What's In a Name, Part I

Posted in Serious Fun on October 13, 2009

By Kelly Digges

Kelly Digges has had many roles at Wizards over the years, including creative text writer, R&D editor, website copyeditor, lead website editor, Serious Fun column author, and design/development team member on multiple sets.

Some months ago, I was sitting at my desk when a member of Magic R&D came up to me looking for a specific article I'd written—one of the ones I wrote about the Star format, so that some of what I'd written could be used for a description of Shard Star in the Alara Reborn Player's Guide.

I was able to point to the correct article after a bit of searching, but not before this R&D member shared an honest opinion: "You have perhaps the least informative article titles I have ever seen."

And you know, I have to concede the point. I put very little thought into my article titles—mostly, they're just snappy phrases vaguely related to my article topic that I think will get you, the reader, to click in and read the article. In fact, sometimes that leads me to make them less informative rather than more.

This is all well and good on a week-to-week basis, but as this R&D member discovered, when you're going back and trying to find the "the one with the rules for Star" or "the one where Kelly dies to Coalition Victory," it's just about impossible. So, uh, sorry about that.

That's why, today, I decided to go back over the year-and-a-bit I've been writing the column and write a short blurb about each article. I've tagged them with categories as applicable—formats I wrote about, cards I previewed, deck lists I shared, etc. The hope is for this article to serve as a permanent reference to my run on Serious Fun thus far.

Because a full year of articles is an awful lot, and because I did want to write a paragraph or two about each one, I've split this article into two parts. The second will run two weeks from now.


The Crux of the Matter
Preview (Primalcrux)

My first article for Serious Fun came before I was actually the weekly author of Serious Fun. To fill in during the author search, I volunteered to write a pair of preview articles. In this first article, I made no effort to hide or restrain my enthusiasm about Primalcrux. The piecemeal way I chose to preview it might or might not appeal to you, but you've got to admit, it was big.

The Colors of Magic
Preview (Murkfiend Liege)
Format (Elder Dragon Highlander)
Game Report (The one where I died to my own Cloudthresher off of Warp World)
Deck (Momir Vig, Simic Visionary EDH)

In this second preview article, I introduced several of my friends, as well as a number of ideas that would become staples of the column: the game report, the "Format Info" box, the "firestarter" at the end of the column, and my enduring love of green, especially in combination with blue.

Casual Casualties
Format (Two-Headed Giant)

This article, my first as regular author of the column, shared readers' opinions on keeping a less experienced player involved in a big, complicated game filled with old, unfamiliar cards. You all had a bunch of great suggestions for getting people started in multiplayer. This column also has the dubious distinction of rendering rather laughable my claim that the Format Info box covers a format "in brief," with a sidebar that runs alongside half the article.

Star Power
Format (Star)
Game Report

My introduction (and maybe yours) to Star Magic, and the subtle politics thereof. This time out, I used the simplest version of the rules. I also learned that if you're looking to play and write about multiplayer, it helps to bring a camera and some decks.

Call Me Mr. Suitcase
Deck Building
Deck (Red-Green "Boartusk's Bite")

With a huge collection and (at that time) no preexisting decks, I had a lot of work to do, the goal being to fill a "suitcase" with ready-to-play decks. Perhaps my situation was unusual, but nonetheless, here are some ideas for getting started. The title is an oblique reference to an old column in The Duelist magazine, ancestor of this site.

Elf Help

While looking through Magic's many Elves for Elf Week, it struck me that some of them reminded me of people I knew. I talked about Elvish Champion, Elvish Handservant, Hunting Triad, Taunting Elf, and Hunter of Eyeblights. My only regret about this article is that I didn't include the obvious firestarter: Which Elf type are you and your friends, and what types did I miss? I chickened out and wrote some other, much less awesome firestarter. Lesson learned!

That New Card Smell
Format (Pack Wars, a.k.a. MiniMaster)
Game Report (The one with the thinky face, plus the time I won with Soul Reap)

I advocated playing Pack Wars as a way to make opening a booster pack more interesting, although I think I was a bit hard on just busting packs. Sometimes, you just want to bust packs. And that's OK.

Crowning Achievements
Format (Free-for-All, which barely counts)
Game Report (The one with the Palliation Accord)
Decks (White-Blue "Tapped Out?", Green-White "Token Effort," Black-Red "Like Hell," Blue-Black "Stolen Secrets")

After a rousing game of good old Free-for-All, I pondered my role as kingmaker, and the difference between aggressive groups and merciful ones.

