You Lika The Juice? – Giving Thanks

Read Bennie Smith every week... at StarCityGames.com!
Thursday, November 27th – Holidays are great – you get a break from work, you get to hang with family, relax, eat good food, and watch a ball game on the tube. Yet some holidays are also good occasions to reflect on certain things that may get missed in the general rush and scurry of life in the 21st century. Thanksgiving is one of those holidays, where it’s nice to stop and think about what you have to be thankful for.

Holidays are great – you get a break from work, you get to hang with family, relax, eat good food, and watch a ball game on the tube. Yet some holidays are also good occasions to reflect on certain things that may get missed in the general rush and scurry of life in the 21st century. Thanksgiving is one of those holidays, where it’s nice to stop and think about what you have to be thankful for.

Now, I’ve got a lot to be thankful for, but I thought I’d narrow the focus down to the things I’m thankful for that are more Magic related… since, you know, this is a Magic site and all. Magic has certainly had a big impact on my life, and it’s rather stunning to think about how different things would be for me if Dr. Garfield’s game hadn’t taken off. Life would have gone on, to be sure, but I can’t help but think that there would have been considerable diminishment in the levels of fun and creative satisfaction over the years. So here’s who and what I’d like to take some time to give thanks for.

1. You, the Readers
I’ve always felt a little bit like a Magic writer misfit. I’m certainly no deep-strategy Magic thinker like a Zvi Mowshowitz or Adrian Sullivan, and yet I’m no master casual player like an Anthony Alongi or Abe Sargent. Most successful Magic writers find a strong niche to write about and attract an audience that is similarly interested. However, I write about the Magic that I play, and I’m a fan of both tournament Magic and casual play. I’ve always feared that my musings on competitive Magic wasn’t “good enough” for Spikes to find interesting, and that my casual Magic columns were maybe a little too competitive for those who are more laid back in their Magic games. And yet there are apparently a good number of readers out there who similarly straddle the lines of Spike, Johnny, and Timmy, interested in all forms of Magic and yet master of none. Your eyeballs help keep a space for me here amongst the fantastic stable of Star City writers, and your forum posts and emails give me great feedback and the encouragement to keep on writing, to keep plowing that rich and wonderful field of imagination that exists between writer and reader. I’ve always felt that “art” exists in the interaction space between the creation of the artist and the audience who observes it, and while I’m not creating art here, the principle is the same. Without you I wouldn’t be here, so thank you.

2. Pete Hoefling & Star City
I started Magic as a casual endeavor, a cool game to share with my role-playing buddies around the kitchen table. I first ventured into the tournament scene in late 1995, going up to a local game shop with a deck I just knew would kick ass. While I considered myself a Green mage around the casual crowd, for my first tournament I’d carefully crafted a Blue/Black deck built around Psychic Venom. Everyone ran lands, so my kill card would always have a target. I added cards like Power Sink, Icy Manipulator, and even Mole Worms to make sure I could keep tapping the Venomed land for 2 points of damage a pop. It was a masterpiece!

First round I get paired against a dude who plays a turn 1 Zuran Orb. It’s from the just released new set Ice Age, and I’m unfamiliar with it. I ask him to read it… and then look with dawning horror at my hand, sporting two Psychic Venoms in what I had thought was a God hand just a few seconds earlier; I don’t even remember the rest of the (for me) very short tournament, but I’ll never forget the first time I read the text of Zuran Orb.

Anyway, the tournament was held in the back of a hobby shop, on rickety tables and chairs that had seen better days. Over the next few years this proved to be the norm in the Mid-Atlantic area; I remember going to a PTQ in North Carolina where we played on “tables” made from stacks of comic books with pieces of plywood laid over top of them. Occasionally enterprising TOs would rent out a hotel meeting room or a local V.F.W., and those would be nice, but most of the time relatively large tournaments were overcrowded, cramped and ridiculously hot and smelly.

Then along came Pete Hoefling and Star City Games, and a vision for taking the Magic Community to the next level. First he revamped his store to comfortably accommodate a good-sized tournament, with skilled supporting staff. Then he launched a website that quickly became the gold standard of Magic content. Then he started holding Magic Events in the area, from huge Pre-releases to the Star City Power Nine, and more recently the big cash Standard Opens. These quickly became huge events, filled with Magic players from all over the region, and often he’d have artists flown in to sign cards, and tons of side events. It was like we had our own mini-Grand Prix in the area four and five times a year.

While I know Pete is a businessman and Star City Games strives to turn a profit, I also know that building the Magic Community is something that’s important to Pete and all the guys who work for Star City, and it’s been an honor to both write for the website for ten years now and to be able to lend a hand in running these big events too. Thanks guys for creating something special and letting me be a part of it!

