It’s A Big Bag, Chief

Can Rizzo bridge the gulf betwixt casuals and pros? You bet he can… With a little support from Rizzo fans McKeown and Flores.

Stop being so casual, yet quit being so competitive, damnit. Casual play is made up of retarded guys who suck at Magic, while tourneys are filled to capacity with win-at-all-costs kamikazes, right? Actually, both groups will fit into one bag of Lay’s Potato Chips…

The average Composite rating of the Tuesday CMU attendants: 1900

The average Composite rating of the non-tourney Saturdays at Sean’s cribbo: 1565

No wonder I’m a friggin’ enigma. On Tuesdays I have to be prepared to be roundly lambasted (it’s done out of love I keep telling myself) for first-picking the wrong card in a Rochester draft. On Saturdays I have to be prepared to watch Sean, Anthony, and Andy first-turn main-phase Brainstorm and/or Boomerang irrelevant permanents at even more irrelevant moments. Comparing Tuesdays and Saturdays is sort of like watching Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy back to back.

On Tuesdays, the CMU fellows don’t feel they have to walk on eggshells when they see a mistake. They can let their wrath be known loudly, clearly, and oftentimes painfully. On Saturdays, I sometimes have to tie myself to the chair with nylon rope and assorted restraining devices to keep from falling out of said chair when I witness some truly insane play errors.

Tuesdays at CMU with Morrie:

I usually show up about six p.m. to find Aaron Forsythe, Andrew Cuneo, and some combination of Andrew Johnson, Eugene Harvey, Ron Kotwica, and Mike Patnik in some sort of game-related game. After a few "Sup Chiefs" and a couple of "Sup chiefs," additional semiserious gaming ensues. In the next thirty minutes or so, Mike Turian, Nate Heiss, Scott Teamann, Dan Silberman, and a cast of thousands enter stage left and join the fray.

You might have heard of Aaron and probably know Cuneo from the cool thing he did at PT: Chicago. You probably remember that Johnson was one-third of PT: NY’s second place Acrobats, while Turian and his posse just won the friggin’ event, and that Eugene is simply referred to as "Eubroken." You might remember that Teamann was the reason I got a speeding ticket on the way to play the Universal Net Deck, and that Patnik borrowed my Trix deck and signed each card very neatly. You should know Nate from Mindripper, and Kotwica from the Invasion Prerelease where I thought his 7/7 first striker would die by being chumped by nine 1/1’s. You might remember Silberman as the guy who drove a million miles by himself to win a friggin’ PTQ. You won’t know the cast of thousands, but they probably wouldn’t like you anyway.

While there are a few casual games with semi-casual decks being played with an element of fun, there is always the analytical mindset floating around, damnit. Turian and I split my Five-Color deck in half and cut mustard while waiting for the rest of the drafters to show up. Aaron was making rounds between explaining to me why using a Memory Jar, Windfall, and Wheel of Fortune on the same turn was pretty good, and dodging flying Moxen and assorted broken cards during the Kotwica-Cuneo Type 1 deathmatch. Fun stuff? Sho’ ’nuff. But fun with the added bonus of playing for real thrown in.

During Extended season, which unfairly coincided with PT: Chicago playtesting, most of the guys would play The Gauntlet of 1.x Net Decks in an effort to shore up weaknesses in their decks and/or determine what they needed to do to have a successful season. While this helped me tremendously in tweaking my deck (later to be assumed to be Flores’ deck – he did build it a few days before I did, but I’m not the kind of guy to get pissy about something so minor), it did sort of split us into either the playtest for 1.x" or "playtest for Type 2" factions, which tended to short-shrift both groups – which, of course, sucked. Only after PT: Chicago did I come to realize that.

Lesson: let’s all join hands and sing a chorus of some random song from "The Sound of Music."

