The end of 2014 is nigh!
If this were a video game, this is the part where we would be at the “true” final boss, the environment would be all floating blocks in the sky, and you would realize that you have all these items in your inventory that you were saving “just in case.”
But the life I lead isn't that radical. Instead, I'm making my way right now by casting spells and trying to knock twenty wizard hats off people over and over. Man, how unlucky.
But instead of a video game, do you ever wonder what a TV show about your life would look like? My personal goal would be something akin to Sherlock crossed with Battlestar Galactica, but I suppose I would make do with a magical recap on some of my adventures this year – we'd see where I've come, and maybe even pass on a few tidbits of wisdom. So included here for your viewing pleasure is the script of Season 5 of “The Darb.”
Episode 01: A Stormbreath Is Coming
Mood: Mana was good, and what happens if you take the Jund approach (play all good cards with little synergy) and give it the Powerthirst treatment that Axebane Guardian provides? The ability to play the two X-spells that defined the format!
Not pictured: Stormbreath Dragon, what a jerk.
Plot: I escaped to the most-visited city in the U.S., with Disney and the Orlando Open as my destinations. I wanted to paint with all the Colors of the Wind, and ramp aficionado Ali Aintrazi helped me in my quest with a five-color ramp deck. The mana wasn't honestly all that bad, and if nobody interacted with you, what you were doing was the most powerful thing around! Unfortunately the ruling dragon of the format was a known quantity, and I was weak to it. I played two rounds on camera with the deck and lost both of them in hilarious fashion to Stormbreath Dragon. It took me a couple more tournaments to axe the Axebane, but if nothing else the deck was a blast to play.
Theme: If you want to have fun in Magic, there are many ways to do so, and after all it is a game. Every deck has a weakness. Sometimes it's not worth the sideboarding slots to shore up a bad matchup when you already are positioned to badly lose Game One. As I found out, dragons aren't easily ignored.
Episode 02: Modern Warfare
Mood: The most-hyped Constructed Grand Prix ever was afoot, and it was Modern's big debut. Sure, there had been a couple Modern Grand Prix already, but now that enough time had passed for people to assemble cards for the quickly-growing format, it was time to put the Kiki to the Jiki and see what turns up. Turns out that a lot of people turned down for what and came to fight for their right to party in the Birthing Pod/Splinter Twin/Affinity format. I would of course be playing with the red enchantment. It's the only thing I'd really played since the format's invention, and it wasn't about to stop me now. Patrick Dickman's Tarmogoyf twist was all the rage, and I hopped aboard that boat.
Plot: My newly-configured deck was fairly hard to play, especially now that you could beat down with the robust Lhurgoyf. I finished just outside the money in 169th place, but I played against a different deck almost every single round. The last round I played against Kurtis Frazier, who I've now played in three different formats and he always comes equipped with a single basic land type: Swamp. This time, all four Tarmogoyfs were in the top sixteen or so cards in my library in game three. I had kept a one-spell hand on the play, as about the only way I was going to beat The Rack was with him losing value on his discard spells, and it seemed like it might just work out because the top cards of my deck were already destined to matter much more than the contents of my opening hand.
Theme: Domri Rade, Spirit Mantle, The Rack, Ajani Vengeant, and Orzhov Pontiff among others made each match extremely unique, and rewarded my intimate knowledge of Deceiver Exarch and Snapcaster Mage. Because the combo decks generally don't kill until turn 3.5, each person is able to play their own game of Magic. Unlike Standard, you have a myriad of deck choices to play that fit any playstyle, and unlike Legacy, you can't die on turn one. Since Modern is WotC's bonsai tree and they are willing to go to any extreme to prune unwanted branches and introduce new soil, I greatly look forward to exploring my new favorite Constructed format.
