Chatter of the Squirrel — Proud

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This is actually going to be an “issues” article, so those of you who have already slogged through my sad attempt at Duncanesque prose can go ahead and click that little arrow if you want. But I’ve done decklists for awhile now, I’ve tackled theory, and I wanted to get down to the root of something that’s been bugging me ever since a particular incident at Alex Kim’s house – and, really, for a long time before that.

The scent of curry wafts into my nostrils from India Quality (“Because when people look for good Indian food, they want it to be Indian and they want Quality!”) restaurant courtesy of a cracked window and a cheap AC unit. The sound of one generic heavy object rhythmically striking another penetrates Commonwealth Ave.’s usual haze of noise, and I am left wondering why seemingly all urban construction projects are scheduled to commence their respective cacophonous clangings precisely two hours before anyone sensible would even dream of waking up. Presently:

1) I fear for my life. Being the only male guest at MIT’s Sigma Kappa house has its ups and downs. On the plus side? I mean, I am the only male guest at a sorority house; use your imagination. I have eaten so many freshly-baked delectable dessert treats over the last seven days that I am actually in talks with the Cookie Monster to form a traveling pastry-craving minstrel duo, and just by lingering around in the kitchen I am liable to guinea pig slash taste test six different “experiments” in a given thirty-minute period. And while my impeccable host, the lovely and talented Jacqueline Douglass, is summarily engaged in a pesky “long-distance relationship,” there are myriad other willing passersby who remain unburdened by such grave and weighty fetters.

Like everything in life, though, there is a catch, and in this specific case that catch is a remarkably athletic and strikingly beautiful curly-haired lass named Marienne (not her real name) who would love nothing better than to strangle me with her bare hands even as my fingers brush these keys.

Marienne, you see, is the off-campus collegiate housing equivalent to what we used to dub in elementary school as “hall monitors,” and she loves her job. Takes pride in it. She is the type of person whom I would imagine derives immense pleasure from sniffing her sock drawer at regular intervals every morning.

On Saturday, I committed the egregious offense of failing to demarcate my time of egress (and I phrase it like that because I am confident that is how her mind processes the act of “signing out”) in the guestbook before shipping off to the gym. This, coupled with the unfortunate pairing of chromosomes that led to my being named “Zac,” as opposed to say “Laura,” “Elizabeth,” “Katherine,” “Michelle,” etc., was enough to evoke her ire and incur her evil eye, and now Every. Single. Mishap that occurs in the entire house is my fault, regardless of whether or not I was, you know, present when it happened.

So that’s tight.

2) I have no idea if it’s possible to murder an inanimate object, but if I could I would kill this keyboard without hesitation. The spacebar seriously works about half the time. You know that whole “Two Steps Forward, One Step Backward” idiom? That has been literally true of this entire article. So if at any point the text appears to have been keyed in by some variety of sub-human primate, consider yourself warned.

3) I am struck by the dissonance between how intelligent a lot of the people actually are, and how intelligent they act. While this is certainly not true of everyone, and is largely I am sure a product of where I’m staying (I didn’t really notice this the last time I visited Boston/Harvard/MIT/Jackie). Maybe I was just spoiled by the community I’m lucky to have at home, but it always seemed to me that as your ability to discern sensible from non-sensible rose, so too would your ability to, I don’t know, “get it.” While I will freely admit to being a culture snob, watching someone whom I know to be an expert in linear mathematics continually ruminate over hopeless boy-drama while – I kid you not – “Fergilicious” blared in the background was something of an eye-opener.

This leg of the trip is fixing to end, and I’m about to head up to NY for a week of Nationals testing with some combination of Billy/Steve/Ioli/Ervin. Both are tight in their own respects, but let’s be honest… everyone knows I’d rather be slinging cards.

This is actually going to be an “issues” article, so those of you who have already slogged through my sad attempt at Duncanesque prose can go ahead and click that little arrow if you want. But I’ve done decklists for awhile now, I’ve tackled theory, and I wanted to get down to the root of something that’s been bugging me ever since a particular incident at Alex Kim’s house – and, really, for a long time before that.

The incident?

I received a phone call. Don’t remember if it was a guy or a girl, a Magic Player or non-Magic Player, a friend or an acquaintance, but after the preliminary hellos had passed, I said, “Hey, I’m in the middle of a game of Magic right now. Mind if I call you back in a couple of hours?”

AKim couldn’t believe it. “Yeah, I like never tell any of my friends that I’m out somewhere playing Magic.”

Why. Not?

Now, I single out Alex, but the truth is that I know how prevalent this attitude is. I’ve seen it in most Magic players I know at some level or another, and I think it’s crippling. My goal for this article is, by the end of it, to instill in at least one person a sense of pride in the game we all love. Do we all have to walk around having MAGIC PLAYER plastered Boy-Scout-patch-like on the shoulders of all our shirts? No, BUT I want everybody to at least consider how counterproductive and ultimately self-revelatory it is to be (if only) outwardly ashamed of something that we invest so much time into.

