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A Fool and His Elvish Succession Are Soon Parted: Or, How Not to Win at Regionals[1]
(an old essay with new footnotes)

by Mike Alber

bonus features:
alternate ending to Barry Graham's "Bad Beat" by Blake Butler

"Owen Morris's Other Creativity Games (to date)" by Dave Madden

deleted scene from Mary Miller's "Pearl"

behind the scenes:
an "origins" essay behind his Leisure Suit Larry essay by Matt Bell

an old essay about Magic: the Gathering, with new footnotes, by Mike Alber

an essay on noodles, with recipe, by E.P. Chiew

short supplemental stories:


I know you[2]. Well, to be more precise, I've narrowed you down to one of two people: Either you were the kid at my high school who played Magic in the cafeteria everyday before class, or you were a kid like me.[3]

To be honest, gaming wasn't really my "thing." Sure, I played Risk occasionally[4] and knew where all the warp whistles were, but I just couldn't see the point in Magic. Moving cards around a table and pretending you're a magician? Didn't seem like my cup of tea[5]. Now, to be fair, there is a slight chance that my parents' preconceived notions about the game adversely affected my own. Come to think of it, it was probably all their fault I didn't get into the game until after college. You see, they were the kind who would forbid Magic on the grounds that it promoted witchcraft[6]. My stepmother continues to call the game "Black Magic," and is pretty sure that it's related to being a Wiccan... But that's for another therapy session.

The truth is that I'm in medical school and I just got into Magic a few months ago. A friend[7] forced me to learn the game (after I began taunting him upon the discovery of a box of forgotten cards in his closet). I believe the exact words I used were, "Uh, guys... I don't have enough mana to power my level 12 necromancer."[8] Adults can be so cruel.

But after sitting me down for a few hours and showing me the ropes, it turns out that Magic is one of the most engrossing, intellectual, and downright fun games I've ever played. The gameplay is great and well-designed, but what really piqued my interest was the idea that no deck is exactly the same.[9] Unfortunately, this friend could only show me the ideas behind building a deck that were popular when he bought his last booster pack (apparently, there's this cool new ability called"banding"[10]). Undaunted, I plunged myself into the shark and Tog[11] infested waters of modern Magic. I bought a couple of boosters and a pre-fab "Elvish Rage" deck and started my newest fetish for paper crack[12].

Now, I should tell you that, by nature, I am a person who tends to fixate[13]. On people, on gadgets, on whatever (which might explain the 144 cases of Crystal Pepsi[14] in my parent's garage). This natural predilection, coupled with my med school experience, has made me pretty adept at research. Magic proved to be just the outlet I could use to have some good, well-researched, witchcrafty fun while ignoring my neurobiology.[15]

So I began to scour the online resources. I looked at the official Magic site, The Sideboard, and StarCityGames... You name it, I was there reading. And do you know what I found? First, there's a heck of a lot of information that has been written about Magic. Second, you guys have a whole crazy language to discuss this game. I'm surprised you haven't set up a series of clicks and whistles to communicate more effectively. For a new player, this can be pretty daunting, if not a bit off-putting.

Take, for instance, some jargon you all take for granted: Sligh[16], chump block[17], and the suspicious-sounding Aqualube[18]. Allow me to show you what that sounds like to a new player:"bee-boo-bop-boo-beep." And another thing: What the hell is a"Kai Budde?"

Okay, okay... I know that one.

Thankfully, StarCityGames has a fantastic glossary of terms for the beginning player. Which, if this article is printed and the editor is on the ball, will probably be hyperlinked... Right about here[19]. I would recommend it to any new player who wants anything besides a casual game with his afternoon tea[20]. And to those people: Stop drinking tea. This is America, dammit!

