Dearest The Rack,

I saw your former paramour, Tom “The Boss” Ross yesterday. He said I should write you. And so I shall.

You are deprivation. You are passive. You are greedy. (Phew, I love me some passive punishment.) No, you’re not black, but you are a fellow traveler. 

You have a true tortuous quality. In an 8-Rack deck–depending on what year one was playing–there could be a full playset of you. Then there’s the discard package. Your rotten roustabouts. Thoughtseize. Inquisition of Kozilek. Smallpox. Wrench Mind. Raven’s Crime. The usual suspects. I fell in love with 8-Rack and its variations because it won on the hand size of the opponent and less on combat or direct damage. This past weekend another player in my Commander/Oathbreaker group said, “People dislike discard more than mill.” I don’t agree with that. But I can understand why players bemoan discard effects. And that’s why I like it. Can I share a deep dark secret? Combat distresses me. I can’t concentrate. I’m not smart about making attack choices. Which target is best? Magic morphs into chess at that point. The game theory gears crank and whine and I’m bored. But your passive and taxing effects of stripping an opponent’s hand and then having them eat life off a plate for it is delicious. 

I’ve often wondered why I love you so much. I think it’s twofold. Players have become unfamiliar with you. Tons of folks have to read your text over and over. “How much? Right now? At upkeep? Okay.” I think I just want to set your penalty machine up and stand back and watch it work. Watch you hum along. Like that Franz Kafka story you one sent me! The punitive machine that goes crazy and kills its controller? Ahh, good times. But let’s be perfectly honest. I’m a pure coward and combat isn’t impressive, although it’s a kernel of the whole game. Of whole formats. Combo players must feel this way a bit, too, no? They dig for the parts, slap ‘em together, and let it rip. Boom. Done. You’re like the negative version of financial interest rates. Ever-plummeting. Ever-excising. 

Maybe on a philosophical level, my dear The Rack, you are the secretive, sensitive part of black’s overall psychology that wants to win but not through any personal interaction. Black cards want to poison and deathtouch and phase out. You’re like a small deadly spider that hides in the corner and waits for someone to dust that dark corner one day. Or you’re a similarly small pest that takes tiny and detrimental bites of one while they sleep and wake. 

I sing of you…you are the quiet neighbor in all of those true crime podcasts. “They always seemed so pleasant. They never spoke. They kept to themselves.” You are a card famine. Or rather the plague that sweeps in after a plague. My sweet soul!

However. In recent years card draw has become a standard aspect of almost all formats. For shame, for shame. “Who wants free cards?” WotC asked. And as one uproarious and ravenous chorus, fans said, “We do!” Where once you could chip, chop, nip, and hack away at an opponent’s hand size–alas, it’s all but impossible these days. Or incredibly tedious and laborious. Take your pick. And then there’s that pesky Boseiju, Who Endures and handy Haywire Mite. The louts. Cheap artifact removal and card draw make you look quaint. Which is sad. How the mighty have fallen, become perfunctory. Your glory shined brightest when the third version of you landed onto the battlefield and you’d stripped the opponent of everything. Now they say you’re a waste of mana and strategy. 

I can’t bear to think that they may be right. Yet I had no choice but to take apart my 8-Rack deck and shift one copy of you into a new and more comfortable retirement residence. The good news is that there will be 99 neighbors. You won’t get out much, but when you do we’ll make sure to sing some hymns to Tourach

With love & squalor,


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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