Todd Anderson shares the emotional story of how he lost in the Top 8 of a Magic Online PTQ last weekend while playing Junk Aristocrats because of a bug in the program.

"Then our skin gets thicker from living out in the snow."


"So this is what it feels like to be helpless," I thought to myself, collapsing in defeat. I was adrift in the middle of the Pacific Ocean without a paddle. The walls were crumbling around me as the enemy continued to mortar my defensive structure. The compartment was flooding with water, and the door was jammed. I couldn’t breathe.

"The game has ended on turn 6 in defeat. FrankSinatra is the winner."

I wish this was a story about how I lost in the Top 8 of a Magic Online PTQ. I wish I could explain how I lost and what mistakes I made in order for this loss to occur. I wish this was a story about how I learned something useful or valuable in any way. I wish I was able to write about anything else at the moment because the reality of what happened is possibly the most frustrated, angry, confused, disgusted, and overwhelmingly baffled I’ve ever been after a match of Magic.

So the story goes like this.

After a few days of partying with the European contingent, I was pretty exhausted. This is a group of guys who came to the United States in order to play a few weeks’ worth of Magic tournaments, but they took a break in Roanoke, VA for the M14 Prerelease. We’ve had a fantastic time grilling various meats and vegetables, going out on the town, Cubing, and just having fun. It has been a blast!

Leading up to this point, I’d decided that I would take it easy on Saturday night so that I could wake up early for the Magic Online PTQ on Sunday. Of course, this didn’t exactly go as planned, and we had roughly half the population of Roanoke over at our house that night playing Werewolf and various other games. There was a little drinking, a little roughhousing, and a lot of destruction of my house (luckily, the Euros are great houseguests and pitched in more than their fair share on clean-up duty). I tried not to think about any of this as I got in bed around 6:00 AM.

But Sunday morning was a haze. After less than three hours of sleep, my alarm went off. Someone came upstairs to wake me up to let me know the PTQ was starting in fifteen minutes. I was laughably tired and almost resigned myself to skipping the tournament so I could go back to sleep. Instead, I fired up Magic Online and submitted my list of Junk Aristocrats:

I was confident in the deck after making Top 8 of an online PTQ a few weeks ago with a perfect Swiss record of 9-0. Now, I’m not a superstitious guy most of the time, but there is something of a Magic Online curse that I see on the regular. Whenever someone makes the Top 8 of a major tournament with a perfect Swiss record, they almost never win. [Editor’s Note: I am a superstitious guy, and this is real!] With that in mind, I contemplated conceding the last round (as there are no draws, intentional or otherwise) since there is also no benefit to having a higher seed (in regards to the new play/draw rule in Top 8). I decided against conceding in the end and wound up winning the last round and playing the same person once again in the Top 8. I was beaten very badly.

This loss just confirmed my suspicions about the Magic Online curse, but that is neither here nor there. I knew the deck was good, and I was going to continue playing it until something better came along. As of this past weekend, I still don’t think there is a better deck in Standard. There are so many different avenues of attack, so many options each turn, and it is pretty tough for people to play against it.

Your deck doesn’t have any "I win" cards like Bonfire of the Damned, Thundermaw Hellkite, or Sphinx’s Revelation, but instead it has an insurmountable force of synergy and value creatures. In many ways, you are a Maverick deck. You try to control the board until your cards gain an overwhelming advantage through synergy, using every resource at your disposal. I haven’t seen a Standard deck like Junk Aristocrats in a very long time, and I am quite pleased with it. It is probably the most skill-intensive deck I’ve had access to since Ponder was legal in Standard. While it has some weaknesses that are relatively exploitable, you can’t argue with the results.

So I played the same deck with only minor changes and started the tournament on virtually no sleep. Red Bull was there for the rescue, along with some broccoli and cheese soup from Panera Bread. After starting off the tournament at 3-0, the haze started to fade. Between rounds I took a shower, relaxed downstairs with the rest of the group, and tried to stay focused. It was difficult, as I am easily distracted and there was a lot of stuff going on in my house. People playing Magic, coming over to test new Standard with M14, watching TV, etc. It was all I could do just to keep my head in the game.

