From Outside the Game #5-Commanding my Past
I am hanging around in Toys From the Attic, my local game shop( LGS), waiting for a tournament to begin. I shop there fairly often and know the owner pretty well, but do not often attend tournaments and only know some of the other players by sight. I am killing time standing off by myself when two of the players pull out big decks and start shuffling. One of them notices me watching and says “We’re playing EDH, want to join in?” “Thanks but I have not gotten around to building a deck yet.” He smiles and goes back to the game while I stand by myself thinking. I know what EDH is, I read Bennie Smith’s article first thing every Friday, Sheldon Menery’s nearly as often and SwordstoPlow as well, yet I have never played a game. I started a deck once, but gave up after less than an hour. “That looks fun” I think as they play “why haven’t I built a deck yet?”
As I stand there I flashback more years than I care to think about, back to when I was 16 and in high school. Specifically back to one of the very few parties I attended, a wrap party for one of the plays I performed in. Despite the fact that I had known most of the people in the house for years, and had rehearsed and performed with everyone for months, I am alone. The scarce few people I had clung to since I got there had moved on to other people they were closer to. No one is outright mean to me here, but all the same it is obvious they would rather I didn’t hang around with them for long. Even with people I should have something in common with, I am an outcast. Looking back with the clarity of hind sight I now realize exactly why I was alone then and I realize the same things that held me back then are the excuses I use for not building a commander deck now.
Whether then or now I try to be funny. I like to crack smart alack jokes and tease. Back then the same jokes that would get my friends snorting were dead on arrival with the theatre crowd, while other people would say something and everyone would be laughing hysterically. The problem I realize now is that I was basing jokes on subjects my friends and I found funny: games, death, sex, pro wrestling, inside jokes we all knew. My fellow actors were not into the same things and often times did not even realize it was supposed to be a joke. In short, I did not realize the rules for the group.
With EDH I have the same problem. I understand the basic rules, 100 card decks, singleton, etc. However I have no clue what other rules the players at my LGS use and I do not want to look like a fool again. Do they all play super powered combo decks? All creature decks? Is stealing other peoples cards (in game of course) allowed or will you be the table jerk? I read all these authors discussing EDH Douche Bags and am terrified of becoming one without meaning to. Who wants to be the guy who ruins everyone elses fun, whatever that may be? Not me, that is for sure. Heck, as you can tell I am not even sure what to call the format. EDH, Commander, 100 card Legacy singleton? If I say EDH do I sound like I am trying to be a hipster? If I say Commander do I come across as another newb? Even though I play Magic I do not know all of the rules off the top of my head. Anything involving layers just makes my head hurt and many of the complex situations that come up in Commander games make no sense at all to me.
Aside from acting I did not have much in common with the other actors at the party. They were mostly into rap and the pop groups that were big back then, I was a metal head. Many of them drank and smoked pot, I have never touched either. They hung out and went shopping or whatever on weekends, I played video games. Even the few video gamers in the group were almost all Playstation players. I will forever be a Nintendo fanboy until the day Triforce is carved onto my tombstone. Basically our interests were simply from completely opposite sides of the spectrum.
In Magic it is pretty much the same way. Most Commander players I see are either dedicated combo players or they love massive creature battles with huge armies colliding that more resemble a Peter Jackson movie than the Magic I know. I prefer to blow crap up and fry anything that moves. I am a red player at heart, I will play direct damage any chance I can get and always have to be talked out of running red in my sealed pools. One of direct damages largest problems is multiplayer games, it simply does not have the resources to handle multiple people. As most Commander games are multiplayer that does not bode well for my chances. The only creatures I tend to really enjoy are dragons but I fear making a dragon deck because I worry about people rolling their eyes at playing against another dragon deck. Do I really want to spend the time putting together a deck that I may not enjoy playing in the first place?
Aside from rehearsals I really did not spend too much time with the other cast members. I took mostly honors level classes, which always managed to be scheduled at the same time as the theatre courses. Many of the others took outside acting classes together, something my family could not even consider affording. When I mentioned going on the department trip to Europe the previous year the phrase “lottery jackpot” was mentioned. Not to make it seem like we were dirt poor or that I went without, neither is true, but somethings were more of an extravagance than others. As such I missed out on much of the bonding time my castmates had and instead of being part of all of the inside jokes as they happened I had to have them explained to me after the fact, when they never seemed quite as funny.
I started playing Magic around the launch of Fallen Empires and played regularly through Weatherlight, giving up finally somewhere in Tempest block. I ignored the game for several years and drifted back in late in Kamigawa block, coming back fully during Ravnica. As such I missed many of the most popular and powerful cards for Commander. Even when I was playing I acquired most of my cards through buying packs and have a pretty horrible track record opening money cards. As such getting into Commander is going to be a pretty sizable investment in order to get a decent deck. I also have little to no knowledge of what many of the common, popular cards are that other players play and can not hope to identify most Japanese foils. This makes even considering playing a daunting task as there is a lot I will have to learn and, I fear, I will drag the game down having to read cards that everyone else already knows and having to have interactions explained to me because I have never seen them before.
I have never been one for caring about my appearance or taking care of myself. I have been fat for most of my life and tend to dress pretty sloppily. Even back then my usual wardrobe consisted of black sneakers, black jeans and a black t-shirt. No, I was not trying to be goth, black simply hid the stains better than other colors. Even to this day I have no clue how clothes are supposed to fit or put any real thought into what I wear. No one really wants to hang around with a slob and I can not say I blame them.
Unfortunately I am the same way with my Magic collection. I have several thousand cards in my collection, yet they are not organized at all. I have multiple 4 and 5 row boxes full of cards, several of the boxes that came with fatpacks full of cards, a few binders that my good cards (as determined last time I bothered to check prices) go into, my “trade” binder with the few cards I am willing to part with, several stacks of cards around the house waiting for the honor of going into boxes, and my decks they gave us at PAX East that I am using to teach my son to play. (and yes Amanda I will be writing that article next, I promise on my planeswalkers). As my wife can and has let me know in no uncertain terms, it is a mess. If I was on a Magic version of Let’s Make a Deal and was offered $200 for a card they named I could never find it. I recently purchased one of those pre-built Commander decks everyone was talking about, but one look told me the thing is pretty under powered for a serious game. I know I have the cards to make it better, but it will take me hours to find them. Hours that I am not sure I have. For now it sits on top of one of the piles, waiting.
Not understanding the rules, not being comfortable outside what I am used to, the lack of common knowledge and being an outright slob kept me from fitting in way back then. The same things are keeping me from even trying to fit in today. I did not write this for sympathy or to start a pity party. I wrote it because I realized I was making the same mistakes all over again and have the chance to change now. Now that I fully realize the problems I have a plan to fix them. I am going to start by organizing my collection finally, then pick a general that I like and going from there. My deck may not be the most powerful, but it will be mine. I am going to stop worrying about what other people will think and do what I like. If it fails or does not fit in I will try again until I get it right. I will eventually learn the cards and interactions that others do. Before Halloween I swear I will have played a game of Commander. With Nicol Bolas as my witness I will never go deckless again!
Comments or suggestions (especially on organizing a collection) are welcome below.
You can email me at pureval at earthlink dot net or contact me via twitter @pureval
My sincerest apologies for my perpetual lateness with these articles there has been a lot going on all at once both at work and at home and I have barely had the time to read a Magic article let alone write one. I will try to be more timely from now on.