Recollections Of A New Player

Check out this creative writing piece from Mark Nestico with the observations of a mysterious new player participating in his first big Magic tournament.

[Author’s Note: This week hasn’t been a good one, and recently my wife and I have had to brace ourselves for the loss of someone very important to us. This is for Joe. Her grandfather. PapPap and Grandma—my family away from family. I was blessed having known you, Pap. It’s okay to sleep now.

Knowing that Pap has such a wonderful sense of humor, I wanted to write this for him. He asked about Magic but never really understood it. Lord knows he loved to laugh though. I think this would make him smile.]

Friday, March 7th

2:11 PM

It’s my first big Magic tournament. After battling in a few FNMs, the locals began to take a shine to me. I don’t understand why. I’m not terribly good at the game, but for research purposes I want to partake in the experiment of what a full-scale event is like.

I look at it as a chance to study the natives.

They picked me up from my home, and we piled into a 1993 Toyota Camry that may or may not have smelled like Funyuns. There was Steve, Dave, Dante, and Randall. The site was only three hours away from our town, so I didn’t imagine that the drive would be too boring, albeit we were crammed five to the automobile and it reeked of Cebolitos.

My new companions began to discuss what decks they were going to play.

"I’m playing Mono-Black Devotion," Steve said, "because I want to ruin any good time my opponent might be having."

Dante shifted in his seat and turned to me. "What about you, chump?"

Why was I a chump? Was his name calling meant as a form of hazing?

"I suppose I’ll be playing what I play every Friday night."

Dante and Randall started cracking up.

"We can’t let you play that pile, dude. It might fly at FNM, but you won’t win a single game trying to cast Shipbreaker Kraken," Randall cackled. Why were they making fun of me? I just wanted to play cards!

"What should I play then, you couple of dinguses?" I inquired. Perhaps calling them names back would earn my place in the pack. Dave chimed in.

"I have an extra R/W Burn deck with me, and I wasn’t planning on playing it. It should be right up your alley. Not a lot of decisions, but it’s really good. All you have to do is count to twenty and remember to return your Chandra’s Phoenix from your graveyard if it ever dies. All you do is melt faces, man."

Count to twenty.

Return Phoenix.

Melt faces.

I am not a kid.

Got it.

The rest of the drive was spent listening to music sang by a delightful girl named Haley. Her voice was very pretty. I don’t understand why she says she’s in the "business of misery," but for some reason when I look at her on my phone, I have a difficult time believing she’d make me miserable. Palpations. Sweating.

I am dwelling on Haley too much.

As we arrived in the town of the event, I was told we were going to a place called Texas de Brazil.

The phrase "meat sweats" was used, but I don’t understand what it means. Is my meat going to be perspiring? That doesn’t sound too appetizing.

I’ll fill you in as I learn more.

7:57 PM

I now completely understand what "meat sweats" are.

We sat down.

Green circle means "never stop bringing meat."

Red circle means "stop bringing meat."

It reminds me of driving an automobile, except that I really like eating meat and driving cars gives me anxiety. There was no anxiety to be had tonight as I gorged on copious amounts of steak, pork, and lamb. The other four clearly were no match for the appetite that I had, so rather than risking exposure I stopped shortly after they did, lest they discover my secret.

My mouth was a wonderland of flavor. Every tournament report I’ve read involving a Brazilian steakhouse was a guidebook to the most beautiful experience I could possibly have here. I would have hugged my new companions for sharing this with me, but if I had, they probably would have looked at me weird. Also, I can’t stand bodily contact.

Hugs were not an option. They never are.

The hotel we are at is mundane and dank. Apparently the rates are incredible. Randall used the word "value" over and over again when describing it.

Me: "Does the hotel have a swimming pool? I enjoy the hydration."

Randall: "Yes it does! It also has a Jacuzzi. So. Much. Value."

Me: "What about breakfast? I require bodily fuel."

Randall: "Free continental, man. Value Town, USA. Population? Us."

