Three weeks ago I went to the Coldsnap prerelease. The next day my cat died. These are not, on the surface, related phenomena.
Coldsnap is the third set in the Ice Age block. It consists of 155 cards and is the first small set ever optimized for draft play on its own. Mechanics such as Ripple and the “Kindle” cycle take advantage of the set’s small size, while cumulative upkeep, Recover, “slowtrips,” and snow permanents recapture and expand on the themes of Ice Age.
My cat was named Zebra. He was fifteen years old, and he weighed fourteen pounds at his last physical. He was, in other words, an old, large, male cat, and thus his death was not entirely unexpected – not that that makes it any easier.
I abandoned an early attempt to avoid unofficial spoilers when it became clear that the writers on MagictheGathering.com were going to tell us exactly what was and wasn’t in the set well before the prerelease. Thus, we printed out the full, unofficial spoiler – complete with the usual glaring errors, incorrect mana costs and such – and David, Chris, Tyler, and myself scrutinized it on the way to Indianapolis.
I was eight years old, and I desperately wanted a kitten. There were nine of them at Donna’s house, all adorable, and I went over there a lot to play with them. My friend Jason and I named all nine of them. Wanting to put this talk of kittens to rest, my mother decided that she would go over to Donna’s, look each of them in the eye, and still tell me with absolute conviction that there would be no kitten. She picked up each one in turn and shrugged, but when she got to the last kitten, Zebra looked up with his big blue eyes and mewed at her, and that was that.
We decided to start with Sealed, both to further familiarize ourselves with the cards before drafting and to guarantee us some packs (this TO gives two packs to every entrant no matter what, which means far fewer packs if you win but is a nice insurance policy if you don’t). After waiting for over an hour (and sorely regretting our decision not to just go draft), we finally got to start Flight 3 a little after 2pm. This was a sparsely attended prerelease, and the majority of the people there were working the draft mill rather than the flights.
Zebra was always my cat. I’ve never seen a cat bond with one person the way he did with me. When I was in high school, he would come running up when I got home, like a dog, to stand on the couch and headbutt me squarely in the forehead. He was big, furry, affectionate, quiet, intelligent, and social – a wonderful cat. Our bond waned a little while I was away at college, but when I got my own place back in town, my parents and I decided that he should move in with me.
My Sealed pool was bad. Having analyzed the spoiler and found unreliable removal and an impressive array of absurd, unstoppable bombs for 6 and 7 mana, we concluded that said bombs would be, well, absurd and unstoppable. I had two Ronom Hulk, two Chill to the Bone, two of this, two of that, but not anything particularly impressive, not even clear color choices, and certainly nothing that could be called a bomb. The common runs had abandoned me as well. I’d post the pool, but Coldsnap “Sealed” is a non-format and nobody cares, myself perhaps least of all (although I still read the Ferrett’s column on the subject). I played a relatively efficient R/G deck with a good manabase, hoping to steal some wins by being fast and consistent and seal the deal with Lightning Storm, Magmatic Core, and the aforementioned “Ronom A**kicker,” as Chris affectionately calls it.
Zebra got sick a few weeks ago and stopped eating. The vet said he was in the early stages of kidney failure, which is normal for a cat his age. The goal was to get him eating again and then put him on a special diet with proteins that aid in kidney function. If I could get him eating consistently, he had a shot at another year or two of quality life. I fed him wet cat food and baby food by hand for several weeks, but his condition slowly deteriorated.
In the first round of the Sealed, I was paired against Tyler, narrowly losing 1-2 largely due to the mana issues my two-color deck was supposed to be able to avoid. I did make a key screw-up in the first game, drawing my card for the turn and forgetting to pay the upkeep for a minty fresh Ronom Hulk. Inexcusable, but let’s remember that it was my first cumulative upkeep payment in most of a decade.
During round 1, a judge approached David, who was playing next to Tyler and me. David was using some very obnoxious sleeves that he got very cheap from a certain web site (ahem), which had holographic shinies on the clear surface through which one is supposed to, under ideal conditions, read the card. The judge informed David that these sleeves were “discouraged.” He asked quite pointedly whether they were banned or not, and the judge said he’d have to check. He returned and said that he was to tell David that these sleeves were not banned, but that if he sees them, he’s supposed to mention that the TO “disapproves” of them. Apparently this is an infraction with which I was not familiar: Sleeve Error – Minor; Penalty: A Stern Talking-To (upgraded to Finger-Wagging and Tut-Tutting on second offense). Sheesh.
