My Limited Experience

“You’re smart, though. You learn fast. How hard could attending your first tournament three days after you learned to play be?” “That brings me to my problem, Jack.” “What’s that?””It turns out I suck.”

“Wake up, dude.”


“I said wake up! Wipe that drool off your face, man. That’s sick.”


“Didn’t your mother ever tell you sleeping at your desk was a bad idea?”

“Probably; Mom said a lot of things. I don’t remember.”

“Yeah, well, she probably said something about cleaning up after yourself, too. This place is a wreck, dude. What is all this crap?”

“Magic cards.”

“Tragic cards?”

“Not tragic – Magic. As in Magic: the Gathering. It’s a card game.”

“Hey, you’ve got something stuck to your forehead. Lemme just peel that off…whoah! She’s hot!

“That’s Shelter. It’s a pretty good card.”

“Uh-huh. Pretty good looking card, that’s for sure. Do you mind if I move some of this crap? I wanna sit down and stay awhile. Catch up on old times.”

“Do I know you?”

“Yes, you do – and I’ve been worried. You haven’t been seen in awhile, you know? People were starting to ask questions. ‘Where is he, Jack?’ ‘Have you seen him, Jack?’ ‘If he’s dead, can I have his stuff please, Jack?’ That sort of thing. Somehow, I got elected your keeper when I wasn’t lookin’.”

“I don’t remember you.”

“It’ll come to you. So, man, what have you been up to? Why aren’t you sleeping in a bed like normal people?”

“I was writing.”

“Writing? That’s never a good idea.”

“Why not?”

“People don’t read. It’s too hard. What are you writing?”

“A tournament report. For this Magic thing.”

“Sounds weak, dude. Who would read that?”

“People who play Magic.”

“Limited audience, I’ll bet.”

“Exactly. Limited format. Specifically, sealed deck tourneys. That’s what I was writing about. Or trying to write, anyway.”

“Dude, I’m already confused. Let’s just break this down into small pieces.”

“Okay… But I still don’t remember you.”

“Call me Jack. Now all of this has something to do with this game, right?”


“And the game is played with these cards, right?”


“And you’re a little old to be starting a hobby like this right?”

“Yes-No! Maybe. I don’t care. I’m having fun.”

“Dude, how did you get started on this?”

“I had heard about Magic for years, but I haven’t had the time or money to do anything like this in quite awhile. I quit gaming right about the time trading card games were becoming popular; I didn’t have the money, and I didn’t have the time. Then a friend of mine left all of his cards to me. He had thousands. With a huge collection falling into my lap from nowhere, it seemed a shame just to throw them in a box and let them collect dust. I decide to play, but I don’t know anyone who plays the game. No problem, because in the collection is a starter CD. So I play the CD to get the basics of the game down. A few minutes on the internet, and I find out there’s a bunch of organized events. There’s even a Pro Tour. Another few minutes on the net, and I have the rules for the latest mechanics. Now all I have to do is pick a tournament and show up.”

“Okay, I’m with you so far. What’s Limited?”

“There are different formats. Limited means that the card pool you have to choose from comes from a set number of packs that are opened during the tournament. The events I decided to play in were Sealed Deck, which means you get a starter set and a couple of boosters to build the deck you are going to play with, basically.”

“Cool. So you know the rules. You know the format. You’re ready to play.”

“Exactly. That left me with only three problems.”

“What problems?”

“I still had never played this game before with another human being.”

“Cool. What else?”

“I had a lot to learn.”

“Yeah, see problem number one. You’re smart, though. You learn fast. How hard could this be?”

“That brings me to number three, Jack.”

“What’s that?”

“It turns out I suck.”

“Oh. How bad?”

02/02/02 QT Nice

Registration is a nightmare for me. I’ve never done this before, so I’m watching everyone else out of the corner of my eye. (I am an oaf at a formal dinner, desperately afraid of using the wrong fork to eat my salad.) Later on, I laugh at myself for trying to keep my cards covered so my neighbors couldn’t see them; I thought I would be playing my first match with the guy across from me. Live and learn.

