The year is 1999. Two boys at the age of ten are sitting at their desks in a science class. One of them, JON, is wearing JNCO shorts and an nWo (red for wolfpack, duh) t-shirt. The other boy, ELI, is wearing khakis and a polo t-shirt, tucked in. ELI pulls a deck box out of his pocket that has the art for Jester’s Cap on it, pulls out a deck, and begins to write down each card in his notebook in the middle of the lecture. Four Soltari Monk. Three Soltari Priest. Two Paladin en-Vec. Two Scroll Rack. JON interrupts his writing, and they both start whispering to each other under the teacher’s nose.
JON: What are those?
ELI: They’re Magic cards.
JON: Those look like PokÃ©mon cards.
ELI: PokÃ©mon is stupid. That’s for little kids.
JON: Pff. PokÃ©mon is awesome!
ELI: This game is way better.
JON: How come?
ELI: â€˜Cause it’s not for friggin’ kids. Just look at this guy!”
ELI hands JON a Paladin en-Vec.
JON: Why is he wearing 3D glasses?
ELI snatches back the Paladin en-Vec, annoyed.
JON: Hey, what gives?
ELI says nothing.
JON: Can I see some more?
ELI: Uhhh… sure, I guess.
JON: What’s this guy’s deal?
ELI: Oh, Land Tax? That card is awesome!
JON: He looks weird.
ELI: Gimme those!
(ELI snatches back the deck)
JON: Will you teach me how to play Magic?
ELI: God, no! Learn yourself!
* * *
I’d learn in later years that despite being in the short-lived Guru program, Eli still didn’t want to teach me how to play Magic because he just didn’t like me very much, which was fair; I’d torpedoed our fifth grade (grade five to our neighbors up north, or grade-o cinco, as it’s otherwise known) stocks project when I insisted on investing in WCW and Yomega over Microsoft and Proctor & Gamble. But that fifth-grade classroom is where the seed of Magic cards was planted in me. I asked Eli where I could get some Magic cards, and he told me to go to The Dugout or Area 51. Both those places sold Magic cards, he told me. I didn’t know where either of those places was, and this was before GPS, so during recess that day, I stayed in, and under the guise of researching stocks, I looked up the address to both places.
I overcame the obstacle of having no money when I saw on Area 51’s website that they bought back video games and old movies and stuff. I had my mom drive me over that Saturday.
I walked in the store, and it reeked of incense. I assumed, incorrectly, that what I smelled was marijuana. There were high schoolers there, just hanging out. I was immediately intimidated.
I sold back my PokÃ©mon Snap, PokÃ©mon Stadium, and all my other PokÃ©mon video games because (at the age of ten) I was getting older now and needed to shed these childish trappings in order to be able to fully pursue Magic: The Gathering.
With my newfound cash, I bought a Starter ’99 kit, the one with Trained Orgg on the cover, and a couple Starter ’99 boosters. The dude behind the counter, Fran, then handed me a pair of fliersâ€”one for Arena League and the other for the Prophecy Prerelease next weekend. Thankfully, I had the presence of mind to abstain from the Prophecy Prerelease.
Fast forward two years later. January 1, 2000 had come and gone, and somehow N’SYNC made it out alive, along with the rest of us. I had had a couple embarrassing missteps at the tournaments at Area 51, the worst of which involved me trying to play Brian Hacker’s gold-bordered White Weenie deck in a sanctioned event, and everyone there telling me that my Starter cards were not all legal. I had even played in the Invasion Prerelease. I don’t remember much of the cards in my deck other than Elfhame Palace and Reya Dawnbringer. You could probably throw Quirion Elves in there, too. Shortly after that, I went to the Apocalypse Prerelease, where my pool was pretty good; I now had Devouring Strossus, Blazing Specter, and a freaking
to go with my Quirion Elves and some good removal in the form of Death Mutation and double Consume Strength. That Prerelease was my first physical grapple with the idea of a “mana curve,” and since I just played all my big guys, I got rolled.
