Topical Blend #1: Near-Death Experience Experience

Posted in Reconstructed on December 31, 2013

By Gavin Verhey

When Gavin Verhey was eleven, he dreamt of a job making Magic cards—and now as a Magic designer, he's living his dream! Gavin has been writing about Magic since 2005.

Infusing life stories into my writing has always been a core part of my Magic articles. While I don't get to do this as often with a deck-focused column like ReConstructed, I'm glad that every now and then I can take the opportunity to write something like this.

Everybody in this world you will ever meet, hear about, or pass by on the street has a different story as to how they got to this point in their lives. Every. Single. Person. Take a moment to consider that—it's easy to forget. You won't ever know all of them... but when you take the opportunity to write about what you've experienced, you bring everybody who reads it just a tiny bit closer to your life. And hopefully they can laugh, cry, or even learn something... about deck building or otherwise.

We're all just stories in the end. Here are some of mine.

Two weeks ago, I put up two polls, one with ten options for a Magic deck-building topic, and another with ten options for an entirely non-Magic topic. The end result? I'm going to take the top voted topic in each category—then find a way to talk about both of them in one article.

Ready to see the results? Check it out!

All right: so, bad deck building habits combined with times I've come closest to dying.

This should be interesting.

    Near-Death Experience #1

It was finally the day most teenagers live for: the day you begin learning how to drive.

I was fifteen years old and I was planning to take a class to get my driver's permit over the swiftly approaching summer. I needed to know the basics, so my mom decided to start me off in the way I'd guess that many of us learned: in a parking lot.

She drove us to a nearby school on a weekend. Nobody was there, so the parking lot would make for the ideal driving space. It was the perfect driving space. Well, except for maybe one tiny detail she may have overlooked...

We swapped sides, and I was in the driver's seat for the first time. We quickly went over all of the functions of the car. Then it was finally time. I put on my seatbelt, turned on the ignition, checked the mirrors, and began my first task: backing out of the parking spot.

The first part went well. I put the car into reverse and cleared the two white lines.

"Okay, Gavin, great! Now let's try driving forward."

So, with only a fledgling understanding of the pedals I jammed on the gas.

With the car still in reverse.

In most parking lots this wouldn't be a problem. Here, it was deadly.

You see, to get to this school, you had to drive up a long, winding hill. It was a nice school; the rooftop was trimmed with white and the rooms with little windows that made it look like a homely cottage. It had a gorgeous view the students could take in as they took classes. The downside of all this, however, is that the school was positioned right on the edge of a cliff.

A cliff we were headed straight for at several miles per hour.

My mom yelled at me, "HIT THE BRAKES, HIT THE BRAKES!" I yelled back, "I'M TRYING, I'M TRYING!" as I futilely hit the gas pedal more and more.

In panic, I looked over at her. It was only a glance, but the sight of her eyes still gives me shivers today—I can see it clearly. My mom is a strong woman—she had been through the army in the 70s, has a pain tolerance so high that she's been hit by a baseball and shrugged it off, and was a nurse for so long that the sight of blood didn't cause her line of sight to budge. And, for the first and only time in my entire life, I saw pleading in her eyes. That kind of cosmic "don't let us die here" look, mixed with a hint of tears and absolute fear. It's the kind of look I imagine someone would get when they have a gun pointed at them. Her eyes were trembling.

Then, all in a split second, I looked down and tried to figure out where to put my foot. I slammed my foot down on the other pedal and hoped it would be enough.

With a screech, the car stopped.

I exhaled. It had only been a handful of seconds—maybe seven seconds at most—but it had been the most frightening seven seconds of my life.

I turned off the engine just to be sure, and walked around to the back of the car to see how close we were.

The answer was mere feet from the ledge.

For all my future driving lessons, we would end up going to a different parking lot.

What does this have to do with deck building at all? Click here to find out.

    Near-Death Experience #2

As a young boy in Seattle in the 90s, I couldn't help but be a huge sports fan. It didn't hurt that my father shared my sports-loving enthusiasm. He had shared season tickets to the Seattle Mariners for years—and after years of suffering through poor finishes, the Mariners were finally about to hit their prime.

It was a miraculous season. The team played to their outs, rattling off game after game like a PTQ player in the X–2 bracket who still believed he or she had an outside shot. Nobody else thought they could make it... but they did.

They were down eleven and a half games with just over thirty days left in the season. (For reference, the way baseball standings work, you have to win and the team in first has to lose for you to go up a game.) The Mariners proceeded to make one of the most dramatic comebacks in major league history by winning twenty-five of their last thirty-six games—all while the other teams in the league began to slide.

