Magical Hack – All Good Things

Read Sean McKeown every Friday... at StarCityGames.com!
It is said that all good things must come to an end. Fortunately, rather than following up on Craig Jones skipping off to finish his doctorate, Matt Cavotta’s conclusion to “Taste The Magic,” or Aaron Forsythe’s conclusion to his run on “Recent Developments,” the only thing ending here on Magical Hack is… my vacation.

Welcome back to the land of the living. Now pick up a shovel and get to work!
Army of Darkness

It is said that all good things must come to an end. Fortunately, rather than following up on Craig Jones skipping off to finish his doctorate, Matt Cavotta’s conclusion to “Taste The Magic,” or Aaron Forsythe’s conclusion to his run on “Recent Developments,” the only thing ending here on Magical Hack is… my vacation. It was an interesting break, and hopefully one that will leave me a little bit more appreciated… by the readers, who perhaps can see that not just any old bloke off the street can write a quality weekly column (I know, I grabbed some), and by some of the writers who stood in for me and might begin to imagine what it’s like to put in that work week after week. Fortunately, it seems if my tenure is to end that Ben “RidiculousHat” Goodman would make an excellent replacement… so if some Friday you unexpectedly find this column renamed Magical Hat, I expect I’ll have disappeared into the fog.

Of course, the obligatory joke likely to appear on the forums about “me” and “quality weekly column” has now been foretold. I can’t wait to check the Forums and see what witticism is poured out in sufficiently derogatory fashion to welcome my return. It’s good to be back.

In the intervening break, I have had quite a profitable turnaround from the tailspin I was in, and have nosed up the crashing plane enough to at least not die a fiery death tonight. But this isn’t a column about me and my personal life, so for that you’ll have to check the footnotes*.

The topic for today could be any of a number of things. I could dig out my DraftCap stories and relish over an entire month’s worth of Time Spiral Block 4322s. I could lay down the moratorium on Block Constructed, hoping that my cryptic title above would draw enough tempting interest from those who hoped that I might be laying down the electronic pen, getting a decent click-through rate before anyone realized. I could build fake Standard decks and try to impress you with Reviving Dose, a la MichaelJ… who can’t even get it up to fifty percent in the tournament practice room against laughable decks, and then writes a column on it. Or I could write a fake column about my being invited to the Magic Invitational, but I don’t want to steal Bennie Smith’s column from a few weeks from now, that’s his gag and hopefully a fun one… but not mine, and not now.

These things seem nonsensical. People would probably actually rather hear about my personal life, because that at least is a story I could tell with some personal fire and energy, and perhaps connect with the audience on a more personal level now that you’ve had to sit through a month of stand-ins. Advice on dating is, after all, a hot topic Magic players do need more of, and recent endeavors have shown I still possess at least some pieces of technology. So instead… we’re going to talk actual technology.


Yes, admittedly the number of people who will Actually Care About This (TM) is something to the tune of three or four hundred people. But we haven’t seen enough Lorwyn spoilers yet to tell us enough useful information to even theorize about Lorwyn in Standard for States, or even Lorwyn Limited for the prerelease. Hopefully even those who aren’t playing the Pro Tour in Valencia can get a good read on this here column, and “play the Home Game” as it were.

When last we looked at the Extended format, we had a healthy format with admittedly one de-facto “best deck” by the numbers, with Aggro Loam having the best numbers overall in a healthy and diverse format. If given enough time to truly explore the wild and crazy stuff you can put together with all those Ravnica duals making sweet, sweet love to Onslaught fetches, we’d see all sorts of crazy twists and turns… and still have a healthy metagame. This was all prior to Future Sight coming along, however. Future Sight narrows the scope of Extended significantly, and those with two brain cells to rub together can easily extrapolate why:


It was once said that Psychatog would have been fairer if printed as a vanilla 5/6 for three mana. Shave a mana off of that so-called “fixed” Psychatog, and you have Tarmogoyf. Everyone and their mother and their dear old Aunt Brumhilde will be rocking the massive format change that is “stupidly efficient stuff,” as Tarmogoyf takes on the role of He Who Shall Not Be Named and sends his Death Eaters out into the world to ferment madness and chaos. Every deck in Extended now has to think long and hard about why they aren’t running Tarmogoyf, and something so incredibly format-warping as the Big Bad Goyf is bound to have ripple-effect changes. Five power for two mana isn’t unreasonable to expect if you build your deck right… the land in the graveyard is a given, instants and sorceries come cheap and powerful, and either your creature or your opponents’ will hit the bin soon enough. After that it’s just Artifact or Enchantment, and those aren’t too hard to figure a way to cheat into the graveyard on the cheap. Honest decks will do it with Seal of Fire, dishonest decks will think “Mishra’s Bauble,” and all sorts of havoc will ensue.

