Stigmata And The Cleansing Of Magic

The Stigma… I was recently talking online with Beho (not his real name, though it should be) when he started on about this girl he recently met. I, partly in jest, said "Whatever you do, don’t let her find out that you play Magic!" he responded, perhaps partly jesting as well, (but I doubt it)…

The Stigma…

I was recently talking online with Beho (not his real name, though it should be) when he started on about this girl he recently met. I, partly in jest, said "Whatever you do, don’t let her find out that you play Magic!" he responded, perhaps partly jesting as well, (but I doubt it) with something along the lines of "I’ll keep all my cards in the closet!"

When I thought about his situation, I realized that not only is Magic not "cool," it just might be regarded as a sort of retarded cousin who lives in his parents’ basement and spends a great deal of time designing the costume he is going to wear to the Star Trek Convention.

Then I realized that I also might consider hiding my cards in the closet from what’s-her-face. And that made me sick. Because I know that I am partially to blame. Ergo:

My Mother and brother know Magic as "that game thing you play."

My father died in July of 1999 never knowing that I played.

My In-laws know Magic from the once overheard phrase, "End of turn, tap your Wurm."

None of my work associates have any clue that I play.

No one really knows how much Magic plays a part in my life. Because I never bothered to tell them. They might not care – but then again, they might.

My wife is probably the only person that is even semi-cognizant regarding my relationship with Magic. By that, I mean she is aware that she has to walk over boxes of cards and stacks of spoilers when she dares venture into my inner sanctum that is my basement/den of all things Magical. Or, on the occasional Saturday, she puts the kids to bed because I’ll be home late from a tourney.

So that’s one person in real life who knows.

Well, my kids (a.k.a., "the eggs") know too. Actually, John Robert, (a.k.a. "Berto") who is four, knows that he likes to look at the pictures on the cards. Ribbon Snake and anything with fire in the artwork are his favorites. Abigail, (a.k.a. "Abs," or "Schmabigail" if you feel nutty) who just turned one, knows that the cards seem to taste good and that she also gets a rise out of Berto when she flails them at his four-year-old-little-kid-oversized dome.

So, the only people that have even a clue about the depth of my involvement in this game are my wife (who is obligated to be supportive, right?) and my two eggs, one of which is transfixed by snakes and fire, and one who has an affinity with the taste of ink. (Well, you know too, but allow me my digression.)

Why the hell is that?

Well, for starters, try to explain Magic to someone – anyone actually, who is neither a gamer nor interested in activities that do not lie along the beaten path of acceptable "hobbies." Try that while summing up our game in a neat little sound bite that conveys its actual meaning.

You can’t.

And for the last two-odd years, I haven’t even tried.

Shame on me?


In some ways, Magic can be likened to art, or even pornography; if you have to explain it, they probably won’t get it.

"Maybe I don’t want to spend the rest of my life explaining [expletive] to people."
-Matt Damon, Good Will Hunting.

The Stigmata holds that Magic, on its face, is a game for nerds and loners and guys who can’t get laid. It’s a game for young pimply-faced kids who are either way too close to their Mothers or are currently in their "rebel" stage. It’s for the oddballs, the losers, the ones who don’t fit into an "acceptable" class or clique. They are probably the kids who get picked on in high school.

The different people.

That’s what I thought too, once.

But rest easy, young whippersnappers, for you have it easy. You’re young. Wait until you grow up.

How big of a loser do you have to be to be playing Magic when you’re in your late twenties-early thirties or older? How sad is it to see a thirty-year-old guy with a bunch of twelve-year-olds as his "peers," playing such a nerdy game?

What kind of total geek would have a hobby where they were old enough to be many of their fellow participants Father? What kind of perfect dork could grow up, get a job/wife/kids/house, and spend their time fiddling around with fruity little cards when there is a "real" life to be led?

There are bills to pay, deadlines to meet, taxes to be filed, etc., and you’re [expletive]-ing around with that stupid game!? Grow up!

