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GP: SeaTac, Parts VI–XII

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Part VI – Articles I Am Tired of Reading

Article one: the “mental game” article. Already mentioned. None of it matters, ever.

Article two: the “tournament preparation” article that’s not about playing the game. If you didn’t get enough information about how you should get plenty of sleep, eat a balanced diet, and drink lots of water (and stay away from drugs (alcohol is a drug too!)) from eighth-grade Health class, you can go to your favorite Magic strategy website and read at least one article a month about this. Did you know that you can get dehydrated without being thirsty? It’s true! So drink plenty of water and use it to piss all over your opponent’s face when they tell you that they instead read Nabokov or whatever. Know how to do well at a tournament? Be good at Magic.

Article three: MAILBAG! For when you’re so utterly out of ideas that you need readers to lob you softballs without any theme tying them together other than your readers’ fawning adulation.

Part VII – Card Kingdom

The world-famous mecca of anything that’s worthwhile should have a decent sandwich.

For those of you who assume that all the nice things people say about Card Kingdom are simply because it’s in a Magic-friendly area and well-known Magic players go there, so there happen to be higher-profile people talking about it: no no no NO no no. Card Kingdom is not your usual local game store that happens to have knowledgeable staff and regulars that (the other regulars will tell you) are “the sickest ever.” Card Kingdom is on such a higher tier than a local game store that every other store should pay a daily fee for not being nearly as good.

First off: the lighting. You might think, “what the hell does lighting have to do with a decent place to play Magic?”, but you’d be completely silly and I’d imitate you by repeating what you just said while drooling with my arms dragging on the ground, because that’s how dumb a thing that would be to say. Game stores tend toward one of two extremes: the dingy appearance of some sort of cave where extremely profitable and foul-smelling rare moss is grown; or the impersonal overhead fluorescent lighting of a grade school cafeteria. Card Kingdom has lighting that makes its residents look like human beings.

It has a wide selection of puzzles, board games, the euphemistic “family games,” roleplaying games, as well as the best goddamn idea anyone has had in years: a place in the USA to play sanctioned Magic with a bar and actual food.

This act of genius deserves a few paragraph breaks.

Let’s set up a few hypothetical scenarios here: hey, want to go play Magic someplace where we’ll have to walk multiple blocks or, god forbid, drive in order to import some greasy hamburger-inspired concoction while we play Magic? Or how about we get high-quality sandwiches brought to our gaming table holy shit?

A less plausible but way more important hypothetical: “hello, female friend with whom I may or may not be romantically involved! Want to go hang out at some weird hole-in-the-wall card shop and watch me and my nerd buddies play Magic? No? Want to come to this bar where we can play board games and I’ll covertly indoctrinate you until you want to learn to play Magic? You do? It’s a date, after which we may or may not have intercourse, depending on our relationship status!”

It can’t be a coincidence that the best-looking, best-maintained, best-stocked Magic/game store I’ve seen (with food and alcohol and etc) had by far the highest percentage of female occupancy I’ve seen at any similar location. This isn’t some shallow “make everything look nice” theory of attracting women to the game, either; if you want people to join you in doing something fun, you have to make it appealing, and give them a valid reason for being there in the first place. It’s not complicated.

This has been another way of saying that, the night before the Grand Prix, I went to Card Kingdom. I was fortunate enough to walk in already knowing a regular at the store, so he introduced me to a few people and pointed me to a Cube draft (my first-ever) that was about to begin. It was . . . fun.

Part VIII – GP: SeaTac, Day 1 (rough draft of tournament report)

I rode to the tournament with someone I had met online years ago, but it was nice to finally meet him in person. We arrived at the tournament with plenty of time to go, played a few games of Commander, and went to our assigned seats to receive our sealed pools. The one I open isn’t very good, but I got passed the absolute nuts! Playing with zero byes made the day difficult, but the power of the deck got me through most tough spots. The only losses were to a U/B deck even better than mine, and a W/B deck in the last round. Skirsdag High Priest sure is good against an aggressive deck with no ways to get rid of utility creatures! I was sad to lose the last round, but still happy to make my first day two. Have to keep my head high!

