Compulsive Research - How Not To Prepare For The Tournament Of A Lifetime
March 20, 2011 - Eleven weeks (minus one day) until Invitational
The StarCityGames.com Open Series rolls into
for the weekend, and a tiny bit of skill, a whole lot of luck, and plenty of generosity leaves me as thechampion of Draft Open #1. Now I'm qualified for the Invitational in June, which is going to be played in my home state of Indiana. That'll let me see my family. That's the good news. The bad news is that I'm barely competent to play Standard at the FNM level, and I have never played a sanctioned round of Legacy. I have less than three months to get ready to play against the absolute masters. Let's get to it!
March 25, 2011 - Ten weeks (plus one day) until Invitational
My article goes up and gets some interesting reactions, especially on Twitter.
@Geordie_Tait - Just read an author go completely out of his way to be self-deprecating and still not end up self-deprecating enough for what transpired.
I got lucky in Fort Worth. Luck won't win Indy. Practice might.
March 26, 2011 - Ten weeks until Invitational
My work schedule is sorted out. I'll have to grind hard (at work, not Magic) in the week leading up to the Invitational because a deadline is coming, but my boss is arranging things so I can get away for the Invitational. Thanks, Chief! Now to buy airline tickets and all the other necessities...
April 2, 2011 - Nine weeks until Invitational
Goodbye, Draft Open prize money. Hello, airline tickets! I also have an inside line to a John Avon painting, the last one I need to complete my set of basic land original art. (I don't have much, but I'm a sucker for original art.) I could get playsets of Force of Will and Wasteland and run straight-blue Merfolk for the Legacy portion of the Invitational instead of just piloting Affinity as I had planned, or I could sell off some nonessential cards and get the painting. Decisions, decisions...
April 9, 2011 - Eight weeks until Invitational
Dallas /Fort Worth. I get the painting instead of the cards. There will be other copies of Force of Will. There isn't another example of this original artwork.
Then again, for a player like me, it isn't likely there will be another chance at a $10,000 top prize, either. Unless I get ridiculously lucky in a PTQ or Grand Prix, I'll never go to a Pro Tour, so for me, this Invitational is the tournament of a lifetime. Did I just sacrifice my chance at $10,000 for a piece of Magic art?
Legacy won't matter if I can't get comfortable with a Standard deck, though, and 3-3-drop with Valakut in the Grand Prix isn't putting my mind at ease. What else can I play...?
April 16, 2011 - Seven weeks until Invitational
I keep vacillating. I brew up a Landfall-Ramp deck for Regionals, only to toss it aside at the last minute and play Goblins. The deck gets me to 5-2 but leaves me a round short of drawing into the Nationals slot. Red decks have been good to me. Maybe I should just decide on Red and Affinity for the Invitational and focus on them, but there's New Phyrexia to think about...
April 23, 2011 - Six weeks until Invitational
New Phyrexia is leaked. Batterskull is in the set. Red's matchup against Caw-Blade just went in the toilet. Back to the drawing board. What's galling is that I can't play the best deck, Caw-Blade. I have zero experience playing the deck so far, and in a mirror match against competent opponents, unless they mulligan to oblivion or I topdeck like I'm cheating, the opponent is going to win.
At the Invitational, every opponent is going to be competent. Except maybe me. I'm my worst enemy.
April 29, 2011 - Five weeks (plus one day) until Invitational
The hallway at work. Two guys are having a conversation up ahead. The first thing I hear is, “Ever notice how assassins always have middle names?”
The first guy waves. “Hey, John... Dale.”
“Oh, nothing much,” the other one answers. He stares down at his coffee. Then, “So congratulations on the card game! I saw it in the newsletter.”
“Thanks!” I've had dozens of coworkers congratulate me on my Draft Open win, ever since my smiling mug appeared in the company newsletter. Before the newsletter, my Magic hobby had been a quiet part of my work personality—my immediate department knew, plus a few close acquaintances and the people who took a close look at the Plains poster on my office wall, but I never went around proclaiming “I play Magic” or anything like that. But a coworker told the lady who writes the company newsletter about my win, and she asked me for details and pictures, and she's so awesome—how could I say no? So most of the company knows a little about me and has something to talk about with me. It's been a boon for an introvert like me.
“Ten grand is a lot of money, man. I hope you win it.”
“So do I, thanks.”
I thank him again and leave. When I get back to my office, there's another congratulatory e-mail. It's great to see how my coworkers are rooting for me, but also a reminder of how much testing I should do, and how little I have done. After the Invitational, I'll have to tell folks at work how I did.
I can't think about it now. There is work in front of me, and I'm on the clock. I get to it.
May 7, 2011 - Four weeks until Invitational
I have a strange relationship with my Magic dreams. Usually they end with me calling shenanigans on the premise and then waking up. This time I'm on the train, testing a Chancellor of the Tangle–Fauna Shaman Valakut deck, when a middle-aged woman in a 5XL Tweety sweatshirt walks up to me and tells me Magic cards are evil and I'm going to hell. I call shenanigans—the last time a complete stranger told me I was going to hell for playing Magic, I was still in high school. Back then, I sneered at him and told him, “See you there,” but in my dream, I just call shenanigans, and I wake up.
