According to my best estimation, it’s been approximately 568 days since the last time I shuffled up to play paper Magic. The paper Magic drought came to an end last night, as I participated in my first physical Magic draft for what has seemed like an eternity.
This week, my planeswalker path brought me back to one of my favorite places on the plane of Earth: northern Michigan. Unfortunately, the reason for my return was to complete the sad task of laying my grandmother to rest in the upper peninsula. She passed away in December and because of travel restrictions and safety concerns, last weekend was the first time my family could come together to give her ashes a proper burial.
558 days without paper Magic.
Seven months to lay Grandma Evie to rest.
My fully vaccinated wife couldn’t even cross the border to come to the funeral with me.
What an absolute dumpster fire of a year-and-a-half.
I wish I could be more precise with my dates, but my lifetime of tournament memories, accomplishments and history as DCI player #29050717 no longer exists. For the first time in my life, when I walked up to the counter to sign up, I wasn’t asked for my “name and DCI.”
RIP Grandma Evie.
Instead, I was prompted to download the MTG Companion App, linked to my MTG Arena account that I no longer play, and asked multiple times if I wanted to share my location, data and receive notifications and newsletters. It’s good to know 20-plus years of Duelist Convocation International history was traded in for a good cause: a spambot on my phone plugging a version of online Magic I don’t even play.
While the MTG Companion App is not required to play paper Magic events (LGS can enroll a player as a guest) it’s my understanding that a store’s allotment of promo material is dependent upon the number of different Arena accounts that register through MTG Companion (and not guests). So, opting out of downloading the app and playing as a “guest” leads to the LGS potentially receiving less promos than if players use the app to log in.
Aside from the hiccup of learning what I’d traded my DCI number in for, the rest of the evening was more fun than I had anticipated. Despite the fact that I’ve been coming to Alpena, MI every summer since 1990, this was the first time I’ve ever played a tournament “up north.” I used to buy Revised Booster packs from the now-defunct Rupp’s Sports Cards on 2nd Street as a kid, but never played in an Alpena event.
Alpena is the second largest city in northern Michigan and has a population of about 10,000. It’s home to the famous “Brown Trout Festival,” Austin Brothers Brewery and the severely underrated 1960’s rock group, The Frost. If you use your right hand as a map of Michigan, Alpena is located right at the tip of the index finger on Lake Huron.
While I’ve never played in Alpena before, I did get my butt kicked by a player from Alpena at Grand Prix Detroit about five years ago! So, while I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to find a game or not, I did know there are skilled players from the area. I made a post in the Alpena MTG Facebook Group looking for a draft and Dakota, the owner of Collective Effort Games put out the bat signal for a draft night.
I walked in not knowing what to expect. The store was nice and clean (including the bathroom which is a must for a LGS). There was a D&D campaign going on in the back room and a couple of Magic players sitting at the tables chatting. God, how I’ve missed this! Despite not ever having met any of the people at the store before, everyone was incredibly nice and welcoming. I could tell it was going to be a fun evening.
It was definitely nice to have a night off from hanging out with my parents at their cabin where I could go off and do something by myself. I really value that within a community there are places like an LGS where people can go, relax, hang out, enjoy games and stay out of trouble. To me, that is a big part of what I’ve been missing most from Magic in the past 568 days: human interaction.
One of the players had never done a paper draft before. It was pretty cool to see somebody experience that for the first time. As far as inexperienced drafters go… I felt like the newbie at the table: “So… uh… what’s a Dungeon do…?”
I swore off digital Magic after another Modern Horizons set pulverized my favorite constructed format, Pauper. I’m done spending money on digital cards to play broken formats only to have them banned a month later. I tried to like online Magic. I even got decent at playing on the interfaces, but I don’t find it a very enjoyable experience. Boomers like me can voice concerns and objections to change that we see as bad for our cardboard-centric preference of play in our content and social media, but in the end, the only thing big companies listen to is dollars. I’ll spend my dollars at the LGS that provide players a safe, clean space to game or with reputable online vendors who actually support player driven content that I enjoy reading.
So anyway, it was my first time playing with Forgotten Realms cards. I knew a handful of the cards because I had added them to my Danger Room stack. Since I quickly identified the “venture into the Dungeon” mechanic didn’t work in my stack and I’m done playing online, I pretty much glossed over anything that involved Dungeons.
I can hear Julia Roberts: “Big mistake. Huge.” It turns out the venture into the Dungeon mechanic is quite important to the Limited format. Despite some pretty major gaps in my format knowledge, I ended up with a nice UW Skies deck with a Dragon synergy theme.
I was pretty stoked to pick up the Monster Manual-style Mind Flayer. Not just because it’s a straight bomb but also because I wanted one for my Battle Box stack.
I was also pretty blown away to see how good these alternate frame cards looked in person. Every time I saw one in a pack, I’d do mental gymnastics trying to find a way to justify picking it – “UW can splash Owlbear, right?” They look a lot cooler in person than I thought they would.
I ended up winning my first two matches and making it to the finals of the draft.
My finals opponent had a very good Abzan deck and made pretty quick work of me with an early Triumphant Adventurer (which lined up very well against my high toughness blockers). He was completing Dungeons faster than Core Civic and Geo Group build new private prisons.
I enjoyed the draft format and look forward to running it back soon. Ontario is a little bit behind Michigan in terms of businesses opening back up, but the LGS in my neighborhood will be able to host open play in the not-too-distant future. The “venture into the Dungeon” mechanic was incomprehensibly tedious to understand on the first playthrough (since there are three unique dungeons, each of which have a completely different arrangement of roomed payoffs), but after a first playthrough and seeing how it works, I’m pretty stoked to give it another go-round now that I have a better sense of how to utilize them. It’s typically a sign of a good Limited format when I’m looking forward to playing it again. I’d draft it again just to get more of the Dungeon Manuel alternate cards for my Battle Box.
I’m one of those players who can tell you intricate details from matches I played 15 years ago, but there are very few games I’ve played online during Covid-19 that are memorable to me beyond teaching my wife to play Battle Box. I’ll remember my draft night in Alpena.
If today’s article felt a little emotionally charged, I agree, it was. Yesterday was the first time in a long time that I’ve felt strongly about Magic one way or the other in 568 days because it’s the first time I feel I’ve actually gotten to play Magic since the pandemic began.
I felt angry that my DCI number and history is gone and replaced with an Arena app.
I felt welcome and accepted at a LGS with a new group of players I had never met before.
I felt relief that I could still shuffle up and find enjoyment in a game that has been such a big part of my life for so long – despite how much it has fundamentally changed over the past two years.
I felt actual joy playing games of Magic for the first time in 568 days.
I want to thank Dakota for setting up the game night at his lovely store and all the players who came out to draft. I had an absolute blast. I always have a great time when I visit Alpena.