The Jerks You Meet at Gas Stations and Magic Tournaments, and How to Deal With Them

I worked in a gas station for nearly a year and the worst thing about the job, other than the bizarre hours, the monotony, the loneliness, the incompetent upper management, the paperwork, the monotony, scraping out the toilets, the fact that a chimp could have done my job, the fact that many of my co-workers couldn’t, cleaning the pumps, sweeping the lot, and the monotony – was the people. I mean, okay, the vast majority of the people I encountered there were perfectly nice and relatively normal, but it seemed like there was a substantially larger concentration of jerks there than in the world at large.

Rather like Magic tournaments.

I worked in a gas station for nearly a year. Not a whole year, mind you. No, I made sure I got out of there before my Tri-Star Anniversary. Every month I was there, I saw those names listed in the monthly newsletter and shuddered. “That,” I said to myself, “will never be me.” And it wasn’t.

By a full two weeks.

Now, I won’t say that was the worst year of my life, not actually, but… well, let’s just say it wouldn’t make the top ten. Or, in fact, the top twenty. It was bad.

The worst thing about the job, other than the bizarre hours, the monotony, the loneliness, the incompetent upper management, the paperwork, the monotony, scraping out the toilets, the fact that a chimp could have done my job, the fact that many of my co-workers couldn’t, cleaning the pumps, sweeping the lot, and the monotony-

(Okay, deep breath. What was the subject of this sentence? Oh yeah…)

-was the people.

I mean, okay, the vast majority of the people I encountered there were perfectly nice and relatively normal, but it seemed like there was a substantially larger concentration of jerks there than in the world at large.

Rather like Magic tournaments.

Every time I go to a prerelease or PTQ, I meet at least one person who should be classified as a toxic substance. For a long time I had no idea how to deal with these people, or with the many well-intentioned people who are, for whatever reason, difficult or unpleasant to play Magic against. Fortunately, my time at the gas station taught me clever strategies for dealing with all sorts of nasty situations. To get diesel grime off the pumps, use noxious chemicals. To protect yourself against potential bloodborne pathogens when cleaning the bathroom, use leaky sandwich gloves. And to deal with difficult people, consult this handy guide.

We’ll start out with the ones that aren’t actually jerks, but will find plenty of well-meaning ways to make your life more difficult.

The Terrifying Tattooed Guy With Bulging Muscles And A Shaved Head

It seems like I play this guy at every single Magic tournament I go to. Sometimes he turns out to be perfectly nice, other times he turns out to be a frothing psychotic, but I’m always intimated by his mere physical presence. At the gas station, these guys will try to use their imposing demeanor to keep you from carding them for things. Or not. Like I said, a lot of them are perfectly nice.

In a previous life I worked at a game store, and one time this guy came in who… well, imagine an ex-bouncer who had started his own security company, because that’s what he was. He came in one day looking for something- looking, in fact, like he wanted to rearrange my face with his bare hands- and I will never, ever forget the words he said to me. “I’m looking for a miniature bridge,” he grated. “But I gotta be quick. I have a kitten in the car.”

The problem: You’re afraid that if you beat him at Magic/deny him his booze, he’ll find you in a dark alley later and teach you the true meaning of pain.

The solution: Oh, grow up. Or start carrying mace.

The Hopeless Slow-Player

At the gas station, this is usually some doddering old man who wants to count out twenty dollars in nickels to pay for his gas. At the tourney, he’s just another neophyte who keeps trying to attack with his enchantments or whatever. Or a tall, sandy-haired guy in his twenties who futzes up triggers, tries to play Brainspoil as an instant, and forgets about summoning sickness when he’s tired. You know, for example.

The problem: Your patience will be tried, and probably hanged, before this is over.

The solution: At the gas station, do everything you can to speed this poor person through your line. Above all, don’t raise your voice. He’s more afraid of you than you are of him.

At the Magic tournament, be nice, but not lenient. A screw-up is a screw-up. How else are you going to mercilessly- Uh, I mean, how else are they going to learn?

The No-Show / The Drive-Off

At the gas station, when things were busy, there were always tons of different pumps going, people in and out of the store, all kinds of craziness. Sometimes, when the dust settled, you’d look around your empty store and realize that, no, nobody was going to come in and pay for the $30 worth of gas on pump 8. We didn’t have to cover the loss or anything like they do at some stations, but we had to write up the report and get yelled at in the morning.

The tourney no-show, on the other hand, is a bittersweet experience for me. What’s that, you say? Bittersweet? About a freaking bye? What am I, a masochist? Or some kind of reincarnation of Rizzo’s pal Bruce?

Honestly, I go to tournaments to play Magic. Go figure. The prize payouts at most of the events I go to are small enough that it’s not really worth getting worked up about (or prize-splitting for! Have you ever seen somebody intentionally draw at an FNM? It’s not pretty). I mean, don’t get me wrong, I play to win, but I prefer to play to win, you know? When I shuffle up, the last thing I want to see across from me, other than Zvi Mowshowitz, is an empty chair. The only time I like it is when it gives me a chance to go get lunch, especially if I’m having lunch with Zvi Mowshowitz.