May 11, 2011 - Three weeks (plus three days) until Invitational
I'm sitting on my bed, goldfishing Affinity and flopping the cards on top of a Rose-Hulman Fightin' Engineers blanket. Seat of the Synod. Ornithopter. Springleaf Drum. Frogmite. It feels so familiar. So fair.
I look up. My Charbelcher deck is sitting on the ledge, its golden case beckoning. I shake my head and return to goldfishing. The second turn develops with a Vault of Whispers and a Cranial Plating. Soon I defeat the goldfish.
As I shuffle up for the next goldfish game, snippets of songs start playing in my head. They are a partial soundtrack to my novel-in-progress.
Only a third of the novel is still in my head, but I am in a dry spell. I force through a few hundred words each day, only to find most of them terrible the next day.
When the songs play, though, the words will come. I put down the Affinity deck and get to my keyboard.
May 14, 2011 - Three weeks until Invitational
Last night's dream: I win the Invitational, dispatching Edgar Flores in the semifinals and then Gerry Thompson in the finals.
I do it with a Charbelcher deck.
I should call shenanigans right there, but I don't. I hoist the trophy, and my mom is there, and I ask her, “Is this a dream?” She answers in German, ”Ein Traum, was sonst.”
A dream, what else. I wake up and make a note to myself: stop reading von Kleist before bedtime. Also, test more.
May 21, 2011 - Two weeks until Invitational
Drafting at a friend's house. It's all New Phyrexia, all the time. I toss in my money to keep the cards I draft.
Somebody else gets the Batterskull but lets me borrow it for the upcoming PTQ and Invitational. Thanks! I'm halfway to a Caw-Blade deck already. Now I just need to find four copies of Jace, the Mind Sculptor...
May 22, 2011 - Two weeks (minus one day) until Invitational
Chancellor of the Tangle. Fauna Shaman. Chancellor of the Tangle. Fauna Shaman. There's something here. Can I unlock it? I'm sitting outside a restaurant at a wrought-iron table. A Valakut list containing both cards is on my right. A half-eaten, mostly forgotten plate of biscuits and gravy is on my left. A middle-aged blond lady is jogging on the sidewalk.
She trips. She doesn't get more than half a second to make a sound before she hits the pavement. Then her body makes the sound for her. I remind the few other people eating outside what they may have forgotten during the NFL lockout—when they're motivated, fat guys can run. I'm the first one to her side, and I start asking the questions. What hurts? Can you move it?
Then two young women come up behind me and start asking the same questions. They do it with such authority that I stop talking and let them take over. It's a good call—they're doctors, finishing up their training as trauma surgeons. Yessirree, I think my writer self will just stand off to the side and look decorative. I'll supply a little “dumb muscle” when it's needed and make the odd comment or joke. (The jogger: “If this were California, I'd still be lying on the sidewalk.” Me: “Well, call this Texas hospitality.” I never said they were good comments or jokes.) Unlike the obvious career virtues of the trauma-surgeons-in-training, my writing background proves to be useful only once, when I whip out a notepad and pen so the doctors can write down information.
The family the jogger is staying with arrives, and they drive her to the hospital. I return to my table and find what's left of my breakfast too lukewarm to be appetizing. I don't go back to it, but I do go back to the decklist. Chancellor of the Tangle. Fauna Shaman. What aren't you telling me?
May 24, 2011 - Two weeks (minus three days) until Invitational
If you're playing blue just for Jace, the Mind Sculptor, maybe it's right to cut out Jace? Sure, there's Preordain, and I have to consider Celestial Colonnade, but maybe it's right to slice out blue altogether and run B/W Caw-Blade? Something more aggro than the Gray-Blade decks floating around online. Kor Duelist still plays nicely with Stoneforge Mystic. Call it “Korzhov” perhaps?
The idea comes to me in another dream. I wake and write it down. In the morning I still can't decide: is this the inspiration I need or a poisoned epiphany? I will test the idea in the Pro Tour Qualifier on Saturday.
May 28, 2011 - One week until Invitational
I make a right hash of the PTQ: win-draw-loss-win-loss-drop. Caw-Blade goes to time against me; Mono-Red rides Goblin Guide and Shrine of Burning Rage to conk me out in three games; and RUG survives my discard to draw big threats off the top and play them for a win in two. I struggle with sideboarding—I accidentally leave Sword of Body and Mind in the board for the second game against RUG, only to fail to find it when I go looking for it with Stoneforge Mystic.
The decklist isn't worth giving out—I also realize that I've failed to balance the deck correctly. Three copies of Kor Duelist but only seven paths to a piece of equipment adds up to a big mess.
I know what I want to change: Kor Duelist out, more removal in. Do I want to go down this path, though, or should I return to Valakut or Mono-Red? What am I doing?
May 29, 2011 - Article deadline
I don't have a firm grip on my Standard deck. I don't have any of the Legacy experience I told myself I would get. All I have, in Magic terms, is a record of how not to prepare for the tournament of a lifetime.
The tournament starts on Saturday. As Jean-Paul Sartre ends his existential-hell playHuis Clos (better known in English as No Exit) — “Eh bien, continuons.”
Well, let's get on with it.
@jdbeety on Twitter