You’re at a wake. Or is it calling hours? It could actually be calling hours. Catholicism fucked you up. You’re in line to meet your friend’s bereaved family members. You met Mitch playing Magic. He was a year younger than you, and after you graduated high school and stopped playing Magic at your LGS, Area 51, you grew apart from him. He started playing football and shit like that.
It’s not an open or closed casket. There is no casket.
The last time you saw him in person, it was a year ago, because of a Facebook message from him letting you know that he was thinking of getting back into Magic. Since you post on Facebook about Magic all the time—because, if you play Magic, it slowly takes over your entire life and ensures you’ll never get laid again (if you’re not familiar with Magic, just think AIDS)—Mitch knew to contact you if he wanted to get a draft going.
You drafted triple Scars, he sack-tapped you, and so you punched him in the face.
It suddenly dawns on you, in the middle of the funeral home, that you still owe him ten bucks from that draft.
There are coffee tables all around, each one with a box of tissues on it. Who put those there? Obviously people are going to be crying, but for those tissues to be there, someone was planning on many, many people crying. This strikes you as a little insidious.
* * *
You’re in some dive bar in Johnson City. You’re on your third round of Seven-and-Seven doubles, and they are goddamn delicious.
You scrubbed out of a Legacy tournament that’s still happening three doors down. Despite your unfamiliarity with the format, you decided to drop thirty bucks to play, because you’re a fucking idiot. You were playing this tempo-based brew:
1 Phantasmal Image
3 Snapcaster Mage
4 Delver of Secrets
3 Ghastly Demise
3 Spell Snare
4 Force of Will
1 Life from the Loam
3 Misty Rainforest
3 Scalding Tarn
4 Tropical Island
4 Underground Sea
2 Phantasmal Image
1 Ghastly Demise
3 Spell Pierce
3 Surgical Extraction
2 Tormod's Crypt
You drew the first round to a guy playing U/W control whose win conditions were Delver of Secrets, Figure of Destiny, and Exalted Angel. His deck also featured hits such as Hallowed Fountain and Glacial Fortress, and he wrote down every card you played, keeping tally of how many copies of each. You won Game 1 handily, but since you shuffle in fifteen, side out fifteen cards when sideboarding, you accidentally kept two Tormod's Crypt in your deck for Game 2, and drew one in your opener.
That tournament was never yours to win.
But now you’re in what can only be described as a dive bar, playing block decks from all different time periods against each other. You’re playing a counterburn R/W/U Invasion-block deck against a five-color Kamigawa-block Honden deck, piloted by Adam Barnello. The matchup’s looking to be pretty much in your favor, until he slams a turn-four Honden of Cleansing Fire. You add a Lightning Angel to your pair of Goblin Legionnaires and swing in, but when Adam follows it up with Honden of Night's Reach and Enduring Ideal for Meishin, the Mind Cage, you don’t have much recourse but to scoop ’em up.
Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir” comes on. You and Adam both notice that his drink is done, and yours isn’t. It’s your turn to pick up the round.
“You better fucking finish that. I’m thirsty.”
* * *
I decided to play the deck incubated by some of the regulars at Cloud City. Kevin had the prototype, and Aaron refined it and tweaked the sideboard to the local meta. It was a Solar Flare brew, affectionately named “Honey Badger.” I didn’t ask about the origins of the name; I decided as soon as I heard the name that I didn’t want to know anything about it. Here’s the list:
1 Massacre Wurm
3 Sun Titan
4 Merfolk Looter
4 Phantasmal Image
1 Wurmcoil Engine
1 Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite
1 Sheoldred, Whispering One
2 Feeling of Dread
4 Dream Twist
4 Forbidden Alchemy
3 Day of Judgment
4 Unburial Rites
2 Oblivion Ring
1 Darkslick Shores
1 Isolated Chapel
1 Seachrome Coast
4 Drowned Catacomb
4 Glacial Fortress
1 Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite
2 Midnight Haunting
4 Mental Misstep
1 Day of Judgment
2 Sever the Bloodline
2 Nihil Spellbomb
This deck looks like a pile of shit, but if I’m being honest, this was one of the most fun, if not the most fun, deck I’ve played so far. Dream Twist is really, really powerful, and the deck has a lot of resiliency to the go-to cards in Standard (at this point, anyway). Thanks to Day of Judgment and Oblivion Ring, you have the tools to deal with anything. Thanks to a set of Forbidden Alchemy, you have the card selection to get those tools. Of course, most of the time, your endgame—running your opponent over with four Sun Titans—will suffice. If I were to start playing a weekly Standard event on top of FNM, I’d probably just grind this deck into the dirt because it’s fantastic.
