Standing alone in a cafeteria, I stare blankly at the cupboard doors as I wait for Mr. Coffee to supply me with the best part of waking up™. It’s 7:15.
Most of my wandering is done with my mind these days, as I’ve planted roots strong enough to keep me here for the next few decades. The excitement of youthful irresponsibility has paved way for adult accountability, and as my experience grows at work and at home, the tasks become more complex and plentiful to correspond.
The coffee brews, and so do I. I wonder about how the release of a new Magic set is going to impact Standard. Despite the lame-duck format, I’ve been playing a lot online, trying to get a feel for what the changes will be—both now and next quarter, as it goes from the largest pool of the year to the smallest in one fell swoop. In the short term, it doesn’t seem to have much changing. It’s hard to tell what the future will look like without knowing anything about Theros.
I remind myself that I need to pick up the rest of a set of Blood Baron of Vizkopas, preferably at the prerelease. It seems like one of the best creatures post-rotation, as its biggest obstacle ([card]Thragtusk[/card]) will be gone.
Standard will really look different without the ‘Tusk. For that matter, without [card]Unburial Rites[/card].
It’s funny to me that [card]Scavenging Ooze[/card] is getting printed just three months before the last time we can play with Rites. There’s a brief window where Jund (previously one of Junk Rites’ most favorable matchups) becomes utterly dominant against Junk Rites, because it gets to run up to 8 maindeck creatures that just roll the deck entirely, and can still maindeck [card]Ground Seal[/card] if it wants. It’s rare that we have such a linear, powerful hoser that’s good enough in other matchups that you want it in your main deck, but that’s exactly where the Ooze belongs.
Makes me glad I’m off the Rites train, that’s for sure.
I’ve spent the last couple of weeks being very impressed with a deck I ripped from a JVL article. What struck me about this deck is how powerful each of the individual threats are. It runs some of the best 5-drops in the format, and gets to play this amazing role that’s so hard to find in limited pool environments. I’ll call it the “Long” principle for fun.
In Vintage, once upon a time, there was a deck called Grim Long. I loved playing this deck, because it overwhelmed the opponent with so many must-counter threats that they simply couldn’t keep up, and eventually they had to let one resolve. Since these threats came in the form of [card]Necropotence[/card] and the like, when that card did in fact resolve, you won the game. Bombarding the opponent with game-winning threats is the hallmark of a midrange deck, and this deck does exactly that.
You play an Olivia. If they have the answer, fine. If not, she dominates the board from that point forward. You play an Obzedat. If they have the answer, fine. If not, he eats massive chunks from the opposing life total and buys you time by bolstering your own. You play a Blood Baron. If they have the answer, they’re lucky (not much kills him these days). If not, he pads your life total while brick-walling the opponent’s board, and attacks through almost everything they can throw in his way. You play an [card]Assemble the Legion[/card]. If they have the answer, fine. If not, the ever-increasing threat of alpha strike looms, and provides you with infinite blockers to curtail their offense in the meantime.
Still, you aren’t invincible. Your life total must be protected. For these purposes, you use the best red and black removal available, and often trade up in tempo and in cards. You play spells like [card]Mizzium Mortars[/card] (and lots of them) to ensure you have sweepers handy. You get to play [card]Curse of Death’s Hold[/card] and [card]Rest in Peace[/card]—cards that just beat certain decks.
