The Daily Shot: How I Qualified For – No, Wait; How I Arrived At Canadian Nationals

How Geordie stumbled into Canadian Nats, got ripped off by a drink vendor, his thoughts on floor sleeping, evil trading ‘R’ us, and copious use of the word”asshammer.”

Let me tell you what happened.

Stephen King once wrote in Skeleton Crew (his outstanding short-story compilation) that the above line – or a similar one – is the essence of all storytelling. Other authors have had their own ideas; Snoopy, Charlie Brown’s indomitable dog, would start his tales with “It was a dark and stormy night.”

Me? I’ll begin from the beginning.

It was probably three or four in the morning when I stumbled into my weathered white van with”Evil” Matt Fox in tow. I’d packed three pairs of socks, three pairs of underwear, three tee-shirts, three pairs of shorts, a pair of jeans, plus my toothbrush, hair gunk, toothpaste, and a well-worn copy of the King novel”The Tommyknockers.”

The task at hand? Rounding up the other four guys making the trip. Trent, John, Mark, and Jean-Marc.

I decided to bring all of my rares and good cards after a moment’s hesitation. Trading can be fun, but that potential fun is ruthlessly counterbalanced by the fact that you can easily get your collection swiped at a major event. In reality, I’m not much of a trader anyhow -“Evil” Matt Fox and Mark Weymouth, the junior members of our excursion, are the real experts. I typically unload my unplayable crap, most of it won playing Texas Hold’em (where two rares is the minimum bet to start, four rares on the river) in bulk. These guys carry it around and attempt to trade it to people in exchange for playable stuff.

It’s a thankless task, but not without rewards. For every five guys who tell you,”Who are you kidding?”, you’ll find one schmuck who will trade you a bunch of Undermines for Thriss, Nantuko Primus and other cards of similar caliber.”Evil” Matt Fox in particular seems to gravitate naturally towards traders, using that same sort of uncanny sense that predatory animals have when it comes to finding easy kills.

A lot of bigtime traders are essentially shameless, and it’s fun to watch when two of them run into each other, or into a person who actually has a good idea of what cards are worth. Jean-Marc Babin saw a white-bordered Mishra’s Factory in the trade binder of one gentleman, and when he asked about a possible trade, the guy wanted a Sylvan Safekeeper for it. As I was at the same table, I could only shake my head and raise a fake walkie-talkie to my lips to report an”attempted rape” to the card police.

The ride was uneventful. The condition of the roads from Sarnia to Toronto is much better than the roads from Sarnia to Detroit, which nearly require an all-terrain vehicle. The biggest city in Canada is about three hours from Sarnia, and the Grinders were starting up at about 9 a.m. We made one rest stop, where we got a few things to eat and John and Trent stepped out for cigarettes. I’ll be honest – I don’t like it when my friends smoke. Smoking is unhealthy, and when your friends smoke you know it might mean that you lose them sooner rather than later to lung cancer or some other nicotine/tobacco/tar induced malady. I don’t pester them about it – as the two senior members of the Sarnia Magic community, I figure they know what they are doing.

Actually, I know that nicotine addiction is almost impossible to beat – and if you try to stage any sort of”intervention,” you just annoy people who know all about the risks and penalties of smoking yet still find themselves powerless to stop. Watching my own father try to quit smoking for years has shown me something also – road trips are stressful, and even longtime quitters will light up a couple of times during the course of a trip.

The sun would start to rise as we made our way towards Toronto, a metropolis of truly massive proportions, and a daunting area to navigate for a”little city” guy like me. As such, I was happy to turn over driving and navigating duties to my friends John and Trent, who were able to unerringly bring us to the right place. Actually, my hometown of Sarnia is populated by maybe 84,000 people, most of them of European lineage, especially Italian and French. There are also a good many people with indigenous or”Native” roots. Other than that though, it’s pretty homogenous.

