It’s 2012. You’re in the third round of a Pro Tour Qualifier in Poughkeepsie, NY, where you are 1–1. Round 1, B/R Zombies nut-drew you twice because sometimes that deck just goes turn-one 1-drop, turn-two 1-drop, 1-drop, turn-three Geralf's Messenger, and turn-four Geralf's Messenger, and there’s just not a whole lot to do from there. Round 2, you played against a kid on Frites who received a game loss for a deck registration error and tried to mana weave after receiving the game loss, and he still took you to three games.
Round 3, you are playing against a twelve-year-old kid on a stock list of Solar Flare, Evan. Between Games 2 and 3, a boisterous ass from down the table shouts at him, asking him what he’s doing at this table, telling him that he’s supposed to be at the X–0 tables. A guy comes up to your match, and unprovoked, tells you that you’re playing against “the future of Magic.” You look Evan in the eye, and he is clearly embarrassed, so to break the tension, you ask him, “Is that true?” to which he grins sheepishly. No one should be harassed by this many mouth-breathers, let alone a twelve-year-old kid just trying to do his best.
You saw him playing at FNM the night before; the store in Poughkeepsie inexplicably split their FNMs into two tournaments—one you could pay $5 entry for and a free one. You played this Delver list on the $5 side:
- Spells (25)
- 1 Mutagenic Growth
- 3 Gut Shot
- 3 Mana Leak
- 4 Thought Scour
- 4 Vapor Snag
- 4 Gitaxian Probe
- 4 Ponder
- 2 Sword of War and Peace
The actual FNM was uninteresting—a three-rounder—you won your first two rounds against R/U/G Delver and Frites, respectively, and then lost to Solar Flare in the third. And, yes, Delver was already used in 52 FNMs, but you’d rather get some more practice in with the deck you’re playing the next day at the PTQ than simultaneously be smashed with a new deck in your hands and become rusty with Delver.
The night before at FNM, Evan was playing against another local on Delver and soundly thrashed him, despite being half his age. He reminded you a little bit of yourself; you probably hit your stride in Magic at the age of fourteen. You won the local tournaments nearly every week and relished being the small child at the tournament, beating all the older players and simultaneously making fun of their receding hairlines. This eventually wrought a natural affinity for the writing of one Gadiel Szleifer.
In short, you were not going to be underestimating Evan this afternoon.
Psychatog with Smother, which unfortunately doesn’t deal well with the Phantom Centaurs and Arrogant Wurms that have been smacking you around all afternoon.
Moving from aggro decks to a control deck was tougher than expected. It’s been a long day. It’s the last round.
You’re at X–2, and you’re staring across at the biggest booger-eater you’ve ever met in your life. He has two Phantom Centaurs, a Wild Mongrel, and an Arrogant Wurm in play, all of which are tapped. You have one Psychatog and a bunch of cards in the ’yard and in your hand to go with a bunch of lands in play. A Careful Study found a Hibernation, but it was quickly dispatched by the two cards in his hand—a pair of Circular Logics.
What a sack. You do the math on your Psychatog attack.
You’re 1 damage short of killing him.
As his dad walks over to the match to come watch, Evan attacks you with four Spirits. You fall to 12. The life totals are 12 to 11 in your favor.
He plays a Cavern of Souls, and looks up at you. “Name Giant?”
He taps out. “Sun Titan?”
Phantasmal Image onto the battlefield from his graveyard. “He comes back as Sun Titan?”
“Wait, you’re targeting Phantasmal Image?”
“Uh, yeah . . . ”
You flip over the fifth card in your hand of five cards. It’s a black instant with a mana cost of 1 black Phyrexian mana. “Okay, I’ll extract those.”
Evan pauses for exactly one second before he grabs the other two Phantasmal Images out of his graveyard, hands you his library, and slumps back in his chair.
