Nov 4 2009 5:05pm

The Duel, part 1: Help Me Defeat Brandon Sanderson

Alright folks. The time has come. I’m tired of being beaten down. I’ve been picked apart, dismantled, and routinely defeated too may times. It is time for me to rise. To lift my face despite the bruises and accept the challenge before me. It is time to redeem my honor. My ji.

I will defeat Brandon Sanderson at a game of Magic: The Gathering.... And you’re going to help me.

In return, we’re going to twitter the game live and report back to once it’s all done. To pull this off, I’m going to need a lot of help.

For those who don’t know this about our dear New York Times bestselling author, Brandon is a huge fan of this collectable card game. While most teens in the mid-90’s latched onto Pearl Jam, Friends, and flannel shirts, Brandon apparently got hooked onto this mother-of-all-CCG’s. To this day he collects them, studies them, and even uses them as incentive for himself to finish a chapter of his writing. (Heh. I imagine him thinking: “Okay, Brandon, just polish off this section where Elayne chooses her third dress for the day, and you can buy a packet of cards!”) Suffice it to say though, for at least fifteen years Brandon has honed his skills to razor-perfection through careful analysis and many, many games played.

I won’t bother summarizing the rules of the game for you, as there are plenty of resources that can do a better job of it than I. But the basic gist is that each player is considered to be a Wizard with 20 points of health. Each player has a deck of cards of their choosing, which collectively make up their arsenal of spells available to be played. The player’s goal is to use these cards to cast spells, summon creatures, build defenses, place enchantments, and overall find a way to reduce their opponent’s health points to 0 before their own is depleted. Each card is usually associated with one of five colors: red (destruction), green (nature/life), blue (illusion/enchantment), white (holiness/protection), or black (Death and uh... Unholiness, I guess?). Typically decks consist primarily of just a few colors rather than all of them, so that you can focus in on a style of play that both interests and works well with you. Good times, eh? We’ll talk more about deck themes a little later.

But first, some history.

Back Story

I have already had the privilege of facing off against Brandon, a proven master of Magic. It began almost exactly a year ago when he was on tour for The Hero of Ages, which had just made it onto the bestseller’s lists for the first time. He and David Farland were scheduled to do a book signing in Roseville, CA; just a short distance from where I live. We’d spoken a few times on the phone about Wheel of Time related topics, and he was kind enough to offer to have lunch with me before the signing.

Relishing the opportunity I had before me, I figured the last thing either of us would want to do would be to drive to the local Denny’s and have a potentially awkward conversation. So I came up with a wacky alternative idea. I told him on the phone that I “had something planned”, to which I’m certain he panicked just a little. (“Oh God, he’s going to be one of those creepy fans?!?”) When I showed up at his hotel, I came bearing sandwiches (roast beef, extra salt on the side for him) and several decks of Magic: The Gathering cards. It was a gloriously rainy day; just gentle enough to make the outside air smell fresh, and just cozy enough to warrant us hanging out in the hotel lobby playing and chatting.

Now understand: I had not played Magic in 15 years. Like him, I had once played frequently in high school, and spent all of my spare chore money on booster packs. And while I wouldn’t say that I mastered the game, I certainly was no stranger to the varied deck strategies, combos, and rare cards being released when the game was really taking off in popularity. Unfortunately, I fell out of practice when I went to college and never really found anybody to play against after that. (I’d like to claim that I gave up Magic intentionally, resulting in increased successes with girls and the onset of an adventurous social life, but the truth is that neither my social status or luck with the ladies changed in any way as a result. If anything, I just missed playing the game more.)

That day when Brandon and I first played, I brought several self-prepared decks with me. My intent was to put us on even ground by crafting the decks in advance. Having built them, I knew what was within each one. He, on the other hand, would have the benefit of being a frequent player, but would be playing the deck blind, not knowing which cards would come next.