I’ve separated my cards into piles according to color, with artifacts and non-basic lands in another pile. The one standout card I have is Shadowmage Infiltrator. I have heard this card is considered good. Hmm. It doesn’t swing for a lot, but the”draw a card” thing is cool, I guess. I’m going to need more creatures than this (duh). What else do I have in black? Two Cabal Torturer. Okay, I like having two of something. Slithery Stalker… What if my opponent doesn’t have green or white critters? I’ll worry about that later; right now, I need bodies. Okay, what do I have in blue? Skywing Aven, he flies. Flying is good. Phantom Whelp? Whatever. What else do I have in blue…. Stupefying Touch? That could come in useful. Great, I’m still coming up short here. I think I’ll add some red cards. Mad Dog, he’s another body. Oh, crap. Only a couple of minutes left to do this…I need land. Okay. How much land do I need? All right, quick, do some math. How about one-third of the deck should be land. Sure, that sounds good. Five islands, five swamps, five mountains. Forty-something cards total. I’m ready!

(Please, laugh with me, not at me.)

Round One: Luke M. (R/G)

Hey, good luck!

Game one: I play Slithery Stalker, and I’ll target your Basking Rootwalla. Huh? Sonic Seizure? All right, no I have no response to that. Yeah, I guess your lizard does come back. Wow, that’s a lot of burn spells for one guy to have. Ouch. Yeah, I’m ready for game two.

Wow. That’s a lot of green creatures you have, Luke. Could you not play anything else until I get more than three land? I’ve been stuck with these for some time now.

Okay, for my brilliant defense against this onslaught I’m going to suffer a complete mental breakdown; block with my Cabal Torturer, and completely ignore his activated ability. Yeah, good game. (For the record, my life totals in the second game look like this: 20, 19, 14, 9, illegible, 1, thank you for playing.)

Well, the first one is the hardest, right? I’ll do better, I just had some bad luck that second game…

Round Two: Ricky Lee J. (U/B/something else)

Hey, good luck. Game one: Millikin and Compulsion. You do a lot of stuff on my end of turn. What’s that? I can’t target your Compulsion with my Stupefying Touch? Oh, it’s not a creature – sorry. It looks like one from over here. Okay, I’ll target your Skywing Aven with it. What’s that? You’ll bounce it in response? Yes, that does make sense. Well, I’m one card closer to threshold, anyway. Let’s see, I have three life left, and you’ll be swinging for seven again, shall we move on to game two? Okay, this game I’m going to panic and block with my Cabal Torturer and completely ignore its activated ability, so it just dies without taking anything with it. As a topper, I’m going to play Shadowmage Infiltrator just in time to use it block something that will kill it, because that is the best use of cards with a fear ability. Blocking, I mean. Yeah, good luck to you, too. Is this the box I check to drop?

“It didn’t go well.”

“No, Jack. It did not go well. But it wasn’t a total loss.”

“Dude, no offense, but it sounds like a disaster.”

“No, I talked with a few other players that day, including that guy that smashed my face in the second round. I learned a lot just by watching him kill me. I also talked with the tournament organizer on my way out the door. He offered to look at my deck, and he gave me a few pointers. That reinforced a few things I had already figured out, and it got me thinking about what to do differently next time.”

“You put yourself through this again?”

“Well, yeah. I had a great time.”

“I don’t get it. Hey, is it me, or are there a hell of a lot more cards in here all of a sudden?”

“It just seems that way. You’ll get used to it.”

“I doubt it. So what happened next?”

“Well, there was another tournament the following week. My first problem was gone.”

“Yeah, you had played against people.”

“Yup. Problem number two was getting smaller. I had learned that time management was key during deck registration and construction, particularly for me since I had to go over my cards with extra care. I didn’t have an encyclopedic knowledge of the cardset, so I needed to judge each one very carefully. Also, I knew that I had played with a very mana-poor deck the first time. A deck should have about forty percent land cards.”

“It can’t be as simple as that, man.”

“Maybe not, but it’s a good starting point. That’s a general rule, and until I know when to break that rule, I need to follow it. In addition, I decided to do whatever I could to play two colors. That way, my deck would be more consistent.”

“That sounds simple enough.”

“Yup. And I had another decision: My first deck had been built around one card, for the most part. Unless a card just screamed ‘I will win the game for you’, I would not be led into trying to build a deck around it. Shadowmage Infiltrator is a good card, but I didn’t have the skills to take advantage of it.”

“Gotcha. So you had learned stuff. You were figuring stuff out. Told you you’re smart.”

“Maybe, but I still had plenty to learn. And I still had problem number three.”

“You still sucked?”

“Yes, Jack. I still sucked.”

02/09/02 Tampa Trials

Registration goes much better this time. I am relaxed, and less distracted by everything else around me. Once decks are redistributed, I quickly divide my cards into color oriented piles. There is a Mutilate in my black pile (foil, no less, for extra removal flair). The rest of black is crap, unless Overeager Apprentice has become a great card since I last looked at it. Green has a very low creature count… Didn’t this happen to me last time? White has Kirtar’s Desire, Cease Fire, and lots of creatures. White is in. Red is not great. Blue has Skywing Aven, Aquamoeba, some flyers, and two Ghostly Wings. Flying is good. I’m going white/blue.

