Magic: The Gathering and the Glory of the Bear Deck

My buddy Craig was in town and over the last year or so he’s really gotten into Magic: The Gathering.  So, I dusted off the cards and we spent an evening playing!

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I am not a competitive Magic player.  In fact, I generally don’t play it because I love it and I can’t afford to get sucked into it.  Yes, I realize that there are relatively cheap formats like Standard and EDH/Commander that don’t have to cost a lot of money.  I am most interested in those.

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Craig has fancy Spindown dice.

Anyway, we went to The Game Shoppe in Bellevue, NE to play.  The Game Shoppe is one of my favorite FLGS’.  And they are legit friendly.  I work with Becky most of the time and she’s awesome.  Very enthusiastic.  I was surprised (maybe I shouldn’t have been?) to find that they were absolutely packed on a Wednesday night.  They had a well-attended DND game, a separate Magic tournament and Heroclix (that’s still a thing?).  Craig and I were able to find a corner spot at the My Little Pony table and stayed out of people’s ways.  People bring their kids to game stores and our tablemate had her full collection of My Little Ponies with her. They were awesome.

We started with just some basic 60 card decks.  I dug through my stuff and found my favorite deck of all time:  The Bear Deck.  The purpose of the Bear Deck is to throw one metric ton of Bears at your opponent.  It has four Ashcoat Bears, four Grizzly Bears, four Striped Bears, four Werebears, four Bearscape (allowing you to bring in two Bear tokens, or four if you have Threshold), and a mishmash of ten other Green and artifact cards that work well with a pile of Bears (mostly Giant Growths, Birchwood Armor, and other boosty cards, many of which give Trample).  Threshold is a mechanic from Odyssey that gives you bonuses when you have at least seven cards in your graveyard.  The Werebears, for example, get +3/+3 when you have Threshold.  So, the whole point of the deck is that I bring out a bunch of Bears and I buff them as quickly as possible, discarding instants and sorceries and dead Bears to get to Threshold. And then I throw even more Bears out. Because Bears.  I find the deck hilarious.  It’s biggest weakness is multi-target or swarm-clearing spells.

Craig and I played three matches with the Bear deck and I won two.  The Bear deck still does surprisingly well, but since it is a “Standard” deck it doesn’t have any block restrictions and the Threshold mechanic kind of breaks it.  In addition, I have Coat of Arms in there, which gives +1/+1 to all creatures for every creature that shares a type.  So, that’s flat-out broken.  Under the right conditions you’re looking at six 10/10 Bears and two 13/13 Werebears.

After that, Craig and I took turns trying out a bunch of his Commander decks.  I really like the format and like the concept of only one copy of any card.  We had a lot of fun trying to get the drop on the other.  Craig, as a teacher, was a great re-teacher of Magic and he is my kind of gamer in that his focus is always on playing the game correctly, whether it is an advantage to him or not.  My experience with competitive gamers (which I’ve written about before) is that they will often try to sabotage the learning of new players just to get a thrill of winning.  That ain’t Craig, and it ain’t me and we can just agree to have fun and enjoy ourselves.

One of my big gripes with Magic, especially at the competitive level, is that turn order can get real complicated and you need specialized knowledge and experience to interpret certain card combinations.  Like, you’ll hear players talking about what’s on the “stack” and when you can cause damage, and bleed damage and all sorts of other things.  That’s fine in of itself.  It gives Magic depth and a complexity of execution.  The problem with it, though, is that you get experienced players who have a tendency to fudge those rules to give themselves an edge, or they simply don’t understand the rules well enough themselves to be able to rule appropriately or explain it appropriately.  And then they get frustrated and it stops being fun.  Of course, I don’t get any of that most of the time, its rare, but when it happens its really a positive vibe killer.

And I certainly don’t get it from Craig, who seemed to be thankful to have a competent opponent.  He thrashed me a few times, I didn’t have terribly complicated decks, and I was able to get the basics well enough to split the commander games with him!

Some more pics, including some images of the Bear Deck in action!

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As a biologist, I like mono Green, because nature.  I have a Fungus/Spore deck too.  From a gaming perspective I also enjoy Red/Green decks because I find the combo of powerful beasts and direct damage Red spells to be cool.  Its high risk, high reward.  I don’t like the wars of attrition that characterize White and Blue.  I don’t like multi-color decks.  That’s just my preference,  of course.  There is nothing wrong with different people having different likes and dislikes!

Coming up on Tactical Thinking:  Is it possible for me to be disappointed in a Pentel mechanical pencil?  Apparently it is!

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