3 Blood Baron of Vizkopa
3 Obzedat, Ghost Council
2 Olivia Voldaren
4 Boros Reckoner
4 Vampire Nighthawk
4 Warleader’s Helix
4 Pillar of Flame
2 Rakdos Keyrune
1 Assemble the Legion
3 Mizzium Mortars
4 Sacred Foundry
4 Godless Shrine
4 Blood Crypt
4 Clifftop Retreat
4 Dragonskull Summit
4 Isolated Chapel
2 Cavern of Souls
2 Rest in Peace
2 Liliana of the Veil
1 Rolling Tremblor
2 Slaughter Games
1 Sire of Insanity
1 Assemble the Legion
2 Curse of Death’s Hold
2 Sin Collector
2 Pithing Needle[/deck]
It feels weird to play 4 cards in my board that don’t necessarily do anything (2 Needle, 2 [card]Slaughter Games[/card]), but I’ve played a zillion matches and found that there are only a handful of cards that beat you going long—[card]Sphinx’s Revelation[/card], [card]Angel of Serenity[/card] (sometimes), [card]Kessig Wolf Run[/card], [card]Gavony Township[/card], and [card]Aetherling[/card]. Between Slaughter Games and Needle, you have answers to all of these cards. The fact that two of these are lands makes a single answer for them difficult, which is where the Needles come in. I REALLY don’t want to draw many, so 2 isn’t terrible, and if you can stick them at an important juncture, that’s all you really need. I could see shaving one, and if you did, replace it with the third [card]Rest in Peace[/card] or the first [card]Sever the Bloodline[/card] (that’s what they replaced).
I wonder how this deck will be impacted by the release of M14. I know Hexproof is getting an enormous boost in the new core set, with the addition of [card]Gladecover Scout[/card] and [card]Witchstalker[/card], and haven’t quite figured out how that impacts us.
There are definitely some cards we aren’t going to like playing against—[card]Fiendslayer Paladin[/card], [card]Lifebane Zombie[/card], [card]Shadowborn Demon[/card], [card]Burning Earth[/card], [card]Witchstalker[/card], [card]Door of Destinies[/card], [card]Mutavault[/card], etc. There are less that we’re all that interested in playing with ourselves—[card]Doom Blade[/card]…
It may be an uphill battle, but I think the deck will still have game in a week.
My thinking gets meta. I think about all the thinking about Magic I do. I think about the impact that kind of thinking—that kind of obsession—has on my life. What sacrifices I make to be the kind of person that is eyeballs deep in a hobby that eats into every waking moment of his life. That obsession does not come for free—a topic I’ve discussed a number of times in this column.
I think about my friends. I think of all the players out there currently vying for success. I think about those who have already found it, and wonder what the cost of that success looks like in their lives. How they manage it all, how they deal with the time succubus that is professional-level play.
My Facebook wall and Twitter feed are often inundated with discussions of preferred airline benefits and last-minute plane reservations. Of people looking to split hotel rooms and share taxis from one concrete cavern to another. Of credit card games, Daily Event records, and positive and negative expected values—and I wonder if they even understand the queerness of it all, or if they’re so immersed in their own subculture that this all just seems normal to them, the way it does for me sometimes. A player in one state doesn’t bat an eyelash before paying hundreds of dollars for a plane ticket to a GP in another part of the country two days before the event. Meanwhile, another player is selling cards to pay the bills this week.
Is it worth it? Is the never-ending, all-encompassing, all-devouring engine of Magic: the Gathering worth all of the sacrifice? Worth all of the energy and effort and emotion that we pour into it every single day, for the chance—nigh, the hope—that we can someday be one of the players who are passively watching as the masses dissect our careers publicly, determining whether their handful of finishes at the top of the top of the top are enough to make their name live on?
We should be so lucky.
Would I give it all up for that hope? Would I sacrifice the gains I’ve made for the chance at a chance at a chance? Would it make me happy to make that stand? What impact would it have on the ones I love? Would the sacrifice be borne on my own shoulders, or would those around me be the ones bearing the burden? I think I know the answer. To these questions, at least.
I think about Ted.
Ted is a friend of mine that decided he wanted more. More time, more happiness, more freedom. More more.
He left a job he loved to pursue a dream. He left a stable income, a supportive group of friends and family, a future, to pursue a once-in-a-million-lifetimes pipe dream of just going.