A fundamental rule of mine when figuring out a format change is to start with the beatdown. Beatdown decks are the easiest to “correctly” attribute, as their plans are straightforward and they tend to follow the Four or One school of design: they play the most copies of the best cards, and don’t get too tricky with two of these or three of these. Sorry, Adrian, but there is a fundamentally sound premise behind why well-developed decks tend towards the 4’s in design. Well-designed decks try to do the same thing over and over again, when they’ve figured out that this arbitrary “thing” results in winning the game. The length over which a game lasts is the clearest indicator of when a deck can stray from the path of the mighty 4’s and necessary 1’s, without showing signs of poor tuning or design… so as nice as these arguments are, they only apply to certain styles of decks.

Bennie Smith borrowed this rule of starting with the beatdown from me last week, from personal correspondence during my break, but it’s a rule I’ve espoused for the length of this series’ run here on Star City. And it’s a rule that greatly applies, as Tarmogoyf can only help increase the potency of the beatdown decks. (And the aggro-control decks, and the true control decks… okay, so he wears a lot of hats.)

Ah the joys of a foot in one’s mouth, showing this particular GP-winning list after stating that beatdown decks like four-ofs, which Raph’s deck doesn’t exactly have. This is one of those cases where threes and twos and ones get you to the same place because card similarity allows many of them to be entirely interchangeable… but imagine what this deck could do if tuned to a consistent and streamlined mix of the right cards for its plan, rather than drawing the one Lightning Helix sometimes and not actually wishing it was a Ravager-killing Sudden Shock. Tarmogoyf, I suspect, gives the deck a reason to try and do the same thing over and over. And I say we let it try, and the fact that this deck won not just one but two Grand Prix can go hang itself. After all, as Mark Rosewater likes to remind us, sacred cows make the best hamburgers.

Beatdown curve:

1 — Grim Lavamancer does good things. Kird Ape does good things. Isamaru and Savannah Lions are pretending to be four-ofs of each other, not really knowing which one is “right” thanks to Isamaru’s higher toughness but Legendary status.

2 — Watchwolf and Boros Swiftblade do good things. Wild Mongrel hangs out filling the beatdown curve, while Jotun Grunt sits back and says “hey” because he’s hard to get to hit more than once in the early game.

Altogether, we have 24 creatures — twelve at one and twelve at two. Let’s presume that it’s hard to really distinguish the split between Savannah Lions and Isamaru, calling that “correct” at two and two without logging a hundred games to see how often Isamaru’s legendary status came up as relevant with 4, 3, and 2 copies of the Hound of Konda. I’d be willing to believe given the deck’s game-plan that even as a four-of you won’t run into significant problems with the Legend rule, as the fragile but fast 2/2 vanilla beater only really becomes a problem when you draw the third copy… if then. Let’s also presume that we can stop diddling with our two-drops and name those two 2’s “Tarmogoyf.”

So far we have:

4 Grim Lavamancer
4 Kird Ape
2 Savannah Lion
2 Isamaru, Hound of Konda
4 Watchwolf
4 Boros Swiftblade
4 Tarmogoyf

Let’s also presume the mana balance is downright perfect, because Raph played and won two Grand Prix with the deck and we have no relevant changes coming from Tenth Edition or Future Sight that impact upon this in the slightest.

