Stuck In The Middle With Bruce

Why does John Rizzo lose? Why does he fail? A thought that might well mean something to everyone who plays Magic.

I could write about the decks you might see at States, when Odyssey is legal, but, hey, I suck at States.

I could tell you about the cards that I think will be good.

I could copy and paste the card text and give you my opinion on the millionth version of Flight.

In Limited.

And Constructed.

And Multiplayer.

And Foily Five.

But I won’t.

Even though I really want to. Sort of.

I could tell you about my new job that involves rolling and building coils in a non-heated building that has no working plumbing.

I could tell you that I work with a bunch of guys from a temp service that do nothing but drink themselves into a stupor and beat up their”ol’ ladies” every night.

I could tell you that I make $7.50 an hour, freeze my ass off, inhale carcinogens for ten hours a day, and look and smell like a metallic trash heap when I get home.

But I won’t. Although I should, just to teach you a lesson: Stay in school.


What I will tell you is that we make our own decisions and must sleep in the beds we have made. And if there happens to be a dog sleeping in said bed that we had made, leave that bad boy alone.

What does that mean?


Or nothing.

But most likely, something.

People need to lose. People need to suffer. People need to feel pain and agony and regret and remorse and then a little more pain. Yes, all people. Even you, who is right now laughing out loud at a series of such ridiculous statements.

I can succeed. I will succeed. I must succeed. But so must the other guy.

The Yankees pray to God:

“Lord, please grant us the strength and resolve to do our best…”

But so do the Braves.

And someone has to lose. Skill aside, what might aid in determining the loser is this: Who has the need to lose more? Um, no one needs to lose, right? Maybe…But someone needs to lose in any given contest, and not just because someone needs to win for the contest to be completed. I’m saying that the outcome of many contests can be determined by who has the need to lose; if both participants have the need to lose, whomever has the strongest need to lose will win – which, of course, means they lose, just as they knew they would. And not just because they wanted to lose, but because it was imperative that they do not emerge victorious.

Metagame that. Or even try to understand it.

It’s the self-fulfilling prophecy: I can’t beat him; I must lose. I can’t make T8; I must lose. Then you make it happen. It’s as if you dreamed up a scenario in which all your hopes are dashed, then created it in Technicolor splendor. You must lose; thus, you do indeed watch as your opponent takes the match slip up while you are left wondering why the wheels fell off….

…But all the time, your subconscious is saying:”way to go, chief, I knew you would lose!”

I cannot succeed. I will not succeed. I must not succeed. But neither should the other guy.

Born to die, the ultimate failure. I once read that from the time our bodies reach physical maturity, we are beginning to die. Ain’t that depressing?

I doubt that there is anything more powerful than the human mind with total devotion to a singular goal, which basically means that you can do anything you put your mind to. We’ve all heard that since elementary school, and some of us even believe it. But, I also doubt that the human subconscious is ever wrong.

Ever. It’s the ultimate arbitrator.

Did you ever know someone who seemed like a born loser? Someone who just couldn’t catch a break no matter what they did? Someone who always found a way to end up just short of being the winner? Someone who was cursed with more”bad luck” than anyone who has ever lived? Someone who could always preface his answer to”how’d you do?” with the word”if?”

Yeah, me too. His name was Bruce.

Bruce is about my age, although he is nowhere near as dashing , and I haven’t seen him for about three or four years. We were never really friends, but we used to hang out at the same pool hall, and we were both part of the same group of”regulars” who could always be counted on to show up four or five days a week and stay until closing. Yeah, I was always a nerdy loser, but it’s much cooler to be a nerdy loser in a pool hall than a PTQ, for there are many more loose, drunk chicks per square inch in a pool hall than at a PTQ.

Yeah, I’m a pig. Get over it.

Bruce was pretty damned wealthy, and he made sure everyone knew it. He had the most expensive everything: car, house, clothes, jewelry, girlfriend, whatever. In addition, he also had his own business, which paid pretty damned well, especially for a twenty-two year old, which is about how old he was when we first met.

But he needed to lose.

And boy, did he ever.

