Welcome back to my Serious Fun year(ish) in review! Prompted by my impending retirement from the column (as announced last week) and by the observation of a co-worker that my article titles are completely useless as far as, you know, actually telling you what any given article is about, I'm going through all the articles I've written during my run on the column and describing them so you stand half a chance of finding the one you're looking for when you want to read about, say, the time I won with Mayael's Aria.
The first installment, two weeks ago, took us from my first column at the beginning of Eventide previews up through my adventures at the Conflux Prerelease. This week, we'll go from my first deck-building experiments with Conflux cards through to the present. That's a lot of articles, so let's get started!
Deckbuilders, Start Your Engines
I was excited about the release of Conflux but hadn't had time to finish new decks, much less play any games with them. Instead, I went through the set and riffed on the cards that I was excited about. A couple of the deck sketches in this article showed up in later articles, including the Skyward Eye Prophets / Coiling Oracle deck and the Mesa Enchantress / Sigil of the Empty Throne deck.
After musing on the weird old days when people built decks entirely without the aid of the Internet (lol wut?), I walked through the process I use when I want to make a casual-friendly, multiplayer-ready version of a competitive two-player tournament deck. I included Sundering Titan in the UrzaTron deck almost by default, but a few recent Elder Dragon Highlander games at Pro Tour–Austin convinced me that, while its power made it a big fun fatty in tournament formats, I don't actually enjoy being on either side of it at the multiplayer table. I've removed it both from this deck and from my Sharuum deck (swapping it out for the inexplicably missing Sphinx of the Steel Wind) since I shared the Sharuum list two weeks ago.
When I described the format that would later be called "Respawn Magic" in my article Second Helpings, I thought it mainly as a crazy story from the past—one long, ridiculous game in which dead players shuffled back up and came in again. For whatever reason, it didn't occur to me to actually play it again. But when I started hearing from people who had tried it and had a great time, I decided to resurrect it (heh). And while I don't often have enough time in a chunk to really make it worth it, I don't think there's a better way to pack a day of Magic full to bursting with multiplayer madness. If you've never Respawned, I highly recommend trying it out!
Politics as Usual
After a couple of sour experiences where my expectations for multiplayer politics had butted up awkwardly against somebody else's, I spent this article identifying different approaches to playing (or ignoring) the political game. Whether you think about politics socially as I do or strategically as many others do, I feel this is a pretty good overview of the topic.
The Timmy Manifesto
Social (sort of)
I don't write a lot of articles that I'd describe as "important." Any time I write something that gets people thinking about, writing in about, or especially playing great games of Magic, I feel like I've done my job. This article, though? I'm going to take a stand and say that this one was important.
I will admit that I came to this column with an agenda: to redefine the meaning of casual from "not tournament" to "seriously fun." Magic is about the joy of discovery, improvement, and, yes, victory—but quite aside from its intellectual depth, Magic is a game, and games are supposed to be fun. If mastering strategy is fun for you, do it. But if it's not, don't ever let anybody pressure you into it.
Fortunately, I didn't have to come up with this philosophy from scratch; Mark Rosewater had already defined its parameters in his article Timmy, Johnny, and Spike Revisited. When I, as Daily MTG editor, chose to dedicate a theme week to each of those three "psychographics," in the back of my head was the idea that Timmy Week would be a chance for me to lay out, loudly and proudly, what I think Timmy, and thus Serious Fun, are all about.
Thus was born The Timmy Manifesto, in which I stated in no uncertain terms what I feel this column is all about. And, as I hope I made clear in the Manifesto, Timmy isn't just the people at the multiplayer table. Timmy is anybody, from the kitchen table to the Pro Tour, who always remembers why we're here: for love of the game.
Guest author Gregory Marques graciously volunteered himself to write this combination Magic design / deck design / game report article about the legendary Demon Dragon (cue sweet guitar riffs) called Malfegor. This article takes the Grixian big bad from the initial design submission from my friend Nik Davidson, through some rules issues with the wording and adventures in Ramp;D's Future Future League, on to building an Elder Dragon Highlander deck around Malfegor, and at last out into the world for some multiplayer mayhem.
