An FNM Carol

Get in the holiday spirit by reading Michael Martin’s Magic-infused adaptation of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.

The kid was dead to begin with; John had no doubt about that. Dead as a doornail, John thought, though exactly what that meant he now realized he had no clue. But the fact remained that John had long been playing Mono-Black Devotion and this kid had seemingly thrown a deck together with cards he pulled out of a Theros booster pack the night before.

Everyone at the shop, from the youngest kid to James the storeowner, knew John and knew never to approach him with questions about his round, his record, or his opponent. In fact, they knew that approaching the former Pro Tour competitor would lead to nothing more than a cold, angry, and sarcastic response.

But what did John care? That’s how he liked it! John enjoyed the fact that noobs and kids left him alone; if John had his way, he’d never have to interact with the kids past taking their entry fees and winning packs in ridiculously easy rounds of FNM.

Which brings us back to our current situation; while John knew that this kid was dead, his deck didn’t seem to agree, having never given him his third land. He looked around at other players merrily playing lands and casting spells, playing normal games of Magic.

John resented and despised them all for their enjoyment, their ability to play out their games as intended. Let’s be honest, he couldn’t stand them regardless of how his current game was going. He would have continued with his train of thought, but his small opponent pulled him from his silent, angry thoughts.

“Enchant Agent of the Fates with Scourgemark. You have to sacrifice your creature. Attack you for the last four points of damage.”

John never even so much as reached for his lonely Pack Rat token, didn’t even look down at his pitiful board state; John just glared at his smiling opponent’s tiny outstretched hand.

“Good game, John,” the boy beamed, his smile wide and his face bright.

Good game?” John growled. “Please, tell me, what part of game was good?! The part where you played terrible? The part where I got ridiculously unlucky? Your deck is terrible, you played terrible . . .

Pssh,” John spat out as he picked up his cards without shaking the kid’s hand, “good game he says. F***ing noob.”

With that, John got up to sulk around in silent anger until Matt, the one person in the entire room (and possibly the entire world) who didn’t hate him, wrapped up his round. John spent the remaining time in the round at an isolated corner table telling great tales of the terrible plays and horrible luck of the previous round.

When pairings were called out for the next round, John made his way to his seat only to find that his opponent was already there. Oddly, though, his opponent didn’t have a deck in front of him and wasn’t shuffling. John sat and stared as the stranger kept their head low with their hoodie pulled low over their eyes. Peculiar indeed, but John had always enjoyed the silence before rounds; small talk was well below him at FNM.

John continued to shuffle in silence until the start of the round was called out.

“Dude, where’s your deck?”

Although he never saw his opponent move and the card shop was loud with ongoing conversations between opponents, John clearly heard a low voice respond with, “Oh, I haven’t played in years.”

“Huh?! How are we supposed to play?”

The cowl in front of John slowly lifted, revealing a measure of the opponent who up to this point remained wholly unidentified and nameless. John could see that there was some sort of face beneath the hood; however, the eyes seemed incredibly shrunken, the features almost . . . translucent. John felt a very icy chill touch make its way down each bump along his spine.

“What we are going to do tonight is no game, John. You’ve spent many years trying to obtain success at Magic at the expense of all else, including friends and family. You’ve followed a path that I forged years ago in a time where I too sought success above all else. You may not know me personally, but we are cut from the same cloth. At least, we were before . . . “

With that, the stranger trailed off. John waited for a bit and then opened lips that, although John would have never admitted it, might have trembled a bit, “Who . . . what ARE you?! And why are you here if you’re not going to play?”

I was just like you kid!the stranger bellowed abruptly in a voice that felt amplified tenfold, but no one else in the shop even glanced up from their games. “I had a family, many friends, and skill at this game. But I wanted more. So like you, I slowly pushed everyone away in my pursuit of greatness at any cost.

The years of ignoring all others eventually caught up, and in this form I am sentenced to watching over the suffering of people like those I once walked on. I want nothing more than to help, but my ethereal form prevents me from doing more than futilely grasping, trying to atone for mistakes I made for years.”

John listened, taken aback by the sudden outburst and entirely unable to interrupt in his usual gruff manner; while the stranger spoke, John looked around, wondering why no one else was glancing over as loud as his counterpart was talking.

What does any of this have to do with me, man?”

