“Problematic” Garruk, my favorite Planeswalker

When I returned to the game during Shards of Alara, I was introduced to the new card type; Planeswalker. Initially, I hated the idea of planeswalker cards, since their design allowed them to act as a second player on the side of their controller, and there weren’t many ways to get rid of them if you weren’t playing creatures. But when I saw and subsequently played with Garruk Wildspeaker, I fell in love.

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I didn’t fall for the planeswalker card type, but I did fall in love with the huge, manly, savage guy who happened to be a planeswalker.

I’ve always had a great affection for the beefcake and barbarian archetypes. I remember reading old issues of Conan when I was a little kid, and marveling at his wild might and musculature. This was mimicked in many other works I viewed at that age, like The Incredible Hulk, Dragonball Z, and Hokuto no Ken. Perhaps it was because I’d been the scrawny kid who everyone saw as weak, and I was looking up to these powerful men who could defeat any enemy with utter brutality. That affection evolved into a general attraction as I entered puberty, so I began to seek those sorts of characters out more and more. It is an ideal that I never had any desire to embody myself, but to instead admire it in others who possess it.

When I began exploring Garruk’s lore, I began to be captivated by his “hunter druid” nature. I’d been reading the MtG novels for years already, so I was very captivated by Magic’s worldbuilding and flavor. But with Garruk, I had digital comic books to read, which really got me excited. The story of Garruk’s fight with Liliana, “The Hunter and the Veil,”  left a pretty bad taste in my mouth, but I had hope that Wizards would do something interesting with him soon. It took a year, but they did continue his story with “The Veil’s Curse,” which had a cool fight between Jace and Garruk, with Garruk breaking through the blue mage’s spells with ease. It was shortly followed by “The Wild Son,” which gave me a greatly appreciated insight into Garruk’s simple origins. This was the first story I really liked, and emboldened my interest in his character.

After reading the comics featuring Garruk, and learning of his humble beginnings, I began to really dislike the direction they’d taken his character. Being cursed by the evil wench Liliana, Garruk was corrupted and made ugly and vile. I really grew to hate Liliana as a character, and hoped that Wizards would find a way to cure and redeem Garruk. My greatest hope for this was a novel that was to be released back in 2010, called “The Curse of the Chain Veil”. However, it was never released, and I wouldn’t get anything lorewise concerning Garruk until 2012. Although, I did get several cool and interesting new Garruk cards while I waited, so my appetite was sated for a bit.

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After Garruk’s story in Innistrad, where he was almost healed by Avacyn, his story became more and more dark, as he began to accept the curse, and the fate it brought him. I lamented this, especially with the culmination of this corruption storyline in M15, the Garruk-themed set. A part of me celebrated Garruk being center stage, but a larger part wished for the neutral-aligned mono-green hunter druid that I’d fallen for years ago. I’d felt that Wizards had run out of ideas for Garruk, and that they weren’t going to cleanse him of the curse that had turned him into a murderous, evil planeswalker hunter. But I have to admit, the card this version of Garruk received was pretty cool, and fun to play with.

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As Wizards increased its efforts to gain new players in the coming years, I noticed that Garruk became nearly non-existent within the game. He’d seemed to have been completely replaced by the Elf planeswalker, Nissa Revane, who I saw as boring and unoriginal. The idea of a main character “hunter druid” had been somewhat fresh, but an elitist elf who was in touch with nature was a bromidic trope. I began to wonder why he’d been given a character-centric set, only to be abandoned at the climax of his corruption arc. I began to talk to others about this, and they told me to look at a card found in Innistrad called “Triumph of Ferocity”. I’d been out of the game during the Innistrad block, only peeking my head in to do a few drafts, so I wasn’t familiar with the cards, or the controversies, until I returned for the RtR block.

