“Every Spore builds its Flower in its own image. It has the power to choose, but not the power to escape the Necessity of Choice.” -Plant Rand, Thallid Philosopher
The battle raged between them. It was a fierce contest of wills and resources in the midst of intellectual rivalry. This was a fight neither of them would ever forget.
Shaman: “Make a decision.”
His eyes shifted to the battlefield. The attack started as a crescendo, but it was now frozen in an icy prison of hesitation. The clamor of the prior moment was gone, and silence hung in the air like thick, poisonous smoke.
Shaman: “The time has come to make a choice.”
Brother Andrew: “What?”
The Shaman glanced up at his bewlidered opponent. Their eyes locked. Contempt. Frustration. The tension grew like roots between them, binding them, enveloping them, and gradually it blossomed into confusion and despair. What the hell was going on?
The Shaman looked back at the table.
Shaman: “It is your move. We cannot progress until you make a decision.”
Brother Andrew: “Are you talking to me?”
Shaman: “Are you a Floral Spuzzem?”
Brother Andrew: “No. What the hell does that have to do with anything? What are you going to do?”
Gesturing to the card and giving his brother a moment to read it, the Shaman shook his head with disdain for having to explain the obvious during this moment of contention.
Shaman: “I am going to encourage Floral Spuzzem to choose which of your artifacts he would like to destroy. I would prefer he stopped fucking around.”
Brother Andrew: “It is just a card. How do you expect it to make a decision?”
Shaman: “A little faster than this, to say the least.”
Brother Andrew: “Are you serious?”
Shaman: “Of course I am serious. Why would I not be serious?”
Brother Andrew: “Just pick something.”
Shaman: “That is preposterous. Do I look like some kind of Tyrant? Just because the Spuzzem is putting in work for me does not mean I own him. He can make his own decisions. It is called Free Will.”
Brother Andrew: “Cards do not have free will.”
Shaman: “Maybe your cards lack free will, but mine are not to be treated like peasants. That is the difference between me and you. You have no respect for the things you surround yourself with. You think you own your cards, and can just treat them as you wish without consequence. You walk a dangerous line. An uprising lies just beyond the Horizon. Your lack of compassion will be your undoing.”
Brother Andrew: “That is ridiculous. Just pick the Icy Manipulator. It is the best choice.”
Brother Andrew discarded the Icy Manipulator and prepared to move on. The outrage spilled over, and the Voice of the Shaman echoed through the room.
Shaman: “How dare you? First you Oppress your cards, and then you try to force yourself on mine? This is an outrage!”
Welcome back to the MTG Underground.
Come on in, I promise it is perfectly safe. You can trust me. Why would I lie to you?
If you have been playing Magic for the last twenty one years, this is not the first time you have heard about the Existentialism of Floral Spuzzem. Most of you have probably told the story yourself, and believe that you came up with it all on your own. I certainly thought I did when this first played out (around the time of Ice Age.) It is a beacon of our collective cleverness, a Brand of Ill Omen in other words.
But it is not without purpose that I choose to tell the tale that we all have told. The familiarity of the tale brings us together, the philosophy and humor of the story help us bond, and the timelessness of questionable text boxes lives on each time we share this tale with a younger, less cultured generation.
What is the moral of this story?
I do not know. I am not exactly the poster child for morals.
What is my point?
Nothing. I lied. I do not have a point. I just like the art on Floral Spuzzem.
But that is not the only tale I have to share. I have another that was once part of my lore, a story that was told about me, usually out of earshot, as it was rarely known in full and the pieces that people shared like scraps of meat in a Phyrexian Furnace are a touch gruesome to discuss with their Protagonist.
And there is a point to this story.
Things are not always what they seem.
Nearing the end of the Summer of 2005, I attended a Vintage Tournament at the Legendary RIW Hobbies in Livonia Michigan. The room was full, perhaps overflowing, and I knew many of the faces, though there were a few that were new or unknown filling the spaces between the local elite. I had arrived late after signing up over the phone, and I barreled through the door just after round one pairings were posted.
I found my empty seat and sat across from an unfamiliar opponent. I introduced myself, but he seemed disappointed at my arrival costing him a free win and was not particularly friendly. The air of pretentiousness was moist with contempt, and I decided not to fondle it with words. I rolled out my playmat, which crudely depicted the album artwork from Bathory’s “Blood, Fire, Death” album, with the words “Glorification of the Black God” etched along the bottom, a remaining vestige of a long-running fascination with Marduk. Black Metal and Vintage Combo were big parts of my life, even if both were slowly starting to wane. My opponent scoffed at it under his breath, and I smirked at his unspoken judgment.
We used his die and I won the roll. I shuffled, presented, let him cut, then when he started to draw his hand, I reminded him sternly that he had yet to present. I shuffled his deck, much to his chagrin, and waited as he mulled to six, then five, and eventually four. In those days Dredge was an unplayable uncommon from Invasion, so there was nothing to be concerned about by watching your opponent spiral downward into oblivion. He kept indignantly, and almost fifteen minutes into the round we began game one.