I will not splash black for Mutilate.

Round One: John R.

Hey, good luck. You are playing three colors, but not a lot is hitting the table. I am at seventeen and will play Teroh’s Faithful. I will swing again with my team.

What do you mean, that’s it? I won? Really? Wow, okay, on to game two.

Gorilla Titan? Yeah, he’s big. I’m glad you have something in your graveyard, or else that would really hurt. Rotting Giant? Yeah, I guess they do work well together. Well, this isn’t even close; could we play game three now? I’m glad your deck is moving slower than last game. Man, this is kinda close. You’re at seven, I’m at six. Wait, now I’m at three. Wait, now I’m dead. Good match to you, too.

Round Two: Bart E.

Hey, good luck. Wild Mongrel, huh? I’ll play Teroh’s Faithful. Basking Rootwalla? I’ll play Teroh’s Faithful. I’ll also play Blessed Orator and Hallowed Healer. Okay, very soon now I’m going to get one of my flyers out, and then you’ll see who’s boss… Okay, I’m dead. My bad.

Game two? Grotesque Hybrid? Laquatus’ Champion? Okay, I’ll Kirtar’s Desire the Hybrid and chump-block the Champ with Skywing Aven for an hour or so. You’ll be sorry when my Pilgrim of Virtue shows up. Seton’s Desire on the Champ? Yeah, yeah, everything has to block him. Yeah, yeah, I die. My killer defense really dragged this match out, huh?

You know what? Your Grotesque Hybrid has protection from white if you discard to it. You could have knocked that Desire off ages ago.

Round Three: Kevin S.

Hey, good luck. All right, how about for game one, my deck will completely fall asleep, and you slap me about the head for awhile? Good, good. Now, just a suggestion – but how about for game two, you get mana screwed for playing three colors while my team pounds you into the dust? Hey, I won! I just got a great idea, how about for game three, you drop Ambassador Laquatus and start milling me like corn? Just to make it interesting, I’ll keep the beats up. At the last minute, why don’t you whip Moment’s Peace out of your backside so that I can lose the match? Thanks, that was fun. Oh, you had Traumatize in your deck, too? Well, I’m glad I never saw that. (For the record, in a Limited event, I lost a game while I was at eighteen life and my opponent was at four because he decked me. Remember, laugh with me, not at me.)

Round Four: Bye

Bye? You’re sending me home?

Oh, I don’t have an opponent. Okay, I’ll wait.

Round Five: Tyler B.

Hey, good luck. Game one. Forest? Does everyone here have green in his deck except me? You know, I have noticed that you are swinging for a lot more than I am; let’s move on to game two. Squirrel Nest, eh? Well, I have a large number of white critters that I can’t cast fast enough to keep up with that kind of production, but I’m going to try. It’s close, but you’re kickin’ my butt.

I got you down to seven, though. You can’t take that away from me.

Round Six: Steve A.

Hey, good luck. We’re playing for last place, you know. Game one, you drop forest, then mountain. Steve, would you believe that everysinglefreakindeck I have seen today has green in it? I am sick to death of being beaten down by green creatures. Thank you for ending game one with burn spells. I appreciate that.

Game two is going very slowly. I appreciate the fact that your Krosan Avenger is now a regenerator due to threshold, but I have more creatures on the table than you have cards in your graveyard – so I win, okay? However, I win on turn five of the extra turns after time is called, so this match is a draw.

This match is a draw! I played a match against someone and didn’t lose! I am the man!

“Dude, the highlight of your day was a draw? That’s weak.”

“No, the highlight of my day was winning my first game.”

“Maybe you should have quit while you were ahead.”

“No way. I’m glad I stayed to the end. How else am I going to learn?”

“Learn what? How to get killed gracefully? Look, if you want to get beaten on a regular basis, I know this girl downtown -”

“Don’t be crude, Jack. I did a lot right that tourney. I said I was going to stick to two colors if I could, and I did. My deck ran much better than the pile I built the week before. I was feeling really good about my chances going into my third tournament.”

“Your chances for what? Mercy? Sympathy from all comers?”

“My chances on pulling out a winning record. The learning curve was getting smaller all the time. I had made some key mistakes throughout the day that I would not repeat.”

“Like showing up? That sounds like your biggest mistake, man.”

