Nothing Productive

The great Rob Hahn once claimed that the entirety of the Magic universe, all the games played, all the packs sold, the Pro Tour, and everything else, hinged on one thing for their existence: the friendships that Magic creates and fosters. If you think about it, Rob’s claim makes a lot of sense. How else can you explain staying up until all hours”playtesting” a”matchup” where both you and your partner know the outcome? You might learn something, you might not… oftentimes, it’s really just an excuse to hang out and have some beers.

[Editor’s Note: There’s very little strategy in this article, but I like the theme enough that I’m keeping it at the top of the page. Any complaints should be sent to the usual place.]

The great Rob Hahn once claimed that the entirety of the Magic universe, all the games played, all the packs sold, the Pro Tour, and everything else, hinged on one thing for their existence: the friendships that Magic creates and fosters. If you think about it, Rob’s claim makes a lot of sense. How else can you explain staying up until all hours”playtesting” a”matchup” where both you and your partner know the outcome? You might learn something, you might not… oftentimes, it’s really just an excuse to hang out and have some beers. How else can you explain the inexplicable disappearance of interest from the onetime best player on the planet, one of the few individuals who was actually cashing a six figure check from the Pro Tour, who at one time would make any excuse to stay up all night practicing on Apprentice rather than doing his homework? Simple. His buddies gravitated more towards poker and blackjack. Hello new interests; hello better paying career.

I think that a lot of what passes for Magic”writing” focuses, tragically, on bad articles about wrong theories. Even if what was being said was correct, which – let’s face it – is the case only a scant part of the time, that leaves a big chunk of the Magic universe untended in the content arena. No, I’m not talking about”issues” or the like. I can think of only once where I used my position as a writer to complain about a format, and it was then only because R&D had made an Oracle change on a central card very close to the Pro Tour. I am the kind of person who sucks it up and tries to pick a deck that accommodates the things that shouldn’t be there rather than whining about how my pet deck can’t beat some obviously overpowered card. No, I’m not quite looking forward to Skullclamp Regionals 2004 either, gentle readers. What I’m talking about here and now is the social aspect of Magic: the Gathering.

Oh, and before you ask, Nothing Productive whatsoever will come of this article. If you are looking for the next weapon to rule Friday Night Magic, go ahead and click that back button now. If you want to read about a bunch of friends hanging out from my admittedly self-centered perspective, keep scrolling.

So anyway, there was a time when we played some serious Magic on Sunday afternoons. I mean it was super serious. Deadly serious. We didn’t blunt the edges of our weapons before walking into Neutral Ground just because we happened to be going up against our friends… in fact, I think I once saw Toby Wachter cut himself when picking up”evil” Don Lim’s deck. Don, for his part, sort of giggled gleefully in the corner, juggling a snakestone. We also ended up making some pretty good decks for those Sunday afternoon tournaments. And it’s only right that this happened: we were obsessed. It could be Easter frigging Sunday and Neutral Ground would still be packed with heathen Magicians enacting Dark Rituals to summon fantastic creatures from the depths of someplace not very nice.

Brian Kowal once said that he thought that the center of great deck design had shifted to the American Northeast for one reason: we had competitive tournaments that people cared about with real cash prizes. This was a huge advantage, and you can see from the 2000-2002 Regionals results how well-rewarded players who competed consistently in the Grudge Match were when crunch time came around. They had good decks and good practice with them in trial environments. It’s too bad that culture sort of fell away.

The reason for this was a combination of things, I think. YMG consistently got their butts handed to them, so much of the spirit of competition left their average players. When Lucas Glavin finally beat the last champion David Chung, it was too little, too late to resurrect YMG’s fire. One-sided rivalries don’t pull in a lot of fans, but the blame for the decline of Sunday afternoons can’t fall entirely on Boston. Our best guys went off to apply their math and game theory skills to designing other card games, becoming high powered Wall Street traders, or counting fifty-two-card shoes instead of shuffling up forties and sixties. Lots of players who once devoted themselves to Sunday afternoon Magic inexplicably acquired girlfriends who took up much of their weekend time; for my part, I got married and can’t recall ever playing in another Grudge Match Qualifier again.

