SGC Daily: A Rogue’s Tale, Part I

One of the most common questions I get is “Why do you – of all people – write a column about budget decks?” Pull up a swivel chair, and let me tell you some things about me, things that drive what I do in From Right Field and how I do it.

People often think that they know all about me just because they read my stuff on the internet. They do know me. They don’t know me. Both are true. On one hand, human beings are more complex than anyone wants to give us credit for. No two people are exactly alike, even identical twins. On the other hand, we’re not that hard to get a handle on, in general. Go ahead. Think of the people you’re closest to. You feel that you can pretty much boil them down to a couple of adjectives. She’s the Sexy Nerd. He’s the Boozing Sports Nut. Me, however, I’m the Complex Person Who Can’t Be Pigeonholed. We’re all unique. We’re all easily categorized.

That’s the dichotomy of human beings. We’re all different, but people really can get pretty close to pegging who we are in just a couple of words or sentences. Sad, but true.

For me, it’s a little different than for most. I write a column that is essentially available to anyone who has access to electricity. People who read From Right Field think they know me because I tend to lay it on the line in my columns.

Or maybe I don’t.

You really don’t know.

Or do you?

Whether or not I tell the truth about myself or not, people read the columns and think they have me figured out.

Maybe they do.

Maybe they don’t.

I can tell you this. One of the most common questions I get is “Why do you – of all people – write a column about budget decks?” Pull up a swivel chair, and let me tell you some things about me, things that drive what I do in From Right Field and how I do it.

I’m definitely a nerd. I play Magic, for cryin’ out loud. My wife got me Cathedral as a wedding present, and I love it. (If you can ever find this game, get it. Make sure to get the wooden version. It’s a great strategy game, and it looks gorgeous just sitting on the table when you’re not playing it.)

I’m also risk averse. That’s a high falootin’ way of saying that I don’t like taking bad chances. I’m not a Nervous Nellie like Niles Crane on Frasier. I just don’t want to take unnecessary chances, one where the risks well outweigh the rewards. I try to assess situations until I feel that I won’t get electrocuted or lose all of my money or go to jail or whatever the consequences of the actions might be. (This is not, however, the reason I got into insurance. I got into insurance because my sister got me an interview for a job that required only forty hours per week and no weekends. Yee-freakin’-haw.)

Yes, I’m a bit of a cheapskate, too. I prefer to think that I’m frugal, but some people would say cheapskate. Whatever. It’s not that I don’t appreciate the value of possessions. It’s probably the opposite. I want those most I can get for my money. For example, a friend of mine just got a Dodge Viper. Brand spankin’ new. It cost over $80,000, and he paid cash. I thought about that. Last Summer, my wife and I got a Scion xB. That’s the cool one that looks like a toaster. It has a Pioneer music system with CD player. It has a lot of room for hauling stuff like tables, chairs, or whatever else Luanne finds at the junk antique stores. We paid $16,000. All I could think was, “Dude, you could have gotten five Scions for that.” Of course, he didn’t want five Scions. He wanted one Viper. What can a Viper do that a Scion can’t, though? (Don’t worry, Ted. This really does relate to Magic, why I play Magic the way I do, and my writing for StarCityGames.com.)

For one thing, a Dodge Viper has a top speed of just under mach two. Our Scion can hit 75 MPH with a tail wind. Guess what? We don’t live on the Autobahn; we live in Knoxville, Tennessee. Chances are both of our cars will usually be going about the same speed between the stoplights. When we do get to open road, there’s a good chance that a blue-hair in a Lincoln or a codger in pick-up will be right up ahead doing the speed limit. In other words, the speed is wasted.

Okay, so the Dodge Viper is a chick magnet. You know what? So’s the Scion. Not that it matters, since I’ve already magnetized my chick. I have the bruises on my right shoulder to prove the Scion’s hottie pullin’ ability. My wife elbows me when young co-ed’s from UT check out the Scion. I try to tell her that it’s her fault for picking out such a sweet-looking ride. She says, she doesn’t care. I’m enjoying the attention too much. Probably. I just don’t care.

