Peace of Mind: Losing Time

Too many things in life are left undone. Do them. Untried. Try them. Unsaid. Say them. You will complete the walk across the room.

Page 30.

I sat and stared at the newest Scrye for a moment, scarcely believing my eyes as they quickly scanned over the snippet of text delineating the Indian Summer deck from”Internet personality Mike Mason.”

Thank you, Joshua Claytor.

Page 30. Sweet.

When I started to put the magazine away and noticed I had decided to use the corner of the magazine as part of my entree for no particular reason, a wan smile stole across my features in 3:1 time. Symbolism, that psychological process by which we attribute meaning to meaninglessness, synchronicity to coincidence, the manifestation of the maxim”perception is reality” in the most subtle way, proclaiming”That is me” – when to all others it is merely a Scrye dipped in almond chicken sauce.

To me, it bespoke a single word: Immersion.

Such is life. On June 18th, I wrote Reconstructing God, and on August 20th, I find myself wondering where two months have gone.

Time is ethereal, a construct of humankind designed to create order from chaos and provide meaning and structure to the fundamental entropy of our existence. Time is at once both the most objective and subjective measurement of our lives, as it inexorably marches us forward, each step we take being a point of no return. What is endurance but a willingness to disregard time and instead exert one’s own intransigent will?

For two months, my friends and I have all endured various hardships. Every week has brought some other unwanted guest to the dinner table, and it seems as if every one has gone through a particularly rough time lately, from relationship breakups (including my own heartbreak) to car troubles to job loss to the onset of diabetes to unexpected pregnancy, and my birthday was spent at a wake, mourning the father of an ex-girlfriend-now-best-friend, a man who lived hard and died harsh, a Good person whose kind words and unsolicited acts of charity and constant support and encouragement and humor will be sorely missed by all of us.

I turned twenty-nine… And while I’ve always had an appreciation for art that mimics reality, suddenly I didn’t merely understand St. Elmo’s Fire; we were living it, and as each day passes I’m more conscious of the manner in which I’m losing time, watching it slip by in the shadows and unable to do much beyond learning from what has been lost, focusing on the present, and hoping for the future to turn out a reasonable facsimile of my expectations.

Immersed, I found precious little time for Magic; it’s a craft that requires a significant amount of devotion. Unfortunately, but rightfully, it’s one of the first luxuries to be dropped when I start losing time, when I need to focus more on the well-known vessels, S.S. Relation and S.S. Hard, that arise out of the inky darkness with foghorns blaring.”Iceberg ahead!” their warnings proclaim, and while there are those who prefer sitting in the galley and playing cards to navigating safely through treacherous waters, I’m not one of them.

Have a carrot, Mason.

I managed to make a couple of tournaments, winning one of them, and I’ll detail that saga later in the article – so if you want to skip the ever-enlightening personal reflection, just Control-F your way to”And I won.” and I promise not to hold it against you. I mean, hey, I’m an Internet personality and all, but I’m usually a fairly decent fellow.

Binary21 has been working on IBC for quite a long time, to the point where I actually had to do research to come up with the fact that on March 5th, I exclaimed loudly to the world this:

“I want to be the guy who says, ‘Blurred Mongoose is some good.’”

IBC is a fascinating environment, and it’s amazing how much change Apocalypse brought to the set. In that same article I extolled the virtues of Urza’s Guilt, which was testing exceptionally in Traffic.dec, and which quickly disintegrated with nary a sound when Dodecapod appeared on the radar. (Later, I attempted to reconstruct Traffic, but received so many repeated beatings that I eventually surrendered to the realization that Urza’s Guilt is a card whose time is yet to come.)

People at the time wondered both why I was so hyped about Mongoose, as everyone knows – but also were curious why we were testing so fervently for a format in which we were not going to compete for many months. I gave the answer I thought would be apparent: It stopped us from having to play catchup once Apocalypse was released, it showed us the power of decks that could be built from Invasion and Planeshift, and when Apocalypse blew people out of the water, we were able to soften our landing a bit by tweaking existing designs and having an intimate knowledge of the synergies of the first two sets.

We didn’t want to lose time.