Pick any activity that one could wager on in a pool hall, and Bruce would wager and lose: craps, poker, Gin, tossing coins, doing pushups, poker machines, video games, doing situps – and hell, once in a while, even playing pool.

He was talented in all of the above pursuits, but not talented enough to overcome his need to lose.

It’s somewhat akin to the interesting phenomenon of the clientele of many a dominatrix: She’ll have a list of high-powered executives, lawyers, bankers, and others who make their living by being very responsible and in control. They come to her to get tied and up and beaten; they come to her to cede control.

And no, I’m not making that up.

Bruce once challenged me to a bunchahundreddollars match of nine ball: First to seven games wins. Now he was a little better than me, but not by a significant amount. However, in his zeal to lose, he offered me a handicap: He gave me the eight ball as well, which means that if I were to sink the eight or nine ball, I would win. Now he wasn’t good enough to win this matchup, and everyone in the place was fully aware that he was going to lose.

But no one was more aware of that fact than Bruce.

Needless to say, he got rolled. Being the nice guy that I am, and perhaps having a little Bruce in me as well, I offered to play double or nothing, but this time heads up with no handicap. As soon as he accepted, I knew I had won. For even if I was a little Bruce, he was the real deal – the Bruce to end all Bruces – and would surely find a way to lose. Even if my Bruce showed up, I felt confident that he would fail to capitalize on any opportunity my Bruce gave him – his Bruce was simply more powerful than mine.

Yeah, I won that one too. Because he was Bruce. He had at least two chances at a match-winning shot, but he blew them both, just as I knew he would. Just as he knew he would.

Famed Existentialist author Fyodor Dostoyevsky (The Gambler, The Brothers Karamazov, Notes From the Underground) was a degenerate gambler. Many times he wagered his entire fortune on the spin of a roulette wheel. He later noted that he experienced orgasm when the little ball would come to rest on a number that he had not chosen. Get that? He had one when he lost. He lost everything and climaxed because he lost.

Think about that.

Then think about Bruce.

Then think about you.

He also would later note that he played roulette because he knew the game could not be beaten. If he would hit a lucky streak and pile up some winnings, he would continue to play until the odds kicked in, as he knew they always would, thus he was able to jump into the pit of despair and self-loathing head first. Because he needed to.

And Bruce is just like that.

It starts almost immediately after birth, and doesn’t end until the day you die. What’s the first word we all learn? That’s right:”No!” From baby diapers to Depends, we are constantly having”no!” beaten into our beings. We are surrounded by 24/7 negativity for our entire lives, and then our subconscious seeks to verify that indeed we cannot (just like everyone says); we”can’t” because it’s been downloaded onto the C: drive in our melons unmercifully for infinity.

As children, we are told we can’t do this, that, and the other thing. As adolescents, we are told we can’t do even more things. As adults, it is demanded that we do the things that we don’t want to, at the same time telling children and adolescents that they can’t do the things they do want to… Which is a cycle so vicious that it’s, well, kinda vicious. By the time we are old enough to realize that”we can do anything we set our mind to” is pretty much true, it’s too late – because our minds are a bastion of unadulterated”no!”

There are a bazillion and one laws we must follow, and a bazillion and two rules we need to abide by. We must do this and that and this and the other thing, and eventually it becomes necessary (probably for the sake of our sanity) to try to fight the power; to rebel against those who say we cannot. Very few succeed in overriding the idea of”you cannot,” but most of us can, once in a while, escape for just long enough to figure out that they were right: We really cannot.

Our parents, our teachers, our bosses, and our friggin’ parole officers were right when they said that we cannot. If we do begin to succeed, we must immediately find a way to get back down to where we belong, for it can’t be that everyone who ever said”no!” is wrong – how could that be! Much like the alcoholic that can’t deal with life unless he’s yakking out his guts in an alley, we end up finding a way to lose; we can’t deal with life without our”bottle” either, and though our bottle isn’t 80 proof, it is as necessary to us as a liver transplant is to the alcoholic.

But the alcoholic’s bottle and our bottle are nothing more than a crutch. Sure, we’ve been told (or told ourselves) that we need it to support ourselves, but when you get right down to it, crutches are only temporary: you’ll either heal or get worse. Either way, the crutches only do what we ask.