“Because you face the same fate. Tonight, before this tournament’s through, you will have been visited by three spirits.”

John’s anxiety was temporarily broken up by the thought that this sounded quite familiar, almost like a story he’d heard before.

They’ll be here to visit you and you alone. Your future lies with you; this is your opportunity to alter the path you tread.”

With that, the spirit rose. In the middle of a crowded room, it commanded John’s attention as if no one else were present. The spirit glided effortlessly across the floor towards the door. John’s gaze never left the sight of the floating apparition, watching as the figure made its way towards the doorway. Never raising a hand or making a motion to open the door, the figure simply vanished when it met the exit.

John sat stunned and in silence. Surely he was daydreaming in the middle of another boring FNM, right? He needed to snap to because his round was surely going on and he needed to get to it before . . .

The First Of The Three Spirits

As his thoughts drifted to the round that he was positive he was currently missing, a figure standing by the display case caught John’s eye. Dressed oddly and looking incredibly out of place, the figure was one that John could swear wasn’t there 30 seconds ago.

A dream. It has to be a dream, dude. Wake up, this is getting creepy.

As if able to read his very thoughts, the figure at the display case slowly turned toward John. When its rotation was complete, John’s eyes were fixed upon a childlike figure, one scarcely half his height. Yet in its face John could see that this was no child.

“It’s no dream, John,” a soft voice spoke directly to him. John’s jaw would have had to have been scraped off the floor if anatomy allowed it to drop that low. The slow realization that the previous visit was no dream and that this figure standing before him was truly a ghost caused incredibly inner turmoil for John, who up to this point in life had never believed in spirits.

“Are you one of those ghosts I was told would find me tonight?” John asked through his fear.

The spirit’s slight nod indicated that indeed it was the foretold spirit.

“I am the ghost of tournaments past.”

What!? John thought incredulously. What was this thing talking about!? “What are you doing here? Why are you all messing with me tonight?”

“Your welfare.”

John thought that a night free of ghosts and spirits would do him much more good than whatever it was they were planning. The ghost, again seemingly reading John’s thoughts, elaborated.

“Your reclamation rather. Come.”

The ghost beckoned John to follow, but John hesitated when he saw the spirit heading for a back wall in the room. “I can’t go through walls, man.”

“Touch my arm.”

John did as he was told; when his hand met the cold fabric of the figure’s garment, the surrounding scene melted away, players and all. The walls vanished from view, and John now stood in the parking lot of a strip mall in late afternoon. Blinking to adjust to the new environment, John’s eyes brightened like a child unwrapping a much anticipated gift.

“So you remember this, John?”

“Of course I remember this!” John replied without looking at his ghostly host, as John was too engrossed with the scene playing out before him. An older minivan slowly came to a stop in front of a small shop with only the word “Games” above the door to indicate the wares being provided inside. The rear door slid open, and two younger boys jumped out, one years older than the other.

“Thanks, Grandma” the oldest yelled back without turning around.

“Yeah, thanks” the younger kid followed.

John noticed that the ghost had started making its way to the game shop, following the two boys inside without gesturing to John at all. John picked up on the hint and followed along, walking into the small shop.

“I remember that night; it was the first time my brother brought me with him to play Magic. I was so lost and had no idea what I was doing. I was playing a Pale Moon that night. Man, that was fun . . . ”

The two kids entered the bustling store and ran straight to a back corner table isolated from the other gamers in the room. The older one pulled two unsleeved decks from each of his front pants pockets, looked at the bottom card to see which was which, and then handed one to the younger of the two.

“Alright, when they call out pairings for the round, you need to make sure that you’re in your seat before they start. You’ll probably lose a lot, but don’t worry about it. I lost a lot when I first started too. And now you hardly ever see me lose, right?”

The younger boy nodded in agreement, soaking up all the knowledge his older brother had to offer. John remembered these lessons, each one absorbed like water on drought-drained soil. John couldn’t wait to watch his first round, remembering how terribly awesome his deck was.

“We must be moving on,” the spirit informed John.

“Can’t we wait a few minutes? I want to see . . . “

“We haven’t much time, and there are more places to visit.”

With that, the scene before them changed; while the two were still in the same store, the actors changed. The same young boy who seconds before was about to begin his first Friday Night Magic tournament was now a sparsely mustachioed teenager. Something was different, as people weren’t sitting across from each other; instead, most were standing around the teenage John and an older man playing a game of Magic.

