(Author’s note: This article can be listened to as well as read. If you are in a position to listen to this article instead of/in addition to
reading it, I highly recommend clicking here for the audio experience.
Otherwise, read onâ€”no content is omitted between the two.)
“I deserved to win that game.”
I don’t see a chorus of sorrows ringing up from a nearby choir. Tell me now; what is it that you so richly deserveâ€”and why is it that you deserve it?
Did some spiteful baron of the gods leave it to you in his will, or are you merely orchestrating a decree of nonsense, a pretender to the throne? You
There is no deserved. There is only reality.
Blisters of luck bubble beneath every draw step, covering our hands in the gooey black mess of misfortune. We smear it over our cards as we play, with
every flick flick flick we move this parasite further, we spread this contagion into our very thoughts like bread being smothered with
blackberry jam, into and over our veryâ€”
Â “Mind your own game, I’m trying to concentrate,” but it doesn’t matter, you’re going to make the wrong play anyway. You didn’t deserve to win
that one, you’ll tell yourself later in the 2-2 bracket. Kenji, Kai, they would have had the frame, the forethought, the fundamental ability to
pull that one out. You made a bad attack; you deserved to lose.
So you go watch Oscar Winterbottom play instead as you aim to learn from the best in the area. You watch his calculated shuffling, the way he taps his
lands, the pauses between casting a spell and enacting its effect, how he nods his head and thrusts his hand as he says go in one continuous motion,
how his eyes dart the most when he’s feeling secureâ€”
And for a moment, we are Oscar Winterbottom, we are our own personal Jon Finkel, we are awesome, and we areâ€”in a game. We’re under
pressure, but our unfazeable brow doesn’t swoon for anyone, we are the king of this world, and we will passively prove it. A lowly Elves player sits
across from us,
he’s not playing Caw-Blade, he’s probably not even smart enough, I’m playing the best deck, I’m king of this matchup! He doesn’t deserve to defeat
And as you shuffle and cut and gesticulate your hands as you say go, enter the tank as if you were Wolverine entering the danger room, tap your lands
so the corners snap so slightly, the game morphs, and you are no longer playing in the fifth round of a PTQ but playing for day two of a Grand Prix.
You’re just in the market to buy time against his Elvish army looking for one of your three Day of Judgments, and the board is cluttered butâ€” is that Ezuri? You untap, figuring out how to purchase the maximum amount of time from Doctor Garfield, and you find his final offer, two turns,
maybe three, Sword, equip, attack, reequip, Tumble Magnet, tap a creature,
untap, hope toâ€”
And somewhere in the frenzy of it all, you attack and instead cast a second Stoneforge Mystic from your hand to find a second Sword and then play a
Tumble Magnet, but it’s okay because you can just equip your other Sword next turn, empty his hand; that’s not so bad, is it? Maybe it’s just fine, and “Attack step?” “Okay” you can hasten your clock in case you draw a Gideon or something andâ€”
wait, did I just click through my attack step?
You begin to hear yourself laughing behind you, and you feel your mental connection to Oscar snap like a flimsy red rubber band. He’s nothing after
that play, just some jabroni you thought was a good player. You look down at his board, expecting him to deserve to lose.
“Block with everything.”
“Tap out to Overrun.”
“Drop to one.”
Flick, flick, flick. Flick, flick, snap. Smile.
Day of Judgment.”Â Â
If I told you luck was a manmade construct to explain circumstances we had no other logical explanation for, would you believe me? Is there a reason
why it rained on our anniversary, why that car drove a little too close to the side of the road and splattered your evening dress, why that dirt
smudged your side so perfectly that it shone like crystal under the moonlight? Can we explain that? Do we deserve an explanation?
I could tell you why. I could tell you that if that driver hadn’t made the choice to swerve to (unsuccessfully) avoid the raccoon scampering
across the street because a house owner made the choice to kick the raccoon out of a garbage can, you would have never been splattered. I could
tell you why it rained tooâ€”but I prefer to just call it fate.
How often do we see a raccoon on the side of the road and say, “aw, looks like the little guy got varianced out?” If that was me dressed in mud and
tire treads instead of him, would people say that I was unluckyâ€”or just dumb?
That’s why I try to not be a raccoon.
You and I, we call each other bears. Maybe we’re not the pinnacle of the animal kingdom, not the prestigious lion or sleek tiger, but bearsâ€”they can
stand on their hind legs, you know. They peacefully hunt, they ferociously sleep, they can be cuddled but not coddled. They are savants of luck, for
nobody trifles with a bearâ€”and when was the last time you heard about a bear getting unlucky; have you ever seen a bear looking for a spiteful baron’s
will? We may or may not deserve to be bears, but we are anyway.
My brother is a grizzled bear. He battled tooth and nail plus entwine on the same baseball team with the same coach for nine years. Children
came and left, mentors changed, the lineup altered, but your fireâ€”the coach’s fireâ€”never dimmed. You had never won a championship, but you took every
loss with stride and came back like a PTQ grinder looking for his personal white whale.
But there you were, in your last season. You had made it to the final game. The Seattle skies were dripping with clouds, and this time the bad guys
might as well have been a combination between the New York Yankees and the Phyrexians. They had won the championship two years running and yet were
still a year younger than everybody else. Dressed in black, their emotionless scowls and calculating coach had an advantage no other team could claim.
