Engineered Explosives to make life harder for Ironworks, Aether Spellbomb to clear away Leonin Abunas or Bonesplitter so my Trolls could punch through a fat butt. It’s cool, and there may yet be room in this deck concept for a variation that exploits Trinket Mages, but it’s just not on the same level as Eternal Witness.

The most common thing I hear about Eternal Witness is that it’s Regrowth with a 2/1 body attached. IMO, that misses the point. If Eternal Witness was a sorcery that said,”Return target card from your graveyard to your hand and put a 2/1 token creature into play,” it would just be a good card (in block or Standard). The extra mana on Regrowth and the fact that you just don’t have cards like Ancestral Recall to get back would keep it reasonable, albeit still exciting. It’s not the free body that makes it amazing, it’s the fact that by attaching a sorcery to a creature you get the ability to use the sorcery over and over again. In Standard this seems to mean Astral Slide, but in Block it means Crystal Shard and Echoing Truth.

Not only is this ability more powerful than that of Trinket Mage in many situations, it has much more synergy with the whole Crystal Shard plan. My deck only had two Shards because I didn’t see the Shard plan as being viable over the long run with all the artifact hate likely to be floating around. Instead the Shard would most likely be a two-for-one, bouncing a Shaman before it died, as well as forcing artifact-dependent decks to keep artifact removal spells in after sideboarding.

Cirigliano’s deck, of course, can keep Crystal Shard going indefinitely. Even if you manage to break it up by killing a Witness in response to him returning it and then blowing up the Shard, all he has to do is draw a second Witness and the whole thing starts over again.

So why does this make me so happy? Part of it is that I like ConTroll decks – even ones that don’t run Trolls in the main. But the most important thing is what this deck does to and for the format. By demonstrating that a recursive strategy with unbounded artifact removal is possible, Cirigliano has presented Ironworks decks that plan to run all artifact lands and just”go off” with an insurmountable problem. (The impudence of this plan is revealed in the number of such decks that didn’t even run Darksteel Citadel because they always wanted a good Pentad Prism on turn 2.) Kai Budde answer (from his article on Brainburst) was just to outdraw decks that ran so much hate, but that won’t work here, since if he isn’t bouncing Viridian Shamans to take out yet another land, he’s bouncing Witness to get back Thirst for Knowledge. No outdrawing that.

The deck raises similar issues for all the other big players in the format. One-for-one removal simply won’t beat a deck like this, meaning even Big Red decks with Flamebreak have some issues to work around. Death Cloud won’t break it. Affinity doesn’t seem able to race it without an insane draw.

Meanwhile, comments from some that this deck breaks the format seem overdone as well. The deck still has its weaknesses, such as colored flyers. Slith Ascendant and Blue affinity flyers are both serious issues. Heck, a Black beatdown deck that used flyers and Dross Prowler would have a lot of unblockable cards against Cirigliano. Mid-range control decks like this are great against combo and average control decks, but can be vulnerable either to ultra-fast beatdown or slow control decks, or simply mirror versions that are tweaked to beat them. (Cirigliano’s deck would certainly have some real issues against a mirror version that ran one Plains and could recurse a little trinket that eats up the opponent’s graveyard.)

The end result is not that the format is broken but rather that it has been shaken up. A lot. Every single deck in the format will have to evolve, including Cirigliano’s, and that means we’re in for a very promising PTQ season, with lots of scope for new decks as well as innovation on existing decktypes.

Another thing that makes me happy is that I keep getting to meet cool people. At Origins I met a bunch, including our own editor, Ted Knutson! Where else but online journalism would you know someone as long as Ted and I have known each other and then still”meet” for the first time? [Prison pen pals. – Knut, just guessing]

Finally, there’s Kaja Foglio. No, I don’t have a crush on her. We haven’t even met yet. And considering she’s married to Phil Foglio, she’s probably not a lesbian either. But did I mention what a first pick she is? From the perspective of a new business owner, I suspect that Kaja Foglio reads,”When Kaja Foglio comes into play, sacrifice one copy of your game for each consumer in play who likes cool-looking games. Those consumers discard the suggested retail price.”

Kaja just finished doing the graphic design for our second game, Space Station Assault, a fast tactical card game designed by Darwin Kastle. You get to be among the first to see a sneak peek of it! It’ll take a miracle for it to be ready for sale at our GenCon launch, but Kaja managed to get the job done super-fast and amazingly well, so now we have a chance. Even more important than the speed is the quality. How cool is this? (You have to imagine a card-shaped die cut through the outer border, by the way.)


Copyright 2004 Your Move Games, Inc. All rights reserved.


Copyright 2004 Your Move Games, Inc. All rights reserved.

Space Station Assault wasn’t our first choice for the name. Do you have any idea how hard it is to find a name for a spaceship combat game that isn’t already taken? Go on, try. Come up with five names and then do a Google search for each of your names and”game” and see what comes up. But I digress. The point is that Kaja did an amazing job. And it’s a great game, which is more important than having a great name. No one buys Settlers of Catan because the name is so intriguing.

And what it all comes down to is that I’m living the life I want to live. As each of you chooses your career, your life partner, whether to have kids, please remember that you only have one life. The difference between living an okay life and the one you dream about is huge, and living your dream is within your power. You can’t always achieve your dreams, but just trying is worth it. Rob and I may not be able to sell enough games to make a living. But we’re off to a good start and we’re living our dream.

And that makes me happy. See you at GenCon.

Hugs ’til next time,


P.S. After I finished the first draft of this, the lesbian with the new girlfriend called me up and we went out for dinner. Life is good.