I spent last weekend at U.S. Nationals, talking with players and watching them play Magic. I often spend my time at big events talking to the pros to get their take on recent cards, but that wasn't the memorable part of last weekend. The Junior Super Series was also taking place and I found it quite refreshing to watch the juniors play. The real highlight of the weekend, though, came late Sunday night when I got a chance to play with the "Lost and Found decks." I'm not entirely sure that "highlight" is the right description since the situation is actually kind of sad, but I'll get to that in a minute.
The Standard format that was in use last weekend seems to have held up pretty well. Despite months of close scrutiny and big tournaments seemingly every weekend, no one best deck emerged. Instead there was quite a complicated metagame dance that allowed most players to run whatever deck was their own personal specialty.
When I did talk to the pros in San Diego, they took turns claiming that completely different decks were actually the best deck. (All agreed that lots of decks are playable, which is the part I was most interested in). Mike Turian insisted that red-green beats was just plain better than everything else while Bob Maher and Billy Jensen made the same claim about Wake. Zvi Mowshowitz felt monoblack control was the most likely deck to win, though he later admitted that the metagame landed in a bad spot for him. Of course, Brian Kibler had a home-brew ready, which for this event turned out to be a monoblack aggro deck ("MBA") that sent him and Jon Finkel through to the finals.
Interestingly, there was one thing that all the pros had in common: they all played the deck that they thought was most likely to help them win the tournament. When I wandered over to the JSS side of the hall, however, it was like a refreshing blast of cool air. Those kids were just playing for fun! This was most striking during the JSS Open on Friday (where anyone junior who showed up could try to claim one of the last 25 spots in the championship event). Just about every match I saw involved an Elf deck. I got to watch Elves against Goblins and Elves against blue-green and then the Elf-on-Elf mirror match. These weren't the 16-year-olds that usually take home the big scholarship prizes, either, these were 12-year-olds and 10-year-olds who just loved to game with their favorite deck.
I've always thought that one of the most remarkable things about Magic is how many different kinds of players it appeals to. Some players just want to see how many Insects they can get into play or how big they can make their Taunting Elf. Other players think winning is the only thing that's really fun. Luckily, the game is big enough to welcome all of you. There's nothing wrong with a well-tuned Psychatog deck or a finely played Wake match, but at the same time those decks just aren't as much fun as the "tribal" hordes that have been unleashed by the Onslaught block.
It was nice to be reminded of the fact that, for most of its audience, Magic is a game that is played just for the sheer joy of playing it. (It was also nice that so many people showed up at the event in San Diego to play - attendance was up big and we almost ran out of product to use to run side events.)
Those were already my two "takeaways" from the event when Skaff Elias came up to me Sunday night and said "Hey Randy - you've got to see this." Skaff is a senior R&D member and one of the ways he stays in touch with our audience is to run the overnight side events at Pro Tours. By about midnight on Sunday things were starting to wind down and the side events staff turned their attention to the Lost and Found box. In it they found two card boxes full of decks that no one had ever showed up to reclaim.
Looking through these decks was like a stroll down memory lane. Whatever kid owned them had put together a Breeding Pit deck that looked just like one I had built eight years ago, shortly after Fallen Empires came out. Lord of the Pit is incredibly awesomely powerful (not to mention cool) if only you can find some way to feed him. Enter Breeding Pit. The Pit also works great with Ebon Praetor, which I had put into my deck and this kid had also put in.As a quick aside, have you taken a close look at the art for Ebon Praetor lately? It's freaky. How did that bunny ever get himself involved with the lizard man? And what's going to happen to the poor merfolk? And which is actually more scary: the demon preacher that you'd expect to be officiating over this ceremony at the gates of hell or an anteater with a funky hat? And why is that cute, innocent bunny playing along with everything?! Hieronymous Bosch would be proud...