4 Windswept Heath
4 Wooded Foothills
2 Bloodstained Mire
2 Flooded Strand
2 Stomping Ground
1 Breeding Pool
1 Godless Shrine
1 Sacred Foundry
1 Steam Vents
1 Temple Garden
1 Mountain

In actuality, this looks a little bit suspicious to me… because there are two Islands and one Swamp, when that one ForestIsland can be found by ten of the twelve fetchlands. That one Swamp can only be found by things that find Plains and Swamps, a mere eight of the ten fetch-lands. Presuming you have three dual land spots to find, and want one “Plains”, one “Mountain,” and one “Forest” as the other half of those duals, anything that gets a Forest gets you to eight. You only get one Forest, though, and six fetch-lands get Plains while six fetch-lands get Mountains. A ForestIsland can be found by the two fetches that get Islands, bringing us to ten; same for a ForestSwamp and the Bloodstained Mires. Mountain + Plains / Island or Swamp brings us to twelve, because everything fetches either a Mountain or a Plains.

With Raph’s configuration, your Island is found by all twelve fetchlands, while the one Swamp is found by only eight. Which means that the Steam Vents should be a Blood Crypt, as you trade your “twelve” for a “ten” but improve your “eight” up to a “twelve.” Sacred cows, delicious hamburgers. Speaking of breaking traditions or bucking the “rules,” manabases are a noteworthy difference from the “four of” rule, as manabases follow their own internal requirements… especially for five-color decks. Note that this proposed use of Blood Crypt doesn’t accommodate sideboard cards, which might dictate which color should get paired with the Forest and which with the Plains + Mountain; Raph’s deck had Meddling Mage in the sideboard, making the proper split Overgrown Tomb versus Steam Vents + Hallowed Fountain, because you actually do want to spend Blue mana sometimes. (Raph also had Engineered Plagues in his sideboard, but those are looking a bit outdated nowadays… creatures have the creature type Lhurgoyf, and are bigger than the 0/1 size as printed.)

This leaves us room for exactly sixteen spells… eight of which are dedicated as the “Domain” spells that crank up the power of Ravnica Block’s marriage to Onslaught Block, Gaea’s Might and Tribal Flames. Raph had the remaining eight spells as five burn spells and three pump spells; I’m going to go out on a limb and say that we actually want to bow to our lord and master Tarmogoyf and lock four of these spells in as Seal of Fire, regardless of the ‘sometimes’ utility of Umezawa’s Jitte, Brute Force or Armadillo Cloak if you get the ‘super lucky’ draw of your one-of on a Swiftblade to abuse it. We’ll presume that the justifications behind Sudden Shock have gotten better, not worse, and start with it as our four-of other burn spell.

In actuality, however, building this deck gives us some odd twists upon the “consistency” rule of four-of, and not just because we can’t choose between Isamaru and Savannah Lion. If we really, really wanted to avoid the Legendary drawback, we just pen it in as four Savannah Lions and we’re good, with our nonland cards all nice, neat four-ofs. However, to pump our own Tarmogoyfs, we have a mess of fetch-lands (check), a pile of 24 creatures (also check), four Enchantments, eight Instants and four Sorceries. We can’t easily replace the enchantments… they only let us run four Seals of Fire, not seven or six or whatever we decide we want for improved Tarmogoyf-functionality. However, we can split that to six Sorceries and six Instants, just by shaving off the worst Instant (in this case the ‘does two for two’ rather than the ‘does five or ten for one’) and adding in the next best Sorcery (Firebolt), giving us the following:

There, Adrian, are you happy? Did you win? There are two’s in this refined, sleek decklist. Still no three’s though, because while the two’s are correct in context, the number three would be flat-out wrong. Tarmogoyf is a man with his own rules about consistency, after all.

This deck is startlingly good. This deck also requires a surprisingly complex decision tree for a beatdown deck, thanks to the fact that it has to harness its manabase properly to cast its spells and properly plan in advance for how it’s going to get the full Domain active, including that one half-Island or half-Swamp that doesn’t actually cast any spells. Tarmogoyf is a good man, and the only thing that makes him even remotely fair is that the opponent gets to have him too.

Aggro Loam easily throws in Tarmogoyf as an afterthought, happening to be the best man for their plan of breaking your lands and your men with Devastating Dreams. Replace your Werebears if you still had them and probably find some room for Treetop Village somewhere and call it a deck. Preparing for the Pro Tour can be so exhausting sometimes.

