Nice Story, Bro

Posted in Latest Developments on January 18, 2013

By Dave Humpherys

Dave Humpherys has been managing the development team for Magic R&D since 2010. He led development for the Avacyn Restored and Gatecrash sets. He was inducted into the Magic Pro Tour Hall of Fame in 2006.

Today, I'm going to indulge in telling you a few of my favorite personal Magic stories from long ago. Some will be short and others long. Some won't be particularly humble. Since I have a Simic card to preview today, I'll steer down Green-Blue Memory Lane when I have an excuse. In anticipation of the Gatecrash Prerelease, I also have a couple of Prerelease tales for you.

Art by Willian Murai

In the early days, I played some rather unorthodox decks. I don't know how much of this was being a Johnny and how much was being bad.

I won some early big events against better decks. I remember being outclassed by Sean Fleishman's quadruple Balance/Atog/Vise/Rack deck in an early event, yet somehow managed to snatch victory from him and win an Unlimited set with my lone copies of Sol'kanar the Swamp King and Rasputin Dreamweaver. Many Bostoners started copying the Balance deck, with all the ways available in the format to empty or refill hands. And with good reason. It was an amazing deck even once it could only play one Balance. It was arguably "The Deck" of the East Coast—in my mind, more potent, just less well-publicized. I was stubborn, though, and kept playing my Control Magics and pair of legends. Amusingly, Tom Guevin would eventually intervene on the local scene by metagaming against me. After a finals loss to me, he came back with his own tech. He was good enough to beat the rest of the field with his Killer Bees and Force of Nature, so he could laugh off my Control Magics when next we met, and win the tournament.

Sol'kanar the Swamp King
Rasputin Dreamweaver

Encouraged by some of these early successes, when Darwin Kastle offered a ride to the first-ever Prerelease I was eager to go. Never mind that it was in Toronto. There was just one such Prerelease in the world. It was the first of its kind. It was kind of mind-blowingly large at that time and I believe held the record for the largest Magic tournament for a very long time. The fates smile on me that day and offered up what I knew how to play best: not one, but two Binding Grasps! I put together a nice little green-white-blue deck. Somewhere along the line, I defeated my opponent and won his Scaled Wurm. It was a great fit for my deck, or so I thought.

Binding Grasp

Did I mention these games were still played for ante? What crazy times! Then, later, against another opponent I won a Mountain. It didn't amount to much for me, but to his chagrin he didn't have enough Mountains to play red anymore. And so he played a different color in the next game. Tough luck? Yep. Back in those days, you were limited to the lands in your "starter deck." Later, after another win, my opponent showed me that he was happy he'd opened an Icy Manipulator since he really wanted one. I acknowledged that I was lucky he didn't draw it in our games. He then explained he didn't play it in his deck because he didn't want to risk losing it in ante. On my march went, until some Arctic Foxes dealt the lethal blow as I won the event and a cool Ice Age medallion. And along with it an eventual invite to the first Pro Tour.

A bit of patina on the prize can’t tarnish the memory of winning.

In that first PT, when people played Land Tax, or were perhaps smart enough to play Necropotence (only in the JSS did anyone seem to main deck it), I had my own card-advantage engine. Four Sindbad. That's right, I even had a Library of Leng in my deck to combo with it. Erhnam Djinn was among my threats splashed off of among other lands, Havenwood Battleground (helping to fulfill the Fallen Empires requirement there of playing five cards from each set). On my way, I went with my blue-green-red deck, with Sindbad fighting off Hymn to Tourachs along the way or trading with Savannah Lions in a pinch. I fondly remember playing a fellow Harvey Mudd alum and classmate Mark Chalice, who had established his own name back on the west coast. I'd never played him before, though.

Library of Leng

Mark wasn't happy when he played Hypnotic Specter and I Control Magiced it. Then he played Nevinyrral's Disk and I played Steal Artifact. All this was before sideboarding, if I recall correctly. I jumped out to a 5–0 start before falling to Eric Tam's Land Tax/Stormbind deck. If only Steal Enchantment had been printed. The next round, it was Autumn Willow in the hands of Dennis Bentley. Amusingly, I was told that Mark Rosewater was doing the coverage in the other room wondering why I wasn't playing my own Autumn Willow. He was apparently forgetting she was a legend and at that point, the legend rule didn't allow me to even attempt to play mine. Her shroud was also my undoing, since I couldn't steal her, either. And so that short Pro Tour ended at seven rounds and a 5–2 finish. One of our local players, Mike Loconto, won that first event.

Nevinyrral's Disk

But my first Pro Tour story doesn't end there. This is where I also did my first draft. I didn't know what a draft was. I doubt many people did. I went to the event upstairs after the main event. And here's how the draft proceeded: I got in a line that circled the room. I reached into a box and took a card. If I didn't like it I could put it in the next box and take a different card out of that. If I didn't like that card I could put it into the next box and take another card out of that third box. There was no fourth box, only the end of that circle back to the first box again. There were perhaps seventy people in the room doing this. I don't remember how many cards in total we went through, but it took a while. We then sat down to play matches with our draft decks.