3. Dr. Garfield and Wizards of the Coast
Speaking of creating something special, we certainly need to give thanks to Dr. Garfield and the guys at Wizards of the Coast for coming up with such a fantastic game and keeping it fresh and exciting all these many years. Peter Jahn recently wrote a great column called Maybe Wizards Knows What It’s Doing, in which he points out:

“Over time, most games fall out of favor, and out of print. Magic is very much the exception. That bears repeating: in a genre where most games die in a few years, Magic is the exception. It is closing in on its 20th anniversary. We writers often bash WotC for a lot of what they do. Maybe we should keep in mind that, overall, Wizards of the Coast is better at this business than anyone else.”

I’ve certainly done my share of bashing over the years, but I do it out of love for the game and because I know the good people at Wizards can take it; indeed, I think they thrive on it. While sometimes it superficially feels like they’re this monolithic presence that thunders on unhearing and unconcerned, I think it pays to step back and think about it realistically – they are actually very plugged in and concerned with their customers and fan base.

Magic’s success came from the confluence of two things: Dr. Garfield’s genius game, and a company that was — and is — willing to support the game 100 percent. So a big thanks to both of you!

4. Dungeons & Dragons and TSR
Before Magic came along, most of my gaming energies were consumed with role-playing games, namely Dungeons & Dragons. My cousin came and spent a week with me the summer before 7th grade and he brought his AD&D books with him. By the time he was supposed to head back home to New York I was hooked, and I quickly went out and bought them. About mid-way through my 7th grade year I finally found someone who was into D&D too, and we became fast friends. While we both also enjoyed comic books, we didn’t share too much else in common – I was the quiet brainy kid, he was the wild rebellious troublemaker. Without D&D it’s doubtful we’d have become good friends.

28 years later we’re still good friends… and we get together every Monday night to play D&D. Most of my long-term friends are all gamers whom I may have never met if it weren’t for the games we love; we’ve built memories and connections outside of gaming, through partying, good times, marriages and the paths of life. These are the guys who help make life worth living, and I wouldn’t have met them — or eventually started playing Magic — if it weren’t for D&D and the company that made the game, TSR. Thanks!

5. Jamie Wakefield, The Ferrett, and John Rizzo
When I was a kid, I loved to draw; I had so many ideas and dreams and it was great fun to sketch them out on paper, and I particularly enjoyed drawing comic strips and comic books. I wasn’t half bad, but eventually it seemed that I came to the limit of whatever talent I had there, and it just was not acceptably good enough for the stories I had to tell. So I switched over to just writing somewhere around 7th grade, and ever since then I’ve had dreams of becoming a famous writer of fiction.

Flash forward a decade or so and I’m hopelessly addicted to Magic; I want to learn more, more, more! The Internet is just starting to take off and I run across a newsgroup on Usenet that’s dedicated to Magic strategy – how cool! On there are a bunch of guys who spend hours and hours writing down their thoughts on Magic strategy – there’s Mike Flores, there’s Chris Pikula, there’s Eric “Danger” Taylor, there’s Adrian Sullivan – guys who are both good at Magic strategy and good at conveying their ideas. They write with clarity, with humor – they were Magic players who were also good writers.

Then there was Jamie Wakefield.

Jamie was good at Magic, but he wasn’t great. But Jamie was a great writer. In him I found a kindred spirit; he wasn’t a Magic player who could write well; he was a writer who could play Magic well. As much as he loved Magic, he loved writing even more, and he infused his Magic screeds with emotion and art. I am also someone who loves to write, first and foremost, and so I was glad to see there was an audience for that sort of writer in the Magic Community.

Later on came great writers like The Ferrett and John Friggin’ Rizzo, talented wordsmiths who brought their art to Magic writing and inspired me to do the same. They all still inspire me, and so I want to extend my grateful thanks, guys!

6. Omeed Dariani
Omeed was Star City’s first editor, and I had known him from a few Magic tournaments prior to website’s launch. He was a super-nice guy and a fierce opponent, and I was honored to find his email in my inbox one day asking if I’d like to write for Star City. While other sites such as The Magic Dojo were scooping up name pros to write for their sight, Omeed did a nice job scouting out writers who loved Magic and bringing them into the family. Jamie Wakefield was another recruit.

I also give Omeed some credit for my highest Magic accomplishment to date. When Mercadian Masques was released he quickly caught on to how good Rishadan Port was while conventional wisdom was that it was mediocre at best – I mean, why would you tie up two mana to lock down one? Still, Omeed made a convincing argument so that I traded for my playset while they were still low in price. Those four Rishadan Ports were a big part of why my deck — Blair Witch Green — was so good and captured me the 1999 Virginia State Champs title.

Last but not least, when Omeed left Star City to take a job with Wizards of the Coast, he also gave up his writing gig with Scrye Magazine, and he was kind enough to recommend me to his editor to replace him. I’ve been there ever since, and working with Scrye all these years has been a fantastic experience. So Omeed, wherever you’ve landed all these years later, thanks man!

