Recurring Nightmares – Year One

A lot can happen in a year.

Just over a year ago, I was sitting at work browsing the web, when I read an article by Bennie Smith (title: EDH Miscellany) that nearly outright called me a Dbag. As a player who, at the time, was battling with EDH more often than any other constructed format, and whose primary deck was exploiting the broken [card]Tolarian Academy[/card] and artifact mana, I took his comments on EDH douchebaggery rather personally. As a vocal proponent of the more competitive brand of EDH, this was the final straw for me in a bundle of articles and forum conversations that made it patently obvious that my interests in the format (and as such, Magic in general) were not being looked out for. The people writing about EDH didn’t think the same way about the format as I did, and the people with a similar approach to mine weren’t writing. I felt that my former experience as a writer for Star City gave me an avenue to do something about this lack of representation, so I got in touch with the few contacts I still had in the area and began my quest for publication after about eighteen months hiatus.

Unfortunately, my attempt at a triumphant return to writing glory was tainted by anger. Once I had received the ok for a one-off article on SCG, I got down to business, writing a clearly nerd-rage induced piece on the mishandling of my favorite casual format. An excerpt from that unpublished piece:

“You’re a douchebag.

Hell of a way to start a relationship, no? We’re three words into the article, and you’re already on the defensive. You (probably) don’t know me, and I’m even less likely to know you, but simply by writing that first sentence addressing you in derogatory and familiar language, we’re at odds from the first step.”

I’d say that’s a pretty solid way to ostracize any future readers, and I’m glad the article never saw print. In hindsight, between that article being kinda rejected,* as well as another article or two which came later, I’ve learned that writing in the grips of powerful emotion is a double edged sword. It makes for easy content, but the result usually reflects the effort – or lack thereof.

* Kinda rejected, in the sense that it was never published and I never heard from their editor again – although to be fair, he only had a job for about two weeks after that.

Since I had lost touch with anyone I still knew from Star City, but had a writing itch to scratch, I messaged another one of my colleagues, Max McCall, who got me into contact with CF’s editor Zaiem Beg. At the time, CF was not the paragon of Magical strategy that it is today, but was an up-and-coming site featuring writers who were the top of the food chain in terms of professional play. I felt that their lack of Legacy content (my forte in times of yore) along with my Spike-leaning views on EDH would make me a good fit for their writing crew. After sending them a resume which basically consisted of links to my previous work, I got the gig and prepared my first piece – which was, in the worst form imaginable, an introduction article – current record: 0-2. Fortunately for me, there was a site redesign about a week after that article went live, and much of the published work prior to the relaunch was lost to a disastrous server malfunction.

At that point, Zaiem’s spam filter began to block my emails, and it was around a month before we recognized the issue. He fixed the glitch and the articles started flowing once more. It’s at that point that my archives on the site begin.

During the past year, I’ve developed quite a bit (I hope) as a writer. I’ve now written more articles for Channel Fireball than I have for all the other sites I’ve been published on combined, and with much more regularity, as well. In the process, I’ve recognized some of the weaknesses in my abilities, and fallen into some of the traps that plague our profession – hopefully learning from those mistakes. I believe I’ve found my niche as a Magic writer, and with the helpful encouragement of my loyal readers, I’m undertaking one of the more ambitious projects I’ve attempted within this field (and don’t worry, the next history article should be coming next week!).

I’m humbled and honored to be considered anything more than another face in the crowd by those who enjoy my work, and I’m beyond proud to be wearing the same uniform as the best players in the world – especially considering the fact that I’m nowhere near the level of ability within the game as they are.

Sometimes, the chips just fall into place, and good things happen despite all the obstacles. I feel like I struck a combination of right place, right time, and right content (along with an excellent decision to stop shaving a year prior – gotta develop that brand) that allowed me to find some amount of success in my writing career.

I’m not gonna lie, it’s also pretty cool to see my Google page filled up with my own work, rather than being confused for a misspelled Pop singer/dancer. He seems like a pretty nice guy though, and we appear to be the closest either of us gets to name doppelgangers.