“I’m going to start hitting you with a blunt instrument.”

“I’m just joking, dude. Keep talkin’. I’m here for you. How ’bout a hug?”

“No thanks. Big mistake number one was during deck construction. I threw in two non-basic lands for no reason. I had them, so I played them. That was just stupid.”


“My second mistake was also deck construction. I played forty-five cards. I easily could have trimmed that deck down to forty, no problem. Drop the Ghostly Wings, drop the non-basic lands, throw in the Junk Golem I didn’t play for an additional creature, and trim a couple of basic lands. That would have been better.”

“If you say so.”

“My other mistakes were during combat. During the second round, I made a key blocking mistake that destroyed my defense. I made similar mistakes in round five. I needed to think about my blocks better… Like deciding when gang-blocking would be a good idea. I also didn’t think about some of my creatures activated abilities enough. For example, when I was blocking with Aquamoeba, I would forget to switch his power and toughness after damage was on the stack. I let the poor guy die to squirrel token, for crying out loud! Mistakes like that will cost a fellow games.”

“Yeah, getting your butt kicked by a squirrel has to be demoralizing.”

“Bottom line, I was letting my deck down more than it was letting me down. But I was picking up on these things.”

“So you knew more about this Magic thing.”

“Yes, I did.”

“But you still sucked, right?”

“Yes, I did. But I sucked less. So, I figured I was ready for a bigger venue. I decided to go to the Grand Prix in Tampa, Florida.”

“How did that go?”

“At the last minute, I got the flu.”

“That sucks.”

“Yes. Yes, it does. It also meant that I only had one more tournament before the Limited scene gave way to Standard. I wanted a winning record, and I wanted it bad.”

“Just tell me what happened, man.”

03/02/02 QT Nice

Registration time again, and when I get my deck, I start the color piles. One of these days, I’m going to one of these things and green is going to have some beats in it – but not today. Red is anemic. Black has two Faceless Butchers, Grotesque Hybrid, and Last Laugh. White has Shelter, Pay No Heed, and quite a few creatures. I’m going to play black/white. I’m also going to play forty cards like a good boy.

Round One: Kelly T.

Hey, good luck. Game one. That’s a lot of red you have there, but I’m going to come out fast and keep swinging until you decide it’s time for game two. Game two. Thank you for showing me what a fast deck really is. This game lasted what, two minutes? And I didn’t hit you for anything?

Game three. Okay, were stalling mid-game. Time has been called. What’s that? You want to swing with your entire team? Okay, I’ll activate my Luminous Guardian’s ability and block most of your squad. Great, now I can swing on my turn and… Oh, right… You have burn spells to cook my guys on your second main phase. My bad. All right, as a backup plan, how about you swing with your whole team again on turn five of the extra innings and I’ll just die? That works for you? Okay.

Round Two: Ellis W.

Hey, good luck. Three colors, eh? Oh, you’re just splashing blue for the looter. You’re real plan is to turn those big nasty green fellows sideways. Well, I’ll play Faceless Butcher before that big guy gets a chance. You want to play Springing Tiger? Okay, on my turn I’ll show you the second Butcher and take him out of this fight, as well. Now, I don’t want you to get the idea that I know what I’m doing, so on my next turn I’ll try to target your only black creature with Ghastly Demise. You’re right; I can’t do that. Sorry. I’ll just swing for the win. Game two.

Man, this is close, eh? Now that we’ve stalled out here in the mid-game, I’m going to play Last Laugh. Also, I’m going to activate my Dedicated Martyr’s ability to gain three life. Of course, that means I have to sacrifice him, which means he goes to the graveyard, which means the table is about to be cleared of everything. Oh, wait… Your Krosan Constrictor is Pro-black, isn’t he? Well, that could be a problem.

Game three. Would you believe this is my second match today to go to overtime? Yeah, that’s kinda cool, except I’m not gonna win this game. Thanks for the beating.

Round Three: Michael M.

Hey, good luck. Game one. That’s a lot of land you’re playing. I’m starting to get nervous. What are you planning? Something’s gonna come out of your hand and clear the table, isn’t it? You know what I just realized? Nothing’s gonna come out of your hand and clear the table. What I just realized is that I’ve gotten myself into a losing mentality. You’re sitting over there all mana-flooded, and I’m worried about how I’m gonna lose instead of how I’m gonna win. I swing a lot. Game two. I swing a lot. Thanks for the match.

Hey! I won a match!

Round Four: Kenneth H.

