11:30 am on Saturday, and you pick up your fourth loss at PT Philadelphia. Your opponent is at five life, but for four turns in a row you fail to draw that much needed fifth land to cast the Lava Axe hiding in your hand.
Your next twelve draws?
Lands or spells that would have won you the game.
Instead of concluding that you just got unlucky, you try to figure out whether you could have played differently. You can’t find anything you did wrong, and Vincent Lemoine, who was watching the whole game, confirms that.
A voice in the back of your head is telling you it would be best to go outside, take some fresh air, and focus on your next match. But instead you complain to your friends about your bad beat and how you didn’t draw that fifth land for six turns (you obviously exaggerate when telling the story). The tendency to whine and complain is the first sign that you are losing focus. “If you have time to whine and complain about something then you have the time to do something about it,” the voice tells you. But you just ignore him. “Eight turns, dude!”
As a pro player, your goal is to win every tournament, but once you pick up your fourth loss at a Pro Tour, it’s not possible to Top 8 anymore. But the tournament isn’t over; there are still six rounds to play, and some much needed pro points are at stake. With six more wins, you can still make top 16, a result that’s not to be trivialized. Still heartbroken, you make your way to the pairings, hoping to win that last round of draft.
Your third match of the day is much of the same. Stuck on two lands in game one and death to Gideon Avenger and Royal Assassin in game three. Again there was nothing you could have done differently, except for maybe drafting a better deck.
After the match, Peter Vieren joins you and tells you he lost again as well. You were seated next to him in the draft, and together you try to reconstruct the draft. You do this because you want to find a reason for your 0-3 result instead of just blaming it all on your bad draws. The both of you conclude that there were some picks you should have done differently, but the result would have been pretty much the same. Sure, blue was open in pack two and three, but there was no way of knowing this from the first booster.
Even a top 16 finish is out of reach now, but not all is lost. At least you can put that stupid draft deck aside and play some more matches with your R/G Cloudpost/Through the Breach deck. The deck has treated you well so far, so there is no reason to give up yet. You go buy new sleeves and sleeve the following 75 cards for the last five rounds of this tournament:
- 3 Wall of Roots
- 1 Magus of the Candelabra
- 1 Terastodon
- 3 Emrakul, the Aeons Torn
- 4 Overgrown Battlement
- 1 Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre
- 4 Primeval Titan
When you walk to the pairings, you feel that most of your energy is gone. You should probably eat that banana waiting in your bag, but you promised yourself to only eat it after three wins. You decide that if you win this round, you’ll go out of the hall to buy some food and get a fresh nose.
For the fourth time in a row that day, you get completely smashed without being able to do something about it. You got paired against one of your worst matchups, B/G Infect with Blazing Shoal, and both times your only way to win the game was your opponent’s Spoils of the Vault (hoping that he wouldn’t find the card he named in his first 20 cards).
You kind of wished you had listened to Frank Karsten before the tournament and had put some extra Punishing Fires in your sideboard. But it’s too late for that, and you conclude that you probably wouldn’t have drawn them anyway. In the back of your mind, the voice is desperately screaming at you to stop being such a defeatist, to put the games behind you and focus on the next round.
Years of articles, of playing, of reading, of competing desperately try to reach the front of your consciousness, to snap you out of your malaise and put you back to the task at hand. Instead you flip the switch and hope the autopilot can glide you into a Top 100 finish.
The will to do well in the tournament is completely gone after this round. Your opponent asks to go outside and grab some food, but you couldn’t care less. You’d rather watch some random matches while listening to the Two Door Cinema Club on your iPod. During Day 1 you had been listening to the Two Door Cinema Club the whole time, using it as some way to concentrate at the beginning of each round. Now, in an effort to comfort yourself, you just put on your headphones because you don’t want to think about the tournament anymore.
When the match you are watching is over you move to Peter Vieren’s table. He too is about to lose again. You both realize it’s pretty much over now, and you have a good laugh about the banana that’s still in your bag. You ask Peter to play some Modern games. He’s running Restore Balance, a matchup you can’t win, but you just want to have fun. It’s kind of ironic that losing some more games equals having fun at such a time, but that doesn’t seem to bother you. You even win a game or two before the next round pairings go up.
The next four rounds feel like an obligation to you. The reason you keep playing is the extra pro point you get for a top 100 finish, but you’d rather be doing something else. You know that you are not playing your best game anymore, but that doesn’t seem to bother you. Winning or losing, who cares? You gave up on that banana anyway.
It’s funny how one bad draft can change your whole perspective on things. Before the start of Day 2, you’re pumped up, eager to get a good finish. After the first few losses, you’re still actively trying to figure out what you did wrong, what you could have done better, where you could have found a win… But as the day progresses, and that number in the loss column of your record starts getting bigger and bigger, you just stop paying attention, turn on the autopilot, and try to make it to the end of the day, all the while consoling yourself with “I guess it just wasn’t meant to be; it wasn’t my day.”
Fellow compatriot Vincent Lemoine is having a better day than you are. He’s at 12-3 entering the last round of the tournament, and he needs a draw to make it to his second Top 8 of the year. He’s playing an almost identical copy of your R/G Cloudpost deck. You are mildly comforted by the fact that he is winning with the same deck, and it helps you deal with the disappointing Day 2 result. You don’t really wonder if he’s playing better than you; you just assume he’s had more luck and that the roles could have easily been reserved.
When the last-round pairings go up, you first check if Vincent is able to draw. He’s paired down, and on top of that has to play one of his worst matchups: Poison. You try to find him and tell him how to sideboard, as you already played that matchup earlier in the day. Instead of telling him how you got smashed in two short games, you tell him that the matchup is actually fine after sideboard.
Your own pairing seems like a formality. If you win, you make that extra pro point you’ve been fighting for the last four rounds, but all you really want to do is watch Vincent’s match. You’re playing against Affinity, a matchup that ought to be good. But you lose again, for the sixth time that day, and miss out on the extra pro point.
The biggest disappointment of the day comes when you find out that Vincent lost the last round. Your own result did not matter for a while already, but you really wanted Vincent to make Top 8, even if only for the free dinner that would follow. Thankfully, Vincent is still happy with his top 16 finish. And you, you are just happy the tournament is finally over I guess. At least you earned a cool 360 planeswalker points to make it all worthwhile!
At dinner that night, the disappointment about your bad result finally gets to you. The voice in the back of your mind is now in the forefront, admonishing you for your weakness. You tell yourself that for future tournaments, you will work on your mental focus. During the last few rounds of the tournament, you recognized you were mentally not in the right state to keep playing. But you were so worn down that you just couldn’t snap out of it. You think about that great saying you once heard: “Our greatest glory is not in never failing, but in rising up every time we fail.” Fall seven times, stand up eight.
During dinner, your friends are talking about the impact flip cards will have on drafting and about how healthy the Modern format is. But you, you just listen to the background music and decide it’s probably a good idea to bowl away the pain.
“F*** it, dude, let’s go bowling.”
Thanks for reading.