The End Of A Very Long Turn

Posted in Serious Fun on August 29, 2006

By Anthony Alongi

As Scott Johns hinted several weeks ago, another writer will be leaving his column at this web site. After the Time Spiral previews (the next three articles), I will be done with Serious Fun, and indeed with Magic writing altogether. While Serious Fun will continue without any significant change in direction, it will do so under another writer's name. It is, you might say, my end of turn phase.

I am moving on because time demands it. In two different ways.

Time Demands, #1

Time_WalkFirst, when it comes to time, I have none. In addition to Magic writing, I have had at least three other careers – Director of Minnesota's Dislocated Worker program, Hastings City Council member, and co-author of the JENNIFER SCALES series with my wife MaryJanice Davidson. In addition, I play racquetball and Magic; and I've been told I have a wife and children. (The dog tells me this; she's a wily bitch, but I think I can trust her.)

So flash back to an early June evening. I'm in a plush hotel room, courtesy of our publisher, relaxing with MaryJanice – this is Chicago, I think. She's just wowed the latest crowd on the book tour, we're both exhausted, she's collapsed on this enormous bed with about thirty-three pillows, but I'm still sitting at the desk and madly poking at the computer. My team at work is planning activities for the workers at the Saint Paul Ford plant (which announced it would shut down, putting 1,900 workers in financial turmoil); a bunch of Hastings businesses are putting the final touches on a Historic Car Show for this coming weekend; and I just got a brainstorm for a new book series I'd like to outline before I go to bed and lose half the plotline. Also, I'd like to get a bit of work in on the third Jennifer Scales book (THE SILVER MOON ELM).

And then I realize I have another weekly deadline here at magicthegathering.com. In about two hours.

"Heck with them," MaryJanice advises from the comfy bed after I tell her why I just banged my forehead on the keyboard. She's not normally this cold; but it's late and she can't get to sleep when I'm whimpering. "You're on book tour, for crying out loud! And you've got a million things going on. Besides, Aaron Forsythe is killing Magic anyway."

"He's not killing Magic!" I insist, calling up a blank word processing sheet and beginning my bit for Akroma theme week. "Mark Rosewater is. Everybody knows that."

"Well, somebody certainly is, the way people aren't going to tournaments and aren't hitting the official site and aren't posting on message boards and aren't buying cards at a ridiculous pace."

"Rosewater," I confirm. "It's all because of Rosewater. This whole game is a train wreck because of Rosewater! Look, I'll hook onto the web site and find you a hundred posts from people who say so. Two hundred! A thousand! And there's no arguing with them. These people have bought so many freaking cards, they're experts on the topic of how badly the game is doing."

"Whatever." She rolls over and konks out.

After grumbling after her shapely backside for a few minutes, I decide she is probably right. Screw Wizards. This game's a sinking ship. I'm outta here.

Or, you know, words to that effect.

Then I wrote the article. But for the first time in a while, I felt resentful for having to do it. And I don't want Wizards to have a resentful writer on its hands. They've been good to me, and they deserve better.

Time Demands, #2

Time_and_TideThe second way in which time factors in this decision is this: time runs out. Hours and years pass. We play Magic games, we go to classes, we fall in love, children spawn asexually out of grain bins like eleventh-century rats, et cetera. If you're at something for more than a few years and it didn't involve wedding vows and/or a really good spaghetti sauce, then you might want to consider a change of pace.

I've been at this Magic writing thing for more than eight years, including every week here at magicthegathering.com since its inception. If you go to the archives you'll see over 240 results for this column, which when you add it to the 150 "Casual Fridays" columns I did for starcitygames.com and thedojo.com, as well as the few dozen "Top Ten" and "Double Take" columns I did with Bennie Smith at Scrye magazine – well, it's a lot.

In the past eight or nine years, I have missed no more than a single week at a time (and that only a few times) of writing about Magic. It's a bit of a streak. I think Mike Flores may have me beat; but that's it.

When you do something for so long that only a freak like Mike Flores has done it longer, it's probably time to stop.

Thank You Notes

While I still have three more weeks to post articles, I do not want to spend them in good-bye gyrations. I will get all of that done this week, and then I will be able to exit gracefully with a set of articles devoted only to Magic.

In fact, I'd rather not have this week be Magic-free, either. In the interests of avoiding a completely self-indulgent, Oscar-night-style effort, I've put my larger thank you list here. If you want to see a two-page list of all the folks who have been critical to these articles you've enjoyed, that's where you go. On the other hand, if you're the type of person that thinks that folks in the background aren't really that important – well, then, I guess you don't have to click there, you cold, self-centered son of a valkyrie. But then you won't see the part where I thank you. Which serves you right.