Not to mention that it’s satanic, too.

But us old guys have an out: We can hide it. We can walk into a game store, buy a box or two, and say the Magic words:

"It’s for my kid."

You can’t do that in school. Even if you keep it on the down-low, (see, I really am cool for an old guy) playing with a select group of friends, late at night, in safe houses while using archaic codes to insure secrecy, eventually someone will find out. The Jocks. The Headbangers. The Goths. And they will look down on you. You can’t escape, because in school, everyone knows everything about everyone.

Screw them. All of them.

Are you afraid that your deep dark secret will come out? Do you fear the ridicule?

I used to.

But not anymore.

People collect butterflies, stamps, autographs, and Friggin’ beer bottles. I collect Magic cards. People play chess, solitaire, and Monopoly. I play Magic. People spend their time building their fantasy football team. I spend my time building decks. People argue that Christina is better than Britney. I argue that Stupor is better than Hymn to Tourach. (Okay, maybe I don’t.)

And here’s the thing:

Everything can be stupid or nerdy if you’re not into it.

So, if I am somehow less of a man because I play with those "cute little cards," then fine by me. (Go ahead and show a non-player a split card – if they don’t say "Aw, that’s so cute," then you can call me a liar.)

If the lamenting-how-I-could’ve-been-an-NFL-superstar-if-only-my-
Friggin’-knee-didn’t-blow-out-in-college barfly wishes to laugh at me, then go for it.

If the Prom-Queen-I’m-moving-to-Hollywood-after-graduation-to-be-a-big-famous-moviestar/fashionmodel wants to call me a geek, then it’s cool.

If the this-tour-is-gonna-put-our-band-on-the-map-if-only-Joey-can-get-a-few-months-off-from-his-job-at-Fotomat band member wants to berate me for not being a raging alcoholic/crack user, then I’m all ears.

When you come right down to it, we all suck.

Because we are all are nerds and loners and guys who can’t get laid and pimply-faced kids who are either way too close to their Mothers or are currently in their "rebel" stage and oddballs and losers and the ones who don’t fit into an "acceptable" class or clique. We all are the kids who get picked on in high school.

And that is precisely the way it is supposed to be. Do your thing, and I’ll do mine. Perhaps "never the twain shall meet," but perhaps they will. I will climb to the top of the highest mountain I can find and proudly proclaim, "I play Magic, chief, deal with it!"

I no longer have the desire to hide something that is an integral part of my life. After all, who am I trying to please?


In typical FrigginRizzo fashion, I’m going to take everything I have written above and apparently NOT connect it to the rest of the article. (Actually, it does connect, but in the abstract. You were expecting a nice clean segue?)

Since I’ve been cleansed of my fear and guilt, I feel compelled to bitch about stuff, because it’s my obligation to try to clean it up a little. Because I live here. Because we live here. And because it will piss some off you off.

The Cleansing

Put this in your dishwasher:

There is no such thing as a RandomNewbieScrub.

Quite often, I see and hear writers and players push the envelope of credibility with statements such as these:

"Round 3. I’m playing some Random."

"<Insert random 7cc creature> will probably appeal to the little Scrubs."

"So this Newbie actually calls a judge!"

Referring to a new, or weaker, player in a detrimental manner is not just classless, but downright insulting to those of us who appreciate the influx of new players. If Magic never added new players the game would unquestionably stagnate, and quite possibly just die.

We can agree that many new players are not threatening the ranks of the Pro Tour, but didn’t we all start out that way? Even if you were fortunate enough to be nurtured by a pro team, you still sucked in the beginning. Now consider how long you would’ve played this game if your opponents constantly insulted and belittled you.

That’s what I thought.

Is it that hard to show respect for your opponent? Being polite at the table while facing a RandomNewbieScrub (or anyone, actually) should be a given, but deriding that same opponent in a tourney report does not make you look good, despite how your blood-n-guts buddies may encourage it.