“Wait, this was the first night I won FNM!”

Just as John said this, the older man extended his hand for a congratulatory handshake, and young John took it and shook it vigorously. With that, the boy threw both arms in the air with the widest grin that had ever crossed his face proudly displayed. His older brother gave him a high five and a loud “yeah!” as other friends congratulated the young man.

As the elder John approached, lost in the moment himself and trying to give the younger version of himself a celebratory high five, the specter spoke up, “We are only watching images of the past. You will not be able to interact with them.”

John stopped, his disappointment breaking up his excitement momentarily. He turned back and watched the scene before him, sharing in the excitement of a memory he’d long forgotten.

With that, the scene changed again. Now an older but still teenage John was in a big convention center ballroom sitting at a back table with a group of similarly aged gamers. They were adamantly discussing something when John’s brother approached.

“John, I thought we were coming to the PTQ together.”

John looked up with a rather annoyed look on his face. “I want to win, Chris; I’m tired of playing your “fun” decks and getting crushed. These guys are letting me in on their testing group, and they’ve all made Top 8 in PTQs before. They asked me to come with them, so I did.”

With that, young John turned back to the conversation without waiting for a response from his older brother, who stood there for a second thinking. After a moment, John’s brother simply turned away without a word and walked out of the tournament hall.

“That was the last time he went to a tournament,” the elder John stated to no one in particular, “but I started winning at least.”

“But at what cost?” the spirit interrupted.

“It was either that or keep wasting time with crap decks. I was tired of being a noob.”

The spirit didn’t respond; he only beckoned for John to grab his arm again. Time and space seemed to blur by only to have the two arrive at another large convention center. John noticed the various “Grand Prix” accoutrements adorning the convention hall. John turned to a scene he vividly remembered.

“Do we need to watch this, man?”

The spirit didn’t turn away from the scene or respond; it simply continued to observe what transpired. The younger John was in the Top 8 of a Grand Prix, and judges were surrounding his table. John was angrily defending his case against an accusation of cheating to the head judge, his opponent just as vigorously arguing her case.

“Yes, I know, I wanted to win so badly I cheated. I remember yelling at my opponent and the judges. Come on, I already know this, dude. Why are you showing me this?”

“Alright, we can move on. There’s another scene for you to see.”

The scene changed again to one showing John sitting alone in his house with a letter from the DCI explaining the circumstances around his ban from competitive events following his disqualification from the Grand Prix. John grew frustrated, not because the “new” scene was simply a continuation of what he was being shown before but because he was being reminded of things he was thoroughly ashamed of.

I get it, man; I lost site of the fun I had originally to win. I get it. Do we need to keep rubbing it in? I see what you’re trying to get across, and I understand; I’ve forgotten what it’s like to enjoy the game and look past the wins and losses.

S, can we go back to the tournament hall now? My round is probably about to start, and I really don’t want to miss the start of the next round.”

The spirit looked over at John and without as much as a word collapsed upon itself until nothing but the ghost’s robe remained crumpled on the ground. When John looked up, he was no longer in his old house watching his younger self wiping tears from his eyes but was back in the card shop.

The Second Of The Three Spirits

John looked up at the timer remaining in the round and noted that only ten minutes had passed.

It has seemed so much longer to John; how could all that have taken place in just ten minutes?!

He needed to take a walk outside, no longer caring that the December chill was well beyond his comfort zone. As he walked outside, his breath creating puffs of steam as the door opened, he noticed other gamers already outside smoking. This was normal, as the shop had a rather large population of smokers.

Walking past the groups he never spoke to (and who never bothered to speak to him), John made his way to the sidewalk in front of the laundromat beside the card shop where he usually stood to get away from the other gamers. This time someone stood in his area, strange only because John had spent quite some time cultivating the belief that this area was off limits. John didn’t approach the stranger, as the night’s events made him wary of anyone he didn’t recognize.

He noticed that while everyone outside was sending off clouds of steam as they spoke, smoke, and breathed there was no such display in front of this figure. In spite of the sub-freezing temperatures, he felt a very familiar chill crawling down his back.

