I have lost a lot with Magic.
I've played in five tournaments in the past three weekends. That's about five times as much as my normal amount due to me working as a buyer for this website on the weekends.
What changed? I'll get to that later (blunt forshadowing!), but let it be known that there isn't going to be any quirky Constructed deck or Commander list in this article. For all five of you that actually look forward to my semi-regular written content, I apologize. I'll give a bit of my thoughts on the decks I played, but I hear some people on this website finishedpretty well this weekend, so their Standard thoughts likely outstrip my own mental prowess. But if you'd like to meander into my wake of defeat with just a sprinkling of philosophy, please continue on!
Grand Prix Orlando
It all started with Grand Prix Orlando. I had planned on playing in it, so I actually practiced quite a bit. As everybody else has pointed out: this format is sweet™. Maybe it's just because this format is quite a bit slower than Theros Block, and the games aren't ended by just slapping a creature on a creature and asking if you had a specific piece of removal. Maybe it's because the new mechanics are tricky, give you lots of options, and games are more often than not decided by actually getting to play the game.
Or maybe it's just because the default number of colors in a deck is greater than three.
At any rate, I was rewarded with a decent pool that had enough fixing to Clever Imposter my Siege Rhino. Ultimately, I lost due to not hitting lands, or getting double runnered by Crackling Doom into Flying Crane Technique.
Yes, he killed me with a green creature.
Hey, everybody's got about five or so rares in their deck, and even though you may run eighteen lands, you just don't draw them. That's Magic, that's why we keep playing.
So I lost in the Grand Prix, along with 2275 other possible champions. No big deal, a week at Disney should clear that right up.
The day after I came back to reality(ish) from the Most Magical Place on Earth, I was whisked off to a Double SCG States weekend. I didn't know what to play. I know, I'll play Whip of Erebos. It's one of the few cards that's good against pretty much any deck, as long as you play some creatures with *ahem* VALUE. Sidisi works well with that plan, right? But I figured I'd go ahead and play some Doomwake Giants to fend off opposing beasties. Courser of Kruphix is supposed to be good. These are all enchantments, right? Let's play Eidolon of Blossoms too! Everybody knows the mark of a good Magic card is if it says "Draw a card" on it. Who cares if you have to amputate off an arm and go to a Justin Beiber Concert in order to register it in your deck? Play the dang thing!
I'm maindecking four.
Turns out, I had a lot of ramp and a lot of do nothing. Sure, Sidisi would probably make a 2/2. But then she would die. Eidolon of Blossoms is slow and would get Thoughtseized. Doomwake Giant is good on the play, but don't even think about it mattering on the draw versus a normal aggro deck in my durdletron deck that would Satyr Wayfinder for little to no reason. My deck wasn't actually accomplishing anything relevant in any sort of time or capacity. It had no plan. And one of the most important things in a deck is to figure out a plan and do it. Consistently.
So 0-2 board games it was.
The next day in this Richard Garfield filibuster, I decided to mix things up. I decided to play Izzet splash green. Polukranos, World Eater definitely "does something." And against the Jeskai deck, he's a monster (hah). But to be fair, anything with five toughness is.
Now this tournament was where I really shined. Surrak Dragonclaw was Ambush Vipering, Polukranos was Eating, and Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker was…speaking. Then came the tidal wave of mulligans. Then I would draw all mana and no creatures. Ramp decks are extremely susceptible to visiting the Eiffel Tower as you have to have equal parts lands, ramp, and threats. I'm not sure if it was bad draws, bad keeps, bad cards, or bad playing (likely option E.), but I lost. I was dealt Death by Rakshasas and it was all over.
The one thing I took away from this deck was its Templeless manabase in order to cast spells quickly and on time. If you're not playing eighteen Mountains, play these things. Imagine what it will be like when they rotate. Shaky hands will be unkeepable. You'll draw three lands in a row and wish you had some manipulation. Splashing a third color will make your draws inconsistent and unreliable. All I know is that Temples reduce perhaps the most hated RNG in the game, and I can't imagine ever playing Standard without them.
And people thought they were just Guildgates.
But my Flamespeaker Adept and Knowledge and Power deck will live on forever.