Sadly, I was mistaken. In the six matches we’ve played so far (both on that first rainy day, and on another occasion since), I have a record of 1-4-1. The one win I managed to record was our most recent, and it was mostly due to the fact that I was given a significant handicap to start the game. The tie we shared was due to the fact that we ran out of time, and we decided to simply call it a draw. Nevermind the fact that when we “played out” the remaining cards, it was clear that he probably would have defeated me.

To be fair, I’m obviously adding a lot of drama to this. We’ve actually had some decent matches, and a couple of my losses were only narrow victories on his part. Still, the default advantage currently remains with him.

The Proposal

As you read this, legions of fans are meeting Brandon on his U.S book tour, and handing him free Magic cards. Perhaps they think it will speed up the process of writing Towers of Midnight. Perhaps they hope he’ll reward their generosity by giving them a cameo in The Way of Kings, the initial installment of his epic follow-up saga to The Wheel of Time. Or maybe they just think he’ll tell them who killed Asmodean? Whatever the reason, Brandon is building a varied collection of cards. And I think it’s time we put it to the test.

Here’s what I propose:

  • After the San Jose book signing on November 21—the last stop on his tour this year—we’ll sit down and play some rounds of Magic: The Gathering.

  • Best of three matches wins.

  • We cannot use the same deck twice (so we’ll have to have prepared at least three decks each)

  • Standard rules: 60 cards per deck. No more than 4 identical cards allowed within. (Except basic lands, of course)

  • Brandon will be limited to using the cards given to him by fans on his tour. (Don’t worry, Sanderson fans: he’s already been given a wide assortment, including basic land cards.)

  • My deck will be built from whatever cards I can get my hands on without spending money.

  • Matt Hatch, aka “Tamyrlin” from, will be present at the event and will act as official witness.

  • The game will be Twittered live.

  • If possible, a live video feed will be setup.

  • The video will be recorded and saved on Youtube for all to see for all time. (Muwahahaha!)

And, of course, We.. as in YOU and ME and the rest of the community, will work together to build the perfect deck to defeat Brandon! Use the comments area below to offer initial ideas on the type of deck I should use. Part 2 of this article series will focus on some more specific strategies, and we’ll decide on some deck themes to use.

If you’re not familiar with Magic: The Gathering, and would like to be more involved, I suggest you head over to your local game store, pick up a starter deck, and challenge a friend. You can also download and play the online version of the game, or try it out using your XBOX 360 Live account. By the time the next article goes up, you’ll be a seasoned expert and ready to advise.

Although this essentially equates to me shooting myself in the foot by saying this, if you happen to be attending one of Brandon’s upcoming book signings, you are *mumblegrumblewelcometogivehimsomecardsmumblegrumble*.

As for me.... I already own a decent stash of cards from my high-school days (primarily the Unlimited and Revised sets for you MTG experts out there, although I have a smattering of Limited edition Beta, Antiquities, Legends, and “The Dark”). A couple of very wonderful, beautiful, amazing individuals with outstanding karmas have already offered to send me a few of their cards to further my efforts. I cannot imagine that I’ll get anywhere near the amount of cards Brandon is getting, but if you want to help even the odds, I would humbly accept your donations, trades, or even loans.

So let’s get to it. Do you think I stand a chance? What colors or deck sets are really good? How can we build the ultimate deck to defeat this “Master of Magic”?

Jason Denzel is the founder and webmaster of, a massive Wheel of Time community. When he’s not harassing popular authors, he writes, makes movies, and dreams of the day he can pass his Magic cards onto his sons.

The Way of Kings Master Index: ‹ previous | index | next ›
Wheel of Time Master Index: ‹ previous | index | next ›
Ken Neth
1. neth
Jason, I'm unconvinced. Why should I be helping you over Brandon?
2. Tamyrlin
Good luck to you both...I'll make sure the better man wins.

