I am ten seconds away from beating the game that has consumed the last two months of my life – Planescape: Torment, one of the finest PC games ever created – when my teenaged stepdaughter comes down the stairs, dressed in the splendid regalia she intends to wear for her next dance.
My opinion means a lot to her. It’s one of the few bennies I really get in the house; as the outsider whose first words to her were, "So how badly does your sister get on your nerves?", I am the only adult she’s close to who’s not really a parent. I am sarcastic. I am bluntly honest at all times. I admit that I’ve used drugs in the past and that I’ve enjoyed them, though I tend to balance that out with the horror stories of losing friends to heroin addiction. I am, in short, about as far from a father figure as one is likely to come… but when you’re a fourteen year-old girl who’s looking to rebel in any way at all, that’s a plus.
I also could care less about clothes.
So there I am, in a place I really can’t pause in a game that I’ve spent well over fifty hours plowing my way through, and she comes in. Radiant. Dressed to the nines. Wanting approval.
Being new at this parenting thing, I don’t even realize that this is A Moment.
I flail blindly behind me at thin air, shouting, "Hang on a minute! HANG ON A MINUTE!" After an awkward silence, I finally get to a pausable place in the combat against my eternal soul made flesh – how often does one get to say THAT? – and turn around. There she stands, in a tight-fitting red gown, earrings, hair made up as only a fourteen-year old with time to burn can, clasping her hands in front of her demurely.
"Looks okay," I say, then turn around to smash my avatar and reclaim my humanity.
Two minutes later, I turn around to see a furious wife behind me, fuming at what I’ve done. Erin’s now in tears, demanding that her mother take her out now to buy her a prettier dress. I can’t understand why.
Turns out that in Guy Language, which is only slightly above grunts and picking nits off of other people’s backs, "okay" means "okay." But in the more ethereal GIRL language, where you don’t really quite say what you mean, "Okay" means "I really can’t quite bring myself to tell you how astonishingly ugly you look, so therefore I shall just give you a neutral comment and hope you take the hint." Erin believes that I have just insulted her, whereas *I* believed that I was stating that she was suitable for any dance that would have her.
Three arguments, two apologies, and about fifteen clarifications later, I have successfully explained that had I thought she looked like a wet garbage sack, I would have told her she looked like crap. She believes this. She knows me.
Everything patched up for the moment, she goes off to the dance and shows her new dress off. And I have learned that Erin doesn’t want an opinion, she wants approval, else she will be heartbroken. Fair enough. I can lie.
Two weeks later, it’s Friday and I’m thinking about my latest deck. Thanks to Sheldon hammering the table with Wildfires and Pattern-of-Rebirthed Multani, Maro-Sorcerors, I have officially decided that I hate being beaten down with large creatures. So I created an anti-attack deck centered around a fairly nasty combo: Caltrops, which deals a point of damage to any attacking creature, and Death Pits of Rath, which destroys any creature whenever it’s dealt damage. Throw in Ensnaring Bridges, Searing Touches (ping! It’s dead!), and Cursed Scrolls for good measure.
It worked as far as it was supposed to. Nobody attacked me. They COULDN’T. But they all ganged up on me, however, and slowly-but-surely burned my dome down to zero. I came in dead last every game, because everyone had to get rid of me before they could get down to business.
I could have won some games… but I had no kill mechanism. I tried using Brush With Death, but that only works in a mana-rich format and there was too much land reset in the current game. Syphon Soul is a nice hoser, but four of them are only eight points of damage to each opponent. The Cursed Scroll was always used on defense, popping critters that I needed dead, so I couldn’t ping my opponents. I needed something big.
I had nothing.
Working twenty hours a week editing StarCity on top of a full-time job is exhausting, and the time in-between is spent reviewing books for Amazon (sweet and easy money, my friends), getting my book proposals done, and designing websites for friends of mine. I have no spare time, and thus I had no new ideas to bring to the table. I had my Bouncing Weasels, which was always fun, my Processor Deck, a Rectorcussion deck that I’d been working on, and this thing.