At every tourney, you can hear a sea of Bruces with crutches:

“I got mana screwed.”

“He topdecked the one card that could wreck me.”

“He sucks so bad but got so lucky.”

Limp. Hobble. Limp. Shuffle.


Granted, sometimes it seems that you are not meant to win; no matter how flawlessly you play; no matter how great the matchup is in your favor; no matter how great you draw, and a host of other reasons, all legitimate at times, can be heard echoing through the venue. However, they are also crutches that tell us”it’s all right, it wasn’t my fault.” Although, in many cases, Bruce knows who’s fault it really was, and Bruce don’t need no stinkin’ crutches.

I have an idea that most of you are now thinking that I’m nuts; you’re saying”I always want to win, I would never try to sabotage my success.” You probably wouldn’t knowingly try to lose, a la our boy Fyodor, but ask yourself if there is a little Bruce in you. Just a little. A tad. An iota.

Of course there is.

Bruce, Meet The Ron, a man who knows you all too well.

I was pitted against The Ronniest Ron Ever in a feature match at a PTQ for Barcelona. I was in his presence for approximately one hour, and was able to form an opinion of him as such. Emerging victorious in a hard-fought battle allowed me to gauge him and his reactions first-hand.

Go back and read some of The Ron’s tourney reports. You may find it interesting that, in virtually every match he ever lost, it was never his fault. Also note the number of times where he mentioned that he apologized for acting like a fool after losing.

Thus, when I heard that he was booted for five years, I found it likely that he was indeed guilty. Because I had met and played him when our collective hair was collectively let down, I was able to form an opinion that was mostly immune to the input of others, for I was there. Me, myself, and I, untainted by The Net.

I have no information that proves his guilt or innocence, but, unlike the above case with Benefal, I held an opinion of his constitution that was based on face-to-face contact and personal experience; what I”knew” of him from said encounter was used as a litmus test in basing my decision on his guilt or innocence.

And I think that he’s guilty. I very much would like for him to be not guilty, since I don’t wish him any ill will or malice, since I did find him to be likeable despite a few character flaws (again, in my opinion) that I would otherwise deem detrimental, but my gut tells me that justice was served – harsh as it may be.

He claims innocence by being unaware. While he may have had his head buried in the sand, Bruce had his eyes wide open.

The next time you lose a match you feel you should have won, or just lose any match, ask yourself if perhaps instead of thinking the entire combat math through you just said”screw it” and ran all your dudes in. Ask yourself why you played that two-land hand when you would mulligan that bad boy 90% of the time. Ask yourself why you cast spell X on turn X instead of waiting until you knew it would resolve. Ask yourself why. Then ask again. And once more with feeling.

Ask yourself why you lost. Ask deep and ask hard. Is there even the slightest possibility that a little Bruce reared his ugly melon?

I’m not talking about obscure card interactions or unwitting basic play mistakes – I’m referring to plays that you make (or not make) that you know (or highly suspect) are incorrect. I’m talking about finding an excuse to lose.

Ah, there is no problem losing when you have a good excuse. Heck, when you are all set with a battery of excuses, it is so much easier to swallow the bitter pill of defeat.

“I got mana screwed” is probably the most oft-stated reason I’ve heard for losing. I’ll give you that mana screw is a very legitimate reason to lose – it happens to the best, it happens to the rest. Unfortunately, it does happen enough that everyone gets to experience it, but does that mean that when you draw your seven and see two lands that you think,”This is my turn to be mana screwed, so might as well keep and get it over with?”

Or do you think,”Boy, I really need to draw another land in a hurry” even though you”know” you won’t?

I doubt that is the thought process… But you did keep, didn’t you?


I know that I have often drawn my seven, seen four green spells, two mountains, and one swamp… And kept. I’d be willing to bet that you have, too. Many times. Again I ask: Why? Is it because we believe that we will draw a Forest soon enough to matter? Is that always the reason we might keep that hand? Always?