When the dust settled, the Mariners ended up tied for first—and then, in Brad Nelson and Guillaume Matignon Player-of-the-Year style, had to play a tiebreaker game to determine who would advance to the playoffs. They won, advancing to the playoffs for the first time ever.

While they didn't end up winning the World Series, the playoffs were still remarkable. There was even a single at-bat that became the Craig Jones Lightning Helix of Seattle baseball—it's so famous it even has its own Wikipedia page! The feeling in Seattle was absolutely electric.

So when basketball season started up and the Seattle Supersonics hit a blazing start (they would finish the season at an insane 64–18, eventually losing in the NBA Championship) my dad and I had to get tickets. Seattle sports had been on too much of a roll.

So, on one frigid day in January, we ventured out to the Key Arena to watch the Sonics play. The game itself was great—but what happened afterward, not so much.

We were walking back after the game. It was far past my bedtime, and the air was so cold that my breath was freezing on my lips. Both of us were eager to get back to the car and get home, so my dad proposed a new plan.

"Let's take a shortcut. It'll be faster."

"Where's the shortcut, Daddy?"

"We just cut across the fountain."

One of the highlights of Seattle Center is the International Fountain, built back along with the Space Needle for the World's Fair. They basically dug a huge hole in the ground and put a gigantic, thirty-foot-wide metal fountain inside. It fires water around at all 360 degrees and can reach heights of up to 120 feet. In the summer, fall, and spring, it's turned on, and the water spurts dances to the tunes of Beethoven while kids in the steep basin next to it run betwixt the water.

But in the winter, it's dormant. It doesn't turn on, except for a few routine checks here and there.

We approached the edge of the basin, walking into it and taking a few slippery steps. The concrete had a thick sheet of ice on top of it, caused by the water the fountain had shot earlier in the day freezing over. The entire thing was essentially one gigantic skating rink—a skating rink positioned at a 65° incline.

We gripped each other's hands. "Be careful, Gavin."

Famous last words, I suppose. I took one more step forward and felt my tiny foot slide against the icy floor.

Suddenly, I was flat on my back, looking up at the night sky. I could feel my father's hands tangled up in mine—he too had fallen—and then I felt the wind, that rushing wind, and my body twirling and swirling on the ice downward and downward like some kind of psychotic hockey puck moving at driving speeds headfirst for a hockey stick—a gigantic metal hockey stick: the fountain.

I saw it out of the corner of my eye. I tried to brace for impact as best I could. And then everything went black.

After black, the next thing I saw was crimson.

Blood was everywhere, all over my body. I was looking up, right into my father's face, as he trudged forward with me in his arms. His face caked with blood as well—a mix of both of ours, I suppose—but by some miracle he had managed to walk up and out of the fountain with me in his arms. I could tell this was many hours later; nobody was around.

He limped forward for what seemed like ages and eventually reached what had been our original destination: the car. He set me down inside, my blood instantly staining the gray leather seats he had been so adamant my brother and I never ate while sitting on. He locked the car. Then he left, presumably to find help.

More blackness.

Then, warmth. The hospital. Even the faraway sound of someone saying I needed stitches was better than before.

I was alive.

The doctors said it was a miracle I didn't end up with any permanent internal damage. If you pull my bangs back and look really, really close you can see a scar—but that's about it. That's my reminder of what happened that day. It was the only time in my life I ever had to get stitches.

What does this have to do with Magic? When you're ready to move on, click to find out.

    Near-Death Experience #3

It was summer one year in the late 90s, and, like most seven-year-olds in the summer, I wanted to go to the pool.

For some reason (probably being a poopy doodyface or something), my brother wasn't so interested. So my parents worked it out so my brother and mom would stay at the cabin (we were on vacation at the time), and my dad would take me to the pool.

We headed up there and I got into the shallow end while my dad played the role of lifeguard.

I had fun splashing about and talking with Dad from the water for a while—but then one of the neighbors from a nearby cabin came. My dad, recognizing him, began to chat him up. And as they talked about stocks and the government and the 80s—you know, topics reserved for grown-ups—I grew bored.

So, I thought I'd do what I always did when I got bored: crawl around the edge of the pool. If you never did this when you were a kid, it simply meant holding onto the pool's ledge and making your way around the pool using your hands instead of any swimming ability. I only knew the basics of swimming at that point, so this was my makeshift way of exploring the pool.

As I moved my way around, my dad's conversation got more and more intense. He wasn't paying attention to me at all. And suddenly, now that I was all the way in the deep end (which I wasn't able to swim in) a wonderful idea struck me: what if I let go?

It was a very "Imp of the Perverse" moment. Maybe it was my sense of adventure. Maybe I wanted my dad's attention. Or maybe, just maybe, I was just a dumb child. I told my mom afterward, "I wanted to see what would happen."