In the last year, I’d placed 3rd at PTQ Chicago, 13th at PTQ Tokyo, 17th at PTQ LA, and qualified for the Grudge Match; I’d watched Scott and Will come close-but-not-quite, and the taste of success made me yearn for more, throwing my energies into Magic at levels previously unheard of, building and testing and innovating and striving for success in the face of failure because of one concept that stretched beyond pride, competitiveness, willpower, or stubbornness – hope.

Hope is what keeps us going.

Friedrich Nietzsche stated that”Hope is the worst of evils, for it prolongs the torments of man”…. But I find that statement leaves too cynical an aftertaste in my heart. Isn’t hope the aphrodisiac of faith, the element of the human condition that enables us to defeat time?

Observe hope from a mathematical perspective. Are you familiar with Zeno’s Paradox? It asserts that a person begins at point A, with the expressed goal of crossing the room to point B. In order for a person to cross a room, that person must first cross the halfway point of the room, which we can name point C. To continue from C to B, the person must once again cross the halfway point of the remaining distance, which is point D. This repeats itself until you realize the paradox is that you can continue dividing up space forever, paring it down into smaller and smaller fractions, and that in order to cross the room, an infinite number of points must be crossed – which cannot occur in a finite period of time. Therefore, the paradox concludes, it is impossible for a person to cross a room.

Hope, therefore, is the belief in the finite overcoming the infinite, that there will be an ending to the walk across the room. A goal reached. A completion.

Without hope, would we be able to take even one step?

That hope has sustained us through a lot of episodes of disappointment and frustration, and kept the team going when at times one or more of us were dissatisfied with playtesting and Magic in general and needed a break, and we’ve built upon our successes and magnified our capabilities exponentially.

We haven’t broken through yet, but there’s still hope, because the subtleties of success haven’t escaped us.

There’s an overwhelming urge in Magic to be”the first”; this goes beyond, of course, winning a tournament. It means the first to generate a certain deck idea, the first to be associated with a specific card or color combination or theme, the first to have his or her name hurled about the Internet for their deeds. It’s the race that we all participate in every time a set rotates in or out, every time a tournament approaches. Who’s going to be the first to put forth the article about the presumed metagame? Who’s going to post the bomb that blows rock-scissors-paper to smithereens? Who’s going to summarize the cards to pick in draft, carefully delineated by color, casting cost, and artist?

That race to be first has largely vacated my mental premises, and I find myself wondering if that’s a sign that I should be getting out of Magic – or instead, a sign that I’m on the right path.

I don’t want to be first anymore; I just want to get across the room. I just want to win – and I think this is a vibe that’s been passing through the entire team. Even JMS, whose deck wizardry is well documented, is trying to tune a Deck for the PTQ instead of focusing on twenty or thirty like usual.


IBC, for us, boiled down to a simple series of questions. Years ago, I read a Zvi Mowshowitz article that determined the questions that must be answered by a deck in the Urza’s Years (for example,”What does your deck do against a Worship/Pariah lock?”) I would love to find the original article, as would a few others on the Star City list. Hint, hint.

I’ve been doing the same with my decks for quite awhile, developing the”Questions That Must Be Answered.” You can’t metagame against every card, particularly in IBC, which is”the take three colors and stir” block. That’s why I love this block – it’s a mess. There are power cards flying all over the place, and every deck color or combination has done well at a tournament. This block makes you think, because you never know when someone’s going to drop a Goblin Trenches or a Rakavolver. Laugh away – but decks with those cards have won.

Building viable IBC decks meant answering these questions, in no particular order:

What does your deck do when it faces:

1. Blurred Mongoose?

2. Spectral Lynx?

3. Spiritmonger?

4. Collective Restraint?

5. Desolation Angel?

6. Questing Phelddagrif?

7. Pernicious Deed?

8. Voice of All?

That’s what it boils down to. Those aren’t the most powerful cards, necessarily, but they are cards that will be faced – the cards that decks need to either have an answer to or know how to circumvent.

The Questions can be evolved a step further to include combinations of cards, just as Zvi did; Orim’s Prayer and Humility was something that you had to have some sort of plan for, and I can personally attest to the disturbing Collective Restraint/Legacy Weapon conundrum.

