Confessions of a Casual Perfectionist: Day 18

nablo1109.120x90It’s NaBloPoMo Day 18!

Today’s confession: I used to be a wizard, and I had a dragon as a pet.

Okay, okay. It wasn’t just one dragon, it was two. One was tiny and the other quite large, and both were very dangerous if you didn’t know how to control them. Okay, fine. They weren’t really pets, so much as they were my minions. Okay, okay, fine.  Once a wizard, always a wizard.

Wait. What? Yes, it’s true. In a former life, I may or may not have been a wee bit obsessed with a tiny little card game called Magic: The Gathering.

“Obsessed” has such a negative connotation. I mean, it wasn’t just a card game. It was a way of life. It’s woven into the very fiber of my being.

See? I wasn’t obsessed at all!  *cough*

How did this all begin? The year was 1994, and I was smack-dab in the middle of my college career. One of the guys I worked with at my summer/college-break job was really into a little game called Magic: The Gathering, by Wizards of the Coast. He’d talk about how he’d stay up ‘til 4 in the morning playing this game, and I just didn’t understand how that was possible. I mean, a card game? Really? Can keep your attention that long? Really? Then, one night, during college break, after our shift, he asked me to join them.

It was like nothing I’d ever seen before, and I was hooked. Because I’d never played before and didn’t have my own cards, I played with a borrowed deck. I caught on very quickly, and I can’t even describe to you how much fun it was. I had a group of friends back at college that would totally love this game, so the day I got back to campus from break, I told them about it. They seemed intrigued. The four of us walked to the local grocery store that just happened to have a machine that sold gaming cards.

Our future was set into motion with every chu-chink of the coins that disappeared into the slot.Cover MtG book

From there, we studied the game. We played every day. We built our decks from the cards at the grocery store, or we even made special trips to the “real” gaming store. There was a whole new world, and it was incredible. There were people who paid real money for single cards. (We were poor college students, so we were very careful with our money, but every now and then we’d splurge.)  There were tournaments. There were whole clubs devoted to this.

We created our own circle and immersed ourselves in the game. There are five “colors,” in the game, and they all focus on different powers:

  • Red – Red power feeds on the vast energy boiling deep in the heart of the mountains.
  • White – White power draws its vitality from the untouched open plains.
  • Blue – Blue power flows from the islands and thrives on mental energy.
  • Black – Black power comes from the swamps and bogs.
  • Green – Green power gets its life from the lush fecundity of the forest.

There were also “artifacts,” which were “magical devices that have certain effects on the game,” and the basic land cards were “the most common kind of card and usually provide the mana, or magical energy, for all your spells.”

MtG book(Yes, in honor of full-disclosure, I have this written on the dividers in my Card Collection Binder.  Yes, I have all five colors represented on the cover and binding of my Card Collection Binder, along with the different covers to the packs we played. Yes, Magic: The Gathering is still going strong! I can only imagine how far they’ve come in the last 15 years…the cards I have in my collection are classics!  But, for the record, I didn’t take my entire collection with me everywhere.  I carried my deck in a special container and left my collection in a safe place, like any good wizard would do.)

Because I have red hair, and because I’d learned to play with a red deck, that was my focus.  (Even then, years before moving to the mountains, I was enthralled by them!  How funny…) My three other friends took over blue, black and white. Every once in a while, we’d have a guest play with us, and they played green. You can also mix the decks, and I had a really fun Red & Green deck that I would play, too.

Every color doesn’t have to be represented when you play, but it really made the game come alive!

We turned ourselves into wizards every night, and we even had special names to match our personas: I was Alma Lanasa, The Fire Wench, with my Red Deck of Death & Destruction. Blue was mastered by llyana Akh-Elamshin, Mistress of the Deep. Black was controlled by Mordain Soulforger, Lord of the Abyss, and the White bases were expertly covered by Zara Adriana Jessamine, Enchantress of the Lunar Light.

This game was like chess (which I love!) mixed with a role-playing aspect. I was playing with theatre majors, after all. Everything was a production, and I loved it. The voices, the animated dramatic play that followed a particularly niMtG Quotece card move, the quotes. Oh, the quotes! The quotes still pop into my head, and it’s been 15 years.

Back in the day, I even printed a quote and put it on the back of my Card Collection Binder. Yes, Serra Angels speak with a slightly German accent, especially when flustered. Just so you know.