The problem: Yeah, okay, fine, it’s not really a problem.

The solution: The same in both places: Fill out the form and move on with your life.

The Hot Girl

You are having, let’s say, one of four reactions right now:

1) What a chauvinist!

2) This is a problem… why?

3) Yeah, right. And I played Prestor John at Pro Tour: Vulcan.

4) Huh? Where?!

You may now be having a fifth reaction, to the tune of:

5) Who the hell is Prestor John?

Let me explain. At the Ravnica prerelease, I played against a really nice guy whose really hot girlfriend was 2-1, same as him. They both won their matches and moved on up.

When this girl had gotten dressed for the tournament, she’d picked a shirt that was at least two sizes too small- and let me stress that this was not what you would call the wrong size for her figure. And further- the implications here may shock you- I think she may have done this on purpose. I even overheard a guy saying that he didn’t want to play her because his mind wouldn’t be on the game.

Sexist? Yeah, probably. Offensive? Mildly. Perpetuating the problem and stereotype of Magic as a “boy’s club?” Certainly. But true? Oh my, yes.

(If you’re not a heterosexual male, by the way (or, I suppose, a lesbian- I’d love to see the numbers on that demographic of Magic players), feel free to picture the sort of person, animal, or tentacle which most distracts and frustrates you, and you may begin to see the problem.)

At the gas station, hot girls frequently- well, occasionally- all right, once or twice- tried to use their feminine wiles to wheedle things out of me. I actually paid 40 cents out of my own pocket once so a girl could get her smokes. She came back and paid me back later, but the damage to my pride was well and truly done.

The problem: Whether they’re trying to use wiles or not, people you consider sexually desirable will invariably alter your behavior. You might be distracted, or inclined to be more lenient than you might otherwise. “If I do whatever she says, she’s bound to respect me!”

The solution: Steady, steady. Go splash yourself with cold water before the round starts or something. Don’t be a jerk, but don’t be a pushover. Keep your eyes on the board, not on… you know. And whatever you do, don’t ask for her phone number. They hate that.

Oh, right. If you still want to know who Prestor John is, you have an unusually long attention span. Click here.

That’s a short list of the people who will make you miserable without meaning to. On the other hand, there are always those people who are truly malevolent, despicable beings bent on subverting all hope and goodness and inflicting upon you the kind of tortures usually reserved for child molesters and people who talk in the theatre.

The Sexist Jerk

This is mainly a problem if you’re, you know, sexy. My friend who worked at the gas station, a card-carrying girl, got hit on all the time. Sample dialogue, which I swear to you I am not making up:

Drunk Guy: Hey, baby doll. You got a bed?

Girl: Yeah…?

Drunk Guy: Yeah, well… my bed’s sexier.

Girl: Can I get you anything else?

Guy: Uh, your phone number?

Guy in Raccoon Suit: So… are you going as a total babe for Halloween?

This sort of thing never happens to me. Go figure.

A Brief Side Note Concerning The Author’s Gender

Some people think of Kelly as a girl’s name. These people fall into two categories: Fools, and girls named Kelly. Girls named Kelly are allowed the understandable conceit; all others will regret it.

For instance, when I was in college my roommate Emlyn and I lived on a floor that was, God bless those liberal Northwesterners, coed by door. On move-in day, a guy stepped out of the room across from ours for the first time and started reading the names on the doors. He saw Brenna and Lisa to his right, Mary and Sarah to his left… and Kelly and Emlyn across the hall. “Whoo!” I heard him yell. “I’m surrounded by girls!” I stuck my undeniably masculine face out the door and said “Hi.” He looked so utterly crestfallen that I put a sign on our door, underneath our names, that read, “FYI: We’re guys.” Apparently this made an impression on somebody’s mother; I saw her for the first time at move-out nine months later and introduced myself, and she said, “Oh! You’re one of the ‘FYI we’re guys’ guys!”

And so I am. Anyway, I was talking about…

The Sexist Jerk

I can see how being hit on would get very, very old. It’s bad enough, I’m sure, when well-meaning guys are nice to you because you’re pretty. But when people refuse to play you because “I wouldn’t feel right beating a girl,” or making idiot sexist comments… well, not to be trite, but that’s sexual harassment, and you really don’t have to take it.

The problem: Constantly having to assure people that yes, you are, in fact, a girl. Yes, you do, in fact, play Magic. Yes, that would make you, yes, a girl, who, yes, plays Magic… No, you won’t go out with them.

The solution: Call a judge if it gets truly out of hand, but above all else… destroy him as brutally and efficiently as possible, smiling prettily all the while. And if you’re the sort who doesn’t mind taking advantage, you could always wear a shirt that’s two sizes too small.

The Most Important Man In The Universe

Yes, that’s right, I personally have met the most important man in the universe. I recognized him right away, because he oozed that sense of self importance that only truly important people can manage. I saw him at the gas station a few times, where he never had to wait in line. He looked different each time he came in- I guess that’s how it is when you’re that important- but I could always tell it was him. I even ran into him at a Magic tournament once, where he was absolutely the first priority for every judge in the room. Really.

The problem: He’s an insufferable choad.

