Last week, my wife and I were cleaning out our basement. I found a small banker’s box of childhood materials that I’d gathered up after my parents died some years back. Inside the box were old birthday cards, student fliers announcing my contribution to a play, a basketball team, or my confirmation in the Catholic Church. There was a baby book with my baby teeth Scotch taped inside. (Thanks, mom.) But there were also lots of trading cards. Star Trek: The Next Generation. DC Comics. Marvel. And floating around in there: three Magic cards. How is this possible? If you’ve read the first Swamp Talk column, you know I didn’t buy or play Magic: The Gathering merchandise until June 2022. So where in the hell did these cards come from? Spoiler: none of them were worth anything beyond 10 cents. (Drumroll, please.) 

It was a basic Mountain, an Armor Thrull, and Tourach’s Chant

Now, this may all be a bore to you. But to me, as a devoted player of black cards, finding two of them in this childhood midden was, well, eerie. I’m not superstitious. Repeat: in no way do I believe in Fate. The cards were likely given to me so long ago (probably by an older neighbor boy who played) I didn’t even grok what they were and they got tossed into the box. But it prompted me to muse on how we shape ourselves as a player of this unique game. How quickly we identify with a certain gameplay, style, or color. How do we arrive at wanting to play a certain color or certain cards?

Did I Suspend Myself?

The way I’ve been thinking of this is through the mechanic of Suspend. If you remember, Suspend is an alternative casting cost. For example, Rift Bolt uses Suspend. Instead of paying 2R, you can pay R and exile it. It receives a suspend counter. When that counter comes off at your next upkeep, you bolt the opponent for 3 damage. For free. I love this mechanic because it exchanges mana for time. You don’t pay for the bolt with the R. You pay for it with time. What you pay for with R is the exiling. Now if I may be liberally poetic for a moment…

You can find many of my fellow Hipsters on this site–all excellent writers–mention their favorite cards, favorite decks, but especially their first pulls. This mesmorizes me. To have that memory, that knowledge. In Anthony Lowry’s most recent article, he mentions pulling Chain of Smog as one of his first cards. How have those initial pulls influenced or set Anthony’s path going forward, if at all? I know that one of the first cards I pulled was the new Liliana of the Veil in my prerelease. That spoke to me. It seemed to “mean” something for who I wanted to be as a Magic player. But what might it mean to realize that over 25 years ago a couple of cards were placed in my hands and secreted away only to resurface so near my emergence as a player of said game? And to have those cards reflect the kind of player I’ve wanted to be, that I am? (A one in five chance, I suppose, no?)

It’s almost as if, maybe–just maybe–I suspended myself. I paid for a future self with time and not experience or pleasure. And, yes, I know: it’s an absolute silly thing to think, to believe. But, hey, I like it. 

Of those three cards I found, the card that I’m actually most likely to play is Tourach’s Chant. It’s a card I hadn’t paid any attention to at all up to now. And it’s not a card that inspires oohs or ahhs. But I plan to include it in one of my mono-black Commander decks. My groups tends to play an abundance of Forests. So it’ll be handy. Moreover, Tourach’s Chant is a horrible 1v1 card. It’s more perfectly suited for Commander, anyway. And I’ve recently stepped away from all formats except for Commander. Again, I know I know. This card isn’t magical and didn’t do anything special. Finding old crap in a basement isn’t a fairy tale. 

But! Digging up cards and slotting them into the right place feels like returning the sword to the stone. A reverse Excalibur moment. A downshift. Which is what I needed after drinking from the Magic firehose for a short six months. And now with the Year of Endless Products bearing down on us like a tractor trailer with no brakes, I think finding joy in an almost forgettable part of Fallen Empires is a worthy price to pay for suspending yourself. 

Kyle Winkler (he/him) is a teacher and fiction writer. While he was pre-teen when Magic: The Gathering was released, he didn’t start playing until recently. He’s the author of the cosmic horror novella (The Nothing That Is), a collection of short stories (OH PAIN), and a novel (Boris Says the Words). His favorite card is a toss up between Crypt Rats and Oubliette

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