If you're just looking for a decklist, this article isn't for you.

If you're trying to find the right choice between playing four Detention Sphere and two Banishing Light, or playing no cards that Abrupt Decay can target, I'd go with six or seven, because even against decks with Abrupt Decay, these are still the best cards in your deck.

If you'd like to go on an adventure through different parts of the Magic community and grapple with moral Ambiguity, please, come along with me.


The Happy Winner

Once upon a time, in a land of donuts and Red Sox fans, a young boy was playing in a huge Limited Grand Prix. Two hundred miles away from home, the broke, jobless freshman was using his student loans to pay for his trip. Before hitting the dreaded third loss, knocking him out of contention for day two, the boy played his first match against a real life member of the Magic: The Gathering Hall of Fame. Steven O'Mahoney Schwartz was intimidating-but-friendly and bid the newcomer good luck with the rest of his weekend.

The next day,that boy played in the Sunday Standard PTQ. It wasn't his first PTQ, but it was the first time he got past a Top 8 match against Faeries. He made it to the finals, nerves and excitement shaking in his veins, finding himself sitting across from Shaheen Soorani, who asks...

"Have you played in a Pro Tour before?"

"No, you?"

"A few"

It was almost midnight, the gigantic hall, once packed with people like sardines, now echoed with the clang of collapsing tables and chairs. The finalists joked and jeered, each trying to lower the tension of the difference between the win that comes with an invite and a plane ticket and the loss that comes with a box of regrets.

The boy won, travelling home on a greyhound with a smile that lasted for months. The world was light and airy, not even a physics final could put a damper on his happiness. He had been dreaming of the Pro Tour for years, qualifying was a lifetime accomplishment in and of itself.

And it was good.


The Deck

Once upon a time, there was an average Magic player. He enjoyed playing Standard, even while preparing for a Limited Grand Prix. He had no accomplishments to his name but a fervent set of beliefs in his heart.

"Why on earth would you play Merfolk when you could just play Faeries instead? I'm playing on day two. You can play my deck in the PTQ!"

"I've been playing Merfolk all week. Besides, I don't want to play Faeries against a field full of Volcanic Fallout."

"Every creature in the Merfolk deck also dies to Volcanic Fallout..."

"Yeah, but I'm playing Harm's Way"

He went 3-3 in the Grand Prix, not affecting him particularly one way or another. He didn't expect much of himself in the big event, he had never made day two of a Grand Prix, and had never been particularly good at Limited. He did, however, have a theory that he desperately wanted to prove the validity of.

He spent all of his free time writing and rewriting the decklist in his notebook, each time with a slight variation.

DECKID=1203310

Two, three, or four Mystic Gates, he wondered. If an opening hand had only Mystic Gate(s) and Mutavault(s), it couldn't produce colored mana. Endlessly deliberating over the smallest of details, he was sure the rest of his list was exactly where he wanted it to be. The projected metagame was Faeries, Kithkin, and a variety of control decks relying on Volcanic Fallout and Firespout. He had a plan for each, down to the difference between boarding Meddling Mage in against Faeries on the play to name Bitterblossom, to having four Cryptic Command and four Sleep against the Kithkin decks to make for some very one-sided games.

He was most certain about playing against control, however. Harm's Way was the perfect answer to Volcanic Fallout, saving one or two creatures and dealing four to the opponent in the process. The Vendilion Cliques and countermagic supplemented the fish plan, and he didn't want to switch to Faeries when he knew exactly how he wanted each match up to go.

He loses the first match he plays against Faeries, and becomes despondent. Until he finds himself playing against Cruel Control again and again, seven of the nine rounds of swiss to be precise. Each Harm's Way is a blowout, and the dream becomes a reality.

In the last game of the finals, he responds to a Firespout with two copies of Harm's Way, and finds himself invited to Pro Tour: Austin. More than 80% of the PTQs that season had been won by Faeries, and he felt like he really stood out and made a difference. He checked the forums of the websites where his decklist had been posted, to see if anyone was talking about him. He got in contact with everyone he knew who was qualified to try and practice for the big event. This was the first taste of an emotion that would take the driver's seat in his life for years to come.

He went 0-4 at the Pro Tour with a homebrew.

And it was exciting.