My final opponent
Episode 03: Veteran The Right Place, At The Karn Time
Mood: If you weren't playing Mono-Black Devotion in Standard, you were doing it wrong. Giving one color universal answers (Thoughtseize, Hero's Downfall) and universal threats (Pack Rat, Grey Merchant of Asphodel) meant that you could play a rock-solid manabase with one the most powerful lands made in the current era (Mutavault) and ignore the text of your opponents' cards. The Coca-Cola Freestyle machine allowed you to personalize your deck with a splash of your choosing, whether it be for Blood Baron of Vizkopa, Rakdos' Return, Abrupt Decay, or Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver. Eking out these small edges to try to turn the mirror match in your favor was the name of the game.
Is “horror” a tag for this article?
Plot: This was the big-time debut of my Sultai Veteran Planeswalkers deck that served me well against the Delver of Secrets of the world. Invitationals are the toughest tournaments I play in, as I've only played in 7 PTQs, what with work and my deathly fear of speedbumps. But I'm slowly getting over them. Super Player Owen Turtenwald ousted me as my only loss in the Legacy portion, but not before I could Cabal Therapy him naming Melek, Izzet Paragon. Gotta represent.
Theme: You do you. Just because somebody says “play Mono-Black” doesn't mean you have to listen to them. In fact, you don't even have to listen to me telling you not to listen to people, but then you'd be listening to me! I'm lucky that I have the best deck tuner around to give his blessing to each crazy idea I want to bring to life.
I was much happier playing a deck of my own volition, rather than a cookie-cutter netdeck. It just so happened that, this time, my deck was actually good! I can be wrong a thousand times, but all it takes is for me to be right once. I played better, and was rewarded with people not knowing what I was up to. Unfortunately, once people knew what was going on (and had basic lands in their deck), it became less of a hot knife and more of a lukewarm spork.
Episode 04: RTFC: Reading Terminal Food Challenge
Mood: Theros Limited! I don't think I was alone in thinking that this was one of my least-favorite Limited formats in recent memory. The rules were confusing, and the format prodded you into making a huge monster that asked for immediate removal in a format where hard removal was hard to come by. My old roommate just forced R/W Aggro every time, but what does he know? Well he knows a thing or two about puns and microwaving hot dogs...
Plot: I only came to this Grand Prix because I wasn't working and had nothing else to do. My heart wasn't in the actual event, as I had lost the past ten round ones in my online drafts, more often than not to Mythic Rares. That's a normal thing in Magic nowadays, but it just felt particularly crushing in my perceived-downswing in Limited environments. But hey, I do like playing in real life about 1000 times more than online, so anything can happen!
Round 1: Lost to Elspeth
Round 2: Beat Elspeth
Round 3: Beat U/G Not Elspeth
Round 4: Lost to Elspeth
Well, that was fun. At this point I was too late to join my friends' seven-person Cube draft, but I just convinced everybody to pitch me six cards they weren't playing in order to make my deck.
I had the best mono red deck I'd ever seen.
The three cards I lost to the most in Theros Limited
Theme: I recognize that, for me, Grand Prix are becoming as much a way to see friends as they are a tournament to win. This one just happened to be next to one of the greatest food meccas this side of Pike Place Market. If you look at the Maze of Ith Judge Promo, and every hallway was a different food vendor, that would be Reading Terminal Market. Now take a look at Immersturm: that's what the market looked like when a round was over.
Unequivocally Reading Terminal Market
Episode 05: Hostilities In The Music City
Mood: Enter Khans of Tarkir Team Sealed: an extremely difficult and yet fun and rewarding format with an equally-as-exciting twist. This was one of my stops in my Oregon Trail out west to Seattle, and I decided to make the most of it. In my new Northwest digs, local Grand Prix would be about as common as visitors to my OKCupid profile.
Plot: As my teammates Dan Musser and Kevin Gerhart and I tried to ration out our decks, we quickly realized that this was a whole 'nother can of wurms. I just wanted to play Master the Way, which led to my Pro Tour-attending teammates to playing unimpressive-but-solid B/W and G/U decks. Mine needed spells for Prowess, creatures to attack with, and things that made Prowess good (like Jeskai Ascendancy). We had cut the End Hostilities as I had a lot of cheap creatures, and it wouldn't make sense if I played it.