Despite these missteps, I started doing a little better in tournaments. I had to learn stuff like “what the stack was” the hard way, and it took getting my a** kicked over and over and over to realize that I should Giant Growth my guys
I attack and
they block. My first competitive deck was a pile of garbage based around Phantom Monster, Unstable Mutation, countermagic, and, of course, Rescue. I should take a moment to describe the metagame of Area 51.
Before Mirrodin came out (not Scars of Mirrodin, newbies), and Area 51 started doing Standard FNMs, the tournament of choice was Type 1 (I believe the kids call it “Vintage” now) on Sundays. I use the term “Type 1” loosely because the owner of Area 51, Fran, fostered a very casual environment. It could basically be described as “Type 2 with a Lotus Petal in it.” Every deck, no matter what deck or color, had one Lotus Petal and one Sol Ring in it. Sol Ring was a buck back then. Lotus Petal was 50 cents. Rancor was perpetually out of stock at five bucks a pop.
I played against lots of Standard decks with Lotus Petal in it from a wide swath of times. There was Psychatog with Lotus Petal, Elves with Lotus Petal, White Weenie with Lotus Petal, Fires with Lotus Petal, Goblins with Lotus Petal, Stompy with Lotus Petal, Ernageddon with Lotus Petal, Fruity Pebbles with Lotus Petal, Ponza with Lotus Petal… you get it. It turned out that this kind of environment was the perfect place for a player to hone his skills and test himself out against decks of every era. Fran encouraged the regulars to play different decks every week, and any deck that won three weeks in a row was “banned.” It’s a little ludicrous to think that way now, but I can’t say it wasn’t an awesome way to learn.
In school, I started turning some of my friends on to Magic, including my buddy Jake. One day over the summer, he told me he was going on vacation, and I asked him, who was I gonna play Magic with now? He told me to go to Paul’s house, and he showed me where it was in the small village we lived in. I was hesitant because I’d only met Paul, like, twice, and I got the distinct impression that he didn’t really like me. Most of the Magic players at my school were much quieter, calm children than myself and thus didn’t enjoy my boisterous, hyperactive, “child in desperate need of attention” act. But one day, the itch got to me, and I had to play some Magic. I hopped on my Mongoose BMX bike and rode over to Paul’s house with a trade binder in my bag.
* * *
A modest house in the middle of the suburbs. JON rides onto the empty driveway and in one swift motion, hops off the bike and walks towards the front door, as his bike rolls for a few feet before it falls to the pavement with a loud clang. JON rings the doorbell, and while he waits, he looks down to admire his shoes: brand new Iversons. PAUL opens the door.
PAUL: …Jon Corpora?
JON: Hey, man, what’s up?
PAUL: Uhh… hi.
JON: What are you up to today?
PAUL: Uhh… I’m actually kinda busy today.
JON: Oh. Sorry. Jake Stockwin told me you played Magic, and I was just boredâ€”
PAUL (interrupting): You play Magic?
JON: Uhh, yeah. I brought some cards with me…
PAUL: Uhh… I’m gonna go see if you can hang out for a little bit.
PAUL shuts the door and reappears at the door exactly two seconds later.
PAUL: Yeah, you can come in.
Lights down. Lights up on a living room. JON and PAUL are looking through each others’ binders. PAUL has a binder in his hand and is flipping through it, while JON has a small binder to his left, a small binder with the Ascendant Evincar art on the cover, and a large binder in his hands. He puts down the large binder and goes to grab the Ascendant Evincar binder.
PAUL: None of that stuff’s for trade.
JON: How come?
PAUL: I’m trying to get the complete set of Nemesis.
JON picks up the binder and flips through it.
JON: Wow, dude, you’re really close!
JON: That’s wicked cool.
PAUL: Do you have a deck?
JON: Yeah, but I left it at home.
PAUL: What color is it?
JON: It’s blue.
PAUL: That’s cool… wait, why would you leave it at home if you were planning on playing Magic with me?