But I digress. During this Lewis and Clarkian quest for Magic knowledge, I happened upon an article that describes the nationwide Magic tournament known as Regionals. Now normally, most self-respecting players wouldn't venture into an event like this without a few months of practice and endless amounts of playtesting. This instinct is both completely valid and completely correct. Kudos! I, on the other hand, had no such instincts. "Twenty-five dollars to get bitch-slapped by Psychatog and Wild Mongrel[21] nine times? Where do I sign up?"[22] What follows is an account of that beating, a plea for more originality, and my thoughts for next year.[23]

After reading about Regionals, I decided that my best bet would be to copy a deck idea, modify it slightly, and prepare for the worst. Had I been more confident in my deck designing abilities, I would have entered with a deck of my own construction. Unfortunately, I had a fairly limited supply of cards, and my only idea was, "Man, this Verdant Succession[24] card is pretty cool." What I had in spades, however, was Elves. So, naturally I began looking for a cool Elven deck. I had all but given up when, like a shining beacon of hope, Rob Dougherty's article appeared on StarCityGames. It was perfect: A Rock deck full of tech, combos, and elves. Even better, it used Verdant Succession! As I read it, I knew that this deck was for me. I acquired the missing cards, shiny new card protectors, and waited.

For those of you keeping score at home, note that I have left out an entire section about playtesting and tweaking. This was completely intentional, as I didn't do those things[25]. This is a problem that some of you undoubtedly face: No one to play against. Sure, you've got some friends who play, but either they don't have an interest in competitive Magic or you taught them all to play. That's not serious competition. And let me head off your idea: Magic Online is great, but if you don't have an inclination to own two sets of cards (both real and virtual) - or if you own a Mac - you're out of luck.[26]

If you want a decklist, please reference Rob's original article, as he describes the idea behind the deck my more eloquently than I ever could.


After a two hours of sitting, playing, trading, and posing, the tournament begins. I face off against Curt[28], who was sporting a classic R/G deck. I can into this match thinking, "just try to win one game." Turns out, I won both games and my day was off to a rousing start. Somehow, I was able to "go off" in both games, which led to massive bear tokens and very large, Marlon Brando-esque Husks. Very nice. The problem was, this easy victory sent my mind whirling into a "What if I make it to Nationals?!" tizzy[29] that proved disappointing later.

The second match pitted me against a kid named Ryan.  His deck was Tog, and a solid one at that. He beat me pretty soundly about the head, and I wasn't able to come close to using my deck's ability. I couldn't keep anything substantial on the board.

Let me just make an observation: leading 20-5 doesn't mean much, does it? Not when Upheaval hits the table. The second game, I even sideboarded correctly, but never could Naturalize his card-drawing goodies. I'm still kind of bitter.

The next match, me versus a kid named Jeremy, started well enough: I won, and again, it was pretty easy. He was running some kind of U/B/G mix and Wild Mongrel was his weapon of choice. In game 2, I had issues - issues that were my own fault, to be sure, but issues nonetheless. Mostly, I shouldn't have kept a hand with one land, but I got greedy and saw that Verdant Succession, Nantuko Husk, and Wirewood Herald were all in the opening draw, so I ignored my gut. I think there should be some kind of guidelines to keeping a hand. This would be number 1:"Don't be a hero. You're never going to win with one land in your hand."

To be honest, I don't know what happened in game 3. I did what I was supposed to (or so I thought), but I couldn't really get my act together. The Husk never showed, and neither did the Caller of the Claw. I made an attempt, but they were no match for the Mongrel. It made me wish for a Giant Growth.

So now I'm 1-2 with a Goblin deck staring at me.  It was being piloted by a guy I call Carrot Top because of his bright red hair and his ability to ruin a perfectly good day. But I'm not too scared. Rob seemed pretty confident in this matchup. Plus, Goblins are the baby seals of competitive Magic[30]. And I've got a club called Verdant Succession. Right?


The Goblin-toting, Carrot-Top kid plays all right, but I should have had him. Mostly, I blame the hundreds of things I did wrong - like forgetting that leaving blockers back will prevent me from dying and that he can sacrifice some cards to do those last few points of damage. Sometimes, I really question my intelligence. The lesson here is simple: You have to play your deck a bunch before you're comfortable with pacing and play selection. I wasn't so comfortable, and it showed like pantylines on stretch pants. I didn't really get bad draws in this match; I had just never played against Goblins.[31] So, despite my deck, I was able to pull defeat from the jaws of victory.

