hile deciding what to write for Magic's 20th anniversary, nostalgia came into play. I thought about the history of Magic, and Serious Fun, in particular. This column has seen its focus shift as each writer has made the column his own. Rather than tell you about it myself, I thought it would be best to bring back the writers so they can tell you themselves!
I got them all.
I asked each alumni a pretty open question: "What was your goal while writing Serious Fun?" For those of you who are old-school readers, this will be a chance to remember earlier days with amazing writers. For those of you who are new, consider this a chance to see how Serious Fun has shifted and morphed over the years.
When Serious Fun launched, the good people at Wizards offered the inaugural column to me with the instruction that I was in charge of "Timmy"—the generally well-known metaphor for the player who cares more about splashy, big cards and crazy formats than in meticulous combinations (Johnny) or tyrannical efficiency (Spike). No borders are absolute, and they gave me plenty of freedom to explore and write just about anything I wanted, bless them. To the extent anyone remembers my Magic writing at all, most would remember the Multiplayer Hall of Fame cards. I based my choices for the Hall on several animal elements, the most important of which was the "rattlesnake"—the card (usually a permanent) that warned off attention so that opponents would focus elsewhere. I found this to be a far more strategically reliable and emotionally healthy angle to multiplayer than either (a) hiding your head under your ass and hoping no one noticed you until your eighteen-piece combo fired off or (b) whining incessantly whenever someone dared to poke you in the back seat of the car ("He touched me!..." "She's holding his finger really close to my face!..." "He's looking at me!").
I was dead on the board; all my other opponents had been pinged to death, and thanks to several Clone effects, my opponent had stabilized at 2 with forty active Psionic Slivers on the board. Others had tried to wiggle out from underneath his grip—yet when they cast their lifegain spells or pointed burn at his face, Ian simply buried them under a wave of 2-damage pings, killing them before they could do anything.
He was drunk with power, trash-talking, cocky. I laughed along with him, saying the game was already lost, I mean, seriously, how silly is this? Let's just see what damn fool useless card I draw before I concede. I plucked it off the top, giggling.
"So what you gonna do now?" he asked.
"Cast this Sudden Shock," I replied.
He read the card. He paled. Then he lost the unlosable game.
To me, that's the finest aspect of Magic—that thrill of playing the players, subtly nudging people into bad decisions with fiendish psychological ploys. And with that comes the multitudes of other skills you need to possess in order to play solid multiplayer—of these four people, with this board state, who is really the threat? How do you build a deck designed to outlast all comers? How do you quietly pour poison in their ears while still remaining friends? (Because heck, what's the sense in playing games without friendship bonding y'all together?)
And, you know, winning. Through sneaky, clever stratagems. That's the best. And that's what I wrote about, as much as humanly possible.
For me, the emphasis of Serious Fun was always squarely on the fun. I pressed hard for playing however makes you happy, not necessarily the way that's most likely to notch up the wins.
I don't have anything against multiplayer strategy. Magic is a game. You win or you lose. And winning is, all other things being equal, more fun than losing. The huge majority of Magic writing is dedicated to serious, win-focused strategy talk, and that's as it should be.
But back when I took over Serious Fun, it was almost impossible to find Magic writing that wasn't about how to win, especially on other websites. It's weird to say, given how recent it was, but it really was a different time. The major Magic sites were focused almost totally on strategy, and the relatively few Magic blogs and smaller sites that did exist were nowhere near as easy to find as they are now. The community was smaller, and its focus was narrower.
With so much focus on strategy and winning elsewhere on the web, I decided to embrace the Way of Timmy. In the end, Magic is about a lot more than wins and losses. It's about the friends you make, the crazy combos, the lucky topdecks, the pet cards, the wacky formats. It's about the stories. Even at the Pro Tour, which couldn't be more focused on winning, moments like Gabriel Nassif's "called shot" at Pro Tour Kyoto in 2009 are as much a part of the game's history as the names of the winners (also Nassif, in that particular case, but it doesn't always work out that way).
Cruel Ultimatum | Art by Todd Lockwood
In the years since I left Serious Fun, the Magic community has gotten both much bigger and much more interconnected. That's made room for whole columns and blogs dedicated to "kitchen-table Magic," variant formats like Commander (which was just emerging from the shadows when I was writing), art and flavor, and a lot of other stuff that was awfully thin on the ground just a few short years ago.
