A Promising Beginning

Posted in Feature on March 7, 2018

By Corbin Hosler

Promised Kannushi.

That's what hooked me on Magic. I know how ridiculous that sounds; other people have these really cool stories about what got them into the game, and it's always something epic—going crazy with Wellwisher, casting Hypnotic Specter off Dark Ritual on the first turn, locking opponents out with Stasis or Balance, reanimating giant monsters like Darksteel Colossus or later Eldrazi . . . Psychatog, Goblin Charbelcher, Sneak Attack, and Show and Tell. We've all heard those stories. Players found something incredibly fun to do, and after that they were hooked forever.

But for me it was Promised Kannushi.

Like many of us, I learned to play Magic at a kitchen table. I was 19 years old, and my friends had finally convinced me to give the game a try, just as Lorwyn was releasing with this experimental new thing called planeswalkers. When I was a kid, I stuck mainly to card games aimed at younger audiences, and I was way too cool to play Magic—it was, after all, the early 2000s, and I was much too busy with Backstreet Boys and yo-yos and MySpace and whatever else was "cool" at the time to mess around with something like Magic. But as I grew up, I began to embrace my inner nerd-dom; I learned it was okay to play football and basketball on Friday night and computer games and card games on Saturday.

So I found myself at a friend's house, picking up his Champions of Kamigawa block deck built around soulshift. Burr Grafter, Kodama of the North Tree, Elder Pine of Jukai, and Promised Kannushi? Soulshift 7?! Sign me up. Wait, Forked-Branch Garami will give me back two creatures? I mean, these cards all seemed really bad compared to what friends were doing—it seemed like the only creatures I ever saw from them were Darksteel Colossus or Jareth, Leonine Titan, which were completely unkillable for me—but I just knew there had to be some way to make them work, right?

That's not to say that in those early days I didn't see any of those powerful cards I mentioned earlier—my friends were no pros, but they were competitive players at their kitchen table and had versions of Legacy Elves, Charbelcher, Sneak and Show, and even the dreaded Orim's ChantIsochron Scepter combo. Magic allows you to do some pretty busted things if you want, and I saw plenty of it in those early days. Giant creatures that end the game in one big swing, crazy counterspell decks that keep you from ever casting anything, soul-crushing Stasis decks? I lost to the best of them as I learned the rules. There was just so much that Magic allowed you to do, and no two decks were the same.

But none of that is what drew me in. Instead, it was a 1/1 for one with a name I couldn't pronounce. Why exactly I never quit when I was continually killed on turn three or four, to this day, I can't say, but I know that I saw something in that funny little Human Druid.

I never really thought about it until writing this, about the offhand decision a decade ago to give Magic a shot. It completely changed my life. The 12-hour drives for PTQs, tournament success, writing gigs, coverage opportunities, and everything else eventually came and gave me the opportunity to live the dream of making this game my career—but none of that was on my mind when I realized that Promised Kannushi could get back anything I wanted. So what was it I saw when I looked at the forgotten Draft chaff?

I saw a puzzle waiting to be solved. I saw a world of possibilities, of soulshift loops and the perfect engine that I could mold to accomplish exactly what I wanted. I knew I was losing, but I also knew that the tools were there to make little old Promised Kannushi so much more than what it was alone. I have played competitive sports my entire life, and creating something that is more than the sum of its parts appealed to me.

As I learned more and delved deeper into the Multiverse, I found out that Promised Kannushi was just the tip of the iceberg. Before long I was brewing up Standard decks and trying to solve that puzzle myself. I didn't want to take the best deck and copy it and its absurdly powerful Vendilion Cliques or Baneslayer Angels, I wanted to solve the puzzle on my own, because what good is solving a puzzle if someone shows you the solution? A decade and tens of thousands of Magic games later, that same spirit keeps me going. I love Modern because there are simply so many decks that can win, and now I record videos with a new brew every week to share my excitement with people chipping away at the puzzle the same as I am. I can't wait for Standard to rotate every year so I can set to work solving the riddle, and those first few weeks after a new set comes out are still . . . well, magical to me even after all these years.

I know I'm not alone; many of you play this game for the same reasons, and sharing that passion is one of my favorite parts of the Magic community. I know people come and go from the game as life circumstances dictate, but one thing I've noticed has always held true: you're a Magic player for life, whether you're actively playing or not. This is why people always come back to the game when they can—because there's always a new puzzle to solve.

The next puzzle is Masters 25, then Dominaria, Magic's first trip to the plane since I began playing. My mind is already enchanted with the possibilities, and I can't wait to set to work solving the next puzzle.

Thanks for reading,

Corbin Hosler

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