John waited for a minute to see if the figure turned to face him; when the person didn’t move for some time, John took a cautious step towards the curb the figure was standing on. John noticed that the figure never turned away from the parking lot, never looked away from where ever it was that it was staring at.

As John got closer, an arm slowly raised from the stranger’s side. As John got even closer, it became obvious that the stranger was in fact waiting for him based on its reactions to his movements. When he reached the figure’s side, the arm had reached its zenith and was pointing at . . . seemingly nothing.

“Are you here for me too?” John asked.

“Yes. I am the spirit of tournaments present. Come closer, see what I see.”

John tenuously moved closer to the figure, looking down its arm as if it were sights on a rifle yet seeing nothing of relevance. John was almost touching shoulders with the being at this point yet still saw nothing but what seemed to be an empty parking spot.

“What am I missing?”

“Grab hold of my arm and let’s be off, as time isn’t a luxury we have much of.”

John did as he was told, reaching up the grab the figure’s sleeve. The moment he did, the scene before the two shifted and changed completely; whereas before there was a sparsely populated parking lot, there now stood a house, one that John had never seen before. He now realized that the spirit was pointing into a window, though what was inside he couldn’t decipher.

The house itself was nothing of note; in fact, upon closer inspection the house was in a great state of disrepair. The siding was coming off in strips with shingles missing from the roof. The wood lining the windows was rotting and paint along the walls was a scarcity. Grass only appeared in small patches on a lawn that had probably seen better days.

John approached the window the spirit was still pointing at; as he got closer, he saw a figure sitting on a bed. Eventually, John noticed Harry, a tall, scrawny fellow who played at the card shop.

“That’s Harry. Why are you showing me him, ghost of tournaments present? He wasn’t even there tonight. What does this have to do with anything? What does he have to do with a ‘present tournament’?”

John glanced back, but the arm was still raised and pointing at the window, giving the silent indication for John to just watch. Abiding, John turned back around and observed as Harry got out of the bed he was sitting on that had neither sheet nor pillow. Harry walked into a bare kitchen and walked toward the refrigerator. Opening the door, Harry muttered to himself, “have no clue why I still look, I know there’s not going to be anything.” 

Just as Harry had predicted, the refrigerator was as empty as promises from a politician. Harry closed the door, turned around, and noted, “I’m so hungry.”

John blurted out, “Again, why is this relevant to me? Ok, so he’s hungry . . . “ but was already getting an idea of what this was about.

“Last week you berated Harry here for beating you in game 2 of your match; while shuffling for game 3, you spent the entire time belittling him, telling him how he ‘sucked at life’ and ‘didn’t deserve anything, much less a win in that game.’ You went well beyond your normal verbal jabs.

However, you never know what trouble others face. Harry here is the son of a single parent who is never home and spends all of her money on drugs and alcohol. Harry’s only escape is FNM, and you’ve taken that away because he no longer desires to come back since every week he’s subjected to some sort of verbal abuse from you.”

John turned back to watch as Harry sat on a couch with rips in the cushions. An analog television set sat atop a milk crate, and Harry reached for the remote before shaking his head and getting back up off the couch. John watched as Harry went back to his room with nothing more than his naked bed and lay down to stare at the roof.

“I get it, ghost. He no longer wants to come out because of me; I only made things worse for him with how I treated him. Is that the lesson you’re trying to teach me?”

Without responding, the figure lowered its arm and turned to walk in the opposite direction. Not wanting to be left behind, John stumbled as he ran to catch up to the departing spirit. Upon reaching it, John realized that he was no longer on the same street anymore. When the ghost stopped, it was in front of a card shop but not the one John currently frequented.

John still recognized the shop that he used to go to, as it hadn’t changed much in the year since he stopped going. FNM was still going on; the store was full of kids and young adults sitting across from each other in rows of tables. John and the spirit went into the store and stood in the middle of the room.

“Why are we here?”

John didn’t get a response and simply turned back to face the open room. He recognized quite a few people since the patrons didn’t seem to change much unless they moved or grew disillusioned with the store. He noticed the spirit moving towards a specific table where a portly older man played against a lady in her early twenties. John followed the lead and ventured over to the table.

“I recognize her; she used to come around when I played here. She’s cute; I tried to talk to her, but she didn’t seem interested,” John offered without request. “She stopped coming a month or so before I was banned from here though.”

“This is her first tournament since she stopped coming last year.”

