Life Totals

Danny West takes a moment away from a current personal struggle to remind us all of the bigger game we play every day.

In case you don’t know me, I was on the Commander VS series on SCG for a long time. I’m also a regular SCG columnist. I was a Buyer on the Open Series for a handful of years before moving to the content side of things, helping Cedric Phillips coordinate and demonstrate all the fantastic articles and videos you see every week on this very website.

Oh yeah, and I have cancer.

You can re-read that a few times. I certainly am.

If I’m not re-reading it on here, on this very page, I’m re-remembering it in the mornings when I wake up. That’s the most difficult part. When you go to sleep and wake up for thirty years, your brain has a natural disposition to morning neutrality.

That’s been different for a week or so now, because when I wake up, I remember that life is different now than it was before I got a few scary phone calls.

I now live with a constant reminder of mortality, percentages, fears and all that. Every little thing my body has done the entire time I’ve had it is a little more frightening now. Is that just a cough? Or does it mean something else? Is this sore lymph node fighting for the others or is it already another zombified version of them that is lowering my chances to live as long as someone in my position usually does?

I never smoked. I never chewed tobacco. Actually, I don’t even drink and never have.

But I got unlucky. And I lost.

The odds of it happening to me? It’s probably beyond one in a million truthfully. Spending time on the Internet trying to rationalize the odds as something better than they are is a waste of time. If I read something positive, I feel better. But if I read something scary? I feel terrible. What I read on the Internet or hear from people who aren’t doctors won’t change my outcome.

So yeah, one in a million it would happen to me. It might even be less so.

But the odds of it happening to someone? They were 100%. It just so happens that I’m the guy.

But this isn’t therapy (at least not for you), and this is still a site that devotes itself to Magic strategy and coverage, so that’s what I’m going to give you. By necessity, I don’t want to write about this for long. I have other things I need to do and other people I need to enjoy. My odds are actually pretty decent when compared to much more unfortunate people, but for the first time, I’m living without the relative guarantees that most other people have. I’m living without the supposed guarantees that my former self had, that all of my former selves had.

I’ve played Magic for nearly twenty years. The reason I played it when I was thirteen was that it was fun and mechanically interesting. The reason it’s interesting to me today is because it’s a microcosm of the larger life we live.

Luck. Skill.

Fate. Choice.

We spend a lot of time analyzing these things because the perception is that they’re binaries. Magic is either about luck or skill. Life is either about fate or choice. I’m not confident that’s how it works; I simply think that’s the way we try to look at it.

Is it unlucky that you lost most of your die rolls throughout the day? Not really. I mean, in a way it is, but if you brought a deck that breaks serve pretty well, it doesn’t matter much. Did your opponent playtest more than you did? Is there any way to know? What kind of home are you going back to after the tournament? Would you rather have been born a mindless slug than a part of the dominant species of your planet? A species that, right here right now, has a better way of life than any other generation of anything we’ve ever known?

Yeah, maybe it’s unlucky to have what I have in 2015. But it would’ve been much more unlucky to get it thirty or forty years ago.

When you sit down to play Magic, I don’t care how unlucky you are. I don’t care what your draws were or how bad you stumbled on mana. I don’t care that you were one point away from Top Eight. Or Top Sixteen. Or Top 32.

And yeah, competition is fun. Competition is great. And Magic is fun.

But you’ve already won. You won a long time ago. An overwhelming majority of us did.

Yeah, I can be mad that I have a disease that by rights nobody my age and lifestyle should have. I exercise frequently. I eat well. I should be angry, and I should feel like one of the most unlucky people in the world right now.

But if I do that, I have to ignore my angelic wife and her unbelievable resolve in helping me cope with this and every other difficulty I’ve experienced since we partnered up so many years ago. I have to ignore that several people I knew when I was a teenager are already dead and didn’t stay alive long enough to be this “unlucky.” I have to ignore the two greatest dogs in the world, two healthy little mammals that exemplify the rarest thing I know of: the manifestation of a fantasy, an ideal, which came to fruition in the exact way I wanted. (When my wife and I started dating, she told me she wanted a Weimaraner. I wanted an English Bulldog. Here we are.)

I could be angry that I have this, but then I’d have to somehow be angry at the fact that I have a voice and an outlet I can use to share it with an audience, so that someone else can use my experience with it and put it to use. I could be angry that my chances at a longer life drastically dropped this week, but then I’d have to ignore the wonderful calls and visits I’ve received from family and friends I haven’t seen in years. I’d have to ignore the support of my parents and of Star City Games, a company I’m lucky enough to work for to begin with, a company that does countless acts of kindness and philanthropy that they don’t publicize because that isn’t the reason they’re doing it.

Yeah, I could call myself unlucky. But that’s not the reality, is it?

The truth is, most of the time we feel unlucky, we’re not — we’re just only focusing on the bottom part of our own life’s bell curve. For most of us, our Magic games and our lives will follow a trajectory of thousands of unremarkable games and days that we don’t internalize or remember. And on the fringe of those, we have a few of our 0-2 drop tournaments and terrible, horrible days we wouldn’t wish on our worst enemies. I had a few of those recently.

But then we have those others. We have those games that breed crazy stories we tell for years. We have those tournaments where we finally catch the right breaks and dominate like we knew we always could. And we have wedding days. We kiss lovers for the first time. We hug someone or sit on a particular couch or taste a particular food or watch a particular film or read a particular book that makes us feel more special or more safe than we ever really deserved.

I don’t want your sympathy. I’m not famous. I’m at best a C-list entity in a subculture within a subculture. This isn’t a press release. This isn’t an announcement. Don’t comment or tweet at me because I’m too busy to read them.

Instead, comment to one another. Tweet at one another. Talk to one another. Hug one another. Make yourselves feel as lucky as you truly are.

The next time you play Magic, love it. The next time you sleeve up a new deck, love the way it feels to draw that first sample hand. Teach our game to your child. Teach them the things Magic can teach them about their future. Teach them and yourself how lucky we all are.

I’ve played Magic and laughed with people who didn’t speak my language. And I didn’t speak theirs.

The next time you sit across from an opponent, find out where they’re from. Find out what they’re passionate about. Buy them a pack. Give them some value on a trade. Give them a ride home.

And every time that an opponent defeats you, every time anything else in life defeats you, don’t get angry. Don’t throw your deck into your box and walk away. Don’t sign the slip in frustration and walk away thinking about how incredibly and utterly unlucky you were.

Win or lose, taste the moment and put your hand out. Smile and nod. Thank them for sharing our game, our human experience. Our dreams within dreams.