But the other week, a bunch of friends got together on a Saturday to help move our buddy Brook North to his new Hell’s Kitchen apartment. Even though Tim McKenna is technically my teammate, I hadn’t seen him since PT Boston, I think. Ben Manascrew Murray I hadn’t seen since (I think) Brook’s birthday two years ago. Shark (Tony Tsai) and I had an idea. What if – and this is a reacher – we decided to hang out on a Sunday afternoon, like the old days? Not just to do something productive. Not just to go to Neutral Ground only if there were a PTQ. What if we actually made plans to hang out?

So here was our agenda:

12 noon (sharp) – Plataforma

1pm – drafts @ ng

9pm – Stereotypical representations of Italian Americans

We invited many of the Ancient School. Not just the old school, the ancient school. Pikula, Price, Gimp, etc. Obviously they didn’t show, but it was okay. Becker wanted to come but didn’t, because he is a lame old man.

For lunch at Plataforma, it was just me, Shark, Brook, and PJ. What is Plataforma? Are you kidding me? Plataforma is like Katz’s, but multiplied a thousand times. It’s sort of not fair to compare them, because Katz’s is the best sandwich shop on earth, but Plataforma is another animal entirely. It is the kind of place where you take your teammates for a special dinner after winning the National championship, rather than an everyday dinner joint from which you order at the PTQ.

Plataforma is like this: the nicest restaurant you’ve ever visited. Gorgeous interiors, always packed from the dinner bell on. The best salad bar on earth. Their salad bar has sushi and risotto. Very good risotto. But don’t eat from it! That is just a distraction. If you partake of the salad bar (except maybe the risotto), they win.

They give you a small plastic disc. One side is red. Red means stop. The other side is green. Green means go. If your disc is green side up, men in tuxedos carrying swords come to your table. Skewered on those swords are meat, beautiful meat; all kinds of meat. They don’t have filet mignon, but they do have everything else you could possibly want to eat, all cooked perfectly (and some stuff you might not want to eat, such as rabbit hearts). You can eat as much as you want of flank steak, skirt steak, sirloin, top sirloin, rib-eye steak, prime rib, garlic-encrusted variations of some of the above, and steak-like cuts from non-steak bearing animals. They also have a variety of meats wrapped in bacon, such as tenderloin wrapped in bacon and turkey wrapped in bacon. I won’t catalogue all the different kinds of stuff that the sword-carrying tuxedo-wearing staff bring to your table, but you have to beware: they open up with little chickens and sausages. Experienced eaters dodge that stuff. They are trying to distract you.

I took a group of PT players to Plataforma for PT New York 2000, and it has since become a tradition beloved by many of the game’s greatest. Gary Wise and Pat Chapin agreed that there is no drug that compares with Plataforma’s flank steak. [High praise indeed from the likes of Mr. Chapin. – Knut] You may think, especially after his finals match with Eugene Harvey at Grand Prix: Detroit, that Bob Maher makes no mistakes, but he did once: Bob didn’t come with us that night in 2000. He has yet to live that wrong decision down.

This is how great Plataforma is: Gary will literally extend his vacation in New York for no other reason than to eat dinner there additional nights. I can’t stress this enough. I’ve been to similar restaurants both in New York and in other cities, and none of them compare to the one on 49th between 8th and 9th. There it is. You’ve been told. This is much better tech, and get you much farther in life, than Ravager Affinity.

Me, I’ll take any excuse to run Plataforma. Antonino came to town a few weeks ago. We went. We waited two hours for a table. It was worth it. But then I went again for lunch the next week… and broke the format. Apparently at lunch, there is no line. You just sit, and they start bringing you stuff. This prompted our plan for last Sunday, or”the lunch plan,” as it has become known.

So it was a great lunch. Man, I’m hungry just thinking about that action. During lunch, I reminisced with Brook about the single days when we used to go out a lot.

Remember that restaurant in the Village we used to go to, Osso Bucco? I can’t go there any more.

[Osso Bucco ain’t Plataforma, but they make one fine porterhouse steak for two.]

One night, I got conned into going to one of those all-girl birthday parties and we had the worst service ever. The waiter dumped water on my food, and even when I asked specifically for regular water, they brought Pellegrino. So at the end of the night, May screwed them on the tip. So because I was the only guy, and because May stabbed me in the back to the wait staff, they’re asking after me about the service. Can’t go back. It sucks.