Was I the catalyst for that change? No. Not even a little. I think the driving factors are the community being big enough to support a broader variety of discussion, and technology like Twitter (which technically existed at the time, but only just) helping people find that discussion when and where it happens. But I am pleased and proud to have been in the vanguard of that wave of casual writers, and I hope we keep seeing more like them.
I thought writing Serious Fun would be easy.
I mean, seriously? Having fun with Magic seems as difficult as finding ways to enjoy eating cake. Magic is fun, ergo playing is fun. Simple.
Except it's not. Magic is most definitely awesome, but ensuring consistent fun, game after game, takes much more than I thought at first. While it's difficult to exhaust the list of ways to play, finding new ways led me to look back over the shoulders of Serious Fun titans before me, Anthony Alongi, The Ferrett, and Kelly Digges.
The Compendium of Casual Magic is where I began to find not just new ways to get into games, but ideas for creating my own.
That's what writing Serious Fun meant for me: Exploring, experimenting, trying something new, looking at things through the eyes of other players, and the pursuit of playing the cards I wanted to play simply for the sake of wanting to play them.
When you have all the Serious Fun writers together with a chance to ask questions, how do you not do a Top 20 list? I took everyone's list and amalgamated them into a single one. While none of us would agree with the list, the cards listed from Magic's twenty-year history best represent the shifts and turns of Serious Fun. The guys were good enough to give their takes on the cards, as well.
Top Twenty Serious Fun Cards
20. Goldmeadow—Kelly Digges
As my wife and I affectionately call it, Goatmeadow—is one of the plane cards from the original 2009 Planechase supplement. As such, it's only sort of a Magic card.
Planechase amplifies the chaotic nature of multiplayer and reminds even the most diehard players that some things are simply out of their control. You've just got to make a roll of the literal die and see where things take you. Sudden reversals, crazy plays, tense reveals—Planechase has it all.
Goldmeadow, in particular, always makes something hilarious happen. Every land means three more Goats, and every roll of the planar die gives a one-sixth chance at another Goat. Usually, by the time you leave Goldmeadow, the board is flooded with 0/1 creatures.
I adore the mental image of massively powerful Planeswalkers who are trying to destroy each other in an epic duel of arcane mastery having to stop and wait around because there are all... these... goats... just absolutely everywhere, bleating and stamping and gnawing on things.
It's unusual for a single card that's not a legendary creature to make me build a Commander deck. Rooftop Storm did exactly that. I had a sudden vision: a Zombie deck with lots of Zombie tribal effects and a big, scary Zombie commander who could zoom in for with Rooftop Storm out.
I learned pretty quickly that I had to be on the lookout for three-card instant-win combos. I don't like infinite combos in Commander; it's just not very interesting to cap off an hour of exciting back-and-forth with, "Oh, hey, it says here I win." So I weed out the infinite combos, many of which involve Rooftop Storm, and leave in the ones that are merely finitely powerful. Havengul Lich + Rooftop Storm + Fleshbag Marauder, for instance, gives me a sorcery-speed engine that says ": Each other player sacrifices a creature."
With the instant-win combos out, usually what happens when I cast Rooftop Storm is that I get to have one or two really ridiculous turns. I attack somebody with my free Commander, Thraximundar, barf a bunch of Zombies out onto the board, and cackle maniacally. Then somebody casts Damnation or something and the game continues. Or, if not, everyone gangs up on me. And honestly, I enjoy that. I don't mind getting ganged up on if it's because I did something too awesome for the table to ignore.
Feeling like a mad scientist is just the icing on the cake.
There is still something undeniably gleeful about cladding up your little guys into tramplers who hoist you further away from fatal damage—or dropping this on a big guy who's now even bigger and more face-stompy. Yay!
Your creatures will die. It happens, and it's hard to avoid. While duels are often filled with spells like Doom Blade and Murder, multiplayer tends to favor the Supreme Verdict and Gaze of Granite-type cards: slower, broader ways to handle multiple creatures.
That's where Swiftfoot Boots and Lightning Greaves come in. Sometimes, all you really want is just one chance to use your creature. These haste and shielding-granting Equipment get the job done, even if it's just once.
