Portrait of an EDH Mind - Lenny Wooley

Andy Zupke • March 7, 2022

Portrait of an EDH Mind is a monthly series that shines a light on important individuals in the EDH community. We take a look at their history, their passions, and their views of EDH.

The 20th century writer E.M Forster once said that "A work of art is never finished. It is merely abandoned." An author can keep editing. A painter can keep adding to the canvas. And a musician can keep embellishing, never fully satisfied, until it's time to just give up and put it out there into the world. Lenny Wooley, a man well-known in the EDH community for his brews and his camaraderie, considers himself a "deck artist." For him, part of the joy, and maybe part of the pain too, in building a deck is never feeling satisfied with it, and always looking for ways to improve it. And when I say improve, I'm not talking about optimization. What he's doing is trying to make the deck more... Lenny. A work of art that is an expression of himself.

As the writer for Power Sink, a series of articles on EDHREC that seeks to take a popular and powerful -- the two usually go hand-in-hand -- commander and give them a more unique, lower-powered, build, Lenny looks to share his love of the "hipster" aesthetic with his readers. He has no qualms about playing one of the top commanders, but when he does, he prefers to take them off the beaten path. 

One of Lenny's most well-known decks is his Urza, Lord High Artificer "Gumball" deck. Urza, Lord High Artificer certainly has a reputation for being one of the biggest and baddest commanders, and he holds a seat in the higher echelons of commanders with the ability to sit at the cEDH table. But Lenny's deck brings the power level down just enough to still be very strong while also playable with the more casual pods. The Gumball format requires that each card in the deck, aside from the commander, has to be a common or uncommon, and can't cost more than a quarter (the cost of a gumball). Because of this stipulation, Lenny is able to revel in the unsung cards that are usually left to die in bulk bins. Cards like Jhoira's Toolbox and Whirlermaker find little love in the average Urza deck, but shine bright in Lenny's adept hands.

While his skills as a brewer earn him respect and admiration in the community, it's Lenny's personality that makes him beloved. Even though you're likely to get your ass kicked in a game with him, you never feel bad about it because getting to spend time with him is a gift. Playing a game of Commander with Lenny always feels like hanging out with an old friend. His presence is comforting, like a night on the couch watching your favorite old movies. A game with him is a known quantity: you will have fun, you will smile and laugh, you will forget your troubles, you will be accepted. 

And yet, Lenny knows all too well what it's like to not be accepted at a game table. As someone who is both gay and African-American, in a gaming community that is still mostly white straight cis men, he can't just sit down with a group of strangers at an LGS and play a game. He must be on-guard and vigilant, judging each situation to determine how "out" he can be, if at all. Occasionally he's forced to decide if and how he will respond to offensive comments from other players. Knowing how accepted Lenny is in the online EDH community, it's sobering to remember that there are still people out there who would not want to play with him because of his skin, or who he loves.

Lenny believes that, while the acceptance of people of color and LGBTQ+ people in the world of Magic is improving, it still has a long way to go. One wonders how many countless women, trans people, or people of color, have left the game because of interactions with prejudiced people at their LGS or online? How many of them could have been great voices in the community, like Lenny, if they hadn't been silenced by intolerance and ignorance?

Despite these challenges, Lenny likes to think of himself as a networker who brings people together, and this is certainly the case when we sat down for a game of EDH over Spelltable with his two friends, Samuel and Drake. I'd never met them before, but if they're friends with Lenny, then I know they're good people.

Lenny wanted to play his current favorite pet deck, an Abzan enchantress deck, helmed by the Partner pair of Tymna the Weaver and Kodama of the East Tree. He describes the deck as "nasty," but it's what he's excited about, so we go along for the ride. I play Liesa, Shroud of Dusk, Samuel brings Gretchen Titchwillow, and Drake plays the Partner pair of Bruse Tarl, Boorish Herder and Kamahl, Heart of Krosa.

Things started out politely enough. We all spent the first few turns playing mostly lands and ramp spells. Then on turn 4 Lenny played a Serra's Sanctum and, as the kids say, shit got real. I asked him if the card was real or a proxy, as the pod was proxy-friendly. He said it was legit, and that he had bought a couple when they rotated out of Standard, around 22 years ago. Then he played Skybind, which Lenny thinks is a "good card that nobody plays." These two cards, Skybind and Serra's Sanctum, would go on to define the game.