Isn’t it possible that you kept that hand because Bruce convinced you? Sure, you weren’t thinking”I deserve to lose, I suck, kill me now,” but I bet you said something along the lines of”I know I should mulligan, but…?”

Little Note Mode: On.

Why the hell do people look at the top card of their library after they mulligan? You made a friggin’ decision, can’t you stick to it with no regrets? Nah, I’d better check the next card… Damn! It’s a land! And now you have just opened the door to Bruce even wider. If you make a decision, deal with it; looking at the top card after you mulligan is akin to saying”I don’t trust myself.” If you have any confidence in your decision-making ability, you won’t look. Ditto for looking at the next card after you lose a tough game:”Dammit! Here’s the Shock I needed to kill you next turn!” Poker players do it, too: They’ll drop out of a hand and then say,”Let me see your card so I can see what I would’ve got.” Ya know, if you were that curious, why didn’t you just keep? Why didn’t you just call the friggin’ bet? People, I’ll tell ya.

Little Note Mode: Off.

I know I shouldn’t Harrow on his end of turn three – I should wait until turn five so I can Evasive Action the Absorb that I think he might have. But you didn’t. Why? And”I suck at Magic” is not valid this time. Besides, that’s my line.

You may offer up any reason that you wish, but Bruce is also another possibility. Always.

Did you knowingly make a play that you were unsure of instead of thinking it through?

Did you decide to wait one extra turn to Repulse a dude, but you’re not sure why?

Did you waste an important spell when you knew that maybe you should hold onto it for a while?

I’d bet that if you were totally honest with yourself, you would find that you contributed to your own demise. And not just because you”suck at Magic.” Hell, lots of guys suck at Magic… Although try finding one that will admit it. Well, besides me, of course, and even I win sometimes, so that must mean that there are people that really, really suck at Magic.

People sabotage their own success almost on a daily basis. What, you don’t believe me? Try these Bruce scenarios on for size:

Did you ever not study for an important test in high school or college and get a big fat F?

Did you ever spend too much money on crap (such as even more Magic cards) when you had bills to pay?

Did you ever cheat on your significant other?

Did you ever stay out late and then go to work dragging ass?

Have you ever played the lottery?

Have you ever loaned money to someone you knew wouldn’t pay it back?

Have you ever had casual sex without protection?

Blah, etc. You get the idea. All of the above could be described as a situation where you sabotaged (or tried like hell to sabotage) yourself. But why would you do that?

You knew that test was important, right, Bruce?

You knew the car payment was due, right, Bruce?

You knew your significant other might find out, right, Bruce?

You knew your work would suffer, right, Bruce?

You knew the odds were ridiculous, right, Bruce?

You knew he was a deadbeat, right, Bruce?

You knew the risks, right, Bruce?

Think of all the situations where you have the opportunity to make decisions; each has the potential for Bruce to make his presence known. Hell, getting out of bed in the morning is a decision, as is taking a shower. So what?

For all the millions of decisions you make per day, the possibility of Bruce exists in each one, no matter how insignificant the decision may seem. And the possibility of Bruce is ten or twenty-fold in Magic.

For each play you make and for each land you tap, there is a decision made. Often enough, the decision is simple:”what can I play with this much mana?” Well, you can play this and only this, so you play it. While that seems like a no-brainer, it really isn’t. Land was tapped, a card was played, and a decision was made to play that card at that particular time. Perhaps that decision will decide the outcome of the game. Perhaps even that turn one”Forest, Elf” instead of”Forest, Birds” will be the most important decision of the game.

It’s mid game and you have Repulse, Opt, Fact or Fiction, Island, Boomerang. You have five mana available at the end of your opponents turn. There are four cards that you can play, any one of which may or may not be the most important play of the game. Maybe you do nothing. Maybe you do something. But Bruce is licking his lips in a situation like this: A situation where any number of mistakes can and will often be made, especially when you let someone else hold the reins.

Now imagine the above situation with your opponent having five untapped Islands. Or five untapped Swamps. Or Plains. Or whatever. There are a hundred decisions that can be made. And ninety ways for your Bruce to offer his advice.

Are you going to listen to Bruce, or do you have him under control?


—————-Remember this line——————


And now for the hard part.

