Remembering Why We Play

In this week’s article, Mark reminisces about how he got into the game of Magic and talks about why it’s important to remember why we play.

I was told this week I could write about whatever I want to.

You’re a brave content coordinator, Cedric.

A braaaaaaave content coordinator.

I thought about a bunch of different things that I’d like to talk about. You see, this time of the year is pretty slow. There aren’t really any tournaments to cover, the SCG Open Series is on a break, Standard is still . . . Standard, and everyone is succumbing to the holiday spirit. ‘Tis the season, right? As I type this, I’m getting worked over by pumpkin-spiced eggnog. This stuff sneaks up on you.

Wish me luck, kids. This is some strong sauce we’re drinking.

There’s a lot that I’ve wanted to write about recently, but I’ve been traveling. I spent about two weeks playing Magic between Grand Prix Dallas-Fort Worth and the SCG Invitational in Las Vegas, so all I’ve been covering have been the tournaments I’ve been battling in. That’s actually the easy part because event reports pretty much write themselves.

  • I went to Event A.
  • I played Deck B.
  • I ate at Establishment C.
  • I finished in Position D.
  • I learned Lesson E.

Now I know my ABCs.

I thought about it pretty extensively, and since I’ve been bitten by the holiday bug, why not spread some cheer that we can all get behind? I have a recent example of something magnificent that I want to expand upon.

It all started with a pretty simple question:

"Would you like to GameCube?"

Five words. Pretty innocuous, right?

You’re probably thinking, "Broooooo that system sucked."

You’d be wrong. While it didn’t have the extensive library that the PS2 had, the GameCube had some extremely entertaining entries that it presented to the game market. Have you ever played Tales of Symphonia, Robotech, Baten Kaitos, or Metroid Prime? Those games were insane! That isn’t even mentioning Melee, Windwaker, or Paper Mario, but the list could go on and on and on and . . .

This isn’t even about that GameCube by the way, but I wanted to set the record straight.

When I was in Las Vegas during the Invitational, in between rounds I was lucky enough to do some Cubing with our very own David McDarby. Dave is one of the nicest people I’ve met playing this game, and he was kind enough to share his own Cube invention with us: the GameCube.

For those of you who have never heard of it, McDarby created his own Cube made up entirely of video game-themed Magic cards. Not only did he create mechanics, keywords, synergies, and themes, but they are extremely well designed.

I mean extremely.

When Dave explained to me what this Cube was, I had to see it to believe it, but unbeknownst to Dave (although he’ll learn this if he reads this) his creation struck a note with me that I haven’t felt in years.

We’ll get to that in a minute though.

As we began to play heads up and battle each other, more time was spent reading the cards and laughing about how awesome they were than playing. Several of my friends and I were in such a gleeful state that all we could manage to do was show each other what was in our hands and talk about the best way to play them.

I thought things were going great for me when I established my Bonk and Squirtle in play, but Shawn French taught me a lesson when he cast Pokeball to special summon the Blastoise in hand. You see, if Blastoise enters the battlefield and he wasn’t cast, he returns all of your opponent’s nonland permanents to their hand. Pokeball reads, "Search your library for a Pokemon or put one from your hand into play."


I managed to rally, but time in the round was called so I had to get back to playing in the stupid Standard Open.

Lame, right?

As I played my U/W Control deck against wave after wave of decks, I couldn’t shake the feeling that the GameCube had given me. To be completely honest, it made me play my matches better. Why?

Because it made me remember why I loved Magic.

How easy is it to get caught up in the competitive aspects of Magic? It’s so simple to forget this is a game. After all, we spend so much time, effort, and money on this hobby that occasionally it can feel like more of a job than something we do for fun, right?

That’s miserable.

Why in the hell should we ever treat Magic like something we have to do?  Does it make any sense that we should forget that Magic is part escape from reality and part community activity meant to bring friends together?

The GameCube triggered something in me that had been long since been dormant, and thankfully it has been reawakened.

These old feelings of how I got into Magic and why I love it have been stirred. I want to share them with you. I want you to share yours with me.

I believe there is a certain symbiosis to this—like if I tell you how I got into Magic and what it means to me and you do the same and so on, we get this intoxicating situation where all of us just kind of get to bask in the positivity this creates.  

The Beginning

Like many of you, I got into Magic for the social aspect. I had just moved to Florida from Pittsburgh, and the isolation of entering a new school two months before it let out for summer break prompted me to do just about anything to make friends.

One day, while sitting in the library reading The Girlfriend by R.L. Stine (Fear Street 4 Lyfe), I noticed two kids playing with some cards a few feet away. In between figuring out just why Scotty would cheat on Lora with a clearly insane Shannon, I saw how much fun they were having. I recognized one of the boys from my history class and politely asked him what they were doing.

"It’s called Magic," he told me. The two returned to their game, and I continued trying to understand relationships. To this day, I still don’t.

Magic however was still in the back of my head.

When I went home, my Aunt Netty was there. Being my godmother and having no children of her own at the time, she was like my second mother and treated me as such. I told her about the card game I saw the kids playing, and she immediately decided to take me to Toys "R" Us to investigate further.

When I asked one of the associates about Magic, he pointed me to a rack with a few Portal Starter Decks. My aunt bought me one, and I set out to learn everything I could about this new and mysterious card game.

The next day I went to the library during my study hall period and again saw the two kids battling. I walked over, pulled out my newly acquired cards, and asked if I could join in. Luckily they thought it would be a great idea. Had they turned me down, I might not be writing this.

New friendships were forged as I began to learn all about Magic. I played by their rules, so of course we weren’t playing the right way, but who cared!? All I knew was when I hit seven mana Dijin of the Lamp was coming down and my friends didn’t have many ways to stop him. That guy was a house in our group, and the only card that they had to stop him was a recently acquired Teeka’s Dragon that my friend Dan had.

