“So…have you written anything decent lately?”
–Michael Gunter, shameless flatterer
“What? You aren’t playing Aluren?”
–Too many people to count
“What the hell are you doing on my couch?”
“Just sittin’, man.”
“I’ll rephrase. How long have you been in my house?”
“Not long, dude. I came in with you.”
“How do you do that? I didn’t see you.”
“You kinda had your hands full with the sleepin’ kid and all. He’s a cutey, by the way.”
“Must get that from his mother. Speaking of which, where is the old lady?”
“She went out with friends tonight. Keep your voice down. I don’t want him to wake up.”
“That’s cool. Where did she go?”
“They went to see a stand-up comedian my wife has a crush on.”
“She has a crush on him?”
“To put it mildly, yes. She keeps the business card I had him autograph in the same picture frame as our family portrait.”
“Wait, you got this guy’s autograph for her?”
“Of course. She’s a huge fan.”
“And you let her go out and see his act without you?”
“And she’s like all dopey for this guy?”
“More or less, yeah.”
“Doesn’t that make you just a little nervous?”
“Not really. Besides, she’s only one state over. If she drove more than four hours to see him, then I might be nervous.”
“She’s crossing state lines to see this guy perform? Dude!”
“Look at it this way, Jack. This guy is on his way up in the world of entertainment. He’s got young ladies mailing him panties every day. My wife is just one more potential stalker to this fellow. Nothing to worry about on my end except a process server with a restraining order.”
“If you say so. Wait, so if you weren’t out with her, where were you, dude?”
“Tournament. PTQ for Kobe.”
“Playing cards, eh.”
“Yeah. Here’s my deck.”
Girls Night Out
4 Birds of Paradise
4 Argothian Enchantress
1 Akroma, Angel of Wrath
1 Verduran Enchantress
2 Yavimaya Enchantress
3 Ancestral Mask
4 Enchantress’s Presence
4 Sterling Grove
3 Wild Growth
2 Elfhame Palace
1 Serra’s Sanctum
4 Windswept Heath
1 Solitary Confinement
3 Absolute Grace
4 Absolute Law
3 Sacred Ground
4 Seal of Cleansing
“It’s nothing special. Just a pedestrian G/W Enchantress Beatdown thing.”
“Sure, dude. Just your basic Enchantress deck with the Porno Angel in the deck.”
“Well, I like late game surprises. Actually, I can pump Akroma out pretty quickly, but that’s obviously not the idea considering she’s a one-of. So is Serra’s Sanctum, which is often where I’m getting most of the White mana to throw her down. Usually when I pay her, I’m going for one big turn where I’ve drawn like ten or fifteen cards and I still have a land drop available from an Exploration. I can go from no critters on the table to Akroma with Ancestral Mask and fifteen other enchantments on the table.”
“That could be fun.”
“Loads. Seven rounds of pure fun. At least, that was the plan.”
“So how did you do, dude?”
“Well, I think my notes from the last round tell the whole story, really.”
It turns out my second round opponent is playing the next table over, and she is friends with my current foe. She informs her I am a nice guy. I plead my case, insisting I have been known to drown kittens at the drop of a hat, but to no avail. The secret is out like Clay Aiken should be, and I must play under the woeful heraldry of”nice guy.” My opponent is playing B/R aggro-control. The first game goes smoothly for all involved, and I die quickly one mana source shy of being able to drop Akroma and Ancestral Mask her for the miracle come-from-behind-win.
My mistake comes in the second game. My opponent is at fifteen life and has one Red creature (something with at least two power). I am at two life, and I have an Auratog as the sole member of my team. He is Rancored, and I have Absolute Law on the table. I also have Enchantress’s Presence on the table. I drop a few Explorations and a Wild Growth, trying to draw into Ancestral Mask so that I may swing for the win. It does not present itself, so I pass the turn. Of course, I do not notice that I now have seven enchantments on the table. The correct play is to swing and then sac everything at the window directly after blockers are declared. Seven sacrificed enchantments to Auratog makes him a 15/16. But I pass the turn instead.
My opponent untaps, drops Blazing Specter, and I am dead. This is when I noticed my mistake. At least this horrible day is over.
“Aw, dude. You shouldn’t be so hard on yourself. One mistake at the end of a long day isn’t such a big deal.”
“Even if you win that game, you still have one to go. No guarantee you would have pulled the match out anyway.”
“Jack, that’s not the right attitude at all. Matches are won a single game at a time. Besides, I’ve always felt momentum is with the winner of the second game when a match goes to three.”
“I’m just sayin’ one mistake is not such a big deal.”
“One mistake? I made more than one mistake today. Actually, check out my notes from round six.”
After praying for any opponent except *BYE* I am rewarded with a no-show, which is like a bye (you don’t get to play Magic), except you get to take a couple of ratings points from someone (like I care). Of course, this should mean I have fewer opportunities to make mistakes.
