The Return of Superman

“Lotus, Ritual, Ritual, Jet. Twist you for seven.”

I had hit a wall. I felt my face flush, I looked down to quickly check my cards, praying that I had missed a Force of Will, or, better yet, a Misdirection. Island, Island, Sapphire, Drain, Cunning Wish, Mana Leak, Envelop. I hadn’t. We may have been post-board, but nothing was going to save me from that Twist.

I looked up to him and saw the giddy look materialize as he realized that he caught me without Force. My hand was ripped apart. Mind Twist? Not quite. This was the kind of headache that Oberyn Martell could relate to.

I started thinking about game three. I drew an Island, then another, then Drain. He still hadn’t done anything, save play lands. With two untapped and a Drain in hand, he tried to land a Negator. I had no choice but to counter it. Better to take three than 20. Drain would buy me time, but to what end?

And then I ripped Morphling off the top.

Morphling

Sometimes it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter that you have no business winning a game, it doesn’t matter how far behind you are, it doesn’t matter that you believe yourself to have been thoroughly smashed. Chance, or fate, or dumb luck finds you, favors you, guides you to victory and then continues on its merry way. In that moment, stunned, you come back and snatch victory from defeat.

The mana worked out perfectly. I played Superman and hoped that he didn’t have the Edict. He didn’t. I untapped, and suddenly had a chance. Five turns later and the game was over. The Twist didn’t matter. I got him.

He couldn’t believe it, of course. It was the perfect sequence of cards for both of us to have drawn. I had taken to calling Suicide Black ‘The Wall’ because, for BBS, it felt like I just couldn’t smash through it. I thought that things might have improved with Envelop in the sideboard, after all, it stopped Duress, Hymn, Sinkhole, Demonic Tutor, Will and Chainer’s Edict. But they were built to beat me. Cheap, efficient creatures like Nantuko Shade and Phyrexian Negator, hand destruction, mana disruption with Wastelands and Null Rods; I changed cards in my deck, but I didn’t change results.

Still, forgetting all of that, Morphling appeared, bore my standard, defeated him and left.

Another fun memory;

I was playing in the finals of the first Mark’s Comics Vintage tournaments that I had organized (either late 2001 or early 2002). I had just dispatched a friend playing the BBS deck I lent out as we battled in the top four. The finals would be Keeper vs. Keeper with an Alpha Time Walk on the line (because that’s what $20 entry and 15 guys meant back then).

We had a wild game one.  His opener of Ruby, Zuran Orb and Tundra did not compare favorably to my opener of Ruby, Gorilla Shaman, Sapphire, Sol Ring, Wasteland.  With a Lotus off the top and a Sea in hand, I wondered if I should push it.  Should I go for the easy kill?  He seemed ready for a control war, a long game.  He didn’t get one, as Morphling resolved, swung in and ensured victory in four quick turns.

To me, the halcyon days of Magic were in the late 90’s and early 00’s. The game could be absolutely brutal to you, but you could partake in the joy of truly frustrating your opponents. Landing an Abyss with a Morphling on board was great fun against Goblins, one of the silent giants of the period. I can’t tell you the number of times I had to Waste my own lands in response to a Price of Progress. Or choose the zero card pile from a Fact or Fiction because of Black Vise.

Price of Progress

When Alien World, my first gaming shop, closed in 1998, I started going to Mark’s Comics. I was a local kid who played casual Magic. I wasn’t very good. I played with players who were significantly better than I was. I liked, and needed, that. They raised my level of play. Before long, I was playing competitive decks. I knew what the stack was. I won an FNM.

Urza’s Saga came out in October of 1998. The Yankees were on fire. I was 16 and freshly back from living in Holland. My small group of new friends would play Magic in the school cafeteria at Oceanside High School, until the hall monitors chased us out. We’d go to Mike’s house, or Danny’s house on Friday night. We’d play multiplayer games, look through everybody else’s cards and try and brainstorm decks. Nothing we built was good, but that was when Magic was magic. For some reason, the smell of a freshly cracked booster pack from that era sticks with me.

