Beyond the Norm: How We Reached Simic Ascendancy
“Can I get you anything else, sir? Another refill?”
The server’s voice broke Van’s concentration. He turned his eyes, transfixed on the door to this grungy Seattle bar, to the server.
“I’ll take another refill,” he mumbled, handing his glass to the smiling, eager teenager.
It had to be his first day, Van thought wryly. Or at least his first week. The kid was far too excited, especially for the moodiest demographic.
“Any word on your friend?” the teen asked, that eerie smile still plastered on his face.
Was he on drugs? Van wondered. He couldn’t remember the last time someone this young had actively tried to speak with him.
Van grunted in response, hoping his boomer-esque vibe would repel the child. Instead, the punk just stood there, smiling at him.
“No,” Van snapped. “No word on my friend. Any word on my refill?”
The kid’s smile slipped, but only for a second. He nodded and darted away.
Van turned his head to watch him go. He was quick, weaving effectively among the other patrons. Maybe not his first day – just some kind of freak who liked working. Van turned his head forward again – and nearly leapt out of his seat.
There was someone sitting in the seat across from him.
Van tried not to show that he’d been startled, but his heart was racing, and he’d clearly flinched. Nonetheless, he had to proceed confidently. He eyed the short, white-haired man up and down.
“Do you have it?” Van said quietly.
“I do,” the man replied in a voice that was unexpectedly high. He reached into his pocket. “I’m pulling it out of my pocket! You know what that means! It’s time for another—”
“Just give it to me,” Van interrupted, snatching a folded-up piece of paper from the shorter man’s hand. He tried to conceal his childish excitement as he unfolded it. Was this finally it? Would he finally be treated with the respect he deserved?
His heart sank as he read aloud the carefully formatted words on the page.
“Kiora, the Crashing Wave,” Van intoned. “Four mana for two loyalty. Four… for two.”
He glared up at his companion.
“The abilities better be busted,” he growled.
The man smiled back. “You’re going to love it!” he exclaimed. “It’s just what you asked for! The first UG planeswalker!”
“Plus one,” Van continued, “Until your next turn, prevent all damage dealt to and dealt by target permanent an opponent controls. Dealt to… an opponent controls. Why the hell am I protecting the creature I’m fogging? And if it has to do that, why not be able to target my own stuff?”
“Tsk tsk!” went the other man. “We have to watch out for power creep! This is our first foray into making UG playable, we don’t want to overdo it!”
“Minus one,” Van continued through clenched teeth, “…Explore. Minus 5, make a Kraken every turn.”
“Isn’t it perfect?!” the other man exclaimed. “R&D expects this card to be a staple in Standard and spawn an entirely new archetype in Modern!”
Van crumpled the piece of paper with Kiora’s design in his fist.
“I paid you good money,” Van hissed, “for a playable UG mythic. I have lobbied you for a year to get something worth my while, and this is what you give me? A planeswalker that dies to Lightning Strike ? The card you just printed in the last set?!”
The other man smiled broadly.
“I did what I could,” he replied. “But I’m going to be honest… the Monored people are paying us way better than you are. Wait until you see the upgrade that Burn is getting in this set. It’s going to be a Great Revel, I can say that much!”
The man cackled uncomfortably loudly.
“Even the Green lobbyists are greasing our palms better than you,” he continued. “We’re giving them a nice 2/4 for three that makes sure they never miss a land drop and have plenty of life to work with. And it synergizes with the rest of the set. They paid us enough to start experimenting with a whole lot more card advantage in Green.”
“In Green?!” Van protested. “Why not in Blue-Green?!”
The other man stood.
“You get what you pay for,” he answered with a smile. “If you want more, you gotta pay more.”
He straightened up.
“I’m pulling out of my chair!” the man exclaimed. “You know what that means! It’s time for another—”
“Shut. Up.” Van growled, seething. He stood up suddenly, his chair flying back, and stormed out of the restaurant.
“Look,” Van said urgently. “I gave you twice as much money as last time, so you must have been able to get me something better than Kiora.”
The older man handed a piece of paper over to Van. Van’s heart raced.
Please, he thought. Please let it be different this time.
“It’s a planeswalker!” the other man teased.
Van unfolded the paper just a little bit faster.
“Kiora—” Van glared up at his companion. “Another Kiora? Please tell me this is a Jace, the Mind Sculptor kind of situation, a nice little upgrade from Jace Beleren ?”
The man didn’t answer.
“ Kiora, Master of Depths ,” Van read. “Four mana for… for four loyalty. That… that’s playable. That’s playable!”
“I’m glad you’re satisfied,” the other man replied, and moved to stand. Van raised a hand to stop him.
“Plus one, untap… untap a creature and a land…? That’s it? It doesn’t draw a card or fight or something?”
“We don’t want to make fighting too good in Green,” the man answered, “or it starts to just be removal by a different name. Restrictions breed creativity!”
“Minus two,” Van read on. “Grab a creature and a land from your top four cards. Minus eight, make some octopi and fight stuff.”
“Octopodes,” interjected the other man.
“Octopus is Greek, not Latin,” he explained. “So you pluralize it with ‘-odes’ instead of ‘-i.’”
“She doesn’t protect herself at all,” Van said. “And… she doesn’t do anything! She just untaps stuff and draws a card once in a while? Is this some kind of joke? I paid you twice as much for something half as good?!”
The other man nodded sympathetically.