Round 1 – Garrett Wood
Garrett is playing mono-Black Infect. Game 1, I mull to six and am instantly put in the rough spot of being forced to cast Forbidden Alchemy on my main phase to search for a land; if I don’t draw that land, I’m dead in the water. As it happens, I don’t hit the land and die to a Phyrexian Crusader, one of the few creatures that doesn’t just get owned by Feeling of Dread.
Game 2, Garrett mulligans, and keeps an iffy hand. Meanwhile, I’m going off on all cylinders; Dream Twist is a very good card. Aaron likens the addition of Dream Twist, alongside Forbidden Alchemy, to having the capacity to have two hands, one graveyard and one actual hand. It’s a pretty good analogy, in my opinion. I’m able to take care of Garrett’s first Phyrexian Crusader with a Dismember; by the time he casts his second, I get an Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite in play, and that’s all she wrote. Game 3 is mostly the same: Garrett mulls again, he never plays a fourth land, and Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite comes to clean up.
Did Unburial Rites really need Flashback? Spoiler alert: This article will be full of games where I weather an early storm of dudes until I hit an Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite, which closes the door completely. Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite is only able to do this so completely because Unburial Rites has fucking Flashback, which is obnoxious, and there’s no efficient, nonpermanent way to exile creatures. Is there a good time to Doom Blade an Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite? If you do it on your own turn, your opponent just brings it back next turn. If you do it on his end step, well, what do you then do on your turn? Playing guys is out; they’re just going to die when Unburial Rites gets flashed back, so what’s your best course of action? Play reactively and hold up mana to counter the Unburial Rites, giving your opponent a full card for half of one of his?
A while back, Mark Herberholz wrote an article about how stress in Magic has shifted from spells to creatures. That shift has become more and more obvious to me since I read that, and it feels like it’s come to a head in the current Standard. There are no spells powerful enough to combat the powerful endgames of current Standard decks, so the best one can hope to do is come over the top . . . with more creatures. This probably isn’t actually worse, but it’s fun to bitch about things.
Round 2 – Brad Wight
I’ve played Brad a few times. He’s playing mono-Red tonight, splashing Blue for the underrated catchall Disperse, which I can’t knock him for; it seems like there’s always some bullshit permanent that hoses mono-Red, and there’s probably been lots of games where one Boomerang would seal the deal.
In Game 1, Brad gets me down to 3, at the expense of all his permanents, thanks to a timely Massacre Wurm. A Spellskite holds the fort against his Shrine of Burning Rage, until I get a bunch of Sun Titans online.
Games 2 and 3 aren’t really all that exciting; Game 2, he has a pretty speedy draw—an uncontested Stromkirk Noble and the Volt Charge + Tezzeret's Gambit to go with it. The only redeeming quality about this game is that he has Twisted Image for my Spellskite, which is pretty awesome, I have to admit. Game 3, he mulls to five and is never really in it. I dump a Wurmcoil Engine early and reanimate it. Brad scoops at 14 life.
* * *
You’re still in that dimly lit dive bar, and you’re still playing Magic. Another bar patron, a caterer with a mustache out of Motorhead, made pulled-pork-and-macaroni salad, and told you and Adam to help yourselves. You did, and it was delicious. “Kashmir” by Led Zeppelin kicks on the bar stereo.
“If they just kept playing Led Zeppelin songs, that’d be fine.”
Thanks to the strength of these drinks, it’s hard to disagree with that. You nod and attack Adam’s board of Islands, Forests, and Cloudposts with a Masticore, inwardly wondering if power creep actually exists. Then you tap your Yavimaya Granger to attack as well, and you realize that yes . . . yes, it does. You tap a Priest of Titania, along with some other lands, to cast a Deranged Hermit. Block battles are the shit. You pass the turn.
* * *
Round 3 – Aaron Garritillo
Aaron is one of the co-creators of the deck I’m playing tonight, and the guy who loaned me his seventy-five to play. He is playing Wolf Run Ramp with Dungrove Elders, and he is convinced that this is a good matchup for me based on the presence of Feeling of Dread and Spellskite.
Game 1, I (finally!) start on a Merfolk Looter, and the deck just comes alive. I get an early Sheoldred, Whispering One, and with his triggers on the stack, I can dump crazy shit in my graveyard, but I don’t quite get there with the stuff in my graveyard; I have a handful of Sun Titans but no Phantasmal Images to press any advantage. He resolves one Primeval Titan that I have the Oblivion Ring for, but he keeps pace with a couple of big Dungrove Elders, while simultaneously running me out of Feeling of Dread with his Inkmoth Nexus. He eventually gets me with a 10/1 Inkmoth Nexus.
