The Daily Shot: Trouble, Don’t Catch Me Here

All the parts of Magic that are fun without the need to win? They’re gone from my itinerary, and from town. When did all the fun seep out of this damned game?

Give me a reason to keep playing. I shouldn’t be asking for a reason, but I am. I think I’m in trouble… And that’s bad. This is supposed to be a game, a pastime, an enjoyable ol’ romp with whatever set of good ol’ boys might be nearest by.

“Trouble, don’t catch me here.”

But I think it can, and has. Much of it is of my own making.

Here’s the deal: Type 1 has finally died in Sarnia. It’s true. The tournaments that I used to look forward to on a bi-weekly basis are pretty much nonexistent. By extension, the tournaments in the surrounding area are poorly attended as well.

This isn’t really the fault of anyone or anything specific… I’m just tired of having to borrow cards to play Keeper, tired of playing in a format where winning and losing doesn’t matter because there are no major T1 events. I think maybe a lot of people around here are burned out on Type 1 for the same reasons.

Read that again.

I’m tired of playing in a format where winning and losing doesn’t matter.

Oh yeah, I think I’m in trouble.

Flash backward. I was young and lithe, no goatee, wearing contacts (one purple, one blue), ten pounds lighter, wearing black Airwalks, and Roger Maris’ home run record was still standing at 61. I used to carry around six multiplayer decks – one for each color, and an artifact deck. My green deck had four Verdant Forces, four Force of Nature, four Gaea’s Liege, Vernal Bloom, Child of Gaea, four of all that good stuff. It had Awakening, and even Storm Front to protect me from flyers. It had a couple of copies of Overrun. It was the best that nature had to offer, and it was all over the table. There were four copies of Desert Twister as well.

I was slinging spells with tables full of people who are now distant memories. Exodus was coming out soon and people were saying they’d quit if a buyback counterspell really was introduced. Nathan Casemore had a Relentless Assault/Time Warp deck. Flash forward to today and he’s out of the game and playing D&D as his game of choice. The others have likewise moved on.

My blue deck had four copies of Mahamoti Djinn, Vesuvian Doppleganger, Clone, Unstable Shapeshifter, Volrath’s Shapeshifter, and Zephid’s Embrace. It also had Desertion. My first play was on turn 4, but it kicked ass anyhow. My black deck had nothing but Assassins and tap tricks. Four Royals, four Strongholds, four Bounty Hunters, four Sorceress Queens, four Coffin Queens, and even some black creature kill.

My white deck? Tons of Angels, and four Preachers with Worthy Cause. Red? Dragons and burn. What else would it be? Four Volcanics, Shivans, Lightnings. Beta Fireballs, Bolts and Disintegrates.

The artifact deck had Tolarian Academy and a ton of fun artifacts. The point was to copy Urza’s Armor a bunch of times with Copy Artifact, and then maybe deck the table. It had Tinker and probably Hanna’s Custody.

It was just the storeowner Big T, my teammate John Labute, and myself, and a bunch of other guys who have since quit or moved away. I can hear the sounds of spells being slapped down now, and I can smell the store smell of comics and human activity. Wham! Nathan just killed John Warnica with a Berserked Minion of the Wastes. Now Nate and Len Wargh are going to throw down outside the store because Len was targeting Nate with more than his fair share of removal and burn spells. (Yes, this did actually happen.)

John and I weren’t even teammates at the time, we were rivals in the T1 tournaments, where I would play the (then unrestricted) Necro. Trent’s Phyrexian Processor/Angelic Chorus deck would prove just a little too good. Fast times, good times, great times would be had by all, and oh, how the multiplayer games would roll on by, fast like sex n’ chex n’ special effex. Invulnerability. Preacher. City Of Shadows. Runes of Protection. I remember seeing these in opening hands.

Jersey Clark, not yet a judge, was playing a deck with En-Kor, Inferno and some Martyr card that meant he could insta-kill people by redirecting damage.