“Huh?!” John replied. “She hasn’t played in over a year? Why’d she quit?”


“Me?! I didn’t do anything to her. I tried talking to her and all, but nothing I did should have chased her away for a year.”

“She felt uncomfortable around you; your comments to her may have been funny and flirtatious to you, but to her they were crude and unwelcome. You never played a single match against her where you didn’t make some kind of reference to her sex or your attraction to her. She would come to play, yet you never gave her the chance to be a tournament participant while you were busy objectifying her.

After months of it, she decided that she’d had enough, that if this was how playing in tournaments would be her whole life, she might as well quit playing.”

Slightly offended by the insinuation, as he never felt like he was objectifying anyone, John turned back to the match and watched. The young lady announced a Hero’s Downfall targeting the man’s last possible blocker before attacking for lethal. The man, disgusted with this turn of events, quickly picked his cards up while adding comments like “so lucky” and “I can’t believe I lost to a girl.”

The woman looked deflated at this mini outburst, exasperated that her abilities were still disregarded based purely on her sex and that nothing had changed. When her eyes rolled slightly, the man noticed and said, “Must be that time of the month, huh?”

John had watched the scene play out quietly up until this point; at this last comment, John looked at the man and said, “She beat you because she was better. Look at your plays, man. She outplayed you; it had nothing to do with luck. She didn’t force you to throw away your creatures in terrible attacks and . . . “ John trailed off upon remembering that these two couldn’t actually hear him.

He watched as the young lady simply picked her cards up quietly and walked to the scorekeeper station.

“I won 2-0, and I’m dropping. I don’t want the pack for the win; I’m just going home.”

John heard this and looked back to her previous opponent, who was simply sitting in the same spot desideboarding. “Happy with yourself? She’s probably not coming back for another year or more, and she didn’t do anything to you other than dominate you in a card game.”

The fact that the man couldn’t hear him dawned on John when he got no response.

“Ghost, can we go before I get even more upset at this guy?”

The spirit nodded; with a wave of its hand, the walls and surround people seemed to dissipate into thin air, replaced by a very familiar scene. John realized he was back in his own store and that it was the same night he was playing, but the light outside told him that it was earlier in the night.

As the front door opened, John noticed his opponent from that night, the young kid with the Agent of the Fates deck.

“Hey Zac,” James said from behind the counter.

“Hey James! Can I sign up for FNM now?”

“Yeah, sure man.” As James registered the young teenager, he asked how his deck was coming together.

“Oh, it’s awesome! Last night I talked my mom into buying me a Theros pack from Walmart while we were there, and I opened . . . THIS,” proudly displaying the Agent of the Fates he pulled.

“Sweet man, that card is awesome if you can get it to work.”

“Yeah, I know, that’s why I added in these Scourgemarks and Dark Favors. I want to find some other stuff, but I’ll have to wait to see if I can win a round or two tonight and get some more packs. Soon I might be able to build another deck too, but I think I’m going to try to get some more Agents and stuff for this one first.”

“For sure, I hope you win some. I tell you what, if you can win two matches tonight, I’ll work with you on getting you another Agent of the Fates from the display case. Give you something to work toward, a goal of sorts.”

With that, Zac’s eyes grew wide, and he replied with an excited, “Yeah, I’m gonna do it then, you watch” before running over to the corner table to start laying out his deck and spare cards.

“That guy beat me with that deck” John said out loud in a tone that suggested more admiration than disgust. “Man . . . “

“What is it?”

“Nothing, I just wish I’d have congratulated him a bit more after our round. That’s all.”

The ghost made a motion with its hand for John to turn around; when he did, he saw his young opponent sitting at a table alone obviously later in the night based on how dark it had gotten. Zac was walking away from the front counter, having just told James that he’d beaten, in his words, “the best player in the entire store.”

As Zac approached his usual table, incredible smile plastered across his face, he overheard a familiar voice talking rather loudly.

“So pissed man. Agent of the Fates? What a terrible card; I should never lose to that kid. What an embarrassment.

Zac’s expression changed as he listened to more and more of what John told Matt, turning south the more he listened to the complaints from John.

“I’m telling you, of all the noobs that come in here he’s got to be one of the worst I’ve seen. I mean, he’s playing Scourgemark in Standard! He tried enchanting his land with it at one point to draw a card!