What’s more interesting, to the point of my discussion, is realizing that Tarmogoyf is going to be everywhere… to the point where it begins to truly warp the format with secondary effects altering the value of other cards. In a world where you have to prepare for five-power men on turn 2 from any deck along the speed spectrum, cards that deal with them effectively go at a premium. This means two cards that push the envelope when it comes to seeing things dead: Smother, the proactive solution, and Spell Snare, the reactive solution. Threads of Disloyalty also becomes quite amusing, providing —1 Tarmogoyf to the opponent and +1 Tarmogoyf to yourself, for just three mana… while Chrome Mox deserves a lot more attention now, as a means to start deploying your “2’s” a full turn earlier. What this means is that it’s possible we’ll see an impressive resurgence of decks previously abandoned as hopeless, just because you can run Tarmogoyf in it and crank up the power level:

Silly? Sure. Laughable? Probably not. Artifact lands are a great way to cheat your Tarmogoyf count, after all, and it’s not at all hard to start with Careful Study discarding an artifact land and an Instant or Creature and have 4/5 Tarmogoyfs on turn 2. Worse yet, it’s quite possible some of these artifact lands should instead be Chrome Moxes, if the two-mana flash point is as absolutely critical as we’re suggesting Tarmogoyf makes things. But what impressed me most, sitting and thinking about it, was an update to the Counterbalance Tog decks, as we can show off another undercosted “Tog stand-in” from Future Sight, one that is currently getting only minimal love and attention but who should demand it: Tombstalker.

In the land where Spell Snare is king, spending two mana for your hugely efficient beater is great… but better still is spending two but being immune to the Snare, which is why Tog decks should think a little harder than “just throw in Tarmogoyf and call it a day.” Admittedly there are a lot of ways to build a Tog deck, and a lot of colors to work with… but I’ve been having an interesting time with this particular one, both for dealing with the Tarmogoyf-slanted environment and for subtle interactions like Sensei’s Divining Top and Mental Note being two good things that work well together.

This one in particular has been working quite well for me, thanks to all of the fun little interactions that help ensure that the Counterbalance lock-down comes in quickly. Mental Note is good with Psychatog and Tombstalker, obviously enough, but also happens to be quite helpful as a cantrip “shuffle effect” for clearing your Sensei’s Divining Top if you see three cards you don’t particularly need. Top and fetch-lands is obviously good, and combines excellently with both Counterbalance and Dark Confidant… but it’s also quite good with Thirst for Knowledge, in a deck that just wants to get the pure speed of its card-flow and would rather pay three for Thirst than four for Fact or Fiction.

More complicated versions are of course possible. Trinket Mage has been making his way into Tog lists pretty consistently since the printing of Counterbalance, and adds all sorts of complicated twists and turns to your list of options. My Tog deck from the PTQ season exemplifies this neatly, being rather intricate and yet likely still worth considering for the format with Tarmogoyf just as it was in the format without.

What will remain the curious question, then, is what will win the war of proper positioning — pure aggression, aggro-control, pure control, or dedicated combo. Tarmogoyf gives a big boost to pretty much anything that wants it, even as a cheap defensive measure in a control deck, while yet another combo deck has come into the format. “Friggorid” was already an impressive deck, prior to Future Sight, but the inclusion of Narcomoeba and Bridge from Below adds a fresh element to the design of the deck. Suddenly, casting Tolarian Winds might result in an opponent dying that turn, instead of “just” dredging your library and setting up plentiful Ichorid attacks.

Of course, I’m sure this is not the most finely tuned list available… I’m not sure how the deck feels yet, with Ichorid taking on a new role entirely. No longer is Ichorid beatdown the key route to victory. Instead, Ichorid is relegated to the role of slower copies of Narcomoeba #5-8. But if you want to see a dangerous Extended deck, this deck can do powerful things quite quickly. For an example just look at the following opening hand:

Chrome Mox, Polluted Delta, Watery Grave, Golgari Grave-Troll, Stinkweed Imp, Tolarian Winds, Zombie Infestation.