JON: Well, I didn’t know if I’d get to play.
PAUL: But you brought a trade binder.
PAUL: You’ve got room in that bag for a deck.
JON: …Yeah, I guess you’re right. So. Uhh… did you see anything you wanted?
JON: Okay… well…
* * *
I didn’t really want anything of Paul’s, but I did want to play some Magic. Since Paul had Masques block cards out the a**, I basically made a deck out of his spare cards based on a green deck that I had seen before at Area 51. I wasn’t planning on making this technology public, but that was before I saw this tweet from Teddy BaseBallCardGame, or
“The best advice I can give to the competitors with regard to votes/audience is ‘Remember the power of decklists.'”
There we have it! So, at my own peril, here’s the mono-green deck I constructed with the help of my new friend’s crap commons:
The Forests were his (a generous loan); the Zuran Orb, Lotus Petal, Sol Ring, and Strip Mine were mine. I’d also like the fact that I traded specifically for his Ice Age Giant Growths to be on the record.
His main deck happened to be green, too. It was a weird midrange-y thing with four Blastoderms and a couple of Predator, Flagships as his win conditions and a lot of ramp spells and mana Elves. I rolled him in three quick games with my patented “pump the unblocked creature” trick. Paul registered mild shock at being beaten so quickly with a bunch of cards that he previously owned, and I told him about Magic tournaments at Area 51. Paul and I became friends that day, prompting me to start a book titled,
How To Make Friends in Magic.
Chapter One — Kicking Someone’s A** With Their Own Cards.
Halftime! Today I’m unveiling a new feature called Song You Should Download! Of The Week!, or, SYSD!OTW!, for short. I needed an elegant acronym that really just rolls off the tongue, and I think SYSD!OTW! fits both criteria perfectly.
“Beautiful Disaster,” by 311. Jukeboxes at bars are the bane of my existence. If I’m drunk, I always end up slipping a five spot into the jukebox, which is an egregious waste of money. On these occasions that I do slip way too much money into a jukebox, I always play this song because it’s awesome. One night, when I was out drinking, and I had this song stuck in my head, I decided to slip five bucks into the jukebox, as per usual, and just play “Beautiful Disaster” over and over. Once done, I sat back down at the bar and heard that familiar reverb that begins the song, and I started groovin’. Other people enjoyed the song, too; everyone’s still having a good time. The song ends, then starts up again, unnoticed. Then it happens again, and I start giggling like a child. People are starting to notice. The reverb plays a fourth time, to audible groans from the crowd. This isn’t good. I grab my coat and leave with three plays remaining.
My drunken logic was, “Hey, I really like this song. I’d like to hear it as much as possible. Wait, I can do that
for just five bucks? WHAT A BARGAIN.” This is why they don’t let drunk people operate motor vehicles. But I digress. HALFTIME OVER.
When Mirrodin came out, Area 51 announced that they were keeping Type 1 on Sundays, but now, there was going to be this weird format, Type 2, on Fridays. The tournament would be called “Friday Night Magic.” As a guy who had nothing but disdain for all but about ten of his high school classmates, I was very much on board with this. Around this time, Star City started doing their Power 9 proxy tournaments, and the Type 1 scene at Area 51 became more competitive as a result. I didn’t know how much longer my Sligh deck with three maindeck Slith Firewalkers could keep winning every Sunday, so I embraced Type 2, got a MOTL account, and built Tooth and Nail.
Everything seemed to be happening at the right time. I was hitting my stride play-wise; I was winning whole tournaments quite often, at least often enough for me, but the matches were getting harder as the metagame was tightening up. I could feel the game passing me by (I was fourteen). I knew, deep down, that I’d have to start playing a relative format. I built R/G Tooth and Nail (Onslaught block was still legal) and did fairly well with that for a while and then switched to mono-green Tooth and Nail with lots of maindeck artifact hate when Champions of Kamigawa dropped Sakura Tribe-Elder, Sensei’s Divining Top, and Kodama’s Reach on the format.
