A call from the grave
Greetings, earthlings. Reports of my demise have been greatly exaggerated.
No, it’s not true that I sold my Moxen and decided to take up cargo truck driving in Iraq.
It’s likewise not true that I’ve sold my soul to Asheron’s Call, and not to online poker or day trading, either.
It’s also not true that I got any of several voluptuously nubile Chinese chicks pregnant and got extradited to China because her father was a People’s Liberation Army general (or at least I’m not dumb enough to admit it publicly in writing).
So what happened?
While I was in China, (see”Would you loan your Moxen to an 8-year old?“) the University of the Philippines College of Law had an episode of temporary insanity and decided to name me the Chair of the Philippine Law Journal.
What the hell is that, Oscar? I mean,”Hi, babe, I’m the Chair of the Philippine Law Journal,” sure can’t beat,”Hi, babe, I’m a world famous Featured Magic: the Gathering writer for StarCityGames.com and I can hear your bra unclasping right about now.”
Well, the job description says I now head my country’s equivalent of the Harvard Law Review.
So that means I’m chained to my computer for the rest of my stay in law school, and this hell hole just got more cramped. Basically, I have the Dean, the faculty, the alumni, and the retired justices of the national Supreme Court running after me every week and asking when the collection of legalese no one but contributors and students cramming theses a week before the deadline is going to come out. If I’m lucky, I might even get a handwritten note from the Chief Justice explaining to me in polite but clear terms why I am singlehandedly responsible for sending the Philippines’ legal thinking back to the Stone Age. [Somehow that seems just about right. – Knut]
Seriously, my existence is supposed have some significance to the world at large now. The above photo shows me with the Senate President, after he handed me a check to cover my tuition fees for senior year, so I can’t use starvation as an excuse for slacking off.
(It was a grant in the name of his beloved wife, Violy Drilon. It was very sentimental since she died of cancer over ten years ago, and I have childhood memories of having lunch with this funny, lighthearted lady who for some reason had no more hair.)
I can probably risk pissing off the Supreme Court, since they can only ruin my career before it starts. If I piss off the Senate, though, I’ll only get the university’s funding cut off, so I guess I better concentrate on what I’m doing. Besides, he’s a senior fraternity brother and he knows how to call up my Dad and get my car keys confiscated.
Let me put it to you this way. If you think Ferrett and Ted Knutson get a kick out of inserting their parenthetical comments into random Featured Writers’ submissions, imagine how I feel now that I have the power to take a legal essay by an incumbent Supreme Court justice and a red pen and go to town (and make sure to pin the blame on some hapless flunky).
Of course, some sacrifices do have to be made. Let’s just say I’m sitting on my ass all day as is, confronted by a monitor full of text.
Hey, it was either Magic or what’s left of my social life…
Please feel free to e-mail me legal articles that can enrich the premier Law Journal of a dirt-poor, dot-on-the-map Third World country that you shouldn’t forget nevertheless vocally backed the United States when other Southeast Asian countries were cold to it. Papers on International Law relevant to Southeast Asia are wonderful, for example. Intellectual Property and International Trade are great, too, since they’re largely governed by multinational treaties, though I’d love a focus on the Third World perspective.
If you send an unmarked brown envelope with a printout and a Beta Black Lotus, you stand a very good chance of getting it published.
Really, it’s gotten so bad that a Fulbright Scholar who just came back from Washington actually left a message for me at a Magic forum! (Just ask Aric Ingle a.k.a. Spiderman over at the Casual Players Alliance.)
Token Magic: the Gathering related discussion
Honest, after my life got derailed by the new job, I swore that I’d finish up the remaining chapters of The Control Player’s Bible that I envisioned three years ago. Then so many little things were pulling at me, and I decided I should at least do a recap of the Type I Champs. Then I scaled back and said I could at least do an analysis of why the Mishra’s Workshop tourney results have never lived up to the longtime hype, including that of several trusted names.
Well, I actually had an article title typed, so at least I tried.
Seriously, though, Manila was visited by a hurricane yesterday and the streets were flooded after a six-hour downpour. Since classes were suspended for two days running, I had some time to breathe. And fortunately, to stare at my empty word processor file again.
I just had to send something in this week. For one, we recently had the Star City Power Nine tournament and the GenCon Type I Champs, so I needed to get a word in. For another, I just celebrated my 25th birthday last August 19, and a surprising number of you remembered.
So let me try to reduce to words my thoughts during the above milestones. Let me frame it with this anonymous e-mail, something that could come from any random Magic forum or beginner’s e-group:
> —–Original Message—–
> From: (name withheld)
> I recently attended a small Type I tourney and managed to place first
> thereby securing myself three booster packs and a Japanese Dragon
> Token (A miniature, not a card). Here’s the list for your
> consideration. It’s not the best, but it’s the best I could do with
> the cards I had on hand.
