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Bad cards and Nostalgic (or maybe Insidious) Dreams

by Jeremy McDonough

So not to leave Bud out in the cold on being the only one who writes for this website (it's pretty much his blog), I decided to take a trip down memory lane- inspired by the insanity that comes from the legend in my latest EDH deck- Braids.

Braids and I have had many fun times together over the years. You might say that we understand each other. Ok maybe not but needless to say that over the years one of my favorite things to do that has stuck with me since the first rare I ever purchased (a 4th or 5th edition Lord of the Pit)- sacrifice creatures for massive benefit.

I've been playing this game for 15 years now- yes I know I'm only 22 (to the shock of some) but I've been playing this nonsense since I was 7. Oddly enough, it was not a black card that was the first card I owned (that honor belongs to Tor Giant, who is just another Hill Giant, but found only in the frozen foods section of magic). But the first magic card that really got my attention was Frozen Shade.

You see, I discovered magic when I was in a summer day program at this goofy place called the Springfield Racquet and Fitness Center. You see, most of my relatives who I actually see live not in town (I never see those people except for when someone dies or gets married), but in Southern IL. So needless to say since both of my parent's worked, they sent me off to summer programs until I was old enough to take college courses- so I never got to sit around during the summer and do nothing. Needless to say, within the first few weeks people got to know each other and I saw some kids playing this card game. Being 7 and hating physical activity aside from the days we got to go to the pool, I quickly became interested in this activity that would let me sit on my ass and enjoy this quasi-fantasy setting.

Why Frozen Shade you ask? The first time I watched a game (and keep in mind that the kids are all fairly young at this summer program- so the decks people did have were their "black deck" if they even had enough cards for that, generally it was "here's every card I own in a stack that's called a deck") it was some guy who was considered fairly good (at least by the other kids who played), and he had his opponent down to a measily 3 life. So he swings all in with his random group of creatures (probably in a deck that was 5 colors with a manabase that would make an art student vomit) and the other player was obviously thinking "ha- dude only has 1 black mana to pump that thing, I'm good!". So after assigning blockers, the guy with the frozen shade taps his swamp like he's going to pump it- and the guy gets ready to write down his life as "2" when the first player drops- a dark ritual onto the table. Everyone around was like "WOAH!" because he'd totally just blown the guy out with this creature. That single dark ritual making a Frozen Shade lethal sealed the deal for me- I had to have these cards.

Of course, this was the age of 4th edition and Ice Age, so back then grocery stores and even KMart sold magic cards (or at least booster packs). My first boosters were most likely 4th edition boosters, whereas my first starter deck (they were starters back then kids, not "tournament packs") was definitely Ice Age. When I got some spending money (hooray for chores that earned me allowance- not to mention my tracking down every aluminum can on a roadside near my house to bag up for the scrap yard) I would go get booster packs or if I had enough- maybe even a starter (which is exciting for a 7 year old). My parents of course, loved the idea of me doing something that required social interaction, as that same year I had changed schools and didn't really have a lot of friends there, nor kids in my neighborhood to go do stuff with (my only neighbors with kids were very religious, so if there was a church event my night was screwed).

But I remember looking at the cards and thinking "Wow, these creatures are HUGE" when looking at green things or the various pump spells, or "man I can GAIN life!?" with white cards. But I was lured down a darker path. Black cards thrilled me, as did the ally colors of red and blue. The thought that my color was all about power, and that I could represent "the bad guys" just really made my day (when you're a kid, villains always have the cool stuff). Not more than a few weeks after my initial exposure and buying some packs (enough to have my "deck" which was probably 150 cards that I owned, including the Tor Giant someone gave me), my dad was picking me up from the summer program when I was finishing up a game. He'd never actually seen me play it before, but while he was waiting he talked to the parent of the other kid who was in the game, and that parent told him about this place called Reader's World- where they not only had more varieties of packs than KMart, but had single cards for purchase too. Dad took me in there, and I was hooked from day one.

Not a month later (my dad would take me once a week to Reader's World and we'd look through things and get some cards, eventually mom took me and would buy me cards because she liked the art of some of the cards in the singles box), I took in some cards, and traded some of what I'm sure were crap rares (because I was bad at opening boosters, if they weren't crap rares then at least they weren't anything I cared about) for a Lord of the Pit. My dad had bought me an InQuest (back when it was JUST about card games) and I'd seen that card in there and couldn't believe it. I mean, not only was he huge in game terms (there wasn't a lot that was bigger than a 7/7 in those days), but he also FLEW! Sure you had to sacrifice a creature or else he hit you instead, but at 7 mana, that was a bargain considering that your opponent couldn't hit him with most black removal, and probably couldn't block him because of that whole trample thing.

