People play Magic for many different reasons. For some it's the unique strategic challenge of solving metagames and board states. For others it's something fun to do with friends on the weekend or during lunchtime. I wrote a whole article on the many reasons why people play Magic.
One important reason I play Magic is to express myself. I come to know myself through my deck building, article writing, playing in tournaments, etc. I then share a part of myself with the rest of the world in a way that others can relate to and benefit from. In short, Magic is a way for me to create something unique and to share it with the world. That's a big reason why Magic has played such an important role in my life and why I continue to be enthralled by it with the same level of excitement I had when I opened my first starter deck of Ice Age twenty years ago.
I am who I am. I cannot be otherwise. Neither can you, nor can anyone. We all are who we are. We can grow, learn, explore, create, and come to know more about ourselves through experience, but we are always who we are. Those who know me know I tend to wear my heart on my sleeve. I stand for the things I believe in and I don't try to pretend I am someone other than who I am.
I take great joy in building my own decks. I always have. As much as I love playing Magic, I love building, revising, testing, and fine-tuning my deck in preparation for the next tournament just as much. Over time I have developed my own style, a style so unique that anyone can almost tell just by looking at a deck list that I had a hand in its creation. I'm often derided for always playing "White Weenie" decks, but that's my craft and I embrace it. How many others can say they know themselves and embrace who they are the way I do?
If I ever stop having fun playing Magic, I will stop playing. Part of what makes Magic enjoyable for me is that it's always changing. The metagame shifted? A new deck won? I see this as a challenge. The Eldrazi are so good that anyone would be foolish not to play them? Some players respond by complaining, calling for Wizards to ban the best deck. Others play the best deck in tournaments until the ban happens. Would following this course of action increase my win rate? Perhaps, but it would come at a cost. It would mean I threw in the towel. It would mean I could not build a deck capable of competing in the tournament. To many players this is a small concession, but to me it takes away a big part of why I play Magic. I sometimes play the "best" deck, but even when I do well with it, it's less satisfying than when I win with a deck no one else is playing.
The prospect of playing Eldrazi at GP Detroit was not especially appealing to me, even though it's an interactive aggressive deck well within my wheelhouse. I almost skipped Detroit last weekend like I did Grand Prix Houston the weekend before, but then my friend Justin Heilig messaged me and said he found a ride and would be attending GP Detroit. Justin likes playing the same style of decks I do, so I decided to book a flight to Detroit and spend the week testing with him online. Together we could figure out a way to beat the Eldrazi! We sent out a bat signal and found a few U/W Eldrazi opponents. We played together via Skype and watched our replays to figure out ways to improve the deck. By the time we got to our finished product, we were smashing Eldrazi left and right and felt ready to showcase our creation to the world!
This is the deck I played to a 10-5 finish at Grand Prix Detroit:
The deck is based around stacking triggers. It uses Oath of Nissa to find creatures, then AEther Vial to play those creatures for free at instant speed to generate various synergistic abilities. For instance, with Fiend Hunter, you stack the trigger and flash Flickerwisp or Restoration Angel onto the battlefield, blink the Fiend Hunter, and get to exile two creatures with one Fiend Hunter. You can also use Flickerwisp or Kor Skyfisher to get another use out of Oath of Nissa. You can blink Thragtusk to gain extra life and make beasts or you can Evolutionary Leap into an endless flow of two-for-ones. The deck is super fun and Justin and I got it to a point where it is competitive, even in a world dominated by Eldrazi.
Before the tournament started I did a deck tech with Marshall Sutcliffe:
I also played a match on Magic Online with Brian David-Marshall that gets interrupted a couple times by feature matches but can be seen in its entirety starting here:
The match starts at 4:46, then picks back up at 5:44. It gets interrupted again but picks back up at 7:17.
The deck tech explains the deck pretty well and the Magic Online match showcases a lot of what the deck is capable of.
I enjoy showing off my creations because a large part of who I am involves sharing my work with others. I put a lot of work into creating a fun and competitive deck unlike any other deck in the format and I had a blast playing with it in the tournament. I want to share the deck with everyone else so that others can build it and likewise enjoy the new deck.
As fate would have it, despite Justin and I being the only two players in the 2,000+ person tournament playing our deck, we still managed to run into the mirror match in round 13. Justin won the first game on the back of a turn one AEther Vial backed by Evolutionary Leap and a steady stream of creatures. I won the second game by casting Fiend Hunters on each of his Noble Hierarchs and keeping him low on mana while I pressured him with my creatures. Game three was a slugfest that went long. I think we both had Evolutionary Leap going and were flickering Thragtusks to stay well out of range of an opposing alpha strike. That's when time was called in the round. Given that our X-4 records meant that we were already out of contention for cash prizes and Justin's ride wanted to leave, he graciously conceded the match and let me play on for that extra pro point (which I got!). Long story short, no matter how unique your deck is, there's always a chance you end up in the mirror match.