Part IX – GP: SeaTac Day 1 (rewrite)

Grand Prix events are probably the zenith of Magic tournaments the public can attend, since it’s the only place the everyday player can rub shoulders with Pro Players (or see them and walk up and of nowhere and immediately start gushing to them about how great they are), and more than any event I’ve ever been to, it manages to distill excitement about Magic down to the size of one convention hall. PTQs are important, sure, but now that they’re in card shops like the ones everyone plays in on a weekly basis, they’re no longer the destination tournaments they used to be; Grand Prix tournaments are the last remaining Magic getaway vacation for the masses. Aside from all that wonderfulness, they’re still tournaments that reward people that do well, and that’s where some contradictions jump around.

As soon as an old Internet friend of mine invited me to stay with him if I decided to go to this tournament, I knew that I would find a way to go, and come up with some post-hoc justification to make it seem like the only logical choice. Since I’ve played this format a lot, I have a fairly decent shot, and the payoff makes it worth it, I could convince myself. If that doesn’t work, I could say that I can’t write a truly good tournament report without going to real tournaments (despite the complete lack of a link between good tournament reports and the tournaments they report on). I could be going out to Seattle to find a job, but . . . well that just doesn’t make the slightest bit of sense.

And the dark side of deciding to go to a Grand Prix: explaining to people that I am flying to the opposite coast for a tournament where I have no byes, but upwards of half the tournament will have at least one, putting my expected value at somewhere approaching “laughable.”

Part IX (a) – GP: SeaTac Day 1 (interjection) and Part IV, subsection B

There’s no real way to dance around this any longer: the previously-mentioned “Internet friend” is Gavin Verhey (also previously mentioned). Aside from the fact that, since inviting me to stay at his place for the tournament, he’s been hired by Wizards to make the game, he’s one of the nicest and most genuine people I’ve ever met.

Unfortunately, to explain the tournament I have to explain why I was there, how I got there, and who I was with; to explain that I have to explain my friendship with Gavin; to explain that I have to explain how I used to post on MTGSalvation; to explain that I have to explain MTGSalvation.

MTGSalvation is based on the premise that its members want the best for the site and each other, and that to have a good forum, just keep everyone respectful and encouraging of each other and defer all real decisions to what the extant community wants. (More on MTGS here.)

Despite my dislike of the forum, it does embody some positive attributes (just like every color in Magic has positive and negative characteristics associated with it). MTGS people are friendly, helpful, genuine, courteous, hardworking, loyal and honest. MTGS is the most Hufflepuff of all Magic communities. Gavin is the height of all these qualities. I’m not sure it’s possible to meet him and walk away disliking the guy. While I was having fun on MTGS, we would still talk about decks and play-test; he banned me (which was entirely deserved and understandable), and we continued talking about decks and play-testing.

Part IX Again – GP: SeaTac Day 1 (continuation)

This brings me to the tournament site killing time before an event I had been thinking about for months, hanging out with people I had only talked to on the internet, hyped up on some combination of nervous energy and fresh Seattle coffee. The previous night I had more sleep than I had previously achieved before the other GPs I attended (ie I managed to fall asleep eventually this time), but I was unsure whether I was already exhausted or not. When something finally comes together after that long, it’s tough to distinguish certain feelings and emotions from one another.

This brings me again to opening the Sealed pool. I’m sorting my cards by how completely wonderful they are (REALLY WONDERFUL / SUPER WONDERFUL / OH MY LORDY WONDERFUL), trying to stay focused. Behind me paces one of the few figures in the room capable of looming over me, a coverage reporter walking back and forth recording different takes on the same audio. I’m playing two colors. Can I splash a third? This pool is so great. The black looks fun. Wonder who got my pool. Black is sort of slow, though. The person who got my pool is over there and looking over is both pointless and possibly illegal. The red is probably better, and damn that coverage reporter trying to summarize Limited to people that have never heard of Magic before. “Building decks on the spot” my ass, I built this pool a thousand times when I would lay back and daydream. I’ll go with red. That’s 28 cards. Do I have to day two now? Back and forth he walks.