The bottom line for me is, well, the bottom line. Both vehicles get us where we’re going. Both look good doing it. Both sound great doing it. Mine can hold the niece, nephew, and sister-in-law, too, along with lots of Magic cards and bags from Macy’s or Home Depot in the back. He only has room for one young lady and her (skimpy) overnight bag. Oh, and Luanne and I aren’t out an additional $65,000.

Another, less expensive example came three years ago when I started playing tennis. I found what seemed like a good tennis racket at Wal-Mart for less than twenty bucks. It was a titanium-graphite alloy by Wilson. It was light and felt good in my hands. When I used it, it responded well. Still, what did I know about tennis rackets? Weren’t the good ones really expensive? All I knew was that I liked this one. My brother-in-law/tennis coach came over and tried it out. He said he was impressed. “Where’d you get it?” I told him where and how much it cost. “Oh, please, don’t tell your sister.” Why not? “Because I paid $250 for mine.” Like I said, I don’t consider myself cheap. I just want the biggest bang for my buck.

As you might expect, a lot of this stems from my upbringing. I’ve never been well off. My family was straight ahead middle class. Not upper middle class or lower middle class. Straight on, middle of the road, middle class. We lived in a house that was average in size in our middle-class neighborhood. Mom was a school teacher. Dad did computer programming back when that wasn’t a ticket to paradise.

We weren’t poor by any measure. Our family was always more about doing things than about things themselves, anyway, so we didn’t really miss not having the things. Mom and Dad made sure that we got to be in every school activity and after-school program that we wanted to be in. We always had whatever we needed for those. I took piano lessons and drum lessons. My sister played piano. We had a piano (still do), and I had a drum set (not anymore). I played baseball and football in high school. I wrestled. I even lettered in all three sports, although, if you asked anyone who wasn’t a friend of mine, they’d probably say they remember me as “the math geek.” I got to see a movie once in a while. I got a guitar for graduation, not a car. I loved that guitar and taught myself to play it and write songs. My sister played basketball and softball. My brother was all about baseball, though he played basketball, too. One year, we tracked his stolen bases against Rickey Henderson’s. Not very fair, since Jonathan only got to play about thirty games, but it was close until Jonathan’s season ended. We all had cars, but they were old, and we paid for them ourselves with money we saved from jobs like babysitting and lawn mowing. We paid for our own insurance.

Flash forward a couple of decades. I got my first cell phone last July. I hate it. I love it. I could definitely live without it. My wife won’t let me.

We had it pretty well, but it wasn’t cushy. There were always cash flow problems. We were always in debt. (I still am. Probably always will be.) [Ditto. Frown. – Knut] Because of that, we didn’t have a lot of extra stuff. We had to appreciate what we had, fix it, and make it last. None of this “it’s broken; throw it out” stuff. We got our first VCR when I was a senior in high school in 1984 (same year as Jamie Wakefield, I found out today). My Mom still had that VCR when I got her a stereo VCR in 1998. She just moved the old one upstairs to her bedroom. She felt like a princess. She had VCRs in her living room and her bedroom, too! Like a rich person!

I still appreciate what I have. I try not to live frivolously, though many people in the world would say that buying cards for a game is pretty frivolous when there are folks starving just a few miles from wherever we’re playing those games. Unfortunately, I can’t disagree. I have my vices. Music and Magic. At least it’s not cars that cost twice my annual salary. Even when it comes to my vices, I spend wisely. I get most of my CDs from music clubs (or used CD stores) because the prices are so cheap. Then, I get family and friends to join through me so that I can get free CDs. I try to maximize my Magic dollars, too. My thinking often goes, “why spend $80 on four copies of <CHOOSE ONE: Morphling; Masticore; Cursed Scroll; Exalted Angel; Kokusho> when that same $80 can buy an entire box of cards?”

In addition to all of this, I’m a casual Magic player at heart. When I say that, I don’t mean like SCG alumnus Anthony Alongi and his very focused “casual” decks with their rattlesnakes and gorillas and Chihuahuas or whatever. I mean . . . well, let’s go back to the beginning.

