Brandon

I haven’t been able to play Magic for quite a few weeks now, but I wanted to write something for this blog. This is unrelated to MtG, and a bit depressing. I recommend not reading further if you aren’t into sad, personal stuff.


When I was 17, I met a guy 2 years older than me when I was a senior. He was a high school dropout who hung around a few of my friends, as it was a small town and people kept in contact for years. He ended up cornering me one day on my way home, gave me a ride home, and we ended up being together for a year.

Thing was, he was seriously damaged. He’d been abused constantly as a kid by his father, who ended up getting arrested 5 years prior to me meeting him. He (my ex) had been addicted to hard drugs since he was a kid, though he’d been relatively sober while I was with him. He just couldn’t cope on his own with all he’d suffered, and I became his therapist/mother/father/everything while we were together.

He also liked to play around with guns. He had a hefty collection; being born and raised out in the country like myself. He would grip his pistol when he was feeling anxious, which he kept in his car and his room. He had a habit of waving it around when he went on one of his rants, something I ended up getting used to after a few weeks. Telling him to put it away would just make him threaten you with it, but he’d just as quickly start laughing and tell you he wouldn’t hurt a fly. I believed him…he was so capable of kindness and affection, when he wasn’t raging about some great injustice he’d seen or experienced. But then again, that may have been another manifestation of his good nature.

He lived with his mother, who was all but despondent the few times I saw her. She took care of elderly people in their homes, so she was rarely home. He basically did whatever he wanted, had the run of the house like it was his. I felt for him, not having a parent around that gave a damn. He’d told me it’d been like that for as long as he remembered, which was another reason his father got away with all he did to him for so long. We bonded over the lack of parental bonds; I too am an orphan.

The real trouble began when I started college full-time, in the next town over. Once summer break was over, I got busy with my courses, and he hated it. I’d tell him that I needed to study, but all he wanted was for me to be with him. He had this need for me to not just be physically near him, but touching him. I’d loved his love of physical affection, having been deprived of that my whole life, but I just couldn’t do it 24/7 anymore. He needed me; like I was his drug. But I was starting to get absorbed in my schoolwork. When I wasn’t with him, and when I told him the reasons, he got angrier and angrier.

It culminated in me wanting to spend Thanksgiving out of town with my adoptive family. He got so mad at me, that I was leaving him for a week. He pulled his pistol on me, in the heat of the argument in his room. He screamed at me the words I’d gotten used to hearing when he didn’t get what he wanted from me…”I’m your fucking boyfriend!!!” I’d had enough at that point, especially seeing him pointing a gun at me from across the room. I burst out laughing at him, so annoyed with the constant drama. He would normally start laughing at that point, and put the gun away, but he started crying. I’ll never forget how he sounded, bawling with the pistol in his hand, as he started scratching his head with it. I walked out of his room, and walked home in the middle of the night. I was done…I’d given up on him.

I saw him a handful of times after I got back from my trip. I found myself increasingly apathetic to him, even when he’d be extra sweet to me as an apology for his last meltdown. I ultimately broke up with him over the phone, worried what he’d do if I’d told him to his face. I expected him to call me nonstop for days, to come to my place and honk his horn nonstop until a neighbor called the police (which he’d done on occasion). To my surprise, he just accepted that I didn’t want to see him again. I didn’t see him after that phone call, and I didn’t hear anything from him directly. A few mutual friends told me that he was heartbroken; that he’d been crying for days. But I couldn’t be bothered to care anymore. I was so drained by him at that point that I’d forgotten how much I’d loved him. I’d forgotten about the nonstop kisses he’d give me, all the late night conversations about anything and everything, and the way our heads would spin with overwhelming pleasure when we had sex. I…was emotionally vacant for weeks after the breakup.

