“You said, you said, you said, this time was going to be different.”
-Comeback Kid, Wake the Dead.
It is February 12th, 2011, at 8:52 in the morning. I stare at myself in the bathroom mirror. There are clear bags under my eyes. I look tired. Why wouldn’t I be? I’ve probably tested more for this event than I have any other. The past week has been a near-constant steam of articles, matches and random thoughts about Magic. I skipped class yesterday to play the Faeries mirror for five hours. I think now that that may have been a bad decision. I paid over $500 per class for the semester and now I’m throwing that away so that I can playtest a card game that very few people take seriously, so that I can win a trip to Japan. Is a bachelor of science more impressive than a trip to Japan?
I am wearing my Broken City School of Magic (BCSM) hoodie. There were not many made. At least one has been lost. It is more to me than just a garment. It is a reminder of a community of friends, one that I helped forge; a reminder of good times with friends, rather than tournament results. Part of me wants it to stay that way. I look over the deck that I have been playing for the past three weeks. I still feel somewhat unqualified to play it. I remember Mich (editor’s note: Calgary player, Mich Maes) telling me on Wednesday that he thought I had guts, playing Faeries, having to grind the mirror matches. That wasn’t exactly what he’d said, but it was close.
I step outside into the frigid air and wonder again why exactly I live in Calgary. I head to Starbucks and get some coffee, a scone, and some yogurt and berries. The yogurt and berries has become a ritual. It started in Portland when Kyle (editor’s note: BCSM-er, Kyle Weevers) and I went to Starbucks and stood in line in front of Kibler. I’m not superstitious, just habitual. It just helps me get into a better mind frame when I do similar things before tournaments. Maybe I’m just telling myself that and I am superstitious. It doesn’t matter.
As I make the twenty-minute walk to the tournament site, I think about why I’m doing it. Of course, I know why I’m playing in this particular tournament. I want to have a chance to play on the Pro Tour, and Japan is very high on my list of places to visit. No, I wonder more about why I do any of it: hours of my time spent, classes skipped, plans with other friends put off. On top of that, Faeries was not an inexpensive deck to put together. The student loans will dry up some day. It all goes back to a conversation I had with my friend, Jules, as I was driving him home in some kind of a blizzard: “I just want some kind of proof that all the years of being a nerd were not just a waste. I guess I just want some kind of validation.”
“Stop Living under the weight, living under the weight of regret.”
So there it is. A trip to Japan somehow makes hundreds of viewings of the Star Wars trilogy not so frivolous. It makes all of the hours of video gaming and role-playing worthwhile. If I win, and someone comes up to me later and asks me why I’ve spent so much time on escapist gaming, at least I can tell them that I got to go to Japan once. That’s not really it at all, though. It’s not validation from others; really, it’s a kind of validation for myself. I want being a nerd as a kid to have meant something. It does, even if I don’t win a PTQ. But I don’t regret all those things that the other kids used to make fun of me for. Even if it doesn’t amount to anything, it was still a lot of fun. It still is.
I finally arrive at the tournament site and move through the doors, up the stairs. My friends are all there. I fill out my decklist, the result of days of testing. Brian and I went over every single card. It’s a lot of work for a simple list of 75 cards; a lot of mental energy. It feels worth it, though. I am satisfied with every single card. I feel like our nine-card alteration of Owen Turtenwald’s list is an accomplishment of sorts, but later the Croz (editor’s note: Saskatchewan player, Cody Crossman) will wonder how much difference nine cards makes. I’m not sure, but I feel like it’s pretty important. Curly (editor’s note: Red Deer player, Andrew Huska) decides to play our decklist. It makes me proud that someone else thought it was good.
“Waiting for the calling, anticipation in the air. We hope and dream of difference, city sleeping, unaware.”
I play some matches of magic. I play quite well throughout the day. I make some misplays. I make some pretty good plays. I email my girlfriend, who is in China, updating her on my progress. I enjoy the mental challenge. I enjoy beating the other players, but that’s not really the goal. The goal is to beat myself, to minimize errors. It’s the mind exercise that I revel in. If I play better in this tournament than the last one, then I’ve accomplished something. Sure, I have school as a mental outlet, but I haven’t found anything quite like playing in the multiple rounds of a magic tournament.
It encompasses focus, logical thought processes, attention to detail, and much more, both in execution and preparation. I have to be mentally tough too. Going on tilt is a problem.
I make it into the top eight, along with Paul and Jared (editor’s note: BCSM-ers Paul MacKinnon and Jared Maguire).
In the quarterfinals, I get an excellent hand and play a very good first game. In game two, my hand isn’t quite so good and I lose a close one, making some mistakes along the way. In game three, I mulligan to five and lose quickly. I can’t help but think that the reason I lost was the pressure. I think that I had game two but couldn’t keep it entirely together when things started to not go my way. There’s that feeling I get sometimes when I’ve been in a relationship and things start to go wrong. I just start to notice the little things, signs that it’s not all as rosy as it used to be. I start doing things that I normally wouldn’t do, weird things that reek of desperation, desperation that I normally don’t feel, and eventually it just slips away. The match felt a lot like that, just less intense, and crammed into less than an hour. It was the most important match I’ve ever played and next time I’ll be prepared. I’ll notice the signs that it’s slipping away…and that helps keep me going.
“I promise you, we’ve come this far, and I’m not stopping, I’m not stopping now.”
We have all lost in the quarterfinals: Paul, Jared and myself. I’m still proud of the top eight placing. We walk out the front doors of the tournament site, back into fresh air for the first time in eight hours. I look around at the people surrounding me. The conversation is jovial. Jokes abound. I realize that if it weren’t for Magic, if it weren’t for this weird niche card game, that I would not know any of these people, and that’s the best reason to play.
We have some beers in the Hop in Brew and make jokes that no one else will get. We analyze what happened in the tournament. We convince each other that maybe our misplays weren’t misplays after all, and we talk about things that aren’t Magic related, because these aren’t just some people that I play Magic with. These are my friends, and I know that they’d still be my friends if I stopped playing, but it gives us a common goal, something to work towards, and it’s a lot of fun.
So no, I didn’t win a trip to Japan, but I’d do all it again in a heartbeat: all the time spent testing, classes skipped, money spent. Because, clearly, I love Magic.
In case you didn’t really like my self-reflective musings on why I play magic, here’s a decklist. People like decklists.
Ian Baker and Brian Ziemba – Croz Fairies