New rules

So, I've started posting somewhat over at this one Magic site.

I got interested because they have a Writer's Forum. It's a secret forum that normal people can't get into, where all the Official Site Writers get together and blow each othe... er, I mean, put up drafts of potential articles and offer each other critiques and such. They have all these rules about how each draft has to have a different tag on it and you have to have your own special graphic on the top of each article and lots of interior graphics and honestly, they are just about the most uptight bunch of tight ass no funs I've ever seen; you'd think they were actually PAYing people.

I didn't know all this when I applied to join the Writer's Forum; it only became apparent after they let me in.

So I wrote this one essay thing on Magic and put it up in the Writer's Forum for criticism and they all went like this:

Seriously. They were all like "This is all opinion" and "You aren't writing about MAGIC you're just writing about YOU" and "It has no SUBSTANCE" and, you know, like that.

But there were a few encouraging words, and when I took the same article and posted it to a public thread, quite a few people who weren't members of the stuck up tightass secret Writer's Forum said very nice things about it and encouraged me to write more articles just like it which they would enjoy.

So, based on the few encouraging words from the Writer's Forum and the many many encouraging words I got with the same piece on the public thread, I rewrote the first article, and I republished it on the tight ass top secret Writer's Forum, again, asking for criticism and feedback.

And, again:

Seriously. Some subliterate nut job with a flashing graphic featuring rotating head shots of every different Dr. Who in his sidebar thinks my article isn't very well researched or written. He writes nearly as well as you'd expect a subliterate nut job with a flashing graphic featuring rotating head shots of every different Dr. Who in his sidebar to, and when I pointed this out to him, he said (this is a direct quote) "So I am not a particularly good writer... so what? That should not affect my ability to provide valid critiques of other peoples writing..."

Yeah, baby.

The general consensus seems to be, my article on Magic isn't really about Magic, because, apparently, all Magic is, is, statistics and deck building and How To Massacre Your Opponent With Two Land, A Spellstutter Sprite, And A Half Empty Bottle Of Jones Chocolate Watermelon Diet Soda.

Anyway, the first article I wrote is the previous entry on this blog.

Here's the latest one.

WHEN KNIGHTS WERE BOLD: Rantings of an Old School Magic Junkie

Remember when a Serra Angel was the shizzle?

Most of you certainly don't; it was long ago and far away, the world was younger than today, and, well, for one thing, nobody back then had even heard of the word 'shizzle'. (Actually, I'm not sure 'shizzle' is a word, but whatever it is, we hadn't heard of it. Ah, sweet bird of Youth...)

But it's true, once upon a time, a Serra Angel was the very shizzle itself, and a Serra Angel with a Blue Ward on it... glorious day, glorious day, it was a combo to be dreamed of, because, yeah, that creep across the table from you could still Terror your wonderful no-Tap attacker, yes he could, and certainly he could Fireball or Disintegrate or Drain Life her if he had the mana (although your Angel was, pleasantly and thankfully, out of Lightning Bolt range, a distinction that, back in the day, really used to mean something) and he could even Swords to Plowshares her, but here's what he couldn't do -- he couldn't Unsummon her, he couldn't Twiddle her (Serra Angels used to be the most triumphant possible response to that vile and unconscionable Meekstone deck all the really obnoxious jerks inevitably threw together, but because of that, those guys always had Twiddles, the bastards) and most importantly, he couldn't Control Magic her.

9 out of 10 of you are reading this with a look of utter bewilderment (perhaps mixed with no little contempt) on your faces; you have no idea what the hell I'm writing about and furthermore, you just don't care. But the tenth, whoever that tenth reader may be, perhaps he or she is now remembering the insane pain of finally getting out that second white mana, tapping five lands (or three and a Sol Ring, or two Plains and a Basalt Monolith, or, just to show off a little, maybe even a Mox or two, you never know), slapping that Serra down on the table with a triumphant little grunt... and then looking with trepidation over at your opponent, who didn't appear to be worried. And why should he or she be worried? This was long before anyone had ever heard of Haste, so your Serra was nothing but a blocker for the first round, and then, on your opponent's next turn, he or she naturally tapped two blue and two colorless, chuckled evilly, casually tossed out his or her Control Magic, crooked his or her finger at your poor hapless innocent Serra Angel, and said "She is for me, James T. Kirk".

