Saturday: Business Class On An Amtrak Train
My journey started as most do since I moved to Roanoke: with a cab ride. This time, however, I didn't go to the airport but to the Berglund Center. The observant mouseover mavens among you might have noticed that the URL is "roanokeciviccenter.com" and for a long while that's how it was known (minus the dot-com part of course). Old names die hard; who calls it the "Willis Tower" anyway?
But I wasn't at the RCC for a Magic tournament (went there, did that last year) or a musical or even The Price Is Right Live! I never even went inside. Instead, I sought out the small bus stop at the far end of Parking Lot C, a messenger bag over one shoulder and two tickets in the opposite hand. The city: Baltimore, Maryland. The destination: a casino. The goal: fat stacks of cash and a gold World Series of Poker Circuit ring.
As I type this I'm still on the train. I'm out of Virginia, the casino-unfriendly commonwealth, and past the District of Columbia. I don't know where I'll end up in the No Limit Hold 'Em tournament, how long I'll last, or whether my ride back to Roanoke – an overnight Megabus trip – will happen. Part of me still can't believe I'm doing this.
On the other hand, I have the disposable income, so why not try it? Everyone has to be the newbie sometime, and besides, as far as card games are concerned, I can't do any worse than I did the week before...
One Week Earlier: The Anatomy Of An 0-2 Drop
At the poker tournament I'll (metaphorically) light $365 on fire with a slim chance at doubling my money – or getting much, much more. On August 15th, the stakes were significantly lower, though not precisely small: not only was the Star City Game Center hosting a Preliminary Pro Tour Qualifier, the event had Super Invitational Qualifier prizes attached; in other words, a cool $1000 to be distributed among the players with $400 for first place. I'd done OK at my last PPTQ with Super IQ prizes, so why not try again?
There were differences, of course. The last event was Standard, and this one was Modern. Standard is spendy, but Modern is much worse with the vast majority of its key cards out-of-print. Without enemy-color fetchlands, Tarmogoyfs, or Snapcaster Mages in my collection, I don't exactly have a wide range of choices. Fortunately, though, I have the cards for Affinity.
The trouble is, having exactly one deck means I won't have a good position against the metagame at least some of the time, and possibly most of the time. Kolaghan's Command, while it isn't insurmountable, is a maindeck pain in my neck, and my local metagame is Splinter Twin-heavy.
I knew all that and I signed up and registered an Affinity deck anyway. I have nobody but myself to blame.
I wish I knew how to resolve you...
In round one I faced U/R Twin. While I was playing a list with supplemental Shrapnel Blasts in my flex slots, that didn't keep me from losing to the combo in game one. All the burn in the world doesn't help when stuck on only one source of red mana all game!
Game two was more of the same. Exhaust resources, stay at positive life total and under ten poison, combo finish at leisure.
0-1 matches, 0-2 games.
Round two started a little better for me. A deck-check gave me time to clear my mind, and when the judge came back with our decks, it was my opponent who was having a Very Serious Talk (TM) about illegal decklists. Game one to me, with no effort at all!
Unfortunately for me, my opponent was on Grixis Twin, which is like U/R Twin for me but much worse. In game two, a Kolaghan's Command was the coup de grace before comboing out. In game three my opponent didn't find the combo, but he built up a small army of Pestermites, Deceiver Exarchs, and Snapcaster Mages to win the hard way.
0-2 matches, 1-4 (really 0-4) games. Drop. Walk home. Write some fiction. Watch some Korean game shows. Look at hotel prices.
Decide that it's been far too long since I left the area immediately around Roanoke and that it's time for an adventure.
Sunday: Anatomy Of Another 0-2 Drop
As I write this I'm on another train, heading back into the Appalachian parts of Virginia. It's not the mode of transportation I envisioned, an overnight bus from Washington, D.C.
My planning to play on Day Two (of the poker tournament) was unnecessary. There were fifteen levels of play on Day One, and like a Grand Prix's Day One I only lasted to the end of round nine.