Likewise, adding cards such as Powerstone Minefield or Destructive Flow to the list is feasible, but aren’t cards that your deck must answer against the metagame-at-large. In IBC, however, there is enough synergy and diversity that narrowing the focus too stringently or expanding it too freely works to your detriment in playtesting.

You can’t have an answer to everything.

It’s Magic.

We answered those questions. Instead of primarily aiming for a limited locus of decks, such as God (versus Fires and Rebels), or Gnome Rage (versus Trix and Oath), we simply built decks that had a game plan.

Carl was the first we knew to develop the deck that, at some point synchronously developed across the nation. It eventually became dubbed”No-Mar,” though for awhile it looked like it’d wind up as the equally-as-clever name”Dark Solution”, but in our minds despite many attempts to name it, in our hearts it will always be”CarlJ.dec” – and when a near-copy won PTQ Denver, we had a half-hearted commiseration about how one of us should have written about it, particularly from Carl who had attempted to convince multiple individuals on the Star City list to play his deck – and whom was largely ignored.

We were first? Nah. We were just the first we knew. Which is more important? Having everyone call it CarlJ.dec, or watching Will pilot it as”Lateralis” to a Top 8 finish at PTQ: New Orleans on Sunday?

I’ll choose the latter.

I wrote about the Indian Summer deck for Standard and was rewarded with Page 30, and Scott worked on tweaking it for IBC, in the same way that multiple individuals worked on multiple variations, a thousand monkeys with a thousand typewriters. Did the name”Indian Summer” ever catch on? No, unfortunately, as it’s a personal regret that the ability to cleverly name decks seemed to have exited the environment along with Urza’s Block (though admittedly the wide variety of viable IBC decks complicates things). What’s more important – everyone associating green/white/black control with me, or seeing Scott take the deck and go 5-1-1 in the GP-Minneapolis trial, his only loss being in the Top 4?

Once again, what’s important is success, not renown.

Now I even see Zvi listing Indentured Djinn and Unnatural Selection. Go, team!

Don’t get me wrong. Acclaim is definitely sweet, and I hold up Page 30 as a badge of pride, as the culmination of a desire to be known, the desire to have something associated with my name (that I wanted, of course – I’ve had many unwanted things attached to me unwillingly.) There’s definitely a perverse satisfaction that comes with being familiar to strangers, or associating with those who are. It’s with great pride that I associate myself with Scott, who is now affectionately known as”MLB Showdown Nationals Champion,” even though we seem to be the only two people we know who actually play the game, much less put effort into effectively metagaming it.

Christ, we metagamed MLB Showdown. How nuts is that?

Because he was busy watching Carlos Delgado’s bat propel him towards the championship, Scott was unable to attend July’s Team Sealed PTQ, though we were fortunate to stumble across Larry Waymon as a last-minute fill-in. The next day’s St. Louis Grudge Matches were canceled, not surprisingly, the whole event being an exercise in chaos from the get-go.

Flashback: June 18th, my last article for Star City was posted, and in it I share this -“I love Wildfire, by the way, and prior to the development of Indian Summer had been attempting to prove to the world that Nether-Obliterate isn’t a dead archetype. Is Wildfire inferior to Jokulhaups? Certainly. Is it typically just as devastating to an opponent? Most definitely.”

I didn’t post the deck because I was on my sabbatical, and on the day I was supposed to be competing in a Grudge Match, I instead woke up and grabbed my Indian Summer deck, only to have a strange instinct sparkle and flicker, and I finished throwing together my Nether-Obliterate build and planned to blow the control-heavy St. Louis environment apart.

And I won.

Swing from these, sweetheart.

Now, this wasn’t necessarily a grueling victory – read on and you’ll likely chuckle at the gauntlet I had to run; not because of opponent quality, but because of how few games I had to play.

From the archives of the Binary21 list, I present my brief, never-really-intended-for-publication, horribly unedited tournament report. I’m going to add a couple of anecdotes that weren’t in there previously.

—–Original Message—–

From: [email protected]

Sent: Sunday, July 15, 2001 8:52 PM

To: [email protected]

Subject: [binary21] My Nether-Obliterate tourney victory

Dead archetype, my butt.