I mentioned this at the end of a recent Command Tower article, and it's still true. The ability to re-buy a creature every turn is good for both nefarious, powerful synergistic shenanigans... and for just ensuring you have a dude to cast when all you need is a dude to cast.
For a single mana, this hoses any variety of graveyard strategies and can pick you up some much-needed resources. I love cards like these because, in a big group game, there's always a worthwhile target
Your creatures are precious... to anyone else with creatures.
Borrowing another page from the article linked in Volrath's Stronghold, Darksteel Ingot is how I like my mana fixing. It's easy to cast, extremely durable, ramps us up a color, and works in decks of every color. Perhaps that's why it finally made its way into a core set with Magic 2014
A nice, subtle incentive for everyone to go everywhere else.
I like basic lands. Rampant Growth is just the type of card you'll want to be using basic lands for. Like Darksteel Ingot, it fixes mana and ramps us ahead, but it's more than just the sum of its parts.
Cheap, at just two mana, it's the backbone for nearly every ramp deck (when you count its cousins Kodama's Reach, Cultivate, Sakura-Tribe Elder and at least a dozen other twists), and when I see it cast on turn two in a multiplayer game, my warning sirens start firing. If you want to shortcut to the powerful, late-game spells of any color, Rampant Growth is where you start.
This spot is less about Jace and more about what he represents: Planeswalkers and card drawing. Planeswalkers are lightning rods to avoid at all costs in some groups, or reusable effects that last endlessly in others. If used properly (and by that I mean +2), a card like Jace can last a long time in most groups.
A terrifying, obvious incentive for everyone to go everywhere else.
I remember the first time I tuned into magicthegathering.com, and this—thing—popped out of the page, a huge creature with a huge cost and huge effects. That was my introduction to the Eldrazi—and unlike Emrakul, the Aeons Torn, which has been played more often than Dark Side of the Moon, and in much more annoying ways, Kozilek still inspires fear and awe in a good way
7. Memnarch—Anthony Alongi
Steals anything at instant speed. Does it again. And again. And again.
I don't play much human-centric Magic these days—alas, I'm too busy with my career as a professional, Nebula-nominated science fiction writer, but I will tell you, there's no greater thrill in Duels of the Planeswalkers than casting this and WHAM! Seven cards. WHAM! Seven cards. Game over, man, game over!
Not just for tapping tricks and combos... it's plain good to have your lands available every turn, and for everyone to see that.
This card can do everything:
- Turns the humble Thallid into a token-making machine.
- Lets many of our Planeswalker friends enter the battlefield with enough loyalty to do their biggest thing first.
- Inspires all sorts of Darksteel Reactor, Helix Pinnacle, and other "count up the counters" decks.
When you want to accumulate a lot of things quickly, as you are wont to do in multiplayer, Doubling Season is an amazing season to be in.
No card blends the "rattlesnake" and "gorilla" with more ease and precision, with an instant-speed trigger.
Clone effects are so much better in multiplayer, because you can usually trade up; the need for massive threats means that, unlike most duels, your four-mana spell will be copying some six-mana Dragon and not a one-mana Avacyn's Pilgrim. But the Timmy in me just does little cheers when you pay the kicker and get yourself five Primeval Titans. The ability to take your opponent's best creature (hopefully one that amps with other creatures coming into play) is just so beautiful, so perfect—a wonderful storm of Timmygasms.
I would rather lose a fun game than win a dull one, and I know I'm not the only one. And one of the things that makes a multiplayer game fun is when everyone gets a chance to do things and interact. You get to make use of the extra land drop right away, and everyone gets closer to drawing and casting their awesome stuff faster. Will their awesome stuff beat my awesome stuff? It's entirely possible. Will somebody draw the card, play the land, and then blow it up before anybody else gets to play. Oh, sometimes.
But most of the time I've found that when Rites of Flourishing hits the table, everyone breathes a sigh of relief and gets down to the business of playing Magic.
My thanks to Anthony, The Ferrett, Kelly, and Stybs for doing this for me. It was a treat to get to work with each of them to celebrate twenty years of the best game in the world.
Bruce's games invariably involve a kitchen table, several opponents, crazy plays, and many laughs. Bruce believes that if anyone at your table isn't having fun playing Magic, then you are doing it wrong.