Meet The Group

I have to commend StarCityCCG.com on its newer, happier web look. See all the snazzy pictures up there now? And those entry-page graphics! WOOOOOOSH! A star! Was there a star there before? Whatever, I didn’t notice it, which might be the point. And I had no idea Manuel Bevand was so dashing. (Though with that…

I have to commend StarCityCCG.com on its newer, happier web look. See all the snazzy pictures up there now? And those entry-page graphics! WOOOOOOSH! A star! Was there a star there before? Whatever, I didn’t notice it, which might be the point. And I had no idea Manuel Bevand was so dashing. (Though with that name, how could he not be?)


A long time ago, in The Other Column, I introduced the members of my group and described their card/color preferences. I then conducted an extraordinarily scientific analysis tying color choice to familial status and pet relationships. Really, it worked! Blue was for toilet- and house-trainers, red was for cat-lovers, and so on. (Those of you who want to test the rigor of said analysis can check the Dojo archives of my column; see my second oldest article there.) It was truly groundbreaking work in Magic theory.

Over the last six months, I may have gained a few readers, and there might be some that haven’t diligently read every word I’ve written. (I dub those people, the "Unclean".) For the sake of those kindly but less-informed souls, I’m going to give quick profiles of the seven or eight most frequent players in my group. This will help future articles make more sense. (Which is sort of like helping future cats make more barks.)

On both occasions where I have done a column like this, I have found it very rewarding to reflect upon the personalities, color and card preferences, and play styles that each person in my group exhibits. It reminds me of the things that I like (and loathe) about each of my friends, and also keeps me sharp on what decks are current in the group – and maybe why. Reflection, as any pedagogical theorist will tell you (if you don’t punch him or her out after he or she proudly claims to be a pedagogical theorist), is a cornerstone of effective learning and application. Think about your group a bit more than you already do. Write out profiles. Draw dirty pictures. It’s educational, it’s therapeutic, and it’s loads of fun, too.

Of course, I acknowledge that this column will be about people that none of you have met, or likely ever will. They are people with solid skills but little to report from the PTQ front. I ask that folks indulge me as I celebrate the very cool people that I play with. I have no doubt that each and every one of us have play groups that are at least as cool and skilled as this one. (Trust me, it wouldn’t be difficult.) My point in taking an article to do this is not to put them on a pedestal above other players, as much as it is to give credit to the people that make these columns I do work. No play group, no columns. So due respects to them…

When I first introduced them all, I used code names for each. I have no idea why I did this. But it’s tradition now, so I’ll stick with it.

ANTHONY is not a code name. I’m me, and you folks know me pretty well by now, warts and all. I’m married, got kids, gotta dog, yadayadayada.
FAVORITE COLOR: I am colorfully indecisive, but I suppose if pressed, black. I enjoy its use of the graveyard as an additional resource, its risk-taking nature, and also its ability to control through creature and land suppression. Red would come in a close second. But I never combine the two.
LEAST FAVORITE COLOR: White. Beyond the occasional helpful Disenchant, I have few nice things to say about white mages.
GROUP DECK OF NOTE: I’ve listed many in the past; this week isn’t really about me. Let’s move on to the others, and give them their day in the sun.

PETE is my brother-in-law. He and I "founded" the group a few years ago, when we discovered the other one had been collecting Magic cards for a while with no place to play. He’s been collecting/playing since Ice Age block. He’s married, with cats.
FAVORITE COLOR: Red. He’ll say green to me later, but it’s red.
LEAST FAVORITE COLOR: He’s no big fan of white, either. The only current deck of his I’ve seen with it is his bothersome red-white "universal-red-damage-oh-wait-I-have-a-CoP-Red" deck. Jerk.
GROUP DECK OF NOTE: He recently revived his green-artifact control deck, which features Bullwhip, Caltrops, Briar Patch, Yavimaya Scion, and other fun things. The point is to create a deck that punishes attackers severely, blunts their attacks, and then romps through with a couple of heavies when the opportunity presents. I just love it since it’s a mainly green deck that actually SUPPRESSES creatures.

PETE is pure chaos. He gets rid of creatures and enchantments that might help him, plays artifacts that lock out only half the board, turns on allies, and then Infernos everyone to keep the game a tie. The guy is just nuts. Don’t get me wrong; he’s a smart player and the chaos is usually intentional, just to be freakish. But at least once every play session, I’ll see him do something absolutely insane just to get his kicks for the evening. Pete keeps the rest of us honest, no doubt.