I participated in a local T2 tournament today; since the Grudge Match was canceled, Scott and I had to get our competitive Magic fix in somehow.  There were eleven people signed up, nothing too major or large, which is a typical turnout for Sundays at the Gathering Ground.  I was originally going to run Summer, but when I stumbled out of bed around 11:30 or so, I went to pull my decks together and saw Emmanuel Zorg sitting there (points for knowing the reference and the reason his picture sits atop my deck) and said, dammit, I’ve had this deck mostly built for a very long time, and now that I’ve finally gotten all of the cards to play it, I’m going to run it. Low-maintenance, patient, and in the frequently control-oriented environment of St. Louis…a good choice.

Here’s the decklist:

NAME: Nether-Obliterate (Mason)

1x Vendetta

2x City of Brass

4x Sulfurous Springs

4x Geothermal Crevice

4x Peat Bog

4x Sandstone Needle

4x Sulfur Vent

4x Tinder Farm

4x Nether Spirit

4x Wildfire

4x Chimeric Idol

2x Cremate

4x Obliterate

4x Scorching Lava

3x Tsabo’s Web

4x Urza’s Rage

4x Terminate

SB: 3x Meekstone

SB: 2x Cremate

SB: 4x Tranquility

SB: 3x Massacre

SB: 3x Dodecapod

Tranquility, you ask? Yep. Between the Crevice, Farms, and Cities, I actually have ten methods of producing green mana, and I’ve always feared facing”that one guy” with Sacred Ground in his sideboard. Massacre for regenerators, Cremate for opposing Nether Spirits or heavy burn/discard, and Meekstone for, apparently, every deck out there.

Round 1: BYE. Neat-o. I watch Scott play his match in the sweltering heat of the non-air conditioned store.

Round 2: Twelve-year-old John Lawrence, playing W/B/R Desolation Archetype.dec.  He’s never seen NO before, and doesn’t look like he wants to ever see it again. My first four turns consist of laying down saclands, and he’s clearly perplexed. He Verdicts away a couple of burn spells and lays a Lynx that hits twice before I decide to Terminate it, and when he hits six mana, I Obliterate.

We recover, I drop an Idol, which he Terminates. He works his way up to six mana again, and I Obliterate.


My Nether Spirits seem to be hiding in my deck (cue Israel Marques here), and thus I’m just playing the waiting game. I don’t miss a land drop the entire game, which is always very enjoyable; 26 land is fun. He’s also running 26, which helps his recovery. After two Obliterates, he finally drops his big bomb, triumphantly exclaiming”Desolation Angel with kicker!”

I float red and black and Terminate it in response.

Having sent nineteen land to his graveyard, with myself only losing eleven or twelve, I quickly generate more mana, and begin Nether Spirit beats, taking time out of Spirit’s busy schedule to throw a few Rages his way to speed up the process.

Game is mine.

Second game is somewhat amusing. First turn, I opt to discard Nether Spirit instead of laying a land. He Verdicts second turn, I drop a Wildfire and an Obliterate (still with an Oblit in hand.) I draw a Dodecapod, lay a land – and he Verdicts once again.

Hello, free 5/5.

Swinging for seven a turn is, I hear, rather good.

[Anecdote: I played him on Sunday during the GP Trial, and had the dubious luxury of sitting next to him, and can confidently proclaim that he’s a savage cheater. I noticed a lot of questionable plays when I faced him at the NO tourney, but chalked it up to him attempting to be funny when he was clearly losing with no chance. Having witnessed him since, however, it’s somewhat ridiculous. As I dominated him at the GP Trial, I let it slide, because he’s so poor at cheating that you can’t help but notice if you pay even a modicum of attention to the game state. My favorite is the”grab a handful of land, stack it on top of each other, tap it, lay down two spells” maneuver, where he’s always one or two mana short of actually being able to cast both, followed only by the”accidentally knocking over the die to a higher life” move, finally topped off by the”furtively glancing at opponent to see if he noticed I drew more cards than I should.” Normally it would bother me much more, but he isn’t competitive enough to threaten a victory, and as a result I look upon him with amusement, sort of like the town drunk that everyone wishes would straighten out his life, but doesn’t take the time to check into rehab. If you play him, St. Louisans, watch out for him, and if you play him in a serious tournament, don’t hesitate to call a judge immediately before and after directing ridicule in Mr. Lawrence’s direction.]

1-0 matches, 2-0 games.