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The Magic fanbase has been composed of a large number of immature, socially-inept guys as far back as I can remember (myself included, once upon a time), mainly consisting of young white males whose humor was oftentimes crass and disparaging. I’d oftentimes find myself at the butt of racist jokes, being the only black guy in some of the card shops I’d frequent. It didn’t bother me, because I knew that the guys were just being silly, and didn’t have hateful intentions. Nothing was off-bounds, whether it be sexist, homophobic, or racist. It was the sort of environment where you gained a tough-skin pretty quickly, because everyone else would point fun at your hurt feelings if you were offended by anything that was said. It was challenging, but also fun. It was an environment where you knew you could say pretty much anything you wanted. But that environment also incentivized saying the worst things you could think of, because it was a sure way to get a laugh.

That’s why I could understand how most of the guys I knew got a real kick out of the art displayed on Triumph of Ferocity. When I brought up the card to some MtG friends of mine, they always joked about it. Most of the jokes were sexual, saying things like, “Liliana and Garruk are so into each other, they even get into BDSM”.

It wasn’t much of a problem for magic players back then, but things quickly began to change as new, more diverse players began to flood into the game. Wizards was on a mission to make the game inclusive, and that meant removing things that would be “problematic” to new players who didn’t share the crass humor of many of the older players. A wave of inclusivity began to sweep through all sorts of industries and fandoms during 2015, as movements like Gamergate began to show a darker side of nerd culture to society at large. Wizards, being a center of nerd culture, made it a priority to clean up the public’s image of its nerdy player-base. “Triumph of Ferocity” began to be looked at by new players, and some of them began speaking about the sexism present in MtG. It is around this time that Garruk ceased to be present in the game. The writers of Wizards would add a little blurb about what he was up to every now and then, but that was it. I felt as though M15 had acted as a grand send-off to a character that Wizards realized needed to “disappear” for the good of the game’s inclusive future.

To me, it is tragic that Wizards would get rid of a character simply because of a single unflattering card art he was in years ago. It isn’t as though he was harming an innocent woman. Liliana and Garruk were engaged in a fight, where she had the upper hand. She refused to remove a curse that was partly responsible for Garruk’s aggression towards her. Liliana is an evil necromancer, obsessed with power and enamored with cruelty. She also got her turn to hurt Garruk during the fight, as depicted in “Triumph of Ferocity’s” opposing card, “Triumph of Cruelty”.

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As The War of the Spark draws near, Magic’s first Planeswalker-themed set, I couldn’t help but reminisce about Garruk’s fate. 36 planeswalkers that will appear within the set have been revealed, with indications that they will be the only planeswalkers that will receive new cards within the set. Garruk was not among them, and hasn’t even been mentioned yet. Is this a confirmation that Wizards has indeed written him out of their larger narrative, relegating him to a few sentences in a “Catching Up” story now and then? I certainly hope not. And if there’s anything that Garruk has always given me, it’s hope that his character will get the compelling story he deserves.

EDH Favourites : Mono-Colored

EDH/Commander is my favorite format. It allows such a wide range of deck-building options, and you can really express yourself through your decks. This appeals to me greatly, especially when I see theme decks, and especially flavorful decks. I tend to make either really powerful decks, or really casual decks.

I’d like to share my favorite commanders with all of you, within 4 different posts. This time, I will cover my favorite mono-color commanders. Mono-color commanders offer the purest color pie experience in EDH. The decks are oftentimes single-minded, having access to only one color. You really get to see the weaknesses and strengths of each color, even with access to nearly all of the cards in magic’s history.

Mono-Blue : Memnarch

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Memnarch is probably my favorite creature in MtG. He is the World Warden, the Wicked Wizard, the Obsessive Overlord. Memnarch takes your permanents…all of them.

With infinite mana, Memnarch serves as the best theft-based mana sink in the game. He keeps your opponents’ permanents….permanently. He turns card advantage on it’s head, by allowing you to gain an advantage while disadvantaging your opponents. Normally, filling your deck with mana producers seems underwhelming, but Memnarch turns any excess mana into additional permanents on your battlefield. He is oppressive, yes, which is why I only play him when I’m playing against other powerful combo decks. And with a head that big, how couldn’t he out-think his opponents?