(Okay, none of your opponents ever said that because none of them are as geeky as I am, but you know what I mean.)

And the really tragic thing? Back then there were only three possible solutions to the situation: an Unsummon, a Disenchant, or a Tranquility.

So a Serra Angel -- the only creature in the game that could attack without tapping, a big flying 4/4 and, say hey and by the way, the only Angel in the game, too, can you dig that? -- was the very spiff, yes she was, but a Serra Angel with a Blue Ward... that was the bomb diggity.

(Of course, even if you got out your Serra and slapped a Blue Ward on her while your Meekstone/Twiddle playing opponent was tapped out, it wouldn't matter, because that annoying buttmunch always played with 4 Icy Manipulators, too. FOUR of them. While you were ripping open booster after booster and trading frantically trying to get your second, that guy always had four, which he proxied in EVERY deck he had. Oh, I hated that guy, I really, really did.)

Those days are dust and less than dust now, of course. I've lost track of how many creatures there are with Vigilance currently, and it hardly matters, because at this point if you really want your creature to attack without tapping, you just stick a Vigilance on it. Stick a Vigilance on your Gate Hound and ALL your creatures can do it.

We've lost so much.

Here and now, Serra Angels mean little to nothing. Throw one down on the table at your local card shop and the most common response (unless you're playing an Old School Magic Junkie, like Your Humble Narrator ) is "What the heck is THAT?" (Except, of course, you're playing a 17 year old punk who thinks Mirrodin is, like, from medieval times, dude, so they won't say 'heck', because when you're 17 years old and there are no authority figures around, it's like you're constantly set to the All Profanity All The Time satellite channel, or something. Some things really do never change.). And they'll pick the Serra up, and they'll turn it around, and they'll scrutinize it from every direction, and then they'll toss it back down with a little sniff and say something like "A 4/4 Flyer with Vigilance? Is that all?"

(Actually, a lot of times they'll just leer and say "Nice hooters". But never mind, I'm not talking about that aspect of Magic right now.)

And the Serra Angel really ain't such a much, I sorrowfully admit... not compared to some of the Angels flapping around the Magical ether nowadays. (Platinum Angel. Privileged Position. Merely one of a near infinite number of broken combinations to which the only logical response is pulling a high powered cattle prod out of your backpack and using it to run about 15,000 volts through your smirking opponent's internal organs.)

I'm not saying the old days were better. Magic was broken back then. However, I'm also not saying the old days were worse, either, because Magic is still broken now. Magic has always been broken. It started out as a very complex game and it's only gotten more complex since, and it's never going to be fully functional in every parameter. The number of cards out now is in the tens of thousands (I'm pretty sure); the number of possible card combinations is large enough to qualify as its own statistical universe. No matter how one tweaks (or demolishes entirely and rebuilds from the ground up, for that matter) the rules system, it's never going to work all the time for all the cards and all the combos. It can't be perfect.

In that way, it's a lot like life.

When I started playing Magic the local comics shop still had a half empty box of Arabian Nights boosters sitting on the counter top next to the cash register. The other guys I knew who had been playing Magic for a little longer at that point were bored with Arabian Nights by then and really looking forward to the next expansion, Antiquities. I didn't buy many Arabian Nights because I just didn't care for the flavor of the set; I did buy a great many Unlimited boosters, and I even recall getting a Mox Pearl out of one of them. That was pretty cool.