And I didn’t feel like going to play tonight.
I had nothing new to bring. David Phifer’s always working up these weirdo new creations, or at least radically altering his existing decks so they fire differently – his Deranged Hermit/Recurring Nightmare decks have gone through straight beatdown (Coat of Arms) to combo (Opposition) to tap-out destruction (Kyren Negotiations) to God knows what next. Sheldon comes up with a new deck every other week or so. The other folk who show up cart around boxes with eight or ten decks, and drag each of them out for special occasions.
And I’m looking at my single new deck, barely altered, and I hear my own dispassionate words floating back to me:
I had nothing to wear for the prom.
Anyone else ever felt this? Multiplayer night is a lot like a fashion show – every week you sashay out onto the tables, hoping to show your latest and greatest creation. You really want people to like what you made, to "ooh" and "aah" over the sucker – but more importantly, you can’t wait to see what other people have brought too. You hope your friends have come up with some really cool decks, decks that present new challenges, quirky decks that you can’t quite figure out where they’re going… right up to the point where they finally fire up and take over.
There’s excitement in the air. There’s freshness and zeal. You really don’t know what’s out there.
Casual play is about showing off your latest creation. About winning in unpredictable and unforeseeable ways. About doing something not necessarily effective, but AMAZING.
And I am bone-dry.
Ironic, perhaps, that the editor of one of the major Magic webzines is claiming a lack of inspiration, but it could be that I see too much. I love my Bouncing Weasels and they’re hideously effective in groups without major reset buttons, but it gets boring after awhile. Sure, it’s fun saying, "I declare an attack with seven creatures against you, you, and you – whoops! Vitalizing Wind! Game over"… but eventually it becomes tiresome. The most fun I’ve had with the Weasels is when my wife, playing it for the first time, Splintered both the Caltrops AND the Ensnaring Bridges in my "No big critters" deck, rendering my entire deck useless with two spells – and that was fatherly pride more than anything else. My Processor Deck has shown itself to be a major pain under the right circumstances, getting me into the stratosphere of 350 life while I pump out a steady stream of 27/27 creatures.
But they’re tuned decks. (Mostly.) I know they work, my FRIENDS know how they work (Bolt the Elf for Weasels, early beatdown for the Processor to keep me below twelve life or so), and it’s just unfun.
I’ll repeat the statement that’s gotten me in so much trouble: If you’re not playing to win, you’re playing for fun.
Repetition is Not Fun.
Repetition is Not Fun.
Repetition is Not Fun.
I need that spark. I need the excitement of finding a deck that ALMOST works, but doesn’t quite pull it off, a deck that I can lovingly propel and massage into something to be feared, something Strong… and I’m lackin’ it. I can’t quite come up with it.
Rectorcussion is close, but I need to make it a bit more controllish and find some way to prevent mass creature-kill. After all, it’s no good Pyroclasming with a Furnace of Rath on the table when nobody has more than a creature or two out, is it? I want to wipe everyone out at once in one grand sweep, and I’d be reinspired. As it is…
No new ideas. Nothing exciting, anyway. Nothing that really puts a cattleprod to my butt and makes me jump out of my seat, yelling, "My GOD! I MUST build that deck!"
And I WANT that feeling, dammit.
I assume it’s rather like when I see pro players get burned out. It’s not that they get tired of playing, but rather that the energy required to keep up with the game at the higher levels is tremendous. Staying on top of every expansion, reading all the sites, checking all the tourney reports, building new decks, trading for rares… the game’s still fun, but all the prep work gets tedious. So they just decide it’s not worth it, and quit altogether.
And here’s a tip to you professional players: FOR GOD’S SAKE, IF YOU’RE QUITTING MAGIC, DON’T SELL YOUR COLLECTION. Lend it to a friend. Store it underground next to that toxic waste dump. Shove it in the back of the doghouse and let the rats gnaw on it. But don’t ebay the sucker, or you’re gonna regret it. Because you’re not freakin’ quitting – you’re HIBERNATING, chumplet. I guarantee you, I’ve seen it more times than I can count, and you’re no exception – you’re like an alcoholic, pouring all of your booze down the sink on the day you quit. You’ll go dry for six months, maybe a year if you’re lucky… and then just like every other form of addiction, you’ll run into an old friend. Somebody who still plays. He’ll lend you a deck – hey, the first pack’s always free, right mah man? – just so you can go a couple of rounds in the latest tourney. You’re not playing to win, of course, you’re just goofing. It’s an afternoon of fun. What the hell.
