The Miser’s Cage

So, Saturday night, after enough Magic related activates for one day (is it possible?), a very cute girl and I go out for dinner and a little Philadelphia touring. Eh. Nothing Magic related, really. Very Cute Girl and I have a nice Italian meal, get a room and watch Fight Club. Enough said. She and…

So, Saturday night, after enough Magic related activates for one day (is it possible?), a very cute girl and I go out for dinner and a little Philadelphia touring.

Eh. Nothing Magic related, really. Very Cute Girl and I have a nice Italian meal, get a room and watch Fight Club. Enough said.

She and I head out to the Hard Rock café for lunch the next day, then over to the UPenn Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, which was very cool. Even if you aren’t a history buff (which I am), there are still two reasons to go check it out:

1) Mummies. Mummies are always cool! They have a nice assortment of them. You can’t poke them with sticks, or anything, but there’s plenty of room to gawk.

2) The sign!

Oh man, the sign. It was too funny.

We’re walking through the ancient Greek area, looking at the busts and such. There’s a wall fragment, sort of centered, near a wall, with a bunch of military types carved in. I look at it for a minute, then notice the title,“Relief of Male Soldiers.” For all the vulgar minded, please remember that a relief is a picture carved out of a flat surface.

No biggie. I walk past it and immediately start laughing. Not library laughing… all-out goofy movie theatre laughing. It takes me a minute to wipe the tears out of my eyes. Very Cute Girl asks me what’s so funny. I point out to her that“Relief of Male Soldiers” is the exhibit featured directly in front of the men’s restroom.

Wow. I hope they did that on purpose!

I bite my lip, take her hand, and walk quietly past the tour guide, who is giving me the evil tour guide eye.

Of course, if you are a history buff, there are plenty of other reasons to go to the museum.

So, we have a nice midday hike back to the hotel, where we watch a little of the final round before she heads off.

As the round is ending up, we head back out… but, on the way, we are treated to the tortured cries of a player who didn’t make the top eight, though, apparently thought they should have.

I mean crying. Really, really, really crying. With the sobbing and the tears and everything.

And this is not the first time I’ve seen it either. Since I’ve been judging at all of Star City’s events recently, I’ve been around serious tournament Magic a lot more than I usually am. I usually attend between three and five big tournaments a year (because there isn’t enough Type II!), but now, it’s more like three tournaments a month.

Let me say, too, that I have seen someone crying or at the point of tears at the majority of the Extended events we have run.

That is A LOT of people who are so distraught over their performances that they are unable to control a function that is reserved for the peak of emotional frustration and grief.

A recent phenomenon among players is the Miser’s Cage. Yeah, you remember it. The bad Black Vise from Mirage. Well, recent trends in Magic lingo have made“mise” into a buzzword (though I find it to be a bit odd, usage-wise). Naturally, a miser can be defined (in the dodgy Webter’s way) as“one who mises.”

So, wannabe misers carry a Miser’s Cage, for luck or what have you. It’s like playing white-bordered Necropotences in a Necro deck. Since they’re the only white-bordered cards, you’re bound to draw them!

The superstitions of Magic are interesting. But this newest one, the Miser’s Cage, is fascinating to me. It’s just amazing.

By becoming too competitive, Magic players set themselves up for defeat. Everyone knows that you can’t win them all– that due to the inherent mechanics that function in the game, no matter how skilled a player is, he or she will always lose eventually. Perfect play helps, but a deck will not perform consistently, no matter how well tuned it is.

But people don’t think that way. A friend of mine, Mike Zaun, often jokingly says,“Magic isn’t supposed to be fun. If you want to have fun, play something else.” Mike always says it with a smile on his face, but it does exemplify what is wrong with tournament Magic. Mike is in that school of“Always a Bridesmaid” that usually leads up to qualifying for the Tour.

There’s the problem, though. Lots of people feel this way. Most people have an obsessive drive to be the best at something, whether it is art, chess, business or whatever– there’s always something. The problem with being the best at Magic is that you can’t do it. Some would argue that Jon Finkel is/was the best Magic player. Or Randy Buehler. There are several names that would fit.

But they don’t win every time. They can’t. There are no Michael Jordans in Magic. Skill is not the only factor operating on your performance. No amount of skill can conquer luck. If you don’t have a way to beat luck, then you can’t win every match, no matter how good you are.

I think this is an obvious fact. The question is, why do people continue to play, as though their skill can bring them through this? People set their Miser’s Cages out, shuffle up their blue sleeved decks, play as though they are in total control of their fate and get so upset when they go 5-2 with a good deck, even though they are good players.

So upset. It’s amazing.

5-2 is very good if you think about it. You didn’t just post a winning record in a luck-based game– you won twice as many matches as you lost, plus one. The skill shines through. But no one looks at it that way. Finalist, or don’t bother, so goes the mentality. Otherwise, you’d see more top 32ish tournament reports from non-Pro Tour events.

There isn’t even a huge reward at the top, which baffles me. So much scrambling for 25,000$. Let’s face it, 25,000$ is not a heap of money (at least not in the sense that winning the PGA Tour is a heap of money), for all this trouble. By the time you are done with taxes, travel, lodging, food and everything else, a good chunk is gone. Especially the taxes! U.S. tax law munches up something like 33% of all winnings. That’s like 9,000$, direct to Uncle Sam.

And that’s only if you WIN the Pro Tour which most people have not nor will ever do. All the practice, work, time, effort and emotional stress some people put into the game amounts to nothing. 99% of Magic players never even break even, monetarily, playing the game.

Once you stop playing for fun, and start playing to win money, you’ve locked yourself into the Miser’s Cage. There are only two ways out of it: win or lose. If you lose, you won’t be happy. If you win, you won’t win enough to buy a house– or even a sports car. The Miser’s Cage is a no-win situation.

Omeed Dariani.
Eic, www.starcitygames.com
Contributing Editor, Scrye Magazine

“Wherever you fly, you’ll be the best of the best.
Wherever you go, you will top all the rest.
Except, when you don’t.
Because, sometimes, you won’t.

I’m sorry to say so
but, sadly, it’s true
that Bang-Ups
and Hang-Ups
can happen to you.

Oh, The Places You’ll Go!, Dr. Seuss”

-Should have been the flavor text on Miser’s Cage.