Reflections: The Best Day Ever!

Michael Martin returns to playing Magic in the best way possible: by bringing his son to his very first Magic tournament, sharing a spark that may last a lifetime.

My son… he’s still learning.

If you don’t remember my previous article entitled “Reflections in the Eyes of my Son,” it might be worthwhile to take the time to read that piece first. This is the next chapter.

I didn’t prompt him at all, I swear.

In fact, I asked Sarah to make sure my wife didn’t prompt him either. When I asked, “Chris, what do you want to do this weekend”, he thought for a bit then answered “Play Magic.” Sarah’s eyes met mine and we chuckled, fully understanding that he had just answered perfectly.

“Well, I supposed that’s good, because this is the weekend I finally get to take you to your first tournament.”

His eyes widen a bit and that huge boyish grin spreads across his face, though he didn’t speak. I spend a lot of time joking with my kids and giving them a hard time, so they’re all predispositioned at this point to wait to see if I’m being serious or not. My lack of follow-on laughter shows him I am.

“Oh wow…” he starts before adding “…but I don’t have a deck.” I reassure him by telling him that I used up some of the chunk of credit I had on my StarCityGames.com account to buy him R/W Burn and myself Jund Monsters so we could go play in the free SCG Super IQ in Culpeper, VA at Comics and Gaming.

The smile grows when he realizes that it is real.

When the cards arrive later in the week, I open them up in front of him. He knows exactly what the box contains, but I try to play coy anyway. “No, this is… um, new underwear and socks. No big deal man, you can go back to playing Minecraft.”

The kid’s smart; he knows the deal.

“Nuh uh, those are Magic cards.” He stands next to me until I get them open so he can proudly declare “I told you so!” I smile as I show him the new “haul,” pointing out which cards I got just for him. I even pre-purchased my sleeves for this tournament so I could sleeve our new decks up in new sleeves for a new experience for a new tournament player.

After the mail came...

The deckbuilding begins…

We get a few games in over the next two days where I try to explain the nuances of playing R/W Burn before eventually telling Chris to just burn his opponent’s face as much as possible. He starts winning more when I finally convince him to stop trying to burn every creature I play.

Burn, baby, burn!

He’s ready.

I take him down to the card shop on Saturday morning with our decks in tow. The beauty of this tournament was, in addition to it being free, it was also a mere five-minute drive from the house we recently purchased. On the way I ask, “What do you want to do today?”

He looks puzzled. “Play Magic?”

(He more asked than replied.)

I was trying to see what his goal for the day was. I asked if he was going to win the tournament. “I don’t know,” he responds with a shrug. In an effort to pre-empt any negative feelings, I say “Look, your only goal today is to have fun, man. That’s it. Play in your first tournament and have some fun. Okay?”

He smiles and nods his head.

When we get there, my “routine” is interrupted somewhat by having to replicate what I do twice; we all know what I mean, the pre-tournament things we have to do in order to sign up and register, how we have it down to a science. Well, Chris needed my assistance, which I happily provided, but you don’t realize how accustomed you are to signing yourself up for tournaments (and your personal “rituals” as you do it) until you also have to tend to someone else as well.

I have to sign Chris up for a new DCI card, another task I haven’t completed in years.

Chris signs up for his DCI card!

Deck and DCI Number are ready, but what about the players in this tournament? Are they ready for Chris?!

It’s going to be a good day…

Our Decklists

This is Chris VanMeter’s list with changes according to card availability, both in terms of what StarCityGames.com had in stock and what I owned at the time. No strategic reasoning for the changes, I assure you!

I will say that the maindeck Vraska was nice, the one time I drew it in game one, it was against Bant Control and it did some serious work. Ruric Thar is surprisingly powerful against R/W Burn given the time this deck can provide you. They can’t win unless you’re virtually dead already.

(I only own 4 Mutavaults, so we split the difference. Oh, the logistics of taking your child to their first tournament…)

I took out the Dictate of the Twin Gods due to the pre-tournament explanation I gave Chris on how to sideboard; I couldn’t really explain to him, in a way he understood well, why that was being brought in. I could easily explain Peak Eruption to him, so the swap was made.

The Tournament

The pairings go up and, like I’ll do for all seven rounds, I find his seat number first then find mine before taking him to his seat. I introduce Chris to his opponents, explaining that Chris is new and that this is his first tournament so his opponents will (hopefully) be understanding when Chris forgets to draw his card for the turn or untap.

(I also make a point to introduce Chris to the Judge staff, explaining that they’re his best friends there and that they’re there to help him.)

Chris sits down for his first round...

