Seedborn Musings – Nostalgia and Playstyle

Maybe it’s just me, but I’m convinced that the first shiny objects in your Magic life stay with you, influencing your casual style no matter how long you’ve played or how large your collection is.  Whatever initially attracted you to the game still attracts you.  I don’t know what nostalgia goes into your style, but here’s mine; maybe my story will help you trace your own origins and influences.

I picked up the game in November 2002, aged 17 and a freshman in college.  My roommate Nathan, who by this point had become my best friend, had these neat looking cards under his bed; I got interested.  He started me off on a core set style monored Goblins and I picked it up quickly.  I had played chess semi-seriously in my earlier days and my dad had enough light strategy games (e.g. Fortress America) that I liked making those types of decisions, and Magic clearly had them in abundance.

Soon, it was time to buy some boosters and start my collection.  Onslaught was the new set, and my first two boosters yielded Mythic Proportions and True Believer.  Thus, my first deck was green/white, full of dreck and the occasional bomb rare.  (Grassland Crusader was one of my best creatures.  Really.)  Naturally, I bought some Judgment boosters to help the deck along (yay Folk Medicine!), and while it didn’t do much, it was mine and it was fun.

I was hooked enough to bring all this home for Thanksgiving.  My dad showed general interest, and we picked up the Ivory Doom preconstruct to have a second deck.  For some reason, I added blue to it.  I had Stormscape Apprentice, which seemed neat, but the only other thing I can figure is that Nathan was such a blue player (leaning to blue-black) that I wanted to experience the “true power of the game” rather than play wimpy colors.  Zombie Clerics and enemy colors were tons of fun; that still stands out as one of the best preconstructs I ever bought.  (Spiritbane was the worst by far.  Seriously, what did it do?)

Other rares and experiences poured in.  Contested Cliffs made me want to build a red-green Beast deck, a deck helped out when my parents sent the Devastation preconstruct as a holiday present.  I had the absurdly flukiest top 4 in a 2003 Type 1.5 tournament in Valdosta, Georgia with this deck as well.  It was a 10-person tournament and I had a first-round bye.  My first match was against a white/blue mage running Ambassador Laquatus.dec, with Mother of Runes, Heartstone, and some other stuff to go to town on my library. 

He owned me first game with such dizzying speed that I had no idea what to do.  I sideboarded in the best package I had – a 4-damage-per-turn loop that involved Genesis and Goretusk Firebeast.  He started game 2 with a Heartstone and an enchantment I don’t remember, both of which I Hull Breached on turn 2.  He didn’t recover, and I spent nine mana every turn in the late game to recur Goretusk Firebeasts at his face.  He had sided out the things that would have stopped this.  Game 3 was clearly in hand for him when he got his protections out; I had attacked with a Barkhide Mauler the turn that I could, so the life totals were permanently at 16 to 20.  But time was called, along with an announcement that life totals would decide the winner of game 3.  Barkhide Mauler’s one attack against a mill deck won me that game, sending me to the top 4 and my stunningly awful death at the hands of Psychatog.  No, Amphibious Kavu in my sideboard did not help much.

By this time, I was reading tons of content from the recently revamped, where Mark Rosewater would give all sorts of insights about the design process.  There was a whole community here, and I wanted to tap into it.  I learned the thrill of new sets (I say thrill, but my first new set was Legions and I was pulling Goblin Goon and Havoc Demon instead of Akroma or Phage), the stir of controversy when it was announced Eighth Edition would have a new card face, and the stunning innovations of a new block would bring when Mirrodin came out.

(It’s worth noting here that I’m a Johnny-Melvin.  Even the few times I acknowledge a Vorthos end, I always analyze it Melvin-style.  I don’t read fiction; I don’t care much for Star Wars or Star Trek or Dungeons and Dragons or comic books.  I’m in it for the gameplay, and while the art and everything is fascinating, I like them mainly from the perspective that you might as well have cool aesthetics while you’re playing a strategy game.  Really, I’m a Johnny-Melvin in life, period, and this naturally flowed into my Magic style.)

