How Not To Win A Contest, Part 1

Posted in Serious Fun on June 12, 2007

By The Ferrett

So the "Most Powerful Card In Future Sight" contest sent well over two hundred and thirty emails tumbling into my inbox as everyone made their case for their favorite.

Most of you were passionate, giving me decks and long essays and funny stories. Some of you got disqualified early by not following the rules. (Hint: if you didn't have the exact words "Future Sight Powerful!" in the subject line of your email, you were out; my spam filter is strict but firm about such matters.) But when the dust cleared and my eyes stopped burning from staring at the computer screen, I could choose only one.

Let us look at your collective votes. And then let us discuss the reasons that some were not picked.

Bitter Ordeal 16
Molten Disaster 15
Chronomantic Escape 14
Scourge of Kher Ridges 11
Gibbering Descent 10
Heartwood Storyteller 9
Akroma's Memorial 8
Barren Glory 8
Nihilith 8
Korlash, Heir to Blackblade 6
Imperial Mask 5
Jhoira of the Ghitu 5
Magus of the Moat 5
Angel of Salvation 3
Glittering Wish 3
Magus of the Vineyard 3
Mistmeadow Skulk 3
Pact of Negation 3
Quagnoth 3
Sliver Legion 3
Spellweaver Volute 3
Boldwyr Intimidator 2
Festering March 2
Grove of the Burnwillows 2
Linessa, Zephyr Mage 2
Muraganda Petroglyphs 2
Rift Elemental 2
Seht's Tiger 2
Virulent Sliver 2
Stronghold Rats 2
Rites of Flourishing 2
Veilstone Amulet 2
Bonded Fetch 1
Bridge from Below 1
Dust of Moments 1
Grinning Ignus 1
Homing Sliver 1
Imperiosaur 1
Llanowar Mentor 1
Marshaling Cry 1
River of Tears 1
Shimian Specter 1
Sparkspitter 1
Sprout Swarm 1
Steamflogger Boss 1
Thornweald Archer 1
Thunderblade Charge 1
Tombstalker 1
Unblinking Bleb 1
Utopia Mycon 1
Witch's Mist 1
Wrap in Vigor 1
Oriss, Samite Guardian 1
Grave Peril 1
Magus of the Abyss 1
Fleshwrither 1
Quiet Disrepair 1
Lost Auramancers 1
Epochrasite 1
Riddle of Lightning 1
Reality Strobe 1
Summoner's Pact 1
Henchfiend of Ukor 1
Pact of the Titan 1
Magus of the Future 1

The interesting thing about these lists is that the same errors kept getting made; those who suggested Barren Glory tended to leave out the same vital facts that could have turned "an interesting email" into a "contest-breaking winner," and the folks who punted for Chronomantic Escape had their own omissions. So we'll walk down the Top 10 Most Popular Cards, and discuss the merits of both the cards and their entries.

But it seems a shame to leave out the people who amused me, so let's start with the three most amusing entries:

The most powerful multiplayer card in the Future Sight expansion is...

Steamflogger Boss! Not only does it pump Mistform Ultimus and other copies, but you get two contraptions for the price of one. Two! How could any opponents outmatch that card advantage? If you have multiples out, a single contraption maker would instead create sixteen! With Vesuvan Shapeshifter, Body Double, and Clone in standard with the Ultimus and the Boss himself, who could stand up to him? Just look at this sample decklist that proves its worth.

Portufoy Grundy's Bossing Ya' Around

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As you can see, I can have so many Bosses in play at one time that they will be getting a massive power increase.

Now, I know what you're thinking: "Where's the contraptions?" This deck focuses only on one of the abilities on the card. I'll leave the other ability up to someone else to make a deck out of it.

–Portufoy Grundy

With Imperial Mask, classic Jim Carrey references become the perfect way to taunt your frustrated playgroup.

BOB: Can't somebody deal with that *#$%ing Mask?!
ME: Sssomebody ssstop me! Ah-ha-ha-ha!

JIMMY: Yes! I just drew Naturalize! Suck on it!
ME: Look, Ma, I'm roadkill!

BILL: Great. He just killed three of us in one turn with his stupid regenerating attackers.
ME: Ssssmokin'!

