The Things I Have Lost

I envy the little kid. I wish I had that sort of balance in my hobbies. No, for me, Magic has eclipsed all others. Not so the little kid, sunburnt in the summer with red patches obscuring identical freckle fields under his eyes and skin peeling off the top of his ears, buying Fallen Empires packs at the discount price because Thrull Champion is, in his limited but noble domain, the nut high. Tomorrow he will shoot hoops.

I’m tired. I’m weary. I’m frolicking in a land of digital objects. I’m attacking for two. And I’m back. Back again. There is nothing so depressing as a long losing streak.”Real life” Magic, due to expense, time requirements, and the relatively poor quality of the opposition, does not deal in such streaks. The rounds take longer, there are plenty of jabronies to beat (and, one supposes, pies to eat), and each result, be it victory or defeat, is interspersed staccato-style with bouts of actual human interaction. If you lose, you don’t notice quite as much.

Oh, it still hurts. If you think I’m saying that I can shrug off losing in”real life,” then I’m giving you entirely the wrong idea, and for that I apologize. The point I’m trying to make is that flesh-and-blood Magic can never compete with MODO in terms of sheer volume of play. Losses don’t come in bunches, they come in avalanches. Or in eight hours, you can win five drafts, as I once did.

It takes an even shorter time to lose five.

With MODO, you’ve got no one for company but some names in a clan chatroom (and I can tell you from my own sordid experience that at 3 a.m., those names are often few and far between) and the steady backbeat of an MP3 playlist. The events go by in rapid fire. You play Eminem, you hit #mtgwacky, you wait for the OTJ or OOL queue to fill. You wake up from a daze of web browsing and popcorn-eating when MODO flashes in your taskbar and you know your draft is starting.

Times have changed. I used to draft once or twice per month. Then it was once or twice per week, after the players at Future Pastimes discovered the fun of three-on-three team draft. Now, given the MODO resources (nectar of the Gods, my friends), I draft four or five times/day. In fact, if I wasn’t bust right now, I’d probably be drafting instead of writing this. I’d log on, say”hi” to my clanmates, and go sit in the OOL draft queue.

Kurt Hahn would happen by, and he’d ask me”How are the drafts going?” I’d reply that I just first-picked a Goblin Sharpshooter and got shipped another Sharpshooter.

“Hot!” would be the rejoinder in question. And all would be right with the world.

The unfortunate fact is that I am bust, and as a result, all is most certainly not right with the world. A little bad play, a few cold cards, a couple of mispicks, a couple of misclicks, sayonara tickets, don’t forget to write. So I’ve returned, for a short while at least, to a forum where there are no winners and losers but only those who hold the pens and add their own perspective. I won’t forget to write.

The shape of my Magic hobby is so different now than it was a year ago or two years ago – or, really, even three months ago. Magic Online changes things a lot. Not only do you play more than ten times as much (especially in Limited formats) but your outlook changes because of the very implications of the results of that play. I’ve won six drafts in a row (“winning” in MODO is defined as”splitting in the finals”), only to turn around and play ten drafts in succession without procuring so much as a single pack in prizes.

As my online rating goes, so goes my mood. If the rating is about 1750, that means I’m losing my shirt and probably ready to strangle someone using my nerves as garrote wire. If I’m at 1830, then I’m on a winning streak and high as a kite on a solution comprised of Pepsi and all-natural accomplishment-powered endorphins. Healthy stuff from Confidence Farms, and a fine treat, but I partake of this particular delicacy far less often than I would like. Instead, I’m chowing on a quarter-pound Lossburger with a side of bad beets.

Oh, constant reader, how I get in my”moods”! MODO-induced grumpiness is like PMS for sharks – a sort of grotesque melancholy intertwined with moments of sour, snappy anger. If you saw me in such circumstances, you’d say,”There stands a man who looks like he just kissed the wrong end of a baby.” During these periods of disquiet, I sometimes turn my thoughts inward and wonder what path I’d be on right now, Magic-wise, if I was a different sort of person, and content to fill a different role. When you’re losing, almost any alternative seems like a penny from heaven. The grass, after all, is always greener on the other side.

