Off Topic: What's Tempo Have to Do With It?



If you aren’t familiar with the great Tina Turner’s music career, you can replace tempo in the title with love to get the name of one of her more famous songs. It isn’t just for a catchy title. Love and tempo are going to be the cornerstone of the discussion today along with a burger or two. Strangely, those words have a lot of common similarities in their usage. Daringly, I am going to talk about the definition of tempo and other Magic vocabulary.

Two Definitions Enter, One Definition Leaves

Tempo has been a sensitive subject for years in any Magic forum. A person trying to come up with a specific definition or the discussion of it leads to aggressive ranting, blasting, flaming and other hideous acts between fellow posters. Admittedly, I pledged my allegiance to the side of being able to come up with a universally accepted definition for tempo. I believe most of this has to do with my profession. Terminology in my field of science is always specific and concise. Previously, I believed there should be a perfect and elegant way to define the word. Something everyone could agree upon to negate any further confusion and tension. A standard everything would be measured against.

Over the last couple of years, I have slowly shifted on my stance. Most of this can be attributed to my other writing ambition of pumping out a book. The novel project developed simply out of a desire to improve my severe grammar and writing deficiencies, nothing more. From the experience, I have grown to appreciate the subjective nature and ambiguity of words. Love is one of the bigger culprits. The four-letter word can mean a multitude of different things depending on its usage or situation. Saying I love my mom compared to uttering I love my wife are very different. I hope nobody loves ones mom the same way one would love a spouse. Reminds me of middle school when some grade school pest tells you to marry the ice cream you so love.

Pulling out a dictionary, I notice love sits between lovable and love apple (tomato). It has multiple entries. Twelve different entries in the archaic paperback I am using. I find the word peculiar in many facets. If I told somebody that John loves Kate, the majority of the population would have a good sense of what I am trying to imply. Asking anyone to explain love is an entirely different experience. Many would be at a lost for words, two dating teeny boppers simply giggle and blush, while a couple married for 50 years have an entirely different outlook. An interesting aspect when a word has been clearly and concisely defined in good old Webster. As such, I have grown to appreciate that tempo has much in common with love. Both are readily understood, but subjective depending on the source and difficult to explain.

The Juicy Tempo Burger

Many would argue that tempo simply means time. Others would point to the dictionary for the official last word on the subject. I’ve learned over the last few years that the dictionary is simply a starting point. Take the American classic, the burger. When I say burger, what do you think? Does it come with cheese? What kind of cheese? Would you like mustard, ketchup, barbecue sauce, tomato, mustard, thousand island, ranch dressing, onions, mushrooms, lettuce, A1, Tabasco, salt, pepper, paprika, Worscheshire Sauce, parsley, pickle, mayonnaise, or an egg on your burger? How about your bun; sesame seed, whole wheat, white, croissant, multi grain, Italian, or sourdough? Let’s back up, what kind of burger would you like; a hamburger, veggie burger, buffalo, venison, lamb, Angus, ostrich, organic, SPAM or tofu?

In many Magic articles, an author or two will use tempo to highlight the advantages of certain constructive worthy decks. It is not as if the authors lack any credibility. Often, the analysis is profound and enlightening. However, the overuse and lack of adjectives simply turns tempo into a burger. Does it involve creatures, lands, permanents, or mana? The tempo gained by Faith’s Fetters is markedly different from Wrath of God, Bogardan Hellkite, Stone Rain, Plow Under or Time Walk. A large part of the problem is tempo has evolved over years along with other Magic theory. When I first started to learn the game, an Old Fogey taught tempo to me. My mentor was a player since the beginning of time in the days of Alpha. I learned tempo strictly had to do with creatures and combat, nothing more. Years later when players would try to expand my ideas about tempo, I would resist and loudly explain to them of their ignorance. I suppose we have all been there one time or another. Those pre-college days when our parents were geniuses and the world made sense with everyone else in existence being idiots. As far as I am concerned, any author is free to use tempo at liberty in whatever context they wish as long as they are descriptive.

The World Famous Tempo Burger

Over time, a lot of words lose their potency. One of my pet peeves is a restaurant using "World Famous" in their description of a menu item. Really, World Famous? Some part of my cognitive abilities doubts a resident of Japan has heard of Mike’s World Famous Chicago Style Hotdogs. Yes, Chicago food establishments are notorious for this discretion. “Famous Chicago-style hot dogs” in a large neon glow at about any locale. The word famous from its over use has lost virtually any of its true meaning. I remember a real life scenario where Colin Powell originally used the word gravitas to emphasize the dire and urgency of Iraq. Shortly afterward, every news reporter around the world was using it for everything from World Affairs to the fashion runway. The Daily Show even mocked many a reporter for this gaffe. Gravitas soon lost its potency from being overused.

