(This Blog is an article that has nothing to do with movies, but a lot to do with me. This is one of my only real blog posts in a while so I must post it here.)
The Kid Comes Back to the Game: How I Learned to Love What I Once Hated.
I've been playing card games for a very long time. My recent run in Magic: The Gathering is actually the fourth time that I've picked up the card game. To understand my mentality, and my evolution in the CCG fields, let me run you through my story.
I picked up Magic: The Gathering in middle school. Revised was cycling out into 4 edition, Ice Age was on the verge of release after the terrible Fallen Empires set. I was first introduced to the game by my cousin. He had a good bit of revised and unlimited cards, and a couple of packs worth of The Dark and Antiquities. He had only one deck, so the best I could do was watch him and his friend play, but what I saw looked fun.
Some time later I was in school, 7 grade, art class. The kid next to me was into a lot of the same stuff that I was. He started talking to me about this game where you build decks, tap land, and fight with another player on who gets knocked down 20 points first. I cut in and said “That sounds like this game my cousin plays called Magic” and thus I got the full run. He told me where to go and what to buy. Offered me advice, cards to look for, and the like.
This lead to me going to my local shop, buying with several weeks worth of saving my allowance 2 starter decks of revised, a handful of packs of 4 edition, and of course, several packs of the brand new set, Ice Age.
Now, Starter decks back then were nothing like they are now. Today's intro decks are far and away more like what I would have hoped for when I was younger. These decks had about 20 land, and 40 random cards with only a few rares. This was the ONLY way to get land, and starter decks were amazingly hard to find. Those were the only 2 I would ever be able to buy in my first years of Magic. I pulled some various things, including a Shivan Dragon and Serra Angel, which at the time were great creatures, and a Lhurgoyf which I loved.
I didn't have a real understanding of the game though, so all my decks were 5 color and me mostly playing to get the biggest, baddest creature I could muster out for the win. Needless to say I lost a lot. I started to figure things out eventually, but I didn't have the means for getting a lot of cards till later, and by that point, Homelands, Alliances, Weatherlight, and 5 had come in and totally blew out what I had access to.
Of course, I was also playing another card game at the time. Star Wars the CCG by Decipher. Now this game I loved more. It played different, but was about a very familiar subject matter. Because of the Star Wars license it was far easier to get a hold of too. Most places carried it like it was just collector cards, where at Magic you had to go out of your way for. I studied this game, and played it.
Freshmen year of high school I was burned out of Magic. Most of my friends were better than me, had more cards, were unwilling to trade without playing the rip off game, and were generally not wanting to give advice or tips. Shortly after Mirage, I traded my Magic collection for a full collection of Star War CCG cards. As much as I loved Star Wars though, I was starting to see the error of this trade as it was already dwindling in popularity. It stayed alive for a bit longer, but just after high school was when Decipher dropped the game and I was left with a card game where internet meet ups were the only ways to play.
This time was not spent in vein though. Through Star Wars I learned the finer points of deck building. I had a game to focus on, a building curve, and a tournament scene to educate myself with. Locally I was one of the best in the game, often being a sign of dread when walking into the local shop for a Thursday or Sunday tournament. The biggest thing I learned with Star Wars though was draw ratios and card synergy.
About the time Star Wars died out I was left with a bit of a void. RPGs were fun but took organizing to play. Fighting video games were much the same. So, I turned my attention back to Magic. This was 2002 and the current set was Onslaught. The game was mostly the same, however it seemed there was a lot more to it. Morph and Cycle were the new things.
This was where I saw the ugly side of Magic, and what would turn me off from the game almost for good. Now, the “ugly” side is the side of the competition player versus the casual player. Magic had a massive following in the area. Most of the players thought of themselves as Elite players, always talking about trying to get to Pro-Tour and the like. Me, I was mostly wanting a game that I could just play and have fun. The result was of course this ugly mix of clashes. I watched players without judges threaten violence. I saw people fighting people over pulling a certain rare card. People screaming up and down that no one was allowed to use proxies, but yet their decks were full of them.
This ugly side made it hard to play. No one played for fun, they played for the win mark. Now, I can understand this mentality, in a tournament setting. But this was a card shop, with a guy spending a few dollars a week on the game. I was playing Type 1 decks full of proxies with Scourge, Onslaught, and Seventh Edition Decks. Getting your butt kicked every game, by people who only wanted to play these super elite net decks full of proxies just wasn't fun.
And the fights! I wish I was joking here, but I found it hard to want to play. Everyone had a different idea of the rules, and all of them were “DCI judges” or claimed to be. Everyone bickered and swore up and down that how they were playing things was right. The lay out of the turn was up for debate. Hell, I had a guy tell me Form of the Dragon prevented him from losing the game till it was removed because the game doesn't check for win conditions till then end step. When I proved him wrong (as the game is pretty much always checking for win conditions), he went into a rage about how he was a DCI judge and looking up the rules online means I wasn't reading the official rules.
Eventually, I found a card game with a less vicious following. DragonBall Z the CCG. I traded off my most of a shoebox for store credit, and got into the game that would catalyst me into tournament card games.
Now, during the DragonBall Z run I would get slightly back into Magic for about a month or so during the end of the Kamagawa Block and the start of the Ravnica block. It was Ravnica that intrigued me, but it was short lived as my love of DragonBall won out in the end.
