The Seven Stages of Grief

Wednesday, November 3rd – Osyp enters a journey of self-discovery. In it, he resorts to playing Mono-Red at a GP, watches friends surpass him on the Tour, and resolves to keep playing despite it all.

Hello, my name is Osyp Lebedowicz, and I
used to be

good at Magic.

I hope you’ll notice that I placed the emphasis on “used to be.” That implies that I no longer am good at Magic, which unfortunately happens to be the case. It took me some time to actually come to this realization. For a while, I thought that while I didn’t play as much, I still had some inherent skills that would just last forever. I was even able to qualify for the Pro Tour earlier this year. But the truth is that I’m not, nor will I ever be, as good as I once was.

Let me take you through my journey towards self-discovery

Stage 1: Shock and Denial

In this stage, the person suffers from shock on knowing about the loss. Shock is a self-defense stage of the mind and the outcome of it, many a times, is denial of the facts that have actually happened. A person in grief thinks that he is dreaming and he cannot / refuses to accept the grief-causing situation. The time for which this stage lasts cannot be determined. Simple tasks and decisions cannot be carried out by a person in shock.

I can pinpoint the exact moment I started to think that I was losing it. It was roughly a year ago at Pro Tour Austin. I started out the tournament 3-0 playing a U/W Thopter Foundry deck that I built the night before the tournament. In round 4 I was paired against the Brazilian wunderkind, Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa. Paulo was playing Dark Depths, and I thought this matchup could go either way. In the end, he crushed me fairly easily in both games. While I got some mediocre draws, the fact is that I not only made some terrible mistakes against him, he just straight up outplayed me in both games.

Now I’ve been outplayed by players better than me before. In my second Pro Tour, Neil Reeves played me into the ground so badly that a judge
watching the match came up to me afterwards and said, “Hey man, that was rough.”
(That judge was the diminutive Sheldon Menery, and we’ve been friends ever since.)

Coupled with the fact I was probably never as good as Paulo even at my peak should make this particular match not such a big deal. But for some reason it was; I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I ended up winning my final round of Constructed only to 0-3 my draft and finish up 4-4.

At dinner that night I kept thinking back to that match and wondering if I’d prepared more for this tournament would I have been able to beat Paulo. I kept making excuses like, “I had no one to test with,” and “I don’t play as much as he does so what did I expect.” In the end, I chalked up my play to rust, nothing more. I was convinced that it wasn’t that I wasn’t good anymore; it was just that life had de-prioritized Magic for me, and as a result I’d need to just practice for the next PT more if I expected to do well.

Stage 2: Pain

At this stage, the grieving person realizes that the loss that has happened is true. This is the most chaotic and scary stage of grief. Many people succumb to alcohol and drugs at this stage of grief. Intense feelings of guilt and compunction are experienced due to the wrong things done which led to this irreversible loss. Sometimes, in grief, people blame themselves and consider themselves responsible for the loss.

Jump ahead, and it’s now the summer of 2010, and several things were happening. The first was that my friend Phil Napoli won the first PTQ of the season for PT Amsterdam, so now I was really determined to qualify because I knew it would be a blast. Second, the Hall of Fame voting was in full swing, and since I was eligible next year, I really wanted to see how this year panned out.

Now I’d just finished playing in PT San Juan, and once again my Limited prowess led me to a miserable 4-4 finish on Day 1, and I was relegated to the sidelines for a second straight Pro Tour. In all my years playing on the Tour, I’d never gone two events in a row without cashing. This fact had further cemented the idea in my mind that my skills have clearly deteriorated. In addition, I ended up having a very bad PTQ season resulting in zero Top 8s and no blue envelope for Amsterdam.

I would have to say that the most painful moment of this past summer came after GP DC. I’d played a Mono-Red deck, an archetype I generally try to avoid like the plague. In the past, I tended to not play Mono-Red decks because they usually never offered you an opportunity to outplay your opponent, so if you felt you were better than most of the field, you really didn’t do yourself any favors by playing a deck like this. For GP DC, I hadn’t tested nor had I really played much Magic up to that point, so I decided to just play Mono-Red because a) it was easy to play and b) I wouldn’t mess up with it much.

I end up playing extremely poorly in the second-to-last round and had to settle for a draw into Top 64. After the tournament, I got the following Facebook message from my good friend Patrick Sullivan:

“Saw your deck for the GP, glad you finally joined the club and gave up.”

Stage 3: Anger

The next stage of the seven stages of grief is anger. The person may get angry due to the injustice that has happened to him or he may get angry over a person responsible for the loss in his life. Anger management is necessary at this stage of grief.