I feel it is the established player’s duty to help out the newer players in any (reasonable) way possible. We want to encourage new players, not scold them for mistakes that many of us have also made. And if you haven’t made rookie mistakes, congrats – God is clearing a place at the head table next to His boy just for you.

Treat the new or weaker players in a manner that you would want to be treated. For one day, that same RandomNewbieScrub may win Nationals. And people that are treated with disrespect are not likely to forget it. So there, Slick.

This can go in the washer:

"Hey, here’s my article and watch me dis a whole bunch of people in a public forum."

Very nice, using a website to throw barbs at another. Now, that’s mature. In the last few months, a few of the bigger sites have had an alarming number of ridiculous front-page infights. "Writer A" takes a shot at "Writer B," "Player A" accuses "Player B" of underhanded tactics, or someone’s wittle feelings get stepped on at a tourney, so the writer takes it upon him/her/what-the-Frig-ever self to step right back, using their column as the courtroom.

(Nate Heiss has found the perfect answer for all things gender/grammatical: "s/he." Kudos.)

Yes, these antics make you all look stupid. The real funny thing is how irresponsible it makes the editor look. Might as well throw all your credibility out the window chief. As the World Wrestling Federation already has a URL, attempting to make your site "[email protected]" seems like a step backwards.

Do your props. Do your slops. But be careful because there is this pesky thing known as "journalistic integrity," and stuff.

Clean this up:

Um, you’re an EDITOR; edit stuff.

Typos are annoying, but forgivable. Bad grammar can be overlooked on occasion. But come on, Slapnuts. Is it that hard to edit out the four-letter words? I would wager a guess that many Magic sites can count a number of ten to fifteen year-olds in their readership.

Hey, I talk like a Friggin’ mill worker, but not in my articles, and definitely not at tourneys where many young guns are running around. Four-letter words are very cool, in my opinion, but they have their proper place. That place is not on a website that children can access.

I’m not just kissing The Ferrett butt (he probably edited that) (Indeed I did – The Ferrett), but he seems to take his editorial responsibility very seriously, and with good reason. Editors everywhere should take notice. StarCity’s ethics are, dare I say, above reproach. And that is a very good thing.

[Funny thing: "Teenage Dirtbag," by Weedis, contains the following line:

"Her boyfriend’s a d**k, he brings a gun to school."

Now, which word should be edited out for radio play?

They got the wrong one, chief.]

As one whose grammar is certainly not impeccable, I trust my editor to do his best to avoid making me look like an idiot. And that’s no mean grammatical feat, either. (Actually, it’s no mean feat in general.) The spellchecker helps me catch some stupidity before The Ferrett has to, which I’m sure is appreciated. (which is evidenced by the dozen roses StarCity sends me after every spellchecked article I send).

(Speaking of which, since Rizzo is apparently bursting at the seams with content and has asked permission to send tourney reports and somesuch to other websites in addition to his weekly tirades here, you Rizzo fans will soon have the ability to see what he looks like when OTHER websites edit him. And I’m tellin’ ya, it’ll probably look helladifferent – The Ferrett)

But when an article is posted with massive typos, the names of cards not capitalized, fifty-sentence paragraphs, retarded punctuation, AND massive filth, I am amazed. You should be too.

So clean it up, Slippy. If you have kids then you understand why. If you don’t have kids, you should still understand why.

And keep that Brillo pad handy for this one:

"I might not be able to get back to all of you…"

"I’ve been busy, so I might be slow in answering your mail…"

"Sorry if I have been slow in responding…"

Um, you did write an article and include your e-mail address, didn’t you? Then skip the excuses and apologies and answer your Friggin’ mail, gibby. Don’t hem and haw about it, just do it. And be prompt about it.