Round 3: Eric, local JSS champ

Eric a good kid, we always talk with him and a couple of other guys, notably Shawn Phelan and Peter Sauer. Peter, by the way, won the weekly Star City contest not too long ago with this article. Eric playing blue/red.dec, which is an unpleasant matchup for me. Anything that has burn is unpleasant because they can race me.

The first game, however, is all mine. He knows what I’m playing from watching my other match, and thus presses things a bit by tapping out to drop a kicked Skizzik (Terminated). Obliterate. Drop a Spirit. Swing. Swing. Swing. Swing. Obliterate. Pause. Swing, Lava. Swing, Lava. Swing, Rage.

You get the picture. There were a couple of Idols that got Raged by him in there, and he dropped a couple of Seals of Fire, but it was a cakewalk.

Second game is a close match. He’s a good player, and hoards land. I make the questionable decision to follow a first-turn Peat Bog with a City of Brass so that I can drop an Idol before he gets two blue. The Idol hits a few times, but I don’t draw Obliterate; he counters a Wildfire, and keeps dropping Seals o’Fire. His attempts at offense are thwarted once again by Terminate, until I finally drop a Spirit, and with him at five life and myself at seven, I Obliterate.

He uses Ice to tap the City, which I hadn’t tapped (two Seals on the board), and on his next turn lays a Mountain and draws a Seal of Fire. Ouch.

At this point, we decided to draw into the Top 4.

Don’t you love local tourneys?

1-1 matches, 3-1 games.


T4: Sam, who beat Scott the first round

Sam’s playing black/blue Djinn/Familiar.dec, and doesn’t realize what I’m playing as, again, he’s unfamiliar with the archetype. Thus, imagine his surprise when he sees the myriad of lands that I’m laying down. I don’t draw an Obliterate, but draw 8,000 lands, all of which I carefully lay down. He drops a Familiar, but Lava takes care of it; he drops a Djinn, but not one Terminate (countered), but two Terminates take care of it. Meanwhile, I’ve had a Rage in my hand, and notice that I have enough depletion lands and sac lands out to generate twelve mana on consecutive turns.

I draw the second Rage, and, therefore, I do. Two kicked Rages to the head,

and the game is mine.

Gotta love dem apples.

The second game sees him keep a one-land and Opt hand, which helps me immensely, particularly as I opt to discard Nether Spirit once again in order to get the clock running. He doesn’t get a second land for a couple of turns. When he does, and drops a Familiar, the Familiar is Vendetta’d. Spirit beats, and beats, and beats, and beats, and then Idol beats a little, and then some burn is thrown in.

Nether Spirit is some good, I hear.

In neither game do I cast Wildfire or Obliterate, which is interesting; I was simply able to burn/beat him out. Terminate is so very good.

Matches 3-0, Games 5-1


Finals: Against Eric, again.


Eric isn’t looking forward to the matchup, but neither am I. In both games against him, I saw no indication of ACC spells, which made me very happy (Sam had some, but since I have twelve cards that chuckle at control decks, it only worried me because of the presence of Wildfire. Wildfire means an investment against control, because I typically sac lands to cast it – therefore, if it’s countered, it is highly detrimental for me.)

Nether Spirit is out early in the first game, and he puts down a Razorfin Hunter, which is Vendetta’d.  He Lava’s my Spirit, and I drop an Idol, which gets Raged.  He accumulates land, and I drop another Spirit, which he attempts to Lava; however, I Terminate it in response. A couple of Seals are out (as always), and he kicks a Skizzik, and I eat it, for I see him tapped out with five land in play – and voila, Wildfire resolves for the one and only time all day, clearing the board for Nether, who walks in a few times, assisted by burn spells and an Obliterate. He doesn’t draw any solution except for a Terminated Razorfin Hunter, and when he’s at five I swing with the Spirit and he asks”Got a Rage?” I flash it and he scoops.

Second game, more of the same. Do I need to go into too much detail? It’s the same every game, which makes this deck fun. He gets rid of a Spirit, but another one follows, an Idol gets through a few times, and eventually, it’s just a matter of time as he is Skizzik-less, and thus relatively non-threatening.

Game. Tourney.

Matches 4-0, Games 7-1.

Yes, that has to be the worst tournament report I’ve ever written.