I remember many nights spent in Mike’s finished basement, talking about strategy, our favorite cards, and the Magic storyline. We read and re-read copies of The Duelist and Inquest. We were tremendously excited by every preview card we saw. We avidly awaited that special day that came just a few times a year; the pre-release.

Grasslands.fullThere was something else that was going on while we thumbed through cards, magazines and talked Magic, non-stop. The beautiful images of the game were being burned into my mind. Great artists like RK Post, Mark Zug, Donato Giancola, John Avon and many, many others, were making an impact on me, one tiny printed image at a time. I played Magic for the strategy, for the friends, the camaraderie and the sheer pleasure of it. I would later learn that I loved Magic for the beauty of it.

I learned to play the game in Europe. It was tremendously complicated to me then. I thought Glasses of Urza was the most broken card printed. I played with my friend’s cards. When we moved back to New York, I thought the game had disappeared from my life for good.

I wasn’t fully hooked yet.

Mike, Greg, Anna and all the rest of us talked about the next big thing. I hadn’t been back in the U.S. all that long before Mirage was released. Mirage was an explosion of color in Magic. And it continued with Visions, Weatherlight, Tempest, Stronghold, and Exodus. They were all great sets. I played (poorly) with terrible cards from all of them and I wouldn’t trade those experiences for anything.

Urza’s Saga was different. That new core of artists that Magic had recently recruited brought color and beauty to Saga in a way that I hadn’t seen before. Much, much later, I learned that Pete Venters is one of the many people that should be thanked for this. I cannot begin to explain the impact that Saga had on me. Urza’s block hooked me, completely, finally.

I remember sitting in the cafeteria, ignoring my lunch and talking Magic. We bought packs where we could, but we were broke teenagers for the most part. I was particularly sensitive, as my family lived on more modest means back then. I wasn’t getting boxes of Magic for Christmas or my birthday. It’s funny to think about how much a few dollars meant to you when you were younger. It meant the world. There were many either/or choices that had to be made. More often than not, I chose Magic. I worked odd jobs for my grandmother, mowed lawns, did whatever I could to make a few extra dollars to buy packs. I eventually found a job working Saturdays at a local business, stocking shelves, cleaning. I worked for $5.15 an hour. The $35 I earned each Saturday felt like a fortune. Every day, images like Rewind, Serra Avatar, Gaea’s Cradle, Tolarian Academy and, of course, Morphling danced through my mind.

gaea'scradle

I would eventually realize that the best way to get the cards that you needed was to buy them directly. I bought Morphlings, Monoliths, Masticores, Treacheries, Ports and played Accelerated Blue. I didn’t understand why Zvi ran 63 cards, or why there was so much land in the deck, but there was.

I fell in love with Superman. Morphling did everything. Bash in for a (usually) unblockable five, untap, become a giant wall and stave off their biggest threat, shut off their removal, Morphling earned its moniker. It was well deserved.

Watching Morphling rotate out of Type II was tough. I traded my recently rotated cards to pick up cards for Counter-Rebels. I didn’t realize that Morphling would be back in my life before too long.

Christian Grim began picking up power and Beta cards to build a Vintage deck. We were in high school, but he was the first person I knew to seek out and pick up the iconic, mythic cards from the first years of Magic. I knew I wanted in on Vintage when I saw him playing. I would play blue, my favorite color, and I would play with Morphling, the best creature ever printed. I would play with Black Lotus, Ancestral Recall, Moxen. I loved every time I was given the opportunity to say ‘no’. I’m still saying ‘no’ now, albeit in different ways.

I made sacrifices, lived light and bought the cards I needed. I remember buying Dave Kaplan’s Mox Ruby and I remember how tight things were for two weeks because of it. But I had my set of Moxen. I worked midnights, doing security as I went to college. I remember sitting out in a security booth at three in the morning, staring at the set of power I had just finished.