In Lenny's hometown of Sacramento, California, he has multiple local game stores that he frequents. He describes his LGS experience as generally good, aside from the occasional off-hand comment or the people looking to treat him like their "Black experience." He has called Sacramento home almost his entire life, and it's there, in 1995, that he first learned to play Magic. Having already been well-versed in other fantasy-themed games like D&D and Final Fantasy, he found Magic an easy game to assimilate. Especially since some cards, like Demonic Tutor and Unholy Strength, were banned at the Catholic school he attended, and he felt cool and rebellious to own them.

Playing in worlds of make-believe has been a recurring theme throughout Lenny's life. He fondly remembers, as a young Boy Scout, making haunted houses for an annual Scout fundraiser. Creating elaborate and scary rooms, with the help of his father, who Lenny describes as a showman, is one of his most cherished memories. So it's fitting, and unsurprising, that Lenny went on to study Theater at Sacramento City College. And it was with his first show, running lights for a production called "I Remember Mama," that he learned the value of community, and of saying "Yes" to being involved. This was a turning point in the life of someone who had once considered himself anti-social, without which the EDH community would not have gotten our friend Lenny.

He's a pretty easy-going guy. So I asked Lenny if anything makes angry in a game? He said, "Getting shut out of a game before my deck has the chance to start doing something." Thankfully, this did not happen in our game together. On turn 5, the "nasty" definitely started to show. He dropped an incredibly timely -- pun intentional here -- Out of Time. This card takes some guts and careful planning to play, as the person playing it also loses their creatures, but he was able to use Skybind to blink his creatures away so they weren't lost to the aether. Phased from existence were my Suture Priest, (which would've destroyed Lenny's plans, as you'll see) as well as the Swiftfoot Boots attached to it. Samuel lost his commander and Zimone, Quandrix Prodigy, and Drake lost Bruse Tarl and Ohran Frostfang. Five counters went on Out of Time and -- spoiler alert -- those creatures never came back into the game.

Things went from bad to worse on turn 6, when Lenny played Geth's Grimoire, Waste Not, and Thoughtrender Lamia. He chuckled as he casually, one card right after the other, laid out this engine that would empty his opponents' hands while refilling his own. Also coming into play was a very large Katilda, Dawnhart Martyr, whose lifelink was more than relevant.

Turn 7 is when he started apologizing, as his deck ascended into the higher echelons of nastydom. It crescendoed into the kind of nasty groove that Janet Jackson could sing about. He brought out Heliod, God of the Sun and demonstrated a once-per-turn repeatable loop with Heliod, Skybind and Serra's Sanctum, where he could tap the Sanctum for mana, funnel it into Heliod's ability to make enchantment tokens, then use Skybind's trigger to flicker the Sanctum. Whether out of pity for his opponents, or due to the mental gymnastics required to choose targets for each Skybind trigger -- it may have been both -- he chose to only flicker the Sanctum each turn, but each turn he had more enchantments and more mana coming from the legendary land. His opponents were staring down the barrel of a loaded sun-god.

I asked Lenny why he likes this deck so much. Aside from how strong the deck is, he called it "Uniquely mine...it brings up a lot of memories for me because it uses many of the cards I used to play in high school that I kept all these years. The deck reflects my personality in that it's unique, adaptable, and sometimes a little mean." Along with Serra's Sanctum, the deck includes other old-school classics, like Anvil of Bogardan, Bottomless Pit, Oppression, and Words of Waste. It's not typical to see an enchantress deck focusing so much on discard effects, but that's why this deck is special, and why it's so inimitably Lenny.

Even though "unique and underplayed" is a large part of Lenny's aesthetic as a brewer, he passes no judgment on people who want to play the tried and true. "It's okay to brew the deck you want," he says, "even if it's not the best deck for that commander or the best deck it can be. Also...it's okay to brew the best deck it can be." 