So many of the matches blurred together since they were all so similar. I didn’t see a single Port, but the Web’ cantrip effect made their inclusion inconsequential. In every matchup, I wound up bringing in Meekstones; first to stop Desolation Angel, then Skizzik, then Djinn, and then of course Skizzik again.  In only one game, which I believe was my second game against Sam, did I hit any extended non-land ruts; most of the time, every turn, there I was laying down two mana and slowly picking away. The best thing about playing NO is that people rush things, by necessity, because they’re always afraid that once I have four land out, they’re toast. The anticipation of a threat is always worrisome.  With the solid complement of burn and creatures, there was never really a time where I worried except against Eric in the”City of Brass game.” As I did about six points of damage to myself with the City, coupled with Springs a couple of times, I can safely say that the deck would have gone undefeated. Ah, well – gamble, win some, lose some.

It was nice to play this deck in a tournament since it’s been a pet project for so long. I was curious how the six single-mana lands would affect my game play, but they often turned out to be rather critical components of the deck, allowing me to react more quickly to threats by not having to wait for one of my saclands to clear up.  I never had to use a depletion land to a point where it hindered me, which I was also afraid of; typically I’d use them once and then set them aside for eventual win condition usage.

I can’t think of anything maindeck I’d change; the Webs were the only dead cards at times, and they’re never really dead if they’re getting me closer to blowing up the world.  The deck takes a lot of strategizing, because although you draw a lot of land, there’s a keen need to make sure you always eventually have black and red available in order to power Terminates. I’ve often said that every deck has a”critical mass” for land, which is of course how many lands it takes to run the deck effectively. A lot of decks nowadays have upped that to four or five land, which is certainly to NO’s advantage.

Anyway, I netted ten packs in victory, and garnered another Vindicate, another Deed, and a Forge[/author]“]Battlefield [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author], and a bunch of crap (though I did get another Desolation Angel – you never know..) All in all, well worth the $6.50 tourney entrance fee. 🙂

[Anecdote: Obviously, the sideboard could use some work; Pernicious Deed is likely a much better selection than Massacre, though I didn’t have that thought at the time; I was guilty of last-minute sideboarditis, which is always dangerous.]


—–End Message—–

In a lot of ways, after a few disappointing tournament placings (“losing” time, indeed) I’d started to wonder if my window of opportunity had come and go. Odyssey’s release is only a month and a half away, the summer dissipating like mist during my self-imposed withdrawal from Magic. When Masques block rotates out, Nether Spirit and Chimeric Idol, two of the most defining creatures of the Standard environment, will fall by the wayside. Their time is now; their time will soon be no more.

Each year there are decks that are given little more than a cursory glance; everyone can relate to the creative process, the number of times you’ve seen a successful deck and thought,”Man, I was on that track, too! I knew I should have kept at it.” When I look at the GP: Kobe decks and see red/white/blue builds, I examine Kitchen Sink, my original IBC wedge deck, and notice how my other decks evolved along the same lines of efficiency and card advantage – and think,”That’s what this could have turned into, if I’d just put the effort into it.”

But I didn’t.

There isn’t enough time to build and test and prepare for everything; only time to answer Questions, and sometimes I’ve found myself laying in bed asking those same Questions of a vacant sky and finding no response.

There are, unfortunately, too many decks I’ve been unable to play as I wished, opportunities lost because others were seized. I adored this deck during testing, but it kept being pushed aside to be played another day. Something else always came up or was picked in its place. Thus, I’m glad I was able to play NO and earn a victory before it was relegated to the archive folders of Apprentice, the digital equivalent of closing the shutters and locking the doors, being laid to rest and rendered moot and mute, quietly mourned, time past, lost in the progression towards tomorrow.

Too many things in life are left undone. Do them. Untried. Try them. Unsaid. Say them. You will complete the walk across the room. Be patient, set goals, and keep hope’s breath in your ear. Often we try and live ahead of where we are, taking time for granted rather than cherishing the moment. The race isn’t as important as achieving your goals. Don’t press forward so quickly that you miss the importance of the now, and be wary of losing time.

There are some things you simply will never have the chance to experience again.

Rest in peace, Louis Vernon Hoffman. Godspeed.

-m / 00010101