The Friends

Once upon a time, there was a tiny little hole-in-the-wall comic book store on an island famously known for its iced tea. There was one long table inside, used for Tuesday night miniatures and Friday Night Magic. The FNM was unsanctioned, some nights there were less than eight people. This Friday, however, there were 12 fresh-faced teenagers who just wanted to play some Magic. Waiting for the last regular to show up, they perused the nearly-bare singles case. The only cards in it older than the kids looking in.

"Who would pay $20 for a land?"
"That's an Underground Sea, they only came in really old packs. Besides, Mutavault is in Standard and it goes for $20 too."
"Do I have any Mutavaults?"
"You traded the one you had to John so you could finish your Elf deck."
"Aww, dang it."

The 12 of them all sat around one bench-like table and began to draft. No one cared about their DCI Rating (the term Planeswalker Points wouldn't be uttered for years to come), and the excitement from when a Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker was opened charged through the room like a firecracker. Whoever won the draft would undoubtedly be building a Grixis deck for next week. For most of this crowd, Magic only existed in this small space one night a week.

The oldest few, however, were heading up to Boston after the friendly draft was over. Only the store owner remembered, and bid them good luck on their weekend.

Fast forward. Limited Grand Prix. Standard PTQ. Greyhound Bus. Week of classes. Thursday Night.

"Hey, want to test for the Pro Tour tomorrow night?"
"I usually go play FNM with my friends on Friday Nigh.t"
"What's more important, testing for the PT or playing FNM?"

So he didn't go play FNM at the local card shop on Friday. He didn't go the following week, or the week after either. He needed to spend his time playing Magic with those who would challenge him.

New friends were made. Other friends were lost.

And it was turbulent.


The Story of Us All

Once upon a time, in a place far, far away, and a place close, close to home, there is an introvert who gets bullied at school. A nerd meekly existing in a town of jocks. A person who wants an escape from their everyday life. They find themselves at the local card shop, playing games once or more a week with a group of people who are just as intelligent and shy and awkward as themselves.

For many of us, the local card shop has been essentially replaced by Magic Online. The game store that lives with you, by yourself but also with countless others. Far too many of us don't see it as a community, but rather a competition between ourselves and the world.

MagicOnlineRager23: "nice topdeck you lucky piece of ****, youre trash, kill yourself"
MagicOnlineRager23 has disconnected.

This isn't some anomaly of the internet, although I wish it was. Maybe telling someone to kill themselves because they beat you in a game of Magic is the extreme end of trash talk, but winning a game to see your opponent verbally assaulting you isn't uncommon.

My opponent said this to me this week, without me having typed a letter past "gl hf".

And it was deplorable.


There's a Point in Here Somewhere

"And I'm a million different people from one day to the next..." - The Verve

With this article, I was trying to illustrate the changes I went through, transitioning from someone who plays casually and locally to this faux celebrity who has played Magic in four countries and more than 50 cities.

I was that kid who had few friends at school at found solace at the local game store, playing Pokémon and then YuGiOh until finally finding Magic: The Gathering. I was the best of my small group, and years later I was the worst player tagging along on a "superteam." I was the college student who played Magic on the weekends and I was the college dropout who spent years trying to make a living off of being a professional gamer.

I was the kid who beat the established pro in the PTQ finals, and I was the veteran who lost the invite to a boy of 14 who said his parents might not let him go.

Who am I now? I'm a Magic player who has spent more than half of his life heavily invested in the Magic community. Now, I write because I want to try and help my fellow community members become better players. I write because I want to positively impact my community.

How exactly is this article helping you become a better player? This article didn't offer a (relevant) decklist, or any in-game strategy advice.

For the TL;DR:

- If you're going to play a homebrew, you should know exactly why you're playing every card in the deck, down to how many copies of each land. Mutavault is still in Standard, and the effect it has on a manabase is often understated.
- Getting to the "next level" as a Magic player sometimes means big changes. Not everyone you play Magic with has the same goals as you, being part of a group of players with similar goals is important for improvement.
- We are all part of this community, and verbally abusing someone else, negatively impacts all of us.

If one person learns to brew better; if one person calls an old friend who they haven't played with in a while; if one person gathers the courage to ask their local Pro Tour player to play a few games with them; if just one person, one time, stops typing and deletes the nerdrage they were about to spew, it'll help me reaffirm that I am not the trash that needs to be taken out.

Paying it Forward,
Nick Spagnolo