I was drunk (or at least buzzed) when I first learned how to play Magic. (“That explains a lot.”) The guy who taught me, a friend named John Rose, broke out a Goblin deck with Goblin Chirurgeon and Aliban’s Tower and a White deck with Abbey Gargoyles and Hand of Justice. Once I got the initial hang of the game, I really liked those cards.

I decided to try this new web site called [censored] to see if I could find more Magic cards and build my own deck. I was stunned at the prices of some of the things. A hundred bucks for Ancestral Recall? It draws three cards. Big deal. For a nickel, I can get Inspiration and draw two cards, which is almost as good as three. And what’s with paying twelve bucks for a Morphling? That’s ridiculous. I could spend ten bucks and get a complete preconstructed deck, including lands and two rares. (I still do, too.)

Lower down the list, I saw a guy selling several lots of old cards. Among those lots was “Fifteen White Cards.” The prices seemed decent. I put in a bid. I won the fifteen White cards for something like $3.29 plus shipping. When I got them, I put the Death Wards and Holy Strengths and White Knights into a deck. I used all of the cards except for a couple that seemed useless in our group. (I was already learning that not all cards are good in a deck just because the color is the same.) For instance, since I was the only one in our group who ever played White, I didn’t use White Ward. (I guess I could have used it with Purelace to do something neat, but I didn’t.) I mixed the cards I had won on [beeep] with some from a couple of Tempest starter decks I had. Ta da! I had my very own White deck.

The thing was that left me with a bunch of extra Red, Blue, Green, and Black cards. I thought about trading them, but no one seemed to want them. It just wasn’t in me to throw them away or not use them. I had to build other decks. I built a Red/Green deck and a Blue/Black deck. I think I still have them, too.

You see where I’m coming from? You see where I’m going? I can’t buy cards and just throw them away or not use them. I wasn’t raised that way. It’s a waste in every sense of the word. It’s a waste of money. Buying cards takes money. You get money by working. Work takes your time. It’s a waste in the classic sense of wasting natural resources, too. Magic cards are made out of plastic and paper. That’s trees and dead dinosaurs to me and you. Throwing cards squanders time, money, and natural resources, the waste trifecta. When I go to bigger tournaments like States and Regionals, I’m the guy you see picking up the commons and uncommons that people leave behind after drafts or just opening packs. Sometimes, I actually get mad about it. “They’re just throwing away cards!” That means that the cards are essentially trash to them. If I didn’t pick them up, somebody else would have to. Besides, there are people who want those cards. Do a good deed. Give the cards to those people. The litterbugs have to know someone who might want them. What about that kid right behind you? How about that guy at work?

I pick up the cards others leave behind, and, when I get back home, some of friends who are new to Magic or who don’t have any money to spend on new cards get new cards. Sometimes I’ll give them to some kids who are new to our tournaments. Their faces just light up. They may not win a game all day, but they won some cards.

When I talk about playing casual Magic, then, I mean very casual. The four of us started out shuffling up almost every card we had in one or two colors. There was no tuning of the decks for any of us. John was (and still is) the Red Mage. Give him anything that says “does <X> damage to target,” and he’s as happy as Paris Hilton near a video camera. Our friend Jason (who later became John’s brother-in-law when John married Jason’s sister Suzanne) is the one who reads all of the fantasy novels. Not surprisingly, he liked the big Green creatures (and the occasional White or Red flying monster). Jason still thinks that Child of Gaea is overcosted. My brother filled in the gaps taking Blue and Black. That was fine for him, though, since he liked destroying creatures or saying “no.” Being the youngest in an Italian family, it wasn’t often that he got to say “no” to anyone. Besides, he liked his Pit Spawn.

That was how I initially started playing Magic. Four guys. All the cards they had. A kitchen table. Booze and chips.

Tune in tomorrow – same web site, same column – when I tell some stories about drunken Saturday Night Magic and my first tournament experience.

Chris Romeo