I want to be clear about something. I love this game. No single other thing in my life has brought upon me as much good as Magic has, in a grand variety of ways. I mean that literally – and I like to think I’ve done a lot of good things.

First, of course, are the people. I do enough namedropping in this column already that I don’t need to single out anybody in particular, but I’m fairly sure that almost everybody reading this has formed at least one very close friendship as a result of Magic and Magic alone. This is to say nothing of the friends I’ve brought into the game – Kevin and Cody in particular, both of whom now live with me. Moreover, most of these friends are people we never would have met had we not continually been globetrotting from PTQ to PTQ or Pro Tour to Pro Tour. How insane is it that you can be tight with somebody who lives halfway across the United States – or halfway across the world – knowing you’re going to see them five or six times a year and, no matter what happens, will always be able to talk about how the metagame has shifted or how RIDICULOUS the three of you are as a money draft squad.

One of the common things we’ll talk about from time to time is that it’s pretty much impossible to be good at Magic and be a gigantic moron, and certainly the allure of a bunch of fairly intelligent people hanging out a couple times a week is very awesome, particularly for people who aren’t able to be in these types of communities all the time. But also – well, for example. I’ve got e-mails sitting in my inbox from Belgians and Dutchies, and every week I ship this column off across the ocean to a witty British fellow with a penchant for pithy turns of phrase. [

The fact is, we’re all truly lucky to be part of a genuine international community. Something is, well, tight about knowing that in pretty much every nation in the world, people are smashing face with large beasties and exchanging stories about lucky topdecked Lightning Helices. It’s even deeper than that, though. As a student of political science, one of my chief interests is obviously how people perceive the United States across the globe. It’s one thing to say, “okay, that’s interesting,” read some reports on the subject, and come to a conclusion based on that. It’s in a completely different league to be able to ship an e-mail to Marijn asking, “Hey, what do you think about (insert policy decision here),” and not only get his reaction but that of the community as a whole. Most people don’t know anybody outside their tiny, tiny hemisphere of relevance. Think of how few people can utter a sentence beginning, “So my friend from Japan…” It’s not merely a tight curiosity, either. It makes us better human beings. I, for one, am proud of that.

Along those same lines, there’s the travel. It may surprise you, perennial PT scrub that I am (Valencia will be my tenth Pro Tour, if I’m not mistaken) that staying on the train is not that important to me – and thank God for that, really, because I’ve never been on the train in the first place. See, I don’t mind saying that I was always really jealous of the people around me whose parents could afford to jet them around the world for study abroad programs and recreational jaunts. Being that I wouldn’t have attended college at all had I not earned my way via scholarships, the prospects of, say, a week-long stay in one of the most beautiful cities on earth eating Wild Boar steak and chugging premium beer (thanks, PT: Prague and Bill Stark!) were a distant fantasy. When Wizards started handing out plane tickets, my eyes lit up. It was nothing short of a chance to realize a dream, and every city I’ve gone to since then has been a wealth of stories and experience. Just ask Tim Galbiati about our 3:30am insomniac warpath through the streets of Geneva and its requisite coffee-shops and cathedrals. I’m never going to forget that experience as long as I live, and I doubt he will either. There’s just nothing like it. Every trip I go on is an experience, and the allure of money or my face on a Magic card is just icing on the cake.

This is all to say nothing of the game itself that inspires our competitive spirit, that somehow drives us to devote countless hours trying to figure out something as mundane as whether or not we ought to be running 26 or 27 lands. Nor can we even begin to list out the simple, plain ol’ good times, like Memphis Magic’s bar nights at the Flying Saucer or Cody’s/Aaron’s/my fourth-of-July Triple-A Baseball Extravaganza with the relevant significant others.

The point is, I’m pretty sure that Magic’s made each of our lives better in some way. Yet a ton of people go around hiding it in the closet as if it’s something we ought to be ashamed of, some kind of guilty indulgence that we’ve yet to outgrow. The truth, I think, is that the more we act as if we’re some kind of illicit cult, that we’re somehow not legitimate, the more we create sort of a self-fulfilling prophecy. Yes, some Magic players are insanely weird. So are some basketball fans and some vice-presidents of multinational corporations. Don’t even get me started on hockey fans.

My point, I guess, is to own up. A lot of Magic players are sort of introverted to begin with, and I understand that coming as many players do from the social fringes we’re not all used to accepting what we do as a matter of course. The fact is, though, that as long as the notion in people’s minds is that Magic’s a kid’s game and nobody plays it after the age of fourteen (or whatever), then some kind of stigma, real or otherwise, will continue to hover around the game we all love. The way to combat that is for our friends to see normal people – all of us – playing, enjoying, and succeeding at a game in which we all take a fair amount of pride. That’s a long way to success.

Even if the whole “ESPN 2” gimmick wasn’t the best idea.

Next time you hear from me, it’ll be after Nationals. I’ll let you know what went right, what went wrong, and hopefully what I plan on doing with my $5,000.