I’ve been pretty bummed out with Magic lately. I swore it would never happen. I’ve written a lot about being positive about Magic, since its pretty cool that we’re privileged enough to play a game competitively in the first place. But being positive is always easier said than done and despite my acknowledgement that Magic burnout is very much a first-world problem, it doesn’t always make losing more palatable.

This past week, I did three MTGO drafts and lost in the first round of all of them. I wrote an article on Journey into Nyx specs and was thoroughly obliterated on Reddit. Despite my noble intentions to write 52 weeks of tournament reports, I petered out somewhere around halfway and basically haven’t attended my LGS regularly since. I know that these things are not a big deal, but I still feel bad about them, and in turn, it makes me feel worse that I’m getting stressed out over a fantasy themed trading card game in the first place.

Needless to say, I didn’t know what to write about today.

Fortunately, an idea popped into my email inbox thanks to Hipsters’ own Jess Stirba. Jess suggested that everyone who writes for the site write a personal article about what got us into Magic; the first pack, the first deck, the first tournament etc. I knew immediately what I wanted to write about.

Ladies and gentleman, this is an article about my favorite creature of all time: Phantom Nomad.


Yes, my favorite creature of all time is not a tournament staple or a flavorful legend but a glorified bear from Judgment. A common. A card you could consistently wheel in Odyssey block limited (which is miserable by the way). The worst part about it is that the reason I love this nomad spirit is because of another bad card. Ghostly Wings. Go ahead and read the oracle on that bad boy, I’ll wait. For the uninitiated, you give nomad a pair of wings and not only do you get a 3/3 flier, but one that doesn’t die to damage since the damage replacement effect just has you remove a counter. I was really enamored with the fact that this nomad could stick around and block forever, and in the event that it was the target of Dark Banishing, you could just bounce the nomad back to your hand and replay it. I’m not sure if I had been introduced to Cho-Manno, Revolutionary at this point in my life, I think my head might have exploded.

Now, this interaction wouldn’t so much as warrant “I just noticed this interaction” post on reddit, but it resonated with me. After getting some packs and doing some trading with friends, I built my first Standard deck which looked something like this:

Shawn’s First Standard Deck

Creatures (21)
Phantom Nomad
Meddling Mage
Galina's Knight
Silver Drake
Battlewise Aven
Iridescent Angel
Commander Eesha
Mystic Crusader

Spells (15)
Teferi's Moat
Kirtar's Desire
Ghostly Wings
Lands (24)
Adarkar Wastes
Coastal Tower
10 Plains
10 Island

I don’t remember the exact list or numbers, and to be honest there might even been a little revisionist history going on here in terms of card quality, but this is the basic gist. The deck featured the Nomad/Wings combo, a bunch of creature disruption in the form of pacifism effects, and a set of Auramancers to get them back if they were destroyed or discarded to Ghostly Wings. The rest of the deck is more or less a white weenie/fish deck before I knew what either of those names meant. I did maintain a pretty good curve for the deck with the one notable exception of Iridescent Angel, which I had spent $10 of my hard earned dishwashing money on and couldn’t be dissuaded to play.

I played this deck in my first tournament ever, a pretty informal affair at my friend Scheid’s house. I only had two Meddling Mages before the event and desperately wanted more, so I went to buy them at the store down the street, The Magic Guild. They didn’t have them in the case, so I cracked a few packs of Planeshift and miraculously opened one. It felt like fate. With three Pikula in my deck, I felt poised to take down the tournament, though it was worth noting that I thought the effect lasted the entire game and not just until Mage died, which I found out in round one.

The tournament took place in the finished basement of Scheid’s parent’s house on a Sunday afternoon. There were ten of us in total, sprawled out on the floor and crammed around a dining room table. While I can picture the room and some of the people in it, the games are mostly a blur to me.

One round I played against my friend Penniman—none of my friends went by their first names—who was perpetually on some kind of reanimator strategy. I correctly got the read on a Sickening Dreams in his hand and named it with Meddling Mage. Later in the game he managed to Stich Together a Devouring Strossus into play which I pacified and waltzed past with some 2/2’s.

The only other game I remember is the finals. Somehow, despite my limited experience and knowledge playing Magic, I had made the finals. While I wasn’t day two’ing a GP or taking down a PTQ, the finals of this unsanctioned match meant the world to me. It was me versus Scheid with his UG Tempo deck. While this match took place, roughly 12 years ago, I remember Scheid’s deck looked something like this:

Scheid's Deck

Creatures (26)
Gaea's Skyfolk
Birds of Paradise
Wild Mongrel
Basking Rootwalla

Spells (10)
Call of the Herd
Roar of the Wurm
Rushing River

Land (24)
Yavimaya Coast
10 Forest
10 Island

It wasn’t quite all in on the Madness plan, hence the presence of Gaea’s Skyfolk, but it was certainly more of a deck than the pile I had brought. Yet somehow, I won. Me, who had only been playing for a few weeks, beat one of the best players in our playgroup. I don’t remember any of the match itself just the a satisfying feeling of relief when he reached out the hand in concession.

At the end of the day, I made $30, which I probably spent on more Iridescent Angels, and found myself totally hooked on Magic. I played long after everyone else in the play group gave up and moved on. In another two years, I’ll have spent more than half my life playing this card game. I’ve made some of my best friends playing Magic, have traveled across the country to attend tournaments, and have been more committed to writing a weekly article than I ever was with homework. All of this started with a couple of +1/+1 counters and a stupid interaction. I owe part of where I am today to Phantom Nomad. Thanks buddy.

At age 15, while standing in a record store with his high school bandmates, Shawn Massak made the uncool decision to spend the last of his money on a 7th edition starter deck (the one with foil Thorn Elemental). Since that fateful day 11 years ago, Shawn has decorated rooms of his apartment with MTG posters, cosplayed as Jace, the Mindsculptor, and competes with LSV for the record of most islands played (lifetime). When he’s not playing Magic, Shawn works as a job coach for people with disabilities, plays guitar in an indie-pop band, and keeps a blog about pro-wrestling.

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