I Miss Melvin

Sheldon takes a fun look at some of the psychographic profiles that have developed in his Commander playgroup. Share your own in the comments!

I miss Melvin.

I’m not talking about Melvin as defined by Mark Rosewater in his second installment on Magic player demographics. I’m talking about Melvin, one of the regular players at Armada Games. Long-time readers remember me talking about Melvin in our games, and I even featured one of his decks, his outrageously fun build of Horobi, Death’s Wail. What I love most about that deck is its use of otherwise-unusable cards, like Tower of Coireall, as kill spells.

I’m carrying thirteen credits this semester at the University of South Florida (go Bulls!). It’s cut kind of deeply into my Commander-playing time. Two of my classes on Tuesday and Thursday overlap with times I’d previously be headed over to the game shop to sling 100-card decks. Then, of course, there is homework and writing, and although I love the choice that I made to return to school, I knew something would have to go. More for the timing than anything else, that’s getting to play Commander. For example, I got the cards for the changes to my decks post-Theros, and then they sat in a box for a week before I took the opportunity to actually make the changes. For those who are curious, here’s what I’m taking this semester:

ENC 1102, Composition II: Freshman Comp, focusing on rhetoric. I’m learning a great deal about how to put together arguments for scholarly writing—and navigating the DMZ that is MLA formatting. Cedric will appreciate that the class is helping me with improving revision skills (although I’m not sure how he feels about my preference for the construction "is helping me with improving" instead of "helps me improve").

CRW 2100, Narration and Description: Despite being a creative writing class, it doesn’t apply to my major, Creative Writing. I think that all the CRW classes that apply to the English degree are 3000 level and higher. This is kind of "intro to creative writing," so I’m getting the opportunity to explore some forms and styles. I’ve even joined up with a few other classmates to form a little writers’ group. We meet before class and pass around stuff we’ve written, looking for critical feedback. I’ve gotten some great tips so far.

AST 2003, Astronomy of the Solar System: I mentioned this class a few weeks back. The instructor is a big, thick-brogued Irishman who is an excellent and absolute astronomy nerd. His passion for the subject matter is infectious. His knowledge of the material is remarkable. He manages to make a lecture hall class a great deal of fun.

ENL 3334, Shakespeare from a Historical Perspective: The bad news is that this class, despite being on literature and in the English Department, also doesn’t apply to my major (which has a heavy literature requirement). The good news is that it fulfills a Humanities requirement (probably because of the historical aspect). The better news is that it’s awesome. The professor is deeply knowledgeable (she’s a doctor after all) and has a deep affection for both the material and film (which we have in common). Studying both the plays and the historical influences on them adds a layer of perspective that I had simply never considered. I love this class so much (and I’m such a Shakespeare nerd) that I’m considering writing a paper called "Merchant of Venice: Festive Comedy or Not?" just because it would be cool to do so.

Gretchyn, my wife, recently asked me what I had learned so far in all my classes that surprised me. I told her that it was the duality that Shakespeare wrote into his main characters. Previously, I had thought most of Shakespeare was pretty one-dimensional. I was wrong.

Anyway, I miss Melvin. He’s a strong player who is mostly interested in having fun. He’s unapologetic about killing you when he can, but he’s never mean about it and it’s never on turn 4. He’s way more interested in creating board states that evoke laughter. He understands the mantra of "build casually, play competitively." He’s always friendly, smiling and joking (although he can be quite cutting when someone deserves it—and you’ve hung out in game shops; you know there’s plenty of deserving going around), helping create that sense of community that’s made the shop my favorite place ever to play (well, favorite place that doesn’t have alcohol—I suppose my favorite place to play is where I can get up, reach in the cellar or pull a bottle off the bar, pour something for everyone, and carry it back to the table).

Fortunately, there’s no tragedy in this story. It’s just that Melvin’s schedule at work has changed, preventing him from coming to League and the games that break out for hours beforehand on Thursdays. He shows up occasionally as he’s able, but we always know when his seat is empty.

Before you think this is some sonnet to the fair youth, it’s not only Melvin that I miss ("I Miss Melvin" just seemed like a catchy title). There is a whole host of colorful characters that have come in and out of the shop during the four-plus years that Commander has been a huge thing there. Being there less often myself means I notice more when it’s been a while since I’ve seen someone. We still have loads of fun and great games, but there are some folks who I like to hang around with that I see less and less.

Life happens. The clientele of the shop is heavily rooted in the university community. A four-year program means people move here, study, graduate, and move on. Folks with jobs change schedules. People change jobs. Some get great offers and move away. People get into relationships or get married (and have children), creating different demands on their time. Some people—as insane as it may sound to you and me—give up Magic.

The fluid nature of the community got me thinking that even if some of the faces change, the community’s values don’t since we have a strong core. When new players come in, we share with them the things we like and the things we don’t. We learn from them their values, incorporating them into our own. Thus, a society has grown over time. The group, uninterrupted by revolution or a major paradigm shift has developed along a gentle, ever-upward sloping arc.

Thinking about this (and MarRo’s archetypes) got me thinking about how certain archetypes have evolved in our group. Some are directly related to individuals who have fostered a style, some are true consolidations of many players. I’d like to take a fond and lighthearted look at some of them.

The Melvin: As we’ve already discussed, Melvin is the always-laughing, fun-loving, wacky-but-effective deckbuilding type. The Melvin is never to be underestimated. The Melvin will never say "I’m sorry, but . . . " and is more likely to say "taste it" with a smile.