Eventually, we get to the Rochester, with me wedged in between Nate and Cuneo. Nate second picks a Quirion Elves to the utter astonishment of virtually everyone except me. Yes, there were a few "constructive" comments made. Not long after that, I first-pick a Repulse over hella goodies, including Plague Spores and a Sabertooth Nishoba (I think). Yes, there were a few "constructive" comments made. While everyone was setting up their colors fairly well, I was busy doing my own thing <insert that song from "Zoom" here> by picking good cards, but without much rhyme or reason. Yes, there were a few "What the hell colors are you in?" and "Do you HAVE any black in that deck?" comments floating around.

Lesson: There is no wrong way to eat a Reese’s.

Funny thing: Whenever a pack gets opened, most of the guys know instantly what card they will be getting, even if they are third or fourth to pick. While I used to have the ability to memorize an entire deck of playing cards in order in less than a minute, I’m now just an old, crotchety, old timer with a crappy memory – a direct contrast to the table full of Kreskins pulling Uri Geller-type mnemonic tricks all up in here. Since I can’t remember any exact details, I will offer a retarded example:

A pack contains Agonizing Demise, Probe, Repulse, and Recoil. Two seconds after it is placed on the table, Mike (picking third) will say "Oooh, I get Another Demise!" Aaron (picking fourth) will say something like "Come here, little Probe, you’ll fit in well with my assorted goodies." Again, I ask how the hell?

Now, you don’t have to be a genius to figure out who is getting the Wandering Stream or Overload, but how the friggin’ hell?

Twelve packs into the draft, everyone but me seems to know what all the other guys have drafted. I don’t even remember what I drafted, let alone seven other dudes. Anyway, I end up with five-color goodies or crappies, depending on how you look at it, and sit down to play Nate. Wisely using my Aggressive Urge, RepulseS, and Frenzied TillingS, leads to rotten times for Rebecca, who in this case is represented by Nate. How fair is it to Worldly Counsel for five and pull out a Wandering Giant to go along with a nice little Kavu Scout on board and a handful of Repulse and Tribal Flames? Ask Nate, who was way too busy searching for his third color mana to notice.

Lesson: Five-color goodies works very well sometimes, while three-color goodies can smack you in the chops when you aren’t looking.

Sitting down to play against Cuneo is an uneasy feeling. He actually thinks. Like every friggin’ turn. Yes, that is really unfair, and he should probably quit it, but he stands firm in his belief that thinking about the game can somehow lead to good times. I get out a lot of fat quickly and he simply says "that’s game." Can’t he ever get pissed or something? Friggin’ Iceman. Short story shorter: He comes with it, while I come back down to Earth by sucking really bad, like I should.

Lesson: Five-color goodies works very poorly sometimes, while thinking about plays before actually making them seems to work very well every time.

While waiting for my next match, I take a peek at Kotwica’s Tapper Army and am secretly glad that I don’t have to endure the torture of playing against a bunch of cards that take WAY too long to win. But, everyone else who is watching is not necessarily just kibitzing. There are comments at virtually every play, with additional rhetorical questions asked after each combat phase. "Why didn’t you tap that guy?" mixed with a few "You could’ve blocked with X and forced him to trade Y with Z," as well as a random "If you cast X first, you could’ve then done Y," all in an effort to further expand on game knowledge. And I thought Calculus was tough (okay, I never took Calculus, but it’s probably a ridiculously good analogy, maybe).

Turian sits down as my next "victim" and asks me what my next recycled article is going to be (in reference to my Revisiting The Theory of Rogue article last week). Jeez, revisit one old article and all of a sudden I’m a friggin’ revisionist historian! Well, Mike, this is also a semi-recycled article, but at least Alexander Blumke didn’t say this about me:

"…Mike Turian is the most moronic player Magic has ever seen."

Using ellipses at misleading places and taking comments way out of context is fun. Here, I’ll show you.