A lot of this phenomenon can be seen with deck names. Originally, Threshold meant one thing, a mechanic. It soon morphed into being synonymous with a deck sporting Wild Mongrels and Arrogant Wurms. In the present, Threshold decks have a multitude of different forms. The primary application in the present is any deck in Legacy sporting undercosted cards that utilize the graveyard for an advantage. In the past, decks coined The Rock meant Spiritmongers and Pernicious Deeds. Nowadays, The Rock refers to any Black-Green midrange deck. The current Standard environment has the same problem with Tokens for we have G/W Tokens, Kithkin Tokens, R/W Tokens, and B/W Tokens.

Words just don’t suddenly appear in absolute form. They have a history. Many English words can be traced back to Anglo-Saxon, Roman, Greek, and Latin roots. Some have changed completely, lost all meaning, or forgotten all together. Like words in real life, Magic terminology evolves, morphs and has a history. Thus, the word tempo can’t be compared to its meaning ten years ago or in the future. Threshold decks of yesterday can’t be compared to Threshold decks of today. Therefore, be careful on how concretely you hold to your definitions.

New Menu Item

Magic theory has been stagnant over the last few years. Many factors may account for this drought. Part of me believes too often players believe the must come up with something earth shattering. I find this silly when technology is built upon small increments of change and advancements. The other thinks many authors are afraid of the Backlash. Critics and failures will always be an ever-present force. Will some ideas flop? They sure will. Can people become irate at my theory? They can. I guess that is the price we pay for progress.

Admittedly, I relate a lot of life to food. I love food almost as much as I love Magic. They are both complex and the combinations are endless. As such, my wife and I consider ourselves “foodies”. We have spent more than our fair share of cash on delicatessens, entrees and appetizers. At times, I feel like I am becoming a food snob. Far too often these days, I find myself cringing and yakking at food I had ordered and realizing I could have made better at home. The real problem is I have had some of the most awesome of meals. The kind of meals only prepared by some of the most famous of chefs. A perfectly seasoned steak cooked to the optimal temperature of maintaining the full extent of its juices. Each bites tantalizes the taste buds as the flavors wash over the palette to the point you stop to savor every time you smash your teeth upon its succulence. Peanut butter potatoes with honey butter accompany the meal to absolutely bring out the full extent of the flavors. Once you have had this kind of meal, its difficult to lower ones standards.

However, I am realistic. Not every meal prepared by a chef will be fantastic. It’s a trial and error profession. It takes time, practice and patience. More importantly, to be a good chef, it requires actual practice with a dash of experimentation. The same can be said about writers and myself. I acknowledge not every one of my articles will be a masterpiece. Some will be good and others, well, not so good. One of the reasons I enjoy being brazen with my articles is because it allows me to experiment. It allows me to find areas that work with my style of writing. I suppose I could serve out some slop and top of some more flavorless slop, but would you enjoy it?

Spicing Things Up

I believe there is one aspect of Magic I think gets little attention. It is a particular point of the game or strategy where an opponent is forced into making a bad decision. I like to refer to it as “forcing their hand.” It is the stage where you force the opponent to play less optimally. A scenario: your opponent is at 3 life with no creatures or permanents in play, four lands and with a Wrath of God and Gifts Ungiven in hand on his/her turn. You have a Rhox War Monk in play staring them in the face. In this situation, you have forced your opponent to cast the Wrath of God. It is not their optimal play. If your opponent had a different life total, they would probably opt to cast the Gifts Ungiven. A hard cast Gifts Ungiven would probably fetch something bigger and nastier than a Rhox War Monk. Unfortunately for them, you have placed them in an uncomfortable situation. I find this relevant when I play any aggro deck. Obviously, I want to win the game, but my main goal is to place my opponent in this position. It is a situation where they are forced to make bad decisions. I gain advantages from this position. Chump blocking is a prime example.

Mixing Everything Together

I’ll let you in on a little secret. In high school, college, and a few plus years, I hated writing. I despised everything about it. If it involved putting words on a piece of paper, I avoided it. This is why I find it very strange to be in the place I am in today. The sudden change from a hate to love relationship with writing didn’t happen overnight. I blame my previous angst for literature on my heavy science background. For some reason, I couldn’t wrap my mind around the fact that words can be plastic and pliable. They are not completely unmovable and concrete. When this realization smacked me across the forehead, writing suddenly made a lot more sense. It was as if somebody had ripped off the blindfold. In the end, I have learned to appreciate that the only important part of any piece of writing is the idea. If I have gotten my idea or thought across effectively to another organic being, I was successful. Tempo and love are just some of the harder ideas to properly convey.

On a final note, just make sure when your pals go on burger run that your specifications are crystal clear. The bacon cheeseburger craving of yours will be very disappointed when your buddy returns with a soy-cheese tofu burger on a wheat germ bun.

Derrick “Meyou” Heard

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