Let's play a game. I'll ask a question, and you will answer it. If you can't think of an honest answer to my question, you have to stop reading this article and never return. Feel free to take your time and mull my question over, since it will be important.
You may as well accept, since it's impossible for me to enforce the rules. The only one who will know if you decide to cheat will be yourself.
At this point, I will assume that you have agreed to the rules of my game or that you fear me and your own mind. Let's begin.
What could you be doing right now that would be a better use of your time instead of reading this article?
It was the morning of Saturday, October 13, 2012, and Return to Ravnica was being released on Magic Online that very weekend. It was also the weekend of Champs AND the revival of the Team Grand Prix. A delicious convergence of Magic tournaments…and I wasn't planning on playing in any of them.
I'd skipped Champs last year and was going to again this year. I was qualified for the MOCS but wasn't planning on playing in it. What was I going to be doing instead...? Shopping with my girlfriend (let's call her “Girlfriend”).
Girlfriend was always very supportive when I played in a Magic tournament. She'd ask for frequent updates and cheer me on. Her smile was a constant reminder that there is beauty beyond the cards.
What's this? Girlfriend had a piano lesson at 2 PM, and the MOCS was scheduled at noon. I decided to check out my pool and play a few rounds before meeting up with her to go shopping. I had scraped together the minimum fifteen points to qualify for the MOCS almost entirely from Cube drafts. (My stash of Cube tickets sat in my account, looking like a wheelbarrow full of hyper-inflated rubles I couldn't use to buy a loaf of bread.)
The MOCS Pool
The joy of opening a fresh Sealed pool never gets old. The pool was underpowered, but it didn't bother me; this was just practice. In a real-life, PTQ I would have been disappointed, but since online tournaments are harder, I wasn't expecting to win anyway.
... Now, most folks would say, “What a dumb animal.” Instead I said, “Wow, I wonder why he didn't follow along as a horse colt would. This mule obviously has his own set of logical reasons that I don't understand. I wonder what's going on in that brain of his...
filibuster filibuster filibuster filibuster filibuster win
My Azor's Elocutors filibuster their way to four. It's going to happen. He thinks and casts a Trostani's Judgment on...my New Prahv Guildmage? He passes the turn and gets filibusted out of the game on my upkeep. My opponent just didn't read the card.
I start by watching my opponent's replays and prepare myself for a hard battle. He has a Jace and Rakdos's Return, two cards my deck has a very hard time dealing with. I'm waiting. My opponent still hasn't shown up. Five minutes pass. He's still not here. Is he hurt? Did his house catch fire? Nine minutes go by, and I realize he isn't going to make it. I win, but at what cost...? Are you OK, Round 3 Opponent?
Vraska makes an appearance. I watch her work, shyly from the corner of my eye, resisting the temptation to stare as she dusts my enemies. I feel safe with her. The statues she leaves are tribute to me. They hold her gaze. What answers lie beneath that glance of death and beauty?
Another win. Right before my opponent concedes, he quips “Very greed, but nice pool.”
Very greed, indeed. 5-0.
In game 3, I stabilize at 5 life. Vraska has taken over the game. I'm going to win soon.
My opponent UNTAPs.
And he types to me.
I know what's coming.
He taps 6 mana.
I feel no anger or tilt.
5-1. My mind is mush. Girlfriend has returned. I've already missed our shopping date. She wants to spend time with me, but I can still win.
Besides I have Vraska to keep me company. She's all I need. Girlfriend is shooed into the other room to watch Chopped on the cooking channel.
I start winning again. Guildgates are fetched, Elocutors buy time, Vraska petrifies armies. My deck is humming. As the rounds tick by, the cards blur. My vision becomes foggy and my eyes strained.
A champion emerges: Doorkeeper. What appears to be an annoying bump reveals itself to be a deadly tumor.
A doorkeeper who?
A doooor keep her
Adore... Keep... Her...
Online you can't see your opponent. You can't feed off their weaknesses. There's only yourself in the reflection of the screen.
The final round of Swiss. We're one win away from Top 8 and paired up against the number one seed who's a stone lock.
Maybe he will scoop to us.
I win the roll. The clock is ticking. Let's end this before my opponent thinks there's a game to be played. It would be so easy for him to scoop and relax, to brew some tea, and prepare himself for the Top 8 draft.
I open the chat.
ME: Would you like to scoop to me?
...Should I add a smiley face at the end?
No. We're not romancing him.
Three minutes of my clock get eaten up while I wait for a response. I'm about to give up and just play when...
OPPONENT: Does the play-draw rule work online?
Just tell him what he wants to hear.
ME: I'm pretty sure it doesn't
OPPONENT: hmm well I'll probably scoop but lets just play it out cuz im bored
He's jerking us around. Who plays Magic for fun?
If you think there's any chance the opponent will concede, it dulls you—the difference between walking a tightrope with or without a safety net.