Mistakes I make this round: I don’t watch the table next to me as much as I should. It’s late in the day, but this is an opportunity to get free info about other decks/players in my bracket. This mistake will follow me into the seventh round when I am not certain whether or not my opponent is playing Diabolic Edict. I lose an Argothian Enchantress by not playing around a threat I wasn’t sure was present, when I could have known it was.
Instead of watching my neighbor’s match in its entirety, I quickly reassemble and randomize my Aluren deck. A local kid has just put his own Aluren together, so we test the mirror match. It becomes clear during our first game he doesn’t quite understand how priority works. We start playing the game out slower so that he can clearly see all of the passes. It’s his turn, he has Aluren out, and we are busy trying to kill one another, so any missed chance to take control of the stack is criminal. After a few dozen spells have been played (many of which are still on the stack), he seems to be getting a better handle on the whole thing. He’s busy bouncing his Cavern Harpy to draw from his Wirewood Savage, and then he casts Brainstorm (huh?). I respond with Brain Freeze. He starts bouncing his Harpy in response, and then casts a Brain Freeze of his own. I say”okay, let’s play the next one now that you’ve got it” and scoop.
For the two or three of you who may not have caught it, if we resolve the stack without adding any more effects to it, I win that game. His half a million copies of Brain Freeze resolve, and my library gets milled into my graveyard. Then my half million copies of Brain Freeze resolve, and his library gets milled into his graveyard. Then his Brainstorm resolves and he loses the game since he has no cards to draw. None of that happens because I scoop.
Great. Now I’m making mistakes while playing casual Aluren matches.
“Oh, come on. You weren’t even playing for real, man.”
“I know, I know. But I hate it when I miss something like that. It’s better to face it than bury it.”
“I don’t know about that, dude.”
“Well, I was well past the ‘bring me hemlock in a bowl’ phase by that point anyway.”
“Dude, you couldn’t have made mistakes all day long. You’re sloppy to be sure, but you’re not that sloppy.”
“Well, the fifth round went okay, sort of.”
My opponent is playing Goblin Charbelcher/Mana Severance. I play flawlessly and lose in two games. My mistake this round was failing to convince my opponent to drop and draft, which he really wanted to do.
“Since I had plenty of time after that round I took a bathroom break and removed Goblin Charbelcher from my colon.”
“Yeah. Before that, I watched my neighbors finish their match.”
A mistake I notice this round (but don’t make myself) is at the table to my left. Another fellow is playing G/W Enchantress against an aggressive R/G. After a very busy combat phase, the only creature left on the board is an Auratog with Ancestral Mask and at least one Rancor, possibly more. There are many enchantments on the table. It is the R/G player’s turn, though. He is at a low life total, but he has a plan. He drops Ensnaring Bridge and passes the turn, one card in hand. The Enchantress player says”sure” and untaps his permanents before drawing his card.
The correct play for the Enchantress player is to sacrifice his Ancestral Mask and however many Rancors were on that tog during the end of the R/G gentleman’s turn. This puts Auratog’s power back at one for his turn. Thus, he would be able to swing under the Ensnaring Bridge and pump him to lethal by sacrificing excess enchantments prior to stacking damage. Game, match, etcetera.
“Dude, when did you write these notes up? During matches?”
“No, I wrote them in the car.”
“Umm…weren’t you driving?”
“Red lights, Jack. Red lights. There are a lot of red lights in this town. It’s best to make use of the time.”
“Tough to buy that, dude. Look at the details on your fourth round notes.”
Many players fear x-2 because it means the day is over and it is time to draft. I fear two losses because it means I am in the nightmare bracket. This is the bracket that hates you, regardless of what you are playing. For example, my opponent is playing Black/Green, so I’m thinking Pernicious Deed is going to be my nemesis this match. He drops three Nantuko Vigilantes face down and flips them during the course of the first game. I almost called a judge. That much main deck hate against me must qualify as unsporting conduct or something. Fortunately, I am able to win the next two games.
“You scribbled that down in a car?”
“My only mistake-free round of the tourney.”
“Heh. Well, that’s no fun then.”
“Round three was fun, even though the mistakes were not horrible.”
My opponent and I were matched up once before in the PTQ prior to the bannings. He was playing a Mesmeric Orb deck that looked like a lot of fun. Today, he is running a B/R Braids deck that has some other nasty surprises in it. (He tells me after the match that it is possible to get the lock on the first turn, although that requires a miracle draw. Still, nasty thought, eh?) Game one is a one-sided affair in my favor after a first turn Exploration. Game two does not go as smoothly as one would think after I drop Sacred Ground on the second turn.
Me: Sacred Ground. Go.
Opp: You’re kidding.