I continued my streak of Swiss wins up until round 8, where I took my first loss to a Jund deck after failing to deal with an Olivia Voldaren two games in a row. It was a little awkward because I had to win my last round in order to make Top 8 since my tiebreakers were miserably bad and I couldn’t draw in due to the "no draw" rule, but I took my lumps and defeated my round 9 opponent with some solid play and a few lucky topdecks. The games were very good, and I was ready. I was ready to win.

Perhaps I was overly confident going into the Top 8, but that all changed when my opponent played Invisible Stalker on turn 2. For those of you who’ve played with Junk Aristocrats, you know how hard the Bant Hexproof matchup can be. If they play an Invisible Stalker into two Auras, the race is almost impossible. It’s even worse when they play Silverblade Paladin and kill you in just a few swings.

After getting my face crushed in the first game, I knew my back was against the wall, but I also knew it was still possible for me to win if I played tightly. Abrupt Decay goes a long way in making Geist of Saint Traft blockable (killing Spectral Flight) as well as racing more easily thanks to killing Silverblade Paladin and Unflinching Courage.

But then I mulliganed into a mediocre hand.

Cartel Aristocrat Doomed Traveler Blood Artist Woodland Cemetery Temple Garden Godless Shrine

It was okay, I guess, but I felt like I had to keep. I was pretty sure I couldn’t win on five cards and just needed to get a little lucky. Instead of dying on the spot to a flurry of untargetable creatures and Auras, I peeled a Skirsdag High Priest and started making Demons on turn 3! This was it. My comeback. This was my tournament to win, and a loss at this point would be completely my own fault.

Or so I thought.

This is my response to Mike Turian, the new Digital Product Manager for Magic Online, when he emailed me asking to explain what happened during "the incident."

"So, during our match, my opponent attacked with a Voice of Resurgence enchanted with Rancor and Unflinching Courage as well as two +1/+1 counters on it. He also attacked with an Avacyn’s Pilgrim.

On my side of the board, I had a lot of Spirit tokens, a 3/3 Varolz, the Scar-Striped, a Blood Artist, and a Doomed Traveler.

I was at a fairly low life total, and his creature had trample, so in order to survive I had to sacrifice multiple creatures, including the Doomed Traveler, to trigger the Blood Artist to survive his attack. This put multiple regeneration shields on Varolz.

After blocking with the 3/3 Varolz and the Spirit tokens, I ended up going to one life from the attack, but that’s when chaos ensued.

After combat damage resolved, there were a lot of Blood Artist triggers going onto the stack from my side of the table, as well as his Voice of Resurgence and Rancor triggers from hitting the graveyard. After he put Voice of Resurgence’s trigger on the stack but was still putting the Rancor trigger on the stack, the game told me to "choose which regeneration shield" I wanted to use for Varolz. I right clicked on Varolz, chose one of the two shields, and nothing happened. I right clicked on Varolz again, and it gave me only one shield to choose now, so I clicked on that one too.

The problem came right after that moment, when his Rancor trigger never went on the stack and the prompt box continued asking me to choose a regeneration shield for Varolz.

At this point, I didn’t know what to do, so I clicked on Varolz again but got no response from the game. I right clicked, left clicked, and continued to click basically everything on the screen, trying to make something work. Nothing did.

So I tried to relog back on to Magic Online by restarting the program. It came back to the same spot in the game, and nothing had progressed. My opponent’s Rancor trigger was still waiting to go on the stack, as well as my Blood Artist triggers.

It was at this point that I knew something was seriously wrong. I tried asking an Orc, but they were not helpful. I called some friends, and they were baffled as well. I even tried relogging multiple times after this, clicking every card on the screen over and over.

At one point, I even tried pressing every button on my keyboard. Nothing happened. I knew that there was basically nothing I was going to be able to do, but I kept trying. I couldn’t stop trying. I felt like I was going insane. I don’t know if you know what it feels like to drown, but I was sinking. I couldn’t help but stare at the clock as each second ticked one second closer to the inevitable "disconnection timeout" loss after ten minutes.