With all this came an awareness of the tournament scene, the Pro Tour, Kai Budde, and the Spike approach to the game.  Goblins, Astral Slide, Psychatog, Madness, and a few other things were the metagame.  I don’t recall it being a particularly diverse metagame; there wasn’t nearly as much coverage back then to know exactly that sort of thing anyway.  But when I saw a rogue green/black list – Oversold Cemetery with Nantuko Husk – I was in love.  It didn’t work like the other decks I had seen.  It didn’t crush my will to play like Psychatog (Nathan had a deck with Dr. Teeth as well) or Opposition; it didn’t bowl me over in 5 turns like Goblins; it did its own thing and did it well.  Control felt like oppression and aggro felt like solitaire, but this deck felt like it actually played an interactive game.  Subconsciously, its incremental advantage stylings were also the most chess-like thing I had seen yet in Magic; I’m sure that helped, as Magic was filling and continues to fill the chess void from my childhood.

“So what?” you scoffers scoff and you naysayers naysay.  “I didn’t come here to read about you.”  And if that’s what you’re saying, I’m sure that it’s true.  But you have 1,000 words you could say about your story too, and the journey to wherever you are is influencing what you get out of the game now.  I still love to beat up on permission control and I love stalling out aggro.  I’m winning at my local store with a Standard Glissa, the Traitor midrange/recursion deck.  My Sen Triplets Commander deck is a Cleric/Zombie build splashing blue for some more Wizards and Lich Lord of Unx.  For all but about 3 months, I’ve continuously owned a red/green Beast deck centered around Contested Cliffs.  Morphs feel as exciting to me as when they were the hot new thing when I started playing.

Nostalgia is a force in my life.  I moved around so much growing up that certain things have taken the effect of rituals and talismans.  I play the Super Nintendo game Earthbound at least once a year; there’s an emotional connection there that doesn’t make sense unless you’re an Earthbound fan (lots of us connect emotionally to that game) or unless you have something similar.  I get emotionally attached to whatever blew my mind with its creativity or its analytical breadth.  That’s Magic for me.  Magic is a continuity I’ve rarely had in my life, and to that end there’s an emotional component to my still having a Beast deck that almost 9 years running is still the same principle as that third rare I opened.  Its current power level (fairly high) stands for how much my life has changed since being 17; I have the money now to do my original ideas justice.  As silly as it sounds in the abstract, finally buying a playset of Contested Cliffs was metonymy for arriving in life; I finally could realize my cash-strapped dreams of 2002.

With Time Spiral and Scars of Mirrodin, Magic’s tapped into that nostalgia vein for me, and since Mirrodin was the first new plane I traveled to, this year has been very much about coming full circle in my relationship to the game.  It feels like a reward for having stuck with it this long.  When we first learned the Mirrodin story, I was scrawny and overconfident from my one year of college.  I have two degrees now, I’ve taught at my alma mater, I’ve accomplished a number of things I wanted to do as a kid – and Mark Rosewater is still telling me about this strange metal world with myr and vedalken.

Is that why Grand Architect and the Glissa are my favorite cards since Time Spiral?  Is that why I persist in building Standard decks around them?  Maybe I’m just ornery.  But maybe, just maybe, winning with Glissa is saying in its own way to those who will listen:

This victory isn’t about the tournament.  It’s a statement of where I’ve been and all that I’ve learned since I was 17.  I’ve made my share of misplays, but they’ve culminated in something unique, a 60-card list that maybe you don’t understand, but that I know how to play optimally.  I know it doesn’t make sense to you that this would win or why I’m not playing Boros or Caw-Blade, but it’s an extension of me in a way those decks never could be.

That might seem like a lot to think about a deck or be sensitive about in a tournament, but it’s no different than people buying big houses in the suburbs or giving their kids the things they didn’t have growing up.  We all look for self-validation, that statement in our own heads amidst the sea of confusion and mistakes that we got something right.  For Spikes, it’s the rating, the prizes, or the cash; the deck doesn’t say any of these things.  But for Johnnies, it’s the deck that says it, no matter where it’s played, and that’s the heart of the psychographic.

If you have any emotional attachment to this game, how you play it is saying something about you, even if it’s indirect.  The entire deckbuilding process, especially in casual, can stand for any project in life.  We get a good idea and want to see if it works, testing it, tweaking it, and putting it in the crucible of other ideas and styles.  Sometimes they work and we validate our thoughts; other times we scrap them and move on.  But it’s all there, wrapped up in a seemingly simple game.  Magic gives each of us a microcosm of our lives, whatever we want to say by them, and as long as you have a past that you can remember, that past is in your present both in Magic and general life.

What does yours tell you?