He sold everything he owned—everything—save his motorcycle, a backpack full of supplies, and a laptop, and set off to find peace. With only the loosest of plans and a bunch of friends with crash space awaiting him, he determined he would ride the wave of asphalt wherever it took him—and write about it along the way.
A few weeks ago, Ted found himself at a Drop Zone just outside Chattanooga Tennessee, where people meet and gather for skydiving. Grasping at opportunity wherever it presents itself is one of the founding principles of his expedition, so Ted would be no kind of reasonable vagabond if he didn’t chase it with vigor. He presented himself at the desk, explained his journey, and asked what he could do for these people in exchange for certification.
Apparently, this kind of thing happens a lot in these places. Over the course of the next couple weeks, Ted has jumped from a plane repeatedly, sometimes many jumps in a day, in order to reach the requisite number of jumps for certification. If you’re going to do it, do it with every ounce of yourself, right?
Well, not always. You see, in pursuit of Ted’s goal he’s learned a little more about the sacrifices he’s made in exchange for the freedom he now enjoys. He’s learned from those around him about the cost of severing all ties, and exiling yourself from society in order to chase down a dream. He’s learned that as cliché as it may be, Freedom isn’t Free.
Ted’s story introduced me to a concept that instantly felt familiar as I heard him describe it. Though the circumstances were different, the impacts were the same, and it felt like hearing your favorite book read aloud by a person with an accent—the words are all the same, but the story just doesn’t fit like you remember it.
In that post, he introduces the concept of A-I-D-S. Not the disease, mind you—but a devastating syndrome nonetheless. The acronym stands for Altitude Induced Divorce Syndrome—but as Ted remarks, it could easily be Adventure Induced, as well. The concept is that the pursuit of adventure becomes an addiction so strong that you feel like you’re dead when you aren’t in pursuit. You feel alive, on an entire different plane of existence when you’re running at the things you love with complete disregard for all other aspects of life—to the detriment of the things left by the wayside. Relationships cannot survive, unless the focus of your run is mutual. It almost never is.
There’s danger in the heedless pursuit of a dream. When I talk of sacrifice, I don’t mean simply time, or money. I mean the lifestyle required to give your all to a task leaves nothing for anything or anyone else. It necessitates a single-mindedness and selfishness that makes it impossible to think of others and still succeed. And it is easy. Easier than falling asleep. Easier than tilt-drafting one more time. Easier than convincing yourself you need to spend a little less time on Magic, and a little more time on life.
And I understand the allure. I understand that pouring yourself into Magic awakens a part of you that lies dormant for the rest of your time awake. You jump to another level of focus, to another level of analytical skill, and to a higher plane of ALIVE than you can on your own. You burn with the intensity of your vigor from working at your peak performance, and you leave the experience exhausted from the effort you’ve put forth subconsciously. It feels good—damn good—to be the best version of yourself you can be, and Magic brings that out of you, every time. Why wouldn’t you want to feel that way as often as you can?
There’s danger in the heedless pursuit of a dream. Anything that feels that good can’t be safe.
I’ve experienced our version of A-I-D-S firsthand. Let’s call it MIDS, for Magic Induced. I’ve put the hobby ahead of life before, and felt the sting as I burned bridge after bridge. I’ve blamed the game. I’ve blamed the people around me. I’ve blamed myself. I’ve learned to temper the addiction to a point where I balance it within the context of the rest of my life. Do I play as much Magic now as I did five years ago? Of course not—but I played WAY more than was healthy back then, and if you look at my life then compared to now, it’s easy to see that’s the case and that I’m better off for scaling back.
Perhaps Ted’s blog post didn’t teach me anything I wasn’t already aware of, somewhere below the surface at least, but it did allow me to put a face on it. By doing so, it allows me to have something tangible to work against, in order to avoid falling into the same old traps.
I probably shouldn’t open Magic Online tonight. Maybe I’ll see a movie with Jen instead.
I pour a cup, return the pot to the warmer, and make my way back to my 6×8 home away from home. It’s 7:18.