The Fix Is In
Decks (Domain Event, Step Three: Prophet, All-In WUBRG, Esper Cantrip Aggro)
After mocking Mana Fixing Week as boring even though I myself, as the site's editor, had chosen it, I settled into building decks that riffed off of mana fixing in one way or another. When the article was posted, several people wrote in pointing out something I'd overlooked: Because the domain deck relies on land search instead of stuff like Birds of Paradise to fix its mana and only contains two Swamps, it can't ever actually cast the singleton Cruel Ultimatum I threw in there at the last minute. Oops.
By the Numbers
Having noticed a recurring theme in my email inbox—people choosing their format for the night based solely on how many players they had—I sketched out a quick guide to multiplayer Magic "by the numbers," from testing decks all by yourself up to Grand Melee for you and 127 of your closest friends. Where applicable, I linked to previous articles I'd written about those formats. I never did get around to writing about Emperor, though.
For Nicol Bolas Week, I decided to write about what a certain legendary dragon planeswalker does best: win. Because I wasn't entirely comfortable talking raw strategy in my own voice, and because I thought it would be fun, I wrote the bulk of the article as Nicol Bolas himself. Before submitting this article, I ran my take on the elder dragon past the Creative Team, the final word on all things Bolas. They helped me hit the right tone, explaining that Bolas doesn't bluff, cajole, or gloat—he just takes—although when all was said and done, they noted that I had still made him perhaps a little too nice.
Alara Reborn preview weeks had finally arrived, and I was excited. After babbling a bit about the all-gold theme and the awesome flavor behind the reconnected shards of Alara, I settled in to preview the multiplayerlicious Dragon Broodmother, spinning out a bunch of ideas that I then combined into a highly theoretical deck list. Did I mention that Doubling Season is awesome with Dragon Broodmother? I did? Oh good.
I led this preview article off with several hundred words of tongue-in-cheek fiction in the form of a nature documentary broadcast from the reformed plane of Alara. Graphic designer Tom Jenkot, who always goes above and beyond to make my article look great, did an especially impressive job, I thought, scrubbing Cavern Thoctar out of its own art for the empty cave image. Oh, and I did consult with flavor guru Doug Beyer about the proper word for a baby Thoctar ("kit," like foxes), although I admit I didn't ask him about the location of a thoctar's hackles.
Mea culpa: The title to this article was a stretch. First impressions, as in playing with Alara Reborn for the first time, but fist impressions, like in somebody's face, from the enormous beatings—get it? Yeah, I didn't think so. Anyway, this was a collection of game reports from the Alara Reborn Employee Prerelease. In addition to the double Slave of Bolas game, Behemoth Sledge was good, I had to keep myself alive at 1 life against a Jund Sojourners on the other side of the table, Maelstrom Nexus let Ken Nagle cascade into Rafiq of the Many for the win, Nemesis of Reason outraced Thraximundar, and I mulliganed in every single game thanks to the Curse of the Twitterites.
Game Reports (Multiple cascade snapshots)
I stayed tightly on-theme for Cascade Week, talking a bit about many different cards with cascade and sharing the best cascade flip I'd had, seen, or heard about with each of them. Tournament players can talk all they want about how powerful it is. Whatever else it is, cascade is one of the Timmiest mechanics in a long time.
Two great games from the Alara Reborn Prerelease reminded me that, win or lose, Magic is all about big plays, great games, and never knowing how things will turn out.
I returned once more to my favorite format for five players, Star, and in honor of Solid Gold Week, my friends and I used five two-color decks that use only multicolored (or colorless) cards. This article shows off everything I love about the Star format, plus five decks I really like—or, well, let's be honest, four decks I really like, plus the blue-black deck, which still hasn't really come together.
Format (Rotisserie Draft)
Decks (Twelve Shards block singleton decks)
In Rotisserie Draft, you lay out one of each card from an entire set—or, in this case, an entire block—and draft them. Splitting into four teams of three helped us process the huge amount of information on the table and gave the draft portion that cool, war-room feel that I love so much in formats like Two-Headed Giant. While I don't necessarily expect all of you out there in web site land to have full sets of all three Shards block sets, the twelve decks in this article serve as cool starting places for deck building. Because they don't repeat a single card among them other than basic lands, even the decks that use the same strategies are completely different.