(cue foreshadowing)

So I was wearing my”Unintentional Asshole” tee shirt. Do you remember a few weeks ago when I was talking about my friend Marianne’s Anti-Valentine’s Day party at Luna Lounge? It was freaking huge. She got press from the Post, Times, Voice, Daily News, and Time Out New York in addition to starcitygames.com and my blog. My little sister made friends with not one, but two extremely cute chicks. I asked her how come she never managed to acquire friends like these when I was single; as she’s not so inclined, they are useless to her (other than for friendship, I guess). If you had shown up like certain cool gamers, you could have also met cute chicks. But you didn’t, and you didn’t.

Anyway, some gamers showed up, including Brook; Brook bought an”Unintentional Asshole” tee shirt as well (this is one of Marianne’s songs). For some reason, this tee shirt is very distinctive, having the words”Unintentional Asshole” printed in hot pink on black. We went out the other night and the chicks at the bar were all whispering about Brook’s shirt. Sunday, the wait staff at Plataforma also commented on mine.

We lasted forty-three minutes before all the discs got flipped to red. That isn’t bad. When I ran lunch myself a few weeks earlier, I only lasted forty-two. It used to be a big competition – who could last the longest before flipping. Some people like Shuler gamed the format by just not taking any meat and also not flipping to red, but like many of Shuler’s tactics, this was frowned upon by his opponents. Some players, like Lan D. Ho, would just refuse to flip, and accumulate a mountain of meat on their plates that would never end, let alone get eaten. If you know Lan, you know what I mean about Lan.

So the check comes. PJ does the math we and all leave like $32.50 and get up to go. I make the comment that it is odd that no one has run the plastic. Shark picks up the dough and throws down his ridiculous PayPal MasterCard that gets like 3% back, which is fairly insane as far as these things go. Then he’s like”there is no way this comes out to $32.50.”

That’s right, gentle readers. Paul Jordan, PT Top 9 player, former professional blackjack gorilla, and alpha barn, cannot add gratuity and divide by four. I guess big betting beneath the hot lights of a Las Vegas casino under the tutelage of Johnny Magic requires a different math skill set than, say, second grade arithmetic.

Luckily Shark caught it and we managed to not leave without paying a tip.”I think we would have actually failed to cover the meal… Mise well get banned from the best restaurant in the city,” said Shark.”And you would never be able to wear that shirt again.”

So we went and ran some drafts.

Don Lim joined us, as well as McKenna, McCordian, etc., followed later by Boccio and others.

Recently, I have seen some articles talking about preparing for”the local metagame.” Brook North broke”the Sunday Draft local metagame” wide open. He sat to my right and drafted Black. Let me explain something to you. I like Black. I don’t know how this came about, but I just kept drafting Black decks with three Consume Spirits and going 2-1 and 3-0 in team drafts.

You have to understand something now. I am not as good as most of my friends. Shark and ScottyM have all kinds of GP Top 8s, Day Threes, whatever. Even horrible players like teammate Tim McKenna have a GP Top 8 and can’t do math. PJ has a PT Top 9; Rabbit, bitter at life as he is, has both. The randoms from Brooklyn who might show up at any time include MikeyP and Alex Shvartsman. So you can see how disconcerted they might be to eat it to my triple Consume Spirit decks with two Barters. Slow Black decks aren’t even good. Not even the one with five Consume Spirits, Fireball, Loxodon Warhammer, and Skullclamp. Not good! Losing to these decks must be stopped!

So, Brook decided to just dick me on Black from the right all day. I didn’t even realize he was doing it until the second-to-last draft, when I opened and took Chittering Rats and got passed exactly the same pack I had just passed… including having no Chittering Rats. Damn you Brook North!

Strategy Section

1. Goblin Charbelcher is not good. I previously considered it”not that bad,” but the kind of card you don’t want to lean on. In Game 1 v. Don Lim, to go 3-0, I needed Charbelcher to do one damage over six turns to race his Mirror Golem. Got game two. Game three, I needed it to hit a Spikeshot Goblin. It whiffed five consecutive times. It did, however, deal twelve damage to a random Arcbound creature. That’s okay, I thought, Paul or Shark will win one of these two matches. Nope. Brook, Don, and”0-3″ ScottyM win.

2. If Goblin Charbelcher is bad, Shark is worse. Shark lost all three drafts on the afternoon. Granted, he had me and PJ on his team in two of those drafts, but we won’t talk about that.

