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Magic Is A Lot
Something I've noticed: People who play one of the so-called "mind sports" seem to enjoy comparing their activity of choice to the world at large. Such-and-such is a metaphor for life, they say, or something similar, usually with explanations of why the comparison is apt. Granted, this conclusion is based mostly on my experience with chess, along with a smattering of similar sentiment in the Magic community, and has yet to be tested in the case of other games. But I'd wager that it's a pretty common train of thought... after all, who doesn't want to be convinced that their actions reflect something bigger and more important?
Just in case nobody's actually said this with regard to Magic, though, let me say it. Magic is, in my opinion, a startlingly accurate reflection of life. But I'll go a little bit farther and be more specific: Magic is a lot like being a teenager.
I'll explain what I mean by that in just a second. First, let me try and tie the ending of my last article to the beginning of this one in some sort of coherent manner.
We were talking about how to go about designing and building a deck from scratch, weren't we? One of the things I didn't quite go into great detail on was the importance of tuning one's deck to overcome specific obstacles. The disadvantages of an established metagame may seem large (most obviously, the fact it appears to stifle originality) but there is one very valuable asset that the metagame gives to deckbuilders: it allows them to, with a reasonable degree of error, predict what decks they will have to be able to deal with. In practice, the advantages and disadvantages of the metagame seem to balance each other out-- knowing the top decks allows you to have sideboard or maindeck hate against the field, but the reason these decks are tops is because they are good, so good that a rogue deck NEEDS to be built against them merely in order to survive. Despite the fact that there are vast reserves of potential hate for Counter-Rebel and Fires, and the fact that everybody KNOWS those two decks will be out in force, they still win. A lot. This does not mean they're unbeatable, but it does mean the odds are against you.
Let me return to the metaphor now.
Magic right now is not only like life, it is a lot like the life of a teenager. More accurately, it is like the life of a teenager growing up in a dysfunctional environment. On the one hand, you have bullies and other similar elements of youth. These people don't care about you. They just want to hurt you for their own gain. They are represented by Fires. On the other hand, you have parents and other authority figures whose methods of influence are more insidious and controlling. Their purpose early on is often simply to stop you from doing anything useful. Later on, when they have broken your spirit, they can take their sweet time going about their own business. These people are represented by U/W Angel control, Counter Rebel, maybe Blue Skies to some degree-- anything that has a longer-term view of things than simply bashing your skull in at the first available opportunity. Even Red Zone-type decks and the occasional discard-based deck reflect this mentality, despite the lack of the more direct control found in counterspells. Control freaks express their need for dominance in any number of different ways. In short, if it isn't Fires, it probably has at least a little bit of control in its blood, though the role of "beatdown" and "control" will shift from matchup to matchup.
Continuing the analogy between Standard and our generic depiction of teenage existence, what about the kids in the middle? They don't fall into either category, being neither bully or controller. They are simply trying to get by as best as possible, but it's not easy. In Magic, just about everybody starts out "in the middle," so to speak. We make up our own decks based on cards or concepts that appeal to us, and then we test them against the field. We know so little, but we hesitantly trot out our hopes and dreams nevertheless. Generally, if the field is anything like the current Standard, its effect on us will be less than merciful.
Fires (Bully): I don't care who you are, where you came from, or what you're looking for out of this. I just want to win. Now. Before you can muster any sort of defense against me. SMASH! DIE!
U/W (Authority figure): No, you can't do that. Can't do that either. Okay, you can play that, but I'll destroy it before you can actually do anything with it. All the while, I'm gathering more and more resources towards my eventual goal of completely locking you down. Are you ready to give up yet?
As time passes, many people will find that their will is not enough to hold out. They will become either bullies or controllers in their own right, trading individuality for the comfort of a prepackaged identity and the assurance of a role in society, however distasteful that role may be. When all is said and done, though, there is a significant (though vastly reduced) percentage of the population that still searches for a niche to call their own. Most of them find it. The fact remains that, whether or not you find a place where you belong, existing outside of the main groups is never easy. It can, in fact, be a constant struggle... and so it is with attempting to go 'rogue' in the game of Magic.
I'm getting somewhat philosophical here (always a bad sign) and my original metaphor has probably been thorougly ridden into the ground, so I'll attempt to sum up. In Magic, as in life, we are encouraged to follow certain paths that others have defined for us. The penalty for refusing to do so is a lack of support from the vast majority of people, along with the knowledge that you will constantly be at a disadvantage when interacting with the mainstream. Most people, understandably, choose to follow the safer, easier route. As in life, it's a decision that each person must make for himself or herself.
For those who still wish to go rogue, you are not alone, and you are not without hope. The fight is a hard one, but there are ways to swing the odds in your favor. You know your enemy; he does not know you. You have the tools you need to defeat him; he most likely has only a general sense of superiority. Avoid him when you can; when you must face him, do your best.
For those who nevertheless wish to follow the roles that society (or the metagame) has laid out for them, I will only say this: I do not condemn you, but I cannot help but believe that you are missing out on a great deal. Building one's own deck and tuning it to perfection are, in my view, a vital part of the whole experience-- both literally and figuratively.
I have chosen to walk my own path. I wish you good luck with yours.