Well, first there was ‘Casual Power Curve’ and it’s impromptu sequel. Then there was another article by another author, ‘A Farewell to Arms Dealer.’ So, it’s about time I do what I’ve been thinking about for a long time. This article serves a dual purpose. It is a new concept in Magic theory, one regarding a player’s innate skills and abilities. And it is also a farewell to Daniel Sakurai, a friend of mine.
Sakurai (as I refer to him, others call him Dan most of the time) is one year older than me, which means he graduated high school this year, as I passed into the Senior class. Which means I won’t be seeing him as much next year. He won’t be sitting with his back to the vending machines in the darkened lunch room after school to play a few rounds of multi-player Magic with me and the rest of Magic crew. He won’t be screaming the praises of Martyrdom, or attacking us with dozens of Insect tokens, or casting Congregate when we’re least expecting it, or building decks out of random cards and winning with them---a lot.
It’s a shame. He was by far and away the best player I’ve ever met, and there is no doubt in my mind that, if so inclined, he could be one of the best players anyone has ever met. I do not exaggerate, he’s that good. And it’s not just play skill or deck building, either. He knows the rules inside and out, he bluffed like no one else (who else can bluff you into thinking they have a Martyrdom- with an empty hand!), and he made himself almost invisible in our infamous multi-player wars, keeping himself off the casualty list long enough to build a force of his own and win.
Before he left, I talked with him a lot about how he did so damned well with decks that looked like something an eight year old with no Magic skill whatsoever would build. He told me many things, but nothing stuck with me so well as his description of an innate form of intelligence he referred to as ‘The Spark.’
Now, I am not the best person in the world to describe the Spark. Ideally, I would go tell Sakurai to write this article. Unfortunately, he wouldn’t. At least, not without a gun to his head. So here I am, trying to describe a concept that I don’t possess. This is comparable to having a blind man write an article on glasses. Stupid, stupid, stupid! But I’m gonna try it anyways.
The Spark is a skill, but it cannot be learned. It is internal, an instinct that isn’t taught, but simply existent from the first moment a person begins to play Magic. Most skills regarding the game can be learned fairly easily, how to play, how a mana curve should be used, when a spell should be cast, etc… The Spark is not one of those skills.
It is the ability to (in the words of Gizmo) ‘focus on the game as a coherent unit.’ With the Spark, every card on the table becomes a part of the game. Not just a single card that affects the game, but part of a completely entity that is the game. Perhaps the Spark is partially a photographic memory, allowing a player to see everything that happens, and recognize its effect on everything else, but that is certainly not everything there is to it. It has an element of deck building as well. A player with the Spark can take a random pile of cards, and give it what most players would call a respectable amount of synergy. Give a player with the Spark a pile of somewhat sorted cards, and they’ll give you back a fairly intimidating deck. Give them free rein… The result is terrifying.
And leaving you with that oh-so-vague description, I’ll move on.
The Spark is the basis for defining the four types of players I have come to accept:
The bad player: Really, that title is misleading. This player is not bad, per se. Rather, they are a dabbler in Magic, someone who plays occasionally, but no so much as to improve their skills. By playing only rarely, their abilities cease to improve, at best, they stay the same. At worst, they begin to deteriorate at an unprecedented rate. This is the type of person you see playing the same deck for weeks, months, or years running. They are often more than capable of playing well, they just don’t spend hours and hours each day obsessively learning every tiny element of their decks and the metagame.
The good player: This is really more the ‘average’ player. Good players make up the majority of players you see in casual play and at tourneys, maybe seventy-five percent of the overall Magic playing population. Good player’s playing and deck building skills fluctuate wildly, one good player may be the play equivalent of Jon Finkel with the deck building skills of Anthony Alongi. The next may be capable of Zvi-esque calculations, but not be able to remember to play a land every turn. But good players are also pretty obsessed with the game; they play every day, or as often as they can find the time. They may not go so far as to write down decklists during Chemistry or draw Yawgmoth on memos the get during a meeting at work… But they play, and it shows.
The bad player with the Spark: I’ve never met such a person. They must exist, by process of elimination, but I have never had the pleasure of seeing one in person. This is someone who is absolutely brilliant at Magic, winning most of the games they play- But that’s not very many. Again, such a person wouldn’t play enough to get truly ‘good’ at the game, although they may play more than the previously mentioned ‘bad player.’
The good player with the Spark: Das Uber Magic Player. You know who I’m talking about. This type of person will almost always dominate any game in which they have a chance. They aren’t unbeatable, if you play Type 1 Academy against their Snuff-o-Derm deck, you’ll probably win. But they’re very, very good. They see everything that happens, and know how to use it against you. They have an intrinsic sense of human nature, at times they can seem almost telepathic. This is the type of player that you’ll meet once, maybe twice in your Magic career, unless you’re on the Pro-Tour circuit and talk to Darwin Kastle like a brother. In which case you may meet three or four such people. They are the rarest of players, and the most desirable to know and talk to.
This is not a type-casting essay. I’m not trying to say that there are four types of players, and where you fit is where you fit. Each one of those categories encompasses many, many types of players, none of which can truly be said to be ‘better’ than any other. But everyone knows what I’m talking about: Some players simply don’t seem as skillful as another. It has nothing to do with how much they practice, there is some element of personality that affects how good some people are at playing Magic.
Everyone meets a player with the Spark at some point, I think. When you do, be sure to say ‘Hi,’ and ask them how on Earth they pull it off for me… I still haven’t figured it out.
--Zadok001, aka Greater Good fanatic
“We have more sprouts than they have hands.”
----------David Zadok Stroud
“Reality alters itself in ways that we cannot possibly comprehend, as our comprehension is limited to what reality we perceive.”