Meanwhile, my friends found out that they could sell well-made proxies for big bucks on eBay and did so with the assistance of high-quality printers and essentialmagic.com. Back in the day, Essential Magic had a proxy maker that made proxies that were the exact same dimensions of a real Magic card. My friends even put the fact that THESE CARDS ARE PROXIES, THEY ARE NOT TOURNAMENT LEGAL on their auctions, and they were
being gobbled up. Proxy sets of Power 9 were being sold for a hundred dollars a pop with no overhead costs. In 2003! This is what my friends did when they were fourteen. I didn’t partake in the free money giveaway; I took the moral “high road,” like an idiot, while my friends all bought brand-new desktop computers.
My friend Kyle tore his ACL in football around this time, and when your ligaments could double as ribbons, your focus tends to shift to more stationary hobbies, like Magic. He qualified for the JSS championships with a U/W Control deck that we thought was crazy tech because it ran only 23 lands (his logic: “23 lands is a land drop every turn, especially with Solemn Simulacrum,” who we called Mr. S because Simulacrum is a hard word to say) and more low-curve countermagic, and we brewed a Ravager Affinity list with Myr Moonvessel (Skullclamp was legal; Cranial Plating hadn’t been printed
yet), a card that we thought we had exclusivity over. Watch
on Myr Moonvessel if you need convincing of its superiority. Kyle ended day one with one win above .500 but went on to X-0 day two. He cashed.
It was always really frustrating playtesting with Kyle because he got ridiculous draws every game, so it seemed. Little did I know that Kyle was just playing one of the most degenerate decks Standard has ever seen. To compound my frustrations, Kyle was very popular, and all the hot chicks came up to him at school and talked to him, while they pretended like I wasn’t there. Kyle had me beat in Magic and in life. Then I’d watch him do his physical therapy and stretch his knees with those thick rubber bands, and I’d laugh till I pissed my pants because it hurt him a lot.
The idea of karma was very much lost on me.
All the while, Limited was a mystery at Area 51. No one really knew how to draft. I remember being able to draft a mono-black MD5 deck complete with the Mephidross Vampire–Triskelion combo. Through Kyle, I met a couple of dudes who lived in nearby Dryden, NY, and gamed at Cornell University every Friday. It was a bummer driving all the way to Ithaca from Cortland, but the players there were very good. The player base was a fairly even split between grad students and Ithaca High School students with a couple Cornell undergrads sprinkled in for good measure. But they didn’t play Constructed, they
I long thought that Limited was not a skill-tester at all. I often told people that Limited prowess was solely based on what cards you opened. This is an idiotic sentiment, as
I’ve proven many times,
not just in this article, that I’m perfectly capable of opening the nuts and screwing it up. But empirical evidence be damned, I clung to my perceptions. And got rocked over and over.
It was like Area 51 circa 2000 all over again. I had to learn how to draft, and I did it the only way I knew how, by getting my a** kicked repeatedly until I learned how to properly value creatures, removal, combat tricks, and do it all within the confines of an efficient mana curve. Starting during Ravnica-Ravnica-Guildpact probably didn’t help. I made lots of finals, but I finally broke through with a win during a triple-Lorwyn draft on the back of triple Blind-Spot Giant.
That’s about it. I’ve played in lots of PTQs and never Top8ed, and my collection right now is just a bunch of Scars of Mirrodin cards I’ve gotten from drafts and Sealeds. Despite this, I still feel like I’m an above-average player, and this Talent Search will be a new chapter in
My Life As A Magic Player
(Chapter Three: Gettin’ Paid, Gettin’ Paid).
Oh, and I can talk to girls now. Honest! I even tricked one into moving in with me! IN YOUR FACE, KYLE.
Just to spoil you all, here’s another decklist: the deck I played in my first-ever sanctioned event where I didn’t try and play a gold-bordered deck:
A finely tuned masterpiece. You’re welcome.