My second-round opponent and I only played one game, thanks to my wiping his board with Magmatic Core while he kept replaying and recovering Grim Harvest. I realized partway through the game that I’d misread Magmatic Core and hadn’t been dividing the damage as I could have been; I honestly don’t know if it would have changed the outcome. He finished me off through sheer weight just before time was called. I conceded the match and signed up for a draft. Meanwhile, the three guys I rode there with all went 2-0-1 (all IDing in the last round, two of them with each other) and got 6 packs each.
By last Thursday night, Zebra wasn’t moving much, and I was certain that I would have to get up in the morning and take him in to be put down. Friday morning, though, he climbed up in the window to sun himself, drank some water, and ate, so I decided to hold off. For a moment I considered putting him down, because I knew it would come soon and I wouldn’t have time on Saturday, but I truly never would have forgiven myself for killing my cat out of convenience rather than mercy. When I left for the prerelease Saturday morning, he wouldn’t eat… but otherwise, he seemed like he was holding steady.
The draft went well for me. I first-picked Blizzard Specter out of a dismal pack and never looked back, going heavy Black for the two Garza’s Assassins I managed to pick up during pack 2. I almost switched into Green when I saw what was going around, but I stayed the course and it served me pretty well. However, I didn’t value snow lands nearly highly enough and only ended up with two, which made Rimebound Dead unplayable and Zombie Musher and Frost Raptor not nearly as good as they should have been. Lesson learned: You do need snow lands, there is virtually nothing to punish you for having them (really only Zombie Musher), and you’d better pick them up over reasonably playable commons that you can probably get more of later. I only saw two Surging Aether; I wanted four.
I also tried out Phyrexian Etchings, which is less like the new Necropotence and more like the new Greed. Unless you can reliably bounce it, it is awful; six mana and six life for three cards over three turns will certainly swing a game, but not perhaps in the direction you were hoping (and the alternatives, four mana and four life for one card, or nine mana and eight life for six cards, are worse). Krovikan Whispers is similarly risky; if they can kill or (worse) bounce their guy, you are putting the opponent in command of an uncomfortable chunk of your life total. There is one and only one safe use for the card; put it on their good cumulative upkeep guy; stack its upkeep trigger, then the Whispers’; and fail to pay their creature’s cost before the Whispers even gains a counter.
First round I was paired against David, who had a fairly underpowered B/W deck. I beat him in two games. In the second round, I played against a mostly G/W deck replete with the Green fat that had been flying around the table. We went to three games, all of which saw me significantly mana flooded. By the end of the third game, I was at five life – thanks to the combo of Krovikan Whispers plus his Surging Aether – and I was barely holding off his army. I had just set up an obscene little engine using Garza’s Assassin and Grim Harvest to kill one creature each turn for eight mana; I should have been patient, but I counted up my blockers, saw one extra, and decided to take a chunk out of his life-total (still eighteen at that point) with Tresserhorn Skyknight. He took the damage, bounced one of my blockers, and swung for the win. I collected my one whole pack to go with my two from earlier, and we left.
We stopped at White Castle on the way home, because we saw a sign for one and none of us had ever been (and of course we’ve seen Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle, although David solemnly informed the girl at the counter that he’s wanted to go to White Castle since “before the movie”). Chris and Tyler split an order of twenty miniature burgers (“sliders”) and four orders of fries. They ate all of it, split down the middle, although Chris later admitted that the last three of his ten burgers had been “purely for gluttony.” He also said that he felt as if he had “hamburgers coming out of his eyes.” The food was better than I expected, if only for sheer novelty, and the sliders with garlic cheese were fantastic.
During the rest of the car ride, we discussed stereotypes about Magic players, hobos burning skunks (that’s what it smelled like, anyway), the true definition of casual and why we can never play it, and the vicious velcroraptor, a dinosaur that roamed the plains stuck together in giant raptorballs, screeching and rolling and reducing anything in their path to a fine red mist. It was one of those long, weird car trips where everything is funny.