I have learned that value is the most important aspect of my hotel experience.

My question is that if there is so much "value" in this hotel, why do I have to sleep on the floor next to the heater?

Saturday, March 8

8:45 AM

I suppose the cost of value is the curvature of my spine, but I must admit the waffles were scrumptious. It is a tradeoff I am willing to make again.

Waking up this early isn’t any trouble for me, but my partners acted as if they were under great duress. Their complaining was only matched by their sluggishness, which was at a maximum. I suspect Dave was crying, but it could have been the hairspray he accidentally squirted in his eyes. It’s difficult to tell.

Luckily the site is connected to the hotel, so we were able to make our way to the venue with relative ease. As we entered the hall, I was suddenly reminded of the subtle smell of Funyuns again.

It is the most curious of phenomenon. I have always pondered as to why so many Magic players practice poor hygiene. Why? Why not shower? This planet is blessed with an abundance of water to bathe in. Do they not know what they have at their disposal? I saw one man sitting in a chair with most of his buttocks in plain view.

That man needs better fitting pants.

I believe these two issues—pants and hygiene—to be linked.

Taking care of oneself is paramount to projecting a successful image (or at least that’s what my preliminary findings have shown). Perhaps I am wrong? All I know is that if my pants were around my ankles, people would start asking questions, and that is not an option.

As I registered my deck, Dante and Randall gave me tips on how and what to spend my burn spells on. I play Magic because it is like a game of chess that keeps my mind in constant motion, but these two simplified every aspect of the R/W Burn deck, basically telling me that all it boils down to is "bolting their dome." Don’t they know that most domes are built lightning-proof in the event of a severe storm? Their analogy quickly falls apart.

I examined the room in its entirety. There are a lot of males but very few females. The ones I did encounter were met with ridicule and catcalls.

I don’t understand.

Usually males attempt to make themselves look attractive to females, but the men in this room don’t even try. I met one very nice woman who gave me some excellent pointers on allocating my spells to creatures and players and when to do both. Her advice is invaluable.

As we talked at greater length, she told me how much she loves Magic and that she often hears things like "groupie" or "you’re here because your boyfriend is."

I don’t understand.

She doesn’t have a boyfriend here, and she isn’t a "groupie," whatever that is. She is simply here because she loves this game that intrigues me so very much, but she doesn’t feel like she is treated fairly.

I told her that I respect her and look forward to further talks with her. She said she would request me on Facebook.

I need a Facebook.

Pairings have been announced. I’ll get back to you later.

3:15 PM

Big tournaments are much different than smaller events.

My first round opponent was playing a B/G deck that attempted to defeat me with large creatures like Desecration Demon and Reaper of the Wilds. His draws were slow and clunky, and I remembered the advice given to me on the car ride.

Count to twenty.

Return Phoenix.

Melt his face.

The hands I kept were reasonable and filled with enormous pressure. My damage output was superior to his, and the round was over in less than fifteen minutes. Then something curious happened that I will have to explore further.

He got mad.

I could tell that he was becoming frustrated as the second game was about to end. His face became red, and he started saying things like"wow, keep drawing perfect"and"another Searing Blood—how unreal!"

I stayed the course and continued to melt his face because that’s what my partners told me to do.

It got to the point where I had no cards in my hand and my opponent was at three life. I began to worry when he landed a second Reaper of the Wilds, but my fears subsided when the top of my deck yielded a Skullcrack. I tapped the two required mana and politely told him that I was targeting him and asked if he had any responses. He furiously began shaking his head as he scooped up his cards.

"Could you be luckier? I hate losing to such skill-less decks and players," he bemoaned as he began desideboarding. I didn’t understand.

"I’m sorry," I lamented, "I just played the deck the way it is supposed to be played. Would you care to tell me what I did wrong so that my next opponent doesn’t yell at me?"

He seemed caught off guard but was steadfast in his anger.

"Yeah," he said with an escalating tone,"learn to play a deck that takes some skill to play."