At this point, I stood at a crossroads: I could continue to lose to players whom I knew that I should beat, or I could pack up my deck and hit the road. Granted, four rounds isn't really a long time, but every match was putting me deeper and deeper into a state of rage. And every match lost was tarnishing that brand-new DCI number.[32]  On the other hand, I had paid $25 to be there. Aw, screw it. My girlfriend had pork chops made, anyways.[33]


Don't you think that the fun of gaming is proving that you're better than your friends? Me too. Half the reason I play Magic is because of that wonderful sensation. You know the magical moment: It happens just after you've taken a friend's favorite rare as spoils of victory. He's about to leave, all sullen and depressed, perhaps muttering about some combo you pulled. Mmm... That's the stuff. Anyways, isn't that feeling a little cheapened by winning with Kai Budde's[34] deck? Sure, you rack up more victories than you used to... But are you really the one that's winning? The fun of the game is making a deck that no one has seen before. The fun is when you lay down an underused sorcery or enchantment and your opponent says, "Wait. It does what?!"

Granted, I shamelessly copied Rob Dougherty's Elvish Succession for my first Regionals, but I believe I had a good reason: unlike most of you, I know jack about good deck design. Let's try to keep it creative, people.[35]

Now, I know many of you, after reading this article, will want my advice. So I want you to know that I'm happy to hear from you and I do appreciate your emails. Unfortunately, if I make a decklist for you, then I have to help everyone who writes me. And I simply don't have time for both of you.

But the good news is that if you're reading this, then my article has been published. Good for me. Now as you might know, if The Ferrett[36] judges my article to be the best for this week, I'll be receiving a $50 gift certificate from StarCityGames[37]. So, knowing that I'd probably just blow that on Thought Leeches[38] and Efreets, I had an epiphany: I could let you, dear reader, decide what I buy.

Here's what I propose should my article be judged the best: Many of you out there in internetland are far better players than I (see my account of Regionals). So I would like you all to submit a decklist for a really great deck design you've come up with (we'll stick with Standard for now). Here's the catch: You have to make sure I can buy the entire thing (or at least the most important parts) on StarCityGames for $50 or under. That means no"4x Birds of Paradise[39]" or "a bunch of Akroma, Angel of Wraths[40] to dump into the graveyard." The best deck idea I get is the one I'll buy and test out. See? We both win. Your deck gets a spiffy writeup and I'll get a cool new deck to play with. Well, at least I make out okay.  All deck ideas are welcome, but stay away from netdecking[41] (as I can look those up just as easily). Remember, above all things, I apparently have a tiny boy named Johnny trapped inside of me.[42] But you may feel free to change my mind. Submit your ideas with a brief explanation to malber@med.wayne.edu[43].

Thanks for reading, and may your mana be plentiful.[44]

[1] Wow.  Off to a bad start.  This is going to be rough.  You should note, though, that “Elvish Succession” is the particular name of this version of The Rock (a generic name for a Green/Black deck).

[2] This article first appeared on the Star City Games website, a site I frequented for the hard-hitting analysis of regional metagames and the expert opinions on proper deckbuilds.  In that way, I did know my audience. 

[3] I think the writerly term is “establishing rapport with the audience,” but this article is making me cringe already.  Not a good sign.

[4] Okay, so not so occasionally.  I was a Risk fiend.  And Axis & Allies.  And whatever board game you might imagine a guy with no shot at a girlfriend would play.

[5] One of my writing ticks early on was to use a million clichés.  Now, I wouldn’t go near that now with a ten-foot pole!

[6] This is sort of true, and an element I left out of the original essay: my mother and father, before they were divorced, were the types to disapprove of Magic.  Both were regular church-goers and listeners to Focus on the Family, but really, it never came to that.  I knew we didn’t have the money to play and the game never really appealed to me anyways.

[7] Orin.

[8] These weren’t my words.  I’m not that clever on the spot.

[9] Jeez.  If you like it so much, why don’t you marry it already? 

