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Spoilers: You Can’t Go Back Again

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Another page in the book of years has turned, and now that the madness of the holidays has passed us and life begins to resume normalcy we can begin to devote our collective attentions to something of far deeper significance: Silly Season. First a drip, then a trickle, and eventually a flood. That's a sure sign that you need to see a doctor the new set spoilers are upon us, and by the time the set is released we'll already have knowledge of most everything the set promises us. As I write this we've nearly a dozen already, from Glissa to the Hero of Bladehold. No doubt by the time you're reading this, we'll have a few more.

This is actually an improved state of affairs.

Seems it wasn't all that long ago when sets would be leaked well before launch, and by the time the set release rolled about the cards were in some ways already old hat. As a card-carrying member of the Preconstructed Community, I have as much reason as anyone to get excited about the new offerings. Sure, I won't be salivating at what new pistons might be available for my Standard engine, or begin adjusting my draft strategies for Limited, but not only do I get the whimsy and wonder that greets a new pool of cards I also get four more Intro Decks as well as the brand-new Event Decks. Why, it's like Christmas all over again!

And if New Year's be the time of resolutions, I'm calling mine now: I hereby resolve to greedily devour every last morsel or crumb that falls from Wizard's table into my empty tin bowl. I'll read every spoiler, look up every card, and enjoy hours of speculative podcasting bliss. I will not make the same mistake I did with Scars of Mirrodin.

Yep, a mistake, like the best of them made with the very best of intentions. I think that for most as we begin to attain a certain age we start to look back at the things and experiences of youth with an overfond remembrance, which can sometimes temper the wisdom of the present. Sometimes this is minor, like buying my stepson five Star Wars figures to put under the tree rather than the agreed-upon three, because hey, what's a budget compared to the opportunity to let him experience the glories I had when I was a kid (our figures were better, by the way). Sometimes they're major, like making a ridiculous automotive choice. Fortunately the mistake I'm relating might be slightly closer to the former than the latter, but not by much.

To understand the youth I'd attempted to recapture, it probably would help to spend a few moments there. It was 1998, and without the mad chatter of the internet Magic was a game played in far more isolation. There was no "Gatherer" to speak of, though you could get card lists in arrears. Instead of spoilers, we had teaser ads. Prereleases weren't at your "local FNM," but rather held in only a very limited number of places. It's probably a fair statement to say that I was at least as excited to go to my first Prerelease as I was to go see a Maiden or Ramones show.

To me, this will forever be a "golden age," walking into a crowded venue with almost no knowledge of what cards you were about to open. Every booster busted would pare back the 'fog of war' ever-so-slightly, and tons of tricks and surprises awaited you within your opponents' libraries.

I don't remember a lot of these tricks and surprises now, but looking over the set list in Gatherer triggers a few echoing memories. Running afoul of a Bullwhip. Swinging in with a Cloud Spirit. The joy of Death Stroke, the agony of an opposing Wall of Souls. Piling back in the car with my mates after the event, passing cards back and forth amongst one another and sharing what we all saw, and continuing back at an Irish pub in Stamford over Guinnesses and the best bread pudding I've ever eaten.

See what's happening there? New cards to cameraderie and shared passion amongst friends to what I had for dinner. Like any good reminiscence, you have all sorts of feelings and sensations wrapped into one very cherished memory, and once embedded they are quite hard to shake.

The beautiful unknown...

And so sometime around last August and deep in the throes of nostalgia, I made a public pledge that I would be avoiding any and all spoilers from the upcoming set, Scars of Mirrodin. It's harder than it seems! Like some imperial court's official food taster, I had to gingerly sample everything before it was open for consumption. Scanning my Twitter feed, peeking at Magic sites through half-lidded eyes and becoming familiar with skipping over entire sections of Monday Night Magic, I almost desperately wanted to recapture that feeling I had for Stronghold, where every card you see is one you've laid eyes onto for the first time.

