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Magic History: King of the Fatties

Green Mountain Beatdown and the Wakefield School

For those of you who aren't aware of this fact, I grew up in the rural state of Vermont. There are more cows than people here, and we're generally known more for our maple syrup than our Magic players. There is one big exception though. When I was a young lad there was one player from our state that that my friends and I all knew of, and that player was Jamie C. Wakefield, the "King of the Fatties". He was known to our group for two reasons. First of all Jamie was a talented and prolific writer during the early days of the game.  The most important Magic website of the era was a site called "The Dojo," and he was a regular contributor. Secondly, Mr. Wakefield was the first person from our little state to win a spot on the Pro Tour!

In the mid nineties the Magic Pro Tour was still very new, and nobody that played at our local store had managed to qualify for one yet. Jamie was the first player from Vermont to qualify for a Pro Tour and that gave him a bit of a legendary status to all of us. I can remember traveling to my first sanctioned tournament in Middlebury, Vermont and being excited by the fact that Jamie was known to play at this same store. Back then I was a nervous fifteen-year-old fanboy geek so I didn't actually try to strike up a conversation!

That first experience with competitive Magic made me realize that I wanted to win a spot on the Pro Tour some day. When I finally achieved that goal and managed to win a PTQ, I did it using a mono-colored beatdown deck I designed myself. I felt like I was part of the "Wakefield School" of design that I had read about on The Dojo. You see, Wakefield decks often didn't look like much on paper. The secret was that they were consistent, often mono-colored, and they had answers for a wide variety of popular cards. Jamie loved cards like Creeping Mold, Uktabi Orangutan, and Nevinyrral's Disk because they could provide a lot of utility.

The Wakefield School also concentrated on the importance of the combat step. When the Magic world was trying to shove Tolarian Academys, Memory Jars, and billion-point Stroke of Genius's down our throats, Jamie was beating down with the likes of Scragnoth and Verdant Force

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Aggressive midrange decks were what the Wakefield School promoted, and because of this, Jamie Wakefield became known as the "King of the Fatties!" King Wakefield often referred to Verdant Force as the "best fatty ever printed," and the trail of defeated mages destroyed by the 7/7 tend to agree with that sentiment. At eight mana it wasn't easy to get a Verdant Force on the battlefield, but if you did manage to resolve one it was truly amazing in that era. The green elemental from Tempest creates a 1/1 Saproling token during each player's upkeep! It doesn't take long to clog up the ground with an army of little weenie creatures, and they can sit back and block while your Force attacks each turn. 

The great thing about Verdant Force is that it actually dodged several of the best removal spells of the era. Red decks couldn't burn a Verdant Force with Lightning Bolt or Shock, which made it a nightmare for "Sligh" decks. Tempest had given black a hot new removal spell called Diabolic Edict and all black mages were playing it, but it couldn't reliably kill a Verdant Force because of its Saproling tokens! 

Magic, and the Written Word

In the mid-nineties there weren't nearly as many sources for Magic content as there are today. Contemporary Magic fans are spoiled with a plethora of fresh articles and videos posted daily. During the first two seasons of the Pro Tour there was really just one primary source for Magic content, the aforementioned website called "The Dojo." Jamie was a mainstay on The Dojo, and along with other famous writers like Michael Flores and Adrian Sullivan, he put out tournament reports and other Magical ramblings that kept us all entertained. 

Jamie also wrote several books, including "Tournament Reports in Magic: the Gathering" (later reworked into "The Quest for the Pro Tour"), a collection of stories about experiences at various events. Tournament reports were a very common form of Magic content in the Dojo days, and people loved to vicariously experience tournaments through first-person accounts. Jamie also wrote another Magic novel called "Secret Force: Quest for the Pro Tour II", which is available online and in print. 

Beyond books, the Dojo, and usenet posts, Jamie also had a column on StarCityGames for a time. A lot of Magic writers can play well and write about the latest hot piece of tech, but Jamie offered a lot more than just that. Wakefield's Magic writing was often more like storytelling. His books and articles were able to make you feel things, and that style of writing does a lot to capture the strong community aspect of our gaming culture. Let's be honest, as good of a game as Magic is, it's the community and bonds of friendship we forge that make the game what it is.  A writer that can capture those feelings and translate them into content is a rare thing indeed. 

May the Secret Force be With You

One of Jamie's most famous creations was a mono-green extended deck called Secret Force. The deck was an aggressive midrange deck that could cheat out a massive creature (Verdant Force) far ahead of the curve using Natural Order. It has been a long time since the heyday of Secret Force, but you can see its legacy in decks like Legacy Elves. I imagine that if Craterhoof Behemoth had been printed in Tempest it probably would have made it into Jamie's deck! 

Secret Force also influenced this deck by Brian Kibler. Note the majestic Rith, the Awakener and Armadillo Cloak combo. Natural Order is still an amazing card, and the creatures you can fetch have only gotten better! 

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A Fireside Chat with the King of the Fatties

I caught up with The King of the Fatties himself and he was kind enough to grant me a short interview. So without further ado, here's Jamie in his own words! 


Islandswamp: When did you first start playing Magic? What was it about Magic that made you enjoy it so much?

Jamie: I started playing Magic just as Fallen Empires was released. Most of the cards were awful so I stuck to the basic set to build my collection.