Hey, good luck. Game one. Mesmeric Fiend? Here you go, sir. Yes, it is a nice hand, thank you. Grotesque Hybrid. Faceless Butcher. Swing. Hey, you’re swinging, too. That’s not fair. Sure, remove my Butcher so you can get your fatty back; see what I care. Game two.

Wow, this looks a lot like the first game. Let’s change the ending, though, so that I win this time. Game three. Wow, this game is close, too. I’ll drop Last Laugh and swing. Block, damage on the stack, Last Laugh goes off nine times. Now that’s what I call an empty table. First guy to miss a creature drop loses this one, friend. What’s that? You didn’t topdeck a beatstick? Sorry about that. I’ll swing for the win.

Hey, I have an even record now! Woo hoo!

Round Five: John M.

Hey, good luck. Game one. I’ll tell you what, you swing with that blue critter and I’ll play Second Thoughts. Now that we have that out of the way, I’ll play critters of my own and swing. Once you get something else to swing with, I’ll use Shelter on my blocker and keep swinging. I’ll wait while you sideboard.

Game two. I really wish you didn’t wouldn’t break this mid-game deadlock. Okay, you did. Game three.

You have the most annoying Basking Rootwalla I have ever seen. During the extra turns after time is called, I’m going to put Last Laugh into play and set it off with a sacrificed Dedicated Martyr just to watch the lizard die! Yeah, I lose, but you had me anyway. It was worth it.

Round Six: Daniel C.

Hey, good luck. Game one. If your deck does that to me again, I’m going to have to insist on KY. Game two. Ouch. What the heck is this deck doing at the scrub table? Shouldn’t you be playing at the front of the room? Look at this… Beast Attack, Caustic Tar/Krosan Restorer combo… And that’s not even the good stuff! What happened? Play mistakes combined with a high REL value? That will do it. Yeah, you can’t knock your library over more than once at these things without a game loss. Better luck next time, and thanks for ending my chances of a winning record today.

(This really was a shame. Dan is a good guy and a fine player. He was just having a clumsy day, and it cost him more than one match. To his credit, he was taking it with good humor. A lot of people would have dropped in disgust, but he kept laughing and playing cards.)

Round Seven: Devon H.

Hey, good luck. Game one. This game is close, and we have stalled out, friend. Let me show you my favorite way to break a deadlock with this deck… Last Laugh. Clear table, low life totals, you have to love it. The only problem is, you dropped a Teroh’s Faithful on turn six, and I reminded you when you forgot to add your life gain from his comes into play ability. Oddly enough, at the end of this game, I’m at zero and you are at four; maybe I’m too honest. Game two.

You know what, my deck has been fairly consistent today, so I’m going to let it just completely fall asleep for my last game. Feel free to kill me. Thanks for the match, hope to see you next time.

“So that was that. I didn’t get my winning record, but I did win a couple.”

“Dude, you went 2-5. That sucks. You suck.”

“Yeah, but at one point, I was 2-2. And a lot of my matches went to game three. I had definitely improved.”

“Maybe. No offense, it doesn’t seem like you’ve hurdled problem number three, man. Okay, I swear to God there weren’t cards in my lap when I sat down, and now there are.”

“Just brush them off. Probably basic land cards. They seem to come from nowhere.”

“It’s not natural, if you ask me. All right, so now I know about this cardboard crack thing you’ve been doing. How does this fit into your ‘I’m writing again’ shenanigans?”

“I just wanted to get my thoughts about what happened down on paper, to take a look at the entirety of my limited format experience and see how far I’ve come. I don’t know. I thought it might be interesting.”

“So what’s the problem? Why are you stuck?”

“Who says I’m stuck?”

“If you weren’t stuck, you wouldn’t have woken up in a puddle of your own saliva.”

“I don’t know. Other guys write this stuff, and they know all the cards they had to choose from in their deck, and what they finally went with, etc. It’s very detailed.”

“Do you find that interesting?”


“Then don’t write that. Just tell everyone the story that you told me. Some guy starts playing a game he likes. Guy sucks. Guy gets a little better, but still sucks. Guy gets even better. Guy may be on the verge of not completely sucking.”

“That could work. Thanks. Something is still bothering me, though.”

“What’s that?”

“I still don’t have any idea who you are, Jack.”


“Holy crap, dude! Who’s that?”

“That’s my wife.”

“Dude! You’re married? Way to tell a brother!”

“Honey? Can I come in?”

“Yeah, babe.”

“Who were you talking to? I thought I heard voices.”

“No one. I was just writing.”

“Oh, you’re writing again? How is it going?”

“I think I might not suck.”

Pale Mage

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