Welcome to the lab, my magical compatriots. It's Time Travel Week here on DailyMTG.com, where we'll be looking at the core concept of Khans of Tarkir block and other tangentially related ideas. It also happens to be a special day for me, as this is my 101st article for From the Lab. I've decided to combine the two ideas, and today I'll be looking at some of my favorite articles from my earlier days on the job. Unless you've been reading the column every week for over two years, (in which case, thanks, you are awesome) there will probably be at least one or two you haven't seen before, and I'll be throwing in a deck idea here and there as well.
Time is an Illusion
On this journey through time, what better place to start than my very first article for this column? "Brace Yourself" was a preview article for Illusionist's Bracers, which remains my favorite card of those I've had the honor of previewing. I hunted down a foil copy for my Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker Commander deck, where it's an absolute all-star.
This article was also my introduction to some of the peculiarities of writing a column directed at Johnnys, such as the emails and Twitter messages informing me of all the great cards I didn't talk about. Despite my almost-encyclopedic knowledge of Magic cards and my heavy use of the Gatherer advanced search, I'm bound to miss something now and then. Fortunately, I have you all to tell me about cards I've forgotten about, and even a few I've never seen before. The constant feedback and occasional deck ideas I get from you readers is one of my favorite parts of writing this column.
Reading this article again also spawned a rather strange idea in my head. What would my Illusionist's Bracers preview article have looked like if it was written in the early days of Magic? To explore this idea, I set an arbitrary cutoff for the sets I was allowed to pick from and built a deck around the Bracers using only old-school cards.
The Future is Unpredictable
The next article that sticks in my mind is from May 2013. I was nearing the deadline for my article that week, and I had no idea what I was going to write about. While my mind was wandering around searching for ideas, I remembered an article by Robby Rothe (AKA @MTGColorPie) two years earlier. In the article, he challenged himself to build a Commander deck around a legendary creature chosen at random.
I decided to use the same idea for my article and the result was pretty entertaining, judging from the response I got. I also hit Goblin Caves as my last random card, and with Robby's article still fresh in my mind, that deck practically built itself. This was the first article that I really got a lot of positive feedback on, and many people requested that I use that idea again. Speaking of which, now seems like as good a time as any. Let's spin the wheel and see what comes up.
Hmm. I can work with that. Now, the fact that it only returns your opponent's creatures makes it a lot harder to create a useful combo loop with it. You could bounce it every turn to create a soft lock, but that's a bit too simple for my tastes. Conjurer's Closet and a creature with an "enters the battlefield" ability is hardly a combo. How about Nature's Revolt? If you use that or Living Plane to turn your opponent's lands into creatures, Scourge of Fleets will return them all to your opponent's hand. Your opponent will be back to square one, while you have an army of lands with which to end the game.
Causation is Complicated
Most of the time, I try to make the combos I highlight in this column relatively efficient. I mean, obviously they aren't going to be tournament-caliber decks, but I try to stick to those that have around three pieces, maybe four. This article was an outlet for some of the more ridiculous ideas I'd had recently. The idea for the article came from a thread on the GatheringMagic forums that challenged people to create a combo loop that required 20 different cards. After slowly working out an idea for that, I was itching to use it. And so I decided to write an article with combos that were unabashedly complex. I've tried to use this article as a reminder to explore crazy ideas once in a while. When writing a column like this, it's easy to fall back on the same old combo-enablers that get used time and time again, but I've tried to mix it up a little over the years.
History is Controversial
For Magic's 20th anniversary, we were asked to do some sort of top 20 list. My choice of topic was pretty obvious, but my card choices were not. At the beginning of the article I went through a few categories by which I judged the cards. What I didn't say is that I actually created a grading system to assign each card a number between 1 and 10 in each category. This was a big part of what led to the final list.