A little over 6 months later, I ended up getting a call from his mother, which had happened only 3 or 4 times. She sounded terrible, like she’d been chain-smoking for a week straight. She told me that her son had killed himself, that “he shot his brains out all over his headboard”. When she said that, the image of his rusty metal power rangers headboard flashed into my head, Just as the shock and disbelief hit me, she told me that he’d blamed me for his suicide in his suicide note. She said it in a suddenly spiteful way, like a one-two punch to my soul. I couldn’t say anything…I just held the phone while she spoke, unloading all of these random facts about the suicide to me after she blamed me for it. How the police told her he’d probably been dead for hours, since she’d gotten home around 2am when she found him. I just froze…I didn’t even move while she spoke. She ended the call by telling me that the funeral was in a few days, and that I could come; that she’d been mulling it over to even let me. I managed to thank her. I immediately felt like I’d said the absolute wrong thing, then she hung up on me. I started shaking, tears coming to my eyes, but I didn’t cry. I just….I still to this day don’t know why I couldn’t cry, but I didn’t. I just laid down, shook some more, and fell asleep.

I can barely remember the funeral. I recall being the only black guy there (my ex was Italian), and the service being very somber, but I can’t remember what was said. I had my head down the whole time, ashamed that I was there. His mother was crying the whole time…and I remember being mad at her. She was barely ever there for him, and yet she was crying. It pissed me off, because I couldn’t even empathize with her. As the service ended, and I was heading back to my adoptive mother’s car, his mother stopped me. She managed to yell her son’s words at me.

“You were his fucking boyfriend!”

She yelled at me, making a scene at the funeral. I started to say sorry, started to cry, but the friend I went with grabbed me and got me into the car. My friend kept saying “You should be ashamed of yourself. He loved that boy.” to my ex’s mother. I continued to hold my head down in shame as she gave me a compassionate talk on our way home. I wasn’t even listening…I was just going over the reality in my head…that I would never be able to make things right with my ex ever again, because he’d just been buried in the ground.

A year later, my dead ex’s mother sent me a long Facebook message apologizing for the way she’d talked to me at the funeral. She admitted to some of the negligence everyone knew she had shown him. It made me tear up a bit, while I read through her humble words. She’d attached pictures of my ex’s 4 page suicide note, which I couldn’t believe. Reading through it dredged up a lot of feelings that I’d left behind months ago, and it tore through me. The letter was filled with vitriol for his family, especially his parents. He truly hated them…more than he’d even told me while we were together. He’d always made it sound like he’d forgiven them for the bad they’d done to him, but the note made it clear that he hadn’t.
On the last page, in the last paragraph…he spoke about me. He called me his rock, his sunshine in the rain. It was more like a poem than the rage-filled hate letter he’d written to his family. It made me smile, reading the first few sentences, until I got to the last one.

“If only he’d stuck around, I wouldn’t have had to do this.”

When I read that, I finally cried. I started bawling like he’d bawled when I laughed at him. I hated myself, I truly and completely hated myself for leaving him. I yelled, and started beating my chest. I curled up in a ball on my bed, and wanted to die. I wanted to die and go to hell for what I’d done. I cried myself to sleep…exhausted in a way I hadn’t felt since I was a kid after a brutal beating.

It took me years to stop blaming myself for his death. Years of studying psychology, years of traveling and meeting people who’d been through similar relationships.
But I suppose…I never completely stopped believing that. It’s more like I stopped thinking about my dead ex; spreading out my remembrances of him to a twice a year affair. Twice a year, I spend a day or two crying and useless, unable to do anything but despair about the loss of my dear handsome love…my Italian stallion….my big man…and all the other things I called him affectionately. Sometimes it’s the way a random guy laughs that sends me into reverie about him…a reverie that becomes a nightmare. I still hear him yelling at me in my head…

“I’m your fucking boyfriend!”

Sometimes I’ll wake up hearing it; like a curse. But sometimes I wake up feeling his big hands rubbing my back, or his thick brown hair rolling through my fingers. I wish I had more memories like that. I wish….urgh, it doesn’t matter. It’s too late, either way.

“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.

lrw-213-garruk-wildspeaker

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.

m13-174-garruk-primal-hunter isd-181-garruk-relentless isd-181-garruk-the-veil-cursed 

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.

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.