I think I’m right about this Bruce stuff, for I’ve been aware of the Bruce in me for quite a while. But I was usually able to channel it and blame it on other things; that’s what a good Bruce does: Find excuses.

Refusing to play Net Decks is Bruce all up in here, as is insisting on playing it out. Because I cannot succeed in this man’s world, I’ll put extra conditions on said success, so when I do fail – and I know that I must – I’ll have good excuses to fall back on.

I’ve seen Bruce appear on my shoulder in many games, and I’ve watched Bruce guide my fingers as I type articles that will finally end this”we like you, Rizzo” merry-go-round and give me what I so desperately need: To lose.

“Searching For Jamie Wakefield?” – Jon Becker was right when he said”I don’t think so.” While searching for something that can never be found sounds like such a profound and noble pursuit, it’s just a coverup; a mask; a ruse that will comfort me as I lose yet again. Hey, I might’ve lost, but I’m so much better than you, Mr. Net Decker, because I built my own deck and refused to ID and a whole bunch of other baggage that I can use as a wonderful excuse. In the meantime, I’ll deride you for not searching for the deeper meaning of Magic, or hell, of life, which is a big pile of ass. ‘Cause you’re dead and I’m not, right, Bruce?

The number of people that I must have alienated or otherwise pissed off in an effort to fight the Bruce in me is likely staggering. Hell, I even tried to piss off people that would otherwise support me. I tried to piss off The Ferrett, Pete, CMU – everyone. Sometimes I was successful, other times not, but I always kept on pushing buttons. I can only imagine The Ferrett response when he receives a tourney report from me; I’d bet that it’s not”oh, goody, another two hours of my life formatting blurry-ass JPEGs!” I’ve long since tired of taking nine hours to write a tourney report, but one of the reasons I still put so much effort into them is to piss off The Ferrett.

I can only imagine other Net Writer Guys responses when, in back-to-back articles, I basically said that anyone that would be paid for something they loved was a member of the dead. Hey, let’s indict all of the Net writers, Star City, and most of the people who read the site. Now that’s a good idea. Actually, it was a great idea: Piss everyone off so that I can then go back to being Johnny-hide-in-the-corner, right, Bruce?

Hey, let’s dare the readers to kick me off Star City! Another good idea, chief. Again, it was a great idea – let’s taunt them into actually doing it, so then I can justify my need for Bruce by blaming it on them! And maybe they’ll actually do it, right, Bruce?

Hey, let’s piss off everyone in the New England states! Let’s go too far in ripping on Darwin, and by association, Your Move Games! Let’s go too far in trying to piss off all of AlphaBetaUnlimited.com! Hey, let’s go too far in trying to piss off everyone who dared write a tourney report and mentioned that they ID’d, by writing an article, quoting them, and then tearing them down! Hey, let’s go too far in trying to piss off everyone by writing a fifteen-page”review” of Seventh Edition! Hey, let’s go too far in trying to piss off Wizards by likening them to crack dealers! Hey, let’s burn as many bridges as possible, because, well… Gotta get in touch with Bruce.

The funny thing was that no one got it. Any of it. And I especially didn’t get it. Heh, the guy who wrote the articles didn’t even understand why he was writing what he was writing. And probably still doesn’t.

Rizzo got balls, y’all. He calls them like he sees them. He is a Rogue. He gives back to the community.

Nah. On all accounts.

It was all Bruce.

Rizzo is a wuss. He calls them like Bruce sees them. He may be a Rogue, but now he thinks that it was all Bruce. He offers pages and pages and pages of Bruce to the community, waiting and expecting for the massive rush of turning backs and cold shoulders.

Rizzo played a deck, designed by readers, to lose. On purpose. The Universal Net Deck was built to lose; it was built for the Bruce in me. Do you have any idea what it was like to play that deck? It was humiliating to sit across from an opponent who is beginning to feel sorry for you because you are obviously some old guy who has no life and sucks at Magic? Ah, but I made it into some grand design to show those Net Deckers what’s what. Yeah, I showed ‘am all right.