DAVE is a distant cousin. He did some collecting when Fourth Edition came out, then put the cards away in a box, then took them out again and learned how to play when he found out Pete and I were playing. He’s married, got cats.
FAVORITE COLOR: Despite the deck I mention below, Dave’s pretty happy with green most of the time. He likes punishing tricky control mages with the simple arithematic of three Albino Trolls on patrol.
LEAST FAVORITE COLOR: I don’t have this from his mouth directly, but I very rarely see him play black.
GROUP DECK OF NOTE: He has a blue-white stocked with angels, Palinchrons, and your basic long-game control strategies. I dub this deck the EMT deck because it seems to always come to the timely rescue of the group whenever a horrific thing is on the table — a Verdant Force, or a Grave Pact, or what have you. Dave swings in on a fiery, winged chariot, takes the villain out, and then swoops back up into the air to great applause, and ooohs and aaaahs.

Dave takes adversity well, especially on the Magic playing field. I’ve seen him go through streaks of mana screw (with 60-card, 22+ land decks) like you wouldn’t believe. Part of the reason that doesn’t happen anymore is because he’s a better deckbuilder, like the rest of us; part of that, however, is surely because a guardian angel has been watching over his shoulder ever since he Scoured one of Theo’s Alurens in The Most Annoying Deck Ever (see Theo below).

CARL is a college buddy who, like Dave, collected early, let the dust grow, and then leapt to play with the rest of us when he heard what a damn exciting time it is. Married, cats, kids.
FAVORITE COLOR: Carl is The Group’s White Mage. Absolutely sickening. How this man lives with himself, much less his family, I have no idea.
LEAST FAVORITE COLOR: While black is usually just a splash for him, he actually stays away from blue more often than anything else. I guess he thinks it slows the game down…whereas continual life gain is a nice, speedy way to go, of course.
GROUP DECK OF NOTE: He had, at least at one point, a monowhite with en-Kor redirection creatures and stuff like Wall of Resistance, pro-color stuff, etc. Real cute, right? Please.

Carl is the first of the players today that I’d present to you as a pure control player. His style is almost relentlessly defensive. Case in point:

We’re in five-player. Theo has a Tradewind-Awakening deck going. Carl is playing mono-red. Carl slaps down a Crater Hellion, burns everything else up. A round passes. Carl untaps (as he has for every player’s turn, with Awakening out), pays the echo, and then PASSES without combat.

The rest of us stare at him for a little bit. Finally, Theo speaks. "No attack?" he says.

Carl shakes his head severely. "No. I’d better keep it back."

Bearing in mind that at least two of us have no creatures out, and nothing out there has a power or toughness even close to six.

"You do realize," I say as Toim starts his turn and everybody untaps everything again, "that you’d be untapping that and have it for defense, right now?"

Carl stares at the board for a moment. "Hmmmm. Yeah."

These rare mishaps aside (Awakening only comes out in our group perhaps once every six months), Carl is an extraordinarily skilled player who makes very few mistakes, enjoys figuring the math of an attack/possible pump, and remains unflappable in the face of adversity. If he had more time to play, he’d be registering top 8’s in PTQs on a regular basis.

THEO came into the group through Art, an elder member of the group who hasn’t had time to play much recently. He’s got the marriage/kids/dog thing going on. He is the only member of the group that has made the Pro Tour (last year, around when Legacy came out). He’s been playing, I believe, since the Dark, perhaps longer. (Whenever anyone’s been playing for a long time, I figure it’s been since the Dark. The Dark sounds like a very long time ago. Not just when it was 3am Dark and you had to go to the bathroom, but maybe when your mother was eight months pregnant Dark and you were all smooshed up like a Rukh Egg…which wouldn’t even come out until a few expansions later!)
FAVORITE COLOR: Theo’s favorite five colors, in order, are: (1) blue, (2) blue, (3) blue, (4) black, and (5) blue.
LEAST FAVORITE COLOR: He will deign to touch green for splash with blue, but I’m not sure Theo knows what a mountain actually looks like. I might take him on a field trip to Colorado some day so he can take a look.
GROUP DECK OF NOTE: Many annoying decks to choose from, but the least popular is an EquilibriumAluren deal. He really enjoys the fact that Rishadan Cutpurse can be twisted into a good card.

Theo typically sets the benchmark control decks that require response from the group in metagame. If your deck cannot deal with strong control strategies (either through outracing, countering, deflection, alternate strategies, or what have you), it is not expected to make it in our group. With a deep collection and plenty of experience playing with virtually every mechanic in the game, Theo remains a potential winner in any game where he’s still alive, even at one life. Fortunately, mercy is a scarce commodity among us.

I’ve mentioned before that each of these players has one or more (usually several) things about them that really ring true with me, and make me want to apply what I’ve learned from them to not just Magic play, but life in general. A few months ago, I would have said that the life lesson from Theo is that there’s always someone better than you, and that having that person in a gaming group gives you an important benchmark for self-improvement. But now, I’d say the life lesson is, nothing’s more satisfying than taking down a control mage and beating his misshapen, bloody carcass again and again. Yep, that’s the life lesson from Theo. (That one’s just for Theo, who’s one of my most avid readers. Hey, Theo. You’re going down again next week.)