I kept playing Magic right up through, I think, Homelands. I stopped playing with whatever set brought in Phasing and Flanking, two powers I simply hated at the time... Phasing because it just made Magic, which already had way too many different effects and powers to try to keep track of, more aggravating than I wanted to deal with, and Flanking because I'd long been a zealous disciple of the old school Magic principle that it should always be easier to defend than to attack, and Flanking tossed that right in the dumper. (I've since become reconciled to Flanking, but Phasing is still waaaaaay more trouble than it needs to be.)

Then, a couple of years ago, I moved from one city to another and married a wonderful woman with three fabulous daughters, and my oldest stepdaughter played Magic, kinda-sorta, and she was bored and wanted someone to play with, so I said, okay, I'd play with her, but only because she was bored, and I wasn't buying any new cards, I'd just play with hers.

Yeah, right. I'm sure you can guess how that worked out for me... especially when my wife, after watching me and our oldest daughter play a few matches, decided she liked the game and wanted to learn how to play, too.

And then, a week or so ago, I stumbled across this site while looking for a Conflux spoiler, and I joined, and applied to the Writer's Forum, and they accepted me provisionally, and, well, here I am, telling you my story.

A few days after I joined, I posted a first draft of an article I called WHEN KNIGHTS WERE BOLD in the Writer's Forum.

It was a long, rambling, opinionated rant, which is, generally, pretty much all I write.

I fully expected, that, if I got any feedback at all, that feedback would mostly confirm what I already knew, namely, that it was indeed a long, rambling, opinionated rant, and that, furthermore, it lacked the sort of weighty, chewy substantial subject matter one had come to expect from this site's Writer's Forum, and, for that matter, from WOTC's official Magic site -- meaning, it wasn't an article on How To Win Win Win By Killing Everything In Four Turns, or, alternatively, This Cool Completely Wigged Out Thing I Figured Out You Could Do With State Based Effects, Split Second Cards, Seven Different Triggered Effects, And A Spatula.

I was not disappointed.

MrSuperLove was the first to be kind enough to give me his opinion; among other things, he advised me that:

"First up there are some amusing moments in the article, and apart from using the obnoxious and played out 'shizzle' thing you start well by drawing the reader in. But there's really no meat to the article, it's just a long personalised rant... Who cares? You need to think about how you might add more substance to the article.... tone it down. I get what you're going for with the piling on of adjectives... but it's just tiring to read after a while and makes you sound like that nut who corners you at FNM and rants about his unlucky game loss or why mana screw sucks. Some simpler, more balanced sentences will make the jokes stand out more."

And then, Evil Betty, the very first mod who ever interacted with me on this site, and therefore, my favorite, jumped in with:

"However, at just the point where you could have/should have launched into a more meaty discussion, you instead turn to... the realm of personal opinion... and it's a substanceless article. ...go more into concrete reasons... Or say something more definite... instead of simply lumping juxtaposed polysyllabic adjectives together and hoping the reader's laugh reaction replaces any need for actual content."

All of this was, as I've already noted, pretty much what I'd expected.

So then I took the entire article and posted it to a public thread, just to get a broader range of responses.

The article drew a lot of commentary in that thread, and some of it echoed the feedback and advice I'd already gotten, but, gratifyingly, a lot of it didn't. Quite a few people advised me that they thought the article/essay was very funny, very entertaining, that it made their day, that it made them laugh, that they hadn't thought about the early days of Magic in a long time and it was nice to read something that recalled that long vanished era so vividly to mind.

Also, apparently not a few folks out there share my loathing of Kithkin, which is very gratifying to know.

So, after seeing some of those responses, I came back to the Writer's Forum and typed out a long, rambling response to Evil Betty and Mr SuperLove.

See, I agreed with both of them. I hadn't really written an article, as such are understood to be on this site. Rather, I'd penned a long rambling unprofessional rant, just as they'd said. I'd started out on the nostalgia thing -- Wheeeeeere's the Love For Serra ANgels HEY You Kids Get Offa My Lawn --and then I'd segued from that into how I just loved one particular set because it was sooooooo kewwwwwwwl and then from that I jumped off into how much I hated a preceding set because one of the new races in that set was really, like, heinous, dude.