I tried to fight the world; it was easier than letting them see my Bruce all up in here, and once I let down my guard and opened up, all y’all would laugh. But you didn’t, and I don’t know how to deal with success except to keep trying to fail. Damn, sometimes that’s more difficult than it seems.

——–stop remembering right here———–

And now I really make you go”hmm.”

Do you remember that line where I typed”remember this line?” Now, for each sentence that was written below it, add two words at the end of each:

“Or not.”

And then think about Bruce some more.

Now, think about your Bruce, because he is there. Some of you may keep him very well hidden, but if you take a little time and are honest with yourself, you will see him staring back at you from the mirror.

You think I have issues? Hell, we all have issues, and Bruce is one of our biggest ones.

People cheat because of Bruce; because of their need to get caught. People lose at Magic and relationships and life in general because they need to; they need to affirm that they are just no damned good, y’all, and losing is the best way to show that to the world. Look world! I’m no good! I don’t deserve success! I suck, and if you stick around for a while, I’ll prove it beyond a shadow of a doubt!

Dear Me,

Punish me.


My Bruce

Or maybe I’m totally wrong, and Bruce is unique only to very few. It could even be that none of you have ever contributed to your own defeats; maybe you always were simply”outplayed.” But why is it that Tom Swan won GP: Boston? By most accounts, Tom is not a spectacular player, and by those same accounts, he did make his share of mistakes. You could say he was lucky; you could say that it was simply”his day;” I would say that it’s likely he ran into a few OPBs (heh – Other People’s Bruces), while containing his own for just long enough to take home that cake and eat it too.

Isn’t it amazing how good Kai Budde is? It seems that he’s even more dominant than Finkel ever was/is/still could be. But I bet you could’ve said that about many guys – and where are they now? Mikey P was the shizzou for a while, Kyle Rose was, Tommy Hovi was, Mike Long was… But why is it that they have not continued to dominate the way they did when they were king? Tell me that it’s because they don’t play as much, don’t care as much, or even that they just got lucky – but might you suggest that they had their day in the sun and now it’s time to come down to where they think they belong?

Have they caved in to their Bruce?

Most people don’t get to be the best in their chosen pursuit – not even for a day, and most people realize this; they take the success they do achieve and bask in it until it goes away;”We’ll always have Paris,” they say. They had their day, but the pinnacle they reached seems to have been just that: their day.

Why is it that very few guys are always in the running? Why is it that Budde vs. The Field is becoming a good bet? Is it just because he’s on a hot streak – if winning too many Pro Tours in too many formats over two years can be called a”streak” – or is it because he has almost total control of his need to lose? Is Kai one of the few that can quash the little Bruce that tells him he’s going down?

You sabotage yourself because you know that you shouldn’t be allowed to succeed. You’ve heard”no!” since birth, and had it confirmed throughout your entire life.

It’s really not as bad as you think. Really. You’re in good company…

Pretty much the entire community.

But it’s not a hopeless situation by any means. Or even Jason Means. You can overcome, but to do so you will need to know the enemy as well as you know yourself. And you’ve already got his name…

His name is Bruce.

And he only shows up when you call him.

So hang up the friggin’ phone.


John Friggin’ Rizzo



A couple of quick corrections from last week’s article:

1) Chris Benefal didn’t”throw” a chair. Someone who would really know (read:”really know for a fact, dammit”) sent me a note to tell me that he”stood up” real quicklike from his chair, causing it to tumble over loudly. The rest, as they say, is typical Internet hyperbole in the most typical overblown fashion by way too many guys who go the story wrong.

I will never believe anything on The Net again, except for porn.

Dear Chris”wrongfully accused, at least this time” Benefal,

Sorry about that.


Johnny Feels Like An Ass

There are many legitimate reasons to dislike Benefal’s style, but beating him down for throwing a chair that he didn’t throw is not one of them.

2) Randy Randy to the Mother Freakin’ Buehler was the”Lead Developer,” not the”Lead Designer” of Odyssey; Mark Rosewater designed that bad boy, with some help from The Good Doctor. My bad on that as well. I bet Rosewater thinks I don’t like him or something, but I do. At least now that Replenish is banned. So there.

The end.