Toronto is quite different. The city is only three hours away, but the people show a much greater diversity of ethnicity and faith. Many times on the weekend, I could only shake my head with amusement at my own surprise at seeing actual African-American people at Burger King, or chuckle to myself with amazement at how poorly-traveled I must be to stare so long at the Jewish guys with those little hats on their heads. Of course, most of the players from the Toronto area, long accustomed to such a diverse population, didn’t give such things a second thought. Sarnia’s population, however, includes only a handful of black people, and in twenty-one years of living in this border town I’ve never actually met a Jewish person from Sarnia.

We made it to the Travelodge Hotel in plenty of time, though we weren’t allowed to check in until 3 p.m. I won’t bore you by describing the venue in intimate detail, but it was a large ballroom with good access to eateries, bathrooms, and elevators. The two nearest restaurants were the aforementioned Burger King and a Swiss Chalet, both a short walk from the hotel.

Skyfox Games was the only dealer at the event, and they’d set up at the end opposite the Nationals play area, and while they had some nice cards for sale, one look in the case told me that the good deals were few and far between. $125.00 for a foil Stroke of Genius was the worst example of pricing buffoonery (or, if you prefer, of the tendency to expect buffoonery from the customers!), but the $75 foil Spiritmonger wasn’t far behind. The side event registration/judges station was right next to the dealer tables, and I think they should have nailed Skyfox with a few penalties.

I doubt the DCI floor rules prevent the sale of a foil Stroke for $125.00 – but by God, they ought to.

Speaking of asshammering prices, there was a little confection and beverage table set up by the hotel at the entrance to the venue, staffed every morning by one bespectacled old guy named”Arped.” I don’t know how he sleeps at night. $2.00 for a can of Pepsi? Once you had paid for your purchase, he would reach into the ice bucket, grab your Pepsi, and wipe it daintily with a white cloth before presenting it to you, dry and ready to crack open and drink. Is that sort of decadence worth an extra buck? I had to break down and buy cookies and Pepsi from this guy all weekend, just because he was the nearest source of food and sometimes you just don’t have time to go anywhere.

The kicker? I found out later that forty-five more seconds of walking would have brought me to a convenience store placed in the hotel lobby, the existence of which I had been oblivious to throughout the event.

The price of a can of soda there? $1.00.

I hope Arped’s children enjoy their Ivy League schools.

Actually, I don’t blame Arped at all… He was likely just manning the asshammering confection table at the behest of his bottom-dollar Travelodge superiors. Sunday morning, he was replaced by a Pakistani guy who didn’t have a name tag, and despite the change of national flavor reflected there, the price for 355mL of carbonated sweetness was still a solid two bucks. Hell, the Shopper’s Drugmart near my house often sells twenty-four cans for about six dollars. Despite being tempted not to pay out of principle, thirst ruled the day, and I shelled out a lot of coin to Travelodge cronies over the course of the weekend. Even the vending machine on our floor was gouging us; convenience is sometimes expensive.

The room had two beds and not a lot of floor space. It was into this temporary domicile that we had to cram six guys with two bags each. Actually, seven Sarnia guys made the trip – but one was Mike Clark, who was judging. He got a room with only one other guy. Our six-man group consisted of myself, Jean-Marc Babin, Mark Weymouth,”Evil” Matt Fox, my teammate John Labute (who made the hotel arrangements), and local storeowner and overall nice guy (and big galoot!) Trent Rogers, a man possessed of a six foot five, 250+ pound frame unsuited to sleeping in crowded hotel rooms. I took the floor each of the three nights we stayed at the Travelodge.

Sleeping on the floor hasn’t improved much since the last time I tried it at Grand Prix: Detroit, where I spent the night under a table in the all-night play area, jacket stuffed under my head. You aren’t resting on the floor so much as you are storing yourself there, and the feeling of comfort you get from your own comfortable mattress is replaced by an unyielding hardness more conducive to torture than sleep. Nonetheless, you have to suck it up and try to get a few hours of rest. Few people can play flawless Magic even when fully awake, so if you’re under the effects of fatigue-induced hallucinations throughout the event, you don’t have a chance in hell.