For a few hours a night, we were yanked out of our stressful college lives and placed in a world where we were in total control of our creatures and our powers, and it was awesome.

So, if the evenings were full of impromptu Magic tournaments and the days were full of work and classes, when did I have time to create the perfect deck? Well, it really helped that I had a particularly boring Western Civilization class toward the beginning of my Magic career. This was the class that the professor’s lectures were comprised of him reading the exact chapter to us that he’d assigned as homework the previous class. I kid you not. So, why go to class? Because I went to a small private college, and if you didn’t show up in class, people would check in to see if you were okay.

So, I’d go to class, and I’d take diligent notes…on how to construct the perfect deck. Seriously. I’d use my time to work out deck plans in my head, and I’m not talking about the deck that adorns a domesticated house in the suburbs. I’m talking about the Red Deck of Death and Destruction.

It sounds so gruesome, but it wasn’t. Not really. It was beautiful.

I devised the perfect ratio of creatures, spells, artifacts, enchantments and mana so that regardless of the seven cards in my hand, I was a force to be reckoned with.

I tweaked it to perfection.

You couldn’t play all mana, or you’d be attacked from all sides and have no creatures to defend yourself. You couldn’t have powerful creatures on the board and no mana or they’d be useless. The battle started with the very first round, so you had to be ready.  How big could your deck be to support what you wanted to do without being bogged down? How lean could it be so that every hand was useful?  Deck perfection was a science, and I was really good at it.

Your mind had to be sharp. You had to quickly play out all scenarios in your head before making a choice. The card you played next could save your life or end it just as quickly. The card you played could blindside your opponent in the blink of an eye, and vice versa.

Not only was Magic a science, the cards were pieces of art. We all had our favorite artists and cards. Artists like Quinton Hoover and Liz Danforth were my favorites.

We created moves that should be patented. A Stone Giant throwing a Kird Ape at a Serra Angel and then finishing it all off with a bolt of lightening? It was perfectly choreographed poetry. It was magic.

I craved it. I needed it. And, after college, I missed it.

After college, I longed to play, but in the real world, there isn’t much room for a wizard and her dragons. When I found out my boyfriend (now husband) had a deck and knew how to play, I was ecstatic! Another one of our friends also had a deck! Sweet!

“You played Magic?” they asked.

“Well…” I said, not sure how to tell them that I hadn’t played Magic, so much as lived Magic. “Yes. I love Magic: The Gathering.”

I told myself I’d take it easy on them. I would try to hold my dragons in check so that we could have a nice, long, leisurely game.

They were both dead within 3 minutes.

Once I got started, I just couldn’t help myself! Not to mention, my little Nalathni and Shivan were hungry. They hadn’t eaten in a long time! Dragons need to eat or they get cranky.

I had shown restraint!  I’ve killed off opponents in quicker time than that; trust me. The games I played in college went on much longer than that, because we all played a good game. We all played with powerful, well-mastered decks.

This time, I was playing with amateurs who thought this was just a game, and these were just cards. Silly boys.

“Let’s try again,” I suggested, happy that I still had it in me. “Here, shuffle.”

Again, I had no choice but to put them out of their misery much too quickly for their egos.

I don’t know which shocked them more, the fact that this innocent looking Liberal Arts major had her own deck of Magic: The Gathering cards or that she really knew how to use them.

Then things got ugly. Alma Lanasa may or may not have come out with a triumphant yell. My opponents whimpered like big sissies. I may or may not have laughed at them while calling them big babies. One of them threw one of my cards. “Let’s see how your Shivan flies now…” he said. No one throws my Shivan Dragon card and lives to tell the tale. There is no throwing of the cards in Magic! These aren’t just cards. They represented the best years of my college experience. Have some respect!

Needless to say, we didn’t play Magic again after that. It was just better for everyone that way. (Well, better for everyone except my poor, starving dragons.)

It was a sad and bittersweet realization that what I had can never truly be revisited.

Those nights and early mornings of Magic were some of the best of my college days…of my life. The bonds we created in that circle will never be broken. We’ve all since grown up, moved away, and become rather un-wizardly. But, deep inside, The Fire Wench is still there, and she’s powerful. And every now and then, she gets out her book of cards and plays with her dragons.

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