Turn 1 enables you to play Zombie Infestation, make some Zombies and start dredging the slow and fair way… or you can cast Tolarian Winds with three cards left in hand, dredging eleven cards right off the bat and probably sixteen or seventeen altogether after flipping another Dredge card. Those seventeen cards just have to flip three copies of either Narcomoeba, two Bridges, a Dread Return, and a Flame-Kin Zealot to win the game right there… which admittedly isn’t terribly likely. However, for the turn 2 kill you get another card draw to potentially dredge a spare Stinkweed Imp or Grave-Troll, and you get to use both Ichorid and Narcomoeba to get the three (nontoken) creatures needed to flash back Dread Return targeting a Flame-Kin Zealot with Bridges from Below in the graveyard.

Just how far into the realm of extremes this deck is going to go, though, I can’t quite say… my prognosticating of the Dredge archetype is once again cloudy, and this time I don’t seem to have Keith St. Jean on hand to ask for a handout of a free article by picking his brain. After all, I’m not even sure which is the better approach, the Bridges plus Flame-Kin or the “cleaner” Sutured Ghoul + Dragon’s Breath trick… and my suspicion leads me to believe that like in Legacy with the Flash deck, the “cleaner” kill that is less disruptable by cards like Mogg Fanatic and uses less room will ultimately prevail.

Both of these Dredge lists are very rough, and would require a lot of playtest time just to get them into a workable form… thankfully they don’t require playtest time with an interactive opponent, so we may just see these proxied up and run through test draws in order to figure out how well they run and where they would benefit from changes. Careful Study would seem like it would be a giant beating in a deck like this, that loves to throw away cards in order to accomplish its goals, but where to find the room is the question.

I suspect we shall be coming back to that one later. But we’ve run through everything I’m openly aware of as being “new” in Extended, without looking into the Baskin Robbins 31 Flavors of Tarmogoyf Decks that will inevitably appear.

Sean McKeown
smckeown @ livejournal.com

In the still and the silent dawn another day is born
Tossed up by the tireless waves, body bent and torn
In the face of the blinding sun you wake only to find
That Heaven is a stranger place than the one you left behind…

Sarah McLachlan, “Drawn to the Rhythm”

* Extra Special: Magical Hack Topical Blend — Hacking The Date

Thankfully, with the shabby excuse that “my column is finished,” I can now go from “no talking about the personal life” to “this worked for me, so maybe it’ll be helpful to you!” Two months ago, I finally hit the reset button on my relationship after taking entirely too much of a burden upon myself to support a fiancée who fell into the World of Warcraft and had no desire to fish herself out of it. After all, as much as I’m willing to put up with for someone I care about, and however many second chances I’m willing to give them, sometimes just sometimes that willingness runs dry and they have to be shown the door.

I needed to cut some of my time requirements when it became apparent that no matter how many PTQs I traveled to or how much time I spent thinking about Magic, the fact remained that I wasn’t able to get what I wanted out of it and I wasn’t able to commit myself fully to trying to succeed. This left me playing terribly and undermining my deck choices by finding anything else to do besides actually playtesting enough to not make stupid blunders with my deck. Sometime life tries to hammer its point home to you, and you just have to accept it. Magic was intended to be the distraction, but I couldn’t focus on what I was doing because of the seemingly insurmountable mountain of problems flapping about my real life. So I stepped away.

Thankfully I found something better to do with my weekday afternoons than write my weekly StarCityGames.com column or playtest Magic, and followed up my move back to my parents’ house (what can I say, the breakup was in some ways due to money, and I’m half a year’s salary in the hole thanks to various things I should never have put up with) it was time to see about finding some new friends… including friends of the female variety.

One habit I happen to enjoy is LARPing… much to the mockery of my fellow Internet pundits, who don’t quite see any benefit I get out of it. I for one consider it an excellent means for challenging my otherwise introverted tendencies to sit at home without interacting with other human beings, with MTGO or a book or watching endless hours of Law and Order and petting the cats. It’s also a great way to sharpen one’s wit, if you choose the right character, so that I don’t run into the “I bet you stayed up last night thinking THAT one up!” problem that inevitably strikes if you say something clever. I happen to play something frivolous that allows me to spend most of my gaming nights cracking wise and trying to draw a laugh from my fellow players, and actively seek to chase that social adroitness because I’ve found it serves me in other places in life. Ultimately I use LARPing as a means to teach myself real-life socialization skills in a comfortable environment, and challenge my social development along some very specific goal markers.

