"What’s all this?" I said as I rummaged through the cards laid out on the table. They appeared to be the contents of three packs of Modern Masters, and to the side of the opened wrappers and chaff commons were three rares:
Sitting at the table and presumably the owner of this motley assortment of cards was GP Champ Frank Skarren. I never allowed him the chance to respond, however, as I realized the tangent I was about to embark on and focused back on the task at hand— figuring out the last two sideboard cards in my U/W Control decklist that was due about three minutes ago. Man I hate Ratchet Bomb. Luckily for me, SCG Standard Open: Philadelphia was running a little bit behind schedule, and my lack of punctuality was not punished.
Fast forward to the next day.
After a rough finish in Standard, I was off to a reasonable 5-1 start in Legacy. After winning my on-camera feature match in very convincing fashion, I noticed Frank sitting alone at a table. He had a sullen look on his face and a Modern Masters booster pack in his hand.
"What’s up buddy? What’s with the pack?" I asked him.
He said he was gonna crack it. My thoughts flashed back to the previous day to the pile of cards with Jugan, the Rising Star and friends. Figuring that he had won them as a prize or something, I asked him where all of these Modern Masters packs were coming from.
"I bought them," he replied.
"You what?" I said in shock.
"I bought them. I did crappy yesterday and just dropped today, and I just enjoy the sweat of opening some Modern Masters packs."
I asked if the same was true for the packs yesterday, and he said yeah. I asked him how much the packs cost.
"Twelve bucks each"
Wow. Frank had bought four Modern Masters packs from the StarCityGames.com retail booth for twelve dollars each. I tried to explain to him that I know he doesn’t really need cards from Modern Masters and that twelve dollars is an insane amount of money for each pack. Everyone knows that if you really need cards the best way to get them is to just buy the singles you want directly from a reputable dealer— preferably one that offers friendly customer service, outstanding selection, the best reputation in the business, its own extremely successful independent tournament circuit, fantastic free online articles . . . oh and did I mention the best (and most handsome) editor on the Internet?
Apparently I underestimated the level of Frank’s degeneracy.
But still, Frank is my friend, and if he just wants to get a little gamble on and have some fun, who am I to stop him. As he began to open the pack, I recalled how I used to open packs when I had just first started playing; I made him shuffle the pack facedown and reveal the cards one by one. He asked me why, and I told him it increases the sweat since you never know what card is going to be next. We started to flip:
And then we hit our rare:
Not too shabby! Arcbound Ravager is about a fifteen-dollar card, so we made out on this one. #Scoreboard I guess, am I right? Because the foil had not yet been revealed, we were still live for the holy grail of Modern Masters: a foil Tarmogoyf. We continued:
And then we saw some shine:
Wow, not bad at all! A foil Engineered Explosives is worth around twenty dollars, so Frank really made out on this pack. Again, #scoreboard. While I was the voice of reason in the situation and explained how even though this pack went well the three other stinker packs really meant he broke about even all the packs together, Frank seemed moderately pleased with himself. When he got up, I asked him what he was going to do with the cards.
"I’m gonna sell them and buy more Modern Masters packs; what else would I do with them?" he said derisively.
As he began to make his way over to the dealer booth, I was left standing in a state of shock.
"You what?" I said once again.
We walked together to the dealer booth, and I tried to explain the basic economical blunder he is making. Buying packs just to try to get cards is definitely not a profitable venture, and selling cards back to the dealer is also not a profitable venture—it’s their job to buy low and sell high so they can make money and keep providing the fantastic services we love them for. I try to explain him that if he kept doing this he would eventually lose all of his money.
Frank turned to me with a diabolical smirk on his face.
"It’s not about the money; it’s about the sweat. It’s about the thrill of the game; it’s about the glory of opening a foil Tarmogoyf."
I took it all in.
Okay, I can sorta see that. I understand that people like collecting things and people like good stories. If Frank really wants the chance for that awesome story and his shiny prize of a foil Tarmogoyf, I guess it can be hard to put a price on personal satisfaction. Again, Frank is my friend, and if he wishes to spend his money and get his own personal satisfaction in this way, I really shouldn’t be complaining as long as he is happy.
However, I was starting to understand the true nature of Frank’s startling degeneracy.
I had an awful thought.
"Frank . . . "
"Yeah?" he haphazardly replied.
"What would you do if you actually opened a foil Tarmogoyf?"
I could already feel that I was not going to like the answer, and my suspicions were quickly confirmed; before he even opened his mouth, his smirk slowly transformed into a grin.
"I don’t know. I’ll probably just sell it back to the dealer and get more Modern Masters packs."
. . .
. . .
"You what?" The words escaped on a bated breath; I was literally beside myself.
I began to breathe again.
"But Frank! That’s your prize! That’s what you’re shooting for! It would be the crown jewel of your collection. Wouldn’t you wanna PTQ with it, or put it in your cube, or even just put it on the front page of your binder so you can show it off and tell the story?"
He looked me right in the eyes and told me, "Nah, that stuff doesn’t really matter to me."
I studied his face—I believed him.
I was trying to wrap my head around this, but every time I started to understand a new even more disturbing factor was added. Desperate to comprehend, I drew up a scenario.
"Okay, Frank, I get gambling. I get that it’s a rush and its fun and that some people enjoy that. That’s what casinos are for; you go in and know you are behind, but you spend a few bucks to have a good time and maybe come out ahead. Sure, I get it. But like . . . okay . . . what if you go to a casino to play some roulette? You drop a few hundred bucks on the table, the ball goes around, and you make some bets and have a great time. Then, on about your seventh spin, you win! The casino pays you their slanted payout of 35 to 1 on your 38 to 1 bet, and you’ve won hundreds and hundreds of dollars. So then what? Do you just burn the money because it’s not really about that; it’s just about the gamble, the sweat, and enjoying the game?"
At this point in our conversation, we were walking through the spacious grand hall of the Philadelphia Convention Center on our way to get some food, and Frank stopped walking. I stopped as well and turned to face him. Punctuated by the marble floor and modern art hanging 60 feet above our heads, the tension rose.
I felt uncomfortable.
He then said to me words I will never forget.
"It’s not about the money. It’s about making a statement."
"This game deserves a better class of degenerate, and I’m going to give it to them."