Strength : Card Advantage

Weakness : Aggro Decks

 

Mono-Red : Kamahl, Pit Fighter

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Kamahl is the champion of the Pit. He is a vicious gladiator, coating his massive blade with the blood of his opponents. Pretty manly, eh? Alas, he lacks stamina; he is a one-minute man. But man, does’ he know how to smash during that minute!

Kamahl is the king of pingers. He is a lightning bolt on a stick, who deals 3 damage to any target the moment he comes out of the command zone. But more importantly, he comes out swinging, possibly doing 6 commander damage to an unfortunate opponent. He is aggressive, and also shoots lightning bolts. To me, Kamahl is a red purist, epitomizing the classical aspects of the color. You can build him as tribal pingers, or you can voltron him up, or you could just run burn spells and hasty creatures. His versatility is his strength, just as it was in the Pit.

Strength : Damage

Weakness : Big Booty Blockers

 

Mono-White : Crovax, Ascendant Hero

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The Time Spiral Block gave us so many amazing remixes of the color pie, game mechanics, and even previous characters. Crovax is known as being a merciless vampire, corrupted by Phyrexia and turned against his previous allies. His story is complex and nuanced, creating a multi-faceted character with a living, breathing history. In typical What-If fashion, Planar Chaos gave us a parallel universe-version of Crovax, who’d been cleansed of his corruption, and who became an incredible force for good.

I love Crovax, and always wished he’d gotten a happier ending during the Weatherlight Saga. This card gave him that happier ending. Because he fights against the evil that had corrupted him, and as such, I build him with a Black-Hate theme. Because he fights the darkness, I have him joined by a team of creatures that have Protection from Black, and various tools to lock down their black minions and the swamps they come from. Crovax is an anthem that can be saved from nearly everything for 2 life, who sometimes nerfs your opponents’ creatures. He is the hero we deserve, but not the one we need when we’re not going against a black deck. 😀

Strength: Going against Mono-Black decks

Weakness : Going against another Mono-White deck

 

Mono-Black : Mikaeus, the Unhallowed

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Poor Mikaeus. Once a religious leader, he was turned into a zombie by that evil wench, Liliana. Just as she corrupted my favorite Planeswalker, Liliana defiled the pious Mikaeus, and used him as a puppet for her own ends. A tragic end to a holy man who tried his hardest to preserve a dying faith.

This Zombie is actually a combo machine. He goes infinite with so many cards that it borders on ridiculous. And with access to Black, you can easily tutor for all of your combo pieces. Bring pack your creatures endlessly, while draining or pinging your opponents to death death in the process. It’s easy as 1. 2. 3 combo pieces! I solemnly swear as a Johnny player that Mikaeus is a combo player’s wet dream. Humorously enough, I almost always forget that he destroys humans that deal damage to you!

Strength: Winning Outright

Weakness: Getting Hated Off the Table

 

Mono-Green : Kamahl, Fist of Krosa

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Look who decided to become a member of the Green Party! Kamahl had a revelation within the deepest parts of the Forest of Krosa, and spent a great deal of time meditating on all of his past crimes as a Mono-Red brute. Being taught by the forest and it’s protectors, Kamahl became a druid, and found an inner peace through continued meditation. His future was not a peaceful one, however, seeing how he was forced to kill his own sister, who’d essentially been turned into an avatar of death by the evil Cabal.

Kamahl’s Green incarnation is even more versatile than his red one. Not only does he turn lands into prime targets for removal, but he also pumps your entire team. Overrunning your opponents with infinitely big creatures is always good for a laugh, and a win! Just as he epitomized the classic features of Red in his previous card, the Kamahl represents what makes Green great; the ability to punch your opponents really hard. I mean, look at those bulging muscles!

Strength: Big Brawny Creatures

Weakness: Board Wipes

 

*Colorless – Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger

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To finish things off, let’s cover the mysterious and inherently weak Colorless….color? Not having access to colored mana drastically reduces your options for things like early interaction, but it doesn’t matter when you fill your deck with artifact ramp and slam down the always cranky, never lackluster Ulamog.