For the most part, my grand experiment was a success. Sure I'd heard a bit about Koth of the Hammer, and that poison counters were back, but almost all of the card pool was undiscovered country. And so the very first day I could, I came home with five Intro Decks packed under my arm. I discovered proliferate though Deadspread, infect through Phyrexian Poison, and metalcraft via, well, Metalcraft. The Myr were back, too, and of course there was the artifact-smashing Relic Breaker. Once again, each game was as much about exploration of the set as it was was about strategy and winning.

It didn't take too long for the euphoria to fade, though, for when you've layered something in the romance of time what reality could hope to compete? After a number of games with the new decks I'd seen all they had to offer, and the mystique had begun to fade. And I was left with a very sobering realisation:

I don't know shit about the new set.

Sure I could pore through the Fat Pack's Players Guide. I could spend an errant hour on Gatherer sorting and resorting. But somehow, it almost seemed like information overload. I'm far from old, but I'm at a point where I can't snap off each and every card at a fingersnap like my 12-year-old stepdaughter does. And as the world continued to turn, new decks were brewed and limited strategies developed, I felt very much like I'd missed the bus. When it came time to start rolling out the Ertai's Meddlings for my site (where I take a precon and refine/rebuild it), I was distraught. They'd virtually written themselves for M11, but here I had to improve using a card pool I just didn't have much of a feel for.

It wasn't long before the realisation dawned upon me: I'd hamstrung myself. Perhaps the virtue of Silly Season isn't that it feeds your curiosity for the new set, but rather that it does so in very digestible portions. A few cards here, a few cards there, and by the time it's out you've got a very solid working knowledge. Trying to learn over two-hundred new cards at the quick-step? Ahh, to be young again!

I resolve to spoil you rotten, my dear

So this time, I'm making my resolution clear- bring on the spoilers! I'll take my set dose by dose, please, and be thankful for the privilege. Although I eventually got comfortable with Scars, it was a worthy reminder that you really can't go back again. Stronghold, I'll always love you, but I'll never try to recapture you again. Instead, I'll just dust you off from time to time, and tell stories of [card Pursuit of Knowledge]drawing seven cards[/card], [card Rolling Stones]attacking walls[/card], and [card Serpent Warrior]a hiss before dying[/card].

And now, about those Crusaders...

4 thoughts on “Spoilers: You Can’t Go Back Again

  1. Brilliant article … as usual.

    Starts out as an Mtg-vairant of the "Remember when there was no mobile phone" discussion but quickly fills my heart with warm and comfortable nostalgia on a cold winter's day. And of course the catch-up to right now is not missed.

    As you put it Jay, the past is not the worst place to spend a mental holiday in. It feels good dusting off old memories and glorifying what can no more be changed (as opposed to the present) … I still remember opening my first booster of Tempest. But nevertheless, the amenities of being spoiled piece by piece of the new sets is somewhat thrilling …

    As you mention Star Wars – the parallels seem apparent as you can clearly distinguish the two different approaches to this world: There is the audience that was around in the 70s and there are those people who started out with the new trilogy. Both of these are great ways of experiencing the story …

  2. Back in the old, old days, I remember cracking Mirage packs with the rest of the kids at school, and sifting through reams of mysterious Ice Age cards at a friend's house. When you're 12, you get attached to cards pretty quickly because you often didn't have the money to get a lot of packs. I remember Tainted Specter being one of my favourite cards just because it was one of the only Mirage rares I opened.

    You can't go back again, but that's not such a bad thing. Thanks for the nostalgia trip 🙂

  3. Jay, as always, a delightful trip into the past. Just like Derfington, I remember being amazed by the Balduvian Horde from Alliances. I had only heard about it until someone from the local store finally traded for a very beat up copy. It was only when the Duelist was being printed that deck lists were even very common. And I never had any idea what cards were rare or not because they weren't labeled that way until after the Alliances, if I remember right. I just had to hope that I was playing my cards (and my trades) right! But, yes, coming back into the game after a 15-tear hiatus during Scards, the only way I kept my head above water at the pre-release was with the spoilers. Otherwise, I might have still been trying to figure out semantics while others were putting together decks. See you back at Ertai's Lament.

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