One Million, Fifty-One Thousand, Two Hundred Minutes

Posted in Serious Fun on November 29, 2011

Labor Day weekend (a US holiday) in 2009 ages gracefully in my mind, but the Friday that led in worried me. At that time I wasn't an editor, traveler, or expectant father. I wasn't a writer. I was barely a Magic player, at least not how I am today. I was an applicant, and I was waiting to hear back.

Just before I shut down my computer for the weekend, an email popped up addressed from Kelly Digges. It was much longer than the single, punctuating line I recall best.

"It's my distinct pleasure to offer to you the authorship of our weekly Serious Fun column."

My voice thundered as I pumped a fist like never before. The world had transformed in ways I couldn't begin to understand.

This week is Transformation Week, filled with all sorts of transformation-related ideas. I'm sure that double-faced cards, flip cards, level up, deck construction, sideboards, and play evolution will be discussed elsewhere. And, to be fair, the most enjoyable transformation in Magic today is when I howl with a Werewolf.

Transformation, in the game sense, has been and will be done. Dark Ascension promises more for certain.

But there's a different transformation on my mind. It's been a bug on the brain for over a year, and it suddenly became all the more important to me recently: personal transformation. We use words as wide as evolution and as paltry as change to describe how we all become different over time, but the idea is always the same.

For good or bad, we've all transformed.

We drove by it once or twice a week, without fail, planted midway on the shortcut from where we lived to everything else. It was curiosity that got the better of me.

"Do you know anything about that store? Dream Wizards?"

"My brother used to go there," she answered, "when he played cards."

"I'd like to stop in on the way back."

Our gullets full on the return trip, we pulled up to the front. The store was empty aside from the manager, Doug. Looking around filled me with fond memories. A Mirrodin banner was hung proudly on the wall next to one for Future Sight, the set that was on the way when I last left. A small stack of fat packs were on display across from the register. I was surprised to see that it was down to one storage box. Things changed quickly.

"Can I help you?" he called.

"Yeah. Do you guys have any Magic events?"

"You're going to have to be more specific. We have a lot of Magic events. What were you looking for specifically?" One of Doug's favorite words is "specific." It would take many more conversations before I picked up on this.

"Uh, like casual play. Like a night when people just come together to play?"

"You'll have to come back Thursday. That's when the casual group comes in."

"How big are we talking?"

"Like twenty or thirty people. It's a pretty big group." The largest group I had ever gotten together with was ten.

"Oh. Okay. Thanks."

My walk back out to the waiting car felt surreal. Were there really that many more players here than back home, or at college?

"What did he say?" she asked.

"I need to come back Thursday."

I would be transformed by Thursdays thereafter.

When Mr. Digges handed the column over to me, he recapped all of his efforts in two articles:

I strongly considered doing this. I passed the hundred-article threshold a few weeks ago, and highlighting the formats employed throughout my run so far is certainly helpful for the variant-seekers among you. To call this process "derivative" would be an understatement.

This type of recap is something I enjoy from an organizational standpoint, but it doesn't suit my style. I strongly prefer contextual links, where appropriate, over any longitudinal revisiting. An example of contextual linking is that when I talk about multiplayer Limited I link to Group Game Draft.

The problem with this is that Group Game Draft isn't the only multiplayer Limited in town.

Star Draft

In Brief: Star Draft is the combination of two ways to play: Star Magic and Draft.

Rules Rundown: With exactly five players, draft three booster packs each. Then, each player builds a deck for a game of Star Magic. You can randomly assign seats for the draft or game portion (or both!), or keep everyone where they plopped down. In any case, each player's goal is to knock out of the two "enemy" players across from them.

Pros: It's multiplayer! It's Limited! Most forms of Draft involve just duels, or at least eight players. Star Draft requires just five, and everyone plays at once. With the restriction to end the game when the two opposing players are defeated, games move faster than Group Game Draft. And to throw a cherry on top, it's possible to win the game even after being defeated—as long as the two opposing players from you are gone before anyone else wins, you get it!

Cons: It's multiplayer! It's Limited! Players that don't enjoy one or the other will have a hard time piling both together. The usual multiplayer Limited caveats apply: deck building, card evaluation, and other ways we normally approach Limited (duels) don't necessarily apply. It can be an uncomfortable experience for new-to-multiplayer players.

Good friend, fearless leader, and inbound editor-to-be Trick Jarrett showed this format to me at Worlds, after he experienced it earlier that weekend. My handy draft packs of Ravnica / Guildpact / Dissension were a tantalizing treat to break open.

I didn't take any notes on the draft, as I wasn't thinking about sharing it down the road, but I vividly recall a few crucial cards in the deck: two copies each of Wee Dragonauts and Silkwing Scout, and one copy each of Ghost Council of Orzhova, Sisters of Stone Death, and Dream Leash. I showed my deck to a few folks milling about.

"This is the greediest deck I've ever seen."

"Oh yeah, the old Wee Dragonauts / Sisters of Stone Death deck. I remember this."

"This is pretty fantastic."

