Heezy’s piercing gaze knocked me back a step.
Three awarenesses befell me in that moment, their conclusions unavoidable. While all three epiphanies shook me, I was keenly aware of the
disparity between their magnitudes in terms of relevance to my current predicament. Scant few brain cells remaining, prioritizing would be crucial.
The first, embarrassingly, was my horror at the realization that “piercing” lacked a natural rhyme. Even then, I knew that escape from this noose would
generate countless stories of our song-worthy exploits. The pleasing thought of describing my daze following Heezy’s gaze was shattered by thisÂ awarenessÂ that describing my daze with an internal rhyme would be a fool’s errand, as “piercing” is most certainly the only appropriate
way to describe that wicked glare.
What about wicked? Would wicked also fit the bill?
No, I am pretty sure piercing is it. That piercing gaze knocked me into a daze the likes of which can never be rhymed with piercing.
I silently scorned myself. Broken glass flying through the air, sirens in the distance, five hundred raging Texans laying the foundation for an
inevitable riot approaching with the intensity of the Inception soundtrack (Snow globes of dreams! What imagery!), and this was priority numero uno,
according to the committee that currently seemed to be executing decisions on behalf of my brain?
A young man, possibly a gangster in training, had been thrown in a direction that had resulted in his crashing into me, sending me tumbling downward.
Could my brain really be firing so quickly that I had time during the fall to not only contemplate the other twin cracks of deafening thunder
reverberating in my mind but also to notice how the ground had been barely five feet from my chest when I was struck? This meant I had barely the
better part of half a second to be doing all this contemplating. Here I was, already contemplating how much contemplating I had time for, yet still
there remained more down to fall.
The second awareness had been that Mark Herberholz, future Magic Hall of Famer and one-third of our ” Partying-in-Kibler’s-Honor Posse,” wore reflective
glasses, glasses that revealed not only my unusually disheveled and unusually azure mane, but also the anonymous, though notably short, body hurling
inexorably towards me, sure to collide just a moment later.
Curses, Point-Three-Seconds-Ago-Patrick, why had you not reacted with the apparent clockstoppers-esque quickness we appear to now be unable to escape?
What happened to priorities? Maybe we should have been bringing up this particular awareness prior to the foray into timing with singing and rhyming with piercing?
“You aren’t going to let him talk about your girl that way, are you?” –Paul Rietzl
It had been Paul’s voice nearly a second before the haymaker that had sent the Napoleonic would-be gangster tumbling towards me, but swallowing the
absurdity of the scene felt akin to making a meal of the broken glass that had violently crashed on the pavement beside us. Most surely my brain’s
attempts to resist giving up any meaningful grip on our current situation had blocked out that possibility during Heezy’s and my search for him. Yet,
just before what appeared to be a miniatureÂ Will.I.Am,Â complete with eccentric hat, collided into me, and during the fraction of a second that followed, it was painfully clear that the lone Boston
accent at the front of the crowd was Rietzl’s. Worse still, his words reeked of provocation, as he stirred the tension between the two club-goers who
took their dispute to the streets at 2 am, when the Austin nightclub, which had thus far tolerated them as bottle-buying customers, no longer would.
“You aren’t going to let him talk about your girl that way, are you?” –Paul Rietzl
Rietzl had certainly not been inside during the spawning of the conflict, but his intuition had few rivals. Like Heezy, Rietzl was a future Hall of
Famer, so I understood how he could have deduced the absolute perfect string of words for igniting the brawl, which was until recently being suppressed by
the finestâ€”and most flammableâ€”fabric of social conventions. What I could not, at least at the time, deduce was why. Why would he do this?
Did his madness also include a death wish for the three of us?
I had no sooner tasted the initial thoughts regarding my sheer volume of thinking-time during that fall than the taste was replaced with that of
gravel, asphalt, and blood, as I’d finally reached the bottom rung in my metaphorical ladder to the ground. Even in my hyper-time mindset, nearly
instantaneously darkness enveloped me.
I shook my head, as my vision had just gone dark for a moment.
Effective communication is not about saying the words you want to say or even words that describe what you are talking about. Words used in
effective communication are just tools to inspire the listener to have an experience that gives them understanding of the ideas you seek to convey.