I remember buying my Lotus in Chatham, Ontario. John lent me the money and I paid him back – I was a clerk at Shopper’s Drug Mart then, and he was my boss.

Eventually multiplayer died because I (and others) didn’t want to play a format that didn’t matter, and we started playing only Type One and Standard, though Type One was more popular because more people could play in it and as such, the prize support was better. Now, the T1 tournaments have died off in the last half-year, and we’re left with Standard, draft, and Block Constructed to entertain us. I’m partly to blame…I just don’t feel like playing T1 when I have to borrow cards all the time. John has been sabotaging his deck choices for years just to make sure I had the cards to play what I wanted – very nice of him, but it makes me feel like a heel. And I can’t afford the $1000 U.S in cards that I need to complete my Keeper.

We tried 5-Color for a while, but no one had the stones to play for real ante, so what was the point? That didn’t last very long. People tried an in-store Sealed League, but I didn’t join because (drum roll) it wasn’t sanctioned, so why waste the money? It didn’t last long. Arena died off as soon as they made you actually send away to redeem your prize cards, and I hated it anyhow because a guy with a 43-113-2 record could beat a guy with a 32-0-4 record.

Oh, and it wasn’t sanctioned.

We tried Chaos Magic. Fun for a while and it rejuvenated multiplayer for a week, but then it died off. We started playing Texas Hold’em for bad rares, but now those games are few and far between. I’ve tried Mental Magic, it’s fun… But not something that will keep me playing. Mental Magic is a lark, but ultimately pointless.

Now I play Limited, Standard and Block, either to playtest or for ratings points. Oh yes, constant reader. I’m in very deep trouble indeed.

Let me tell you right now – I like to be good at what I do. I see people come out to FNM every week and go 1-3 and wonder how they can stand it. Half the time I pity these guys, the ones with a bemused smile and a deck filled with Entomb, Life/Death and Crosis, The Purger, and the rest of the time I envy them, because they can do what I can’t: They can play Magic for the sake of playing, and they can enjoy it.

I like to be good at what I do; I like to excel. Great word. Fills your mind with images of blowing past the competition. I don’t want to be just any Magic-playing shmoe, but part of that special elite group of players who can claim to have a special talent. I want to post a winning record at every event I attend. I’m not happy with myself unless I’m in contention until the final round.

Magic, for me, when I’m winning, is a rush. When I’m losing, it’s a more of barbiturate. You may know what a downer of the body can be like. You lay around all day and you want to sleep the sleep of the dead. Dig this groove – I’m talking about a downer of the mind. The simple fact is that when I’m losing, I’m not having fun. At all. Don’t ask me how I did. Don’t talk to me at all, because I don’t care how you did.

I don’t care what your record is. I don’t know why my fellow Sarnia players would even ask what my record is, in fact, because one look at me is enough for them to tell whether I won or lost. I’m sorta like Oscar the Grouch, but without a garbage can. I feel sorry for John, because I really am a miserable bastard when I’m losing. He went a very respectable 5-2 at the recent PTQ in London, and I was doing poorly, so I barely said two words to him the whole afternoon. Is that the behaviour you’d expect out of a teammate? I did congratulate him later on, but it took me forever, and it was probably unintelligible because I was too tired to actually speak English.

It comes down to this:

I gave up playing”fun” formats a while ago, and now that T1 is gone, the ultra-breakneck dog-eat-dog formats are all I have left. Really, I’m only enjoying Magic when I’m successful in a competitive format.

I just went 2-3 at another PTQ. I went 2-4-1 at the last one. Before that, I went 1-2 at a GPT.

Who am I then? I am a man who isn’t enjoying Magic. Dig that groove. At the GPT, I played the Llawan/Alter-Reality deck. Jank and innovation. I was rewarded with a swift drop after three rounds.

Okay; message taken. Don’t screw around. Get a proven deck, if not a tier-one deck, and go from there.