Let's try to keep the gifting (don't tell Peter) down to a minimum.
John Skotnik
4. ShooneSprings
Old School Blue/Black Discard is the way to go. Prevent him from holding on to what's in his hand for more than a turn (if that).
5. Norm Huelsman
Awesome. Let me know if you'd like some strategy help. I've got a blog about magic at

Also I could help you get video feed setup depending on where you play.
Jeff Gross
6. RIPJordan
I have not played since Middle school but I always went for the Blue/Green combo....... I don't know if it has a name or not.
Ken Neth
7. neth
hmm...that's a good reason. Of course, I'll have to give Brandon a chance to respond.
Jason Denzel
8. JasonDenzel
@Norm #5... Great blog! Do you live near Northern California? If not, maybe I'll get you on a hidden speaker in my ear. heh
Jason Denzel
9. JasonDenzel
@Norm #5... Great blog! Do you live near Northern California? If not, maybe I'll get you on a hidden speaker in my ear. heh
10. Tamyrlin
As is apparent, it will be tough to keep this "fair", but if you have tips as to how I can make sure this is as fair as it can be, send me an email at tamyrlin AT, or tweet me @Theoryland.
Gary Schaper
11. Garyfury
Shouldn't all grudge matches have some financially insignificant yet thematically appropriate stakes set for them?
Ken Neth
12. neth
yes, there should be more that pride on the table here.
14. Frenzy5150
I too shall witness this epic battle of geek gods. And whoever is nicest to me can access my early 90's era M:TG cards, many of which are banned from tournament play.

Armageddon, anyone? ~weg~
Jason Denzel
15. JasonDenzel
@Neth 11 and Garyfury 12

LOL! Well I don't know if Brandon is a gambling man, you know? But I'd be happy to wager lifelong coverage of his books vs. insider knowledge of Asmodean's fate. hehe ;-)
Jason Denzel
16. JasonDenzel
@Frenzy 14.... I made you a Storm Leader. Cards, please. ;-)
17. Tamyrlin a long time member (and some say secret leader) of Theoryland, is it a question of loyalty to stay neutral or help Jason? Of course, knowing Frenzy, you might have just lost your chance Jason...unless of course there wasn't an implied threat there regarding Frenzy's capability of being a Storm Leader the next two times around. :)
18. robbadler
Free cards only? I don't know if you have a chance w/o someone sending/loaning you a deck... Assuming Brandon has been getting anything from a new set on his trip, you might be in trouble.

I'm currently in the process of putting together a GWR Ally deck from the ZendiKar set. Although I am not a Storm Leader, maybe I'll get a chance to play him at the Portland signing.
19. Frenzy5150
Tell you what Tamyrlin: i can let both players know what cards I have available, and let them bid on them. Being storm leader for life vs. hard core insider info. Would that satisfy your concerns about loyality?
Peter Ahlstrom
20. PeterAhlstrom
Brandon said people have been giving him largely Zendikar so far, including a mythic rare that he likes. Also, Matt (I saw that) said that lending (rather than giving) cards to Brandon isn't allowed. Is Jason allowed to borrow cards?
21. Caryla
Are you each going to be tweeting on your own separate accounts?

Also, I personally like white decks... I have very basic knowledge of the game and tend to be a very defensive player, so I just run my cleric deck and amass health. Lots, and lots, and lots of health. Then I find my 50+ life=win card. :D Fun stuff.
22. HMane
Step one- get gasoline
Step two- spend the gas thinly over the play area.
Step three- open with a match.
23. trattman
Given the sets you have - old school channel/fireball for the win.

Really if this is going to be vintage or even no restrictions, you can put together some pretty strong decks. I kinda like dark ritual/hippy/mind twist type decks. Maybe with counterspell backup.
Ken Neth
24. neth
So, if I were to gift a deck of cards to either Brandon or Jason, what should I get?
25. Tamyrlin
@Frenzy - I would never question your loyalty...I've seen your boots. And I think we've just established some ground rules as follows, so lend or give at your leisure.

@PeterAhlstrom - After careful consideration, it's my decision that as Jason is the embodiment of the "Fan" in this duel, fans should be allowed to lend Jason up to five cards per person, as if they were playing Brandon. Whereas, Brandon's considerable fame makes him the more likely benefactor of free (or as some might say, gifted) cards, so for the time being he will be limited to only those cards. Please pass on an official count of Brandon's cards, so I can modify these rules if necessary as the duel approaches.