He leads on Pack Rat but is stuck on two lands. We win the match and lock up Top 8 in short order...I wonder if he would've scooped?
Girlfriend is watching Moneyball. She congratulates me on making Top 8.
Top 8 Draft
Arrest is the pick.
The Mangler is quickly dismissed, since that's not where we want to be color-wise. Arrest or Authority?
Take the Arrest, stupid.
The correct pick is probably Arrest, but I can't stop myself from taking the rare; as the seconds wind down, I take the Authority.
No. We took the Arrest.
I clicked on the Authority. I decided to take the Authority, but somehow the Arrest ends up in my drafted pile.
Pay attention. Do I have to do everything around here?
Was there some sort of glitch, or did my subconscious take the correct card?
We made the right decision. Be happy. Anyway the next pick is happening.
Focus. There's a draft going on. The next pack has a Centaur Healer and little else. We carefully move the cursor over the centaur and CLICK it. It obligingly adds itself to my drafted cards. I'm back in control.
By the end of the first pack, I have some decent Bant cards. I've been prioritizing fixing and snapped up the only Guildgate I saw.
This is going very well. Keep it up.
I windmill slam a Sphinx of the Chimes pack 2 pick 1.
A Ring a Ding Ding
Pack 3 pick 3 Jace, Architect of Thought shows up.
1 Armory Guard
1 Axebane Guardian
1 Centaur Healer
2 Centaur's Herald
1 Gatecreeper Vine
1 Hussar Patrol
1 Isperia's Skywatch
1 Soulsworn Spirit
1 Sphinx of the Chimes
1 Vassal Soul
We're going to win if you don't screw this up.
We're up against the nut Rakdos. We barely steal game one with a Blustersquall. Game 2 against a Desecration Demon, and at 1 life we barely maneuver a win. Adrenaline courses through our body with nowhere to go. I'm still sitting and looking at a screen, even though it feels like I've been fighting for my life. I'm spent.
C'mon we're winning. Get pumped up. Get confident. Get ready to win.
My girlfriend comes in the room. She's been watching TV for hours now. She's restless and chilly and wants to light up the fireplace in the basement.
“I need a man to make me a fire; that's why I'm dating you.”
And here I thought it was for my stunning good looks.
Can't she see I need to focus?
She's trying to distract us. She doesn't want us to win.
She's just joking around. She misses us. Relax. Breathe. I'll just make a quick fire for her before the next round starts...
How sickeningly chivalrous. What matters right now is winning. You're going to relax instead of making her a fire.
Well...maybe I shouldn't be running my overheated brain at a time like this unless it's completely necessary. Once again Girlfriend gets hurried into the other room with nothing but excuses. She remains without a fire, as I lie down to calm my nerves before the semis.
Relax... don't even think about what's really important or not.
What do you want from me? Can't you just leave me alone?
I want what you want. To win. That's all you want, right?
YES, and you're not helping.
You're right; we usually perform soooo much better when we don't think these types of thoughts. You should just handle the rest on autopilot.
Oh, well, sorry for being rude, I'm feeling a bit...
That was sarcasm.
How about we just drop the whole thing? We can over-analyze later; if there's any risk of it hurting us, we just shouldn't do it…
It's helping us, besides we can't stop thinking.
Fine, I can accept that.
The other matches start to finish. I watch the replays of my opponents and list out all the cards in their deck, making sure to make note of any tricks and bombs.
The next round begins. I'm calm and focused. I sweep the semis 2-0.
The final match is about to start. I stay put, not going to tell Girlfriend that I'm in the last round. Better to avoid distraction and not give myself an opening to think about anything but the game. Right?
She would want to know you're winning.
Quiet! It's starting. We're up against a mediocre G/W deck with a bunch of dudes and no real bombs. We take game 1.
We're going to win.
Game 2 turns into a stalemate; I'm just waiting for my superior card quality and fliers to kick in. I can almost taste victory.
Just don't write an article after we win. That would be very bad for us.
How are we gonna race that? Did you scout that? This is what happens when I leave you alone for even a second. We're going to die: cold and alone in this basement.
He has a Rogue's Passage, a Crocodile he can make unblockable, and a Bird token. Just draw your card. JACE.
Hmmph not bad.
That's a good one. +1 and make him attack Jace down to 3. Now let's -2 and hope to hit. A Blustersquall. Now tap him out and force through some damage. And draw...Sphinx of the Chimes.
Bailed out again.
We have too much momentum now... We win... We won...
I feel a moment of peace that lasts just seconds. The void.
Hold for applause. Oh wait... there's no one here.
I'm alone in a basement with the door shut.
Did you adore her?
I go to wake Girlfriend who's curled up asleep on the couch next to the remains of a failed attempt to start a fire. It's 1:30 AM.
“You won? Oh good.”
I felt no excitement or joy. Only a sense of relief.
Did you make the correct use of your time?