Anyway, I couldn't believe what an eclectic combination of cards wound up in this kid's deck. Minion of Leshrac, Fallen Angel, and Hell's Caretaker had all made my version of the deck way back when and I remember how ecstatic I was when I too discovered Sengir Autocrat - that was surely the missing link that would add consistency and power to the deck! This kid had plenty of newer cards in the deck too: Devouring Strossus fit right in while Sadistic Glee and Grave Pact were combolicious with all those sacrifice effects. Ascendant Evincar and Contamination added sauce while Recurring Nightmare and Avatar of Woe are just plain good. There were even a couple of Putrid Imps just so you could get a fatty into the graveyard if you drew the reanimator portion of the deck.
The one thing that was most obvious to me was that some kid loved this deck. It was clear that years of energy and attention and refinement had gone into getting things just right. The deck boxes also had a Bird deck and an Elf deck and something we could only call the "red-green rares deck," but in my mind the Breeding Pit deck was clearly the kid's pride and joy.
The more I thought about it, though, the more sad I got. We were looking through someone's most prized treasures, but that someone probably thought they were lost forever. On the one hand I have to admit I found it fascinating to see what cards had actually wound up in these decks. There were decks built around Scourge cards, a big section of cards that had been signed by artists, one Demonic Tutor in the Breeding Pit deck, and all kinds of other eccentricities that were gold-plated data to someone who gets paid to understand what makes kids want to buy more Magic cards. On the other hand, the rightful owner of these decks had to be in pain, wishing he or she still had them.
After a few minutes thumbing through the decks, we decided the proper thing to do was to try them out. We wound up playing a best two-out-of-three match of Two-Headed Giant. I had the Bird deck and Skaff was my teammate and had the Elf deck. Unfortunately for us, Alan Comer's red-green rares deck had a couple of Wirewood Channelers in it and Skaff's Elves seemed to help Alan more than they helped us. Form of the Dragon is pretty good when you can get it out fast against an Elf deck, it turns out. Alan actually managed to play Decree of Annihilation leaving his Form of the Dragon and his Sulfuric Vortex as the only permanents in play (and everyone with empty hands too), but a judge wandered over and pointed out that the Form of the Dragon-Sulfuric Vortex combo doesn't actually work that well-when Form of the Dragon resets your life total to 5 that counts as gaining life, and is therefore prevented by Sulfuric Vortex. Oh well, it was still a cool play.
Skaff and I did lose the next game, when Andy Fletcher (who did a great job running the Demo area all weekend) actually pulled off the impossible dream with the Breeding Pit deck. It seemed like my ever-growing swarm of Birds were going to run him over (Airborne Aid drew a lot of cards in that deck, though the cards were usually just more Birds), but he did get a Grave Pact down. You know what's good with Grave Pact? Recurring Nightmare... he got to bring back cool creatures while I had to sacrifice mine. I still thought I could fly over for enough to take their team down from 40 to zero, and Andy decided to Recur Lord of the Pit into play even though he only had one other creature to feed to it (a very scared Ebon Praetor). On his next turn he sacked the Praetor (which meant I had to sacrifice something because of the Grave Pact) and then his deck delivered up … Sengir Autocrat! It was a thing of beauty-the deck was doing precisely what it was designed to do and every piece had fallen perfectly into place. Not only did the Lord have plenty of food, but I was forced to feed all my Birds to him too. I staggered away from the table, reeling at the incredible thrashing I was receiving but I had a huge smile on my face the whole time. Magic is just plain fun sometimes. And Lord of the Pit is still cool after all these years.You know, I can't even remember which team won the deciding game 3. I just remember having a good time. Now all I want to do is reunite all these decks with their designer and thank him or her for letting us borrow them for a little while. So if you lost these decks in San Diego last weekend, email me. I left out enough unique aspects of this collection that it should be easy for the rightful owner to prove to me whose it is. Also, if you know someone who was complaining about what a tragedy happened to them when they lost their cards at Nationals, make sure they read this article and email me if appropriate.
Intellectually, I know that the pros are weird and that most Magic players own only a small number of the cards from each set, yet have loads of fun building decks with whatever they have or can trade for. Nonetheless, it's still nice to have that lesson brought to life and handed to me to experience again. I only hope that I don't have the chance to play with these particular decks for much longer.
Last Week's Poll Results:
|What is your favorite Scourge Instant?|
|Decree of Savagery||754||7.9%|
|Reaping the Graves||332||3.5%|
Randy may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.