I wanted to know more about Lenny's process of building a new deck. He said "It all starts with an idea." That idea could come from a commander, or from an interesting card. He takes that initial card he wants to build around and breaks it up into its individual components, to see what the card could be made to do that isn't the thing that everyone else wants to do with it.

He'll work from memory and Scryfall searches to find more cards that fit that concept. Then he adds in the normal package of lands, ramp, card draw, and removal, trying to make these all a mixture of synergy and staples. Once he's satisfied, he heads over to the EDHREC page to make sure he didn't miss anything important. From there he goes to the website's advanced filters to see how many people are using the same ideas. If the number is low enough, let's call this the "hipster quotient," he'll proceed with finishing the deck. He even occasionally workshops the deck with a few close friends that he respects and trusts.

But Lenny's not the kind of guy to build a deck and move on. His decks are in a constant state of fluctuation. He declares, "If I could shift cards in and out during a game, I would." In fact, he has decks that have been morphing for nearly a decade. His first Commander deck started as Niv-Mizzet, the Firemind. That transformed into Melek, Izzet Paragon, then into Mizzix of the Izmagnus, then into Arjun, the Shifting Flame, then back into Mizzix, then into Saheeli, the Gifted, and finally into its current form as Haldan, Avid Arcanist and Pako, Arcane Retriever. Noting this frequent metamorphosis, he said, "My decks are like butterflies that I release into the world to destroy my opponents."

And destroy us, he did. On turn 8 he tapped Serra's Sanctum for 19 mana. He used that and other lands to cast Kodama of the East Tree. With Kodama's help, this turn brought him Doomwake Giant, Painful Quandary, Smothering Tithe, Megrim, Anvil of Bogardan, Liliana's Caress, and Solitary Confinement. By this time he had over 30 permanents on his very crowded battlefield, and the Doomwake Giant had wiped the board of all creatures except my ever-growing Sunscorch Regent. His thirst for blood not fully sated, he proceeded to play Court of Ambition, Oppression, and Tergrid, God of Fright. He swung at Drake with Katilda for lethal, gaining 28 life in the process.

He passed the turn to me. With teeth chattering and hand shaking, I drew my card for the turn. A land. I used Arguel's Blood Fast to draw one, two, and three cards more, finally coming to a Heliod's Intervention. With the mana I had left, I was able to destroy six of Lenny's permanents, but it was too little, too late. I hit Lenny with the Sunscorch Regent for 15 damage, which probably felt like a mosquito bite to his healthy life total. All that for a drop of blood.

I passed to Samuel, who was able to cast a Finale of Revelation for 10, but somehow, incredibly, nothing useful came up. Lenny forgot his Smothering Tithe triggers, as it was buried under other cards, but it didn't matter. With all hopes of a miraculous Cyclonic Rift dashed like waves against a rocky shore, Samuel passed the turn. 

Lenny played Replenish, and Samuel and I conceded.

Lenny is chameleonic in his ability to shift dynamics, from low-powered battlecruiser, all the way up to high-powered cEDH. He says, "I enjoy Commander across a broad spectrum of ways to play, and for me, playing cEDH is a part of that." He laments the idea that gets tossed around by some players, occasionally part of "The Discourse" that leads to people arguing in circles on social media with regularity, that cEDH and non-cEDH should be separated into two separate formats. He believes, and I agree with him, that this would be terrible for the format that we both love, and would solve nothing.

Through chatting, messaging, and playing a game together, I learned a lot about Lenny, including many personal details that don't bear mentioning here, and it's been a pleasure to get more context for how he became who he is. It's easy to forget that I've only known Lenny for two years. It feels like he's been my friend for ages. That may be the COVID-time messing with my brain, but I think it's more than that. He's truly a great person, and I'm happy he's in my life. And so is anyone else lucky enough to know him.

You can find Lenny on Twitter at @LennyWooley, read his bi-weekly article series "Power Sink" over on EDHRec, or catch him streaming budget EDH with the Scrap Trawlers on Sundays at 7:30PM Central, at twitch.tv/scraptrawlers.

Andy loves EDH, travelling, movies, writing, whiskey, board games, and spending time with family and friends. He has a Bachelor's Degree in Creative Writing from UW-Milwaukee. His daughter is the best kid ever.