Note that some of these only work when you're about to die horribly. But being the Mask, you're inherently flexible.


My pick for the most powerful multiplayer card is Shah of Naar Isle, because once you play it, nobody will ever consider you a threat. Ever.

–Mike O.

Okay. That's the crazy stuff. But let's share the reader discussions on cards that didn't make the Top 10—thoughts that may not be the basis of award-winning decks, but I thought were cool enough to bring to your attention.

Jhoira of the Ghitu

Jhoira of the Ghitu

Let's suspend the Nacatl War-Pride (with Jhoira of the Ghitu). As you described Teferi, "OMG WAR-PRIDE KILL IT KILL IT!" While they're having a little fit about the kitties, pop down Teferi for real. Can they really take them both? Makes them sit back and think a little.

–Peter F.

Thunderblade Charge

The Most Powerful Mutiplayer Card in Future Sight is probably often overlooked as a "Bad Hammer of Bogardan." I guess a hammer is hammer, though.

Thunderblade Charge

Thunderblade Charge is every bit as good as its ancestor in multiplayer. I can't think of the number of times my last Lightning Bolt was buried in my deck and some new threat was threatening the board. With Thunderblade Charge, every creature you poke through to hit a player is carrying a Sword Of Fire But Not Ice, assuming you have an extra five mana. Reusability has always been a strong characteristic in multiplayer, and this effect can be repeated ad infinitum. Of note, a lowly 1/1 can sneak through to deal a single point to an opponent, only for the Thunderblade to burn off someone else's threat. Blue Counterspell guy is gaining card advantage with his Thieving Magpie? Send a Goblin to the green mage who's seeing the worst of it. I know I wouldn't mind taking a single point (or sometimes two or three) to let someone burn down a Windborn Muse or a Shadowmage Infiltrator or a Nacatl War-Pride, even.

Of course, with double strike or an extra combat step, your Thunderblade Charges can do more than three damage in a single turn, something the original Hammer of Bogardan couldn't. (But at a horrendous mana cost – T.F.)

Good cards in multiplayer answer threats, have repeatable effects, and can abuse the political nature of the multiplayer environment. Thunderblade Charge does all three.

To stress the repetition and its long term card advantage decks, try the deck below.


Jey's Snow in Phoenix (Not Quite Tribal)

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Grinning Ignus

Grinning Ignus

I'm pretty sure Wizards misprinted the ability on this card. It should read ": Untap Grinning Ignus." or ": Storm Count + 1." or ": Vigilance. Retroactively!"

There are a plethora of uses for this card: First, it powers out your fatties. Imagine getting out that Nacatl War Pride down on turn three instead of turn six (Turn one: Forest, Llanowar Elves. Turn two: Mountain, Ignus. Turn three: Return Ignus, Nacatl War-Pride). I've played this several times in this fashion, and it works beautifully.

Second, it stores your mana for later. If land destruction is big in your playgroup, then this can be used as storage with a body.

Third, as I've already mentioned, he can be untapped with , provided he isn't enchanted or equipped. (Which reminds me; enemy enchantments slide right off of him.)

Fourth, and most importantly, it's a freakin' engine! Ignus + a tapped Centaur Omenreader turns into – which is very useful. But even better than into is into infinite mana! With the help of Aluren, you can pay , bounce the Ignus, play it for free, and use the it generated to bounce it again. Repeat ad nauseam, and then win with Fireball (alternatively Grapeshot) to everyone's dome.

Imagine this: Turn one: Forest, Birds of Paradise. Turn two: Mountain, Ignus. Turn three: Forest, bounce Ignus, Aluren, win with infinite mana or infinite storm count.

Keep in mind this avoids the classic problem of multiplayer combo—running out of gas. If the combo player goes off and eliminates one player, he's then helpless to defend himself for the rest of the game. But this combo kills everything and everyone at once! You don't have to worry about after, because there is no after. I'm thinking a deck would look something like this:

Allen S.'s Grinning Ignus Combo

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There's Tutor to pull the necessary pieces. There's Pact of Negation to back up your combo. Birds of Pradise for acceleration. And Grove of the Burnwillows is for politics, as well as color fixing. Which brings me to another great point about this combo: you don't see it coming. People won't care enough to stop the Ignus. It just doesn't seem like much of a threat. A 2/2 for three? Ooooh. Scary. By the time you get Aluren out and they figure things out, it's too late.

