The Evolution of a Casual Planeswalker (Part 2 of 3)

When I have an idea for a new deck, nobody gets a word in but me. It doesn’t matter if I ask for your opinion, i’m really just waiting for my turn to talk so I can continue convincing you. You may try and explain that the way i’m doing something is strictly worse than another way, but it doesn’t matter. Once i’m on the warpath, I need to see the deck perform before i’ll change my mind. I wish I could say that this trait is a gift and a curse, but unfortunately the rogue decks I build for tournaments never win anyway.

And this is how I met O’sheen.

He was a very slight fellow, with a fairer complexion and though it’s hard to be entirely sure of it in retrospect, i’m fairly certain was a ginger. We were magic buddies around the time I first made the transition from casual to competitive magic, but unfortunately for his sake, O’sheen was repeatedly beaten over the head by my over-zealousness in what turned out to be an extremely one dimensional friendship. If you’re reading this story, please accept my apologies buddy. I was having too much fun.

Aside from a couple of pre-release sealed events over the years, and the odd novelty draft at my local store here and there, my history with magic predating the summer of 2007 had been punctuated almost exclusively with casual games of one on one with friends at summer camp, or my older brother and his friends. We would play with 60 card decks with no concept of sideboards or proper rules enforcement, commonly deferring to the local store owner for ruling disagreements, of which there were many. Over the years, he actually had to politely ask me to stop calling for rulings so frequently, as the frequency of calls were getting in the way of business. All that aside, the first 12 years or so of my experience with magic was pretty awesome. From ’95 when I was hotly anticipating the release of ice-age, all the way until 2005, with the release of Champions of Kamigawa, I played on and off, never staying away for more than a year or so, and though I periodically considered selling my cards, I managed to maintain my collection enough to encourage my return every time.

In the Spring of 2007, after a painful breakup, and a year very lightly sprinkled with MTG, I returned to magic for one of the more memorable summers of my life. A dear friend of mine had experienced a complete heartbreak about a year prior and had been introduced to magic as a coping mechanism during that time by some mutual friends. When I joined the group for that summer, they already had a very healthy weekly game going on, and with my inclusion, the game moved to Denny’s and became an all night affair more often than not. We would play casual multiplayer, one on one duels, Commander and even chaos draft sometimes, ordering milkshakes at 1am and sampler platters at 3. The power level of the decks we played with was very low, as nobody had an encyclopedic knowledge of the cards available, so we basically played with what we had. We’d buy cards every week or 2 to add to the decks, but it was really about having fun, not winning. There’s an element of magic’s flavor that is missed by most tournament players, and to say we embraced it would be an understatement. My good friend Zeke hadn’t played since magic’s early years, and had just gotten back into the game, so he especially relished the classic cards, and made a point to cheekily quote the flavor text off of Feldon’s CaneFeldon’s Cane every time the card was mentioned or played. We all soon learned to follow suit. One Thursday night, another friend of mine showed up with a combo deck he found online that began winning games in 3 or 4 turns every game. We discussed this as a group and agreed that banning the deck from our weekly game was the only solution that made sense. Who cared about winning if you did it the same way every game?! I have many a fond memory of getting home at 4 or 5am in a complete junk food coma, and going to sleep as the birds started chirping.

I kicked off that summer reeling from my breakup and going to the Futuresight pre-release in Bellevue, Washington. Bellevue is a little bit of a bus ride from Seattle, and for some reason the fact that I had to travel a distance made the whole experience feel a little less routine, and a little more special. It was at that prerelease that I experienced my first win in a large event. I don’t remember my sealed pool, but I do remember going 4-0 with it, and being awarded 18 packs for my hard work! I can recall thinking to myself, “what an amazing way to play magic! You can actually get more cards than you pay for if you win!” this marked a major turning point for me mentally, as my outlook on magic became more and more tournament oriented over the next couple of years, sometimes even eschewing the casual games I loved so much in favor of frantic preparation for constructed events.

I soon started consuming as much information regarding competitive magic as I could as fast as I could, trying to understand how I could use the cards I liked well enough to win. My first high level event was Washington regionals 2007, the first match of which was documented by Great Designer Search 2 finalist Jon Loucks and can be read about here. The boogeyman in standard at the time was the original DragonstormDragonstorm combo deck, but Jon was playing the infinite life gain combo rock deck, titled “Project X.” I had decided to play DragonstormDragonstorm, but instead of actually playing the namesake card, I replaced it with Niv-Mizzet the FiremindNiv-Mizzet the Firemind, Ophidian EyeOphidian Eye and Jhoira of the GhituJhoira of the Ghitu. My deck was completely unreliable and infinitely worse than the original, but was at least unexpected and clever, two details I was beaming about until I went 2 and 5 with the deck at the tournament and admitted defeat. Although I realize now that the deck I played was terrible, I still have a soft spot for Jhoira of the GhituJhoira of the Ghitu and all things Time Spiral related, and i’m still trying to find ways to abuse JhoiraJhoira, Mishra, Artificer ProdigyMishra, Artificer Prodigy and ChronozoaChronozoa (good lord I love me some ChronozoaChronozoa).

I wish I could tell you that I over the years i’ve learned my lesson regarding rogue deck choices, and that I don’t still harass my friends about the cards I love, but the truth is, it’s much easier to recognize these things than it is to put them into practice. As I called O’sheen so many times to explain over those first couple of years, every new idea or clever combination of cards seems like the best idea in the world at the time you have it, no matter how miserably it fails you in reality.

In conclusion, it’s important to remember that there’s a casual player in every competitive player, but not a competitive player in every casual player. Which am I? You’ll have to come back for part 3 of this series to find out!

Until then, take care and play magic.

– Ben Bateman

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