I still think I have a long way to go, as both a writer and a player. I’ve proven again and again that self-critique is not one of my weaknesses – in fact, the truth may be that I’m too critical of my work – but I am learning what works and what doesn’t. I’ll probably never be as funny as Ffej or LSV, nor will I be as mixed-media and analytical as Alex Shearer, but none of them can tell you what Legacy innovation was deemed “The Herbig Project,” either. We write what we know. In terms of play, I’ve seen a reasonable amount of success this year, which gives me the confidence in my game to think that I can have even more as the calendar year continues to roll on. I can say with utmost sincerity that there has been room for improvement in each and every major event that I’ve attended in 2011, and the next step is of course to recognize the mistakes before they’re made, rather than in retrospect. My goal is, as it has been since first putting the virtual pen to paper last year, to improve my play and find the same success within the game that I’ve now found around it.

In a more macro perspective, a lot has changed in Magic over the past year – and with Legacy particularly. While my initial intent for my article series was to discuss a diverse range of topics, with a focus on Legacy only when the format experienced something of note, I rapidly discovered that the increasing attention to Legacy due to the takeoff of events and coverage over the course of the year made me change the plan to Legacy articles, smattering in a few casual topics when there was a lull in action – something much less frequent than the format has previously experienced. I’m not complaining – I write Legacy articles because I love the format, and having an embarrassment of content to cover is something we’ve wanted for years and years.

When I got my first real break as a Magic writer, it was as a part of the “Unlocking Legacy” series on Star City. This was a few years back, and despite a wealth of writers interested in discussing Legacy, Star City could only afford a single slot in their lineup for the niche format. Choosing to either split it up or abandon it altogether, four writers (Dan Spero, Doug Linn, Chris Coppola, and Kevin Binswanger) decided to rotate between themselves over the course of a month to get something about the format out there. Eventually, Dan decided to step down, and suggested me as a replacement for him on the team. Without that endorsement, I think it’s safe to say that I wouldn’t be writing for you guys today, so as always, thanks to Dan.

I think back to those days, when even one article a month was sometimes tough for me to handle, and compare it to today – when I personally write once a week, but every single day contains some kind of Legacy content from a writer here or elsewhere – and can’t believe we’ve come this far this fast. We’ve experienced growing pains, of course, but how can we be disappointed with those when Legacy has blossomed into the format that even some pro players call “the best format in Magic?”

We’ve witnessed some of the most degenerate Legacy in the format’s history, and we’ve enjoyed some of the most balanced. We’ve seen overpowered threats, and we’ve wandered our way into a time where the metagame is being dominated by some of the most overpowered answers. As someone whose mental image of the progression of the meta is at a slow, clunky pace, the rate of development within the past year has been a break-neck speed. With major events nearly every week, and some of the best minds in the game attacking the format with real incentives to succeed, the flux between one weekend and the next is greater than anything we’ve seen in years.

Despite all the attention Legacy is garnering, and all the big names playing more and more of it, I still see names like Alix and Jesse Hatfield, Eli Kassis, Ken Adams, Bryant Cook, Drew Levin, Dave Price – guys who have been playing Legacy for years and years – making a name for themselves by doing what they’ve been doing for a long time: being successful in a format they love.

I’ve said it before, but I feel like a proud parent who’s watching their child finally come into their own.

Meanwhile, the price of all of these cards I’ve had for years has gone through the roof.

If you haven’t noticed, the rising cost of Legacy is a topic which I’ve intentionally avoided addressing in my column. I’ve been asked a few times to speak to it, but I feel like I’m not in any kind of position to do so. The fact of the matter is I’ve been gaining leaps and bounds by the progression of prices of Legacy staples – as have many of the people I play with on a regular basis. We bought into the format well before the prices spiked, and although we may have needed a few cards here and there to complete our Legacy staple collection, none of us were forced to spend hundreds and hundreds of dollars on dual lands to compete. I feel like it would have been lip service and hypocritical of me to say “dang, the price of all these [card]Force of Will[/card]s sure is inhibiting” when I got the set of German Forces I’m using today at 18 dollars each – over 5 years ago. This probably triggers your “sick brags, brah” response, and for that I apologize. I’m merely trying to point out that while I sympathize with those of you working hard to complete sets of Tundras so you can use your [card]Jace, the Mind Sculptor[/card]s and [card]Stoneforge Mystic[/card]s again, I certainly don’t empathize – which is why I’ve avoided the subject.