I was pretty upset when I couldn’t manage to qualify for Amsterdam, an event I really wanted to play in. But all in all, I wasn’t really that angry; I mean, there’s a new generation of Pro out there today, and it’s their time to shine.

Then the unthinkable happened . . . Paul Rietzl won a Pro Tour.

Are you kidding me?

Paul Rietzl and Brian Kibler are driving me nuts. I can live with LSV and Brad Nelson killing it out there because I have no frame of reference for them. By that, I mean I was never on the Tour when they were on the Tour. But Paul and Brian, I grew up on the Tour with them, and they were never this good. When we were playing Magic in the early days, the conventional wisdom was that the older you got, the worse you got at Magic. That was what we grew up believing. You peaked in your early twenties, and then you just started to flame out in your late twenties before walking off into the sunset.

How the hell are these guys getting exponentially better with age!?!

Now Kibler I can kind of understand; he basically splits his time between playing Magic and talking about himself on Twitter. But Paul, I know he has both a job and a girlfriend; how does he have the time to work on his game?

Then I read who he tested with for the Pro Tour. Nassif, Sperling, Chapin. His testing squad was still awesome. I used to have a good testing squad, but they all either moved to Curacao or started working for WotC.

This got me furious because it made me realize I was only ever good when I was playing with the guys from Togit/CMU. People always say that in order to get better, you need to play with other good players. That’s only half-true; in order to get truly better at this game, you have to play with players

than you. It’s not just enough to play with a good group of gamers; there has to be at least one player in your group that the rest of you look up to. For me, it was Eugene Harvey and Mike Turian. I was at my best when I was trying to beat them in practice or draft like they did. But what happens when the great players in your group start to leave the game, and you end up being the best player in your group? How do you get better?

I can’t get back on the tour unless I start playing better Magic, and I can’t start playing better Magic unless I start playing against players better than me, which I can’t do unless I get back on the Tour. It was a paradox known as the Calosso Fuentes Conundrum.   

Stage 4: Bargaining

After the painful stage of anger, the person in grief gets frustrated and may start blaming others for the loss. Although this blame is not correct, he is not in a state to understand and accept the reality. This stage is called bargaining. In this stage, the person starts bargaining for the loss and tries to find out ways in which he can revert the situation and compensate for what he has lost.

So after realizing that I no longer was good at Magic and couldn’t rely on Hall of Famers to build me decks anymore, I decided that I needed to try and change my approach to the game. I’d always been a Constructed player at heart and hated Limited. Most players usually view testing Constructed as a chore, while I view it as a joy. I always felt drafting was the chore and could never really bring myself to work hard on my Limited game. In the last two Pro Tours I played in, my combined Constructed record was 7-3, and my Limited record was 1-5. I realized that maybe it wasn’t that I was bad; maybe it was just that I was bad at Limited.

However Wizards changed everything with these multi-format Pro Tours. The days of Constructed or Limited specialists were over. If you wanted to succeed on the Pro Tour today, you need to be good at both.

I figured if I had only one year left before I was eligible for the HoF, I was going to do everything I could to boost my resume and give myself a realistic shot at making it. This meant I needed to get better at Limited. So I booked tickets to both GP Toronto and Nashville and downloaded MODO again. I figured if I could just get better at Limited, it should solve all my problems.

Stage 5: Depression and Sorrow

After the anger and bargaining stages, in the next stage, the person accepts the loss but is unable to cope up with it. Depressed and demoralized, the person is in despair and behaves passively at this stage of life. He sees no remedy to the loss he suffered and is reluctant to behave in a normal way and thus goes into a state of depression


So let me breakdown how GP Toronto went for me:

  1. I arrive at noon and head straight to the site to play in one of the GP Trials
  2. I pay $30 and receive a pool with a Grindclock, Engulfing Slagwurm, and a Tim Aten player card
  3. I lose in the first round to a Myr Battlesphere in both games
  4. P.S. I’m pretty sure I built my deck wrong

After my crushing loss, I walked back to my hotel and ate several doughnuts on my bed while watching TV. I wanted to go back to the site to draft, but
Buffy the Vampire Slayer

was on so I was forced to stay until it was over. Once Buffy was over, I saw that
Gossip Girl

was up next (the Bart Bass funeral episode), so obviously I needed to stay for that. Several episodes of
Vampire Diaries


later, and I was back at the site in a 4v4 draft that ended in a draw with us Italian gaming for the rares and me ending up with nothing.


This event was the first I got to actually have a conversation with David Ochoa, and I must say I think he might be one of my new favorites. He’s pretty funny, and he’s got an appropriately sarcastic sensibility that I find charming. I also like how he keeps the rest of the ChannelFireball crew in line. For instance, a bunch of us were sitting around the table after a round when LSV wandered by. He looked pretty dejected, and I asked what happened. He said that he lost a close match, and he was now eliminated from Day 2.