Time flies when you’re having fun, as it always does. The school year ended rather abruptly, and the daily Magic sessions that I had came to a close as quickly as they started.

I was devastated.

I put my cards away in a Tupperware container with the word "Magic" crudely scribbled on it and didn’t touch them for a few years until high school.

I’ll never forget the feeling of the games we had in the library, and I can still recount them with crystal clarity. It was Magic in its purest and most innocent form.

I miss that.

Late Nights

During my junior year of high school, I picked Magic back up again at the behest of several of my friends who found out I used to play when I was younger. The game had changed a great deal since then, but they all assured me it was every bit as fun as I remembered it so I took the plunge and started picking up cards again to play with.

It was then that I learned that Magic was one of the most entertaining things that I would ever do with my free time.

Around 2004, before I graduated high school, I started attending FNMs with my best friend John Dean. I played in afternoon tournaments locally, but FNM was something that only existed after a 45-minute drive to North Fort Myers. It didn’t start until late. We were seventeen and staying out late in a non-party capacity to play cards, and it was some of the most fun times I ever had.

Do you remember your first FNM?

Remember the feeling of seeing who you were paired against or sitting down across from them and playing that match? It all felt like it was worth so much more than it does after you’ve done it for years and years, but those first few tournaments made my hands shake. I was so nervous that I would lose or play badly or not be accepted and a whole host of other things that I can look back on and laugh about but at the time they meant the world.

It was during these tournaments that I learned about things like drafting and trading. I never really understood the intricacies of them before, but as the weeks progressed I learned more and more about how to craft a Limited deck. Soon I engaged in the delicate dance of trading with the locals. I was ripped off dozens of times, but it never bothered me. I was finally a part of something.

We hung out. We ate pizza. We played Magic. We drove back and forth from our houses to the shop with the windows down listening to crappy nu-metal because this was 2004 and Mushroomhead was sweet. [Editor’s Note: Hybrid Theory on repeat baby.]

It was like Fight Club; Magic only existed in the time between when Magic started and when Magic ended. The rest of the week just led up to when we’d get to make that long drive and talk about girls or prom or graduation or which college would take us, and when we weren’t playing Magic, John and I were on the phone talking about it. We’d chat about what decks we read about on the old Brainburst, Londes, or Blackboarder. Pooling our cards, John and I would build these concoctions and battle with them.

I remember the night that I achieved first place at FNM. Back then no one split in any tournament that I can remember, and it was always played out to the end. The first summer of freedom that John and I tasted after graduating I took down our FNM with a Tooth and Nail deck. We were preparing for a GPT the next day, and I decided to play my Mirrodin Block deck. Luckily, it performed admirably, and I won the event and all the packs that came with it. Hoverguard Sweepers was too stronk, and just like in Momir Basic it led to a ton of wins against other T&N decks.

I felt untouchable.

How could it get any better than this?

The Trips

Magic trips are without a doubt the best part of the game.

Do you remember your first one?

Mine was States of 2004. As a fresh eighteen-year-old, trips without parents didn’t really exist unless we were sneaking behind their backs. When John told me he wanted to play in States in Orlando that year, I couldn’t have been more stoked.

For the first time, I experienced a road trip with my best friends. We stopped and ate greasy disgusting food. We told dirty and juvenile jokes to see who could top the last obscenity. Of course we listened to more terrible music because Saliva was the cat’s pajamas. Click, click boom, sucka!

John went to UCF, and his dorm mate was kind enough to clear out for a few nights, giving us the entire area to ourselves.

More atrocious food followed, and tons of testing with decks like Tooth and Nail, Affinity, Big Red Pile, U/W Control, and others filled the next few days and occupied our time.

This was my first "big" tournament, and it was a blast. I didn’t do very well, but I learned more there than I had ever learned in the small pond I was playing in. A deck I brewed, a B/G Tooth and Nail deck, got second in the hands of our roomie Josh.

Seriously? Some nonsensical deck I threw together out of an idea I had in my head almost won the whole event? Awwwwwwwwwwwesome.

From that point on, I was hooked. How could I duplicate that success? I wanted to be the guy winning with unique decks that I didn’t read about on the Internet but instead created.

As our trip came to a close and I returned back home, I was left with the most swelled sense of excitement that I had ever felt. These were my brothers that I spent the last few days with. Summer break 2004, baby! No parents!

Since then I’ve taken hundreds of Magic trips, but each one of them calls upon that first trip to maintain the same level of pleasure I had the first time. Each one is a chance to make something great happen, build better friendships, and play Magic.

Where Does This Leave Us?

Just a week ago, Dave’s GameCube evoked some things in my psyche that I thought I had forgotten.

I forgot how to just let my hair down (but Mark . . . you don’t have any hair) and have fun. Sure, you get those spurts every now and then of having a good time, but lately I’ve been playing out of habit. I’ve been writing out of obligation.

I hit that wall.

The GameCube was a wreeeeeeeeeeeeeecking baaaaaaaall.

It feels great to be excited about Magic again.

Finally I remembered why I love this game—why I play it and why I live for it.

Thanks, McDarby.

It might sound sappy, but without even realizing it I think you kept me from taking a long Magic break.

I’m back, baby, and I’m ready to battle for all the right reasons now.

Let’s have some fun, kids. After all, it is the holidays.

Catch ya on the flip-

Watch me stream! http://www.twitch.tv/Mark_Nestico
Check me out on Facebook! https://www.facebook.com/mnestico
Gaze in awe as I attempt to tweet things! @DynamoNestico
For those of you that are fans of retro video gaming, make sure to check out my group Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/SWFLGamers