DragonBall Z was everything I wanted in a card game. The card game was more deck building skill than luck, with every little aspect of the game being based on how it worked with itself. It wasn't so much about bad games as it was about how you could keep your deck working while losing chunks of cards. The premise was different. Your life WAS your deck. Once it was gone, it was game over. I loved this concept.
I got into DBZ right around the release of the Android Saga expansion, and this was, as I was told, where the game really came into its own.
There was a local tournament group on Saturday nights, and I went there. The first few times I got murdered, as expected. It was here I went online and found a whole community of players who, surprisingly enough, was more than willing to help others. I met a man named Matthew, who's last name will remain hidden for I want to respect him. He, through several email and IM conversations, taught me the finer points of deck building, and got me in the right mentality.
I played with my friends and local groups for a good while, taking advantage of the knowledge I was gaining, until around the release of the Buu Saga expansion, where I once again went to the tournament scene. The old judge had been replaced, having been caught cheating to give himself the greatest advantage (false interpretation of rules, picking the power table that best benefited him, etc).
The new tournament scene was full of new players, none of which understood the basic concepts of the game. It felt odd being on the other side of the fence now. I didn't look down on the other players though. I felt sorry for them in ways. One player among them was the dominant figure and pretty much was a jerk. He constantly was more concerned about being the top dog. I took it upon myself to educate them during the tournaments.
The tournaments there had a regular turn out for a good while, before the shop was shut down. By the end of it, I was the judge, and was no longer playing but playing coach. Teaching deck building, sequence of play, and over all just making sure everyone was learning while having fun. Of course, before I took that role, I had one 10 of the 11 tournaments I took part in, with the last finishing 2 to a very good friend of mine.
The once top dog stopped showing when he stopped finishing in the top 4, and his friends said he stopped playing the game and just quit talking to him. He was the only bad player I ran across during this period. A reminder that every game has players like this.
The group pushed me to enter the larger tournament scene. This was the start of what would be one of the most exciting times in my run with card games. A time that, while I would love to do it again, I don't have the time investment to become this type of player again.
The first major tournament I went to was Nashville. I entered, finished about the middle of the pack. However, I was playing a deck that no one thought would do well, and surprised several people. This included being the only loss on the guy that won the tournament's record that weekend.
I traveled all over the country to major events. My deck building got better, as did my reputation. Eventually I became known for my rogue deck and outside the box thinking.
My finest moments though came towards the end of the game's life. Atlanta. The current world champ showed up with a variation of my deck in tow. I felt honored that he picked my deck. That tournament we were the only two running Pan Blue Energy.
It was also where I changed the entire meta game during an interview.
In between games, much like they do at big Magic events, people would talk to you about your deck if you were doing well. I was showing off my Pan deck, and the guy was loving the build. Till he hit my Sensei deck (the equivalent to a side board but only certain cards could be put there).
As he is evaluating the Sensei deck, everything looks good. Pretty standard issue, good meta game set up, until he comes across one card. Majin Buu's Loogie. He was baffled by this card. The general thought on the card among the community was that it was absolute trash. However, the major competition decks at the time consisted of physical beat down, and one of them which was the source of all the hate as it had been dominant and only lost when you could be it before it got active was Piccolo Multi-Form.
Let me explain this deck to you. It beat you by running the smallest deck size, and then beating you senseless on turn 1 with a never ending barrage of attacks while you were left helpless. You had to stop it turn one, or beat it before it beat you. The idea was that a card made all attack performed that were physical attacks stay to be used again. This mean that 3 attacks were suddenly 6, and a lot of his cards pulled cards back and drew cards, insuring that he was beating for pure life cards while you sat there with nothing to do.
Now, let me explain Majin Buu's Loogie. If a player uses a card that remains to be used again, they discard the top 10 cards of their deck. This isn't a one time use card, it relates to the entire turn.
So, knowing I was going into Atlanta and was bound to see a ton of Piccolo Multi-form decks, I sensei decked it. So as he is tearing into this card, and being confused, I just said “Piccolo Multi-Form.” He stops, stares at the card, and then very quickly changed his tone.
Multiform would never dominate again.
But this ended up being the end of the Dragon Ball CCG popularity too, as they switched to GT, changed the rules, and a short time later, opted to just reboot the whole game and nullify all the old cards. With no player base, my cards were sold, and I moved on.
It would be a while before I took a game seriously again. I got into the Wizards version of Star Wars, which was all but discontinued the very moment I got into it. I tried YuGiOh, and felt it was Magic Lite with larger numbers.
With no where left to turn, and wanting a game that I could play and enjoy, I turned back to Magic.
This was 2010. M11 had just come out. Zendikar was big, and Scars of Mirrodin was just around the corner. This time though, Magic was a different beast. See, I was there for the card overhaul in 8. What I discovered was that with the release of M10 (the eleventh core set), they decided to kind of go back and look at the ever increasing rule set. Dumb rules were stripped, other rules were simplified, and over all the game was made to flow better with less true complication.
And I loved it.
So here I sit. Dark Ascension has come out. My fiance plays the game. A whole host of my friends play. I have a nice card shop with both casual and competition level players, most of them are generally friendly. I'm right about where I should be.
I still think outside the box. I still think of the meta. I still scour the net for the latest, biggest bad deck, and I always find myself planning my decks around the idea of “how can I beat ____.” Yet, the game is all about fun now.
So while I've come full circle, I've grown a lot of a player, and as a person. My thought process is completely different, but my fierce mentality is drawn back to one thing. I'm still that middle school kid that just wished I had the cards and the grasp of the game to keep up and put up a good game against my friends.