General Reminders for Players and Fans - This Magic duel will be the best of three matches, and each player has to field three separate decks. Additional rules may apply, as they become necessary.
Warren Ockrassa
26. warreno
K. You're going to get smoked like a Christmas ham. You really can't get good MTG cards for free, and fanboys will happily give Mr. Sanderson ridiculously good cards.

Either follow standard constructed-deck rules or -- and this is probably better -- get three tournament decks each, build the best library you can, and have at it.

It's too easy, particularly with tribal decks, to construct something utterly devastating.
Chris Hall
27. bookwormchris
Hmm... your cards are very old lol. I actually started playing in elementary school and continued until the end of high school. (I'm thinking around the time of Mirage perhaps, at least a bit before Tempest... but I have a ton of cards from earlier as well, so perhaps I started a bit earlier than that.) I've played a few games after that, mostly with my brother, but I haven't been following along with the game much the last few years. (It can be an expensive habit.)

Unfortunately I can't help out with any cards since they are all at my parents' house and I won't be there until after this epic duel takes place. Good luck Jason. May the best wizard win?!
28. Pukah
There is a big problem with mixing different editions of cards.

In some expansions, they introduce new abilities that are seen in no other. For example, one expansion gives creatures 'Horseriding'. Per the rules, only other creatures with Horseriding can block horseriding creatures. So if you play with a deck of that expansion, you have an unfair advantage. There exists many such abilities like this across all the expansions of Magic The Gathering. (I think Wizards are calling the expansions as differnt planes of existance now.)

To help even the playing field, and make it a more of a match of skills and popularity, you should try to both play in the same expansion.

And how do we pass on cards to you? Brandon knows how the book series ends, I figure the rest of us need some revenge against him for that.
29. Freelancer
Hey Jason. There's a lovely gaming shop just a couple of doors from Mysterious Galaxy, where Brandon makes his November 15th stop in San Diego. I just received an unexpected wee bonus at work, should be worth a special card or two for Brandon. Or, I could hunt down an old friend from the service who has something like 175 complete SETS and see if he'll cough up a couple surprises (seriously, he has piles of photo albums lining an entire bookshelf, filled with M:TG sets). He's the guy who turned me on to The Eye of the World.

Have fun.
30. sus_b
Hey Jason,

My boyfriend has a really annoying goblin deck. I find it annoying because I'm never able to beat him with anything that I have.

I know that he hasn't bought any new cards in about 9 years, so there is a chance that you may already have some of them.

One common characteristic of his deck is that a lot of his goblins require only one mana to play and have haste. So he can replace them easily and deal damage right away.

Other really bad cards that he has (or awesome depending how you're looking at it), are things like lavadarts. They cost 1 or two, are instants and deal __ damage to specified creature or player.

This deck is ideal when you only have one opponent as it makes you able to deal damage fast, and doesn't take a lot of time to build up.

I haven't played in a while (because of school), and the prospect of watching this streaming live is really exciting!
j p
31. sps49
MTG, to me, saved, improved, then ruined D&D. That's all I know.

And you realize you are cutting into BrS's writing time? He should be kept locked in a box until he finishes WoT!

This does sound interesting, though. Especially if you hold it at the Shark Tank so lots of us can watch in person.
Rebecca Zmarzly
32. bowlwoman
@ sus_b #30

My husband LOVES goblins, and he kicks my butt with them on a regular basis. We sing songs about the goblins sometimes: "We don't need a Goblin Hero" (seriously the card sucks), and Squee even has his own theme music ("Squee, Goblin Nabob!")

I personally love saprolings. I love getting an army of weenies out there and pumping them up via Giant Growth, Rancor, etc. My favorite is Armadillo Cloak, where I kill AND get life at the same time. HEE!