More than anything, I had never been able to swim in the deep end and I desperately wanted to try. So, I ignored everything else and let my single driving thought take over.

I let go. And then I began to sink.

On my way down, I didn't make any fanfare. I didn't splash or thrash about. I didn't yell. I simply sunk. Like a cat walking into the middle of the street because it wanted to get hit, I knew what was happening but didn't do anything about it.

I hit the bottom of the pool. My lungs started to ache as I began running out of breath, and it was at this point that my brain noticed perhaps this wasn't the wisest decision. I tried moving my arms against the weight of the water, but nothing happened: you can't make splashes underwater. There was nothing I could do. I was all the way under.

Seconds passed like excruciating eternities. My air ran out. If I didn't breathe soon, I wouldn't ever breathe again.

And that's when I heard the thundering crash.

The water parting above. The churning whiteness. My dad coming to scoop me up and bring me back above water.

He would tell me later than he only noticed I was missing because a pause in conversation caused him to look over. If he had just continued talking, he wouldn't have noticed for minutes more. It was perfect timing. And thank goodness too—drowning in a pool on vacation with your parent ten feet away would have been a real embarrassing way to go out.

The only way I could describe my next breath of air: delicious.

The Magic connection? Click here to see!

    Near-Death Experience #4

I hadn't seen another human being since I got off the train two miles back. My cell phone had absolutely no reception. All I had packed to eat and drink were three bottles of water, a sandwich, and some fudge I bought in Juneau the day before.

And I was about to climb a glacier.

I never planned to do it alone. That was just the reality of the situation.

Let me back up.

The 2012 iteration of the yearly Magic Cruise had targeted Alaska as its destination. A good college friend of mine lived in Skagway, working on some of the tourist attractions, and, when I told her that I was coming, we chatted and she pulled some strings to set me up with what she felt was the absolute most incredible thing to do in Skagway: climb Laughton Glacier.

The plan was this. I would get off the boat at 7 a.m. and head to the train station. About halfway through, the train would make a special stop just for me—my friend had told the conductor where she wanted him to drop me off—and then I would hike up through the forest for a couple miles. Eventually, I would reach Laughton Glacier. I had to be back down by 4 p.m. for the train to pick me up or I wouldn't make it back to the ship in time.

My original plan was to hike with two others from the cruise. However, they both overslept and were nowhere to be found come 7 a.m. So I had a choice: skip out on this experience entirely or take a risk and go at it alone.

I chose the latter.

So there I was. Two miles up the trail, with the glacier finally before me. I had no way to contact people, nor any trace of humanity in sight. My rations were minimal. I had seen a bear on the train ride up and barely avoided a moose (surprisingly mean and hostile animals) on the trail. I was about to put on snowshoes, which I had never used before in my life. The following thought ran through my head: If I get injured, I'm just dead.

Is that actually true? Maybe. It's possible one of the three people who knew I was there would have said something and there would have been a search party for me. But either way, it certainly wouldn't have been a pleasant rest of the day.

So, what did I do? I moved onward. I usually try and keep as far away from anything as life threatening as possible. I had just started my dream job at Wizards and wasn't interested in cutting it short. But in this single case, I accepted the risk of climbing.

And you know what? It was worth it.

How does this relate to Magic? Click here to find out.

    A-Maze-ing Tales

That wraps up this week! Hopefully, you enjoyed this Topical Blend. I'd love to hear what you all thought.

In the meantime, it's time to turn the focus back toward Dragon's Maze! Next week, I'll show off my first preview, and in two weeks I'll show off my second—which you can start building decks for right now!

Here are the restrictions:

Format: Standard
Restrictions: Your deck must be at least white and black. (Playing other colors is okay as well.)
Deadline: Sunday, April 7, at 6 p.m. Pacific Time
Submit all decklists by clicking on "respond via email" below. Please submit decklists using the following template


20 Land
20 Land
4 Creature
4 Creature
4 Other Spell
4 Other Spell
4 Planeswalker

I look forward to showing off the crazy world of Dragon's Maze to all of you next week! In the meantime, feel free to send me any thoughts or feedback you have by posting in the forums or sending me a tweet. I'd love to hear from you!

Until next week, may you successfully stay alive. (But still go on interesting adventures.) Talk to you then!


Gavin VerheyGavin Verhey
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When Gavin Verhey was eleven, he wanted a job making Magic cards. Ten years later, his dream was realized as his combined success as a professional player, deck builder, and writer brought him into Wizards Ramp;D during 2011. He's been writing Magic articles since 2005 and has no plans to stop.

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