The match next to us is over, and one of the players has stayed behind to watch our match finish up. My opponent has Chalice of the Void in play set to one. Here’s the play by play on my mistake:
Me: Birds of Paradise.
Him: Can’t play it. Chalice.
Me: Actually, I can. But it’s countered.
Me: I am a moron.
Me: Yavimaya Enchantress. Go.
(Observer turns away from the match to speak with a friend for a moment.)
Him: Phage the Untouchable. Go.
Me: Oh, dear.
(Observer turns back to our match.)
Obs: That’s a new development.
Fortunately, I was able to Ancestral Mask my Yavimaya Enchantress and swing. She would have been lethal, so he was forced to block her with Phage. The catfight ends with both creatures (and my Mask) in the graveyard, but I breathe a sigh of relief. I win soon after with Akroma.
Losing to Phage can’t be classified as a mistake per se, but I wouldn’t want to put it on my magical resume.
“So you walked into Chalice. Big deal. It’s worth a chuckle, sure, but it’s no tragedy.”
“Oh, Jack. Do you really think I would complain about my mistakes if I didn’t have better than that to share with you?”
“No. I was kinda hopin’, for your sake, though.”
“You’re a true friend. At least, that’s what I keep telling myself when it’s clear you’ve broken into my home somehow.”
“Yeah, well, don’t call 911 unless you want to explain to a family court judge your habit of writing novels while chauffeuring a two year-old.”
“Deal. Here’s the thing. I make a huge, easily avoided mistake in round two.”
“Easily avoided, eh? How easily?”
“Notes, Jack. Read the notes.”
My opponent is playing White Weenie. Neither of us are the speediest of players (I am not as slow as some are, but I am not fast), which becomes relevant fairly quickly. She has a face up Exalted Angel and Kor Haven on the table. She also has a couple of Meddling Mages (one set for Wild Mongrel, the other for Verduran Enchantress), and a ton of extra life thanks to Exalted Victoria’s Secret Model. I have Argothian Enchantress, Yavimaya Enchantress, and Verduran Enchantress in play. I also have Worship and Sterling Grove in play. I also have a few other enchantments on the table, and I have drawn several extra cards from the ladies. She gets Ramosian Sergeant on the table, and the timekeeper calls out twenty minutes left to play, the turn it becomes active.
This is the exact moment of my mistake. The correct play is to scoop my cards and play as quickly as I can to try and win the next two games. The game is already at a standstill. She can’t win via damage due to Worship, and I can’t win unless I find a way to push a lot of damage through before she finds a Worship of her own (if she’s running it). The logical conclusion is that I will lose this match to decking before I can kill her. I’ve drawn many more cards than she has, and if I have any hope of putting more threats on the table than she can neutralize in one combat phase I have no choice but to keep digging. She can activate her Sergeant four turns in a row and bring out all the Whipcorders, and still have more cards in her library than I do.
Of course, I do have a slim chance of pushing through what I need to push through, so I give into that silly hope and keep going. Even after I commit to one very big turn of drawing cards without being able to get firmly ahead of the curve, I don’t scoop. We probably would not have been able to finish the second game anyway, but it would have been the correct play.
I give my opponent every opportunity to make errors during her decisions to tap my guys down, block, and otherwise neutralize my blitzes, but she plays it clean. I lose the game during the last of the extra five turns when I am unable to draw from an empty library.
“You can stop laughing now, Jack.”
“Dude, I’m laughing with ya, not at ya.”
“So, you only played one game?”
“Yeah. That’s happened to me twice in sanctioned play, and I have lost both times. I really need to pull the trigger on that situation. It isn’t like there isn’t plenty of time to make that decision.”
“True enough, dude. Okay, that one was pretty bad. It was early in the day, and you basically made the same mistake over and over for like fifteen minutes.”
“Oh, but that wasn’t the worst mistake of the tournament, Jack.”
“Oh, no. Not by a long shot.”
“Dude. Do I really want to know?”
“Probably not, but it’s like a bad car wreck. You know you’re going to look.”
“Remember, Jack. This is the first round.”
There are mistakes, and there are… other things. There are errors so horrid the word”mistake” cannot adequately convey the depths of poor judgement required evoking them. These are errors so vast they cannot be fully understood by mortals. These are sublime events. When such monstrosities are identified, one does not call them”mistakes.” There is another word reserved for these tragedies.
Blunders. These things are called blunders.
This is what a blunder looks like.
My opponent is playing U/G Madness. It is the second game, and I lost the first one. On his side of the table there is a Chrome Mox imprinted with Naturalize. As is customary, Naturalize is sitting underneath his Mox instead of in the removed from game zone (where it actually belongs). He also has Wild Mongrel and Basking Rootwalla on the table. Chrome Mox is tapped. I have an Argothian Enchantress on the table and Worship in hand. I am facing lethal damage next time he swings. It’s my turn.
Ready for the blunder?