One thing most Magic players aren’t is “socially adroit.” Much like studying up on the latest decks is Magic “technology,” being funny and smart and well-adjusted is wonderful “dating technology.” So while the local crowd makes fun of me for my one-Saturday-night-a-month gaming habit, I listen to them with their dating foibles and waiting months to ask a girl they like out on a date, and I make fun of them instead. Admittedly, having just ended an engagement, badly, I have recently been lacking much of the ability to “talk,” there, but “being engaged” is far further along with a woman than the teens-and-twentysomething Magic players that tend to populate tournaments, transitioning me in with the grumpy old married men of the Magic populace even if I wasn’t quite “there” yet.

So, for my month of “vacation” as it were (and it barely counts, since I was still due at work 40 hours a week), I got to step away from something that was eating my time heavily and giving me absolutely nothing of what I wanted out of it: Magic. Sure, I still read columns because it’s fun… though admittedly August is a hard month for us columnists, so I only skimmed some of them when it became apparent that nothing they were talking about was going to impact me. I even had to juggle my replacements’ schedules and details, and provide a first edit for Craig. And considering I’m financially quite strapped at the moment, I leaned heavily on MTGO for my lonely nights at home when I couldn’t afford to go out and do anything, because I’ve thankfully long since gone infinite in drafting on MTGO and even made enough of a cushion to buffer a bad beat or two.

And one thing I’d resolved to do was get out there and live a little… even if it is only living amongst us nerd-folk. For flirtation and other light-hearted fun, without the commitment of anyone taking anything seriously when I’m only a few weeks into the recuperation from a rather long, rather serious relationship that ended… well, rather badly, that’s what LiveJournal was for, to me. I happened to find a few interesting people to flirt and chat with, largely through communities skewed towards the intelligent and clever… specifically “Metaquotes,” where I found a few interesting people likewise willing to flirt and clash wits to see whose was more nimble.

Just like succeeding in Magic, if you want to attract the opposite gender, find something that speaks about who you are to them, and practice, practice, practice. Even if you aren’t actively looking, you can actively work on your levels of comfort, and just being around women and interacting with women is a great way for the otherwise socially awkward males to “learn” the level of charm they likely wished they had in high school. A lot of the gamer folk have plenty to offer as far as a relationship goes… we tend to be smarter than the average bear, and for the most part insert ourselves into some strange social circles that make for interesting party stories. We also tend to be more liberal-minded, as well… some because of recreational chemical use, others because they’re used to being the outcast and aim to be the better person than the narrow-minded people who rejected them initially for no good reason at all. What we are all too often lacking is the wherewithal to be comfortable and confident, as far as that goes, and just like playtesting repeatedly to perform well at a tournament, a little practice goes a long way when it comes to putting the right foot forward.

I spent an awful lot of my “vacation” time flirting with women I will likely never meet, on a cloistered intellectual forum where sarcasm and wit are king, and one can be appreciated accordingly. I made a few friends there… and a few more through the LiveJournal of fellow StarCityGames.com columnist William “Ferrett” Steinmetz, which just happened to be how I accidentally found an interesting girl from the New York area, who happened to be dating someone at the time but had plenty of interesting friends… many of whom I happened to meet two weeks ago. I attended a dinner party thrown by one of the shyer ladies of the group whom I had befriended before my vacation and, well, flirted with mercilessly because that’s always worth brownie points, so long as everyone is conscious of their comfort zones and each others’ boundaries.

Boundaries, unfortunately, are something a lot of Magic players are bad at. Gerard’s story about Antonino making an awful mess in Japan and throwing scatological materials out of twentieth-story windows may make a funny “bad beats” story, but it really crosses boundaries when it comes to body comfort. The stories you can tell to “the guys,” like that one, are very, very different than the ones you would tell in mixed company… especially if you want to leave a good impression.