I can’t believe I lost to that idiot.”

John listened to the speech he had himself given just prior to his visit from the first spirit, looking back at Zac and realizing that the kid could and had heard every word of it. That knowledge made John cringe, as he remembered a lot of what he said. And a lot of it was insulting and cruel.

“Usually I’m glad these kids come in here since they’re just easy money. I can’t stand when they get lucky and I draw bad. And the little f***er even had the nerve to try to shake my hand. I’m not shaking your hand after that crap! Get that out of my face, you know what I’m saying?”

John looked over as Zac got to his feet, seemingly having heard enough of this hate-filled rant. As he walked towards the door to get outside for a bit, John watched while asking the spirit and how much longer he needed to watch this.

“Not much, our time is drawing to a close.”

The Last Of The Spirits

John turned to face the ghost and ask what it meant, but when he did the spirit was nowhere to be found. Looking around, he noticed that he was back in real time with FNM in full swing. He spotted Zac, who he had no idea was named that before tonight, playing his round still; John suddenly found himself hoping the kid would pull out another win.

Searching around still, John set about trying to find the third and final ghost he was to meet that night. As the two previous spirits were in and around the store, John figured that the third would be there as well.

However, John recognized each person in the room, and everything seemed to be in place.

Perhaps the first one misspoke? Yeah, that’s got to be it. There’s only two of them.

No sooner had he thought this when a faint glow beneath the table John was sitting at caught his attention. Lowering his head to see what was causing the illumination from under the table, John found a figure sitting cross-legged on the floor; however, the glow being given off told John all he needed to know about whether or not this was a normal person.

“The third ghost, I presume? The future one?” 

Though John was somewhat accustomed to being in the presence of their kind tonight, the apparition’s silent stare in response to his question left John a bit more nervous than he thought he would be at this point. The figure looked up from John and towards the top of the table, prompting John to lift his head.

When he did, he was no longer in the card shop. Instead, he stood behind a large pane of glass in front of a room full of newborn children. Puzzled, he looked back and forth across the room, wondering what the purpose for this particular trip was.

“So what’s the meaning of . . . “

John stopped when he noticed a slightly aged version of himself walk towards the very glass he was standing in front of with his Dad beside him. As they approached, John instinctively moved to the side, again forgetting that this was an image and not physical objects to be interacted with.

“She’s beautiful, John. You have a tiny miracle now, son.”

“I know, Dad, she’s amazing.”

A nurse came out of the room and asked John if he’d like to hold his daughter. “Of course, I’d love to.”

“Ok, so I have a daughter in the future? How is this relevant?”

When John turned back to watch his future self, he realized that again the scene had changed. These ghosts didn’t give any warning at all . . .

The future John sat on the floor holding both arms out in front of him.

“Come on, baby, you can do it. Just give me one step. You’re so close.”

A little girl looked at him, her wide smile creating noticeable peaks and valleys in her chubby cheeks; her hands still held fast to the couch she was using for support, but the more her father beckoned, the looser her grip on the cushions became.

Finally, she pushed off of the couch towards her dad, his calls of encouragement building enough excitement in the little girl to get her to forget about the safety of the sturdy furniture. With the grace of drunken moose, the girl put one foot in front of herself, more to catch her weight than to try to take a step; however, when that foot landed, the girl lifted the foot behind it and pulled it forward as well, her momentum carrying her past the point where one foot could stop her.

When the second foot landed, the girl could no longer hold herself up and plopped down on her belly; no matter, her father lurched toward her yelling, “There you go!! Your first step!” with pride that only a parent truly knows. He picked his girl up, stood, and swung her around in circles, motion sending what little bit of hair she had flying backwards atop her head.

“She’s beautiful. Is she really mine? I made something that amazing?”

The ghost didn’t speak, only nodded in agreement before pointing past John. When he turned, he saw himself and the girl, now around six or seven years old, sitting at a kitchen table. In their hands, John noticed cards. Magic cards.

“She learns to play Magic too?! That’s awesome! What do I give her to learn with?”

John watches anxiously as the two play out a game. The girl has a green and red deck with cheap creatures and Lightning Bolts, while her dad held a hand full of white and blue cards.

“Typical, I always play control.”