And they were entirely correct to point this out. There was no "meat" to the article. There was no in depth, research based, game tested, numbers backed insight. There was no 'Such and such was a poor set because it didn't have enough library windmilling or it had too much power creep or out of X cards Y cards had combined powers and toughness of 15 or there were X cards that were first round drops and Y cards that were second round drops and combine that with the Z cards that allow for quick creature bouncing combined with cheap counterspells you get an ungodly high gradient-curve on the quantum flux level, which anyone with an advanced degree in thermodynamic particle research knows is BAD'.

There wasn't any of that for two profoundly simple reasons: (a) I don't think I'm capable of writing articles like that and (b) if I am, I don't want to.

I write funny, opinionated rants. (All three of those words are subjective, but only the first, alas, is at all in debate.) I've been all over the Internet since the 1990s with my perhaps somewhat funny, always opinionated rants, and just as when I write about Silver Age superhero comics or Buffy the Vampire Slayer or the works of Robert A. Heinlein I rarely have actual specific numerical citations because I'm working from imperfect memory and talking about my emotional responses to stories from long, long ago, so too when I write about Magic I'm not going to have all the math right. I'm writing from emotion, not logic; from the right brain, not the left.

Hell, I don't even know what all the slang terms the pro Magic players habitually use actually mean.

I applied to the Writer's Forum because I write well, and as soon as they were nice enough to let me in (a kind-hearted gesture for which I was and am deeply grateful) I started to read a lot of the articles that the other members of the Writer's Forum had produced for the site. And I quickly realized that those guys were WAY out of my league.

So, yes, I absolutely agreed with all the criticisms of my essay that had been leveled there in the Writer's Forum, but here's the thing -- I don't play on a tournament level. I can't. I'm not smart enough. I don't have a natural head for numbers and I can't keep the equation of an ongoing Magic game constantly in my mind, calculating and recalculating all the possible variables of what is on the table, what I have in my hand, what is in my graveyard, what is in my opponent's graveyard, and all the new cards that my opponent might have in his hand, or all the old ones, for that matter. I read articles on this website about how 'strong' and 'powerful' certain cards are and, for the life of me, I cannot comprehend why in the world anyone would think a Mothdust Changeling or a Spellstutter Sprite is a 'powerful' card.

See, there is this thing that top flight, tournament level players do. They look at a set and a light goes on in their heads and it's like a holy nimbus of glory hovers around certain cards and they say "Oh yes, with a Spellstutter Sprite, a Mothdust Changeling, an Oona's Gatewarden, and a Ninja of the Deep Hours, I can REALLY raise some hell. Heh heh heh."

I don't do that. My responses to cards are emotional, not intellectual. I like this card because it seems to me to do cool things, and yes, occasionally a cool combo occurs to me, like putting a Blight Sickle or a Quietus Spike on a Prodigal Sorcerer, but these four and five card combos that the other Writer's Forum guys talk about in their articles, where they describe using all these obscure card draw abilities and trigger effects to 'churn' or 'windmill' or some friggin thing in order to get the perfect combination out so they can bodyslam their helpless, hapless opponent into next week before he so much as twitches.. I don't get that.

I can't write about that stuff. I don't understand it. Hell, I don't understand a lot of the slang words those guys casually use (although I will offer a hint, from someone who has been a semi professional writer since the early 80s -- when an author uses a particular piece of very specific vernacular in an article for the first time, that author should always define it. Not everyone who reads the article is going to be at the same level of expertise as whoever's writing something; in fact, most people probably won't be, or they wouldn't be reading the article to learn something. Many of us are noobs. Even those who have been playing Magic since the early 90s. I, for example, barely know what 'windmilling' is.)