4 Fierce Empath
4 Gnarlid Pack
4 Canopy Crawler
3 Krosan Warchief
3 Feral Throwback
2 Venomspout Brackus
2 Fangren Pathcutter

4 Wayfarer’s Bauble
4 Hull Breach
4 Explosive Vegetation
3 Gratuitous Violence

19 Mountains and Forests
4 Contested Cliffs


About Brandon Isleib

Author of Playing for a Winner: How Baseball Teams' Success Raises Players' Reputations; sometimes-writer at GatheringMagic and Muse Vessel; card name/flavor text team for Magic 2015; Wizards of the Coast's first Digital Event Coordinator; directly responsible for the verb "create" on Magic cards; legislation editor for Seattle; voracious music consumer; Christian.
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4 Responses to Seedborn Musings – Nostalgia and Playstyle

  1. Jesse says:

    Wow, this brings back memories. I’ve been playing Magic since ’94 but I think many players have “that deck” that has been around for years and is seeped full of memories. For me, it’s my White-Green-Red (it’s not Naya, this deck predates Naya by 13 years). Originally it was shaped through a few rares I got: Eladamri, Lord of the Leaves, Mirri, Cat Warrior, Eldamri’s Vineyard, Winding Canyons (in case I couldn’t use the Vineyard’s mana!) and Erhnam Djinn. By no means was it a good deck, but I loved it.

    Then Invasion happened and I pulled my Rith the Awakener and my path has been set ever since. Armadillo Cloak? Delightfully absurd but an amazing card. My playset of Skyshroud Elves look like they’ve gone to hell and back – and they have! Originally a gift from my best friend in 7th grade when he got me the Spike Stronghold precon, running to class in the rain and having the box open and the cards fall out. All before I got a chance to use them. But you know what? Those are my elves.

    Now the deck is stuffed full of Lightning Helixes, dual lands, Birds of Paradise and Planeswalkers. Of the original deck, only Mirri remains (though now an adorable 10th edition foil) but to me, it’s the same deck I’ve been playing for 14 years now and I love it.

  2. Matthew Banister says:

    I have to agree. I remember playing Magic from 1994-1997 before stopping for far too long. I picked up the game in 2002 my freshmen year of college seeing some people playing outside at a picnic table. I dug out my decks of nothing newer than tempest and was ready to play…

    I got thoroughly trounced. So I found a cardshop later that day and picked up both Ivory Doom and Devastation. Ill be honest I completely fell in love with the devastation deck and have played fattie aggro since. Whether its Mono-Green, Mono-White, Selesnya, Gruul, or Naya…that has been and always will be my deck. Even my two favorite Commander decks are a Meng Huo deck and a Stonebrow, Krosan Hero deck.

    Oh, and Spiritbane was fantastic…if you played it against the Kami Reborn deck. Or another spirit-based deck. Otherwise yeah…it sucked. But hey they had to showcase the themes somehow.

  3. Jules Robins says:

    I started around the same time, and must say that Time Spiral and Scars definitely hit home here as well. In a similar vein, my first deck was a mono green mess of Llanowar Elves (which I was told tapped to search your library for a forest and put it into play) and Fatties like Krosan Groundshaker. While the deck is too linear for me to get a thrill playing repeatedly, a piece of me still feels validated when I cast Alpha Tyrranax off of a Myr in scars limited.

  4. Andy says:

    Bizarrely, things worked in reverse for me. I was so broke when I was in college, I had to sell the best parts of my collection to finish school. Now that I’ve graduated and am sipping Cristal in my Bentley riding sick spinners, I’m actually way more reluctant to spend big money on any cards, even stuff I wanted back in the day. My best decks I ever had, I owned before today and hocked them off; these days I find a thrill in piloting garbage and sort through dollar bins for days.

    But I still have most of my favourite old decks (Bruce saw a few of them). I don’t really change decks after I’ve built them… they tend to just be what they are. I feel hesitant changing some of these decks I’ve had for like 10 years. It’s like a bizarre physical force keeping me from inserting new, clearly superior cards because it somehow defiles the deck’s spirit.

    I even kept a Darksteel precon together (except the Skullclamps, which I purchased it for!) because of fond memories beating my friend’s stupid Zombie deck he was bragging about with it. He dismantled the deck in shame but every now and then he talks about it again… then I pull out the precon and the talk dies. I even kept the foil Plains it came with in it, even though the deck is mono-U. Awesome. That deck is… so bad.

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