Speaking of banned cards, in the past year, two cards have been banned on power level considerations. Two. On separate dates. Compared with the one card that has been banned in the six years prior to [card]Mystical Tutor[/card]’s axing, it suggests that either the format has become much more broken, or the attention gained by being propelled into the limelight has given more players incentive to try to break the cards that are borderline. Probably a bit of both, really.

The breakout of Reanimator was a time in Legacy where I wasn’t very happy with the state of the format, and didn’t want to play any of the decks that were available – although I did get to brew up a sweet MossNought deck. With [card]Mystical Tutor[/card] around, the consistency and power of Reanimator was beyond that of really any other deck, and I found myself losing interest in playing against it over and over again. Turn 3 [card]Iona, Shield of Emeria[/card] was simply not in the realm of things I wanted to face over the course of multiple rounds, and my options as a blue mage were limited – which would be fine, if the best deck wasn’t also a blue deck. I suppose I could have build Reanimator myself, but it wasn’t (and still isn’t) the kind of deck I enjoy playing. I’m not really certain why, come to think of it. It seems like exactly the type of deck I’d be drooling over – blue black combo with a “lock” finish – but maybe my experience in Legacy is working against me here, because I’ve played against so many terrible Reanimator builds pre-Iona and pre-[card]Entomb[/card]. Either way, when Mystical was banned, I breathed a sigh of relief, and moved on with my life. I’ll say this, though – the one good thing Reanimator did for Legacy was force more people playing control to jam [card]Jace, the Mind Sculptor[/card] into their decks, which was probably correct anyway. Having both a blue and white answer to Iona made you actually force the opponent to guess right on which color answer you happen to have.

I made an error in judgment during this era. Once the Eldrazi were introduced in ROE, I was certain that [card]Show and Tell[/card] would be banned by the end of 2010. We’re getting pretty close to the “at risk” point for that card again, but it turns out it wasn’t the Eldrazi that would push the power level of S&T.

Once Mystical was banned, another deck showed up to break the format all over again. Contrary to my experience with Reanimator format, the period when [card]Survival of the Fittest[/card] and [card]Vengevine[/card] were legal together was some of the most fun I’ve had playing Legacy in a long time – and just so we’re clear, that’s usually not a good thing. I really loved playing [card]Flash[/card], too – between that and my panache for overpowered “Spikey” Commander decks, maybe I’m just a vintage player in sheep’s clothing (which again begs the question of why in gods name I hated Reanimator). It’s still kind of absurd to me that there were people who thought banning Vengevine was the solution to the problem, and outright laughable that people were advocating [card]Basking Rootwalla[/card] as the card to ban. My personal favorite build was the Gbw version with [card]Necrotic Ooze[/card] – getting to choose between the aggro, control, or combo role just felt great. Honestly, any format where [card]Quirion Ranger[/card] sees a high level of tier one play is a format I will enjoy.

A Truncated Timeline of Legacy, by Adam Barnello:

1994-2004 – The format that time forgot
2004-2005 – The Dark Ages
2005-2007 – The Silver Age
2007* – The Flash Debacle
2007-2008 – The Reign of Tarmogoyf
2008 – 2009 – The Merfolk Era
2009 – 2010 – Age of the Open
2010* – Reanimator May (ReaniMaytor?)
2010* – Fall of the Fittest
2010 – 2011 – The Golden Age
2011 – Present – The Misstep Era

Once we were clear of both [card]Mystical Tutor[/card] (which may or may not have been correct to ban in the first place, but definitely contributed to the justification of banning Survival) and [card]Survival of the Fittest[/card], we experienced one of the most interesting, open, and enjoyable periods of Legacy – possibly the actual best time of the format. The months between December of 2010 and the release of New Phyrexia were fantastic. Of course, nothing gold can stay, and [card]Mental Misstep[/card] arrived to bring it all down around our heads – single-handedly invalidating entire strategies, but opening the door for new and exciting decks like Caw Blade and Hive Mind to become dominant. In case you couldn’t sense the sarcasm in that sentence, I’m pointing it out to you. It’s sarcasm. Hive Mind isn’t exciting and Caw Blade isn’t new.

