Posted on October 17, 2021
Tis but a scratch
War is hell.
Grizzled veterans of this format, the Format of Kings, will tell you that “it’s mostly just Birds.” And it is, of course. Except when it isn’t.
‘Twas the night before the LC Invitational, and I had four Black Knights in my deck. In truth, I was just trying to get Sylvan + Darkpact to work. So I was heavily in black, Rituals and all, hoping to pop off T2 Sylvan T3 Darkpact or something along those lines. And, as Frantz himself will tell you, I came within a heartbeat of pulling it off. If he hadn’t hit a Bird off of his Contract in our game, I would now be the proud owner of a Badlands, courtesy of some truly dark magic.
But the story of that Friday night, while the normcore mages enjoyed a tame-looking Premodern tournament at one end of the room, was my utter annihilation at the hands of Tim Moran’s Hypnotic Specter. He fired that thing off on the first turn of the game, using a Ritual as Garfield intended. I was caught flatfooted with my black and green deck: no answers, and even worse, no Jeweled Bird. Within a few short turns, the Hyppie had eaten my entire hand. He piled on with a Sedge Troll and direct damage. And then I was dead.
There was a small crowd of onlookers. We flipped my ante card face up.
Ooooooooffff. Suffice it to say, this was the moment that the format became real for me. But I took it in stride. I honestly think that Tim was more flustered about winning it than I was about losing it. After all, I never jam four City of Brass in a deck these days. This was just a spare, honestly. Just a scratch. Or maybe a minor flesh wound.
Bloodied but somehow mostly undeterred, the next morning I stopped by Mase’s “Ante Breakfast,” to my knowledge the first games of Real Magic played outside on Mass Ave in Cambridge, along that storied corridor between Harvard and MIT. (Although, nerds being nerds, I have to imagine that ante games were in fact played in this neck of the woods back in ’93 or ’94.) There was a lot going on, eggs and bacon and coffee, and multiple games popping off. And for me, another chance to pull off Sylvan + Darkpact.
We got there this time, but unfortunately not before Mase had a chance to rescue his ante card with a Bird. So, I seized the Bird, Mase got my basic Swamp, and he also ended up eventually winning the actual game, so he took away a Bird as well. Does this qualify as success? I mean, it’s no Badlands, but yes. Yes it does.
Back to the drawing board, then. I won’t get into all of the reasons why this is true, but White Knight actually has its place, while Black Knight is a truly bad Magic card. The Darkpact experiment had run its course. With only three weeks between Boston and Chalice, I had to move quickly ahead of my next big opportunity to play Real Magic. I needed a Swedish-legal White Weenie kit, and fast.
In the span of maybe ten days, I sold all of my Badlands and Taigas and picked up Scrublands and a Savannah, along with Lions, Geddons, and the various other trappings I would need to make “WW splashing for Contract and Hurricane” a thing at our upcoming battle royale.
It’s hard to overstate the glory of an event like Urza’s Chalice, especially after more than a full year without face-to-face Gatherings. Even without our European brothers in attendance, the roster of “Shuffle, Cut, ANTE” fanatics in California was DEEP: Schwartz. Mano. Frantz and Levi. Eliot. Plus newcomers in Jeff Liu and Paul DeSilva. There were some pickup games here and there on Friday, but the Flying Bear agitated for a proper round robin that Saturday night. At first, I chafed a little bit at the suggestion of even minimally “organized” ante games. But I was wrong. Having all of us jamming there at the same time was fantastic.
Many Birds were named and exchanged, along with at least one serious hitter like Schwartz’s Copy Artifact. I also remember losing a Swords to Plowshares to Mano, and winning a Beta Plains. According to the record scroll, we churned out at least fifteen ante games between the seven of us who dared enter the round robin. And my aggressive collection reconfig paid off: with a record of 4-2, I took home the Contract from Below that Schwartz put up as a prize. We all signed it in RED.
So, that’s my story. Don’t get cute, play what you know. You might lose something “valuable” along the way, but it’s a small price to pay for the tall tales and a seat at the table to enjoy this most degenerate of formats with other like-minded and consenting adults.
Until next time,