At the PTQ in Detroit, I played U/B Psychatog, and made two ridiculously bad player errors en-route to a 2-4-1 disgrace of a finish.

Okay, I get the point there, too. Don’t play like a cranial eunuch. You can do better. Also, Infestation works better than Psychatog in many cases. Make that change.

So here comes the PTQ in London, Ontario, and Worlds just wrapped up the Block Constructed day. I’ve got a deck that went 6-0 in a field of the best players on earth. Played by one of the best on earth, sure, but on a good day, I can play at a level that is close to that. Seriously. You can too. It’s a matter of making no mistakes.

Round 1 – the mirror. I win because I play better than my opponent, who makes numerous mistakes.

Round 2 – G/W, one of my best matchups. Make no mistakes, still lose due to not drawing a Speculation or a Prismatic Strands in three full games. This was just a ton of fun. I get run over by a deck that I should easily be able to race, simply because I can’t draw anything besides Tireless Tribe and Battle Screech, with no Sacrament. Meanwhile he’s swinging for thirteen a turn with Glory. As Kyle Reid would say, “I’m no expert on races, but…”

Round 3 – Monoblack Control. A fairly bad matchup. Lose despite making no mistakes, even though the opponent draws terribly. Here’s how bad it was. He drew like eight land in a row when he was at three life and I had a thresholded Divine Sacrament.

I needed to draw ANY creature to win the game. I drew six land, then a Speculation, which gets me two Deep Analysis. Untap, draw ANOTHER land, flashback both maindeck Analysis…TWO LAND AND TWO MORE SACRAMENTS. He Tainted Pacts into a Nantuko Shade, but I’m still ok if I draw a creature because I have Prismatic Strands. I draw….LAND. Get killed from 20 life. Game 2 I double-mulligan and lose.

Round 4 – Beat monoblack during a match when I *gasp* didn’t draw like ass. No mistakes again.

Round 5 – Lose to U/B Braids, a matchup that is about 50/50. What U/B Braids deck has a Mutilate in it? This guy’s. He has it in his hand on turn four and wrecks me. Game 2, I just lose because he draws better, something like 3x Mesmeric Fiend, 2x Butcher, Shadowmage, three Edicts. No mistakes, but so what? Look at his draw.

Drop. Number of U/G decks played against (my best matchup?). NONE.

(No, that wasn’t the tournament report. I’ll have the full report later this week, if I can bring myself to actually write about the event. It was the least fun event I have even been to.)

This was an hour-drive to London, play Magic, have zero fun, skip dinner with friends due to bad mood and fatigue, drive home, go to bed type of day. By the end, I was wondering why I even bother playing Magic at all. Psychologically, I’ve painted myself into a corner. If it were a dream, it’d be what you’d call a trip. I’m in a room of floating, disembodied, translucent Magic cards, and while the Crimson Hellkites and Forces Of Nature are easy to grab and hold tight, the Fact Or Fiction are the real prizes… But they’re just out of reach. I’m chasing and chasing and chasing and I can’t catch a Fact or Fiction no matter how hard I try. Then I wake up.

It’s a big metaphor for success in competitive Magic. The fact that it’s hard to get only makes you want it more. Anyone can win a game of Mental Magic. It takes a special type of player to be World Champion.

All the parts of Magic that are fun without the need to win? They’re gone from my itinerary, and from town. Even if I wanted to play T1, no one would want to. 5 Color is too much work, and we play the pansy-ass no-ante version anyhow. Right now, I only play and put emphasis on formats where success if the drug of choice.

What happens when you do that and then don’t succeed? Well, not to put too fine a point on it, you’re an addict without your fix. You feel like sh*t run over twice. You don’t feel like playing Magic. This time, I’m the one polishing brass on the Titanic.

“Trouble, don’t catch me here.”

It did. Now what? And can I write about the game with any enthusiasm until I figure it out?

Geordie Tait

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