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 Tor.com 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.
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.
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 Theoryland.com, 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 Tor.com 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 Dragonmount.com, 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.