Three days later you’re pathetically walking around in bare feet to all of your old friends houses, begging to root through their commons boxes, desperately pawing through hundreds of Trickster Mages and Shackles to find the four cards you need to recreate your signature deck. Your eyes start to sting as that forehead wound opens up again and trickles blood into your eyes… ‘cuz you’ve spent the last two days slamming your noggin into a stiff brick wall. And all the while, you’re wishing you hadn’t sold the Black Lotus and the Ernham Djinn. Why? WHY?
Because you’re frickin’ deluded, that’s why. You’re not leaving. I mean, you can check out any time you want, but… oh hell, you know the song.* And I applaud the decision of alkies to rid their house of all temptation… but if said alkie owned a wine cellar where he could get maybe $2,000 for the entire set, I’d probably tell him just to lock the basement real tight and give the key to a good friend. If you’re quitting, weigh the costs of reacquiring your entire collection versus the space they take up in your apartment. The good cards are small. I think you’ll find it’s an even trade. KEEP THE DAMN CARDS.
Trust me. Would I lie to you?
Okay. So what. HAVE I ever lied to you?
All right, I grant you that, too. But I’m not this time. Wakefield’s coming back soon, and when he does I hope he didn’t sell off the Verdant Forces. He’ll want ’em back.
And what about Your Humble Narrator? The Ferrett? What’s he gonna do with Magic?
Well, first of all, he’s skipping tonight’s game until he can come up with something good. Which he will. I’ve got two Blinding Angels and four Force of Wills, so there’s gotta be something out there. It’s a temporary situation, and it’ll go away.
Secondly, I’m going to go to my ferret room and look at the vast quantities of cards there… then pile them up into a big Scrooge McDuck-gold depository heap that fills the room waist-deep****, dive in, and swim around, scattering cards here and there, doing a comical backstroke across a heap of battered Unholy Strengths and Order of Leitburs. Eventually I’ll climb out and, magically, two really cool cards will be wedged firmly in my shorts, giving me the inspiration to make a Friday Night-worthy deck around them. Hmmm…. Here’s an Aluren and a Wandering Eye! THAT’S IT!*****
Thirdly, I think I’ll do my hair up in kind of a spotted bouffant, put on that sparkly stuff that guys just go WILD for, and wear a strapless nut-brown dress that’s cut up to the tops of my thighs. After all, it’s prom night.
And besides, if being a chunky, balding thirty year-old in a teenager’s prom dress at the table doesn’t give me SOME kind of psychological edge next Friday, I don’t know WHAT will.
NEXT WEEK: My Invasion Prerelease Report, With Thanks to [email protected] – He’s Been Bugging Me, And Been Right To
Visit The Ferrett Domain if you’re not easily offended. Matter of fact, stay away if you’re offended at all. Probably it’s best if you leave now, really….
* – Hotel California, bozoboy. Or maybe you’re just too young to remember this. Go buy "The Eagles’ Greatest Hits." No, I don’t like it either. I hated the Eagles when I was growing up**, but it’s one of those cultural things you should just KNOW by now. Go listen. Go!***
** – Well, not really. But it sounds better than "I didn’t despise the Eagles, but I didn’t seek out their albums either."
*** — As long as we’re on the topic of Being Bored With Magic, we might as well clear up something that’s always irritated me: I LOVE MUSIC. This in itself is not the cause of the irritation. The trouble is that every other Magic writer manages to find time to quote their favorite band (Hi, Sean) or to bring up what they’re listening to (Hi, Rui), or mention their dog (Mister Alongi!), which just annoys me. I have yet to master the art of veering very far from Magic when I write. Gah.