“It’s a tough market these days,” he said. “Lots of lobbying this year. We only have so much room in a set, so we naturally have to fit in the stuff that pays the best first. You paid us more than last year… but so did everyone else.”
“Who?” Van growled. “Is it those Monored dunces again?”
“Actually, it’s a bit surprising, we got a huge injection of capital from the Colorless folks. They didn’t even want anything that good, just some three- and four-mana Eldrazi. R&D thought it was hilarious, a bunch of cute little Eldrazi dorks that pass the Vanilla test and are just going to collect dust in people’s trade binders. But because of all that, we had trouble fitting in a lot of support for powerful two-color cards, such as UG.”
“This is unacceptable,” Van said. “You listen to me, Rosewater, if you don’t give me what I want, I’ll—”
“You’ll what?” the head designer of Magic asked. “Be careful, friend, remember that I’m doing you a favor. I can shut you out forever. I can make every UG card until the end of time complete garbage. If you want a better card, then I need better payment. Make it happen.”
Rosewater returned to his vehicle in the parking lot. Even from inside the bar, Van could hear him screaming:
“I’m pulling out of my parking space! You know what that means! It’s time for another—”
2018The following years only brought more trolling. Altered Ego. Bounty of the Luxa. Rashmi, Eternities Crafter. Nissa, Steward of Elements. Tishana, Voice of Thunder. Hadana's Climb (that one had cost his kidney). No matter how much he paid, he never got anything halfway decent. His boss was ready to fire him. Years of effort, but nothing to show for it. It was when his wife left him that he knew he needed to do something drastic.
Van knew that if he couldn’t buy Rosewater, he’d need to find another way to control him. He needed leverage.
He followed Rosewater for weeks, tracking his every move. He stopped sleeping, stopped eating, all so that he could ensure that every time Rosewater so much as twitched, he could document it. The man was strange, for sure, but there was nothing damning – until there was. Until something incredibly ordinary that Rosewater did every single day clicked into place as being the smoking gun.
“Are you ready for your newest Simic card?” Rosewater smirked. “It’s a Hydra, and you know how we love to make playable Hydras.” Rosewater giggled uncontrollably.
Van smiled calmly.
“Before I look at the Hydra,” Van said, “I’d love for you to explain something to me.”
Rosewater raised an eyebrow.
Van slid black and white photographs across the table.
“You’ve been spying on me?” Rosewater hissed. “While I pull out of my driveway? What a creep!”
“When do you record your podcast, Drive to Work?”
“When I drive to work, obviously!”
Van slid another piece of paper, a photocopied document, across the table. Rosewater’s sneer slid off his face faster than Van’s wife had left him.
“Your license was revoked two years ago after multiple traffic incidents, an accident, and two separate occasions where you ran over an entire family of garden gnomes! All while recording your podcast,” Van said triumphantly. “The police I spoke with made it clear that if they ever found you driving again, you’d be in prison for a very, very long time.”
Rosewater was silent for a long while.
“What do you want?” he asked quietly, his shoulders slumping in defeat.
“You know what I want,” Van answered. “Whatever that Hydra in your pocket is, scrap it. It’s a Sphinx’s Revelation now.”
“But UG isn’t supposed to have—” Rosewater interjected.
“An uncounterable Sphinx’s Revelation! On a body.”
Rosewater looked horrified.
“Is that going to be a problem?” Van asked.
“No, of course not.”
“Of course not…?”
“Of course not, Mr. Farr,” Rosewater replied glumly.
“Good,” Van said, smiling. “And name a card after me this year. My middle initial is ‘I,’ so call it ‘Van-I-Far’ or something. Vannifar. Has a nice ring to it. Make it Birthing Pod on a creature, I miss that card.”
“Anything else?” Rosewater asked, his voice a whisper now.
“What’s the next Simic planeswalker coming down the pipeline?”
“It’s the one you paid for,” Rosewater answered. “It’s a six-mana, three loyalty planeswalker that makes Elks.”
“Scrap it,” Van commanded. “Instead, swap those stats. It’s a three-mana, six loyalty planeswalker that turns anything you want into an Elk instead. And make sure those Elks lose abilities, I don’t want my walker losing games- ever.” Van paused. “Except to other people playing the same card. That’s fine.”
“Please…” Rosewater begged. “This will ruin the game! That’s obviously too powerful! I’ll never be able to sneak it past my Developers!”
“The people who missed Saheeli Cat Combo, Aetherworks Marvel, and Temur Energy? I think you’ll manage.”
Rosewater moved to close the notepad he’d been scrawling Van’s demands in.
“Also,” Van said. “Make sure that these cards are all in Standard together. Make the three mana walker overlap with the Hydra, make some other planeswalker to supercharge the Hydra, and then for 2020, I want to see a UG creature that generates card advantage every time it comes into play and attacks. Also, make it unkillable, I want to be able to cast it from the graveyard. And throw in a free spell that lets me find all these cards on the first turn of the game. Are we clear?”
Rosewater nodded, a look of disgust on his face.
“Excellent,” Van said smiling. “Next week, we can discuss my plans for the next Core Set. I’m a reasonable man, see, so I’m willing to give them a break from UG for a set. How about we pivot to a walker that everyone loves to play against? Let’s make it Teferi-themed!”
Ryan Normandin is a grinder from Boston who has lost at the Pro Tour, in GP & SCG Top 8's, and to 7-year-olds at FNM. Despite being described as "not funny" by his best friend and "the worst Magic player ever" by Twitch chat, he cheerfully decided to blend his lack of talents together to write funny articles about Magic.
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