Chris sitting down for his first round.

My tournament starts well, winning the first round against Esper Control. Chris didn’t fare so well, going 0-2, but still coming up to me declaring “I almost won a game!” Not one damn bit of sadness on his face that he just lost 0-2 – in fact, he was excited. I get caught up in his excitement a bit, remembering again that we’re just playing a game, after all.

I’m happy for him. I’m not even thinking about my round.

We sit down in the back and play games between rounds, just like we’ll do all day when we get the chance. That boy will play Magic whenever, wherever, and with whomever will sit down and play with him. I even swap decks with him to try to show him the nuances of playing his own deck.

Playing in between rounds

Chris casts Telepathy every time he sits down for a round.

Round two, I get paired against Bant Control. Again, as in round one, I lose game one before my sideboard comes through. Well, my sideboard and the four Stormbreath Dragons I drew in game three. My opponent was flustered when I played the fourth Dragon (making dramatic hand gestures and making comments about my luck) but even he (and his uber-competitiveness) calmed down and smiled a bit when Chris came over, again declaring how oh-so-close¬ he had come to winning a game. That smile… it’s disarming. Even my frustrated opponent couldn’t fight it.

Round three, I find his seat, take him there, and sit down to battle. My opponent is a guy who played at the same store I used to play at, so we’re vaguely familiar with each other. He’s playing Mono-Black Devotion and in the three-game set we played, I get Thoughtseized about 8-10 times. Have I ever mentioned how much I hate that card? I’m still able to pull the game out with my planeswalkers doing the heavy lifting after my fat monsters cleared the Hero’s Downfalls from his hands. Just like that, I’m 3-0 in my first tournament back – and yet, I barely notice my own results.

Chris has just won his first game! Sure, he lost the round, but his excitement is palpable as he recalls game one where he kept burning his opponent until he died. I get the full recounting while we sit down for our customary between-round games. To say that I was proud would be an incredible understatement.

Round four: Naya Aggro. After sitting Chris down in the last seat of the tournament, I sit down and nearly get “combo’d out” when my opponent starts bloodrushing and Boros Charming a Voice of Resurgence. Apparently he miscounted, though, so despite being down to four life, I come back and win game one. I sideboard as if I’m playing against Naya Hexproof (I did some research before the tournament and assumed that he was hexproof just without seeing any of his hexproof creatures). That bites me in game two where I simply get overrun by his ragtag team of Soldiers of the Pantheon and Dryad Militants.

Game three, Stormbreath Dragon reminds me how fun attacking with hasty dragons really is. With that I’m 4-0, but the best part was that my round went so fast that I could watch Chris’s game three.

I sit down, and Chris’s opponent is at 5 life, Chris having a Skullcrack in hand. On his opponent’s end step, he ‘cracked, putting his opponent to two. I held my breath as he drew his card, a Mana Confluence. “Dammit” I thought.

His opponent, unbeknownst to me, was in no danger though. He had an active Deathrite Shaman and had Bogbrew Witch churning out Festering Newts to feed an active Bubbling Cauldron. I watched as that engine slowly took Chris out, chunk by chunk. I’m undefeated, one round away from being able to draw into the Top Eight, and yet I’m as downtrodden as someone who just went 0-2 and dropped. I pat Chris on the back and start to console him, but he’s still smiling.

It didn’t hurt that his opponent was dropping, so he signed the slip in Chris’s favor. I point it out to Chris, saying that he had just won his first round of Magic. He looks down, looks up at his opponent then me, and the smile grows larger. His opponent shakes his hand, congratulates Chris, and walks off.

Chris gets his first win!

See? That smile is contagious and disarming. A weapon of mass destruction…

After we turned in the match slip, we sat back down to start playing. After a bit, the store manager and Brad Nelson came up to where we were sitting; Brad was going to start spellslinging, and we happened to be sitting in the seats they were planning on giving him.

As we were moving our game over, I told Chris about Brad, telling him that Brad was once the Pro Player of the Year, meaning he was the best player in the world at one time. Chris became bug-eyed as he realized what that meant. Brad was a great sport, shaking Chris’s hand and talking to him before eventually offering Chris the first seat at the spellslinging event.

Chris Vs. Brad!

A severe mismatch… I felt bad for Brad.

Brad’s Reanimator deck put up a valiant fight, but Chris’s R/W Burn deck took down the game after some… suboptimal plays by the former Player of the Year. Not blocking those Mutavaults with his 5/5 and 6/6 when Chris was tapped out definitely had observers raising their eyebrows, but Brad is a POY…

…so I’m sure he had a plan in mind.