Arriving at the scene on that fateful Thursday morning, we immediately knew we were in the right place from the look of the obvious gamers sitting at all of the tables, slinging spells. Five o’clock shadow, unkempt sideburns, visors, with backpacks and shoulder bags thrown helter-skelter underneath chairs, tables sprinkled with cardboard and food crumbs in equal measure. The DCI tank squad was present too, and it pleases me to note that the DCI judges continue to sport impressive stomachs befitting men of such authority.

Head tank Mike Guptil didn’t make an appearance that morning – but Chris Page, a very engaging and friendly gentleman if ever there was one, was on hand to keep the average weight in the 2-3 hundy range, with the help of Oshawa resident and DCI heavyweight Marvin Paguirigan – the man who once gave me a warning for pulling the Kurt Hahn maneuver and calling a judge to protest the fact that my opponent had good cards.

When he’s not handing out penalties, Marvin also plays a mean game of Scrabble. I would observe a many of his games throughout the weekend, during which he would repeatedly defeat tournament organizer Scott Larabee with an array of words so obscure that even I don’t know them.

For those interested,”Vav” is, in fact, a word. It is a letter in the Hebrew alphabet. For my part, I was tempted to challenge Kyle Reid (“Sporto”) to a game just so we could take turns filling the board with the most obscene, profane and foul utterances known to man. I bet we both would have been disappointed with the relative lack of”F” tiles, though I’m sure a triple word score on”assmaster” would put me over the top, its regretful omission from the Oxford Dictionary of Canadian English notwithstanding.

There were four grinders in all – two Limited and two Constructed. I entered myself into the Limited grinder starting at 9:00 a.m., and then played the waiting game. That is where I watch the red digital clock tick down and imagine all the broken stuff I’m going to get passed to me.

“I want Cabal Patriarch with a lot of good black to support it. I want strong green and an Aboshan. I want a Kamahl/Shower of Coals deck with a foil Shower to boot, plus Flame Burst, Firebolt, and Liquid Fire. Don’t forget strong black, a Pardic Collaborator, and a Fiery Temper and Violent Eruption. I want all of those things. What will I get? Who knows? I can’t stop myself from dreaming – I want to grind in so bad that I can taste it.”

I open a U/G deck with Persuasion and Roar of the Wurm as the main tools – it would eventually fall into the hands of”Evil” Matt Fox, who would lament his experience later in the weekend over dinner.

“I spent $55 to get manascrewed,” he’d sigh, shaking his head sadly. “F**k, I can do that at home for free.”

There’s something poignant about those remarks, and I think we all know how he feels. When you think about it, Limited is just as big a crapshoot as Constructed. You can get handed pure garbage, or some incredulous registrant can sign his name to a veritable”license to Q” that ends up in your greedy little hands. You can get crushed by insane draws, or you can get manascrewed. Like I’ve said before, you can’t do much to change these things – manipulating events that are left to luck by design is called”cheating,” and they ban you for it.

All you can do is play your best… And assuming all luck evens out in the end, you will come out ahead if you are a good player and you play consistently. I had a lot of bad beats at Canadian Nationals (two of my matches ended with perfect topdecks from my opponent when I was going to win the match on the next turn) but I also made numerous mistakes, some of which probably cost me life points and resources – and by extension, the games in which I made them.

At least that’s what I assume. Sometimes it’s hard to track down exactly why you lost. I suspect the existence of an invisible loss fairy. His name is Mr. McDink and he lives in a magic house in Renton, where he manufactures”loss dust” out of shredded match slips and cards salvaged from PTQ and Prerelease urinals.

What the hell?

Man, I’m too tired even to go and delete that. I’d best be going to bed – I’ll tell the story of the grinders tomorrow. This has been Part 1 of my Canadian Nationals report.

Geordie Tait

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