I envy the little kid. We’ll call him Timmy, I suppose, but that moniker is perhaps a disservice to one so oblivious to the inner workings of Hasbro, a creature willing to accept not the man behind the curtain but only Oz himself. The product of Wizards corporate culture and design strategy, the name”Timmy” has fallen from those lofty heights into general use by the common man. Many intermediate players see fit to pull up development columns by Randy Buehler every Friday by using their newfangled computer machines to fiddle around with the”Interweb,” and there they are educated regarding”Timmy” and his cohorts. In this cyberworld, it is easy to forget that Timmy, a composite personification of tens of thousands of players worldwide, has a strong basis in reality. The little kid doesn’t know that he’s Timmy to us; this is one of his greatest strengths, right up there alongside an unquashable enthusiasm and his complete disregard for the actual rules of the game.

The little kid, all sharp angles and skinned elbows and bubblegum-sticky sneaker soles, divides his time between playing Magic and doing whatever else happens to interest him. If he’d been born seven years ago, he’d be trading Pogs and wearing Pumps and getting”steps” shaved into the side of his head. Given the choice between tiddly-winks and turning Elvish Piper sideways, he could go either way. He might flip a coin.

I wish I had that sort of balance in my hobbies. No, for me, Magic has eclipsed all others. Not so the little kid, sunburnt in the summer with red patches obscuring identical freckle fields under his eyes and skin peeling off the top of his ears, buying Fallen Empires packs at the discount price because Thrull Champion is, in his limited but noble domain, the nut high. Tomorrow he will shoot hoops.

A citizen of that dreamy realm where the rules bend to his whim and not the reverse, the smallest of the planeswalkers plays Worldgorger Dragon and gleefully ignores the CIP trigger. Skirk Prospector enjoys a utopian existence where he is not sacrificed for red mana, but instead thrown into a jumbled pile with the rest of the mountains – it taps from then on to help cast spells. If corrected, the little kid will cheerfully rectify his mistake, only to forget again when the situation repeats itself seconds later. He plays best with other little kids, of course, and it is in their company that he can usually be found, rushing ever forward in a mutated version of the game, a contest filled with castaway fatties dead to the world of sanctioned play. When his Worldgorger Dragon (which has no drawback) is blocked by Charging Slateback (which doesn’t have flying, and furthermore can’t block) he neglects to assign trample damage. No one ever has priority. The game is all flavor.

When he wins, nothing is won; when he loses, nothing is lost. The cards quickly become dog-eared, and some unfortunate favorites are sure to slowly accrue a layer of sweat mixed with cookies. It is inconsequential to the young man, who plunges into his attack phase (never called as such) like a man possessed, oblivious to impediments on his cardfaces or in the play area itself. He’ll game another day regardless, the results of this session will roll off of his back, he’ll bring beats with Magmasaur until momma calls him home for dinner. He taps his blockers. His sorceries sit in play.

When I lose, I lose rating points. Chances. My faith in myself. I stand to lose all sorts of things, material and intangible. Rules text binds me like a vise. I have to spend money on sleeves, dice, and travel. For these reasons and many others, it hurts to lose. That’s why, sometimes, when the streaks aren’t kind, I envy the little kid. Sometimes I wish I could go back to the driveway and play sun-parched, heat-curled, dirt-encrusted Worldgorger Dragons with no drawbacks. An endless stream of meaningless but fun contests, my cards oscillating slowly but surely towards”Poor” condition.

Heh. I can’t have it both ways, can I? Too far gone. As much as I’d like to run off towards a blissfully ignorant state of hobby immersion, legs scissoring madly to get away from the pressures of playtesting and mistake-quashing, it won’t happen. For every losing streak that turns my eyes toward a more stress-free Magic existence, there’s a winning streak to keep me drafting. The streaks can be demoralizing as all hell, it’s true – but as an abjuration of my own frustrated longing to quit (a feeling that crops up when the losses start to stack like cordwood), there is this:

I think if the little kid were to know what it feels like to play Magic for high stakes, and win, he might look up from his kitchen table and envy me.