Two Tales of Woe, or Keeping The Lonely Struggle Lonely, Damnit

I love Magic for many things, and one of those things is camaraderie. On the weekend, even if I’m sick as a dog and can’t keep my head straight, I’ll head off for the local cardboard center and shuffle up, or at least say hi to the locals. Getting out for a stretch and making social calls is important. In my personal case, there’s no more enjoyable opportunity to use my Japanese in a practical situation than inter-match banter.

A trustworthy source was observing the finals of a National Championship. The first game had concluded. A Magic player at the absolute top echelon of the game, Patrick O’Young, was watching from the wings as Joe Schmerson and Don Know faced off for the top position. (These are not the actual names, obviously.) Pat was standing behind Joe. There were lots of people crowded around the finals. Pat has had many opportunities to sit down at the red covered tables before. This weekend hadn’t been a kind one to him. He had a winning record, but was quite a few slots below the cutoff for making money. So why not watch the finals?

Sources have done a good job scouting Joe. Our friend Joe has a regular sideboarding method. He looks at his cards and mulls them over before putting the good ones down in a pile ready to go into the deck. On this fine Sunday, Joe slipped a card to the front of the fifteen-card pile and scratched his chin.

Pat matter-of-factly uttered one word. “Don’t.”

It wasn’t a loud utterance. It wasn’t a quiet one either. I wasn’t there, but I imagine I’d use the same voice I used when I was working at the record store, just loud enough to be easily distinguishable while not at all surpassing or even matching the volume of the music coming from the store’s speakers. (We were trying to sell the music, after all.)

That utterance was too loud.

A judge standing behind Joe’s back heard the voice. The judge knew that voice. He recognized the voice as Pat’s.

After summoning a replacement, the judge went off to converse with the head judge. The final continued. But Pat got a tap on his shoulder and was called to the back of the hall. He was informed of his infraction and told to act on his best behavior. That was his warning.

Pat also received a DQ. The tournament was in its final throes, but it hadn’t ended, and Pat knew he wasn’t going to make any money. Pat only looked bad on the books. Otherwise, he hadn’t lost a thing. But the judges knew what went wrong, and accumulating a black mark on your record can lead to time on the sideline. That’s enough of a punishment.

This sort of event is why Pro Tour finals get sequestered.

Don’t get me wrong, I love Magic for many things, and one of those things is camaraderie. On the weekend, even if I’m sick as a dog and can’t keep my head straight, I’ll head off for the local cardboard center and shuffle up, or at least say hi to the locals. Getting out for a stretch and making social calls is important. In my personal case, there’s no more enjoyable opportunity to use my Japanese in a practical situation than inter-match banter. I keen my ears carefully to catch the details of friends’ bad beat stories and lucky topdecks, and try my best to follow with questions.

Gabbing between rounds fills a social need too. Humans are gregarious animals and just don’t feel right if they’re alone for too much time. And when we’re together, it’s natural to watch, to wince, to gasp, grumble and cheer. When people on the sidelines are permitted to chime in and make their thoughts heard, it’s a liberating feeling. That’s why I love formats like Two-Headed Giant and Team Constructed. I’ll admit I love Team Rochester draft over any of these, where vocal team communication during the draft is still verboten to the best of my knowledge. Communication is a great deal of what makes those team formats so special and exciting. Giving your friend a leg up can turn a match.

And that’s why as a spectator, you need to keep your damn yap shut. Outside of the team environment, Magic is and ought to be a game that’s one-on-one. Interjecting your opinion and view onto a match is inappropriate. The only time you are obligated to get involved is when there’s a rules infraction that’s occurred. And if you do take the initiative to correct rules gaffes, do so through the game’s designated intermediary. Use the judge. Don’t start something that goes horribly wrong. Hang out in case the judge needs a witness, but let the judge do the heavy lifting.

I had the dubious pleasure of witnessing another highly unpleasant sequence of events in the quarterfinals at this year’s Japanese Nationals. If you haven’t read the coverage from Japanese Nationals yet, you can find the coverage here. Pro Tour: Nagoya winner Shuu Komuro faced off against Makoto Nagashima, a relative unknown. Komuro’s definitely a solid Limited player, but he really wasn’t expecting all that much out of the match. After getting his slot into the Top 8, he stayed up for a few hours testing his first round matchup. Komuro had the advantage of looking at his opponent’s decklist from the night before and got a friend to test the matchup. And in the testing, each and every game went the way of Nagashima. Komuro simply didn’t have the hard counters to prevent the Project from going off, and it was rare to muster the offense required to take home a win.