When I got home, Zebra was in the bathtub, not moving, his eyes swollen shut. My mom had checked on him during the day and said he was doing badly, but I really wasn’t prepared for such a downswing. He was having trouble breathing, looking around trying to see, and mewling loudly. It was horrible, and it happened while I was playing Magic.
We took him in first thing this morning to be put down, which was hard enough, but it was even worse because that was about twenty hours later than it should have been. When a pet is sick, you’re waiting for it to hit that point where you know that life from that point on will be worse than the alternative. Zebra hit that point sometime Saturday, and I should have been there. He spent his last day immobile, in pain, and mostly alone, and I should have been there to take him in as soon as it got that bad.
Rest in peace, buddy. I love you, and I’m sorry it ended like that.
I made the decision to go to the prerelease (and god, I just typed “mistake” instead of “decision” without thinking) with the information I had at the time. I knew he would go soon, but I thought he would last the weekend. I thought wrong, and I know that it isn’t my fault. It still hurts, and I wish I’d been here.
I’ve known all along that there are things we give up to play this game besides just time and money. This is one I didn’t think of.
I’m not going to quit Magic, though. I’m not going to refuse to play Coldsnap because it reminds me of this, or stop going out of town to play Magic because something bad might happen while I’m gone. Maybe all of that seems like overreaction anyway, but grief is a complex thing, and this has hit me hard – the first death of a childhood pet in my adulthood. I’m going to keep on doing what I do, because Magic makes me happy and I need the good times to get through the bad ones.
Meanwhile, though, I’ve had some very good news as well. A month or so ago, I was offered a position on the Pro Tour coverage team as an editor and writer. I checked to make sure I could get the time off my day job and then quickly accepted. I trained at U.S. Nationals in Atlanta (look for an article about that soon), and I’ll be attending Pro Tour Kobe in October and the World Championships in Paris in December. I don’t know the schedule for next year yet, but it doesn’t really matter; there will be five Pro Tours and a World Championship somewhere on the planet, and Wizards will fly me to each one to do what I do.
I told the story about my cat dying first to curtail the chorus of “You lucky bastard.”
In fact, when this first broke amidst a lot of other chaos, a good friend of mine remarked that the overall balance was surely positive – to actually counteract such incredible news, “somebody would have to die or something.” Indeed.
Yet even as I began writing this several weeks ago – sitting in my empty, silent apartment and putting off cleaning up his litterbox and food dish because that’s damn depressing and I needed to write –inasmuch as there is a balance it was positive. He was a cat; he was old. His death was, as I said, very sad… but not unexpected.
The coverage team position, on the other hand, was entirely out of the blue. Ted Knutson knows me from our brief time together at StarCityGames. He knows I’m an editor “IRL,” and he mentioned me to the Events Manager Greg Collins as a candidate.
I’ve known all along that writing for StarCityGames and putting myself out there could result in some great things happening. This is one I did think of, but I didn’t actually expect it to come together, and certainly not anytime soon. The email absolutely floored me; this is probably the most exciting opportunity I’ve ever had, and I’m grateful to those who helped make it possible.
Bad things happen. So do good things. All in all, I’d rather have good things that come screaming out of nowhere and bad things that unfold inevitably than the other way around. Good things should knock you on your ass, rearrange your life, surprise you totally. Bad things aren’t actually less bad when you see them coming, but at least you can prepare for them. Zebra’s death would have been vastly worse if he’d been perfectly healthy when I left for the prerelease, and my new position wouldn’t have been quite as exciting if I’d known I was in the running.
I’ll be eschewing my usual set review article, I think – Coldsnap is just too darn small, and I quickly ran out of snow-related humor. My last few articles have been too far in between and not quite up to snuff (at least in my opinion), and I apologize to you, dear readers. More and better are to come.
So far this month I’ve played at Grand Prix: St. Louis, moved to a new apartment, and covered U.S. Nationals, arriving home yesterday. Tomorrow I’m leaving for a wedding in the Seattle area, where I’ve also managed to set up a lunch date with Mark Rosewater. So there’s that. I’m supposed to turn in a Feature Article for MagictheGathering.com the day after the wedding (better get on that, I guess… it’ll go up August 14th), and I’ve got most of an article written about my Nationals experience that has some great stories and savage name-dropping, if relatively little actual Magic. You’ll hear from me soon.
Until then, take care, and remember what you leave behind.