I cast more spells than he did, did what the deck was designed to do, and earned the victory. How was I in the wrong? I signed the slip as he scribbled something on it that resembled a wavy line and walked away. Human aggression is a curious occurrence.

I don’t understand it at all.

I found my traveling partners and decided to stand next to them. The pack mentality at this event reminds of animals in the wild. Lions stick with lions, bears stick with bears, and sloths sleep all day.

The good players are the lions.

The traders are the hyenas.

The judges are the bears.

That guy sleeping on the floor is the sloth.

Everything has its place.

At least that much I understand.

As the day progressed, we continued this ritual of meeting in a similar spot.

"What’s your record?" Dante inquired of Steve.


The pack nodded and groaned approvingly.

"What about you, Dante?" Steve asked back.


The pack lowered their heads, saying that he’s "dead." I don’t understand. Dante is alive and talking. Perhaps he is a zombie. A lot of people in this room have a fascination with zombies. I don’t understand it.

Randall looked at me with the kind of eyes that didn’t expect much."You?"

"I am undefeated so far."

The pack perked up and looked at me with great surprise.

"How are you undefeated?" Dave pried.

"I count to twenty, return the Phoenix when it’s in the graveyard, and melt faces just like you all taught me."

The custom of asking about our records is strange to me, as Magic is a game and a game is meant to be played whether you win or lose. Their surprise that I hadn’t lost yet caught me off guard. I process things at a much faster rate than the average being, so winning feels correct. I plan on continuing it.

8:12 PM

With a record of 7-1, I was told that if I won the last match I played in, I would be "locked" to Top 8, which is apparently the whole point of being here.

Unfortunately I was forced to take a multitude of mulligans, and my opponent playing Mono-Blue Devotion beat me rather quickly. The members of my group, who were long since out of the tournament running, stood behind me and let out a collective sigh when I lost.

Dave patted me on the back and said,"Man, it really sucks that you didn’t even get to play Magic."

I don’t understand.

"You’re not winning on those mulligans to four against Master of Waves," Randall began to say while shaking his head disapprovingly.

"But I did get to play Magic, and I have won on a mulligan to four," I confusedly declared.

They all looked at me strangely.

I don’t understand.

Is this their way of comforting me? By acting like everything was out of my hands?

Why do they use the word "luck" so much?

I have learned that I find it hard to empathize with these "bad beat" stories. Earlier in the day Steve explained that his opponent had cast Thoughtseize four times against him, which is why he was unable to win. He commented that was the reason he lost. I remarked that his opponent played four copies of Thoughtseize precisely to use them to win.

I was looked at like I was an alie—a crazy person.

My next round was spent beating Mono-Black Devotion player who cast Thoughtseize three times against me but was unhappy when I continued to draw burn spells. After winning both games he shook my hand and congratulated me on a "Top 16." I assume that is good.

I am sad to see the tournament end, but my traveling partners want me to write about my experience because a good finish at an event of this size is a "big deal." I even received a hundred dollars for my performance. I will use it to purchase more "meat sweats."

11:47 PM

The drive home was quiet. The windows being rolled down caused the smell of Funyuns to dissipate. Everything was calm and peaceful. Placid. We began to cross over a large bridge, and the stars and moon reflected off of the water, which produced a mirror-like effect.

Moments like this make me happy. Whatever happiness is.

Sometimes when we hold a mirror up to ourselves, it is easiest to see who and what we are and what we stand for.

Today I was the mirror held up to a room of hundreds of like-minded people.

I reflected who they are and what they did: the good, the bad, the ghastly behaviors, the caring deeds. My new friends who lent me a deck to play, a room to stay in, and introduced me to a carnival of meat. The lovely girl who deserves to be treated better and the man who screamed at me for playing my cards—each of them reflected in me. Winning and losing. Talking about records. Sticking with your pack. This trip taught me a lot.

After careful deliberation, I think I finally understand why people love this game.

I think I understand.