Of course, shortly thereafter my summer ended, and it was back to school. However, I'd met some kids at school the previous year, and when I showed them this kick-ass card game they were like "woah, we have to play this". So needless to say I shortly thereafter had a playgroup, and while we weren't good by any imagination, whenever we'd go spend that night at someone's house we'd bring along our boxes of cards and piss off whoever's parents by staying up late being loud and playing cards. During this time we were picking up all sorts of cards- singles, packs, tournament decks. Life was good- we had even gotten to the point where a few of us had decks that didn't entirely suck (entirely being the key word here). But through our internal swapping of cards, I had a pretty nice black deck going (I had a red/green deck, and a blue deck as well, white generally only ever got played in combination with blue for me for some reason). However, while everyone else had cool things that made tokens, or really cheap creatures, I was more than content to sit behind my drudge skeletons and other terrible black cards until I drew him- Lord of the Pit. In that time I'd even found him some friends- 4 copies of Breeding Pit to shit out thrull tokens for him.

Fast forward another few years or so, and this set called Portal came out. Since my buddies and I didn't really know how a lot of the rules worked (I mean come on, we were only like 10-12 when portal came out and the rulebook didn't really explain a lot to us) when suddenly we got a lot better. The portal book explained LOADS of stuff to us (since we lived near Rochester, we didn't exactly trek into Battlegrounds or Got'Em City often). That's where I found a new playmate for my buddy the Lord of the Pit- Undying Beast. Sure, eating thrull tokens is all fine and dandy, but sometimes I needed another guy to help turn the tide, or someone to feed to an angry lord when my opponent Tremored.

Needless to say, as the years passed on, and people and cards drifted in and out of collections (including a 2 cent Serra Angel from Got'Em city when it was closing), I went on to different and more diverse decks, but I always had a special place for black decks, just because of how ruthless they were. When Urza's block was going strong, I built a pestilence deck that would last in my local playgroup for years to come. Not because it was "good" by any tournament standards, but because it killed creatures dead, and players, and even if it killed me it was often a blast just to nuke the board before I went.

Then at the end of masques block, prophecy happened, and I pretty much drifted away from magic for about a year (I still got some invasion cards, but not a whole lot since a bunch of people stopped playing). Then it happened, I was sitting in class one day, and a buddy of mine who I played cards with leans over towards the end of class and hands me a deckbox I'd never seen before. "Look at it man, these cards are so cool- it makes me want to play again". It was Odyssey. The cards in it weren't amazing (it was just a tournament pack), but there was a new MOUNTAIN GOAT! Along with plenty of new black cards.

Needless to say, we all jumped back into the game, and there was one black card I kept seeing people play, but I could never get a copy- Braids. Sure she cost 4 mana, but she was the Abyss on steroids! I'd never owned an abyss before that, but being the group's black player I'd always wanted one and new of it's awesomeness. However, there was a catch. My buddy was playing a black deck in type 2 (by this time, I had actually learned what t2 was), and we were going to go play in Jacksonville (the only tournament store around at this point since we didn't really like the dismal selection at battlegrounds). We went along well, and both made top 8 (I was playing a REALLY BAD u/g threshold/madness deck). And then it happened- in the semi's my buddy blew me out with Braids- the only card I'd let him borrow for the tournament (we had split a box 3 ways on the way there). I was amazed- she was so powerful, even without token generators to sac to her!

Needless to say that MOST times after this, whenever a Braids has hit the table in a game I'm in, it rarely has hurt me. Not because I wasn't saccing anything or killed it, but because Braids and I have come to this understanding, and mainly she hates other people more than me (most recent example: steve played a braids on me in EDH, and I stole it from him and locked him out of the game).

And now things have come full circle, the other day I was looking for an impromptu EDH deck to build, and Braids just sort of popped out at me in the binder. Sure the deck keeps getting tweaked and tuned, and probably is all of 0 fun to play against, but to me, it's just like coming home- once again feeding small creatures to my black cards. Lord of the Pit (who I still own) would be proud, even if he's not in the deck.

And as for Undying Beast? He's seen better days, and is rather worn, played, a tad beaten up, and has play wear on the edges since I didn't use sleeves in my early days, but he's seeing play once again. Only this time he's feeding Braids, and that Abyss that I finally got my hands on a year ago.

So yeah, another trip down memory lane, only this time it's not Bud's fault.
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