“So you missed Day 2; what’s the big deal?”

“Not so loud, he might hear you.”

“Who might hear me?”

“N… no one, forget I said anything.”

Then, as if out of thin air, David showed up behind LSV and put his hand on his shoulder.

“No Day 2 huh?”

“I’m sorry; I opened poorly.”

“Sure sure, I get it.”

The two walked off into one of the side rooms, and I didn’t see LSV until later that day. He was walking with a limp.

I just want to say that for any of you who didn’t attend GP Toronto, you’re the lucky ones. This was easily one of the worst sites I’ve ever been to. A lot of people have been complaining that the prize support for GPs hasn’t been adjusted fairly given the record-breaking attendance we’ve been seeing lately. That’s a valid point, but for me, I’ve never played Magic for the money; it’s always been about the people and the stories that come out of the weekend.

I’d be fine with 2,000-person Grand Prix paying us in iPads and Central European gaming systems, but at least put the site in a great location. Most of my stories are fueled by alcohol, and if you don’t make going out convenient for us, then the tournament becomes significantly less fun. The tournament site was surrounded by factories that primarily manufactured sadness. As for the site itself… well let’s just say that if we found out that they held dog fights there during the week, I wouldn’t be surprised.

Dear Tournament Organizers,

If I have to play all day in chairs designed by a German dominatrix, at least have there be plenty of food options nearby. I don’t want to have to spend $20 on a cab only to settle for a Hooters.

Osyp Lebedowicz

Stage 6: Testing and Reconstruction

This is the testing stage in which the depressed person starts to indulge in other activities so as to escape the disturbing sorrow. In fact this is the beginning of the next and last stage, i.e. acceptance of and coming to terms with the reality. It is also a stage of reconstruction, as in this stage, he starts the process of reconstructing of his life by searching for solutions and ways to come out of his grief.

I’ll be honest; I don’t really have a good parallel for this stage, so I guess I’ll just talk about some random people.

  1. Christian Calcano:

    this kid is blowing up faster than Tom Martell waistline. Despite doing so well and clearly willing to work at improving, he still isn’t on a PT testing team. Someone please pick this kid up. That’s the biggest problem with the younger generation – organization. There’s never been a team as dominant as ChannelFireball in the history of the Pro Tour, and as far as I can tell, no team is willing to step up and take the title away from them. Zvi and his crew of Midwesterners probably are the closest, maybe Nassif, but other than that, is there anyone out there who will step up? Back in my day, Togit/CMU hated YMG, YMG hated ABU, ABU hated the Japanese, and the Japanese didn’t understand what any of us were saying. Today, the five best players in the world are all on the same team, and the rest of you are scrapping together whatever technology you can bum off them to try and compete. There are a lot of other good young players like Calcano out there; consolidate your talents, and make the PTs interesting again.

  2. Brad Nelson:

    enough has been said about how good Brad is so I’ll just leave it at this exchange I overheard among two young kids this past weekend:

“Who’s better, Kai Budde or Jon Finkel?”

“Who’s Kai Budde?”

“He’s the German Brad Nelson.”

Kai Budde.”

  1. AJ Sacher:

    AJ is the only writer in the history of Magic to be fired from a website for not wearing a T-shirt. At least that’s what I believe happened. He’s one of my favorite writers because of how fearless he is. He puts himself out there every week only to be ridiculed and tormented by various forum trolls. I honestly don’t know why; he’s a really nice person, and I hope he writes the article he was talking about writing at the GP, “Why I’m Better Than You Part 1.”

Stage 7: Acceptance

This is the final stage of all the seven stages of grief, when the grieving person accepts the reality. Not only does the person accept the reality, but he also becomes stable. The acceptance stage projects a ray of hope, and the person starts believing in himself. Reality and facts of life are accepted, and the person moves forward with this life. This stage can be noticed when the person starts behaving normally, and his performance in the office is quite improved. The grieving person starts to mingle with friends and colleagues around him.

So what if I attacked my Glint Hawk Idol into my opponent’s Glimmerpoint Stag + Flight Spellbomb? I’m going to keep playing. Who cares if I didn’t realize having an Indomitable Archangel in play with metalcraft meant I couldn’t pump my Golem Artisan? I’m going to keep playing. Big deal, I tried to cast a Revoke Existence as an instant. I’m going to keep playing.

You know why? Because you don’t need to be good to play Magic; you just need to want to play Magic.

You also need a credit card.

And a high tolerance for pain.

And a dulled sense of smell.

Osyp “Joe Black” Lebedowicz


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