Game 2 is much less interactive; he has double Sword of Feast and Famine to go with his double Dungrove Elder draw, and while my discarding cards shouldn’t be the end of the world, I can’t interact with a couple of Hexproof creatures whatsoever (a common problem with Hexproof, I’m told), and I just lose.
Round 4 – Bret Weed
Bret is playing Birthing Pod, and since he knows what I am playing, this annoys him a little bit. He tells me that he is only playing Birthing Pod since he knew more people would be off the Honey Badger deck. He goes on to add that he only plays against me when I have good decks. I’ll have to run the numbers on that.
Our match kind of sucks; he is at a disadvantage already, and it doesn’t help that he never draws a Birthing Pod in our two games.
Round 5 – Bryant Cook
He is on Birthing Pod as well, and I am pretty excited about this, given that I swept the last Birthing Pod deck I played. It’s probably worth noting that Bryant and I are friends; I drove him to the event, so . . . yeah, we’re friends.
Bryant cuts my deck and hands it back to me. “Good luck.”
Bryant snorts. “You dick. That’s why you’re gonna lose.”
Bryant has told me more than once that the reason I lose games of Magic is because I don’t wish my opponent “good luck,” which is retarded. I realize it’s “polite” to wish your opponent “good luck,” but I’d rather not lie to my opponents—I don’t want them to win, so why would I wish them good luck?
Even though it’s a small thing, and not intentionally insidious, if I were to wish my opponent “good luck,” I wouldn’t mean it, and I don’t entertain the belief that someone hopes I get lucky simply because he says the words “good luck” to me. It’s a pointless formality. I’m normally a proponent of the idea of karma, but in this case, it just doesn’t apply. I’m more worried about misrepresenting myself to someone than being impolite, and if you’ve been following this column, you probably already knew that.
The deck is firing on all cylinders to start off with; I’m chaining Dream Twists off Dream Twists while Bryant draws a shitload of cards off Mentor of the Meek. Bryant gets into the mode of super-seriousness: announcing all of his triggers, going through his phases aloud, and so forth. This annoys me almost instantly.
“Draw off Mentor of the Meek?”
“Don’t give a shit.”
“Jon. Don’t be a douche.”
“Jesus Christ, Bryant, it’s FNM.”
“You should put that in your article.”
I roll my eyes reflexively. I doubt Kyle Sanchez has to deal with this kind of shit.
He keeps playing, tightly wound, while I stay loose . . . while I can. The problem is that I am bricking on my Dream Twists—hitting multiple Sun Titans but zero Phantasmal Images—and I’m not drawing any Day of Judgments to keep him off his steadily growing army. I am able to recur an Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite eventually, but he eventually finds a Birthing Pod and turns his Inferno Titan into his own Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite, and then runs me over with his own army of cloned Sun Titans. I definitely hadn’t realized a Birthing Pod deck could still attack on the angle of “make a million Sun Titans,” so I am cognizant of that going into Game 2.
My awareness of this new angle of attack doesn’t end up mattering; Bryant starts off on Mentor of the Meek, but his draw this game is much better than his last one—he hits turn-three Birthing Pod and is able to chain up unmolested, keeping me off Day of Judgment mana with Acidic Slimes, and eventually sealing the deal with an Inferno Titan.
I’ve lost a good matchup, which happens, but it’s important to note that Bryant’s frame was just much better than mine—he played tight, he wanted to win more than I did, and to his credit, he did it. I got the last laugh, though—he had to ship me the ten dollars he won, because I’ll be driving him to Johnson City, New York for a Legacy tournament the next day. Don’t feel too bad for Bryant; he won $100 that day (he refused to split in the Top 8!), while I scrubbed out.
* * *
You’re still at those calling hours. The country music playing softly the whole time just registered. The song playing is “Live Like You Were Dying,” which is unbearably fucking sad. Mitch was twenty-one, just a year younger than you. You met him playing Magic when you were fourteen, and if it weren’t for Magic and FNM, you wouldn’t be here.
Remember that time when Mitch and Brian Greene used to wrestle between rounds at FNM? They used to just move all the tables and wrestle for fun. It was hilarious. Remember that time he split the cost a pizza with Luis Nieves, and while Luis was in the bathroom, he stuffed the entire fucking pizza down his throat, yelling “PUSH IT TO THE LIMIT” with a mouthful of pizza?
And now here you are, smiling in the middle of a wake.
A girl behind you completely breaks down, suddenly, and races over to the box of tissues.
In that moment, you’re grateful that someone thought to put those tissues there.