Of course, this probably only works on your playgroup once, but still. Hopefully, I've sufficiently explained why the Ignus is friggin' amazing.

–Allen S.

Bridge from Below

Bridge from Below is patently ridiculous. Busted in half.
Here is a deck that I made about a week after the prerelease:

Alex K.'s Dredge from Below

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The mana base is thrown together. I'll probably go back to 10 islands, to avoid Blood Moon.

Bridge from Below

I work in a popular game store, so I have access to rather stiff competition when I desire it. The day I broke this thing out, I took all comers. It was FNM. I played against Izzetron, Dralnu, Gruul Beats, Mono-Black Aggro, and a very impressive rogue blue-green-black tempo deck that was dominating many tables that day. I could not be defeated.

The plan is to drop an early "looter" (of which the Magus is, of course, most impressive). Upkeep on turn three I loot, drop a dredge card, and dredge on my draw. I have sixteen dredge cards in the deck, so it's almost ridiculous not to hit another. I then play Compulsive Research and chain dredge to fill my graveyard. Narcomoebas appear for free, Bridges fall where they belong, and I flashback Dread Return. I get triple-Bridges worth of zombies (I need two bridges minimum to do it right), then Flame-Kin Zealot appears. "Attack for 21," I'll inform my vanquished opponent.

But that's almost a classic Standard deck by now—and this is a column for multiplayer!" you are saying, and I know you're right. But when I took the deck home that night, I called my brothers to the table. 2-vs-1 was the format that night. They played every deck they owned, and I was nearly undefeated. They beat me one game, when they destroyed or bounced literally every land I played... And even then, I still lost on the turn I was about to win (discard Grave-Troll, dredge 6 every turn was the plan of action).

–Alex K.

Muraganda Petroglyphs

Muraganda Petroglyphs

Muraganda Petroglyphs is the most powerful multi-player card in Future Sight, and I'd like to tell you why. A Muraganda deck won't make combo players feel that you're the greatest threat. If you play with something that's flashy, you get taken out—Nacatl War-Pride is a great example.

Sometimes, however, you want to play something that looks terrible but isn't. People may forget that you can make instant creatures that don't have flash. There are plenty of things textless creatures can do—Sprout Swarm and Glare of Subdual come to mind, among others.

Its greatest advantage is the confusion factor, wondering what you're up to, but not being feeling threatened directly. You're also in color for Privileged Position, which doesn't give an ability to your creatures so much as lay down some rules to the other players. So one card that makes all of your creatures giant-sized all the time and lets you take less heat from the political side of the game? Pretty nice, I say.

–Daniel C.

Centaur Omenreader / Magus of the Vineyard

The two green cards from Future Sight that I think are best in multiplayer formats are Centaur Omenreader and Magus of the Vineyard. I've been up to some pretty sneaky things lately, one of which is a Cloudstone Curio deck. Centaur Omenreader combos nicely with Wood Elves and Cloudstone Curio. Here's my list:

Centaur Omenreader Combo

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The trick is to get Curio, Omenreader, and preferably double Wood Elves (though the wayfinder is an awesome replacement). Tap the Omenreader either by attacking or by convoking Sprout Swarm, and get all the forests from your deck. The blue splash is obtainable through Expanse, Wayfinder, and Wood Elves, so there are no worries there.

The other artifact simply draws me cards for each creature, which there are plenty of. Wild Pair is extra nice with Curio, since suddenly a Llanowar Elves also gets me Coiling Oracle, Magus, other Magus, or Wood Elves... and vice versa. I pack Utopia Vow for the many Akromas that my friends try to sneak in, and Sophic Centaur because you'll not only draw a lot of cards, but you'll also get your creatures returned to your hand without the mana to play them.

At that point, you can discard your third Magus or fourth Forest to gain 10-20 life each turn. Green storage lands build up mana and will save you from mana burn from the Magus.

(Of course, you may well need a way to win aside from creatures, but it's a neat idea – T.F.)