After the tournament I met up with David Green who shared his G/W Hatebears deck with me. He finished 11-4 in the tournament, going 5-0 against Eldrazi decks. His plan was to play five creature-lands (four Stirring Wildwood, a Treetop Village) and to board into two Dismember and two Valorous Stance against Eldrazi. He said this was enough to beat them in sideboarded games. I awarded him the "anti-Eldrazi" award for his efforts. While we had each of our decks laid out on the table, I told him to snap a photo of his deck and tweet it at me so all my followers could see how he made Hatebears beat Eldrazi:
@Nacatls4Life It was a pleasure talking to you! Thanks for taking time to talk, here's my list (5-0 against eldrazi) pic.twitter.com/xDeL86t29K— David Green (@David_JGreen) March 7, 2016
While traveling home from the tournament Justin and I messaged each other about possible directions to go with the deck. This is the first direction we are going to explore:
I played against a pair of Goryo's Vengeance decks and that matchup was tough without Scavenging Ooze, so I wanted to add those to the sideboard. I also wanted a better plan against Bogles despite beating it the one time I faced it in the tournament, so I added Worship as a catch-all sideboard plan against various decks (Eldrazi, Burn, Bogle, etc). I also wanted to switch Kataki, War's Wage back to Stony Silence to make us better against Tron and Lantern Control.
Runed Halo and Kor Skyfisher were fine cards, but I really wanted to fit in Eternal Witness and a fourth Oath of Nissa and those were the places that made the most sense to cut. I also wanted to add Ghost Quarters to the deck to give us added protection against Inkmoth Nexus and to keep opponents from assembling UrzaTron. I like the feel of this version of the deck a lot. It really has a "go off" feeling when it starts chaining Eternal Witness into Flickerwisp and Restoration Angel.
This is the other direction we are considering, adding black for a couple of key cards:
Other cards to consider:
The main reason for adding black is Shriekmaw. It works exceptionally well in this deck with all the blink effects. We can evoke Shriekmaw for two mana and then flash Flickerwisp onto the battlefield via AEther Vial to blink the Shriekmaw with its evoke trigger on the stack. Shriekmaw still kills the creature but then comes back on our end step killing another creature and permanently sticking around as a 3/2 creature with evasion. We can also blink it with Restoration Angel. The only reason we aren't running the full 4 copies in the main deck is because it can only kill non-artifact creatures, which makes it a blank against Affinity.
The other card we want access to is Lingering Souls. It gives us extra protection against smaller creatures, especially those that fly such as Eldrazi Skyspawner, Inkmoth Nexus, and other Lingering Souls Spirit Tokens. It also works great with Evolutionary Leap, providing endless fodder for the enchantment to find us all the creatures we could possibly desire.
As I watched the Magic Online match on Twitch, I couldn't help but notice the chat replay alongside the video. Instead of crediting me for playing something unique rather than another Eldrazi deck, the chat was full of derogatory comments about both me and my deck. The match was against Living End, a matchup I'd never played with this deck, but on the fly I figured out a way to use Evolutionary Leap and a ton of trigger effects to out-graveyard our opponent and defeat them with my Green/White creature deck, even after they resolved multiple Living Ends each game. I beat a competitive tier deck without any graveyard hate simply by doing what my deck was built to do. And instead of appreciating that, the chat commentary kept saying my deck is bad and mocking me for my physical appearance. This was a little disheartening and prompted me to make the following tweet:
I read the Twitch comments. PSA don't ever read the Twitch comments.— Craig Wescoe (@Nacatls4Life) March 8, 2016
As I said in the beginning, I've always been one to wear my heart on my sleeve. I don't hide who I am. The consequence of this approach to life is that I leave myself vulnerable to criticism. Over the years I've developed a thick skin and can take jokes and even mockery in stride, but I still find it disheartening that mob mentality tends to follow the lead of the first stone-thrower. There were a few comments acknowledging what my deck is capable of and appreciating that a good, highly interactive game of Magic was just played, but these comments were mostly drowned out by Middle School-level comments comparing me to Caitlyn Jenner for having long hair or calling my deck an unplayable joke simply because it's different.
I wasn't going to mention any of this and was just going to talk about the deck Justin and I built for Grand Prix Detroit, but I felt this was worth addressing because I believe it is toxic and I've heard countless people tell me how they've been driven away from Magic or from playing in tournaments because of these types of comments and the mob mentality that latches onto such comments. The crux of the matter, as I see it, is a fear of being different.
Everyone is unique. Magic tends to attract unique personalities. Many of us express ourselves through Magic. We build a deck as an extension of ourselves, whether it's for a competitive tournament, a friendly Commander circle, or simply to goldfish against ourselves. Even if we got the idea from someone else, it becomes our own when we play it. Every idea comes from somewhere. It becomes our own when we find it and make those handful of changes to personalize it. We add our own signature style to someone else's work or we build up our own creation from scratch. Either way, the deck we play tells a story about ourselves. Being different should be embraced and encouraged.
I will never shy away from who I am. I may not be the best player in the world, and part of being who I am may cost me some amount of EV in a tournament, but that is a small price to pay in the grand scheme of things.
A person can only lead by example. I encourage you to embrace your own individuality and to inspire others to do likewise. If you don't want to play Eldrazi, then don't. Play whatever you want to play. Don't feel trapped into living up to the expectations others place on you. Listen to your own inner guidance. Be authentic. No one knows your potential the way you do. If you want to play slivers, play slivers. If you want to play Polymorph, play Polymorph. If you want to play Eldrazi, play Eldrazi. If you want to play White Weenie in all formats, then show the world that you can compete with the very best in the game without compromising who you are.