As a very busy guy, I can certainly sympathize with time constraints, but that is assuredly irrelevant to the people who put forth an effort to email you, for they are busy too. But they took time out of their lives to write you. Answer them. It’s not just an obligation, it’s the right thing to do. So do it.

FrigginRizzo: <—Has an abnormal amount of disdain for Spike Lee.

Nothing pisses me off more than writing an e-mail to an author, only to never get a reply. Well, getting a reply in this vein is a close second:

"Thank you for the kind words.

<insert closing and name of random self-important writer>"

Hey there, chico, get off your Friggin’ high-horse and come back down to the land of the little people. If all the Magic writers went away, the players would survive. Realize it and appreciate it. Now. Or one day you may find an empty mailbox and yearn for the good ole’ days of mixing with the underlings.

I get a lot of this when I send my reply to a reader’s mail:

"It’s pretty cool when I actually get a reply from a writer that didn’t come out of a Friggin’ greeting card."

I thought I was the only one that got the "you are a mere formality" replies. Turns out the rubber-stamp reply is more commonplace than I thought. And that sucks.

So cut that out too.

It’s no small feat to write something that evokes a reader to take the time to reply to what you had written. Appreciate it, because a reader replying to your article morphs them from a sounding board into an active participant.

This is supposed to be a community. Do your part. It’s not that Friggin’ hard. And if it is hard, I don’t care. When you offer up ideas en masse, it comes with the territory. So deal with it, Jocko, or stop writing. Or don’t include your Friggin’ e-mail addy.

Put on your rubber gloves for this:

"Hey, I think something’s wrong with my refresh button."

Update. Update. Update. Did I mention Update?

I can’t even pretend to know webmasterial techniques, but I certainly do know that only updating once a week is annoying. There are seven Magic sites that I check every day, and four of them seem to update once or twice a week, at best.

Mindripper updates every day. TheDojo updates every day. StarCity updates every day. If your browsing habits are anything like mine, then you appreciate daily updates. As I wrote to Pete Hoefling once:

"Updating every day is next to Godliness."

As much as I think I can understand the reasons behind periodic updates, it still irritates me. I blame no one, but still long for the day that every major site updates daily.

Perhaps the financials limit updates. I can certainly understand that. The only way for the readers to help out on that front is to keep hitting the sites, and perhaps consider buying their product, if they sell one. Barring that, I can think of another reason that those sites have infrequent updates:

The pool of Magic writers is very shallow.

If that is the case, then YOU write. Write anything. Really. And submit it. Unless it really, really sucks, it will be posted somewhere. And that is a good start. I would guess that at least half of the Magic Columnists for the major sites started off as "hack submissionists."

I know I did, and most of my archived articles at TheDojo REALLY sucked.

(You can verify this by going to TheDojo, typing in "John Rizzo" in the search box, and reading a few of my early "gems." And try not to wonder how the hell I was rewarded with a column.)

As writers, we are our own worst critics. I still think much of my current stuff sucks. I love it when I write it, but let’s just say that I don’t think much of it ages well. And if you start writing, you may feel the same way. But write anyway. Write anything. Even if you have little interest in writing, someone may be interested in what you have to say.

Just write something. Submit it to one of the lesser-updated sites. Hell, submit it anywhere. (Submit it HERE; not only will you have my gratitude and one of the widest audiences available, but you’ll also get to have smartass comments placed in at random moments by me – The Ferrett) The Magic community can never have enough voices. Ever. Write.

I can hide out under there.
I just made you say "under where?"
-Bare Naked Ladies, with the lyric of the year.

Make sure ya’ got plenty of Lysol for this:

"Wizards slowed the game down too much."

"Too many golds."

On the face of it, it appears that Wizards has indeed brought too much "slow/gold" to the game. If you look closer, however, you may realize that the slow/gold rush is not the end of Magic as we know it. (Actually it is, sort of, but the Magic as we knew it was in serious need of massive plastic surgery.)