The girl was attacking, and it seemed like she was winning. Her dad, always the competitive player, looked annoyed at the current situation. When she attacks for lethal damage, she jumps up and yells, “I beat da-ddy! I beat da-ddy! Yo-ou lo-o-ose!”

“Baby, you just got lucky. You see, I drew too many lands and couldn’t do anything. You didn’t really win.”

John watched as the smile that seemed plastered on the girl’s face permanently was instantly replaced by a quivering lip that went wholly unnoticed by her father. The joy and excitement of a mere ten second before was now replaced by hurt, and the girl’s face told every bit of the story.

John turned to the ghost, “Why would I say that!? I wouldn’t do that to my daughter, would I? Winning isn’t that important? She can win as many games as she wants!”

John asked that they move past that scene, not wanting to continue watching the girl upset because of something his future self shouldn’t have said. The ghost obliged, and something told John that they had one last place to go, though he never actually heard the figure speak.

John looked up and saw the card shop that he was no longer allowed at, the one where he chased off the young lady the year before; yet it seemed different, with new signs on the door and a new logo above the shop window.

Inside, John still recognized some of the same players, though he made note to himself that the young lady they’d watched at the shop before wasn’t in attendance. Outside, a small sedan came to a slow stop, and the passenger side door opened. A teenage girl stepped out of the car and looked back to a driver that John recognized as himself.

“Thanks, daddy, I’ll text you when we’re done tonight. I really wish you’d come in and play.”

“I already told you that I can’t baby; the game stores around here won’t let me come in after how I acted years ago. Plus I don’t really enjoy these tournaments anymore anyway. You have fun tonight, and I’ll come back and pick you up later.”

With that, the young teen walked inside the store and told the employee behind the counter that she wanted to sign up for the tournament that night. John watched as she went to sit down at the same corner table that he had staked out years ago, a sense of pride taking hold when she started to shuffle her deck the same way he had learned to do when he was a teen.

As the pairings went up for round 1, John waited to see where his future daughter would be seated and against whom she would be playing. When she made her way over to her designated seat, John noticed in horror that it was none other than the man who’d chased away the same lady he’d chased away as well.

“Ghost, do I have to watch this? I know why you’re showing me this. I get it. I don’t want to watch what this asshole is going to say to my daughter. I’m helpless standing with you; I can’t help her, can’t stop him from saying the same things he did to that other girl. I know what it looks like when her excitement, her joy is shattered by an insecure, angry old man. Do I really need to see it twice?”

“John”, he heard the ghost speak for the first time, “you’ve spent years talking down to both new players and women in your travels and tournaments. Now your future daughter is both a new player and a female, and you can’t stand the thought of watching others do to her what you yourself did to many over the years?”

“This is only the things that may happen, right? The first ghost tonight mentioned that this would be my future if I didn’t change; I can be better, have fun at FNM. I can help those like Zac and the girl, the ones I’ve spent years angry at. Maybe I can help change the culture at these stores and get other guys to stop acting like I did.

I get it, I do. I realize what it feels like to see things from the other side. I see that things aren’t always about cards and games, that people have feelings too. I never had to look at these things from the other side; I never had to feel what it felt like to be on the other end. I didn’t realize how my actions were affecting everyone else around me. I don’t want to see how my actions feel when it’s my own daughter putting up with it.

Please. Please don’t make me watch him talk to my daughter like I know he’s going to. Look, I get it. I’ve seen what it is you all have been trying to show me. I don’t want to see that look on her face again, the look of hurt and disappointment. I want my future daughter to have the best that life has to offer. I want other people’s daughters to not have to deal with people like myself either.

I don’t want new players to deal with the likes of this guy or guys like me. Please, take me back. I swear I’ll do better. Please. Please . . . “

As John closed his eyes while saying that last bit, he could feel a tear growing in the corner of his eye. The wetness touching his cheek was almost foreign at this point, as he hadn’t cried in years. In fact, he’d spent those years teasing those he saw crying; how fitting that in his moment of self-discovery he was doing something he would’ve ridiculed in the past.

When John opened his eyes, he was no longer in the other card shop; he was back at the FNM he’d been at all night. He looked to the timer in the round and noticed that the clock was ticking down to zero. He walked over to the pairing board to see what round they were in and if he’d missed his opponent that round. Instead, he noticed that he didn’t have a seat number this round and instead had a bye for round two.