Oh, I'd had my equivalent of winning a few rounds. At my peak, I had more than twice the chips I'd started with, but then I lost two matchups in a row. They weren't bad matchups, either. The first time I was around a 68% chance to win against a desperate opponent,* but I lost a third of my chips. Soon after that I had an even better chance to win, 71%, but I lost two-thirds of what was left. Then I was the desperate one, and my third loss proved fatal.
* Skip if you don't like or know pokerese. First hand: lost all-in preflop with pocket tens, one a spade, against A8 of spades. Second hand: lost AK offsuit vs. KQ offsuit, no suits in common.
Overall the experience was interesting. Part of me does not want to say "good." I was nervous, and showed it in the way I handled my chips and kept asking "how much is that?" when it was my turn. Also unfortunate, from my perspective at least, was that I was seated to the left of an older gentleman who believed his $365 entry fee entitled him to complain at length and volume about any little thing that set him off. At least in a Magic tournament one would have to deal with such a nuisance for an hour at best; I spent more than three hours in his presence and actually fist-bumped the player who knocked him out (once Angry Dude was out of sight, of course).
I found, as more successful Magic players have before me, that my background in Magic helped with poker. Being used to observation of opponents definitely helped, though I was shocked to see how many players seemed to take no interest at all in reading their opponents, preferring instead to send text messages or play a video game once they were out of a hand. From what I observed of those folks' play, they weren't nearly good enough to be giving away all the information they were missing, but who am I to tell folks how to spend their money?
I also found that Magic has taught me how to lose with grace. My first opponent apologized for winning as an underdog, but as I told him, we were both supposed to make the moves we did. Later, after losing the 71% matchup, I got commiserations from most of the table. I'm glad I was able to shrug and say something along the lines of, "It happens. If I'm going to get salty about losing that hand, I shouldn't be playing tournaments."
I know I can do it now... and that means rearranging my disposable income budget a bit. Not too much, though. I still love my Magic.
My absence from the poker tournament on Sunday left me time to explore and live a little. I opted for a nostalgia trip in the morning with a return to the National Aquarium in Baltimore, which I hadn't been to since a tour for National Spelling Bee kids in the mid-1990s. I didn't have the opportunity for the other part of that tour, an on-field exploration of (then-new) Camden Yards baseball stadium, but the National Aquarium alone satisfied me, especially at 2015 adult ticket prices.
I was worried that the National Aquarium wouldn't hold up to my childhood memories when I went through it with adult eyes, but it blew my expectations away. I saw dolphins. I touched the top of a jellyfish (with permission, of course). I walked down a ramp surrounded by sharks. It was awesome. Also awesome: seeing the incredible mix of people at the aquarium. Even the kids seemed oddly well-behaved with only a handful of the usual exceptions.
And I had all the little moments that make a weekend trip worthwhile: spotting the Washington Monument through the window of the train and remembering the times I went inside, counting the fake homeless and their manicured desperation on the cab rides through downtown, bribing the piano guy in the casino's fanciest restaurant to rickroll the place, enjoying the strange deliciousness of chicken pot pie fritters.
As I write this my weekend is over. Had a good time, spent too much (in a fiscally responsible way), and saw a bit of the world I hadn't been to in almost two decades. Even though I never was on the Pro Tour, the "play the game, see the world" ethos has rubbed off on me. Whether it's a large city or a small town with as many stoplights as card shops, Magic has taught me to approach it as an adventure and to look for the experiences it can offer, no matter how humble.
I don't know if that's the single greatest lesson Magic has given me, but it's up there.
Wizards of the Coast will have art directors at PAX Prime to do portfolio reviews this upcoming Friday and Saturday. It's a great opportunity to get feedback from the pros and maybe... just maybe... a chance to do work for D&D or Magic. If you can't make it out to PAX Prime, you still can submit a portfolio to firstname.lastname@example.org, but don't expect any feedback unless it's "we want to know more." Good luck!