By the second Pro Tour, we already had the advantage of more modern drafting technology. In proof that I still didn't really know what I was doing, I won a match against Mike Long in my next-to-last round by Magical Hacking my Island Fish Jasconius to Forests. Green-blue strikes again! I kid you not. At least it was only after sideboarding that I played Magical Hack. Or so I hope. Did I mention my worse finish in the first four Pro Tours was 25th? I'm not sure how. Once again, the event was won by someone I played nearly every week, Sean "Hammer" Regnier, who defeated another aforementioned local rival of mine, Tom Guevin.


Next up was the third Pro Tour. I played some red-white-blue Ivory Gargoyle/Jokulhaups deck. I was doing quite well until I ran into some Spiders in the hands of Olle Råde. The Binding Grasps in my sideboard weren't enough. But enough of this event. Next up, we have yet another Prerelease.

This time it was at a Pro Tour Atlanta, using Mirage. Just like the Ice Age one a year earlier, nobody at the event knew any of the cards in the set prior to opening their packs. This again made for quite the wild event. I played blue-red, although I sideboarded every game into red-green upon realizing all of my blue cards couldn't compare to the Savage Twister. One of my most significant memories was of a younger player, who I believe was Jason Zila. Every time I tapped mana for a card, he'd guess what I was playing. He played a spell and I tapped, for a red and a blue. He asked, "Meddle?" He was right. I was quite impressed. I felt like I barely knew any of the cards or their names at this point. He kept doing this through the match and was correct a lot. I believe he had spent a good deal of time in between rounds networking to share card info. He played very well, baiting all of my removal until he finally turned the table with a Mtenda Griffin.

And so that was a quick rundown of about eighteen months of Magic through my eyes. If folks enjoy these, maybe someday we can gather around and I'll give you some of the stories from the rest of the eighteen years . Just remind me about my Emperor tournament where I played a deck with no mana sources and nothing costing less than six mana.

Memory's Journey

What does this have to do with Latest Developments? Fair question. The ties here are loose ones. Some of the point of this was to provide perspective. Who knows where Magic will be in another eighteen years? Perhaps some of the stuff we do now will sound equally hokey well into the future. We in R&D are trying to create stories both in tournament experiences and on the cards themselves. I've been on many teams now figuring out the details of what additional experiences we can provide at Prereleases and elsewhere. From Helvaults to Guild Packs, it's still a learning experience. Personally, I've found my first experiences with cards to be quite memorable, so Prereleases offer a lot toward building memories. Consider this a nudge to get out there and play some Gatecrash next weekend!

In terms of creating memories, we've been tugging at your emotions over that past year. Hate miracles or love them, I'm sure many of you have breathed a sigh of relief when an opponent has put a drawn card into his or her hand. We've continued to create cards that will help tell great stories. While the Bonfire of the Damned stories might be getting old, we are doing our best to help enable new epic stories.

Take Hellkite Tyrant, for example. I don't think I had anything to do with the stealing text, but upon seeing it I felt it told a nice story if at some point the Dragon could hoard enough treasure to win. The number of artifacts could be huge, but I wanted the rules text to further help tell its own story.

Similarly, one of my favorites cards that I designed in the set was an attempt to tell the story of a spy on spy (think 007, or perhaps a game with elevators if you are old enough). But I digress slightly toward resonance.

Much of the work in this set and others is to make sure we have many other big dreams to strive toward. Whether it is big X spells, ever-growing ranks of Soldiers, creatures ever-evolving in size, attempts to Enter the Infinite, or simply getting that fourth Biovisionary onto the battlefield, we've worked this set to the point where there are good and memorable stories to be told.

Enter today's preview card. I believe Gavin Verhey designed the starting point for this card. It felt like it could use a little more story to it. It was originally a 2/2 with more or less the same text as you will see here. I suggested that it make the creatures it affected Mutants. Again, this is largely flavor, and adding extra text is not something I'd typically suggest at lower rarities, but here's another preview where the card could tell a more specific story. Then again, maybe you'll make it more than just flavorful with the likes of Adaptive Automaton. Click here to see Master Biomancer.

>> Click to Show

I chose this card to preview largely because it appeals to me in so many ways. It can be the centerpiece of +1/+1-counter-based strategies within the guild, especially if you are an impatient Simic scientist. It's a lot of fun to play this before most anything, but especially some of the cards in the set, like Fathom Mage or Primer Speaker Zegana. There's also a lot of fun to be had playing Master Biomancer in multiples. Maybe slip a Rancor on one before you play the next? I've personally found Elves to be good lab assistants. So, let the madness begin. Wait, that reminds me of another story from 2003...

Best of luck! Thanks for reading.

—Dave Humpherys

P.S. Fellow Simic mages, if you have any questions about cloning or mutants, let me know. My PhD from MIT was largely focused on that "stuff."

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