My apologies for being unable to attribute each of the above quotes. To frame these a little further, I also used three different singleton Signets and "bouncelands" along with at least one copy of every basic land to make the mana happen. And, in true plucky fashion, it worked. On turn seven I was able to cast Sisters of Stone Death. On turn eight I cast Dream Leash. Everything seemed fabulous.

Dave, the same Dave from last week's article, surprised us with double Boros Fury-Shield for my Sisters' attacks. Despite my magnificent manipulation of mana, I was the first one knocked out. Trick went on to mastermind a dual victory with Dave. It was beautiful. Star Draft is definitely something I plan to revisit!

Do you want to see the complete details of a Star Draft?YesNo

"Do you have any Elspeths for trade?" The call for cards was a common, if distracting, event at the store. I hadn't internalized ignoring it yet.

"I don't even know what an Elspeth is!" I replied. His face drooped as he slunk away.

I had just bought a Tournament Pack of the latest set, Shards of Alara, and I was excited to see what I'd open. Seaside Citadel? Lands have gotten better while I was gone. Covenant of Minds? Card drawing got worse.

Elspeth, Knight-Errant? What the heck is a Planeswalker?

"Is that for trade?" I looked up to see the haggler had circled around.

"Uh, sure. But I don't even know how this card works yet."

"Oh. That's easy. Let me show you."

My ideas about Magic would be transformed by these new faces of the game.

Preparing for Worlds was a whirlwind of work. I had decks to pull together, a new Commander deck to generate, the packing of clothes and supplies to handle, flight and hotel information to confirm, and an array of electronics to check over that could put a few stores to shame. Despite my best efforts, I simply ran out of time to get into the last item on my agenda: a deck to try out a new format.

Filth Casserole

In Brief: Filth Casserole is a modified form of Modern meant to both streamline gameplay while increasing the variety of cards used. It's a goofy format founded by graphic artist Inkwell Looter for Magic Online.

Rules Rundown: The rules are the same as per usual two-player Magic, but deck construction is heavily modified:

  • Legal cards are the same as per Modern.
  • Decks can contain a minimum of 50 cards.
  • Decks are Singleton, with no more than one of any card other than basic lands.
  • Decks do not have a sideboard.

Pros: Like a cross between Commander and Limited, Filth Casserole is a homebrewed way to both play quicker games (as duels usually are) and experience the strange randomness prevalent in Commander. Unlike Modern, a thoroughly competitive way to play, and Commander, a towering pile of effort to self-start, Filth Casserole is meant to be a fun diversion that's easy to get into. The balance between Singleton and a smaller deck size makes for an interesting combination of deck strength hidden in the wackiness.

Cons: Modern and Commander are formats with plenty of support, and finding games is usually trivial given the right venue. Filth Casserole hasn't quite hit the big time yet, so finding people to play with may be challenging, whether at your store or on Magic Online. Breaking out the baking mitts will take effort, whether it's paper or digital methods. Singleton also turns some players' excitement off.

I love Commander and other Singleton formats, and getting the chance to flex some of those muscles in the Modern world seems like fun. For example, this deck is what Mr. Looter himself was packing to play in San Francisco.

Naya Aggro-Loam

Download Arena Decklist

Reads like a Commander deck. Plays like Modern. Feels like a bucket of fun.

Do you want to see the complete details of Filth Casserole game play?YesNo

I pulled up to the convention center at 6:45 a.m. It was very early for the event, but I had promised my labor to the organizer, Laurel. There was, apparently, quite a lot to do to set up for a Grand Prix.

Grand Prix Washington, DC was my first real taste of Magic on an epic scale. The event broke stateside attendance records. Brad Nelson triumphed through the oversized crowd.

More importantly, at least for me in that moment, was the challenge Laurel had laid before our casual crew: add something fun, inviting, and different that would give something for the more casual players to do. We settled on a variety of things, most prominently Commander with victory-point voting to discourage lock and disruption decks.

I knew our casual coterie was a cool club. We worked hard to make games welcoming for players of all ages and levels of Magic knowledge. I was called upon to explain our modified rules for the Commander event. Between victory points, adjusted life totals, and the countdown timer when the "round" ended, games promised to move smoothly.

I ended my explanation with a catch phrase: "If you aren't having fun, you're doing it wrong."

"Can you repeat that?" was a call from the back. So I did. It went on to be featured in that player's recap of the event on an Internet forum.

The circumstances of the event didn't go quite to plan. My perception of casual Magic was transformed.

I wish I had said "If others aren't having fun, you're doing it wrong."

Transformation is a strange thing. Sometimes you seek it out, fervently desiring to become different. Other times, it's a creeping evolution that you never notice until it's too late. Consider last week's poll.

Have you attended, or do you plan to attend, a Grand Prix?

The exact number of yeses to nos isn't as important as some things that can't be measured as easily: how many of those yeses were formerly nos, and how many of those nos will someday become yeses? When I first got back into Magic I would never have considered taking time off work to travel to a massive event where I wouldn't even play in the main feature.

Today, it's painful to miss out on the big Magic that I can't cram into my schedule. I still don't play in the main tournament.

How has Magic transformed you?

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