I looked again at my teacher in front of the class. Why did my head hurt? Also, what was he talking about? If I want to tell someone how to get to the
store, I am going to describe the exact number of miles to drive before turning. Then I will describe the exact direction to turn, and so on. What a
Effective communication is not about words that describe the experience. Effective communication is about using words like paint on canvas,
creating a picture that inspires an experience in the audience. No matter how many or how clever the words you use are, you are still just painting
a picture. The painting will never be the “thing” you are painting a picture of the experience.
I had been daydreaming, though it was quite odd, as I felt like the people I’d been imagining not only had personalities, but also have been familiar
to me for years. High school often bored me, but at least “taking notes” meant time to work on new decklists. As I studied my most recent scribbling, I
held my pencil the way I would when writing, except between my middle and ring finger, gripping it at the center.
If you want the audience to experience a windy day, saying “it was a windy day” or “the wind was blowing at thirty miles an hour from the
southeast” is not the most effective way to communicate. The audience feels nothing. If instead, you use words to paint a picture of a yellow hat
blowing off the head of an old man on a hill, you can communicate the experience of a windy day (or perhaps Nassif finally losing it…).
4 Mystical Tutor
4 Vampiric Tutor
1 Ancestral Recall
1 Time Walk
1 Paradigm Shift
1 Demonic Tutor
4 Elven Cache
4 Time Warp
2 City of Solitude
1 Mirror Universe
4 Howling Mine
1 Mox Jet
1 Mox Sapphire
1 Mox Pearl
1 Mox Emerald
1 Mox Ruby
1 Black Lotus
1 Sol Ring
1 Library of Alexandria
4 Strip Mine
4 City of Brass
4 Underground Sea
4 Tropical Island
I couldn’t really read the chicken scratch, but I could remember what I had written, so it was all good. As I struggled to find five more cards to cut,
I stiffened my ring finger, reinforcing it with my pinky. I pushed down with my middle finger, dislodging the pencil from the skin between my index
finger and thumb, as I had seen edt do so many times. Why was it so damn hard to spin a pencil around my freaking finger?! I tried again, this time
remembering to push up with my ring finger and pinky, successfully completing one full rotation.
You can’t force someone to think what you want them to think or to understand what you are saying. Effective communication isn’t about finding the
most accurate description of “The Truth.” No amount of accurate description can replace genuine experience. If I say the dog has four legs, two
eyes, a tail, fur, a tongue, and is alive, what has been communicated? Yet, all of these things may be “accurate.” If I instead say the mutt had a
coat black as coal, eyes that seemed to glow in the dark, little tolerance for those infringing on its territory, and an undying loyalty to its
master, much more useful “truth” is conveyed, even if the description is not as “strictly” accurate as the previous.
I turned the page to the latest set of custom cards I had been working on. My handwriting was hieroglyphic, but somehow I knew what everything said
despite its illegibility. Playtesting cards was an important part of design, and as much as I loved playing Magic, I loved designing cards even more. I
knew it would take years to perfect the craft, but designing cards worthy of being real Magic cards was worth years of practice, if that is what it
took. I began jotting down a list with some of the new card ideas.
Good old 26/62. Jamie Wakefield would have been proud of this list, which might pass for an adaptation of his Brothers Grimm deck, though I knew I
would have to trim it to 60 before playing any games. I sat contentedly, basking in my self-admiration for realizing the synergy between Ratchet Bomb
and Hex Parasite, as well as Life’s Finale plus Haunting Echoes. Still, there was no denying that my “A” Game was ripping apart people’s hands and
dropping tough threats like the Nighthawk and Lashwrithe.
What to sideboard was an interesting dilemma. I did not yet know what other decks in the meta would look like, but black had been among the best colors
for sideboarding for a while. Improving removal, discard, graveyard hate, sweepers, high-powered victory conditions, and more, one cannot fully
evaluate a black deck without taking into consideration its sideboard. If there is one thing I have learned, it’s that when it comes tosideboards, fifteen is better than zero .
