Mix And Match

Posted in Serious Fun on March 23, 2005

By Anthony Alongi

Construct your own individualized Serious Fun column!

Despite a constant flow of ideas from readers and our play group, every once in a while I run completely dry. It's an occupational hazard.

When this happens, I'm lucky enough to be able to turn to my wife to help me through these writer's block moments. MaryJanice Davidson is an accomplished, best-selling author (www.maryjanicedavidson.net, but you should probably enjoy sassy modern romances before investigating) who spends her entire time either (a) writing, (b) sleeping, (c) having fun with our kids, or (d) all three at once. (She is that darn talented.) It's a hell of a way to live, and I'm insanely jealous.

So I'm sitting at my computer with a blank screen, facing a deadline, and she's nearby, typing away without a sweat, even though she does this every single freaking day. So I figure I'll distract her and put that amazing mind to work for me. This is, after all, what men do best: suck the life force from the women we love.

I put on my Best Husband Voice. "Honey?"

Type-ity type type. "What."

"I need a topic for my column this week."

Tippety-type-ity-tap. "What column?"

"You know…for magicthegathering.com."

Tap-da-tapper-tapper-rap. "Oh yeah. That. How much are they paying you again for this?"

I tell her.

Tap-er-rap-de-tap-ra. "Hmmm. I just made that much typing while you were talking to me. So what's the problem again, dear?"

"I need a topic. I've got writer's block."

Rappa-tappa-doo. "Writer's block? What's that?"

"I hate you."

Trappa-click-clack-cluck. "Come again?"

"I said, writer's block is when you can't think of what to write next."

Tap. Tap. "There, finished another novel. Now, what's this about not being able to think of what to write?"

"Pretend you can't write, like the rest of us mortals."

She closes her eyes and rubs her temples for a moment or two. "Okay, I'm there."

"What would you write your next weekly Magic column about?"

"About how I can't play Magic."

"Promising, but my readers already know I can't play Magic. In a way, they read about that every week."

"How about the novel we're doing together that's coming out in August? Your readers are a great market for it."

"Not really Magic-related, and I've already plugged you in the article. I'll wait to plug our book another time. What else ya got?"

"Hmmmm." Panic tinges her eyes, and for the first time I think she's beginning to realize what it's really like for the rest of us. "I got nothing. Guess you're screwed, champ." She gets up. "I'm getting a Peanut Buster Bar from the freezer. You want one?"

So, to hell with her. We can come up with a column together, can't we? Sure we can. We can do anything! We can move from Tuesdays to Wednesdays. We can pair up with Adrian Sullivan, who's from Wisconsin for crying out loud. We can even take up a line or two with another joking reference at Mark Rosewater's expense. (We can spend another couple in awe of his most excellent article on women and card design mistakes.) So we can write a column with the readers' help, right? Absolutely.

Here's how it works. I'm going to get this article moving, and every once in a while I'm going to come to a decision point where I could write one of several paragraphs. You, the readers, get to choose which paragraphs I actually write.

Once you've chosen a paragraph, you can move forward to the rest of the article. Later on, you can come back and choose a different paragraph for that part of the article. Whatever makes you happiest with the flow of the article. When you're done, you'll have your very own Serious Fun column!

The New Format For This Week

As we try to do most weeks, we'll focus today's Serious Fun column on exciting new format. This is a format that:


Uses the spare commons in your collection. It's important to use spare commons, because we get so darn many of them, they're cheap, and we all get a charge out of making fun decks out of cheap cards. Viva les commons! And speaking of budget decks, welcome to the Monday budget column, Jay!

Uses the funky rares from your collection. It's important to use funky rares, because we invest money in them, feel cheated when we can't use them, and get a charge out of making fun decks out of outlandish rares. Viva les "bad" rares! And speaking of creative deck builders, welcome back to the site, Jay!

Uses eggshells and soup cans from the trash to form an obstacle course for your Magic cards. It's important to recycle as much trash as possible because Mother Earth is counting on us to protect the environment, and we are stewards of a fragile world. Speaking of stewards of fragile last names, welcome back to the site, Mr. Moldenhauer-Salazar!