Thus, to get MY particular point of view across and to inject a personal note, I shall share The Incredibly Hip Things The Ferrett Listens To While He Is Working:
FREEDY JOHNSTON – "Live at 33 1/3": Freedy is one of those truly talented songwriters who could have made a million by now… if only he was willing to write songs for other people. As it is, he writes these tender, heartbreaking, gentle songs that really have some of the best lyrics and tunes ever – then sings them all in his thin, reedy voice, which I really love but turns some people off. Mark my words: Freedy is the best songwriter in America right now. And "Live at 33 1/3" is just him and a friend playing acoustically, playing songs like "Until the Sun Comes Back Again," "The Lucky One," "The Mortician’s Daughter," and "Wichita Lineman." It’s uneven, but brilliant.
My advice: Take the time while you’re still hooked up to the ‘net to Napster out a copy of his most famous song, "Bad Reputation." It’ll be worth it.
THE BLOODHOUND GANG – "Hooray for Boobies": On the other end of the spectrum, we have a bizarre meld of metal, rap, and Dr. Demento that is also tremendously uneven, but when it works it works. I myself can’t stand their regurgitated disco hit, "The Bad Touch" (that’s the one that goes, "You and me, baby, ain’t nothin’ but mammals….") – but really cutting songs like "The Ballad of Chasey Lane" (a deranged fan’s paean to a porn star who’s been paeaned once too often), their cover of "Along Comes Mary," and the gem of the album, "I Hope You Die," are all really sarcastic AND thrashable. How can you not like a song that hopes you get thrown in jail with a guy named Bowling Ball Bag Bob who does the "Silence of the Lambs" dance to Christian Rock? And the hip-hop version of the Pac-Man theme song is a brilliant touch.
FATBOY SLIM AND PAUL OAKENFIELD – "Essential Selection Vol. 1": When I dance, I’ve always wanted to go where the techno is really fast and funky. It takes a lot to get my chunk-o-licious butt movin’ out onto the dance floor, because most "dance" music is either sporadic beats without any sort of groove, or repetitive newage crap (think "trance"). However, this collection of a theoretical night out on the floor by two of the world’s best DJs is worth listening to. Check out Fatboy’s "Everybody Loves A Carnival" and his mix of Ceasefire vs. Deadly Avenger’s "Evil Knievel" for truly frenetical, groove-shakin’ blitzkrieg boppin’. If only the damn CD would stop trying to dial up the CDDP whenever I put it in my computer. It’s a registered copy. Trust me.
NOFX – "So Long and Thanks For All The Shoes": Much better than their recent attempt "Pump Up The Valuum," this is the CD where you get the world’s best pop song, "Monosyllabic Girl." Short, sweet, in your face, perfect. Oh yeah, and the rest is eminently listenable as well, including the teenager-hatin’ "All Outta Angst." If you like punk music at all, get this.
BLINK 182 – "Enema Of The State": On the other hand, if you like these guys, don’t think it’s punk music. It was bound to happen eventually – the thrashy, angry sound of true punk has been swallowed whole into American culture, to the point where bands can put out perfectly wonderful pop music with punk trappings. This is as frothy as candy and about as deep – don’t be fooled. But it’s still good.
THE BEATLES – "White Album": Go listen. It is nigh unto God. John Lennon was right.
**** — No, really. I could just about do this; I keep my cards in no particular order, they’re not in good shape, and my only concession to order was that when I moved to Alaska, I separated them all into boxes by expansion. That’s right; before then, I literally had SIX YEARS WORTH OF MAGIC CARDS IN ONE BIG PILE. Finding what I wanted was hell. And even then, I’m an idiot; after spending money and trading like blazes to get four Academy Rectors for my RectorCussion deck, I discovered after looking through my Urza’s Destiny box that I not only had TWO Academy Rectors hidden in the box… but one of them was foil. D’oh. Also found were two Replenishes, two Repercussions, a Donate, and other cards I’d been wondering whether I owned. Bozo.
***** — Maybe not.