> Main Deck (60 Cards):
> Land (22):
> 7x Plains
> 3x Island
> 3x Tropical Island
> 2x Bayou
> 2x Flooded Strand
> 1x Badlands
> 1x Taiga
> 1x Tolarian Academy
> 1x Volcanic Island
> 1x Wooded Foothills
> Artifacts (9):
> 4x Isochron Scepter
> 1x Basalt Monolith
> 1x Galvanic Key
> 1x Lotus Petal
> 1x Sol Ring
> 1x Voltaic Key
> Instants (24):
> 4x Brainstorm
> 4x Counterspell
> 4x Fire and Ice
> 4x Force of Will
> 4x Orim’s Chant
> 1x Enlightened Tutor
> 1x Fact or Fiction
> 1x Mystical Tutor
> 1x Vampiric Tutor
> Sorceries (5):
> 4x Fabricate
> 1x Demonic Tutor
> Sideboard (15 Cards… well, duh!):
> 3x Boomerang
> 3x Disenchant
> 3x Fog
> 3x Gaea’s Blessing
> 3x Heroe’s Reunion
Now, it doesn’t take a genius to tell you that this deck isn’t anything amazing, and it contradicts a lot of the basic things I’ve discussed ad infinitum in my old columns. The mana base is neither here nor there (see”The Budget 5-Color Mana Base“), and it has five colors, ten basic lands, and zero City of Brass or the like. Hell, he has seven Plains, but his double-colored spells are Blue like Counterspell and Force of Will.
It has no way to win except the agonizingly slow Isochron Scepter / Fire combo (see”‘The Deck’ is now Aggro-Control?“), not unless you count the threat of an Orim’s Chant lock and sheer boredom.
It has card disadvantage Mirage tutors, but doesn’t really have anything to fetch except Scepter cuteness and the lone Fact or Fiction for draw (see”Vampiric Tutor or no?“). Benefit of the doubt, maybe he couldn’t find Cunning Wish, though that’s not as expensive as a number of other things.
So while it isn’t Incredibly Crappy Troll (see”Sucking With the Power Nine“) or anything from Inquest Gamer (see”The Inquest Idiocy Quiz“), it’s a deck by someone who still has a lot to learn about Type I control.
So why am I wasting your time with it?
The Advanced Scrub Stage
The above is exactly the sort of message that will attract flames on any Magic forum. On TheManaDrain.com, it’ll probably get”Moved to the Suicide Black forum, n00b” appended to it in five minutes.
And yet, you can’t help but be heartened by the sincere pride it’s prefaced with. I think that on one extreme, it’s impossible to have fun in such a logical game without knowing the very basic concepts, like why you have to stick to the sixty-card minimum and why card advantage is a good thing (see”The Ten-Second Card Advantage Solution“).
On the other hand, you have to be careful not to go too far on the other extreme, either, the point where you’ve played and playtested so much that the game degenerates into a jumble of mechanics and you’ve forgotten the essence of the word”game” already. Tongue-in-cheek, I was touched when Steve Menendian e-mailed in response to the last column, and here’s an excerpt of the very long post to the Paragon e-group:
“…I felt that while you were dealing with a serious subject matter, your presentation was borderline casual and often covered issues in a way that didn’t appear to me to attack the matter directly and through analysis, but
through intuition and vague assertion.
“However, I now see that this is your strength as a writer. You are a gifted writer. I once criticized you (in the new School v. Old School) for presenting your thoughts in a disorganized, almost logic- less manner. You have recognized almost immediately that there are different ways to be effective as a writer – and your way is simply different from mine. You have a friendly style that hooks people in…
“Your games presented themselves as a spectator might enjoy a sports match, but didn’t seek to explain or analyze in a way that I thought would help advance us from where you were. That is to say, you provided a foundation that others could build upon, including myself. Had there been no Oscar Tan, I probably wouldn’t have started to write for SCG…”
It was a very long letter and I don’t know how much would embarrass Steve, but it gave me something to think about. After Steve dropped a line and while I sank deeper and deeper into a quagmire of legal footnotes, I got a number of e-mails asking if I was still alive and thanking me for coming out with material that the entry-level Type I player (i.e., scrub) could relate to. I initially disbelieved the number of people who wrote in saying they printed out all my old stuff using office resources, and David Bruce tells me my first one hundred columns fit snugly into a three-inch ring binder.
The above post struck a chord in me, the kind that brings back memories of 1999 or 1997 or thereabouts, and I guess the author is exactly the kind of guy I’ve been writing for. And I emphasize, is the most fulfilling kind of guy to write for when you try to take on a larger audience.
All of us had to start somewhere. When you dig up old TheDojo.com files and find the scrub Pro Tour Qualifier reports sent in by randoms named Randy Buehler and Kai Budde, you don’t rock your head back and laugh at how dumb they used to be. Rather, if you set aside the forum flamer complex, you’ll probably find yourself smiling and realizing they used to be like you, not in the sense that they’re no longer ordinary young guys like anyone else, but in the sense that they once had to fumble through the game, too.
Really, I think this”advanced scrub stage” is the most fun a player has. At this point he’s probably been burned by a couple of idiotic trades, just realized his eight-four-card, five-color deck isn’t taking him very far, and is convinced that Arcane Denial does indeed stink. Maybe he’s read a couple of Tan’s Back to Basics columns, too.