In "overdoing" the slow/gold factor, Wizards has done exactly what everyone said they wanted: The games will last longer, the word "viable" has new meaning, and play skill has become more important than luck.

After Urza Block, everything is going to look like Homelands, and that is certainly good for the game. Did we need another Time Spiral? Another Rector? Bargain? Rancor? Perhaps you lament the loss of 1cc, two power machines. Maybe you miss the broken-ness of Grim Monolith/Voltaic Key. Masticore was fair. Morphling too. And Gaea’s Cradle was completely balanced.

Granted, some of the Invasion cards could end up broken. After all, Wizards can’t catch everything, can they? Well, yeah, they can. And I think they probably did. In fact, I’d be willing to bet that they took extra-serious precautions to avoid the broken-ness of Urza Block.

And it all started with Mercadian Masques.

"Masques sucks!"

"It’s way too slow!"

"Where are the stupid-powerful combos?"

One of the "problems" with Masques Block was the lack of combo decks? Scuse me? That’s a problem? After playing around with T2 Invasion for a while, even I can see that there are a few potential combo decks waiting to be exploited. But take Rector, Bargain, and insane fast mana out of the equation, and we are left with "kinder, gentler" combo decks.

So, Wizards slowed down combo decks, killed the I-begin-to-stupefy fast mana, crippled the overpowered weenies, and splashed all the corrections with slow/gold. How is that bad again?

Oh yeah, creatures. Yep, we might have to use creatures again! Are we to be expected to interact with our opponents? The combat phase? What?! Divvy cards? Pure interaction? Oh, the humanity! Rosewater! Rosewater! Say it ain’t so, oh purveyor of all things broken beyond belief! Three, four, and five color decks? Masters and Apprentices and Dragons and Split Cards? Duals and tri-color sac-Golems?

FrigginRizzo: <—Clutches chest, looks skyward, and moans "It’s the big one, ‘Lizabeth!"

Maybe Wizards did "over-engineer" the environment. But, I, for one, am glad they erred on the side of caution. You will be glad too. Really. Just think of how many viable Net Decks there will be to choose from!

Finally, bust out the ammonia for this bad boy:

Can someone please think outside of the box?

I’ll read a writer’s evaluation on Invasion, card for card. I’ll even read a writer’s take on the best decks of <insert current tourney format>. I will never begrudge any writer covering ground that has been tread upon with many feet, but I absolutely will read an article that steps outside of the box; or more accurately, redefines what the hell the box is.

Robert Butts writes outside of the box, as evidenced:


Read it, but have some Ben-Gay handy since you will strain your neck nodding in agreement.

(Where the hell have ya’ been, Robert?)

Scott Keller writes outside of the box:


Read it, and make sure ya’ have plenty of aspirin handy.

Tony Boydell took the box and made it into a Friggin’ cube, then started writing outside of THAT. The Ferrett writes in a Friggin’ triangle. OMC writes on another plane. (Rath, perhaps?) And Aaron Forsythe weaves in and out of the box with precision.

There are a few more "boxless" writers, and they also take the time to communicate things that many think about, but few write of. And it meshes well with the "traditional" writings of set evaluations and tourney reports.

Thinking outside of the box is what elevates our game, and sadly, there are not enough of those who are brave enough to offer up their ideas of what lies beyond just beyond the perimeter of that box. But there should be because most Magic players are Rogues in real life (or at least play one on TV).

I guess that’s not as much of a bitch as it is a call-to-arms. So then, I call all arms. Take up the challenge and dazzle us with something unique or refreshing.

"That’s all I have to say about that."
-Tom Hanks, Forrest Gump.

If you are not ashamed of our dirty little hobby, then take up the cause and make it better, however you can.

John Friggin’ Rizzo
[email protected]

Reminder: November 10th is the final day for Universal Net Deck submissions. I’ll be playing the winning deck on November 18th, at PTQ-Tokyo in Columbus. Now get crackin’.

Get the cardpool at:


(hopefully, the link works this time)