Kyle McDole: Not the name of an actual person, the Kyle McDole is a highly sociable and reasonably likable player who for previous sins, real or imagined, gets (to some extent) unfairly gang piled whenever they play. Although it sometimes gets voiced out loud, new players frequently somehow learn by osmosis the mantra "kill Kyle" and in the absence of other choices attempt to do so.

The Apple: Based on one of our current regulars (who has recently gotten married, so congrats are in order), The Apple is another fun and friendly figure. He is most often somehow associated with coffee and/or beer culture. Whether he’s brewing someone else’s at Starbucks or brewing his own at home, he’s the player who likes to play strong conventional strategies and rely on well-known card combinations, like Merieke Ri Berit plus Intruder Alarm. Since The Apple is a complete hippie, he enjoys keeping everyone in the game as long as possible. He will sometimes go to great lengths and personal sacrifice to make it happen. Somehow, The Apple manages to always ramp, even with Esper decks.

The Random Guy: Not the derisive term used in some Magic circles, The Random Guy is someone who rolls dice to determine who to attack (even if he’s not playing Ruhan) or target with his spells. Even when he makes the decision without rolling the die, all bets are off on who it’s going to be. Random Guy has different algorithms than the rest of us do, so we have to change our own threat assessment process. "I don’t need to keep blockers back because it doesn’t make sense for him to attack me" can turn out bad for you with Random Guy at the table.

The Fortino: This archetype is strongly suggested by brothers Aaron and Michael Fortino, owners of Armada Games, but has other influences. The Fortino is deliberate, considered, and careful. The Fortino will rarely attack without significant reason. Never does The Fortino just "attack for two." The Fortino does deep calculation on every significant change to the board state. While having a good sense of humor, the sharp-witted and sharp-tongued Fortino is unamused by attempts to speed up its pace of play. The Fortino will respond to "I’m not getting any younger" with something like "that’s what I’m counting on."

The Agent of Retribution: No slight is too trifling to not be answered by The Agent of Retribution, who has a long and precise memory. Having attacked The Agent for two, dropping him from 40 to the precarious life total of 38, you must now pay by getting your tapped Krosan Verge Wasted. Prepare to mount a full defense after dealing the final damage to The Agent of Retribution in a previous game. Casting Fracturing Gust is an invitation to earn a lifetime’s enmity from The Agent of Retribution.

The Wass: Affectionately named for now-living-in-Seattle former League regular (and still frequent contributor to the Monday Night Gamers discussion) Michael Wasserman, The Wass is a Vorthos variant. The Wass enjoys creating mind-twistingly insane and face-clawingly epic board states, especially things that involve numbers greater than 50, such as "mill you for 50" or "attack you with 50 Goats" all the while cackling hysterically. If you are having trouble locating The Wass, simply yell "Goat Post!" It will be unable to resist responding by yelling it louder.

The Horse: The Horse is named for the blinders that create its inability to look to either side of it or across the table. The Horse sees its own cards and its own cards only. Occasionally, it may catch faint glimpses of blockers in the way, but it disregards them all the same. The Horse can sometimes be spooked into an all-out attack on an unsuspecting third party.

Bogart, Not Boggart: Named in honor of League regular, Monday Night Gamer, and fellow Dogtoberfest Pet Costume Contest judge Keith Bogart, BNB creates powerfully thematic decks based on themes no one else has considered exploring, like banding. If you see players scratching their heads a great deal, it’s more likely a BNB in the area than lice. The surest way of spotting a BNB in the wild is the other players repeatedly picking up its cards, reading them, and trying to figure out WTF they do.

Shrug: The most phlegmatic of all archetypes, Shrug enjoys the social aspect of the game and will often be seen amid the action conversing with other players about current movies, school, anime, Warhammer 40k, and how awesome Game of Thrones is. When its permanents are destroyed or killed in combat, Shrug simply engages in its namesake gesture and dutifully puts them in the graveyard. Shrug’s favorite words are "sure," "okay," and "whatever."

Michelle: Okay, Michelle is a person (who has been a great help in my first month at school), not in any way an archetype. I just wanted to take the opportunity to remind her that I completely murdered Rofellos.

There is a brief view of some of the profiles that we’ve seen develop in the years we’ve been playing in what turned out to be an outstanding environment. We’ve seen good folks come and go, and we’ve seen a spirit develop. I’m sure other groups could develop their own psychographic profiles. Look around at the people you play with and think about how your group or community has developed. See if any of our profiles match up with yours. Maybe post in the comments some of what you come up with.

I was sad to miss covering Pro Tour Theros (and from what I understand was an awesome trip to Dublin), most especially to miss the Hall of Fame inductions of friends and colleagues William Jensen, Ben Stark, and Luis Scott-Vargas, three great champions as well as three great human beings. Congrats to them all. Congrats also to our own Sam Black for his great run into the Top 4. I suspect that it won’t be the last time we see him there. Finally, kudos are in order to the French team, both Pro Tour winner Jeremy Dezani and finalist Pierre Dagen.

Next week I’ll have a new "Other People’s Decks" feature, one that challenges an assertion that I made just last week. Tune in next Wednesday to find out who and what!

Embracing the Chaos,


Facebook = Sheldon Menery

Twitter = @SheldonMenery

Food and Wine Blog = http://discoveriesinfoodandwine.com/

If you want to follow the adventures of my Monday Night RPG group (in a campaign that’s been alive since 1987), ask for an invitation to the Facebook group "Sheldon Menery Monday Night Gamers."