The solution: At the gas station, give him what he wants. That’s your job. If possible, keep him from antagonizing the other customers and do the absolute bare minimum required by your position. At the Magic tournament, fortunately, you don’t have to take that kind of crap. Ignore him if he’s just a twit, and call a judge over if he becomes abusive. After all, you’re perfectly aware that you’re the most important person in the universe, so who does he think he’s fooling?

The Close Player

At the gas station, sometimes people would come in and think, apparently, that I needed to shove their bottle of Jack up my nose in order to ring it up (this is, of course, hyperbole; we didn’t actually sell Jack). They’d helpfully slide it all the way across the counter at me so I had to fumble for it to keep it from pitching off the other side. This was despite the fact that the little scanner dealie was pretty clearly positioned toward the front of the counter, but then, a lot of these people had never heard of UPCs, either.

Now, I honestly never thought that would be a problem applicable to Magic, but at a PTQ in Indy, I played against a guy- I think his name was Brandon- who close-played. I have no other way to describe it. He sat down across from me and shuffled up, seeming perfectly normal (if perhaps slightly hyperactive). And then when it was time to begin, he plunked his deck down halfway across the table, leaned forward at me, and started playing stuff really, really fast. He was grinning and saying “good game” before I even realized the immense psychological advantage he had gained simply by moving his deck forward six inches. I was on the defensive from the word go. Now, call me a sucker (he probably did later, when he was scraping [censored – not a gateway drug reference] with a foil Cranial Extraction), but this simple move shaped the way I perceived the entire match, displaying a keen grasp of psychology and a firm understanding of the game’s mental component.

What an ass.

The problem: If you’re impressionable like me, you’re on the wrong foot from turn 1; if you’re made of sterner stuff, well, he’s still taking up valuable table real estate.

The solution: Ask him politely to move his cards back. He’ll grin and say, “Sure, sure, no problem,” and pretend it was an accident. Hey, maybe it was. Maybe. Keep your eye on him. If he refuses to move his cards back, he’s a whole different kind of jerk, and you’re probably justified in calling a judge.

The Idiot Who Doesn’t Know What He’s Doing And Blames It On You Because He’s Too Stupid To Accept That He Could Possibly Be At Fault

One busy night at the gas station, this lady walked in and told me, quite tersely, to authorize her pump. I would almost certainly have noticed if she’d been trying to pump (the horrible bleeping noise being a tip-off), but occasionally there are mishaps. So this time I watched as she went back out on the lot… and inserted her credit card. Not My Problem. I had nothing to do with authorizing credit cards. The problem was that she wasn’t lifting the little lever-dealie that the directions inexplicably refer to as a handle, and therefore couldn’t have pumped gas if God Himself had pressed the Authorization button. She came in to yell at me again, and I told her (nicely) to go back out and lift the lever. She said she had, so I told her to try a different pump. She pulled up to another pump and did exactly the same thing, then drove off in disgust, no doubt fuming about that idiot at the gas station. I’d feel guiltier if I were in any way culpable.

At the Fifth Dawn prerelease, I played a terrifying tattooed guy with bulging muscles and a shaved head- go figure. Anyway, he and I had really evenly matched decks, and we played a protracted game 1, which I won. Game 2 was an even worse grind, with both of us taking a while to make big decisions. Time was called with us nowhere near finished. The five turns went quickly, and the match finished 1-0 in my favor. “So… what happens?” he asked, and I told him that I won. He called a judge over, complained about my slow-playing, and grumbled a lot about “a waste of thirty bucks.” My only question, other than who the hell would shark the small flight at a prerelease, is who would do so without actually knowing the floor rules. This was, of course, my fault.

The problem: This guy doesn’t know what he’s doing and will try very hard to pin it on you.

The solution: Hold your ground. Unless he’s scarily persuasive, your judge or manager will back you up.

The Strong Silent Type (A.K.A, ‘The Tosser’)

You know the guy I mean. He sits down and shuffles up in silence, maybe gives you his name if provoked, and then says as little as possible, communicating targeting choices and such using crude grunts and gestures. This irritates me to no end. I understand it makes more sense from a strategic standpoint than chatterboxing, but… come on! Anyway, irritating or not, this is his right, and it only truly gets out of hand when he starts tossing cards onto the table. Hell, at the gas station, I would have people would get in and out with nothing more than a grunt, and they’d literally hurl their cash at me. I usually like having money thrown at me, but only when I get to keep it.

The problem: Ominous silence, unclear game state, thrown objects.

The solution: At the gas station, as usual, grin and bear it. If you want these people to start actually being nice to you, just stop being nice to them. Grunt and glower at them, and they will suddenly stop suspecting that you’re up to something. At the Magic tournament, unless he actually throws cards at you, you have two options. Either you can play it as close to the chest as he does, or you can try to be as irritatingly affable as possible. Just don’t reveal anything about your deck. Unless it’s fake. But only a jerk would do that, right?


The lesson here is clear: If you want to learn how to deal with jerks at Magic tournaments, all you have to do is work in a horrible dead-end job for a year!

Or, you know, not.

Join me next time, when I’ll write another article, and you’ll read it.

Or, you know, not.

Kelly Digges