The Long and Winding Road
Decks (The Green Deck and White Deck from my distant past)
This Origin Stories Week article tells my own personal Magic origin story, from the very first time I saw a dragon in fiction to opening my first Magic Dragon, then from casual player to bad Spike and finally back to embracing my Timmy side. My favorite part was the stories all of you shared with me in response to my questions at the end—they made for fun and inspiring reading.
At Grand Prix–Seattle/Tacoma, Wizards employees teamed up with Magic enthusiasts for a unique Two-Headed Giant event. My partner Adam and I only won one game, but we had a blast cascading into Blitz Hellion with Maelstrom Nexus, killing basically everything on the board, and trumping Angelsong with Cancel but losing anyway, to the other Angelsong we didn't even know was there.
For Top Down Week, I built two different Elder Dragon Highlander decks two different ways—a Uril, the Miststalker deck from the general at the top to the cards at the bottom, and a Nicol Bolas deck the other way around.
The team here at Wizards of the Coast who made the Duels of the Planeswalkers Xbox game asked me to take it for a spin to get a casual player's reaction. And while some found it scandalous that I, a Wizards employee, would try to convince you to buy a Wizards product, the honest truth is that the game is fun, and I was more than happy to stand up and say so. And hey, did you notice that the first expansion is out now?
One of my old favorites, Lord of the Pit, got a straight-up upgrade in Magic 2010—one that's especially spicy in multiplayer. As usual for my preview columns, this is a breathless romp through some of the silly things Xathrid Demon can do. Oh, and did you notice the "protection from dairy" graphic designer Tom Jenkot snuck on to my old Lord of the Pit in its big plastic top-loader? He jokes, but let me tell you, the Great Milk Spill of '97 was serious business.
I've heard Lurking Predators called one of the most powerful green cards ever for multiplayer, and I can't say I disagree. Since I wrote this article, at least one of the sick things I wanted to do with Lurking Predators has come to pass: fellow columnist Brian David-Marshall turned up Draining Whelk with it in an Elder Dragon Highlander game to counter a spell. And that's awesome.
Twenty for 2010
Deck Building (sort of)
This was a pretty straightforward piece on the heels of the Magic 2010 Prerelease. I'd missed the Prerelease itself and thus didn't have any awesome stories, but it was not at all hard to find ten old cards and ten new cards that got my gears turning in Magic's latest (and, I'd argue, greatest, or maybe second greatest) core set. The paragraph on Master of the Wild Hunt later blossomed into a full deck, and Open the Vaults has found its way into my Sharuum the Hegemon EDH deck.
A Difference You Can Taste
Social (sort of, if you squint)
I love Magic flavor. I've had more favorite pieces of art and flavor text than I can count, and I thoroughly enjoy exploring each new setting through its art and flavor text. Thus, Favorite Flavor Week was a chance to write an article that's a bit off the beaten path about the many reasons I love the game's underlying fantasy story. The story about the long-lived Homunculus actually happened at the Thanksgiving gathering I wrote about in Three by Five, and I'd been saving it until I found the right spot to use it.
A reader named Aaron caught up with me at U.S. Nationals in Kansas City and invited me to play Type 4, the format where you have infinite mana and anything can happen, with him and his friends. The result was perhaps the most ridiculous game of Magic I have ever played—an epic, seven-player battle royale that lasted until three in the morning.
Johnny Be Good
For the second psychographic theme week, I wrote about the wacky, combo-minded, sometimes-too-clever-for-their-own-good Johnny player at your local multiplayer table. I discussed the difference between Timmy and Johnny (when they're not the same person, that is), waved my own Johnny flag with some ideas for crazy plays and bizarre game states, and mused on the dangers and delights of being a multiplayer Johnny.
Aiming the Cannon
After touching on it multiple times in other articles, I dedicated a whole article to the question of deciding when and whether to knock players out of the game and, more generally, deciding who to attack at any given moment. It's possible that I have more trouble with this than most people do, so the topic may not interest you. On the other hand, this article has a picture of a squirrel with a bazooka.
For the open-ended Exiled Week, I opted to talk about casual banned lists, official formats or the lack thereof, and the all-important "don't be a jerk" rule.
(You might notice that this part of my run has a lot more "social" and "deck building" columns, and fewer game reports. That would be the time crunch of running a web site and writing a weekly column catching up with me. I wasn't playing as much Magic as I had previously, so I didn't have any good stories to tell.)