On your turn, you rip . . . a Phantasmal Image. “Cast Image. Copy Sun Titan. Trigger.” You grab your Phantasmal Image from your graveyard. “He’ll be a Sun Titan. Trigger.” You grab the Geist of Saint Traft out of your graveyard. “He’ll be a Geist of Saint Traft. Your turn.”
I elect to take the damage. “11 minus 6 is . . . 5.”
We both mark it on our life sheets.
It’s 2002, at that JSS qualifier. You look up at your opponent—he is staring at the board with a goofy fucking grin on his face—and aided by your vague, immature ideas of moral relativism, combined with your extraordinarily limited real-world experience, you make an executive decision.
You attack with your Psychatog.
Your opponent looks up at you with a big grin on his face. He’s clearly just happy to be here. “No blocks! How much am I taking?”
Sword of War and Peace, look down at your life pad, and immediately feel bad for your opponent. He’s at 5, and he’s going to die this turn because his blockers are all white and he has a card in his hand. “You’re not gonna like this one,” you tell Evan.
It is possible that Magic is getting to a point at which Wizards of the Coast is just actively pandering to the players with the deepest pockets. In a recession, it makes sense. It’s already totally visible in Magic 2013; a fair portion of the cards look as though they were made with Commander applications in mind. Every game shop knows that it’s not the Spikes who pay the shop’s rent, it’s the casual players—the weekend warriors who come into the store on a weekly basis with a list of random cards, most of which are tribal, that ends up totaling pretty close to a hundred dollars. These are the players putting the most money back into the game, so goddammit, they’re going to get some goodies for once.
Which is hard to be frustrated with. The problem with this is that these casual players tend to enjoy swingy cards, cards that steal games away from their opponents. While cards like this may be satisfying to play on a dining room table, when you resolve something totally busted like Sword of War and Peace in a high-stakes match, both players invariably start to wonder things like, “How was that card ever able to happen?” or, “What the hell, R&D!?”
Time is announced in the round. The table judge tells us we’re on turn zero. “That’s fine.” You tap three lands. “Sword of War and Peace.”
Two of your lands remain untapped.
Evan takes a deep breath. “Yup.”
Geist of Saint Traft onto your Sword of War and Peace with a snap. “Equip. Swing with Geist of Saint Traft. Trigger.” You pick up your deck box and drop it into play tapped, representing a 4/4 Angel. Evan tanks.
“Okay, here’s what going to happen. You’re going to block here, here, and here, but you’re going to take 5 from the Geist and die.” Sure enough, Evan ends up blocking here, here, and here, but he can’t block the Geist of Saint Traft because Sword of War and Peace is a gigantic mistake of a card.
In disbelief that he was knocked out of Top 8 contention by a mere top deck (remember, he’s young), Evan tries to piece together how he got to 5 life. “Didn’t I Timely?” he says.
My eyes roll. “Yeah, I countered it. Our life pads matchup.” They do indeed matchup. “I don’t know what the problem is.”
Evan looks up at me. A twinge of guilt and confusion crosses his face, and in an instant, it becomes resignation. He scoops up his cards while you fill out the match slip.
Inwardly, you think, “Jesus, I can’t believe that kid just tried to scum me out of a win in front of his dad.”
Well . . . you don’t have it, but that doesn’t matter. You’re winning this match right here.
You start pumping your Psychatog one bonus at a time, and you count them out. First, you discard cards in your hand, then you move to the graveyard, but you only remove one card in your graveyard at a time. You do this consciously until you hit lethal damage.
“Wow! That’s game!” He doesn’t even double-check. You fill out the match slip 2–1 in your favor, and he happily signs it. “Well, that was a close one, huh?”
That was not as satisfying as you thought it would be.
“You wanna know why you actually lost that game?” Brad asks.