I write very well. I can write some entertaining stuff. When one is doing something social for no fiduciary reward, then one is doing it for the attention, and I'm getting attention (more than I ever do on my blog) and that's fine.

But I cannot write articles like the stuff I see over at the official Magic site, or here on this one. Articles by actual competitive tournament players about how to build decks that allow one to draw five cards a turn while countering everything the opponent tries to do and simultaneously blowing up all his land and filling his shoes with genuine Louisiana bayou mud, simply by combining three obscure commons from the KAMIGAWA block with a mostly despised HOMELANDS Rare, or some such nonsense.

I can't write articles like that. And if I could, I wouldn't write articles like that, because I'm pretty sure I wouldn't have any fun doing it. It simply doesn't occur to me to do it. I wouldn't want to play that way anyway, because I wouldn't want to play against that sort of thing. It's... y'know... no fun.

I generally don't really enjoy reading articles like that, either; I don't play on those guys' level, and when I read that sort of thing, it makes me feel stupid. (Which, compared to all the tournament level Magic players out there, I'm sure I am, but nobody enjoys being made to feel that way.)

But I still love to play Magic and I still love to write, and I believe there are probably many, many other Magic players out there who play more on my level than on the exalted one of the pro and semi pro tour. So when I have an opinionated, rambling rant to get off my chest -- and I will, it's the nature of my beast -- I will type it up and post it somewhere on this site in hopes that other people will read it and respond to it. Favorably or otherwise.

And just so there is no mistake, MrSuperLove: I am indeed 'that nut who corners you at FNM and rants about his unlucky game loss or why mana screw sucks' -- or I would be, if I hadn't long ago learned my lesson and stopped going to tournaments. I am, in fact, that most dreaded and despised of all Magic players: the guy who plays 'for fun'.

And I really do think that 'mana screw' sucks, although I'm not sure exactly what you're referring to when you say it. Remember, I don't get all the slang terms; I'm a noob... albeit a noob who's been playing since 1993 or so. (And I'll take this opportunity to repeat an earlier point, because it's important -- when you're using an obscure, hobby specific slang term, please define it. For example, I'd love to know what 'mana screw' actually is, although my guess is, it's either not drawing enough land, or playing against someone who deliberately destroys their opponent's mana sources. Either way, yes, that sucks, and yes, I'd certainly corner you and rant at you about it if you were silly enough to make eye contact with me after a tournament, or I were silly enough to attend one in the first place.)

However, even if I am 'that nut who corners you etc etc', I do try to be witty and entertaining while I'm complaining about how much mana screw sucks, whatever mana screw may actually be.

It's not much, but, hey, if you can't be smart, be funny, right?

So I typed out my response to MrSuperLove and Evil Betty, and posted it, and it was much like the several paragraphs above, although I've rewritten them somewhat to flow better in this larger and more expansive metadocument I'm constructing now.

And Evil Betty promptly responded to my original response with:

"Ironically enough, that last post would make an excellent article."

After which, DarkRitual advised me:

"You know... I bet if you retitled the article something like "Ramblings of an old magic player", you might could sell this as something opinionated, yet borderline funny. Cause I did a quick read through, and if before hand you have the idea "ok, this is a serious article where reason and logic prevail" then you are going to hate it when you start going on a rant... because you don't really bring any facts to the table. But if you have the idea beforehand that this is just an opinionated rant, it almost comes off as funny... I thought it was funny actually."

And Metamorphaze said a lot of constructive things, too, amongst which was:

"I would like to see this article. It makes me smile. Which I believe is the point."

Which is true. In fact, I think it's pretty much the point of existence in its entirety.

So... here it is.

Be careful what you wish for, I guess.

That's the article.

I don't think I'm going to last much longer in the top secret tight ass Writer's Forum, but hopefully I can manage to not get banned from the site itself. We'll see.

Also, I finished adapting "The Chained Lands" to actual Magic cards, or something that looks like them. Check it out here, if you've a mind to.

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