I thanked Brad for not crushing Chris and walked away, telling Chris that he just beat the champ, so now he’s the champ. That is how it works, right?

Chris beats Brad!

To be the champ, you have to beat the champ.

Round five, I sit down for my win-and-in round. Months away from the game, no real games with the Jund Monsters deck I brought, and here I was. My son just got his first technical win, I was almost able to draw into the top eight of this Super IQ; the day was going pretty well, if I do say so myself.

My opponent is on Mono-Blue Devotion, the first one of those decks I’d seen all day (either as an opponent or even at the surrounding tables). I take both games rather uneventfully (he mulliganed to five in game two) and, with that, I was in the Top Eight. I turned to check on Chris only to see he was standing behind me already. “What happened” I asked.

“Nobody showed up.”

I’m saddened for him, because I knew he wanted to play, but I also know that he just got his second official win in a Magic tournament. “Buddy, you’ve got two wins now” I say before he starts to grin again. “See? They heard you won your first round, and your opponent was too scared to show up. Let’s go play so you’re not just sitting around all round.”

I celebrate winning my win-and-in by playing a bunch of games with Chris. Best top eight celebration I’ve ever had.

I look at the standings after round five; there are three of us at 15 points. Oh, and this little kid with two wins on his record…

Round Five standings...

He’s in the top 64… so good!

When pairings go up, I’m paired against one of the other perfect players and we agree to draw. Then the tournament organizer announced a repairing, and of course I get paired down and have to play it out.

I generously offered him the draw, but I get snap no-sirred before I can even finish offering the draw.

If that’s what you wish, sir… today is mine and my son’s day!

I proceed to wreck my Naya Aggro opponent in two quick games (with my wife watching, who visited to see how we were doing, which made it all that much sweeter). I was definitely in the Top Eight now. We both turn to watch Chris…

…who got to play against a blank chair again this round. The guy with whom I was going to draw this round before re-pairings played some quick games with Chris so that my son wasn’t just sitting around (he was a good sport, and I made sure to thank him for his patience). I again tell Chris that his opponent was too scared to show up and that, in his first tournament, he was 3-3. He smiled while chowing down on the chicken nuggets from Chic-Fil-A his mom brought him.

I do get to draw in round seven, which is great… because it allows me to watch Chris’s match. If he wins, he gets to wrap up his first tournament ever (he’s never even been to an FNM) with a winning record. The games are close, but he barely loses game three when he floods out.

He’s not even remotely upset, though…

After years of playing Magic competitively, it’s very odd to see that behavior after a Magic match. This kid though… he’s so incredibly well-behaved and just a fun-loving little guy. He doesn’t care about the win since he had a blast and shakes his opponent’s hand heartily with a huge smile on his face. I’m proud of his performance as a Magic player, but as a father, I’m even more proud of how the little man carried himself.

People came up to me throughout the tournament, impressed by his handle of the nuances of the game but even more impressed by his demeanor and character. I swell with pride, and it had absolutely nothing to do with my result. Usually I want to find people to tell them how well I was doing in a tournament; today, I spent all my time soaking in the tournament with my son.

I take him to get a cookie after the round while I get a coffee and ask if he wants to stick around for the Top Eight or if he wants to go home. I couldn’t have been prouder when he responded with “the tournament’s not over, I want to stay and watch.”

I ask him if this has been a good day.

“Yes! This is the best day ever!”

The smile might still be lingering on my face to this day…

The Top Eight

I wish I could regale you with tales of great triumphs in the Top Eight of my first tournament back, but after no-sirring the split, I unceremoniously lost in three games to G/W Aggro when my draws in games one and three were super awkward.

Oh well…

(A quick aside on the no-split: I wasn’t planning on actually going to the Season Two Invitational in Columbus, and the additional $75 I could have guaranteed myself would have also ensured that I had no motivation to do well in the Top Eight. I had just torn through the Swiss rounds, I had confidence, and (truth be told) I wanted to wrap up this cool story with a win. Part of me believed that the win was fate, though I usually don’t give in to such foolishness, because of how the day had gone and how much fun Chris and I were having.)

Chris had a blast, which was my only real purpose in going. The money wasn’t even a net gain, as I had to spend about $40 at the last minute to buy some cards that SCG didn’t have in stock for Chris’s deck (or that I forgot to buy, I can’t remember). The experience for me and my son, though, was worth every moment, every cent. It was like the first time a man takes his son fishing; he caught his first fish and I got a “you should have seen the one that got away” story to tell.

It’s good to have my son by my side. Oh, yeah, and…

It’s good to be back…