3. This strategy section has way too much Magic in it already. I did three drafts, won one. Afterward, the correct decision seemed to be to kart to my house to watch Sopranos. We stopped for ice cream on the way. Boccio paid for the cab, but I filled my ice cream punch card and shipped it to him instead of paying my two bucks for the cab, which was a good deal for both of us. He got a chocolate waffle cone something.

From lunch to HBO at my house, Sunday was a great success. We are going to make it a tradition. Shark wanted to run it every week, but I don’t know if any of us could afford that. Anyway, Shark pointed out that he would die of a coronary within two months from all that steak.”Yeah, this’ll last a long time,” said the absent Rabbit.”We’ll see.”

Well, we’re only shooting for once a month. It might not be much, but it’s more than we were doing before, and if rumors are true, we’ll be joined by more friends the next time around. If there is one thing that Magic has given me, more than bitter manascrew, or an even more bitter Top 8 miss, it is friends and fun. Dave Price once told me that as he got older, he understood that there was no longer a distinction between his”friends” and his”gamer” friends. Most of my best friends I got from playing Magic. Probably a good chunk of yours came from the same. Go have lunch with them, and then do a couple of drafts. If you are Osyp, test Constructed while making up lies; it’s no different. If you believe their blogs, even altran and Tuna want to come out of the woodwork once in a while. It’s like Rabbit says:

“We’ll see.”

That’s it. Next time we return to actual spellcasting with the long-awaited”Splash Damage.”


Bonus Section: You know you’re having a bad day when…

Yesterday I was having a bad day. Like really bad. Really stressed out at work. Lots to do. On top of that, unlike most other humans with”a job,” I have a million other things that I do on the side. Not one, one million. The biggest one, you may have read in the annals of the travels of Geordie Tait, is being a comics artist / movie producer. I was in Daily Variety! Woo hoo! It’s like having another job! Except it doesn’t pay anything for years to come! But that’s not enough for me, oh no. I’m not satisfied until I have absolutely no free time whatsoever. So I am doing contract design and development for not one, but two, Israeli tech companies, submission request from one of the biggest comics companies — all right, the biggest — ya got me, and Secret Project One, as well as Secret Project Two. And you wonder why I don’t have time to play Magic on Sundays.

So anyway, compound that with having a really hard day at my regular job. In general, I can’t complain. It’s basically the best job I’ve ever had, both in terms of compensation and the fact that I have enough time to do all those other things that I want to do. So I’m spoiled. So when I have a bad day, it seems even worse. Rather than being thankful, I get angry. Sue me, I’m a jerk. So I get out of a super late night at 7:15 (yeah, I know, heh), at which point I decide to meet my wife to go to some club. I wasn’t going to go, but I found out that this gig is one block from Houston and Ludlow, and you know what that means. Yes, gentle readers, I was going to drown my sorrows in a pastrami sandwich.

One thing that I like to do is call Jon Becker when I am about to eat at Plataforma or Katz’s. Even though he has Pat’s King of Steaks and I no longer live in Philadelphia, he can’t really hope to defeat New York on the meat eateries field of battle. These conversations usually go something like this:

“Hey, guess where I’m going.”

“I hate you.” (hangs up)

I told Becker I was having a bad day, but apparently he was watching Jeopardy! so he (for once) couldn’t chat. He said that Katz’s was a sure way to end the day’s suffering.

I also talked to the Rabbit. I am usually happy. The Rabbit is usually pissed off at someone or something, and hates those around him with almost the same ferocity as any random former member of Team Deadguy.

“Is this how you feel every day?”

“Yeah, pretty much.”

I forgot to tell Joshie that I was going to Katz’s but I’m sure that he would have echoed Becker’s sentiments.

So I get to Katz’s, and Benny the counterman gives me an extra slice of pastrami on top of my slab of pastrami, extra juicy.”You eat that real quick, that big piece,” Benny says.”I gave you extra. They watch us like hawks.”

So not only do I get to grab some Katz’s, but I get an extra slice of Pastrami, extra juicy. I clean my plate (obviously). It’s a struggle with that kind of quantity of that kind of material, but I do it. What do I think to myself afterward?

“Sigh. This tastes like a hot dog.”

You know you are having a bad day, that your senses are dulled beyond recognition, that you are succumbing to the daily grind, when you are not only not uplifted by the power of pastrami… but you can’t taste the difference between the finest sandwich meat on the planet and a ninety-nine cent street dog. Sigh (redux).