Everyone who said,”You didn’t play Worship” raise your hand. You guessed wrong. Have you no imagination? That’s hardly worth my time. I can do much better than that.
Oh, I played Worship. I had to play Worship. I needed to play Worship to go fishing for the Seal of Cleansing I needed to protect Worship. Protect it from what, you might ask. Well, that’s very simple. I had to protect it from that Naturalize imprinted on Chrome Mox. If I don’t find a way of clearing out the Mox, he’s just going to pay two and tap that sucker to put a copy of Naturalize on the stack targeting my Worship, rendering it dead (and therefore me).
No, that wasn’t a typo. That is what had been going on in my little brain for a couple of turns. Chrome Mox had in fact been replaced with Isochron Scepter in my head. Hard to believe, right? Probably wouldn’t believe the story if I didn’t tell it myself, would you? I mean, that’s a cataclysmic error.
I agree. That’s why it is classified as a blunder. Scooping my cards (to the shock of my opponent) was not the mistake. The root of the problem is the incomprehensible switcheroo of rules text in my mental database between a mana producer and a real threat to my pursuit of happiness.
“Sheesh, Jack. Do you need a Kleenex?”
“Man! I haven’t laughed like that in a long time! Let me catch my breath.”
“It’s not that funny.”
“I’m laughing with ya, remember? Ah, I can’t lie… I’m laughing at ya. What the hell were you thinking?”
“The only good thing about blowing it that badly is that you can’t get your mind around it, so it’s almost like it never happened. If I had made the mistake I made in the seventh round in the first, it might have devastated me and completely ruined my day. But my blunder was well past any previous definition of ‘wrong play’ and so I just moved on.”
“You mean instead of ‘oh, man…I’m so stupid, why did I do that’ you just shrug when something like that happens?”
“Pretty much. What else is there to say but ‘oops’?”
“Dude, I can see how that’s true. It’s kinda strange, though. Someone should study that phenomenon.”
“Ah, I see my Christmas gift has not gone untouched.”
“Yeah, thanks for the dictionary. It’s what I’ve always wanted. So, do you think you’re wife will call home before she heads back to the hotel with this comedian or what?”
“I doubt it. I don’t normally call her when I take your sister out.”
“That’s not funny, dude. Leave Jill out of this.”
“Oh, I didn’t realize you were so sensitive, Jack. My mistake.”
“Yeah, your mistake. Add it to the pile.”
“Another shot! Actually, I do have a couple of other mistakes from this tournament. Here’s a subtle one. I had to buy some cards for my sideboard before the event began. I went over to Rudy’s table to get ’em.”
“He’s a dealer.”
Me: Three Sacred Ground, please.
Rudy: Sacred Ground? Is this for Extended?
Rudy: Hmm. I’ve been selling a lot of these for Standard lately, but I didn’t think anyone would need them in Extended.
Me: Well, I’m paranoid. Must be the strychnine.
“Dude, I don’t follow that.”
“It’s a mentality, Jack. Sacred Ground in the board represents a losing mentality. More to the point, it is not the choice the lead dog makes.”
“Still lost, man.”
“Put simply, it looks like I’m preparing my sideboard to deal with rogue decks more likely to be found in the middle of the pack than at the top tables. Even the threat of Armageddon in White Weenie, which kind of got me thinking in that direction, was not the only thing I had in mind when I elected to put those in my ‘board. I was thinking of the two guys playing Mono-Red Land Destruction and the guys with the Braids decks. Those aren’t the decks I need to be thinking I’m liable to face.”
“Oh, I think I gotcha now. Think like you’re in front already and only prepare for the top tables.”
“Exactly. The mistake is falling into the habit of preparing for decks that shouldn’t be at the top tables. That is a trap that I fell into.”
“But that Sacred Ground thing worked out for ya, dude.”
“Sure it did, but that’s not the point. The point is not to be prepared to face the Braids deck in the first round. The point is to assume the Braids deck won’t be in your bracket after the first round, get it? Anything else can be considered a mistake assuming your goal is to win the tournament.”
“That makes sense, I guess.”
“Yeah. But I made mistakes even earlier than that.”
“Like what, dude?”
“I should have played Aluren. I had promised myself I wasn’t going to play it, but that’s because I was going to trade up and run Psychatog or The Rock. Long story short, I couldn’t get the testing time in with Psychatog or all of the cards I wanted to run in The Rock.”
“That doesn’t sound so bad, man.”
“It is, Jack. The point in not playing Aluren was to commit myself to playing control. I did not play control. I did not play anything resembling control. So basically I didn’t play Aluren on principal. Put another way, I cheated on my baby for no reason other than to do it.”
“That’s cold, dude. That’s just cold.”
“I know. I’m a miserable human being.”
“If it makes you feel any better, you’re a far worse Magic player.”
“Thanks, Jack. I knew I could count on you.”