Eldrazi Titans are notorious for their cast triggers, which normally ensure that you aren’t wasting large amounts of mana to cast a spell that might just end up getting countered. Spending 10 mana to exile two permanents is pretty amazing by itself, but imagine getting a 10/10 indestructible creature out of that has a disgusting attack trigger! And by the way, you always have access to it! EDH is one helluva format, eh?

Strength: Exiling Stuff

Weakness: Slow to Interact

 

Tune in next time for my favorite 2-color commanders!

Culture War

It’s so strange, living in such a socially precarious time, after having grown up in the bubbly era of the 90s and 2000s. I find myself having to watch what I say when I go out and meet new people, since voicing the wrong and otherwise harmless view could immediately turn you into their enemy. I am a conservative. Expressing many of my views on the current government, society at large, and even facts about biology could get me thrown out of establishments I frequent for leisure and business. I wouldn’t have thought that I’d end up living in such an Orwellian environment, yet here we are. Many talking heads warn of the impending fascist crackdowns on freedom of speech, but those crackdowns are already here, in the form of social pressure.

I’ve seen this behavior seep into nearly every fandom and community I’ve held dear since childhood. Comic books, Magic the Gathering, even Star Trek and Star Wars have fallen victim to toxic concepts like identity politics, third-wave feminism, and grievance culture. These concepts are inherently hateful, exclusionary, and destructive. They bloom forth from anger at institutions that their adherents view as racist, misogynistic, homophobic, and a host of other claims that can be summed up as “problematic”.

Seneca said that anger is “greedy for revenge even when it drags the avenger to ruin with itself.” Such is the nature of those on the left who utilize the concepts I stated earlier to “correct” the mediums and works they gain control over. In their rush to imbue their own views into products that have been successful for decades, they end up running them into the dirt. They destroy the very things they gained dominion over, only to end up being ridiculed by their competitors (in some cases) or fired (in the best case). But because they have built up their network of supporters through the unifying concept of Intersectionality, they are never truly punished. If they fail at one endeavor, they are simply given another endeavor to fail at, no matter how colossally they failed in the first place. So the destruction is perpetuated again and again, as it infects nearly every institution in the western world.

The far right has been guilty of violence, but it is hard to say that they have caused as much strife and division as the left. Charleston may have been a terrible event, but it doesn’t compare with the constant violence perpetrated by AntiFa, the calls to violence against the right by leftist celebrities and media personalities, and the constant negative reporting and seemingly never-ending criminal investigation of the President of the United States, Donald Trump, which only serves to divide the country further.

There has been much discussion about the causes and effects of the Culture War we are experiencing currently. Both questions have complex answers, but one thing is simple and apparent; this war is destroying people’s ability and desire to communicate with people that they view as different from themselves. Self-segregation is becoming more and more common, which only exacerbates the problem. Both those on the right and on the left are alienating themselves from each other more and more, with constant ad hominem attacks made about each other.

“Leftists are crybaby snowflake SJWs who aren’t capable of independent thought.”

“Everyone on the right are racist neo-nazis who want to kill all POC and LGBT people!”

What is necessary is a common ground to be reached between both sides. What is needed is a….dare I say it…”safe space” where both sides can carry on dialogues without fear of mob retaliation for expressing their views. If this cannot happen, if the two sides can’t restore rational communication between each other, then we are left with a fractured society. We will be left with a civilization split into various factions, unwilling to have meaningful engagements with each other. Although I am not completely opposed to smaller groups being formed that govern themselves independently , I do think that it would be a shame to no longer be able to exist within a large, open nation. Another possibility would be the seizing of power of society by the group who already seems to have the most power, the Leftists. Some theorize that this is inevitable, seeing as how western civilization has always seemed to move more and more to the left. In that situation, the Leftists would most likely enact increasingly socialist policies that would quickly bankrupt the nation, leading us into a hard economic downturn that could pave the way for an authoritarian government. I feel that this possibility is the most likely, and it isn’t something I look forward to.

In any case, I’m doing my best to have open dialogues with people when I can, and to passively resist the ever increasing destruction of traditions that benefit society.  We can’t, after all, openly rebel against the group with all the power. We can compete with them, and form our own institutions independently of theirs. Giving people an alternative to the madness all around them gives them the ability to combat it by living a life that transcends it.