Decks (Sick 'Em, X-Treme Rosheen, and a bizarre Limited deck)
My love of Limited reared its head again, as I walked through my process of gleaning Constructed deck ideas from awesome Limited concoctions. The Master of the Wild Hunt deck ideas from Twenty for 2010 came to fruition, Protean Hydra and Earthquake teamed up with the sexy, y Rosheen Meanderer, and one of my weirdest Limited decks ever made an appearance, even though I have no idea how to turn that last one into a Constructed deck.
It was my privilege and pleasure to preview the four Planechase decks and the Planar Magic format during the site's Planechase Week. Planechase is the multiplayerest Magic release ever (I'll stand by that), and I quickly fell in love with it. Whenever my friends and I find ourselves getting bored playing the same decks and/or opponents, we'll give it a kick by shuffling up the big stack of 40 Planechase planes (plus the promo planes we've picked up at the Planechase release event and Zendikar Prerelease).
For this first week of Zendikar previews, I previewed a card that I expect we'll see around many a multiplayer table for the next, well, ever. I threw out some deck-building ideas for the white Ascension, including a ten-card planar deck for Planar Magic that would back it up nicely. I'm still giggling about the idea of pairing it with Kavu Lair. It's that drawing-cards-for-green-mana thing again.
Magic's first legendary Octopus (for the last time, SIT DOWN, Mistform Ultimus!) surfaced in my second Zendikar preview article, and I was very pleased to see what a splash he made in the community. I spotted a Lorthos EDH deck as early as the Zendikar Prerelease, and played against one not long after. Oh, and I can now tell you that the "colleague" who suggested building an EDH deck for this preview article was future Serious Fun author Adam Styborski.
Also: I know card nicknames are a personal matter, but I will never stop calling this guy "LOLthos, the WINmaker" (who is, presumably, in ur game, tappin ur permanents).
Serious Fun previewed its second rare Ascension, this one even nearer and dearer to my heart. Attacking so your creatures get better at attacking is like eating cupcakes so you get better at eating cupcakes.
This article mentioned Kavu Predator as a cheap creature with trample and multiplayer powerhouse in its own right, and with good reason. Given Pro Tour–Austin's demonstration of the Grove of the Burnwillows / Punishing Fire combo, I will finally be building a Kavu Predator deck. Burn you, give you life, buy back my burn, and attack you ....
The Zendikar Prerelease gave me a chance to get back out in the world and play some quality Magic. On top of playing several of the titular awesome games, I got to reconnect with a loose crowd of really cool people to play Magic with, including several who have graced the pages of this very column.
It was Landfall Week on the site, but I couldn't stop myself from recounting a recent Elder Dragon Highlander game in which LOLthos, Experiment Kraj, Mayael the Anima, and Sharuum beat the living tar out of each other, culminating in a kicked Rite of Replication for five copies of Vigor. In the actually on-theme part of the article, I updated my Skyward Eye Prophets / Coiling Oracle with some Zendikar landfall tech.
The first half of this very article. Move along.
The Scent of Blood
My Vampire Week article was a scatterbrained deck-building romp through my favorite old-school Vampires, the ideas I've gotten from the new crop of bloodsuckers in Magic 2010 and Zendikar, and some quick riffs on vampire-like decks and combos. I am now working on the Oros, the Avenger "gain and drain" deck, because it's awesome.
What's In a Name, Part II
The article you're reading right now. Click the link and scroll down to find out how to keep a Magic player busy!
And that, as they say, is that.
This article has run really long already, so I'm not going to drag out my goodbye, but I do want to say this: Writing this column has been an immensely positive experience for me. Sharing the joy of Magic with all of you has reconnected me to my Timmy roots more than I could have guessed, and I've been gratified to read, over the course of many emails and forum posts, just how many of you there are out there who, like me, are dedicated above all else to having a great time playing great games with great people.
As I said last week, I'm not going to vanish. The email link below will still reach me, and I'll still be posting on the @dailymtg Twitter feed regularly and even writing the occasional article.
Serious Fun will be here as usual next week with the talented Mr. Adam Styborski at the reins. Give him a warm welcome and, as always, have fun.