So what does he do, win the Type I Champs and then make a million bucks off poker? No, he’s still a scrub. But there’s something different about his outlook, maybe he’s turned into Rodimus Prime from Hot Rod or something.
He starts to pick up little tricks, like specifying which main phase he’s using his proxied Mana Drain and using Force of Will on an opening Black Lotus. He starts to read a lot more Type I material, and slowly backtracks to the article archives of those old Paragons who are still churning out their drivel. He knows just enough to ask intelligent questions to figure out more intelligent things, and has done a few netdeck testruns to begin to appreciate the nuances of varied archetypes from Food Chain Goblins to Control Slaver.
Maybe at this point, he’s even won his store twelve-man Type I proxies-allowed tourney, and has enough fun to feel proud but not egotistical about it.
It’s at this point that he can hook up with the world at large and have fun talking about all these new nuances he can now see on Internet forums, and make good critiques of Type I articles. And remember, he’s far, far from knowing close to everything there is about the format, and doesn’t deny it.
There’s a certain joy to not knowing everything, but it’s different from blissful ignorance. Really, the first time you picked up the game, you were at your most energetic and enthusiastic, and your mind was like a sponge that couldn’t wait to absorb everything there was to know.
I think that even the most experienced, most competitive people have to find a way to backslide into advanced scrubdom. Some people dabble in a new, unfamiliar game. Most try a new set of Magic rules so that they’re forced to start from scratch again, everything from theme decks to Mental Magic. I have fond memories of Matt D’Avanzo posting about people breaking out the Thallid decks years ago in Neutral Ground, and smile whenever I see Steve Menendian slip unsuspecting readers a dead-serious analysis about a zany new Type I variant.
For me, I suppose I haven’t lost the feeling in the sense that I’ve lost touch with Magic lately due to my academic responsibilities, so the latest developments are curious new things to me. But in general, my advanced scrub format is Limited. I know the basic rules and have read a few articles on the basic theories. I can appreciate how you can go there without having had to trade for two weeks just to play, and I can appreciate how the variety makes it feel a bit like Type I. It’s hard for me to draft because the people you’ll find most actively playing in the stores may well be the guys practicing for the Philippine National Team, so I actually enjoy Sealed more because I can try out the new sets with a little more leisure.
Given how I love”The Deck”, I think I’ve mentioned before that Invasion Block Sealed was my favorite tournament format, partly because of all the splashes.
In this sense, I guess you can sympathize with why Michael Jordan tried baseball once, after the peak of his basketball career.
I think we all have to realize this inner joy we all carry, after the second Type I Champs came and went and looks very well-established. We’re moving towards a very competitive format with an established theoretical base, so let’s not lose our roots and get as swell-headed as we are on Internet forums. I guess I’m saying three things here:
First, don’t knock the scrub with the Isochron Scepter deck. He’s still exploring the game, and for all you know, he may well be the next”Crazy” Carl Winter because he put in a bit more work. I’ve been criticized for many things from using Dromar’s Charm before Cunning Wish and Renewed Faith came along, to advocating the restriction of Back to Basics after the height of Blue-based control, to proposing to test Crucible of Worlds in slow control. And I can tell you Darren Di Battista was once the poster boy for twin Gaea’s Blessings over Yawgmoth’s Will and the infinite Time Walk combo with Soothsaying, and Steve Menendian once championed Prohibit and the Masticore / Moat combo. [Steve still tries to play Prohibit. – Knut, just sayin’]
We’re all still learning, and I’d like to think we’re all still having fun.
Second, don’t knock the scrub with the Isochron deck. He’s having fun. Not everyone has the time to figure out the nuances of Magic except through the occasional summary Type I article, but understand that life has so much fun to offer you can’t blame a guy for picking something else while still enjoying Magic. At the very least, remember he’s supporting your game.
Third, I miss my column.
I friggin’ miss my column, and all its accumulated antics through the years.
I friggin’ miss it so much that you can read between the lines here.
But life and typhoons go on.
More China photos
As promised, here are more excerpts from my trip to the Western edge of China. The first photo shows me in the ruins of Turpan City, a tourist spot reached by taking donkey carts through trails amidst small rises and rock formations. The second shows me buying the Dunhuang City Luminous Cups as souvenirs for my classmates and professors, the main reason I didn’t get in trouble for skipping two weeks of class to go to a personal junket.
Ciao. And wish me luck in this legal limbo. I’m aiming to finish the first issue next week, where I’m taking personal charge, so I may be able to get back to my regularly scheduled life afterwards.
Oscar Tan (e-mail: Rakso at StarCityGames.com)
rakso on #BDChat on EFNet
Paragon of Vintage
University of the Philippines, College of Law
Forum Administrator, Star City Games
Featured Writer, Star City Games
Author of the Control Player’s Bible
Maintainer, Beyond Dominia (R.I.P.)
Proud member of the Casual Player’s Alliance