Thirty seconds before time was called, I quickly subbed it in for a Bring Low.
Wrath of Gods win matches of Magic. It even beat me when it was cast by Wrapter of Team Thompson/Cho/Utter-Leyton. He manhandled me out of a game where I thought my team was about to beat mages far more powerful than I.
I was more nervous in this match than I even thought was possible, what with me wanting to prove to Wrapter that I would have won our last match - GP Nashville (again) during Innistrad, when we drew - prove to Gerry that I have taken all that he's taught me and turned it into something he can be proud of (the student beating the master, etc.), and prove to Josh that he really did look like one of the guys on the Rush of Battle playmat.
Theme: I won almost every match I cast End Hostilities. I also brought in Bring Low a high amount of the time. So while I was wrong on multiple accounts, I did the best I could at the current time. Don't think about what you could/should have done. Crystallize it in your memory, learn from it, but don't lose sight of your current problems.
Episode 06: I Won A Thingie!
This is a penultimate-episode special. Kind of like in Game of Thrones where [REDACTED] kills [REDACTED]. You can read about this episode here, with me beating everybody up with 1/1s and 2/2's.
Episode 07: Play The Best Deck, Even If It's Junk.
Mood: The Last PTQ. Soon, the age of Preliminary Pro Tour Qualifiers would be upon us, and Xzibit fans would rejoice. As this event happened a scant four days ago, the mood is the same: rainy, cool, and dark. Or maybe that's just how it always is up here in Seattle.
Plot: Gerry had given me an Abzan deck and was playing just for the love of the game and the love of his friends. It was the usual Abzan Reanimator deck with a couple of Fleecemane Lions and Anafenza, the Foremost to either apply, or withstand, pressure. I was able to win an unwinnable game against one of the nicest opponents I've ever had the pleasure of playing against. In short I had not gotten hit with two Eidolon of the Great Revel triggers, drew Siege Rhino into Whip of Erebos, and meanwhile my opponent drew three lands in a row.
Sometimes you're just destined to win.
This was a rather small tournament. There were only 80 people here, as opposed to the previous Seattle PTQ that I Top 8'd that had almost 300! Because of this, I didn't have many people to talk to, and I spent it just watching other people play Magic. Without people to share your time with, what's the real point of anything? Oh yeah, to win a tournament and get to go to Brussels!
In the Top 8, my Bile Blights basically boned me, and I took two of my just three game losses on the day in the quarterfinals, despite having a good matchup, a great deck and an alright pilot.
Sometimes you're just destined to lose.
Theme: I truly believe that after a certain point of playing Magic, once you've gotten your toes wet and hang out with people who are generally viewed as “good,” that you are given all the tools you need to win a tournament. You can always mulligan, or change your sideboard, or - as is most often the case - make some different plays that would allow you to Emerge Unscathed. Why do you think you see the same players win all the tournaments? Did they read The Secret at their local Barnes and Noble? Maybe. They also just practice a lot. That works too.
Outside the game I'm one person, and inside the game, I'm another. It's taken me a while to fully implement these self-imposed dissociative identities of friendly vs. competitive, but I've lost too much being one when I should have been the other.
I vastly prefer these over Pack Rat and friends.
That's all that was produced of The Darb. Ratings plummeted, and it was cancelled to make room for a show about a silent snail that filed TPS reports in black and white. I was told it was more interesting.
This is the part where I say I've had an eventful year, and I should make resolutions, and tell you thanks for reading. But instead, just go direct your own show, and let me know how it is. The thing that makes me smile most is when people say they enjoy my content, and that I got them into some aspect of Magic – essentially, that I made a positive impact in their life.
Go do the same, and I'll see ya next year.