They did it all within one round?

The End Of It

Players were milling around, with the last couple of matches still reaching their conclusions. John noticed as he walked past players that they looked at him and made sure to get out of his way, not wanting to face the wrath of the biggest, meanest player in the room. John noticed this for the very first time, finally seeing how it felt to look at things through their eyes, and felt ashamed.

As John made his way over to the table where Zac was playing his match, he noticed that Zac’s opponent was getting up while Zac stared at his board state he had yet to pick up. Man, that means he lost, John realized as he got closer.

When he reached the kid sitting there dejected, John looked down at his board state of a couple of Swamps, a Baleful Eidolon, and a Trading Post and asked in the gruffest voice he could muster, “So you lost this round, huh?”

Zac looked up, the dejection on his face apparent. “Y-yeah, John, I did. I didn’t get as lucky in this round. I know, I should have lost . . . “

“Yeah, you should have” John interrupted. “You deserve to lose with that deck because you haven’t put any more Agent of the Fates in there.”

Zac’s face tilted slightly, puzzled by John’s assertion that his deck needed more of the card he spent their entire round berating. “Huh? What do you mean?”

“You’ve built an Agent of the Fates deck there, but you only have one! That’s terrible, you need more. Come on.”

“I don’t have any store credit, John, so I can’t get any more. If I win another round tonight, I might be able to get another one from the store, but I’m not very good so probably won’t happen.”

“Bah, don’t worry about all that. I’ve got a ton of store credit I’ve never used from playing up here so much. I don’t really have any other use for it; let’s go get you some stuff for that deck of yours.”

Zac eyed John warily, curious as to the sincerity of this change of heart. John had never said as many words to anyone, much less positive words. Was this a trick? Was John just trying to get further payback for their round earlier?

While Zac was contemplating these things, John had already walked up to the counter and was returning. In his hands he held three foil Agent of the Fates, putting to rest any questions of his sincerity.

“I’ll only give these to you if you come up to the display case; they’re yours if you come up and let me help you work on that sweet deck of yours.”

Not wanting to lose the chance to get the Agents he wanted, Zac jumped up and grabbed his deck. “Oh yeah, we’ll have to get you some sleeves too; you won’t want to mess up these sweet Agents.”

John spent the rest of the remaining time in the round talking to Zac about the best ways to build around his deck’s namesake card. By the time the next round was called, John had spent over $150 in his store credit on new creatures, lands, and spells for Zac’s deck.

“You’ll have to wait until after tonight to play these since you have to stick with your deck you’ve made tonight. After that though . . . hmm, if you’re not doing anything tomorrow, we could always get some gaming in with your new deck if your mom’s ok with it.”

Zac excitedly nodded his head, telling John that he’d ask his Mom that night when she came to pick him up. As pairings for the next round went up, John noticed he had been paired against Katie, a girl around the same age as Zac that he’d played (and beaten) many times before. John cringed a bit when thinking about what she must think of him after the past couple of months.

When he got to the table, she was already struggling to shuffle her sleeved deck with her tiny hands. She didn’t look up, as she’d seen who her opponent was going to be already and didn’t want to make eye contact to prompt any comments.

“Well, this is going to be an easy round,” John remarked as he got to his seat, prompting no response from the girl who’d long grown accustomed to these subtle jabs. John never took his seat though.

“James, Katie wins. I concede.”

Katie looked up, shocked. John never drew rounds or split prizes, much less gave away free wins. “Huh? Why?”

“You could probably use the credit more than I can. I got other stuff I need to do anyway. Good luck!

The entire store looked at John now, confused at the turn of events. John chuckled to himself, realizing how odd it must look to see him acting this way after hearing him loudly berate another “noob” just two rounds before. He figured they’d get used to it eventually.

John followed through on his word; the entire shop noticed a different man from then on. Instead of being a former pro who felt like everyone else was beneath him, John became the experienced player in the room who helped everyone with their decks. He even started playing with less than optimal decks again, with cards like Mercurial Chemister and Fathom Mage taking the place of his precious Pack Rats and Underworld Connections.

He started having fun again.

He started enjoying the success of others; John took more pride in watching Zac grow as a player than winning a match.

John was never visited after that by the spirits, but their lessons lived on long after their interactions of that night.

“Good game indeed . . . “