An in-house writer like Mark Rosewater or Aaron Forsythe has many design- or development-related opportunities to point to colleagues at Wizards and elsewhere, and thank them for their work. We contracted writers have less opportunities to do so easily. I hope this long list will look less like self-indulgence, than overdue credit to lots of people who don't generally enjoy the spotlight.

First, I need to thank the play group that has tolerated me on a weekly basis – past and present players. In rough chronological order: Paul Hemze (a.k.a. "Evil Paul"), Dan Mitchell, Curt Jorenby, Don Musch, Dean Langenfeld, Austin Robinson-Coolidge, Bob Jungbauer, George Maverick, Anthony Davis, Joe Santos, Todd Petit, Bob Drosky, Dave Hanson, Jeff Konz, Paul Shriver (a.k.a. "Good Paul"), Troy Barkmeier, Laura and Mike Mills, Tim Doffing, James Beaudrie, Andy Feldman, Jeremy Thompson, Theo Darkow, Brian Liefeld, and Ray Russell. At a minimum, each of these people taught me what it means to have a group of adult friends you'd like to see repeatedly. Most of them have taught me much more. I'm grateful for all of the games we played, the stories we created, and the events we shared. I'm looking forward to many more – I am, after all, not retiring from Magic – just the writing part!

In addition, there were several players from other play groups – we found them at stores like Dreamers and tournaments like pre-releases – who joined our group momentarily, sometimes even for a couple of weeks, before moving on. These people taught me how vast and diverse the Magic community really is, and assured me that the game will be around for quite a long time.

Next on the list to thank is my family, including the beautiful but devious MaryJanice, who co-authored my column on two occasions (once here on this site). She has always been supportive of my writing career, in all of its stages. Of course, it was easier to be thrilled with my Magic habit when it was earning us money; now we have to go back to the game being a net drain on our resources! What I've learned from my family and am willing to share today: you are not the center of the universe. No matter what Mark Rosewater or the marketing people tell you, you, sitting there reading this, are not the reason Magic exists. It's not about the individual. Magic exists for a group of people. So do families.

Thank you to Turquoise Alongi, the only writer I've ever trusted enough to guest-write my column solo. Turquoise is a one-dog reason why Randy Buehler should not have apologized for Wild Mongrel: Hounds are cool. Give them treats.

Thank you to the editors and managers: Charles "Tuna" Hwa, Mike Flores, Rob Hahn, Omeed Dariani, The Ferrett, Pete Hoefling, Aaron Forsythe, Bennie Smith, Joyce Greenholdt, Monty Ashley, Scott Johns, and Ted Knutson. They have all handled, with varying degrees of success, my stupendously large ego. A little Anthony Alongi goes an awfully long [censored] way. The lesson to learn from editors is the same lesson we've learned about the Development team at Wizards: thank heavens they're there, or we'd all be swimming in a river of mistakes.

Thank you to Kevin Endo and the graphics staff at Wizards. When it comes to my articles, they have taken some real hard-luck cases and made them look great. The lesson for all of us to learn from the web graphics team is that art matters. Special kudos to Jen Page, who designed the giant penguin wizard token. (That has to become a real token someday, Jen. It has to!)

Thank you to Kevin Boris and the Magic Online staff, who gave me a free account for two years. It will kill most of my readers to learn I barely used it these last twelve months. This sort of thing belongs in the hands of a player who'll use the opportunity! What did I learn from Magic Online, during the time I was playing it almost every night? Anonymity + mass communication vehicle = a few genuine meatheads. But it also makes the nice people you meet an even sweeter deal. Because they could have been that way at no cost to themselves, yet they weren't. So thanks as well to all of the really cool people online who shared their time and energy with me.

Thanks to all of the people who have the guts to post a regular Magic column on the Internet (or anywhere else). I've particularly enjoyed Josh Bennett and Aaron Forsythe. The best of these writers have taught me humility (as well as I can learn that sort of thing), and a few of them have taught me what not to do. That's praise, not a slam. Good writers make mistakes, see mistakes, and learn from mistakes. Just like good game designers, good parents, and good everybody else.

Thank you to my successor, whoever it will be. Scott and Ted have not yet made an announcement. Whoever it is, I expect my fans to show respect. In time, I expect folks will look back on my columns as the Magic writing equivalent of Masques block – a seemingly endless parade of horrifying, if technically necessary, mediocrity. I'm sure we'll all enjoy Invasion block a lot more.