The good guys, the plucky and scrappy fourteen year olds you had painstakingly crafted, were up six runs with two innings left. Their chins were dirty
with mud and their elbows white with base chalk. They had been running a Tsuyoshi Fujita Red offense with a dash of Pierre Canali, and a defense
designed by Guillaume Wafo-Tapa. You wanted this. More than anything, you deserved this.Â Â
Six outs left. One guy popped out. The next hit a blooper into left and made it to first. Batter number three went to a full count, but we got him
swinging on a sinker. Four outs left now. Muscles eased up. Basically only one more inning left. And that was the last mistake anybody got to
With two outs and a runner on first, the pitcher threw a few too many fastballs. Eight runs and a few outs later, the thirteen year olds had claimed
yet another victory.
This would normally be time for the postgame discussion. The “we gave it our best effort” monologue written in the back of your coach’s packet. But
there were no more games to play. There were no more chances at victory. I remember you gathered up all the children and gave a speech that began, “We
all messed up, and we all know that” Only, the words you used were much harsher and more Red, and normally the parents would have stepped in, but they
were too busy mourning their vicarious lives to notice.
Over forty dreams died that day. The field was littered with them, and I scooped them up, round like snow globe marbles, and shoved them into my back
pocket in case anybody needed an extra later on. I sold some as time went on. But I also kept a few for myself, filling their broken globular
dreamscape with my own hopes to be shattered.
caused one of them. Put yourself in these wet galoshes and feel his footprint.
I met you on the internet, as all great stories start. You and I hit it off as deckbuilding buddies, and we worked on decks and pretended to break
formats together. This format was Time Spiral Block Constructed, and we had broken it. It would be our grand finale.
We had a great deck, but you didn’t have cards for it, so I mailed the deck to you. A stranger I had never met but one that I trusted. I was on my way
to becoming a real person, but unfortunately it seemed you were on the decline. I never heard from you again. Years passed. I found new Tarmogoyfs, I
began to write, I began to travel, I learned my lesson. I probably deserved it.
So when I looked at the pairings board, I was bewildered to see your name across from mine. My travels brought me all the way here, to your home state,
to your battle ground, where you lobbed bowling balls into cannons, out of ammo but still taking your best shot.
We sat down to play for day two of a Grand Prix. I thought about confronting you, about tilting you, about turning the very cannon you had brought to
fire at me into your own face. Instead, I didn’t say anything. I opted to let your eyes water the seed of guilt you sowed. You wouldn’t make eye
contact, and I saw your hand stutter as I reached across for a handshake. I knew you knew who I was. You can forget your friends, but you can never
forget your victims.
If there was one match in my entire Magic career that some kind of cosmic karma could fuel my victory in, this was it. No puppeteer could be so
sadistic as to let me drag my feet in this dance. I had spent years waiting. This match was the long lost father to finally confront that I never had.
I inhaled through my nose, letting the air pierce my throat and dive into my stomach. I drew my hands confidently. I played tight. Iâ€”mulliganed to six
and then five, got mana-screwed both games, and lost the match.
You grabbed the slip. Walked away. Became just another molecule in the Magic player body.
I sat there for a while afterward and tried to watch the game next to me. I couldn’t concentrate. Eventually, I looked down at the table and twirled my
fingertips in wooden dust. Maybe, I deserved that too.
About a week later, I received a Facebook message. It was titled, “An Apology.”
Did I deserve one?
Does it even matter? It happened. No bouncer is waiting in the internet median to kick out messages that aren’t deserved.
I’ll tell you why I’m writing this. It’s because sulfur smells strongest when it comes from citrus trees. And, more importantly, because we all have to
taste the slick numbness of life’s oozing wounds. We can either choose to ignore them and have the pus shoved down our throats, or embrace them, take
luscious gulps, swish the murk around a little bit, and then swallow with a straight face. Â
Everyone is looking for their way to stay alive. Some take pills. Others work out. For me, I stop dying as soon as I start writing. But in the space
between the two, people tend to ask questions.
When I tell people I write about Magic, they ask, “So you write Magic articles?”
“No,” I say, shaking my head and waving my hand “I write Magic experiences.”
From that point, Zac Hill, would ask, “where’s the narrative?” and Tom LaPille would ask, “where’s the competitive edge?” and Mark Rosewater would
ask, “where’s the personality?” and I would ask where’s theâ€”
Fruit. Like cherries that you chew up, then spit the pit of into your hand. The kind that are so ripe they leave a syrupy red stain on your palm, and
no matter how many times you wash it, you still find your hand sticking to the corners of notebooks as you turn the pages. Like watermelons that have
seeds so huge they get stuck in your teeth and even the blind can notice how much they change your appearance.
This fruit is how we stay alive. It’s the cure to the numbness we’re served at regular intervals.
And by now, you’ve figured out this is about much more than just what people deserve and don’t deserve and the pulsing layers of truth betwixt the two.
This is about eating a healthy serving of fruit.
Because sometimes, you’ll play poorly and win. And other times, you’ll play perfectly and lose. But it’s okay because that’s what life is about:
playing perfectly and losing anyway. Until one day, you play perfectly and win.