The Daily Shot: Countdown

You show up a day early with nothing but a few bucks and a dream and you walk up to the registration table and hand them your multi-colored money in exchange for the chance to play your heart out in a series of extremely expensive single-elimination tournaments. And then you win.

Canadian Nationals.

You show up a day early with nothing but a few bucks and a dream

(and the money was tight, you sold a Morphling for thirty dollars and you saved and saved so you could afford to stay in a hotel room with five other guys and sleep on the floor – yes, you played Texas Hold’em for chaff rares on those evenings when spring was turning to summer and the downtown air was industrial and metallic and hard when you would walk outside, and after you found out your pocket Queens were good you’d check your pile and know you had another twenty-five dollars in bulk rares to sell to The Cave)

and you walk up to the registration table and hand them your multi-colored money in exchange for the chance to play your heart out in a series of extremely expensive single-elimination tournaments.

(the moneyhand the money over with a small pang of uncertainty, the guy at the registration table has a massive beard and a nonplussed expression and today he’ll be taking money from every gleeful sucker who thinks they have a shot, and you know that it won’t be cheerfully refunded just as you know that when he interacts with you he’s only seeing the money and he doesn’t believe you’re any different than every other would-be participant, he doesn’t know you, this bearded man in his loose-fitting T-shirt and extra-large jeans, he doesn’t give you a second thought and he forgets you as soon as you’re gone)

You can either win and get in, or lose and play in side events while the high-rollers sit at the really nice tables and sling spells.

(see yourself now, looking longingly into that roped off area like a man on the edge of Eden?)

You play in the first one and you are beaten

(it was the Caustic Tar, and it was Simplify, yes, Simplify that you needed, yes, and it was Simplify that looked down on you like an indifferent idol from your sideboard pile when your life went from 11 to 0)

and you play in the second one and you are beaten

(and that one Duress could have changed it all, but the wrong choice was made – and yes, there were two paths diverged in a yellow wood and one was a fool’s errand, a red herring, it was the one less traveled by, and it did make all the difference)

but you win the third, and you are overjoyed and your friends pat you on the back.

(and doesn’t it feel good, the clap of a warn hand on your shoulders, the hand of the same guys who cast the magical spells with you when you were playing Long’s BloomDrain listing, when Exodus was released and some had said they’d quit the game rather than face a buyback counterspell?)

The judge gives you an information packet, and they ask you for some info and they give you a shirt and they tell you to pick up your nametag in the morning.

(friends didn’t grind in, and you sure-as hell turn that thought over and over in your mind like an overdone pig, and you feel a mixture of regret and behind that regret you feel a guilty pleasure, one you’ll never quite admit to yourself, because you were the one, the one who made it)

You head up to your hotel room, treading heavily and dragging your worn Tommy Hilfiger shoes across worn carpeting and through empty, echoing hallways with buzzing lights for ambience, the only background noise to compliment the scuffing of your weary feet in their once jaunty, now weathered colors

(weathered, yes, the rims of the soles used to be white – green now from the cutting of lawn after lawn after lawn and yes you were once a shiny white too, weren’t you? A neophyte with a Merfolk Assassin and a War Barge and with enough lawns cut and games played and articles read are you finally green, worn as shoes, but the wiser for it?)

and your ankles hurt and you have a sheen of stale sweat on your brow and your glasses have worn red patches on the bridge of your nose

(you must rub them with your hand, oh blessed relief… And the sweat on the brow, you think to yourself oh how my skin must be going through hell and when you get inside you plan to dunk your face in the cool water from the second sink, the one that doesn’t have twelve bottles of Rickard’s Red in it, on ice)

…and as you make your way you reflect on all the time spent and the work done and you know then that the game has you, has you in a tight grip, just as you have it to fall back on when your back is sore from being hunched over a keyboard all day in an office where everyone looks alike. Yes, you have Magic: The Gathering and it has you,

(like the creditors and the girlfriends and yes the workplace, where everyone looks alike and to get noticed you have to screw up, just like Scott Adams says, and though he was an engineer at Pacific Bell for a long time you know he’s rich, and in the back of your mind, you resent Scott Adams a bit for his wealth, he’s a rich man doing comics about a working man)

and to paraphrase a more eloquent writer than me, playing that day and grinding in and walking in and around the tournament area was an act of utter intercourse so complete, mind body and soul, that it makes what you and your girlfriend do together look like a peck on the cheek

(build, play, register, play, draft, play, repeat the game knows you and you know the game, it knows how you get out of bed at night when you’ve thought of a new deck idea and you just have to go and build it that second, it knows how that stress can melt away when you step out of the outside world an into the hobby shop or the comic store or the gaming emporium)

and you slide your card into your door with the hum of that damn vending machine running through you like an electric current, and then you’re inside

(the air is still, it’s hot…it’s been empty all day, the place is stagnant like a tomb, a tomb for tired Magic players who gave everything they had)

and though the room is immaculate in the wake of careful maid service, it doesn’t look inviting but empty, because you know you have the floor tonight and there are five other guys in the room.

(like GP: Detroit – yes, GP: Detroit, where you were under the table with your jacket under your head, that night when you wandered the venue like a zombie, and on the floor below the massive all-night play area there were cars on display, monolithic and sinister in the shadows)

You can’t sleep. You toss and turn. And at 5 a.m., three hours before the alarm you’d set (needlessly, of course) would go off and signal the start of the day, you’re up and going over your sideboard and figuring out what goes in against what.

(and you glance at your shoes, worn and tired and stained green, and you know when you started playing this game those shoes were nothing but a gleam in the eye of a concept designer for a big corporation and you were wearing Airwalks, yes, black and white Airwalks that day when time was drawing out like a blade and you first stopped into the comic store to see these colorful cards your old friends would talk about)

The hour of reckoning rolls around

(and you – you’re not fooling anyone, you’re nervous as heck and proud and giddy, and you spent twenty-five minutes on your rapidly receding hair)

and you head upstairs and the day begins, the first day of your Nationals experience.

See you Friday with the report.