TOIM knows Carl through professional channels, so the two of them would practice Magic during lunch "hour" at work for a while. (NOW you know why I’ve changed the names!) He’s got a great big family, but he’s geographically distant so I haven’t been able to examine his abode for pets. Maybe he has something interesting, like a spotted toad or Gila Monster. Sure, he’s got a huge amphibian-reptile zoo going on up there in the north metro, let’s go with that. Late at night, when the thunderstorms are at their peak, he pastes picture-faces of the rest of us onto his feed-mice and drops them into the python tank. It’s always the quiet ones.
FAVORITE COLOR: He’s pretty new at the game (less than a year) and is still finding his groove, but he’s been enjoying red lately. I believe he is discovering the power that comes with sitting at the table with three other players, none with blue mana, while he’s got 12 mountains on the board and only one Fireball in the graveyard.
LEAST FAVORITE COLOR: Hard to say until he settles a bit more. While he started off on green, I think my teasing about his Wood Elves deck put him off of forests for a while!
GROUP DECK OF NOTE: Toim, he likes the X spells. So he had a mono-black recently with some Drain Lifes in it. Corrupts, Subversion, etc. Primeval Shambler and other pumpables rounded it out. Solutions to mono-black decks are legion, but since our group doesn’t dabble often in color hosers, it’s not like we could pull Karmas out of our pockets and slip ’em in.

Toim’s name is Toim because in other articles, I kept forgetting if I were using Tim or Tom. Toim is easier to remember. See what careful decision-making goes into these articles? I do it all for you, people.

BILL is a buddy of Dave’s who’s been with us for about a year, if memory serves. He’s the only other player in the group that has a bunch of Portal cards, so he and I share a special bond. Bill has a full family but I can’t for the life of me remember if he’s got any pets. Let’s stick him with an emu and see how well that works out.
FAVORITE COLOR: While Bill began his Magic career with a fascination for Serra Avatars and Albino Trolls, I’ve seen him play a lot happier with heavy red enchantments.
LEAST FAVORITE COLOR: Bill drafts black regularly when we do limited formats, but I don’t often see him construct decks with that color. He’s laid off the blue for a while, too.
GROUP DECK OF NOTE: Bill’s Serra Avatars have been in at least two different decks: first, a long time ago, in a blue-white featuring Show and Tell, Zephid’s Embrace, yeah you get the idea. When people starting waxing Bill as soon as they saw an Island drop, he shifted the deck to a green-white featuring Rancor and Treetop Village. I’m not sure that deck EVER had any cards in the graveyard for longer than a replacement effect.

GARY is the newest member of the group, another professional networker through Toim and Carl. He claims he has family in Canada while he works down here, but I’m not sure "family" means the same thing in Canada as it does in the United States. He could just have a small pond in the woods up there, like Thoreau did in New England, and all the wood sprites and earth elementals are his "family". We won’t know until Gary invites us over for Thanksgiving dinner, I guess. (Though that’s a different day in Canada, too…cripes, they’re difficult up there.)
FAVORITE COLOR: Gary’s first two decks that he has put serious thought into are mono-blue and mono-white. Great, another control mage.
LEAST FAVORITE COLOR: Whatever color I’m playing.
GROUP DECK OF NOTE: It will take some time before Gary establishes a deck on his own that rips through the group heavily, but his mono-white features Sanctum Custodians and Ballista Squads, which play very well in emperor format.

Like many in our group when they first joined (and for an indefinite period afterward), Gary gets a real kick out of coming at me in most games. That’s partly perception (I write for Magic strategy websites, ergo I must be the largest threat), part my own loudness (I don’t subscribe to the "keep your head down" school of multiplayer Magic), and partly good sense (when my decks are actually working). Then the guy comes up to me afterward and asks me to help him out with his deck.

"Sure, Gary," I say, "Well the first thing you’ll want to do is take out those crappy Soltari Visionaries and put in Ignoble Soldiers. You’ll have a faster-paced deck, and after all, 3 power is better than 2." That would keep him off my back for a while.

There are other players, of course: Denny and Terry who’ve been playing since the Dark (really, I’m sure!) but often can’t wriggle free for our weekly games; Ben whose wife is due to deliver their third child as I write this (congratulations Ben!); Art and Darren who were in on the group at the beginning but rarely play any more; and Jake, who’s able to be with us about half the time and loves his green enchantments. They’re all a big part of the kind of player I am, how I’ve learned the game, and what I decide to write about. I hope I’ve made this tribute interesting to the majority of readers out there; but what’s far more important this one time around is that I mention them, and thank them.

Thanks, guys. You make Thursday nights cooler than Kramer and Seinfeld ever could.

Happy playing,
Anthony Alongi
[email protected]