"…my apologies…to Friggin’ Rizzo, who I feel…I should have to apologize to for writing a poor article…A nice…guy, I love…his stuff…"
Sean McKeown

"…Friggin’ Rizzo…is…absolutely…precious…"
Mike Flores

"Friggin’ Rizzo…is…the…’Sexiest Writer in Magic’…"
Dave Meddish

"…John Rizzo…I…agree with…him strongly…"
Chad Ellis

"…John Rizzo and…that other website are…dishonorable…they are …products…of Hades…"
Aaron Forsythe

"As for Friggin’ Rizzo – His gimmicky style is…just random dumb weirdness…My advice…is READ SOME FRIGGIN’ BOOKS…And don’t write Magic articles…"
Aaron Forsythe

"Rizzo, I don’t…enjoy your articles…"
Daniel Crane

"Rizzo’s…getting tiresome."
The Ferrett

"John Rizzo…is…a flash in the pan…his light is…getting …cold."
-Shawn Jackson

See? Neato, huh? Blame Aaron for the Blumke "quote" that led me down the path of irresponsible journalism.

There are two possible reasons that I trounced Turian 2-0. The first is that I am just amazingly good at Magic and, as an added bonus, just tend to own Turian. The second is that he got mana screwed hard, twice. While reason one is more likely, I realize that reason two just might have had something to do with it. Maybe.

(Mike contends that he managed to finagle a game win from me in our match. While I don’t remember, I am willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, as after what Blumke said about him I think he needs a little compassion. And I am all about compassion.)

So, I go 2-1 against some of the best players on this nutty blue marble, which means that I get to draft the rares and uncommons. That would be very cool if it wasn’t for the fact that I bought at least two cases of Invasion and have currently given about a hundred Invasion rares to friggin’ Net-resourceful readers. Oh, wait, there were foils in the draft, too. Okay, Becky is all down with the good times. While I don’t have a foil fetish (well, maybe a little) like Deranged Dad, I do have about a thousand and I think it’s cool to build all-foil decks that beat on everyone at Sean’s cribbo.

Aside: I really hate the expression "nutty blue marble." I hate it so much that I am thinking of making it the name of my column just to piss myself off.

Nutty Blue Marble

Nutty Blue Marble

I am Toby’s fear of hated idioms.

I ended up with foily Demise, Thornscape Apprentice, Sabertooth Nishoba, and a few lands, as well as one-third of all the uncommons. So what, you ask? Well, so nothing. So there.

Now, drafting is neat, but the CMU fellers won’t just let it be. Aaron started a mailing list composed of said CMUers for the purpose of dissecting said drafts. "Why did you take X over Y?" and "Nishoba is good, but don’t build a shrine to him yet" are discussed in an effort to figure out the small things that make a player even better. Jeez, how friggin’ good do these guys want to get? Well, as the saying goes "you can’t be too rich or too thin." Or too good at Magic. Which segues very well into the next part…

First there is Sean who, um, shall we say, has his own way of looking at things. Some rules even apply to him, although taking damage from an opponent’s Black Vise is optional. And God forbid you blow up some of his land with a Dingus Egg out. And don’t EVER try any of that "I’ll put damage on the stack and then do X" stuff. And if you are ballsy enough to use the word "stack," be prepared to run.

If you’ve ever heard the expression "attack you for infinite," it was probably from the mouth of Sean after triple Vitalizing Winding his nineteen Saproling tokens. There are not enough plastic dinosaurs in the world to satisfy Sean. He also has this nutty idea that 35/37 Elves are fun to play with, especially when they trample. And fly. And have Fear. And can’t be targeted. And stuff.

Because Sean would use a Magic strategy guide to level the legs on his wobbly desk, he sort of just plays his own "special" way. Even though he knows better, Sean doesn’t go for that "end of turn" stuff. Main phase Rebel searches are quite the norm, and casting anything "in response" to anything else is not something you can expect to see Sean pull off.

If ever there was anyone more proficient at spreading the love, I have yet to meet him. Sean will ask each player how much life he has, scrutinize the board with a Bobby Fischer-like intensity, calculate future Profit and Loss statements, determine if Jupiter is properly aligned with the Great Wall of China, then bring it. Hard.

Current decks of note:

Retarded Enchantress: this deck likes to place at least five enchantments on a Yavimaya Enchantress and kill everyone by turn five.

Counter/Tim: Twenty-five counters, twelve Tims, and a boatload of search make bad times for the entire Becky Clan.

