In 2008, I quit Magic.
Now, I know what you're probably thinking. Housing market crash, big recession, etc. is probably why I ended up dropping it, right? Well, that might be part of it, but it definitely wasn't the main reason why. In truth, the simple fact of the matter was I didn't have anyone to play with. Moving from Buffalo, NY to Tampa, FL I basically went from playing almost every day of my life to being unable to find a single person in my high school who played. To make matters worse, at the time the closest shops were 30-45 minutes away (the Florida scene has grown by leaps and bounds since). Even at those stores when I could go, it was often too difficult to get enough people playing to keep going back. Hell, I recall my final release event before I quit - Morningtide - only having five people in attendance for what then was, well, basically what we know as prereleases now.
All of this was to say that I simply couldn't play the game and, aside from a few packs I picked up here and there, I just couldn't see the reason to continue playing. So, in late 2008 before starting college, I sold off all my cards. Instead, I turned to playing more video games and engrossing myself in my love of film, watching all manner of movies new and old alike. If you've been playing Magic for a while, you're likely familiar with the classic saying: no one truly quits Magic, they merely take breaks of varying lengths. It wouldn't be long before the game got its hooks in me again.
In late 2009, the game Duels of the Planeswalkers - a name derived from their older PC game expansion - released on Xbox and caught my eye. I bought it, played it, and had a lot of fun. I even discovered a new local shop to redeem the Nissa Revane promo at, but wasn't ready to invest the time to start playing again. Then the following year, I got word that Urza's Legacy, my first set, was coming to Magic Online and I wanted to draft it. So, I did, which led me to picking up Rise of the Eldrazi drafts like crazy at the same time. Soon I was buying a Duel Decks: Elspeth vs. Tezzeret set and discovering a small playgroup at my college. This kickstarted me jumping headfirst back into the game just two years after exiting.
Today, I'm going to be discussing some of the cards that have come to define me as a player since that time. Last week I essentially covered the ones from before that point where I exited the game, and now, we're going to look at what influenced me since. Let's get right into it!
It's only fair to start with the mish-mash of cards that really brought me back into the game. While I think it was first and foremost the constant playing of both Rise of the Eldrazi and Scars of Mirrodin that initially pulled me back, it was actually Commander that got me back hard. I could've played a few drafts, gotten my fill, and have been done with it. But as I talked about last week: I really loved legendary creatures in Magic's early days, and so when my friend introduced me to EDH - the old name for Commander - I took to it fast.
It wasn't long before more friends joined in, some longtime Magic veterans and others who were entirely new to the game. Each brought something different to the table and we were always trying new things. With over a dozen of us playing multiple decks and jamming games between classes, there was truly no shortage of awesome times to be had. These commanders and more provided me some of my favorite experiences that still shape the way I play the format - and the game - today. Hell, it's why I write so heavily on PreDH, because it uses a card pool that came from this period of the game! It was a wonderful time and it pulled me back into the game hard. Thirteen years later and there's no sign of slowing down!
After coming back into the game, I was mainly just playing Commander and Limited and having a great time. I had started to play a bit of Standard with some janky brews like Mono-Black Infect. However, I didn't want to invest too heavily because, like many players, I didn't want to pay for a pricey Standard deck only to have it rotate and become worthless a few years later. Coming back, I wanted to play something far more stable, and barely a year after returning to the game I got just the answer with the announcement of Modern.
Thanks to this announcement and a small local Legacy scene in the Tampa Bay area at the time, I decided to build Affinity for both Legacy and Modern. With the lists being very close to one another and largely only differentiating by around $50 at the time, it was an easy choice. I found myself going to a large competitive event for the first time ever and figured I'd check out the side events and hang out with friends. When I went to go pick up my cards, though, I realized I had enough store credit to pick up the rest of the stuff for a Standard deck, Tempered Steel, and figured I'd grab it and check out the main event - a $30 entry at the time - to kill time to wait for the Modern side event to fire.
Instead of playing Modern that day, however, I found myself taking this deck I built on the spot and had never played to an X-2 finish and ended up cashing as a result. This was where I started to think that maybe I had what it takes to be a competitive player. From there I played as many paper events as possible and got the deck on Magic Online to really kick my time on that client into high gear. To this day, Tempered Steel remains one of my all-time favorites and I forever long for a format where the card is good once again.
As noted just above, getting into Legacy was a bit of an experience for me. Early on I picked up Affinity to get my foot in the door and play a variety of events, but it wouldn't be long before I found myself trying other things as well. I built lists for Burn and Cheerios to try different things with my friends, and took a lot of these same experiences to Magic Online as well. There I started to experience a lot of what the format truly had to offer. In one match earlier on, I ran into an opponent who played a couple Islands followed by three simple cards:
I watched this player combo off with the classic High Tide deck and absolutely crush me with it. It blew me away and made something like Affinity or Burn look utterly tame and basic by comparison. It made me want to try it myself and see what I could do. As a result, it became my next Legacy deck that I would pick up and would also enable me to try some other decks like Izzet Delver thanks to some of the cards I picked up to make High Tide happen (namely Force of Will, honestly).