I led with a gemstone mine. As soon as I played it, I remembered that I forgot my dice. I thought better of asking to borrow one from the Pillar of Salt across the table, so I reached in my pocket to find some change.
Instead, I found a plastic bag. I held it up and looked at its contents.
“Ah, Human Teeth. Perfect.”
As I poured three small teeth into my palm, I thought about it, and I looked up at my opponent, feeling the need to explain.
“They are not my teeth. See how small they are? These are the teeth of a child.”
This was not the best explanation. I placed them on my gemstone mine, tapped it and immediately removed one, and cast a dark ritual. I asked my opponent if he would like to respond, but he still seemed dazed. I proceeded to cast Necropotence, followed by my Black Lotus and Time Walk. I drew eleven cards, sculpted my hand, and killed him on my follow up turn.
He was horrified that I had a bag of human teeth in my pocket. But it helped pull him from his snobbish disdain and salty response to his mulligans. I helped him trade one set of toxic feelings for another.
I killed him early in the second game, and I did not see him for the rest of the day. Between rounds I picked up some dice from the shop and put the teeth in my car, sparing future opponents any discomfort. But the event did not go unnoticed. Apparently the two players in the game next to us observed the whole thing, and word spread quickly. Those that knew me well found it funny. Those who knew me casually found it disturbing. Those who did not know me found it mortifying.
Needless to say, it became part of my reputation from that day on, and even transcended my departure from the game a few months later. Years later, during a late night Llorwyn Draft after hours in that same shop, I heard it told in front of me for the first time. The story sounded much darker when told by another than it was in my head. For the first time, all those later, I was given the chance to explain the scenario.
Never judge a book by its cover, even the Necronomicon.
The day before that tournament, my six year old daughter lost a tooth. It was the second one in a week, and she did not hesitate to place it under her pillow and hustle me out of some money by playing along to a tooth fairy myth that she never really believed. When I collected her tooth that night, I put it in a bag with the one from earlier in the week as well as one from a few weeks before.
The next morning, I made her breakfast while we waited for her mother to pick her up for the day so I could go play cards. We had everything together, and I went into my room to call and find out why she was running late, and there, sitting on my bed stand, was the bag with the teeth in it. My daughter came in while I was talking to her mom, so I grabbed it quickly and shoved it in my pocket.
By the time her mother picked her up, I was running late. I called ahead to cover myself, and sped through suburban traffic to make it just in time to play round one. Naturally, in my chaotic and tardy departure, I forgot my dice.
The rest is MTG Underground History.
I spend much of my time on Social Media promoting Oldschool Magic.
It has become the primary format of the MTG Underground. We get together at least once a week, usually more, and jam as many games as we can. We exchange messages about decks, hustle up cards from long forgotten cardboard tombs, and find any reason to drink, gamble, and bullshit over the format. To say that it has restored my love for the game is an understatement, and I have yet to play games with a single person who did not then proceed to purchase cards and start brewing.
Recently, I have been organizing an activity called “Oldschool at FNM.” I get together a small group of players (so far around four, possibly from a lack of effort) and we hit the local shops for FNM. But instead of drafting or sulking through a standard tournament, we find a table off to the side and play Oldschool.
Every time we start playing games, people start watching (which makes it a little more difficult to drink our beers or flasks of whiskey, but such is the cost of greatness,) and inevitably they start asking questions. Slowly, we are pulling people in. They rush to finish their matches to come watch more. Nothing in Khans block holds a candle to casting Mana Drain on a turn two Erhnam Djinn and untapping to cast a Braingeyser for 5. We often play for ante (since cash games are frowned upon inside of game stores) but other times we will just play casually, and even if we are trying something new we are having more fun than anyone else in the room.
It is just a matter of time before more people build decks.
(My Current Playmat, made for Eternal Weekend 2015)
As a natural progression, I often get asked where people can find Deck Lists. I never hesitate to send people to check out http://oldschoolmtg.com/ to find inspiration, great reports and an excellent embodiment of the culture of what this is all about. Where better to send them than to the beginning?
Today, I am going to talk about my primary deck, Electric Head Part One. This started out as a UR Counter Burn deck for the first Card and Board Oldschool Tournament in Archbold, Ohio (http://www.eternalcentral.com/card-and-board-old-school-magic-93-94-may-2015-tournament-results/) and has slowly evolved to add black and play more of my favorite cards (though perhaps not always the best cards.) This will be the first in a series of Deck Profiles, and hopefully it will give people some inspiration as well as some insight to what I am doing. There is a questionable logic around sharing my deck in full a month before the next Card and Board event, but if I learned anything from my years of playing The People’s Cannon (Legacy Belcher) successfully, it is that fear is a useless emotion. The deck is a work of art, and whatever edge I might gain by keeping secrets will surely be drowned in whiskey on the ride down.
The philosophy of the MTG Underground is to give everything to the people. This includes your secrets and your demons.
If you want to truly understand this deck, you should start by listening to Nile’s In Their Darkest Shrines. It may be named after a White Zombie song, but its soul was stolen from Lovecraft’s “The Shadow Out of Time.” This is more than a deck. This is a gateway to the Beyond. Be careful what you play with, you may find yourself discovering things you would give anything to put back in their box.