The Top 10, in Reverse Order

Imperial Mask

Imperial Mask (5 votes)
Imperial Mask is a pretty good choice for the most powerful card; okay, it won't win you games, but it will shield you (and your partners) from spells aimed directly at your face—which means that most combos and burn decks and discard just flat-out fizzle.

That said, Imperial Mask is merely a protective card. It doesn't help you to win the game, it merely makes it harder for you to lose—and that only qualifies if nobody has a Naturalize. And some strategies don't give a dang about being targeted; if I have a big green Stompy deck that wins via attacking, Imperial Mask is all but a dead draw against me, making it a risky choice unless you know your local metagame down cold.

Thus, while I really dig the effect of the Mask, I have issues calling a card "the most powerful" when it doesn't win the game and it doesn't actively interfere with your opponent's plans.

It's good. Just not good enough.

The Problem With The Submissions: Rules Knowledge

Unfortunately, two of the five submitters believed that "your teammates" could be defined as "Whoever I like at the time" (and one was a great Jim Carrey gag, as outlined above, which made me giggle but wasn't going to take the prize). That's not the case, sadly—even if you've temporarily allied with someone, he may still try to kill you later and thus is counted in the rules as an "opponent." So you can't give him a token, even if you really really like him and he bought you a malt down at the ol' ice cream shoppe. Sadly, given this misunderstanding, the emails they sent me regarding Imperial Mask had to be discarded.

That said, Christopher L.S. pointed out that Imperial Mask and Chain of Smog can turn quite ugly, assuming that the guy you hit wants to hurt other people. Ouch.

Korlash, Heir to Blackblade

Korlash, Heir to Blackblade (6 votes)

I've already gone on record as stating that mono-black decks are an excellent choice for an untested metagame. Many groups are creature-centric, and their decks fizzle awfully if they can't amass an army—and spells like Innocent Blood, Mutilate, Damnation, and Barter in Blood will stop that plan cold. If you have a control player or two, they hate discard, and a Mind Sludge or two (or a Persecute, if that pesky Ravnica play-with-all-colors spirit hasn't infested your group) will take anyone down a peg. And lastly, Cabal Coffers-fuelled Corrupts and Drain Lifes will yank pesky opponents right out of the game while hoisting your life total into a safe zone where you have time to refuel.

So Korlash comes with an excellent pedigree; he's practically made to drop into mono-black decks. I'll say that he's got a good shot at the top, and leave this for later.

The Problem With The Submissions: Insufficient Delineation

Yes, Korlash is very awesome and powerful and a horrendous finisher. But is he more awesome and powerful than, say, other classic mono-black finishers like Skeletal Vampire, Visara the Dreadful, Spirit of the Night, Avatar of Woe, or Mortivore?

I mean, he's very good. And maybe he is the most powerful. But when you drop him in a powerful black deck where almost any large, tough creature could serve as a finisher, it doesn't showcase Korlash to his best ability. When I see a deck and go, "Yeah, that's pretty standard mono-black... Oh, and there's Korlash," it doesn't excite me.

Perhaps exciting isn't the name of the game, I know. But then it's much harder to pick a winner when everyone's got the same essential idea.

Here are two sample decks, both of which would be fine for multiplayer:

Erik's Mono-Black Control with Korlash

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Josh B.'s Mono-Black Control with Korlash

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Nihilith (8 votes)

Nihilith is one of those cards that, like Avatar of Woe, is all but guaranteed to come down early and often in multiplayer. Because if you haven't read the card, kindly note that Nihilith doesn't care where the card comes from. Whether that card is discarded or destroyed, Nihilith has a counter yoinked off of it as long as that card goes to the graveyard.

The potential is obvious. Second turn suspend Nihilith, third turn Mindlash Sliver, sacrifice it, six players discard a card, attack. (Or even "First turn Dark Ritual, suspend Nihilith and play Mindlash, second turn discard and attack.") Or even, as Chan Jeff said:

A very nifty (and craftier) use of the Nihilith is instead of using it with mass creature / land destruction, you use it with mass hand destruction. A nasty combo of Ill-Gotten Gains followed up by Delirium Skeins (returned via Ill-Gotten Gains) will strip your opponents of your hands and get those Nihiliths into play! If you've had Nihilii die earlier, you can even grab them back with your Ill-Gotten Gains!