Alongside with a reasonable knowledge of what boundaries can or cannot be crossed in what company, which isn’t a hard-and-fast rule but tends to follow certain trends unless you know peoples’ comfort levels better, it’s also important to play upon your strengths. You know, the ones we said you should actively develop and put forward perhaps a little more often than you do if you’re one of the readers who are wondering why they’re having a hard time finding a girl they like who likes them too or otherwise seem to somehow make a misplay in the dating game but they still don’t know how? And an attractive wit will get you everywhere, if you know how to use it… that, and flirting like hell, as after all plenty of the time there’s an interest just waiting for the right questions to be asked.

Starting with a story about the one time someone made you late to a PTQ because they were going to make a mess of themselves if they didn’t get a chance to squat on the side of the road is a great story for a tournament report… and a terrible one for playing to your strengths. Talking about something disgusting can cross boundaries of comfort faster than anything else, and worse yet… it’s scatological humor, not actually wit or even really funny, because being witty can make up for a whole multitude of sins.

My dinner party plans could have gone better — after all, I’d been flirting with the hostess for weeks now, made plans to be there at the party weeks in advance after clearing my calendar of Magic tournaments and LARPs I might want to attend, only to find out that morning that my attentiveness to her led her to feel more attractive and more confident (yay!), confident enough to ask out the guy she’d been pining over for two years now (uh-oh!), and he said yes (boo!), and he was going to be at the party (awkward). Fortunately, my rules of engagement in the dating scene come pre-attached with the fact that you have to roll with what the situation brings you, and can’t feel too attached to the outcome of any one flirtation… after all, plenty of non-single people flirt, as will people who will not otherwise express enough interest in you to go further. You can’t become married to your outcome, you just have to do what you’re doing to the best of your capabilities and try to have fun while you’re doing it.

You’ll find a very similar theory amongst the top level of Magic tournament play: being married to your outcome leaves you too emotionally invested in what you’re doing to step away and make a correct judgment without emotional bias. At the highest level of Magic tournament play, all it takes is one mistake to screw the pooch regardless of how many hours you’ve put into getting to the point where one key decision can mean the difference between victory and crushing defeat. One poor judgment can likewise destroy a good or interesting prospect in the dating world… or worse yet, lead to success where you really, really, really would rather have failed. Presenting yourself in the best light to make the right first impression all but requires detachment from your desired outcome, to the point where clearly I was going to my dinner party with no planned outcome at all… after all, I’d just been shot down from where I’d curiously thought I’d been leaning, getting a surprisingly gentle reminder that pushy is a bad thing to be and there are two peoples’ thoughts and directions that need to be accounted for. Thankfully I liked her as a friend to boot, and thus was able to trust that the dinner party wouldn’t be too awkward even if I don’t particularly like her newly-minted boyfriend even before considering him as “competition.”

The dinner party went well, though it helped that I’d taken efforts to provide myself with both a backup plan and a shiny introductory piece as a distraction, the latest role-playing book from White Wolf Games that I’d been drooling over. I knew for a fact that the group I was meeting up with was heavily composed of women from the Society of Creative Anachronisms, the “SCA” as they like to call it… historical buffs with a penchant for dressing in period clothing, and likely to talk about their fandom for hours and hours if you let them. Sadly, I also knew for a fact that I am not a member of the SCA, and thus risk being bored to tears if I can’t keep the witty banter constantly flowing… and inserting myself into the group with a certain panache would also be beneficial. Bonus points for also providing a built-in means for outing others with similar hobbies as my own while also giving me something to read in a corner if they do indeed turn deathly boring talking about the latest event, like some of my LARP friends will if you let them.

Over the course of the night, much witty banter was shared… the occasional story of bad relationships ended humorously, or why it’d be a bad idea to discuss the wrongful placement of split-busted corsets in the Roman time-period in the movie Gladiator (thanks to my ex-girlfriend the costumer screaming at the movie screen in the theater when she saw it), or why I’d had to promise a mutual friend of mine and Ferrett’s that I wouldn’t bring up Michael Crichton’s “Timeline” novel at the dinner table lest they grow cross at me. I tried to mesh well with the group rather than stew awkwardly on the newly-formed couple throwing the party, and identified what seemed to be the one single girl there by her egregious use of the phrase “so if you have any single friends, send them my way!” while sitting across from the only single guy at the table. Fun was had, good impressions made amongst a group of people I’d like to be friends with at least some of, and amusingly enough one of the girls at the party seemed amenable to coming to see what my local LARP community was like, since she games herself but is part of a circuit that sees her traveling to Boston or Chicago to play.