7. Aaron Forsythe
Back when Star City really started taking off and pulling in some Pro Magic writers, some of them dropped in the Star City yahoo email group where us regulars joe writers bantered about a variety of topics. Of all the Pro Magic players out there, I most admired Aaron – he seemed to carry within him the casual spark, the love of creatures and big splashy plays, and yet he could still rock and roll and compete at the Pro level; if I could ever play at that level, I pictured myself being a lot like he was. So when he joined our egroup, I had hopes of getting to know him better. Unfortunately, I got the feeling over time that Forsythe was thoroughly unimpressed with me, both as a Magician and a writer. No topic I brought up on the egroup elicited a response from him.

Once he went to work for Wizards as their website Content Manager, he stopped dropping by the egroup. Then one day a post comes through from The Ferrett, where Aaron was looking for submissions for an irregular column on their website, Single Card Strategy. I remembered earlier incarnations of that column way back in the earliest days of Internet Magic writing, and really enjoyed those and would love to get a gig writing them! The only problem? Yeah, Aaron was thoroughly unimpressed with me, both as a Magician and as a writer. I wrangled whether to even bother with it, but ultimately decided, screw it – why not? So I knuckled down and wrote a killer SCS – though right now I can’t remember what the card was that he wanted us to do for the audition piece…

What saved me was the way Aaron set up judging the submissions. A variety of judges were picked, and each of them was given a stack of submissions… without the name of the writer on ‘em! When the dust settled and the scores tallied, I imagined Aaron was surprised to find my name attached to the column the judges liked the best.

To his credit, whether or not he actually was thoroughly unimpressed with me before (or whether I was imagining it), he never gave a hint of that when he contacted me to let me know I had gotten the gig, and he was a fantastic editor and super-easy to work with. And of course, that job eventually led to writing the weekly Into The Aether column for a year and a half, something that was a lot of fun and an incredible amount of work. So, thanks Aaron, for having faith in me and opening the door to those opportunities!

8. Jay Delazier and Shane Stoots
Life these days is crazy for me; I’ve got a full-time job, a part-time job working about 28 hours a week, a wife, two kids, two cats and a house to take care of. The actual free time I have to dedicate to anything — including Magic — is mercilessly brief. Thankfully, these two fine fellows are kind enough to indulge me with Magic emails here and there throughout each day to break up otherwise monotonous workdays. You might even want to give them a little bit of thanks too, since they do a nice job of filtering through my wild ideas before I get too attached to them and start writing about them – though obviously they don’t catch everything… but thanks Jay & Shane, you guys rock!

9. Gaea’s Cradle
Winning the Virginia State Champs was a Magic milestone for me and something I still feel very proud to have accomplished even 9 years later, and I have to say the deck was a monster; while I plowed through the Swiss I almost felt like I was just holding on to a juggernaut and trying desperately not to get in the way of its path of destruction. I was trying to pick the one card that I thought was most vital to the deck’s power — and thus my success — and I finally concluded it was Gaea’s Cradle. I mentioned Rishadan Port above – running Birds of Paradise, Llanowar Elves and the Cradle allowed me to use Ports to slow my opponent without really slowing down my own development. And of course the Cradle allowed for some truly degenerate plays like a turn 3 Plow Under. The Cradle was so important I even packed three Crop Rotations to help make sure I found one. So here’s to you, Gaea’s Cradle – a powerful Green land that I still play whenever I get the chance!

10. Stinkweed Imp
I’ll finish things up with what I consider the lynchpin card from another deck that gained me a fair amount of notoriety, the Dredge deck from my Top 8 appearance at the 2005 Virginia State Champs. I called it “Nicedraft.dec” because, at the time, Dredge was not a mechanic most people gave any notice to outside of draft or sealed, and even then you had to be careful not to dredge too much or you’d deck yourself.

Anyway, playing Dredge then and doing well with it was an incredibly fun experience. As I recounted in my column:

“It was entertaining watching my opponents go through a variety of reactions while we played: starting with amusement at the scrubby cards I was playing, changing to confusion as the game seemed to be turning around in my favor, to eventual horror as I buried them in an ever-recurring avalanche of mediocrity. As we signed the results slip, they’d often have a look of stunned disbelief.”

Now, of course, everyone knows how good Dredge is, from the combo-licious Ichorid and Bridge from Below decks, to Life from the Loam engines. In the fall of 2005 though, I was killing people with Stinkweed Imp, to the point that my friends and me started calling him Stinkweed Pimp towards the end of the tournament. The little 1/2 flier left an endless wake of Dragons and other quality creatures permanently dead in its wake. So here’s to you, Stinky!

Anyway, I hope you’ve taken the time today to surround yourself with friends or family, had some good food, watched the ball game and spent a few moments thinking about things you’re thankful for too.

Until next week!


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