With the rise of Tog, Morphling met its demise. I never thought that there would be a better creature than Morphling, but there were only so many instances of Tog swinging for 20+ damage before you finally acknowledged that what you hoped would never happen had come to pass.

Most cards come and go in Vintage and there’s nothing to say about it, except, perhaps, that change is the only constant in life.

9014

I didn’t even begin to consider collecting original art until I held the original art to Tinker in my hands. While I was successful in my hunt for Karn, there are some pieces that you don’t put on a want list. Some pieces end up on a ‘you’re dreaming’ list. How could the owner consider letting go of something that beautiful, that meaningful, that resonant? There are some things that will likely never move. Or, never move at a price that can be afforded.

I had two good friends help me in my quest for Morphling. Josh Krause had found Morphling in 2013. Not only had he found it, but he had spoken to the owner and it was discerned that the piece could be dislodged. He did his best to acquire the piece, but he was illiquid at that moment and wasn’t able to. He graciously passed the opportunity along to me.

I was too emotional to handle the deal. Morphling meant too much to me and I wasn’t comfortable handling the negotiating. I knew that I was liable to give away the sun, moon and stars in order to acquire the piece. I had thought that when I purchased Hammer of Bogardan that I would never buy a piece as expensive. Morphling laughed at Hammer. The owner was asking for multiples of it.

Mike Hajduk offered to be my representative in the deal. It took four months of give and take before a phone call was arranged between myself and the owner. There was still a gap to be bridged and the call would determine whether or not it could be done. Mike had helped tremendously. We were in the same stratosphere. Now it was about getting to the same ballpark. This last bit had to be done by me.

I knew that I would have to play it cool. Could I? I knew I couldn’t be cool for a protracted negotiation lasting months, but I thought I could handle a phone call. I knew what I was capable of raising and I knew that I didn’t want to sacrifice much more than I had already mentally written off as sold. The phone call was rocky to start. There was no cadence or rhythm to it. There was an opening to discuss other things, and so we wandered off topic for a while. We talked about artist proofs, prints and anything but the matter at hand. Forty minutes into the conversation, things had changed. He was willing to negotiate and give some of the ground that he held. I was willing to come up a little. And we found a happy medium.

It was a couple of weeks before I finally received the piece. I cannot explain the measure of joy that I felt when I finally laid the piece on the desk in front of me and just stared at it. There was Morphling, when I was 16 and just learning. There was Morphling when I was 19 and playing Vintage. There was Morphling at the end of its era. There was Morphling, the beautiful painting, sitting in front of me.

Morphling Old Frame

Superman was in desperate need of reframing.

It has been nearly a year since I was fortunate enough to add Morphling to my collection. One thing had yet to happen; I hadn’t yet met the man behind her.

RK Post came to Mark’s Comics this past weekend. I went to Valley Stream, to Mark’s, not to play in a pre-release, but to meet an artist whom I’ve known and loved for years. I walked up to RK Post on Saturday, all of 16 years old and started a conversation that was 16 years in the making.

I wanted something to commemorate the experience, something unique. I had been thinking about what I could do that would tie in with the art. And then it hit me that I could have the hand that created the art I loved influence the piece one final time:

Morphling RK Posta

RK Post added a special touch to the new frame for Morphling

We owe the artists of this game we love a tremendous amount. They have created things of beauty that we have carried with us for years. These artists, in adding beauty to our lives, have changed our perspectives and enriched us all. I know that I have found myself staring at cards, paying attention to minuscule details. I know I’m not alone.

As the art community grows, many artists have begun to receive the recognition that they so richly deserve. I hope that we can all find a means to support the artists further, to help them and ensure that they are properly rewarded, remembered and appreciated for all that they have done for us.

Twist for seven? That’s fine, I have Superman on my side.