While I like to leave a lot of reader latitude for experimentation, I don't mind providing a bit more detail on how to play the format. Here are some additional parameters you should consider:


Your decks should only use cards with more than fifty words in the rules text box. Whether you count flavor text toward the 50-word minimum or not is up to you.

Your decks should only use cards that you haven't used in at least 12 months. If another player can truthfully prove that you've used any card in your deck sometime in the last year, you are removed from the game as a state-based effect.

You can only use cards that stick together in thick enough formations to approximate a Pinewood Derby car suitable for navigating egg shell hills, soup can tunnels, and toilet-paper roll bridges. You may use any flavor cream cheese to help the cards stick together. Sleeves are not allowed.

To convince your group to try this format, you should take the following steps:


Go to each of their houses, rummage through their Magic collections, and hide the cards that don't fit this format. While technically illegal, this approach does have the enviable characteristic of pretty much ensuring your group will play the format in question.

Make an annoying, Invasion-of-the-Body-Snatchers-1978-remake style sound every time you take a turn in a game where you are NOT playing this format. Should your group retaliate by reducing the number of turns you survive in a given game, try shifting this technique to each opponent's turn, regardless of whether you're in the game or not.

Dump tons of garbage on their front doorsteps and demonstrate how cool it is to watch stuck-together cards roll on foil-sleeve wheels, in full view of the neighborhood. Bonus points if you can do this without attracting the police.

Experiences With The Format

We tried this format in our group. Here's how it played out.


The night went smoothly until good friend and fellow Internet columnist Laura Mills caught my brother-in-law on a rules violation and crushed his skull with her bare hands. At that point, we only had seven players, and someone had to sit out while the other six played Emperor draft. Bummer.

None of us truly recall how the format played out, because we were too busy analyzing the clear supremacy of Pixar in computer-animated movies, as best highlighted by the wonderful visualizations but ultimately mediocre plotting of Robots.

It all began so well. I had saved up four Sundays' worth of eggshells (one of which was after Easter Egg preparation), and I had arranged these in a faithful scale model of the Sierra Nevada. In addition, I had at least three dozen soup cans lined up end to end, buried under my sidewalk to evoke the image of the Chunnel. I won the first heat with a souped-up cluster of Darksteel commons, stuck together with indestructible Peter Pan peanut butter. In the semi-finals, my car fell to a more aerodynamic card-car made from from pre-Mirrodin foils – yet another reason why the newer card design heralds the imminent death of Magic.

As a result of these experiences, I recommend the following strategies if you try the format:


Do not let Laura Mills get you in a full nelson. In addition, avoid discard, which doesn't do well enough in most multiplayer formats to begin with.

Wait for Robots to come out on DVD, and then play it as a pleasant diversion when you host your Magic friends. While they're laughing at the Robin Williams jokes, slip in a format-illegal card or two.

Do not store peanut-butter laced cards in your pantry, if you live on a continent with insects.

I hope you enjoyed this week's article. The most rewarding part for me was


I'm finally free of sharing the day with Jay, that deck-building hack.

I started with absolutely no article and ended up with a host of permutations, each of which can serve as an article should I run into the same writers' block in future weeks.

You know, there actually is a new format or two you can pull from this week! The ideas are pretty raw; but as I pointed out in one of the permutations, I often like to keep some details for my readers to discover.

Any day when I get to promote my wife is a good day. If nothing else, it increases the chances she'll deign to guest-write a column with me some day, which I assure you all would be a good time.

Have a great week!


Anthony cannot provide deck help to readers. He's too busy selecting from a variety of frozen ice cream treats, available courtesy of his fabulous best-selling author wife.

Anthony cannot provide deck help to readers. He's busy sweeping up eggshells from this morning's omelet for use in his next experimental Magic format.

Anthony can provide deck help to readers who can solve the following equation for X, where X is not an imaginary number: [square root of] -1 = X. However, he's pretty sure the clever email you're about to send where you actually pull this off won't convince him to help you.

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