Part X – The Mental Game

It’s round three (2–0) and Christ I am so dead. I won the first game without taking a point of damage because my deck has good cards in it, and now we’re on the third game and my hand is combat tricks, combat tricks, and a fart. I remember all the strategy I’ve read over the years, and deftly plan my brilliant comeback. I draw my card, roll my eyes, slam a land, and pass the turn sighing. I am so good at this I scare myself. Look at this scrubbo, thinks he can win with Havengul Lich. More like Havingadead Lich, because I just blew you out with a combat trick. I am selling this so well and oh my god look at him fall for this. Yes yes YESSS. I play it and BOOM and . . . oh, he gets it back with Ghoulcaller’s. I can’t win.

After the game, he’s smiling and chatting and nicely asks if he can suggest something, to which I say sure. He says that I oversold the bluff thing a bit and that he knew I had a trick the whole time. Nice guy.

Part XI – Late Day 1 Interaction

Someone comes up to me and asks how I’m doing. It’s apparently obvious that I don’t recognize him, so he . . . oh, I already wrote about this. Sorry.

Part XI for Real This Time – On Large Tournaments in General

If you’ve ever watched coverage of a StarCityGames event or a Grand Prix online, you’ve probably seen some players with good records make some terrible plays. You may have even said to yourself, “wow, that dude’s awful. I play better than that at FNM.” A couple obvious responses to this:

  • No you don’t.
  • Maybe you do! But Grand Prix events are not FNM. This isn’t some truism related to the name of the tournament; it’s a fact about the length and intensity and the everything about big tournaments.

At a local card shop tournament, I’m just bored most of the time. The games aren’t that mentally fatiguing just because neither person is trying as hard. Between rounds I’ll pull out a book if I don’t know anyone. I go in after a good meal and at least one day of being entirely alone.

At this Grand Prix, I had spent the entire previous day traveling across the country lugging a messenger bag with things that don’t matter very much to me, before getting in and interacting with a lot of people, then going to bed, then waking up, smiling a bunch, I was unsure whether I was ready to go back to bed or sprint around the block, then I’m talking to people in the car, talking to people before the tournament, people keep talking to me (which is an entirely new experience and I’m not sure it fits me very well), I open a pool and register it, I get passed a pool and I make a deck, that person is pacing, I play several matches (between which I walk around the venue multiple times and people are still talking and I am talking) and every single game (even the easy ones) are more draining than any game I’ve played before, I don’t know if I have a headache or not, I don’t know whether these games will end up well, I don’t know if my fantastic in-game luck will end eventually, I’m playing something close to the worst Magic of my life (or at least the worst since the Legacy Grand Prix), I keep winning games despite doing things like (eg) in the next-to-the-last round I’m playing against someone plainly more skilled than myself that is looking at me wearily because he’s been down this path before, kid, and you look like you’re new here (the implied “so what’d you open to get here?”) and when he plays Claustrophobia on my creature that has a Butcher's Cleaver attached I completely forget that it exists because well it was under the card (how do you expect me to see that, seriously), then in the next game I probably have him dead for twelve turns in a row, just asking him to please, please let me get what I deserve and draw out of this, but no, my over-conservative play that gives him outs ends in a victory from me, and I can’t even ask people exactly what I should have done because I can’t remember anything that happened in the game w/r/t the decisions I had to make, plus the person just watching is more interested in giving me a high five for making day two for the first time in my life, but I keep winning games like that, and the more I win games the more matches I win, and this causes even more people to continually check up on me, I’m outperforming players much, much better than myself, I keep flashing back to DRINK WATER and EAT FOOD and frankly in the latter I have a large advantage over the general population because I can mosey over to the Subway five blocks away after finishing a round (there’s no “lunch round”) because my increased height means longer legs which means an above-moseying pace when I decide I need an Italian sub, and generally I’m thinking too many things and staying away from too many thoughts to dwell on whether I’m enjoying Magic or just playing Magic for two days straight.

Part XII – Heartbreaking Quote from Well-Known Magic Celebrity, upon Introducing Myself

“Oh, KillGoldfish. You can be kind of an asshole.”

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