Thank you to Wizards and Hasbro, Inc. for a terrific game. It's tremendously easy to write good, fun articles about a hobby when it's so obvious the people who make a living off that hobby care a ton, too.

My final thank you is to you, the reader. So many of you have written on the boards or emails to share your decks and stories, to point out something I could have done better, or even just to say hello and thanks. I have tried hard to write back to each reader, and to post every week on the message boards, because I believe the interaction with readers is the most worthwhile aspect of writing. It is what I will probably miss most once I'm done, even those of you who drive me nuts.

Thanks.

What To Do At The End Of A Turn

Whispers of the Muse
When Scott and Ted asked me what I wanted for a theme week, I chose "end of turn" not just because I'm ending my time here on the site – but also because the end of turn represents an awful lot of strategy for multiplayer enthusiasts. Multiplayer Magic has been my bread and butter for most of my Internet writing career, so we'll focus the theme there.

What do group Magic players need to know about the end of a turn? Here's a handy list.

  1. The end of a turn is not just the best time to play your instants and abilities. But that's a fantastic place to start this list. Most seasoned players know to wait until the end of the last opponent's turn before playing any instants and abilities, 95 percent of the time. Still, I find pockets of stubborn ignorance. We occasionally get so excited about a really cool instant we have in hand, or we misjudge the chances of a Counterspell, or we want to use that creature's cool tapping ability the moment it loses summoning sickness.
    Don't give in to temptation! Bide your time. Have faith in yourself, and your deck. Pull up a little chair next to you, and let your mitt full of instants have a seat. Comfortably resting at your side, it will watch the game state develop a few extra turns. Then, it will reward you with an even more powerful play than what you had intended originally.
  2. The end of a turn is a good moment to take a breath and think. Lots of things happen at the beginnings of turns, which means the time to start thinking is during the end of the previous turn (at the latest)! An end of turn is a particularly good time to be thinking about your upcoming echo or cumulative upkeep costs.
    Avoiding mistakes can become a bit of a healthy habit. One of the more well-known Internet Magic writers, Jamie Wakefield, popularized the idea of taking a counter (say, a die) and counting the number of obvious mistakes you make over the course of a game. You assess yourself, pushing the counter up a notch each time you forget to think and make a bone-headed move. Jamie would consider a game "lost" when he had maxed out a six-sided die. Use that end of turn phase to stay well below six!
  3. The end of a turn is when it's tactically best to ask questions. Each pause between players is where you ought to be assessing the board, over and over, deciding if the time for action has come. Not just on your turn, but on each opponent's turn. Yes, you can ask the question, "how big is that Lhurgoyf?" when a combat phase is imminent and it's obvious you have something in hand. But by asking at a tactically neutral time, you can retain the element of surprise.
    Other questions you might ask (or investigate quietly, if you don't want to be too obvious): what's everyone's life total? How many cards does each player have in hand? Did anyone miss a land drop recently?
  4. Time_StopThe end of a turn is a fine place to throw in all sorts of interesting effects for a new format. A lot of weird, new formats have something happen during upkeep. But why not a format that revels in the end of turn phase?
    Try this: At the end of each player's turn, that player targets an opponent. That opponent searches the first player's deck for two cards. (He or she may not "fail to find" two cards, until there are less than two cards in a given library.) The first player puts one of the chosen cards in his or her hand. The other card is removed from the game. The opponent may play that card until the end of his or her own end of turn. The opponent may spend mana of any color to play the casting cost of that card.
    Depending on your group's average collection, you may choose to ban certain cards. As always, that's up to you. Talk to each other, and trust your instincts.
  5. The end of a turn is a terrific time to speak up. I think I have cumulatively lost at least 1,000 hours of my life to people who say "go" too softly. We're all sitting around, chatting back and forth, eating chips, getting up to snag a drink and sitting back down…and after two minutes of this, someone finally asks, "whose turn is it, anyway?" Someone points at someone else, who in turn points back to the first person and says, "I said, go!" "Oh. I didn't hear you." In a three-player game, no sweat. In a nine-player game, you want to kill both of them.

So let me finish this article by practicing what I preach.

IT'S THE END OF MY TURN. TIME FOR SOMEONE ELSE TO TAKE THEIR TURN.

Well, I suppose I have a few more fast effects to play out. I'll see you all next week, and the two weeks after that, for three of the most amazing freaking preview cards I've written. It's a great way to go out.

In four weeks, Anthony Alongi will still be a father, husband, author, public servant, dog owner, and Magic player. Which is quite enough.

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