Of course, I knew going in that creating a top 20 list like that would mean everyone would disagree with me on everything. I left out my detailed ratings to avoid adding fuel to that fire. After all, one can only take so many people telling him he's wrong. This article was also one of the reruns at the end of 2013, which spawned a whole new wave of feedback. I'm already preparing my inbox for the onslaught of emails linking to it here will bring.
Time to Try Something New
One thing that I sometimes struggle with is letting my sense of humor show through in my writing. Although I'm constantly making jokes in real life, I can get very matter-of-fact when discussing decks. "Dead or Alive" was a conscious effort to try something different, and make an article that injected a bit more of my own personality into it. It's probably my favorite of the articles I've written…despite my misgendering of Ashen Rider due to the fact that I didn't have access to the high-resolution art at the time. I was extremely proud of myself for coming up with Morty as a contestant name for Gift of Immortality, and the Ash 'n Rider pun might be one of the best I've ever made in this column. It definitely had the longest setup.
Explaining the decks indirectly like this was something I experimented with in some of my earliest Magic articles, long before I started writing From the Lab. I found that the concept became tired quickly if used every week, but it still held promise for a one-of article here and there. "Dead or Alive" was the culmination of that idea. The game show concept also owes a debt to Mark Rosewater, who has personified and held interviews with the five colors of Magic in several different articles.
My first article in November 2013 was basically handed to me on a silver platter. I received an email from a player about a deck he and his friend created. It was one of those Johnny decks that exists more to explore an idea than to win a game, and to this day it's my favorite deck of those I've featured in this column. The entire deck was built around the idea of creating a situation where your opponent's only option is to activate Door of Nothingness targeting him- or herself. I won't go into the details here, but I highly recommend you check out the article to see all the thought that went into this deck.
The Eureka Moment
The article that would become "Hunting Down Inspiration" started out with a pair of relatively normal decks, at least normal for this column. However, when I started writing the article I had recently been ruminating on the concept of inspiration. I don't remember what got me thinking about it, but I decided to inject some of my ideas on the topic into the article. Surprisingly, I didn't actually get much feedback on this one, so I'm still not sure how people felt about my waxing philosophical in the middle of From the Lab. At least no one hated it enough to send me an angry email.
Looking back on it now I may have gone a little too deep with the hunting metaphor, but I felt like the section wouldn't have been interesting enough without it. Probably a good sign I should have just cut it entirely.
Exploring the Past
On the other side of the coin, "Advice From a Mad Scientist" spawned more feedback than any other article save the Top 20 list. The results of the poll for this article were not at all what I expected. I was fairly confident that Dinosaurs, Science Fiction, and The Most Dangerous Things I've Ever Done were going to be the top three. The option for Why I'm So Darn Sexy was a last-minute addition based on a running joke I have with some of my friends. I expected a few people to vote for it to be funny. I did not expect it to come in 2nd place by a narrow margin.
The option that ended up winning was Girls. In retrospect, I should have listed that topic as "Dating" to make it more relevant to people of other genders and sexual orientations, but I wasn't thinking it through that carefully. Regardless, the topic essentially forced me into what is by far the most personal article I've ever written. I'm the kind of person who plays things close to the chest, so these were stories that most of my closest friends didn't even know, and here I was throwing them out there for all the world to see.
Fortunately, it was more than worth it. The response to this article was one of the most inspiring moments of my career as a writer. Several people let me know they liked it, but what really made me smile were the few who reached out to tell me that my stories had inspired them to change something in their own lives, hopefully for the better. More than 4,500 people voted in the topic poll, but that number meant far less to me than knowing that my writing had made a real difference to just two or three.
Time is Running Out
Well, that's the end of today's journey through time. There have been a lot of ups and downs (mostly ups) to writing this column over the last two years, and I'm excited to see what the next two have in store. I'm also curious to know what you all thought of this little time travel experience, so feel free to share your thoughts with me on Twitter through @MTGCannon, or shoot an email to MTGCannon@gmail.com. See ya!