Of course, one must talk game if one is to join a new game, and regardless of a certain other someone’s suggestion to throw cute single boys her way (and apparently I counted), I’d seemed to have gotten along a lot better with my fellow LARP-goer despite her already having a boyfriend. After all, I had an awareness of the games she participated in thanks to my having dated a friend of hers from Boston a few years back, and being able to commiserate over that ex-girlfriend who is admittedly quite hard on the boys sometimes gave us more in common with each other than I had with anyone else in the room, even the girl who’d invited me in the first place. Again, being married to your desired outcome is just another way to screw up something you’ll do fine at anyway, and the point of the dinner party wasn’t actually to meet someone new to date. At least not when it became apparent that the person I was chasing was chasing someone else, anyway… such is life. But if you’ve gotten the hint yet that you play the game with the information you are given, and sometimes things just go your way, well… you’re guessing the point of the story. After all, I’d thought I’d heard over the course of several hours of conversation that she was in a long-lasting relationship with a beau of hers in England, and thought nothing of an “intended goal” to achieve other than being myself and showing off the socializing talents I’ve been spending years developing that I did not possess naturally… ever since Adrian Sullivan came to New York and all but talked my girlfriend of the time out of her clothing, silver-tongued bastard that he is.

In our sharing of mutually geeky habits, the decision had been made that I should invite her to see what my gaming circle was like, by driving to a nearby game being hosted in Connecticut that weekend… and fun conversation continued over the phone just one on one, suggesting that getting along well at the party wasn’t a mere fluke of an overly-practiced performance on my part. Somewhere around the middle of the week I’d learned that I’d gotten my information wrong and the relationship discussed was actually past tense, followed by a break of two years without a twinge of interest… and definite nonverbal hints that this constituted to her a twinge of interest.

In relationships of all sorts, not just in a duel of Magic with your opponent, there is more information than the obvious to be derived from body language and sequence of plays. Back in Onslaught block Limited play I had an uncanny knack for picking up on cues to what my opponent was trying to accomplish with his morphs, giving me an excellent chance of reading a bluff or outmaneuvering my opponent with my own seemingly “illogical” tactics. There are plenty of famous stories in Magic about making an unexpected series of plays because you read information your opponent hadn’t meant to project, or even just finding yourself in the groove and coming up with a plan because it’s your last chance for snatching victory from the jaws of defeat. Zvi even wrote entire columns on figuring out information from your opponent’s plays with just the very first land-drop, and how to look deeper than the surface of the game to peer into its inner workings.

Sometimes, though, you’re the one with the skewed world-view, who left his game plan hinged on a Nezumi Cutthroat kept back to block. In this case by the middle of the week we’d learned the game was to be cancelled, mucking up our plans for Saturday, and there’s not much of an argument you can make against the person running the game being in crippling pain due to kidney stones. About the same time it simply came up that the person I’d been chatting with was available… and, reading the subtexts again, interested. After all, when the game state changes you have to re-evaluate it to see where you’re headed and what the proper path to victory is… and in relationships, information is likewise fluid and subject to change, because you don’t always get the facts straight the first time either.

And sometimes life decides to hit you over the head with a two-by-four, and you find someone you can talk for hours with about anything at all, who’s attractive, interested, and available. Given the failure of Saturday plans I’d risen to her suggestion that perhaps I might still find a way to keep her from growing bored on her Saturday night, and an evening of dancing was planned to follow for a first date. Sometimes just because you aren’t looking, doesn’t mean you haven’t been found… and recognizing that fact can be the hardest of all, if you have somehow decided that you’re the one doing the looking and finding. The date went amazingly well, and everything has somehow lined up perfectly to follow… as I said, sometimes life hits you with a two-by-four, providing a perfect opportunity just when I wasn’t looking**.

Part happy story, part lesson to be learned… study, and grow strong.


**: And here is the obligatory photo… sorry, Mr. Romeo, it’s not quite “cheesecake,” just a cute girl who’s quite smart that I happen to like a lot.