All said, I think it’s been a fantastic year, both personally and Magically. It’s easy for us all to complain about the state of things when we’re stuck in the middle of them – easy to say “Survival is overpowered and format-warping, it needs to be banned.” At the same time, nearly every time this kind of thing happens, I find myself appreciating the fact that I got to experience it, rather than looking back on it as a waste of time. I didn’t get to experience any of the broken absurdities of Urza block, for example, and I regret that much more than getting to play Ooze Survival for a few months. Let’s all agree to try and maintain that kind of perspective going forward, ok? I’m game if you are.

Until next time, thank you all for sticking with me over the course of the past year. It’s been a blast to write for you, and to meet you all as you introduce yourselves to me at events. Please remember that as much as I write for myself, it’s really to try and impart my knowledge and experience to you, and anything you gain from reading it is a measure of my success as a writer. See you next week with another history lesson, and remember – keep your stick on the ice!


27 thoughts on “Recurring Nightmares – Year One”

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  2. As a reader of your articles id like to thank you for writing them. They are always interesting and fun to read keep up the good work.

  3. Love your articles. I think you’re too harsh on Hive Mind and Caw Blade (Hive Mind didn’t top 8 at the last Open or at Legacy Champs), but you’re one of my favorite Magic writers.

  4. Hey Adam,

    I just want to drop you a quick note to say I always enjoy reading your articles. Even when you write about something not related to magic strategy, it is still enjoyable, just like this piece.

    Thanks for the writing and keep on truckin’!

  5. I think the Herbig Project was the top secret project to clone Mike Herbig. It was a smashing success.

  6. I read your articles covering the history of the Legacy and thought they very well written and interesting. I don’t even play Legacy but any Magic player would be doing themselves a favor by checking them out. Keep up the good work.

  7. The article I remember most from the past year is the one where you analysed the role MTG playsin your life by going through your week day by day. That showed me that, although you know a lot about one subject, you’re not afraid to write about other stuff once in a while. That’s what keeps me coming back to your pieces. Carry on, here’s to year two!

  8. I have never played legacy and the own essentially no legacy cards, however, I read your articles every week. They are intelligent, entertaining, and informative, even if the info is not something I can take direct advantage of. Keep up the good work.

  9. This is the number one column across the boards week in and week out. Thanks Adam, and keep up the good work!

  10. Just wanted to say I enjoy your articles the most on this site and really appreciate the effort that is so obviously apparent in them. You humanize articles in a way few writers do, and that is what keeps me coming back.

    Thanks again.

  11. I wasn’t a big fan of you on SCG, especially your posts in the forums 😉

    But since you’ve come here, and begun consistently writing legacy articles, you’ve become one of my favorite writers. So, thanks. The respect you have for the format really shows, and I think puts you in a unique mindset among the writers I’ve seen, and makes me appreciate your articles even more.

  12. Oddly I thought that Mystical/Entomb was the golden age and much prefer Misstep era to the one before. I like it when the format is blue or gtfo. Moar Free counters!! You can all thank Tom Lapille for that number, I know i did.

  13. i really don’t play legacy at all, but i like to follow it, and having you consistently offer great content to go over the history or analyze current developments in the context of all the format has been for the past 15 years has been fantastic. thanks for a good year, and keep it up.

  14. You should write an article about the most powerful non-banned cards currently allowed in Commander, and how best to take advantage of them.

    Competitive commander is a thing, whether Sheldon Menory and the RC want it or not. While I don’t condone crushing people running their “super fun” Phage, the Untouchable EDH deck with a highly tuned Sharuum build, there are those of us to see what the format could shape into if people really out to break it five ways to Sunday.

  15. Pingback: All Suns’ Dawn – Quick Reactions to the September B&R Update | Mana Deprived

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