But there is a drawback to the Nihilith. Did ya see it?

The Problem With The Submissions: Is That All There Is?

I like the idea that Nihilith comes out of nowhere, and very early. But the problem that I had with it, and the submitters didn't seem to anticipate this, is that a 4/4 with fear on turn three is scary, but not insurmountable.

It may well be that you have the kind of card-light group where a 4/4 fear guy is going to kill everyone at the table. But at my table, we have Diabolic Edicts and Judge Unworthies and Temporal Isolations and even red burn. A mostly vanilla 4/4 guy has to attack five times before it destroys one player, let alone two of them—and if you're playing with the sort of people who have no answers in ten turns for a 4/4 creature, you probably would wreck your local metagame with a Craw Wurm.

You get speed. That's good. But you also don't get a lot of bang for your buck when it arrives, and nobody said, "Okay, and here's what you do on turn four to break Nihilith in half." They just sort of.... stopped.

(I don't think anyone even suggested Mindslicer, which would have at least give the Nihilith a chance against an empty-handed field.)

There might be a good Nihilith-based strategy out there somewhere. But it has to involve more than the attack phase.

Barren Glory

Barren Glory (8 votes)

Chris Romeo summed the case for Barren Glory up the best:

The correct answer is Barren Glory—because it says right on it that "you win the game." No other card in Future Sight simply wins you the game. A lot of cards help you deal 20 damage or, like Whetwheel, help you deck your opponent. However, no other card says that you just flat out win the game. Barren Glory's right up there with Coalition Victory.

And that's true. Barren Glory has a very potent effect. But it's a got a darned steep price! And hence we come to the problem.

The Problem With The Submissions: The Glory Of The Perfect Draw
Barren Glory is the perfect Johnny card: it wins, it wins big, and it takes a lot to set it up. But the people who shilled for Barren Glory, by and large, assumed that everything would go perfectly. Or, to quote one submitter named Jonathan:

You can win fifth turn regularly with this card. Put it in a red-white deck with four Greater Gargadon, four Barren Glories, four Ignorant Blisses, and four Lost Auramancers. These cards are the base of the deck.

First turn: Mountain and suspend Greater Gargadon. Second turn, either land. Third turn, either land. Fourth turn, have to have two plains and play Lost Auramancers. Fifth turn, play only a creature, artifact, or land. Sixth, play only a creature, artifact, or land. Seventh, Auramancers goes away—bring Barren Glory in. Eighth, at the beginning of your upkeep, play Ignorant Bliss to remove your hand from game, sack everything to Gargadon, and that's the win."

But you know what I didn't hear? The other possibilities. Things like:

Fifth turn: Josh Ichor Slicks my Lost Auramancers.
Seventh turn: Dmitri plays Naturalize on Barren Glory.
Eight turn: I still haven't drawn an Ignorant Bliss.

Or, as is far more likely:

Sixth turn: Since I still haven't played the slightest bit of defense, everyone's attacking me because they can and I'm down to Lightning Bolt range. Ooops.

Barren Glory's a challenging card, but the problem is that a deck designed to make sure of Barren Glory needs a perfect draw and little disruption. It is, as they say, difficult to pull off. Though Bram V.B. gave it a darned fine shot:

Bram V.B.'s Cheesey Glory

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That's probably the most bulletproof Barren Glory deck I've seen; it has early defense that's friendly, and a pretty solid combo engine (Academy Rector into Barren Glory is very nice, particularly if you can get a Mindslicer off beforehand), and even then it's reasonably tricky to pull off.

Still, for it to be the most powerful card, I tend to think that a variety of powerful decks have to be built around it. One very powerful deck does not mean that Barren Glory is the most powerful card in Future Sight; it means, most likely, that it's the most potentially powerful card in Future Sight, but then again you could say that Mortal Combat is potentially a powerful card, too.

Thus, I shall regretfully pass.