Sucky White Mage: From Worship and Cho-Manno to Story Circle, Pariah, Ivory Mask, and Fountain Watch, this deck reeks of pure, unadulterated white mages-ness. Sean often gets decked when he plays this. Literally.

Too Many Hymns: Megrim and too much discard makes us vomit.

Failed decks: Kyren Negotiations/Furious Assault.dec that always got the combo out, but, hey chief, use some friggin’ creatures! Coalition Victory.dec with all the Apprentices and Harrow as the lone win condition. Token Insanity.dec that makes tons of tokens but just dies to a friggin’ Dry Spell or Tremor. Sean builds twelve or so new decks every friggin’ week, then gets pissed when they don’t win after being played once and never tweaked.

Number of tournaments played: Zero

And then there is Andy. He likes to draw cards. A lot. So much, in fact, that he only stops playing card drawing spells when he runs out of mana. Sometimes that doesn’t even stop him. The following is not unusual for Andy:

Untap. Draw. Main phase: Brainstorm. Frantic Search. Dream Cache. Brainstorm again. Sage Owl. Inspiration. Raven Familiar. Relearn Brainstorm. Brainstorm again. How much mana do I have left? Okay, Prosperity for three. During my discard phase, I’ll discard twenty-three cards to bring my hand down to seven. Your turn.

But he doesn’t always do that. Sometimes he has a Spellbook out.

Andy’s claim to fame is the Priest of Gix/Aluren/Equilibrium/Drain Life deck. It once scorched four players in four successive turns. But my version of Andy’s deck scorched two players at once on turn three. So there.

Then there was the Fluctuator/Living Death deck that just took thirty minutes to cycle through a hundred-odd cards, cast Living Death, a Thran Foundry, and cycle through again. Because he could.

Andy also likes to throw monkeys into wrenches by using Unsummon, Boomerang, and the like for no apparent reason. He seems to think that instants are called that because you should cast them as soon as you draw them.

Current decks of note:

Too Many Vises: Four Viselings compliment the first-turn Black Vise that he always seems to draw. Sunder and Prosperity help everyone to die even quicker.

Untouchables: Every green untargetable is in here, as well as way too much mediocre green life gain. This deck usually wins by boring everyone by gaining too much life and the liberal use of Thran Foundry and Repopulate.

Dragons: Every Dragon that Andy owns (about fifty) tries to come out with the help of Elvish Piper, Quicksilver Amulet, Temporal Aperature, and Mana Flare. He would always win with this deck, until we realized that he should die quickly when he dares to pull this one out.

Failed decks: None. Andy hasn’t built a new deck since Legends.

Number of tournaments played: two. The Nemesis Prerelease, where he "trimmed" his deck down to eighty-two cards, and an Extended PTQ last year, where he was likely the only guy using Overgrowths to cast his Rancored Ornithopters.

Anthony, on the other hand, lives for cards that say "each player" or "each creature." Mind Swords. Flame Rift. Unnerve. Tremor. Pestilence. He likes to be the guy that everyone is worried about, even though he is the first one taken out just about every game. He also prefers to play "multi-duel," which entails the ritual torture of one player and only one player.

While combo decks certainly are not Anthony’s specialty, he did finally put artifact mana in his "Play me an angel then Geddon you all" deck. Another of his mind-bending "combos" was Forest/Elf. Those are the Anthony equivalent to Pros-Bloom.

Anthony finally discovered the opposite sex, thus, he still is in the "girls are cooler than Magic" mindset; kids, I’ll tell ya. He shows up when he isn’t stuck at the mall watching his girlfriend trying on ugly shoes and asking, "Do these shoes make me look fat?"

Current decks of note:

Mind Swords: Pick a guy and make him discard. Then die.

Angel/Geddon: Try to have a creature out before you Geddon.

GoblinBurn: Pick a guy and burn him senseless. Then die.

Failed decks: Like Andy, Anthony doesn’t exactly hold his breath for the latest set’s spoiler in anticipation of all the new deck ideas he can find. However, he did build a new deck after Destiny came out.

