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The Shots We Take


Hard liquor is just not my thing. I’m pretty sure that fact’s a blessing in disguise. It’s all warm and harsh, and swallowing it burns, and then it just congeals in the pit of your stomach; I always imagine it winds up looking like the Stretch Armstrong goop that was inside the arms (don’t tell me you didn’t stab them open immediately with scissors after getting bored of playing with them for a whole five minutes), only it radiates heat. Drinking straight liquor always makes me sweat immediately. It’s just an overall uncomfortable experience. Who knows? Maybe I’ll be a grownup and enjoy it someday.

Stuffy Doll
About two weekends ago, when Brian handed me a glass of Jameson after we’d both dropped our first-round matches in the PTQ next door, I was not a grownup, but I took it. Mulliganing to five and subsequently losing to the kid who attacks into your Stuffy Doll tends to affect your decision-making. The two beers before that didn’t help matters either.

As I picked up the glass of whiskey, resigning myself to cough and sputter and out myself as the weakest on earth, I acknowledged that future PTQs at this venue would have to be met with a little more self-control.

Clink the glasses, touch them to the table, and throw the shots back in one.

Somehow, I didn’t cough or gag or do anything unseemly. I would later brag about this to my girlfriend Emily, who loves Jameson but laments my coughing through every sip like a Mormon who just smoked his first cigarette.

“So, what are you going to write about now?”

My mind goes from, “Ow, ow; this hurts my throat,” to, “How do I answer this question?” a bit too quickly, owing no doubt to all the booze, and so my thoughts lose a bit of traction. Just imagine a dog sliding around on a linoleum floor.

“I dunno.”

It’s been a sneaking suspicion of mine lately that I’m just not very good. I’ve only just noticed it lately, but every time someone whose game I respect stands and watches me play, the observer always points out about twelve things I could’ve done differently, and I always find myself saying, “Holy shit; you’re right.” I can’t even pinpoint where the mistakes are coming from in the moment, but afterward, when it’s all being regaled to me, it feels like being in the middle of an avalanche, albeit one I’m in full control of.

I have no idea how to become better at Magic. I feel that most players who wonder this are on very specific individual plateaus, which make articles titled with some variation on “HOW TO GET BETTER AT MAGIC” effectively worthless.

A friend and I were discussing Limited PTQs a few weekends back, and I told him my most recent second-round opponent was from Toronto. He wondered aloud why anyone would travel so far (the PTQ was in Syracuse, NY) for a Limited PTQ just to potentially open up unplayable garbage.

I was reminded of the old Wayne Gretzky quote: “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”

This is what I opened up at that PTQ:

And here’s what I decided on running:

After quickly identifying that blue was nice but too shallow and that white and black were egregiously unplayable, I was able to quickly settle in on R/G.

The deck was not without its flaws, and it was frustrating on a lot of levels.

Volcanic Geyser

  • The only pure removal was Volcanic Geyser. No Flames of the Firebrand, no Searing Spear, nothing. And if I stumble on land, or God forbid encounter a creature grows at a rate that outstrips my land drops (not uncommon with all the Rings around), the Volcanic Geyser is awful. I couldn’t even splash for removal if I wanted to.
  • I had some really good blue cards. Unfortunately, there were only five of them: Archaeomancer, Talrand's Invocation, and . . . yeah, that’s only two. The other blue cards ranked from mediocre to dreck.
  • Only one fatty in the entire pool. When your deck has two Arbor Elf and two Farseeks, you tend to want more high-end creatures. I had a Duskdale Wurm. Unfortunately, this wasn’t Duels of the Planeswalkers, and one Duskdale Wurm didn’t quite cut it.
  • As soon as I cracked Stuffy Doll in the fifth pack, I knew I was definitely playing it. That’s never a good feeling.
  • I had no bombs. Also not a great feeling. The tournament was only seven rounds, but I knew I still had my work cut out for me; the top tables late would be full of decks with bombs in them. It’s just how Sealed tournaments end up working, which is acceptable. Having bombs of your own, though, is preferable to just relying on your opponent being mana screwed or flooded.
  • I was drunk. Okay, that one’s my fault. I blame the pool I registered—it was a very good mono-red deck featuring Krenko, Mob Boss, Flames of the Firebrand, Volcanic Geyser, and three Searing Spear. I firmly believe that opening that and then being handed what I was handed would be enough to drive anyone to drink.

Another thing I’ve been wondering about recently is positivity for its own sake—whether or not it actually behooves anyone to act as if anything’s possible at all times. If you’d asked me that two years ago, I’d have thought that was a stupid question, that being realistic at all times is the way to go. On the other side of the coin, being realistic about my deck wasn’t very likely to affect me positively; I simply haven’t had enough exposure to high-level Magic to simultaneously be realistic about my deck and play optimally. Better players than I can be realistic about their odds while not treating the actual games as throwaways because their deck sucks or whatever. I’m not there yet. Long story short: Being positive in a bad situation, in lieu of being “realistic,” certainly has value.

I ended up 2–2 drop, but I feel very good about my play. The upside to a R/G deck is that it’s very easy to play, and the upside to core-set Limited is that playing around things is simpler by virtue of the cards being less complicated.

Sands of Delirium
I lost to two W/B decks. I’m not sure if that’s noteworthy or not. My Round 1 opponent won with a ton of removal, and my Round 4 opponent had a bad deck (he told me so himself) with Sands of Delirium as his kill, which got me both games before I could draw an Acidic Slime or Naturalize.

My Round 2 opponent was a sixteen-year-old kid from Toronto (I originally thought he was much younger, but he assured me on Twitter that he’s just short) with a W/U deck. Both games were identical—he weathered my early beats, stabilized with a bunch of flyers, and started cracking back, and then I Volcanic Geysered him out. Magic!

Round 3, I played against the guy who opened my pool, marking the second PTQ in a row in which I had to play the guy who knew what I was playing. The moment of realization came for him when I cast my second Centaur Courser of the game, and it was foil:

“Wwwwwwait a minute. I think I opened that pool.”

I looked at our match slip. “Yep, this is your pool.”

And then he played two 1-toughness creatures into the Chandra's Fury he knew I had and died.

Like I said, I think I played fine that day. Most of competitive Magic is believing that the shots you keep taking and the money you keep spending is all building toward something, whether that’s a spot on the Pro Tour, a job in Renton, or even just good times with friends.

Basketball video games don’t make much sense to e, because sometimes, your shooters, the guys who can’t drive into the lane and have to content themselves with making jump shots, sometimes get “cold” when they haven’t made a shot in a while. This happens a lot in real basketball games, too, but NBA players know the game well enough to keep taking shots. Obviously, this goes better for some players than it does for others, but the correct play, whether it’s basketball or Magic or poker, is to keep taking shots.

But in basketball games, you get cold, and that’s it. There’s no shooting yourself out of cold. Believe me; I’ve tried. And I don’t think that’s how life works.

Make your adjustments, but don’t stop shooting.

Jon Corpora

Pronounced Ca-pora


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