Islandswamp: You're known as a prolific and influential writer. How did you get involved with writing Magic articles? 

Jamie: I went to a small college that actually offered a BFA in Writing. Most writers get one in English. I was very lucky because we did a lot of writing workshops. Nothing prepares you for the internet like submitting something you have lovingly crafted, that you think is great, to a group of friends and strangers and having them not get the point, savage you for it, and tear your beloved piece to shreds. So, I have always written. There was a lively community on usenet writing articles about Magic, and after I read my first tournament report I knew that's where my niche would be in the community. 


Islandswamp: You've been to five Pro Tours. When did you know that being a Pro Tour competitor was something you wanted to do?

Jamie: The second it was advertised in the Duelist. My friends were already obsessed with the game, driving anywhere that had a tournament. I love to compete. When I saw that ad for the first Pro Tour, I was at my friend's house and we were all playing Magic. "This changes everything" I told them. It was a revelation. I was stunned and so happy there was going to be a Pro Tour.


Islandswamp: Of all the decks that you've created, which ones are your personal favorites? 

Jamie: Secret Force stands head and shoulders above the rest. Brother's Grimm I always felt a little guilty playing because discard isn't fun. Winning is fun. Playing a huge black fattie on the board when they have no cards in hand is fun. But I always felt a little bad. Garglehaups was right up there as one of my favorites. It wasn't a net deck when I played it in Boston at a PTQ, very early in the season if I remember correctly. It had Balduvian's Hordes and Goblin Mutants in it. If they didn't kill you, I'd play an Ivory Gargoyle and blow up the world. That's always been a theme of my decks.


Islandswamp: You're known for unorthodox deck construction techniques, but you've also been successful with them. Do you have any advice for aspiring deck brewers? 

Jamie: Yeah. Play one deck. Tune it. Play it the whole season. Tweak it and learn how it wins and loses and then tweak it some more.

There is a Reddit thread that starts out like this "I once saw Jamie Wakefield's casual stompy deck win a PTQ right after Memory Jar was banned."

I would just like to say that Secret Force was not a Stompy deck, nor was it casual. I worked on that deck for 6 months. It changed and morphed and got tuned to a razor sharp edge. I took it to PTQ's and would go 3-3 with it, bring it home, play-test the $#!t out of it, tune it, refine, go back and make it to 5-3. More tuning until Alan Webster the mad genius of Magic suggested Wall of Roots. I resisted for like 5 games and then finally relented. It was... shocking how much better the next few games went. I won the PTQ the next weekend.


Islandswamp:  Which Magic sets or blocks do you have the most fondness for? 

Jamie: Tempest block was a blast!

Islandswamp: What is your favorite card of all time?

Jamie: Some obvious contenders are Mind Twist, Natural Order, and  Verdant Force. Not so obvious would be Gaea's Cradle or Emrakul, the Aeons Torn. Overrun takes the prize though. 

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Islandswamp: What is you least favorite card (or cards) that you've ever had to deal with?

Jamie: Lifebane Zombie. [Brian] Kibler took a break from the game for a while until it rotated out. It just infuriated me like few other cards ever have. Tradewind Rider and any form of Control Magic. Leave my stuff alone! Also, I hate Hatred. I drove 933 miles to Chicago and in my last round on day one I was dead in game 2 on turn 2. That's not fun.

Islandswamp: You've written more than one book in your lifetime. How would you describe that experience? 

Jamie: Exhausting. Never ending. Frustrating. The endless amounts of editing. I compared notes with an English teacher at the school I used to do tech support for. No matter how many times you and your readers go over a manuscript, there are always more errors to find. Misspellings, grammatical errors, punctuation. It's insane. This is a woman who is very smart and has been teaching English for decades. I read her self-published book and found errors.

Islandswamp: I know you've been retired from playing and writing about Magic for a while now. Is there anything about playing the game that you miss? 

Jamie: Only EVERYTHING. Magic is the best game ever invented. I love it. Of course, I also hate it because it makes me so tense and angry. The highs and lows of Magic are phenomenal. I just don't have the brain or time to be good at it anymore. Between that and the cost I can only play casually anymore. I've played through all the Magic video games and loved it. One of them got me back into Magic Online for a few years.


The Lessons Learned at the Wakefield School

When I was writing articles on the subject of Fallen Empires and Homelands, I spent some time reading old articles and deck lists looking to refresh my memory of that time period. After a while I began to remember the culture of the community from all those years ago, and I realized that I wouldn't be writing articles today if it wasn't for people like Jamie. His love for Magic came through in his writing, and it made me want to get to the next level as a player.

People often talk about the Magic Pro Tour Hall of Fame and they reminisce about greats like Jon Finkel and Kai Budde. Well, if there was a hall of fame for Magic writers Jamie would be the first name on my ballot. I've heard people describe Wakefield as the Magic: the Gathering Everyman. He is that regular, nice guy that shows us all that we can succeed if we work hard at something. If you look at the decks he played, they don't always look like much, but Jamie put a lot of work in tuning and learning them and it paid off. That's a lesson I've learned and I've stuck with all these years later. 

That's it for this week! I'll see you next time. You can chat with me about #MTG on Twitter @josephfiorinijr -- Islandswamp on Magic Online and TMD


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