The Riddle of the Sphinx
Preview (Sphinx Sovereign)

In previewing a mythic rare for the first time, I told the tale of being in the room when the very first mythic rare was opened. I couldn't tell you at the time that it was Empyrial Archangel, nor could I tell you that Elspeth, Knight-Errant was also opened later in the draft. And I certainly couldn't show you the pictures we took of Elspeth, like all other real cards opened before their set is street-legal, being callously destroyed. It's probably better that way.

Where Ancients Tread
Preview (Where Ancients Tread)

Like most of my preview articles, this is a basically straightforward meditation on the possible uses of the card, with some forays into Johnny country for wacky combos.

Building a Better Overrun
Preview (Titanic Ultimatum)

My longtime love of Overrun gets a three-color facelift. Note that the references to "double lifelink" are anachronistic; these days, you gain the same amount of life no matter how many times your creatures have lifelink. Sad in this particular case, but not so sad when you're at 3 life with a 3-power creature unblocked and a 10-power lifelink creature blocking something else. It's better this way.

Keeping Busy
Game Report (The one where John Carter called me a notorious cheater)

Stories and preliminary deck-building scribbles from the Shards of Alara Prerelease.

A League of Your Own
Format (Box League)
Game Report

In a tenuously on-theme article for Bant Week, I discussed forming leagues (ritualized dueling, see?) and wrote about the Box League I was in at the time with the web team and some members of the creative team. While not everyone has the resources to open a whole box at once (and yes, Magic Online players, I do feel your pain), I stand by leagues as a fun way to get back to basics.

Deck-Building Daze
Decks (Red-White, Exalted, Esper / Mirrodin artifacts)

I got sick after a sci-fi convention and built some decks with the newly released Shards of Alara. I looked at several different ways of incorporating a big flood of new cards into decks and still had time to read an 800-page novel cover-to-cover.

Left and Right
Format (Attack Left / Attack Right)
Game Report (The one where two planeswalker Ultimates go off in one turn)
Decks (Changeling Lord, Ogredrive)

Myself and three friends tried Attack Right and Attack Left, in which you can only—well, you know. The Attack Right game was hilarious fun, with huge haymakers, gigantic Amoeboid Changelings, many Howling Mine-type cards, and a Rakdos the Defiler and Torrent of Souls–fueled win for what would soon become one of my favorite decks, Ogredrive.

What's In the Box
Game Report (The one with two Agony Warps and two Sigil Blessings)
Decks (Esper, Exalted, Devour)

In a rare display of story continuity, I returned to the Box League from A League of Your Own and got some games in. This article features a funny story about Agony Warp, a demonstration of the power of this fully armed and operational Sharding Sphinx, and some of the worst photography I've done since I was six. Sorry about that.

Format (Plain ol' Booster Draft)
Game Report

In this article, I indulged my love of a format that I play a lot more often than I write about: Booster Draft. The coverage drafts are casual affairs, and I certainly have fun doing them, so I figured it fit under the column's charter. Some readers opined, perhaps rightly, that ordinary Booster Draft is awfully Spikey for this column. A few suggested, as a more casual draft option, something that I happen to love: mixing and matching different sets to create weird draft formats.

Food for Thought

With this article, I decided to see how far I could stretch the premise of a column about casual Magic. The article contains a reference to the Aeneid, an account of the history of the sandwich, and zero actual discussion of playing Magic. Readers' opinions were sharply divided; some were unhappy to read an article on magicthegathering.com that didn't seem to relate directly to Magic (and at least one facetiously tried to introduce me to "napkin" technology), but many others seemed to enjoy the diversion.

General Mayhem
Format (Elder Dragon Highlander)
Game Report (The one where Brian puts a bounty on Dave)
Deck (Sharuum the Hegemon EDH)

Although I'm a huge fan of Elder Dragon Highlander, I resisted writing about it in my column for a long time, because I know that not everyone is interested in a 100-card Singleton format with specialized rules. At the time I wrote this, despite several articles about it on our site and others, the popularity of EDH was mostly contained within the judge community. Since then, the format has really taken off in the wider world, and I've been more willing to write about it in my more recent columns.

Note that the Sharuum deck in this article is no longer EDH-compliant, as Gifts Ungiven, Tinker, and Metalworker have since been added to the banned list. It has also gained a lot of cool stuff from recent sets, like Magister Sphinx and Sphinx of the Steel Wind. Click here to see the current list as of this writing.

Sharuum the Hegemon

Download Arena Decklist
Planeswalker (1)
1 Tezzeret the Seeker
99 Cards

Heads Up
Format (Two-Headed Giant)
Game Report (The one where Matt is definitely up to something)
Deck (Matt's "Surprise!")

