Ahh, so many thoughts to sputter and so little brain power to channel them all, but at least its something that has nothing to do with analyzing Planeshift or the prerelease for it. Something different, maybe even introspective. Not like I would bring you anything else anyways.
How many of you remember your roots? Not the kind that tell you that your mother's mother is from Scotland and your father is from France, but your gaming and Magic roots. Some of you started playing Magic when Tempest came out, or Mirage, some as recently as Urza's Saga. I'm sure these people can remember fairly well about how they started out, but what about the older players, the ones who started with Beta, or Arabian Nights? There probably aren't too many out there that can remember those days clearly, but it was a time before the Pro Tour or even the DCI. Magic was a fledgling with un-reined power and only the imagination to limit it.
These days, roots grow differently for many people, its hard to not hear about things like the Pro Tour and all the incredible players on it. Whether we like it or not, this does influence how we think about the game and learn it. It doesn't matter if you ever read a tourny report or have the net, or buy a CCG magazine. The influence is there, everywhere you look. Even in booster boxes, WotC puts the ads in for tournaments and how to run them. Its actually a great bit of work by WotC and the DCI to get people spending and dreaming. However, I can't say that this is all a good thing.
With diversity and competitive energies flying like a bad "Dragon Ball: Z" episode, there are bound to be problems. How many times have we heard people crying for a card to be banned? How often do people complain that every new set is the death of Magic? How often has the constant (and stupid) war between casual or pro flared up? You always see lots of complaints. You see lots of good things too, of course, but sometimes I get the feeling that some people just miss some of the more subtle points of Magic.
I first started playing when Beta came out and I remember feeling wonder the first time I pulled a Counterspell. It was the "I can stop anything now. I am invincible!!" kind of feeling. Of course I wasn't anywhere near as invincible as I thought and got flattened on many occasions. Part of the fun of growing up you could say.
Of course, as more sets came out and cards were more available, people wanted a more competitive style of play; hence the birth of major tournaments and the DCI. This was surely a good thing for the game as it has proven itself to be. It brought organization, regulation, and structure to those who wanted to compete with some of the best players in the world and meet people of all kinds of backgrounds. Enemies were made by a few, and friendships forged for life by more than a few. Pretty cool, I would say. But this is also where the bump in the road is. People forgot about their roots, some left them behind, some never really had them. This is also where I think some of the battle between pro and casual comes into play.
With tournament play, you have the banned and restricted lists, everyone knows whats legal and what isn't. Everyone knows what decks are strong in what formats, if they don't, the info is but a click away. Its this kind of regulation that keeps tournaments from becoming zoos but acts as a detriment to the casual side of the game.
An old article that first appeared on The Dojo I think, called "Stop Being So Casual" by Aaron Forsythe (Read it here, while you can.--CT). This article received a lot of heat from some people here, myself included. Heck, I probably owe the man an apology for something I called him*, but I've too much dumb pride to give it.
The article did have one point in it that bothered me a lot. It was when he mentioned what cards are "safe" to play with your casual group. People hate Wrath of God or counter spells or burn, so no one plays with them. Some cards aren't friendly and people get gang-beaten for using them. That's just a fact of the game...if you're a big threat, you die. This is where playing casual becomes blurred by tourney influences; casual play shouldn't be wrapped up in regulating so that no one is playing and everyone is whining. Casual play should be, "have cards, will play," bottom line. Sure, there are deck archetypes that shouldn't be played casually, such as Trix, Replenish, or Sligh. These decks are high-power killing machines made to be the best in tournaments. Casual environments are pointless in two-and-three-turn games because no one really has fun and nothing really happens other than one person getting steamrolled.
This isn't to say you shouldn't play Donate, or Necro, or Replenish themselves, but you should try something different other then what you know will kill in a couple of turns. Try Donating Thought Lashes, play Necro without the illusionary combo. Just do something different or unexpected. You may just enjoy it.
Recently, I had a chance to go back to my hometown, where I first started playing, and I managed to get together with some of the guys I played with. We talked a bit and sat down to a group game. Four players, attack left. Fairly simple for a good old-fashioned casual game. I go first and play a Taiga into a Kird Ape. The guy beside me, Ken, goes and does the traditional Forest, tap, turn 1 elf. Then the third player, Shawn goes, he lays a swamp and Dark Rituals out an Abyss.
Stop right there!
Tell me, when was the last time that The Abyss was a "casual" card? As far as I remember, it was a fairly nasty card, especially when it pops out early. I was thinking to myself, "We're playing casual aren't we?"
I shrugged it off, watched the fourth player, also a Shawn, play a land and say go. We went a couple of rounds with critters dying either by The Abyss or from a few well-targeted Incinerates and nothing happening. Soon player four Disenchants The Abyss and the table rejoices as streams of beasties flow out from our hands, at least 'til it's Shawn's turn again. Not only does he slap out another Abyss, but he drops an Underworld Dreams on our fourth guy.
I blinked and stared, not only because I hadn't seen Underworld Dreams played in a while, but because it "can't" be a casual card, its too nasty. Eventually the game ended. I don't remember who won, but thats not important. The fact is that there were some big powerful cards being played for fun. There were also Force of Wills flying about with Fact or Fictions in some guy's very nasty Type 1 version of Nether-Go. Needless to say it pasted me and had me chewing on my "casual" Sabertooth Nishoba and Guiding Spirit.
The thing with all of it was that I had a great time and enjoyed it, these were my roots that I had drifted so far from that I didn't grasp why I was even bothering to pick up my cards anymore. It also proved to me that any card can be used casually and still be fun. If you stop worrying about regulating and just relax when you play, its incredible what you may notice you were missing.
Leave the regulating and debating for the Pro Tour and just play. Enjoy it before you outgrow it and, most of all, don't be afraid to think differently.
Nick "Ura" Saviskoff
*(And I quote, "First off, I'd like to say that that guy is a horses (deleted) ." -- CT.)