Something was off though. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, but there was something very confusing at work here. Although at the time, I did not
give a second thought to how strangely Despise read, I could sense on a subconscious level that something was… amiss. Still, if there was one
thing I knew about Despise, it was that it made for an excellent staple and would make an excellent uncommon to fill out the set. It could hit most of
the top cards people played, including:
And this was only scratching the surface. With no shortage of good targets, Despise could team up with Inquisition of Kozilek to consistently provide a
level of cheap disruption not seen since Cabal Therapy was legal. After all, what deck doesn’t play good creatures and planeswalkers? As two and two
crashed into each other, unmistakably making four, I tried to hold onto reality with an effectiveness on par with trying to hold onto rain. It appeared
the existence of planeswalkers had caused yet another problem, this time with my grasp on the space-time continuum.
Would a master explicitly say “The protagonist was passably creative, but going insane?” No, that merely gives the audience the experience of
hearing someone say that the protagonist is those things. The master would instead paint a picture whereby we would witness the protagonist’s
creativity, while seeing first-hand her descent into madness. It would be us deciding she is creative, and it would be us deciding she is slipping
away from sanity. We would then have the experience of her as those things, rather than the experience of being told she is those things. When we
hear someone say she is them, it is about as effective as someone telling us to “Be Creative.” That is someone else’s experience, it is external,
we don’t “know it.” When we hear a story that leads us to see for ourselves that she is those things, it is our idea, our understanding, our truth.
If we are inspired, it is “our” inspiration.
I shook the cobwebs from my head. Losing always hurt, but this time my head was throbbing. I slowly meandered through the hallways leading away from
the room where I had just been Balance-Zuran-Orbed right out of the junior division of Pro Tour Dallas (ahhh, Dallas…). How had it ended this way?
Though it was my first Pro Tour, I had gone undefeated in the Swiss with a version of Jay Schneider’s “Sligh” strategy. This proved to be the breakout
deck of the event, and I was the first player to Top 8 a major event with a Mono-Red deck. I had been making history. What happened? It hadn’t even
occurred to me that any non-first finish was a mathematical possibility.
Now, as I walked alone through the labyrinthine passageways, Weissman, the color commentator’s, words echoed in my mind.
“You did well, but you should have Strip Mined on turn 1 that game where you were stuck with it as your only land…” Â
What did he know? And what did he mean that this didn’t “count” as a Pro Tour Top 8? It was bad enough to have lost my shot at the title, despite
utilizing Pro Magic’s first mana curve and inventing Ball Lightning. At least Brian Hacker had given me the props I so obviously deserved. The
blue-haired inventor of “Beatdown” had introduced himself to me and congratulated me on my finish, noting that he had much respect for my love of the
beatdown. He also noted that my parents, who had been reluctant to allow their sixteen-year-old son to go gallivanting around the world playing Magic,
would likely sing a different tune, now that I had thousands in scholarship money to show for my efforts.
I reached the door leading to the main hall and hesitated for just a moment. The door was labeled Blood-Crank, which wasn’t only peculiar but was
hauntingly familiar. Blood-Crank? Where had I seen that before? I ran my fingers across the sign, the indentations of each letter serving only to
further compel me to try to locate the missing memories in my mind.
Bloodchief Ascension plus Mindcrankâ€”that’s it! If one can power up the Ascension, Mindcrank makes the first point of damage or card that goes to
the opponent’s graveyard lethal! Triggering Bloodchief Ascension would be even easier than before, as Volt Charge and Tezzeret’s Gambit provide
proliferate while attached to effects you could want anyway.
A turn 1 Ascension, after gaining a counter on turn 2 from a burn spell, could easily trigger turn 3 with a Volt Charge (adding two more counters).
While this is decent on its own, a turn 4 Mindcrank would make almost any game event lethal for our opponent. Bloodchief Ascension could totally work
on its own in the games where you don’t draw Mindcrank, but the trick is figuring out how to get real value out of Mindcrank without Bloodchief
Ascension (or finding ways to tutor up your Ascension). Mindcrank is pretty awful on its own, as it mills so inefficiently that it’s generally not
going to finish milling before the opponent dies from actual damage. Still, it’s a cute interaction, and it’s a very fine line between “Great Wall” and
My head felt like it was in a Mindcrank. What was that throbbing? Why did it sound like a marching band was performing a half-time show in my frontal
I pushed aside the anachronistic Magic card references, sauntering into the main hall like only a sixteen year old canâ€”oblivious to how
ridiculous he looked in JNCOs with pant legs 44 inches in circumference. I surveyed the landscape. All these people, all this life. I was struck with
the odd thought of how strange it would be if there were no spectators, no crowds, no side events. What a queer thought?