But my suffering did not even end there. As you may already know, the clock kept going even after the ten minutes, and I continued to wait and hope that something was bugging the system, praying that there might be a restart of the Top 8. I started to get excited again as my timer sat at 00.00 for about fifteen seconds.

And then the popup came on screen that said I had lost the match.

I had sat there for eighteen minutes, watching as my dreams of getting back on the Pro Tour ticked away. It was maddening. I had lost the match in the most frustratingly possible way—by something completely beyond my control.

I understand completely that some aspects of a digital game are not always under your control. There are so many rules and interactions and design flaws that just can’t be covered 100% of the time, and this bug just so happened to occur at an incredibly sensitive time of the tournament for me and ultimately ended it.

To say that I am angry at this juncture would be a lie. I’m not angry. I get angry when I make a mistake in a game and I’m the reason why I didn’t win a tournament. I make mistakes all the time, but the reason why I play is to minimize those mistakes and get better both as a player and as a writer.

This was the first time I ever felt like I did everything in my power to win the match. I had come back from an absurdly bad board position against a tough matchup, and I had him on the ropes. I was looking forward to every single draw step because I wanted to claim that victory. I wanted the win so I could go back to the Pro Tour. I wanted the win for the $1000 prize. I wanted the win so I could test with my friends who are already qualified.

But most of all, I wanted that win for myself.

I wanted to prove to everyone who doubts me that I am capable of playing in higher-profile tournaments, both online and off, and show them that I am their equal and that I deserve their respect. I hold Magic Online PTQs and MOCS tournaments in very high standing because they have some of the most difficult opponents you will ever face. The grinders of Magic Online play constantly, and they are usually very good as a result. I will go on record saying that the average opponent in a MOCS is tougher than the average opponent at a Pro Tour.

(I know that the Pro Tour is incredibly challenging. I also know that the average player at a Pro Tour is a PTQ winner and it’s probably their first Pro Tour. They are not the seasoned veterans that usually fill the Top 8.)

And I will stand by that argument. This isn’t another "harder than a Pro Tour" story. I am not saying this because I want to get ridiculed by my peers again. I am telling you that, as a true grinder, Magic Online is so much more challenging at the higher levels than anywhere else, and I pride myself on being successful within that program.

Magic…it means everything to me. It is my job, my hobby, and (as sad as this sounds) my life. I am just lucky to have a game like this around because it influences so many people in a positive way. My wife works for a company that employs me to sling cards on camera every single week, and everyone loves it! I am truly blessed, and the only thing in life that would make me happier is being qualified for the Pro Tour, which is why this incident stung so badly.

I know that I deserve to be there, and I will prove it one way or another.


This was easily the most frustrating loss of my career. I’ve lost in the finals of two PTQs, the finals of a MOCS, playing for Top 8 of a Grand Prix, and even the next to last round of the Pro Tour while still in Top 8 contention. Most of these losses, if not all, were because of a choice I made, whether it was an in-game decision or during deck construction. In all of these losses, it was my fault. I can take those losses and learn from them.

But this? This was something entirely different. This animal looked me in the face for almost twenty cold minutes as I literally lost my mind. If you were (un)lucky enough to witness my tirades on Twitter and Facebook, you could see the sequential decomposition of my mental state. It was unfair. It was surreal.

I did not write this piece to attack Magic Online in any way. I love Magic in all its forms and I can usually handle it when something bad happens, but this particular situation felt like being cheated out of my rightful shot at the Pro Tour. I haven’t been qualified for the last few Pro Tours because it is incredibly hard to win a PTQ, and I was just three points shy of attaining Gold a season ago. My Silver status also lapsed right as they announced the change so that Silver players would be qualified for Pro Tour Theros.

I’m sure you can see my frustration.

After finishing in 11th at Grand Prix Kansas City along with a pair of PTQ Top 8s, I’m just getting frustrated. This was the latest, most ironic beat in a long series, but I’m still trying my hardest to get back there. If it takes me another year, or even two or three, I will keep trying because I owe it to myself. I’ve dedicated so much of myself to this game, and this is just another hurdle I have to jump if I want to prove it to myself. I can’t just give up.

I won’t.

Todd Anderson

strong sad on Magic Online

@strong_sad on Twitter