What's next in the life of me? Why a trip back to Knoxvegas, The School of Hard Knox, my 'ol R/G shockland for an SCG Premier IQ/PTQ double header weekend. The value! The Glory! The continued Grind! This is truly what it's like to be a fabled "Grinder." I can just see the book they'll be writing about me now…
The first format was Standard. Oh I knew just what to play this time. Izzet splash white. If you can't beat 'em, hope to draw as well as 'em! People are cracking fetches and playing painlands. You've got a lot of spells that deal four damage. The time is right to burn!
News flash: I lost. I played some Phoenixes and Nullifies as my plan against
Jund Abzan. Siege Rhino is power incarnate, and I needed to stop it.
Turns out, if you get to untap with a three mana threat (Goblin Rabblemaster/Mantis Rider), congratulations, you win this game of Magic the Gathering! The only thing is, I didn't. I got Lightning Striked. I got Bile Blighted, I got Nullify'd (come on, man). I then was stuck with Lightning Strikes as they would resolve an Arbor Colossus, or a Sarkhan, or an Elspeth, or anything really. My burn spells just couldn't keep up with their heavy hitters.
That's the other thing about Jeskai Wins/aggro/tempo/control. It's hard to play. Like really hard. You may think that a deck that wants to just point spells at the attic wouldn't be that difficult, but no, this is an eleven on the Mohs scale.
Burn decks are always the most mathematically intense deck. Take your simple country Lightning Strike for instance. Do you jam it on turn 2 in case you get spell flooded (how unlucky) down the line? Do you shoot their creature or their cranium? Just how many draw steps is it getting you if you do the former, and are you tipping your hand too early if you do the latter? Is its only purpose to be a Lotus Petal for Dig Through Time?
And that's just for a spell with one mode! Jeskai Charm and Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker up the ante considerably. Are you the control leaning on one for one-ing your opponent then casting Dig Through Time? Or will you play to drawing a four damage spell on the last possible turn? There's no (Jeweled) Bird to tell you what to do.
This deck has more options than Aion Online's character creation.
I drew 17 of my 24 lands in one match. My End Hostilities left my opponent with but a single Forest. I would have a Nullify in my hand as I watched planeswalker after planeswalker resolve. It was honestly another incredibly frustrating day. If only that Nullify was a Mindswipe (of which I had two of in my 75)!
The Mindswipe Aside
As I was walking around chatting with some of the people that taught me how to play Magic those five long years ago, a judge asked me "So, what's the card today? The tech?" I replied with my favorite Izzet rare in Khans of Tarkir, "Mindswipe." It's a Counterspell! It's a Blaze! It's a whole lot of mana to possibly do not much!
It was then I solidified in my head that one of my weaknesses as a player is pet cards. I think I always knew it to be true. We all have had some at some point. My list is just longer than others relative to my history.
The proactive Cryptic Command!
The only reason to ask "Cards in graveyard?"
You can Enlightened Tutor to Counterbalance Ad Nauseum!
It can block Restoration Angel!
He's good against everything! Except decks with basic lands.
And I'm sure there are many more. But why do we have them?
At least for me, it's the recognition.
Magic players like to be smart, or at the very least, look smart. Is there really a difference?
There's a reason Jace is WotC's main man when it comes to Magic. He's easily relatable both in properties we actually have (brooding, introverted, youngish white male with brown hair) and in properties we aspire to have (intelligence, power). I might have a stronger will to be like him than some people (since I dress up as the dang guy every now and again), but it just reinforces the point that Magic players want to be viewed as smart, and I am one of people most guilty of wanting to be seen as intelligent. It doesn't make a difference if I actually am or not.
It doesn't matter if the card I'm championing is the actual right tool for the job, I'm going to use my flathead screwdriver that's two sizes too small on a Phillips screw just so I can reap the rewards of that red notification number on my social media platform of choice. The retweets are my nectar, the comments my ambrosia.
And that (besides my insatiable lust for all things cinnamon) is how I share a weakness with 14 year old girls all around the world: being cute and craving attention.
If that's what you want out of Magic, fine. But the Spike in me that I've beaten back for years in an attempt to spread the love of the play-for-fun format that is Commander is wounded, and I might never get to fully heal him. But wait, we have more losing to do!
Ah yes, another shot to justify my practice and recent grinder habits in the Khans of Tarkir Limited format. I opened up a sweet foil Forest I had to pass (dang), got passed a pool with Wingmate Roc, Ankle Shanker, and more removal than you can shake a Trigon of Corruption at (yay), but it was only for verification (dang again).