Shuu walked in with the mindset of a doomed man. I wasn’t kidding when I wrote that his head wasn’t in the game. It’s not my job as a feature match writer to make people look bad. It’s a coverage writer’s job to tell the story in a compelling, entertaining, honest fashion. And let’s be frank. Another key part of the coverage writer’s job is making Magic look good. Telling the story of one player’s mental absence in a match isn’t going to enhance Magic’s image. But the reader deserves more than a puff piece. Reporters have an obligation to tell the truth of the match. And believe me when I say that a giant black cloud was floating around Komuro’s head the entire match.

When I sat down at the table, I was taken aback at the gear around the table. Microphones, a hot, bright light trained on the red zone, and three cameras. Of course, that was being saved for the finals. Everything was on, but nothing was recording. The technicians in the back were using the match as a test to make sure the recording equipment was set up. I thought Komuro would have a mental edge on Nagashima, since Komuro’s been under hot lights before at the Pro Tour. All this was new for Nagashima.

What actually happened in the actual games was that Nagashima won two and lost two cleanly (for the most part). When Nagashima lost, it was due to a confluence of unfortunate Dark Confidant draws and painful mana draws. Komuro really wasn’t in the game. He was rather embarrassed and quiet during the game, more resigned than anything else. After all, as a Level 3 player, his invitation to Worlds was secure. He was going to finish in the money. Isn’t that enough? It was enough for Komuro. I’ve never seen a player in such a high profile situation who’s more resigned. I’d compare him to Antoine Ruel goofy Ancestral Recall performance at Pro Tour: Honolulu. Antoine was showboating, while Shuu was acting like a lamb being led to slaughter. That is, he was stoic, quiet, and most damningly, didn’t put up much of a fight.

Yes, tactically, he did play all the right spells, he carefully saved a Momentary Blink for a rainy day to avoid Extirpate so that he could play and flip up Akroma, but he wasn’t operating at his best. He would have easily won games 3 and 5 if he had merely looked at Akroma and read all the text.

What’s more, Komuro let his shaky mental state interfere with his game. His mind was so worried about playing around Extirpate that he went for a Plains in his library after sacrificing a Hallowed Fountain. He couldn’t see that it was a Flagstones. Now, admittedly he had shuffled his library before on that turn with a previous Flagstones sacrifice, so the damage to the game state wasn’t hard to fix. And he had accidentally made a sideboard error before game 3, presenting a 61-card deck. But the Japanese reporter who was also a judge caught it and nipped the error in the bud before it could seriously affect game play and did commendable work.

But Komuro yet again made the tragic error of forgetting to read all the abilities of his Akroma, Angel of Fury. The Angel kept swinging into meek Birds of Paradise and dedicated all its legendary ire to the Bird and not Nagashima. When the audience started piping up, both players couldn’t believe it. Komuro ended up losing a game he should have won, pure and simple. And if the audience kept quiet, he’d have a cleaner record.

There’s a simple lesson. That’s making sure you know all your cards, particularly the ones in the sideboard with lots of text. But there’s a deeper moral to take away from this tale. The really important lesson to be learned here is that you gotta have heart. Shuu was an underdog. Where was the hustle? Where was the driving mind that was looking to scrape out the victory against ugly odds? If he had brought a little more attitude and care to the game, he would be at least two hundred dollars richer.

It’s important to win at Magic. But it’s more important to play every game of Magic to the best of your ability. Komuro had flawless resource management and operational skill throughout the match. He only screwed up on one issue. That issue was the one that killed him.

Don’t pity the guy too much, though. One of the members of the National Team opted to give up his seat, so Komuro’s getting bumped up onto the team. Traveling to New York from Japan is quite the schlep. (Though I will be making that schlep happily, even if I’m just going as a spectator.) So Japan will have a Pro Tour winner making the National Team for once. The rest of the team is quite deep. I’ve seen Ren Ishikawa do quite a lot of good work in GPs before, so I have confidence in both teams I’m supporting this year. I hope that Komuro can forget about the disastrous match and get his mental game into gear for Worlds. Japan’s most knowledgeable scenester Keita Mori kept telling us that the Pro Tour Champion had been slacking off. A lot of eyes will be tracking Komuro in Manhattan. I know I’ll be bringing two of them. I sincerely hope he can get back to fighting form.

Eli Kaplan
turboeli on Magic Online