Hubby isn't a WoT fan, but he is an M:tG aficionado. He offered to send you the basis for a horrible Bounce deck a friend of ours made many moons ago. We both played against it for over a year, and I don't think we won once. Ahh...good times, staying up all night in our San Jose rental house playing 2 on 2 M:tG, getting take-out pho from our favorite Vietnamese place, and getting our patooties handed to us on a platter on a weekly basis. Hubby bought the friend's entire collection about 5 years ago, so now I have those darn cards in my house! :D

Are you limited to Standard play, or will anything go? What about banned/restricted cards? The Bounce deck was either all blue or blue/black. It ran Hoodwink, Boomerang, and other bounce cards that can hit land (the newer Magic cards usually say "return non-land"), but the old school cards would still work if you aren't restricted to Standard format. Also, IIRC, there aren't a lot of rares, so it should be pretty easy to get your hands on the cards.

Let me know if you're interested. I'm bowlwoman on both DM and TL. Too bad we don't still live in the Bay Area, because I would LOVE to watch this match live. :)
33. mike11
wow this is great! My brother forwarded this link to me and I think it is hilarious and awesome in every way. I play magic all the time and actually I just started a magic club at the school where I teach so that I can give other kids the great experiences like you had when you were in high school.

anyway I had a better idea for your little contest if you wanted to take it up. I think a better test of skill would be sealed deck. If you are unfamiliar with this, both people have 6 packs of a certain set or block and build a deck just out of those cards (basic lands can be added to those cards). this format tests your skill as a deckbuilder and as a player but not at the cost of what cards you personally own. I will be headed to a pro tour qualifier this weekend for this format. but yeah, i think that would be better.

now this whole only using cards you own or that people give you is a really cool idea so if you keep that, please feel free to email me and I would be happy to help you build some decks via email convo.

good luck!

Jason Denzel
34. JasonDenzel
@mike11 #33: Brandon and I did play a few sealed deck games once. One of those games resulted in the single win I mentioned. If we have time I'd love to do a Zendikar sealed deck. But for this official challenge I know he's itching to use his fan-provided cards.

@ everybody else: thanks for all the tips. I'll email those of you who offered specific cards or advice. I'm hearing a lot that blue/black is the way to go. Especially if rares will be hard to cone by for me. Next week's article on this match will discuss things in more specifics.

Keep the ideas coming!
35. ReAnimator
What does your card pool look like? I could build you a competitive deck out of anything, i've been playing for 15 years, i just need to know what cards you have. I realize this is an arduous task to type up a collection but if it is small or you want to play a specific colour/s that would make it faster.

Saying you have cards from Revised and unlimited doesn't really help unless you name quantities. If you have a full set of Moxes and Dual lands that is a big difference from having just a small amount of crap from revised.
36. greatcthulhu
I have not played magic in years, but I think it would be more fun to try to come up with appropriate decks as opposed to optimized winning decks.

Legacies of the 2nd age: Lots of artifacts, and green happy green whatnot.

Aes Sedai - Red battle deck and Blue deck of meddling...
37. Planeswalker
I ain't Planeswalker if I don't play Magic now, do I? :)

Yup, same with ReAnimator. If you can give me your list of cards, I can create a great deck for you and tell you your strategy with it.

Blue - if you like controlling the opponents cards. Black is good with this too with its discarder (Hypnotic Specter). If you don't even have 4 counterspells and 4 mana leaks, don't go Blue...

Red - if you want to end it fast, go fast. If you don't even have 4 lightningbolts or some Mogg Fanatics, then don't go Red...

Do you also get to know what deck he will be using? Coz we can plan ahead and counter it. If not, go with the basic deck strategy I just mentioned up there.

I don't even know why I'm helping since I just loved TGS bad. But Dragonmount was always there so I guess I'd help. Well, let me know if you need more help. Peace!
Jason Denzel
38. JasonDenzel
@ sus_b
@ Pukah
@ mike11
@ ReAnimator
@ Planeswalker

... You guys seem interested in helping me via email. If so, please email me at We can talk offline about strategies and possibly loaning cards.
39. Tialin
Wish I could see this grudge match live!!

Go Jason! (love you, too, Brandon, but...)

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