My friends and I played a bit of Two-Headed Giant Constructed, specifically using decks that haven't been designed to work together to avoid shenanigans. I think this article really captures the fun of 2HG. Oh, and spoiler warning:

This is the one where Andrea and I lost to Coalition Victory. Coalition Victory!

The Dragons
Game Report (The one that didn't actually happen)
Decks (Black-Green Good Stuff, Bant, Blue-Black Control, Red-White Giants, Battle of Wits / Traumatize)

For Jund Week, I transcribed an imaginary game between the dragons of Jund, essentially doing a more action-oriented version of what I did in Elf Help—mapping player types to specific cards. This remains probably my favorite column I've written. To answer a question I've gotten a few times: This game never actually happened, and the five dragons aren't pseudonyms for real people. I made the whole thing up. That made it a great deal of fun to write, but it was also really challenging to come up with the decks and invent a sequence of plays that made sense.

I'm quite proud of the decks themselves. I set a rule at the start of the process that I wouldn't use any of the dragons' namesake cards in the decks, because that would be weird. Then, when I saw that Hellkite Overlord's deck had 3 Dramatic Entrance and a few slots to fill, I completely forgot about that rule and rounded out the deck with one weird, metatextual copy of Hellkite Overlord. (In retrospect, I would put one fetchable Mountain in this deck.)

The deck I'm most proud of is Flameblast Dragon's deck, which looks like—and is—a Battle of Wits deck, but has a bizarre self-targeted Traumatize back-up plan. This idea was suggested to me by my friend Nik at the Thanksgiving gathering I wrote about in my next article, although I changed the win condition from his plan—Arcane spells + Ire of Kaminari—to the Worm Harvest / Flame-Kin Zealot / Dread Return setup in the final article.

Three by Five
Format (Star)
Game Report (The one where it's Matt and Rebecca vs. me and Elspeth)
Decks (Three-color shard decks)

Four friends and I revisited the Star format, this time with three-color shard decks in ally-enemy order, rather than just whatever we had handy. We also tried out the option to pass the turn across the star instead of to the left, which has become my preferred variant. (Some have suggested passing left but putting each player next to his or her enemies and across from his or her allies. That makes sense, but for me it removes part of the aesthetic appeal of the format. Your mileage, as always, may vary.)

Second Helpings
Format (Respawn)

For Rerun Week, I presented the story of my own personal journey away from Magic and then back into the fold a few years later. I capped it off with a brief story about an epic game of the as-yet-unnamed format that I would later call Respawn Magic, which I returned to a few months later.

In The Bag
Game Report (The ones with all the Elves)
Deck (Green Lightning, a mono-Forest green-blue deck)

I played a couple of fun multiplayer games with different groups over my Winter break. One group used fully armed and operational decks, with four-ofs drawn from all of Magic; the other mostly stuck to Standard, with decks that were a little less tuned but a lot of fun. Both tables featured ridiculous Elf decks, because, well, that will happen.

What's Cooking?
Decks (Shape of the Wiitigo and Changeling Aggro)

I mused a bit on the intersection of Magic and cooking, then settled down to the business of building whatever decks popped into my head. In addition to the two full decks, there are a few stray deck ideas. One of these, the Chromatic Star / Terrarion / Salvage Titan deck, would later become a reality.

Cards Say the Darnedest Things
Preview (Meglonoth)
Deck (Meglonoth Mash-Up)

The beginning of the article reflects a difficulty I've sometimes had with preview cards. This time, I decided to let you go through that process with me, but the truth is that I do something like this a fair percentage of the time when I write a preview article. You want me to write 2,000 words about Meglonoth? Can I just copy-paste "Attack and block with it!" four hundred times? No? Phooey.

Thus Always With Tyrants
Preview (Blood Tyrant)

I specifically requested to preview Blood Tyrant because of its unique, multiplayer-specific player death trigger. The title of the article is a reference to "Sic temper tyrranis," the Latin phrase shouted by John Wilkes Booth right before he shot Abraham Lincoln. Purists in my comment thread pointed out that the more accurate English translation is "Thus always to tyrants." To them I say: Attack you with Blood Tyrant.

Double Time
Game Report (The one with Progenitus vs. Dragons)

I shared a few stories from the Employee Prerelease, but the real-world Prerelease at Seattle Center is where the action was. The game in which I outraced Hellkite Overlord and Flameblast Dragon with Progenitus remains one of my all-time favorites.

Okay, that takes us up through the Conflux Prerelease. That's plenty of recap for one article.

I'll be honest—I'm no good at evaluating my own work. I have a few favorite articles, and a few that I think could've turned out better. If you have any favorite, or least favorite, articles from my run on the column so far, I'd love to hear about them in the forums!

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