Chris Pikula, had just Top 8ed the PT and motioned to me to head outside with him. Hacker and Pikula were two of my idols, so both of them Top 8ing the PT was just
mind-blowing, but as I made my way to the door to meet him, I couldn’t help but wrestle with a tiny little germ of an idea that was eating away at my
I had experienced dÃ©jÃ vu before. Who hasn’t? This was different, though. Were Pikula and Hacker already role models, or was it not until
later that they would begin to have a tremendous impact on me? The very notion of trying to remember whether this was the right time for these events
began to detach me, reminiscent of that moment wherein one realizes that it is not normal to be talking to King Arthur on a spaceship and that
something is missing regarding reality.
Pikula silently nodded, then opened the door for me. It was surprisingly bright outside, like staring directly into a light bulb, but closing my eyes
didn’t seem to block enough light. It was a windy day, with the winds blowing at thirty miles an hour from the southeast. I ran my hand through my
hair, then pulled my hand away quickly. Slimy? While my mind had been elsewhere, the texture was such a stark contrast from what I had been expecting
that I was flung from the train of thought I had been riding, falling to the ground.
Falling to the ground…
Conditioner. Had it really been that long since I had hair long enough to wash that I had forgotten how? With an impact like hitting cement, I felt the
force of the hard truth. I’d never washed the conditioner out of my hair during my shower a mere thirty minutes ago. I must have used conditioner,
intending to rinse it out after using body wash. The phone ringing had disrupted my routine (as surely it could not have been my fault…).
How had I not noticed earlier?
I walked across my bedroom to the mirror on the wall. Short hair was supposed to be easy to maintain, but no one ever spoke of problems like this. I
suppose not everyone has brain damage either, to be fair.
What was I trying to remember?
A layer of grime coated the mirror, leaving it far too filthy for a discernible reflection. How strange. That makes no sense. Why would it be so dirty.
I tried wiping it away, but it was like looking at one’s reflection in a piece of steel, scratched and blemished.
I turned away, fingers running through what little hair I had once again. No questionâ€”it had to be conditioner. It wasn’t like my head was
bleeding or anything. Exiting the bedroom, I opened the closet door, removing a towel, and proceeded to the bathroom. As I ran my head under the
shower, washing out the conditioner, I thought back to the suggestion of adding black to the Deceiver Exarch + Splinter Twin combo, from Chapin’s Monday article.
He had combined the Pyromancer Ascension list he and Flores had worked on with the new Deceiver Twin combo, which made me more interested in Standard
than I had been in months. It was torture, seeing mana ramp replace combo decks in the metagame, but it looked as though we might finally escape from
that fate. I saw how much overlap there was between the two strategiesâ€”after all Pestermite + Splinter Twin saw occasional play in Extended out
of the board of Ascension. Still, jamming the Deceiver combo into a PA deck didn’t seem like the only way you could do it. The plethora of good black
discard effects seemed a better complement to the strategy, offering reliable ways to proactively clear the way and ensure that the combo would stick.
It was a pleasing notion, using a control shell, instead of a pure combo one. Despise is slightly better than Inquisition of Kozilek in some decks, but
this deck really wants to take removal and permission. Sea Gate Oracle was a perfect fit, helping dig for the combo, as well as providing a backup
target to Splinter Twin for value. I couldn’t wait to unleash this monster on those unoriginal netdeckers and their Caw-Blade, RUG, and Valakut decks.
After drying my hair off, I grabbed a hat and ran downstairs. If I was going to make it to RIW Hobbies for FNM, I was going to have to hurry. I
sprinted across the street towards the parking lot where I always left my car, but one of my shoes was untied. I’m not saying I am not a little clumsy,
but to step on my own shoelace in the middle of the street was exceptionally awkward, even for me. As I began to fall in slow motion, I saw the truck
heading towards me, its driver texting someone, something no doubt very important.
“Dude, dude, get up. Are you okay?”