You groan aloud. Brad is probably the smartest person you have ever met in your life. He pursues learning extremely aggressively. While this makes him an excellent math professor, it simultaneously makes him an exhausting friend, especially to someone who, for the most part, is perfectly happy to be intellectually lazy, like yourself. You spent the last week staying at his place in Atlantic City, and while he and his wife were perfect hosts, trying to pretend that you’re also the guy who wants to talk about the exam right after taking the exam has been a struggle.
You take a deep breath. “What did I do?”
“Take out your life pad.” You do so. “When he was weirded out about the life totals, he was right. Look at this. You have him going from 11 to 5. When did he take 6?”
“You know I don’t remember.”
“Do you remember taking that Sun Titan hit?”
“Look at your life changes.”
You do. “Holy shit. I never took it!”
“Yeah. He took it.”
“But . . . that doesn’t make any sense! Our life pads matched up!”
Of all the bush league cheats in Magic, that’s one that you’ve never even heard of, ostensibly because no one should think anything as idiotic as that could actually work in a real situation. Something suddenly occurs to you. “Holy shit. Brad, I was dead the next turn.”
“Your attacks would have been different, yes.” Your mind is still reeling. Brad interrupts your thoughts: “Whatever you do now is up to you.”
You take a deep breath and march over to Evan and his father—who are still in the seats they were occupying during the match, albeit now eating pizza (there’s a lunch break)—and explain: “Okay, here’s what happened during our match. Remember when you were confused about life totals?”
Mouth stuffed with pizza and taken aback by the fat kid with the hemp necklace and hair gel who is probably looking to simply relive his top-deck victory, Evan just nods.
“Okay. Well, when you attacked me with that Sun Titan, we both took it off your life total.” You grab his life pad. “See? I never have me taking 6 throughout the whole game. Somehow, we took it off your life total by accident. So I’m going to go to the head judges and see if we can still get you the win.” As you walk toward the head judges’ table, you hear a muffled “thanks!” through a mouthful of pizza.
The judges are on their lunch break as well, so you ask the tournament organizer if you can change a match result. “Sorry, buddy; that request goes to the head judge. The judges are sitting in a circle eating their lunches.
“I don’t want to interrupt, I can just come back . . . ”
“Nah, it’s no problem. Hey, Steve. Steve.” He swats the nearest judge on the back.
Through a mouthful of salad, Steve replies, “What?”
The TO points to you. “This guy has a question for you.”
And now you have the floor.
“Sorry for interrupting your lunch.” Steve gives you the hand motion commonly associated with the phrase “get on with it.” “I need to change a match result. I made a mistake in keeping track of life totals, and it caused me to win the match when the match should’ve gone to my opponent.”
“You’re sure your opponent would’ve won the game had there not been an error in life-keeping?”
The judge who had been watching the last turn of the match pipes up. “When did the discrepancy happen? I was watching the game the whole time–“
“It happened before you got there.”
Jesus Christ, these guys sure do know how to twist the knife.
The head judge thinks for a second. “Stick around here for a bit. We’ll let you know what happens.”
You walk over to your friends, all of whom are still live in the tournament except Brad, and you retell your story. As you tell the story, you see the head judge and the table judge talking to Evan and his dad out of the corner of your eye. You add the postscript, “I just hope they can give him the win.”
Right on cue, the table judge from before walks up. “Okay, Jon. What we have here is a failure to maintain game state. You were both awarded warnings, and we were able to award your opponent the match win.”
“Awesome. Can you drop me, too?”
“Sure thing.” The judge offers his hand. “We really appreciate your honesty in a situation like this.” You take his hand. “Seriously, if you hadn’t said anything, no one would’ve caught it.” The judge lets your hand go. You feel as if you might be receiving a little too much credit.
“No problem,” you say.
As you collect yourself for the drive back to Syracuse—a three-hour ride with no air conditioning because your car sucks—you hear an unfamiliar voice say your name. You look behind you. It’s Evan and his dad. Evan’s dad says, “Thank you, Jon.”
Evan chimes in: “Yeah, thanks!” He has a genuine smile on his face.
You’re out the door.