Number of tournaments played: One. The Nemesis Prerelease, where Anthony "trimmed" his deck down to sixty-three cards,and conceded out of frustration to a young kid who took about five minutes before deciding that he should sac his little Spiketail dude to counter Anthony’s Avatar of Woe.

And that’s the Saturday group. Not exactly competition for CMU, but they do have fun, as do I. Oh, before I forget…

FrigginRizzo’s current decks of note:

Friggin’ Oath: This deck does nothing much but win every friggin’ game, ever. I have built at least ten different versions in an attempt to make the deck at least need to TRY to win, to no avail. All incarnations are now a combined 35-2. If you think that’s an insane match record, rest assured that one of the two losses was due to the fact that I had to leave the game, and the other was due to Andy’s turns one, two, and three Planar Voids.

MegrimBomb: Megrim. Mind Bomb. Ill-Gotten Gains. With counters.

Foily Decks and assorted failed tournament decks: The foily decks are U/B control, R/G/w beats, and B/R kill stuff. While a bunch of one and two of’s might seem a little iffy, all of them have better than fifty percent winning percentages. The failed tourney decks have received a new lease on life, leading me to believe that they weren’t as bad as I thought. They win a little, but they really do suck. A lot.

To win at CMU, I have to have some serious good fortune rain down on me. To win at Sean’s cribbo, I simply have to outplay everyone, which, if you’ve been following along, is what I usually do. You might think that playing with guys who aren’t exactly flawless players is not good for my game, but you’d be wrong. At Sean’s, I am forced to pay attention and make the right plays all the time, for there are three other guys coming at me. I feel that this helps my play immensely, as not only do I have to play at the top of my game, but I also am able to see the many poor plays that my opponents make and figure out how to capitalize on them. Example:

Sean has a habit of casting creatures in his first main phase, even though he has been burned many times by being tapped out when I send one of his guys back to his hand. This means that I have to hold all of my removal/bounce until is absolutely necessary, which is harder than it sounds when you have to face three attack phases.

Deciding when to take damage and when to kill/bounce is part of realizing what exactly constitutes a threat. I see the usage of this at CMU all the time. Although the tricks are likely to be in short supply in a draft, figuring out when the best time to play said tricks is much easier when I constantly hone that skill by facing three additional combat phases. It’s like I get three times as much practice time; three attacks by less than stellar opponents is still three attacks and is still a hella learning experience.

Example: Deciding whether to block or take the damage is sometimes a tough call in multiplayer, but can be pretty straightforward in a duel. When three opponents are coming at you, you need to be a little less liberal on the amount of damage that you let through, whereas in a duel, you usually don’t block until you need to or can block and kill (or at least get a beneficial trade with) the attacker. Again, the multiplayer "training" helps out with doing the math and figuring out the right timing. In a duel you only have to worry about combat tricks coming from one player, in multiplayer, be assured that others who are not involved with your battle might suddenly pop out a Giant Growth if they think it’ll help (or perhaps piss someone off). While this example doesn’t seem to be of much help, it does help to train the intuition a little – as unlikely as that seems.

There is a tenet that if you want to get better you play with people who are better than you. I can’t disagree with that at all, but I can say that playing with people who aren’t at your level also has benefits: it’s still playing. In other words, it’s still experience. And the more games you have under your belt, the more opportunities you will have to make mistakes and learn how to correct them. I’ll bet Michael Granaas learns something every time he plays against his group of new players. He’s the best there, but he still can cull some nuggets that will aid him when he plays "for real." Damnit.

At CMU, sometimes I will suck much and get discouraged, but other times I will actually draft a good deck and play well. But I’ll always have fun. At Sean’s cribbo, sometimes I will suck much and be amazed that those scrubs smashed me in the teeth, but other times I will win every game and play flawlessly. But I’ll always have fun. So why is there this need to choose to be a casual or competitive player? Isn’t is possible to be both? Perhaps "Casually Competitive?"

Sure I like playing at CMU. Sure I like playing at Sean’s. No one is putting a gun to my head and forcing me to choose, so why the hell would I? And why would you?

Both groups will fit into one bag of Lay’s Potato Chips…

And you can’t eat just one.

John Friggin’ Rizzo