Adventures in Magic the Gathering Part 1

My only prior experience with card games is the old set of playing cards that used to come in the WWF and Cricket varieties. I still own dozens of cards in both… genres and I always get a great kick out of looking at them every few months when the fancy takes me. But I never played with those cards, not really. They were mostly just for collection. Plus, trading card games was never a major sport in India when I was growing up, and still isn’t, far as I can tell. Back in college, a friend once broached the idea of learning Magic the Gathering with his cards, but that never really went anywhere, though I remember that he used to own something like 500-600 cards or so in a custom-made box. Now that’s some dedication.

I bought a Boros Battalion intro pack for Gatecrash back in 2012 while attending my second Middle East Film and Comic Con in April of that year. My curiosity with the game had finally compelled me to go and buy that intro pack, but unfortunately I didn’t do anything with it. Not until October 2014 when I decided that it was time to play the game finally. I needed a new outlet for gaming since I hadn’t been able to play World of WarCraft for a number of years and my sort-of-aging laptop couldn’t play regular games for long either. And now I’m fully into Magic the Gathering. I’ve assembled what I hope is a damn good deck, and have also played in two high-level competitive events. And it gives me a really great feeling. It is like World of WarCraft all over again, except that instead of working on tweaking an MMORPG character, I’m developing a card gaming deck.

Abzan Ascendancy, Illustration by Mark Winters

Abzan Ascendancy, Illustration by Mark Winters

I picked up the Sultai Schemers deck at first. Not knowing how anything worked, I was drawn to the illustration of the Rakshasa Vizier foil-variant on the front of the intro pack. Since I already owned a Boros Battalion intro pack, that immediately gave me two good decks to play with, especially since my wife was also interested and we could have a few good games with them.

Which we did. And it turned out that I really enjoyed the whole gaming and deck-building experience. There’s something so very deeply involved into all of it that it just dragged me in and continues to do so. We all need some kind of a fun addiction in our lives, and Magic the Gathering fulfills that quite nicely. I read up on various articles, experiment with some deck builds, and just play and have fun. It gives me something to do more than just read and blog and watch television/movies.

The current expansion in effect is Khans of Tarkir, which is both the name of the entire block, and also the first set. The story goes that the Planeswalker Sarkhan Vol has returned to his home-plane of Tarkir, a world that is divided between five different factions of different ideologies and where dragons are extinct for more than a millennia. The Sultai are one of these five clans, the others being the Abzan, the Jeskai, the Mardu and the Temur. On a world once defined by dragons, each clan has come to venerate a particular aspect of dragons, and this in turn informs their playstyles and their strategies in the game itself.

I started off playing the Sultai of course, with their dominant colours being black (with green and blue as ancillary) and their defining abilities having to do with graveyard interaction (the section of the gaming zone where discarded or used cards are placed). But in the initial weeks after that, I realized that the Sultai weren’t really my thing so much and I quickly changed focus to the Abzan Houses, with their dominant colours being white (with black and green as ancillary) and their defining abilities having to do with playing the long game, and boosting early creatures in play until they became big threats later on.

And that changed the dynamic of how I wanted to play. The Abzan have resonated with me much more as a player. My wife plays with the Sultai these days, though on occasion when the two of us are playing we sometimes change around and she plays with the Abzan while I play with the Sultai. Our Boros deck is sadly retired since the expansion it was a part of, Return To Ravnica, is no longer legal in the game’s Standard format. So we definitely keep things turning around between us.

The first two competitive events I’ve played, a Grand Prix Trial and a Preliminary Pro Tour Qualifier, have both been very fun events. And informative, most of all. When my wife and I started playing, we went by the mini rulebook that came with the Sultai intro pack and there were some aspects of the game that were never quite clear for us.

And thus, when I went to the GPT, I made mistakes in my first game that, quite understandably, frustrated and irritated my opponent. But it was a learning experience. We all start learning somewhere, and while a competitive event might not be the best place for that, it all turned out rather well since I’m a quick study. And it wasn’t as if I was making too many mistakes either, so that helped as well. Of an event with 5 rounds, each of three games each, I was only able to play three full rounds that day, and came off it with a 0-6 deficit, but I didn’t mind that. It was fun just to play.

The PPTQ was a much better experience though, by far. I knew the rules now, I understood my deck better as well. The first round I played (it was going to be six rounds in all for the day), I won the first game and forced the second to a draw in my favour, thus netting me my first ever round-win. It was a surreal experience. The second game actually dragged on past the allotted time and we had assembled a sizable crowd around us, all of whom were wondering what we were doing. And my opponent was a really cool player herself, and I think we had fun with it. The next two rounds I didn’t do so well unfortunately, and those were straight losses for me. As someone who was still new, card quality advantage was always with my opponents and in those two rounds I paid for that unfortunate circumstance, netting myself a 1-4 deficit by the end.

The fourth round was a bit better, where I won the first game, but lost the other two since my opponent sideboarded a ton of removal and evasion (sideboards are 15-card supplementary decks used to shore up the weaknesses in main decks and the cards can be switched out after the first game of any round; removal and evasion is basically that my creatures and spells were deflected and ended up doing absolutely nothing on the battlefield). 2-6 deficit by the end, and then the next two rounds I got hammered again. I remember the fifth round pretty damn clearly even since my opponent had a really crazy-good deck and took every opportunity to, well, rub it in, but at least in a good way. Win some, lose some.

I ended the PPTQ with a 2-10 deficit, but I like to think that I learned something overall. Card quality matters a great deal, as does drawing good hands at the start, but it is also the way that you play that can make a huge difference. And I definitely made some mistakes in that regard that, in hindsight, I shouldn’t have.

And they’ve all made me a better player, or so I hope, so I’m not too worried about any of it.

Sarkhan Vol, Illustration by Daarken

Sarkhan Vol, Illustration by Daarken

The next set in Khans of Tarkir is about to come out soon, in about 2 weeks. Fate Reforged is the next phase of the story of the expansion, where Sarkhan Vol travels back in time some 1280 years to when the dragon broods still existed on Tarkir and he has a choice to make that will define what happens to the future that he comes from, whether he will choose a Tarkir where the clans are ascendant and the dragons extinct, or where the clans and dragons both vie for ultimate power amongst themselves.

Some of the cards that have been preview-spoilered so far have been absolutely crazy. Red and Blue cards seem to be quite powerful on average, which kind of saddens me since that doesn’t really do much for my Abzan deck or my wife’s Sultai deck, but I keep reminding myself that the player behind the cards matters a great deal as well. I’ll be attending the Fate Reforged preview events next weekend, and I’m really pumped up for those. I have an idea of how to play next weekend, how to use the cards to the best possibilities, and I really can’t wait for the 17th. It is going to be fun indeed.

In the meantime, I keep tweaking my decks with each new booster pack I buy. I have tons of cards now, far far more than I need or want, and I’ve been looking for ways to unload a few of them. I’ve arranged a few trades, so we shall see how things work out in the next few days. Fate Reforged is going to put me on an even level with everyone, and I hope for the best.


Posted on January 9, 2015, in Gaming, Magic the Gathering and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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