[10] The joke is that banding is a very old ability. No, it's not a good joke.

[11] Referring to Psychatog, a very dominant Blue creature in the metagame.

[12] Some people call it this.

[13] I’m a little surprised, to tell you the truth, that I recognized this.  I guess that’s the first step, admitting you have a problem.

[14] Crystal Pepsi jokes have always resonated with me.  I loved that stuff.  Remember the commercial for it?  “Right now, he / It's your tomorrow / Right now, / C'mon, it’s everything”

[15] I’m making jokes here, but I wouldn’t be if I recognized how serious the situation had been.  By this time, of course, I’d had my talk with Julie and I knew I was all but done with med school, but the gravity of the thing hadn’t sunk in.  I almost gave up everything I had—money, school, Julie—for a collectible card game.  That’s scary.

[16] A specific deck name.

[17] The term for blocking a big creature with a small one to protect your life total.

[18] Another deck name, albeit a suspicious-sounding one.

[19] It was.

[20] Second tea reference in this article.

[21] A 2/2 Green creature.  It gets bigger.

[22] I don’t know why I made it seem like I hadn’t practiced or playtested.  I guess because I was embarrassed at the idea that I was just not good enough to succeed at this level of Magic. 

[23] By this time, I wasn’t really thinking about playing in another Regionals.  I was having fun writing and I wanted to keep doing that.

[24] A Green enchantment, part of the basis for this The Rock build.

[25] A total lie.

[26] Thank God for that.  Imagine if I could’ve bought electronic and paper cards. 

[27] There’s too much jargon in this section for me to sort out here.  Barrel through at your own risk.

[28] I made this guy up for the article.  As I said in the essay, the guy never showed.

[29] Curt wasn’t real, but the tizzy was.

[30] I’ll give myself this: that’s a pretty funny joke.

[31] True.  There weren’t many Goblin decks at Underworld to test against.

[32] The ranking system for Magic players.

[33] The pork chops part was true, but I didn’t really stop playing at that point.  I kept going until it was clear I wasn’t going to make the prize round.  But by then, I wasn’t feeling so confident in Julie and I.  I’d make the call home not much after that.

[34] I really had a hard-on for that guy.

[35] Ah, the hypocrisy.  You can see what I was going for here, though: I didn’t want to come off as an expert and thereby open myself up to attack from the real experts that perused the site.

[36] This is/was the nickname of the StarCityGames editor.  Don’t you think “The Weasel” would be a cooler name?  Ferrets smell.  Bad.  My brother Robert once had close to 50 of them.  I wouldn’t spend more than an hour at his house.

[37] I wanted this bad.  Free cards, are you kidding me?

[38] Turns out: no such card.  The original article linked to it, but it opened a blank page.  That some editing, The Ferrett.

[39] 0/1 Green creatures that makes mana(!).  They cost about $12 apiece at the time.

[40] Biggest, baddest creature at the time. 

[41] Like it sounds: copying a professional's deck from the Internet, card for card.

[42] This... will need some explaining. The prevailing thought is that every Magic player has their own temperament, and that these temperaments will fit into one of three major categories. These categories are labeled with children's names for some reason. Johnny is player who likes tricks and smart play and deck building. Timmy, the simplest type, just enjoys the game. He likes big creatures and walloping your head. Spike is the professional player, the kind of person who really cares about their win-loss record.

[43] I made sure to include my med school email so, you know, I’d look like a bigshot.

[44] “May your mana be plentiful”?!

"Picture I Stole from My Lover" by Stefan Kiesbye

"Adam, Jacob, John, Paul" (with baseball card) by Jennifer Pieroni

"Crossing Borders" by Grant Perry

short interviews with the cover artists:
Ryan Molloy

Steven Seighman

David Kramer

more bonus features:
a short story by Fart Party comic artist Julia Wertz

Gene Morgan and Matthew Simmons Discuss Dino Run

Gene Morgan and Matthew Simmons Discuss Ninja Hunter

Gene Morgan and Matthew Simmons Discuss Rose & Camellia