Western Traditionalism / Gay & Black

I was recently called a “Black Caucasian” by a guy online, when I told him that I identified more with “Western culture” than with “Black culture.” I laughed, because I’ve been called various things like this since I was 4 years old, such as “Oreo” and “White-Wannabe.” I suppose much of it stems from the fact that my internal vision of myself was that of a white guy when I was a kid. It was a way for me to cope with some severe bullying I experienced from several groups of black kids as I was going through high school. They bullied me because they didn’t think I was “black enough”, so I mentally distanced myself from my own physical appearance, as weird as that sounds. So for the first 18 years of my life, I really did feel like I was a white person, at least mentally.

Because I didn’t have much of a connection with my majority-black heritage, I lacked much of the culture that other black people had, such as a need to act tough and listen to rap. I was instead bookish, always wanting to learn about history and science. At an early age, I saw myself as a junior classicist, reading the works of Aristotle and Socrates, Homer and Sophocles. With an understanding of the building blocks of western civilization, I gained a greater appreciation of it, and sought to learn how all the pieces of society fit together. By the time I was in high school, I had a pretty good idea, and I felt justified in my abandonment of “black culture.” In my mind, I was rooted in a far greater tradition, not one founded on slavery and the oppression it brought about. I did not want to confront that aspect of my heritage, and instead saw the slavery of my ancestors as an “opportunity” for me, and the other blacks who were eventually freed from their chains and allowed a seat at the table of American civic life. To this day, that is my primary viewpoint, that Western Civilization afforded me a wealth of knowledge and understanding, despite the unfairness of slavery in its past, and racial inequality that still exists today. I could understand that no matter what society a person lives in, there will always be hierarchies that form, that will always create inequalities of power.

I came to terms with my homosexuality in high school, which complicated my ideologies for a time. I’d been a believer in traditional values, like chivalry, marriage and family, as well as a belief in God. But when I began to be open about my sexuality, I was told by most of the people around me that these values were incompatible with being homosexual. I was told that homosexuals couldn’t marry and have real families. I was told that homosexuals were all sluts, and that dating and romance were not possible between two highly-sexual men. I was told that homosexuals could not be Christian, because God decreed the homosexual act to be sinful. The society at large hammered me with these facts, especially since I belonged to a conservative community. I saw myself as a conservative, yet wanted to live a homosexual life with a loving husband someday. I chose to abandon my values, and sunk into a period in my late teens and early twenties where I was both promiscuous and an atheist.

It took me several years, but eventually, I was able to gain an understanding that my values were indeed compatible with my sexual orientation. I reshaped my worldview, and gained a greater confidence in my own sense of what was actually right, and what other people said was right. I found that there were other homosexual men who wanted to court and marry. The government then made gay marriage legal, making it a reality in my mind, not something I would only have to do ceremonially. And I found Christian churches that accepted homosexuals not only as worshipers, but ordained priests as well. My relationship with Christ and Christianity has evolved much since I was a teenager, but I have been able to regain a love of Jesus Christ through understanding that he was a kind, understanding man living in a time where homosexuality seemed equivalent to “exploitative pederasty”, and he would surely not condemn a man to hell for loving another man who is capable of loving him as well.

So today, the label that best suits me is that of a Western Traditionalist, with a homosexual spin. I believe in the classical ideals of order, virtue, moderation, and individualism, grounded in a divine morality that exists beyond humanity. I believe that family is the pillar of society, whether that family have a mother and father, 2 fathers, or 2 mothers. I believe that a belief in God combined with a strong religious tradition gives an individual the strength and framework to overcome any challenge, and practice a morality that isn’t changed or discarded on a whim.

And lastly, I believe that race is secondary to culture as far as behavior is concerned, and that we as human beings must see each other as individuals independent of our immutable physical traits. Any member of any race can attain a culture that lifts them out of the violence, ignorance, and irresponsibility of a different culture. I am an example of that reality.