I took High Tide to a handful of events but never really did well with it. What it left me with were a few good stories (namely the time I ran into a Mono-Black Discard list with four main deck Chains of Mephistopheles) and a love for complex combo decks. In many ways, I think me playing this deck is a big reason why I came to love Pauper Elves as much as I did. Not only was that a big throwback to my early days of Onslaught, but it has similar sorts of wild plays like High Tide does and goes off in a similar way. Beyond that, though, my time playing that one main line tends to get limited solely to Cube drafting these days, but whenever I get the opportunity, you'd better believe I'm running it because I'll be damned if I don't love it to death.
At one of the first events I took High Tide to, I ran into Maverick. It was in 2012 and the deck was really breaking out following the bans of both Survival of the Fittest and Mental Misstep. Much like my initial experiences with High Tide, I found the lines of play in Maverick to be really interesting. What's more, I acquired a collection from my uncle when I traveled for that event and found I had a large chunk of the deck from that collection. As a result, I started building it. Once I finally got my hands on it, I was hooked.
The silliness with Knight of the Reliquary and Green Sun's Zenith toolboxes just gave the deck so much range and it made things incredibly fun to play at my local shops week after week. I was even an early adopter of Deathrite Shaman, having access to a Bayou and feeling unsatisfied with how Noble Hierarch performed. It was the whole thing and I took it to so many events, including local events, SCG Opens, PTQs, and Grand Prixs. I love it so much it led to the creation of my main online handle to this day (TheMaverickGirl) and many of these cards remain favorites I'll play at any given opportunity to this day.
Continuing my time with Standard, I jumped into multiple kinds of decks during the RTR-Theros era of play. I tried Mono-Red Aggro, Gruul Monsters, and even Naya Slivers, but what really grabbed me hard was Mono-Black Devotion. There was just something satisfying about doing things like filling your board with Pack Rats, stealing your opponents' cards with Nightveil Specter, and doing a decent imitation of Phyrexian Arena with Underworld Connections. The biggest card here, though, was obviously Gray Merchant of Asphodel. Seriously, if you've never cast one of these before, you simply need to. It's just such a wild thing to pull off!
While I definitely checked out the format once before with Storm and Affinity and am known now more for the likes of Elves, Mono-Black Control was my true gateway into Pauper. I looked at what decks were being used in the format and when I saw one that won on the back of Gary, I knew I had to play it. Ultimately, I was a little disappointed in the deck, as it's never really been the best archetype to run, but I was excited to have a way to play Gary once more and it proved my entry into the format many people know me for today. Even when it returned in Theros Beyond Death I couldn't help but give it a try, and even beyond that many of these cards I still play frequently thanks to Cube - and it's all because of this one deck.
The few years after Theros released were fairly uneventful. I dabbled with a few decks I really enjoyed such as Gruul Dragons, Abzan Rally, and even Flash before it ate a banhammer to both Smuggler's Copter and Reflector Mage. For as much as I enjoyed these decks, though, not much really stuck with me compared to decks of the past. We've seen similar modern variations on most of these in one way or another, specifically Gruul Midrange and the likes of Azorius Spirits in Pioneer. What finally got its hooks deep in me, however, was the popular aggressive deck of the Kaladesh-Amonkhet-Ixalan era in Hazoret Red.
I was no stranger to aggressive Red strategies by this point. I played Mono-Red decks around Innistrad, Theros, and even in formats like Modern, Legacy, and Pauper before now. But something just felt different about Hazoret Red. I couldn't put my finger on exactly what it was, but playing that deck felt almost otherworldly and I was hooked on it. The deck netted me an 8-0 undefeated record on day one of GP Seattle 2018 with no byes, kicked off my writing career (by writing about upgrading Challenger Decks to figure out how to afford it myself), and playing non-Pauper formats once more. It gave me a deeper appreciation for Mono-Red Aggro strategies and to this day, Hazoret the Fervent is still one of my favorite cards of all time.
Much like Hazoret Red, the Mono-White Aggro strategy that followed after Kaladesh and Amonkhet blocks rotated out was a deck I simply couldn't put down. I played game after game on the then-brand MTG Arena and tried every variation of it I could. It was my first time truly getting to play White Weenies outside of a token deck in Cube or something like that and it was a delight that I couldn't put down - especially with Arena's new ladder system right at my fingertips.
Much less of these cards are ones I still find myself playing today, but I think it more reflects in the archetypes I'm willing to play. After all, if you pop into an Arena Explorer queue today, you might just see me running a Mono-White Humans deck, to the point that I'm gearing up to playing almost the exact same 75 at paper Pioneer decks. In fact, I think this sentiment rings true for most of the years since. There haven't been anywhere near as many cards coming to define me in the last five years since, frankly, many of the strategies I tend to play have been influenced by the nearly twenty years that preceded them.
I think that's extremely apparent here as I found myself needing to write not just one but two articles on this topic. There were just too many great cards that influenced me as a player and far too much to write about just in one piece. Hell, there probably could've been an additional one if I wanted to take the time because there's simply that much. If you've been playing a long time, you probably know exactly how I feel and have developed cards and strategies that have come to define you. If you're newer to the game, you might find yourself making those very memories now. No matter how you enjoy the game, though, there's always going to be something that you love most of all and I highly encourage you to hold that close to your chest for the many years yet to come.