Akroma's Memorial

Akroma's Memorial (8 Votes)

I'll admit that I bought a couple of copies of this sucker, and it's quite good in the right kind of deck. Of course, Akroming all of your creatures (assuming that is a verb) is a darned good thing, too. Can't argue with the benefit this little artifact brings.

Yet there is a large problem with the Memorial that Akroma herself does not have... And that problem is Disenchant.

(Oh, all right. You newer kids need another word, so I'll say that, too: Naturalize.)

The Problem With The Submissions: Insufficient Defense

I love the Memorial, but it leaves your creatures hanging out to dry at a moment's notice. Let's say we have this scenario, which I have seen come to pass:

"I will attack with all of my hasted, flying, first-striking, trampling, protection from red and black critters over your head for the win! Die, mortal!"

"I will spend two mana and remove all of those abilities. Your creatures are now landbound and much more defenseless. Now I will make some devastating blocks to make you regret that card."

Akroma was nice, but if she got shot down you had to deal with her. Akroma's Memorial, on the other hand, can get removed at an inconvenient time, making you do two sets of math for every attack phase: If the Memorial stays in play, and if it doesn't.

(Plus, at seven mana, it's hard to get out. This has been brought to you by the Department of the Bleedin' Obvious.)

The people who submitted the Memorial as their choice tended to talk about its power, but not have any backup plan in case Memorial hit the bin. No shield for the artifact itself, no idea of what to do with your guy, no way of ensuring that the Memorial didn't croak the turn you cast it. That's difficult.

When Memorial pays off, it'll pay off in spades. But it's also a large investment for a tough gamble: win or die. That, I think, makes it a hard case to argue as the most powerful card... because part of the definition of a powerful card is that it has to be able to protect itself in some form (or enable strategies that do so easily).

Heartwood Storyteller

Heartwood Storyteller (9 Votes)

Many people enjoyed my preview card, mainly because of its effect on the board. As Scott H. said, "It is not powerful by itself, but creates a game state that encourages creature combat and discourages control and combo decks."

Many others thought that there were good ways to get around its drawback—mostly by playing all-creature decks. And since there are so many good comes-into-play effects, why not?


Alexander D.R.'s Blue-Green Storyteller

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Sam Delong's Mono-Green Storyteller

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(Sam's deck could use just a smidge more land, but hey. We'll hope he ramps up to three mana every time and snags the Yavimaya Dryad, ya know?)

The Problem With The Submissions: But What About The Drawback?

Here's what Alexander D.R. had to say, and he is correct:

One final note: if everyone decides to gang up on you, Heartwood Storyteller is terrible. If the game turns into you against a three-man alliance, every removal spell that alliance casts against you lets you draw a card, but it lets them draw two more cards! This is essentially an unwinnable situation for you, and it is the Achilles' heel of the Storyteller. Fortunately, it's unlikely that a 2/3 creature with no damage-dealing abilities will provoke a three-person team up.... Unless that creature wears the crown of BEST MULTIPLAYER CARD IN FUTURE SIGHT!

(The crown is made of the bones of a Nacatl War-Pride, which coincidentally becomes much better with Heartwood Storyteller, because opponents play fewer removal spells and more creatures.)

Okay, I love his description of the crown, but the man is correct: You're not just playing Heartwood Storyteller, you are playing Jedit Ojanen of Efrava and Nacatl War-Pride and Spectral Force and what-have-you. Assuming you get into any win position at all, that Storyteller will turn against you in an instant... And nobody submitted a deck that could overcome that "I'm in the lead, and now Storyteller is hurting me!" problem.

Thus, I'm afraid, I cannot give it the crown. Made of bones of War Pride though it may be.

We've Gone For How Long?

Bloodshot_TraineeMy oh my, is that my editor's word processor breaking down? That's five thousand words on the most powerful cards in Future Sight... And we've only covered the bottom of the Top 10 readers' choices. That's about three times as long as the average Magic article, and we're just getting started!

So rather than grind on, let's take a convenient break. Next week, we'll look at the Top 5 that you chose, then choose an actual winner! In addition, we'll start to cover the first tentative ground of the War-Pride contest. Stay tuned!

(And for the record, I am never holding two contests simultaneously again. Never ever ever. I love you guys, but man, I'm readin' novels here.)

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