In the end, I chose to battle with Jeskai Flavor Monsters. They were the worst of the worst. I had an army of Johnny Ricos (from the beginning of Starship Troopers, not the end), in a world of Jean Rasczaks played by Michael Ironside.
"You're it, until you're dead or I find someone better."
I try to cast Rush of Battle (the absolute best card in my deck) after I declare attackers when he's tapped out. He quickly goes from cajoling buddy-fighter to serious "that's a sorcery." I'm an idiot, not very good at attacking, and deserve to lose this game. But I still kill him anyway. No justice.
I then mull to six and draw one spell in our game's ten turns and still get him to six. I lose the next game.
Maybe there is justice?
Round 2: Bye
Huh. Well there's a first time for everything!
Round 3: Did you know that if you don't have an opponent within ten minutes of the round starting, you win?
At this point I'm 2-1, and all I've done is lost. Can a guy get any (un)luckier?
A couple rounds later (there were only 70 or so people here) I'm in my win and in! Yes! I win game 1! But I lose game 2. Game 3, I have two three-powered creatures to his empty hand and board. For the First Time in Forever I have this fluttery feeling that I might do well at something! What could possibly go wrong?
Five lands and five spells never felt so bad.
I did just that. I felt horrible. It wasn't supposed to end like this!
But here I was again losing.
Then, a thought wormed its way into my surface thoughts. Something I wasn't happy to think of:
"I deserve to win a tournament. "
After a couple minutes introspection and allowing my pulse to slow down, I knew that not to be the case. These six words are some of the most diseased words a Magic player can say, and I have certainly thought them. We don't deserve much in life, least of which is to not lose a card game you're playing on a weekend, among friends. There are a lot worse positions in life you could be in than the one you're currently in.
Have some perspective.
I got to play in an awesomely run tournament where I got to see lots of friends I normally don't get to and sign multiple copies of my favorite Weird Wizard .
I went to Disneyworld and got hugged by Elsa.
I met some of the coolest people I've ever randomly rented a house with and hope to be friends with them for a long time.
I got driven for hours and hours by people I've hardly reciprocated for, and gotten put up for free by the previously mentioned new friends.
I returned to my college town that my parents helped put me through.
And this was all in just the past three months.
The Next Big Tournament
If you've stuck with me through this cerebral jaunt, you have my thanks. You might also be wondering why there haven't been any Commander Versus videos lately. Well that's because I've retired from my position as a buyer at StarCityGames and will be moving to Seattle.
I loved my time at SCG. I learned a lot about the world, and hopefully I gave SCG something back during my stint. I matured as a person (as any first "real" job will do to somebody), and I wish them all the best.
I just felt like it was time to change my fate and forge my own destiny.
I've since sold most of my cards and donated or thrown away most of my things. I'm just going to cram everything in my car and head to Seattle after stopping by Grand Prix Nashville as my last major event.
I have no job lined up yet, and it's one of the scariest positions I've ever been in (HELP!). Why Seattle? Well I love the weather, the location, and the sheer amount of nerdiness you can find around the town. I hear Magic the Gathering is also made up there, and I would like to eventually make Magic too! Of course, this is a task that requires a monumental amount of work and luck, and I am in no way deserving of anything. But hey, finding a way to get paid for your passion is a dream come true. It better not be easy, otherwise what's the point? I'm just reenacting my own Gattaca.
Once you choose to lose yourself, who knows what you might find?
I enjoyed working as a buyer and got to see a lot of the game that most people don't. I was essentially a Magical Bartender that would desleeve cards instead of drying glasses, and getting to travel across the country weekend after weekend looking at pictures of elves and dragons for an actual job was pretty unreal. I didn't know anybody at SCG when I got my job, and my gratitude for getting the job has become immense.
Just another reason why not winning a tournament shouldn't really matter.
Nobody ever truly quits Magic, I just won't be sitting behind a booth for 30 some hours every weekend sorting cards into piles.
So thank you guys for making this part of my life quite an enjoyable past three years. Making people smile and enjoying Magic like I did on Commander Versus brings me joy in an immeasurable way. Every time I signed a card, I felt like what I was doing actually mattered. And that's the real validation.
I have won a lot with Magic.