I will start by breaking the deck into pieces and showing them to you, detailing them, penning your name in blood for you, and forever poisoning your mind with the madness of my own. It is also a wonderful opportunity to share some of my cards.
First, The Electricity:
This is the initial burn package from the UR Burn deck I started with. I have flirted with cutting a Psionic Blast or a Chain Lightning for a third Fireball, but both times I went back to the beginning. I had it right the first time. This is how the deck deals with everything. This is how you kill creatures. This is also how you end up winning most of your games. If you are going to be a mad scientist, you need to trust your mad science.
Second, the Control:
Initially I played this deck with just the five double blue counters because I had yet to buy Power Sinks. Once I did, I decided to add them instead of replace what I had. I have been thrilled with their performance, and it is likely correct that I should have three sinks and three counterspells, but I bought Alpha/Beta Counterspells and I intend to use them.
The Control portion of this deck can be both offensive and defensive. Countering threats like Erhnam Djinn and Juzam Djinn can be vital, but so can forcing through your timetwister to reset your Library when you got a little too ambitious and lost focus.
Next up, the creatures:
The serendibs are the best option for this deck, at worst they tend to function as a burn spell and at best they can steal the game. These are the Ghosts in the Machine.
The Sol’kanar is a great way to offset a lot of the other large creatures in the format, and can quickly close a game out in a pinch. I may not need it in the deck, but I am always happy to have it.
The Shivan Dragon is beta. Thus, it is the sixth creature in the deck. I am not some Pro Tour Puppet. I do what I want. And what I want is a Beta Shivan Dragon in my deck. I do not win every game with it, but when I do it is the best feeling in magic.
The Restricted Cards:
There are a few things going on here. This is the sinew and gore of the deck, holding everything together to Murder your enemies with style. The draw spells, Ancestral Recall, Braingeyser, Wheel of Fortune, and the Timetwister put in a ton of work in this deck. None of them are expendable. The two black cards, along with the Sol’kanar, are the reason for the black splash. I did not get an Alpha Mind Twist to not make you discard your hand. The Recall is possibly not necessary, but until I want something more, it remains. This started out as a Fork, has been a Black Vise, a Clone, and a Disrupting Scepter (which it possibly will be again) but currently it stands, and I have been happy to have it more often than not.
And finally, Chaos Orb. If you do not like Chaos Orb, this probably is not your format.
The Mana Artifacts:
Many of the Blue Red Burn decks only run on color Moxen. I have been running the full set from the start, and I have never considered cutting them back. They power the Head as much as the Lands, and a reduction in power is not a compromise that gets made in my laboratory.
You will see here that I am running ten dual lands. There are only two badlands because it is all that I own (I actually just bought a third one, and will play it over the mountain when it arrives.) The Strip Mine, Maze of Ith, and Library of Alexandria could have been covered in the Restricted section, just due to their raw power, but they are Lands and that is how I took pictures of them, so this is where I will talk about them.
The only real thing to highlight here is the one City of Brass and the Absence of Mishra’s Factory.
I considered making one of the remaining islands into a second City, but the pain is real and I am not looking to carve any more wounds in my flesh than I have to. I was reluctant to add the one, but having done so and played a few hundred games with it I am confident it is correct.
I took Factories out to improve the mana for casting Countermagic. I recognize that they are one of the best cards in the format, but it does not mean they go in every deck. They just do not have a home here. If I was going to play them, I would either have to cut the black or cut the counterspells. I have no interest in that. The Electric Head is a finely tuned machine.
A simple highlight of each inclusion will have to suffice. I change cards in and out almost every time I play, which is the nature of what sideboards should be. It is a refreshing change from the stranglehold of vintage, where often well over half of your slots are mandated by the format.
The Stone Rains were Blood Moons when I was a two color deck. I like them as a way to kill factories and strangle the resources of greedy decks. But sometimes, you just want to Rain Sulphur down on an Elephant Graveyard. This is why I was not allowed to write the script for the Lion King.
The Red Elemental Blasts are the perfect fix for mirror matches or combating all the Deck variants that float around. They are also just mean against Brother Andrew’s Merfolk Abomination, and I will never hesitate to Blast a Merfolk Assassin on principle.
The Shatters are the answer to many things, and I would not consider not having them. For a while I was also packing one shatterstorm, but I want the instant speed to be able to punish a Mishra’s Factory at the right moment.
The Control Magic are helpful solutions against Juzam and Erhnam, the scariest threats against this deck. They become much worse if your opponent is also playing white, because Disenchant sets you up to get kicked when you think you are back on your feet.
Forcefield is bad ass. Ball Lightning gets sad every time it sees a forcefield.
Gwendolyn is a recent pick up, and I am trying her out over my Disrupting Scepter. More about style than substance, I have not been unhappy when I bring her in.
Finally, The Disk. I really need to pick up a Beta version, but I often find myself flexing up to two of these. This card is a powerful weapon against many things.
And here ends another adventure in the MTG Underground. I was going to write more, but I am hungover and on my way to play legacy, and I do not want to leave this sitting so I can tack on a few hundred more meaningless words this evening. Thanks for coming along. Until Next time.