Planes, Trains and Mana Leak

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I wasn’t sure that I even wanted to go to this event.

On an early morning car ride out to Kitchener, about an hour away from the amusement park where the qualifier was held, I told my friends about my new laissez-faire attitude. I didn’t much care if I won or lost. If we bombed out early, we could go bowling next door. With travel awards gone, and flights to Barcelona over a thousand dollars despite it being early in the qualifying season, I was reluctant to throw away a bunch of money to attend a tournament at which I’ve historically struggled. I am, of course, a fool. A few hours later, with my finals opponent dispatched, my fire was reignited, and I couldn’t wait to compete at my seventh Pro Tour.

***

Fast forward a couple months, I’d been having an absolutely great time at local events with Azorius Control. I hadn’t really been paying too much attention to the metagame murmurs on social media, since I had once again convinced myself that I wasn’t all that invested in the outcome of the tournament.

I submit my deck for the MC, several hours before the deadline, and head to the airport early, ready for Pearson Airport to do what it does best. I’m a pretty big guy — though frequent trips to America serve to remind me that I am nowhere close to the biggest — and flying is inherently pretty uncomfortable, given the insistence of airlines on jamming as many rows of seats as humanly possible into every plane. This old jet, primed for a trans-Atlantic flight, is the worst of the worst. There are no outlets, the seats are easily an inch smaller than what I’m used to on newer planes, and my knees are subject to treatment that I’m confident violates the Geneva Convention. As I crush my bones and squeeze my thighs into this medieval torture device, I notice the temperature. Specifically, I notice that it’s downright unbearable, so I reach up to open and re-position the fan, as I always do. Alas, there is no fan, and I realize quickly that there’s also no air conditioning. The plane is done boarding at this point. Time seems to slow to a crawl as the temperature quickly rises, thanks to the hundreds of people crammed into this Soviet-era contraption. The half hour mark hits, and I become confident that I had died during boarding and been sent to hell. It’s easily 40 degrees (to my “beloved” American readers, that’s Very Hot) and rising, while all safe a few masochists are furiously fanning themselves using the laminated evacuation instructions. I take a look at my own card, bent and mangled from an eternity of vigorous use. Ah, evacuation. Wouldn’t that be nice. At this point, the surreal experience hits a crescendo, as the captain’s voice appears over the intercom, speaking softly in Portuguese for minutes straight. I spend most of that time wondering if I’m having a stroke, as reaching boiling point has made me forget that I’m flying on Air Portugal. It turns out that the plane has a faulty part, that governs not only the starting of the engine, but also the air conditioning. A replacement had been delivered, but it was the wrong part. Another one is on its way, but when, or whether it would work, is up in the air.

Sixteen awful hours later, and I finally make it to Barcelona, which was kind enough as to replicate the extreme heat of the aircraft on which I arrived. How very generous. The blob of sweat and luggage that I’ve become meanders into the convention centre and is blessed to find exactly one can of Monster Energy in a vending machine. God knows I didn’t sleep a wink on that red eye flight, so taurine it is. I let my roommate Andrew take me out on a beer adventure, because I suffer from such acute brain damage that I can’t possibly make two good decisions in a row, and luckily pass out in a hotel room, rather than a ditch. I inexplicably wake up feeling extremely powerful, and lock my eyes on the prize: jamón ibérico. We meander over to a cafe, where I establish my dominance over the locals by ordering “dos cafés con leche”, stunning the staff with my hyper-masculine need for multiple espresso beverages. The cured ham sandwich is out of this world. We go back for every other meal, and I am recognized, then immortalized, as the guy who orders two lattes.

Tournament Time

The draft is a disaster, go figure, and I struggle to stay conscious while playing out the rounds with my garbage fire of a deck. I tried to draft the hard way, staying open and reading signals, as I’d heard I was supposed to do for Modern Horizons. Black and blue both appeared to be open, and while I was able to pick up card after card in those colours, only a pair of cards from early in pack one had Ninjutsu on them. My first round opponent is playing Slivers, and I’m lucky enough to draw my Plague Engineer a bunch to grind out a win. A lovely German opponent gives me a Coke Zero during a deck check, and we chat about fitness, weightlifting, and keeping up with diets during travel. He kicks my ass, as does my next opponent, who it turns out had all the ninjas. Go figure.

I play Carlos Romao in my first round of Modern, and despite our Hogaak vs Azorius match being positively thrilling, my attention is split, as one Jeremy Dezani is playing an Eldrazi Tron mirror to my right. If you’re familiar with him, it should come as no surprise that there are two separate contentious judge calls over the course of this match. The first time, he tries to get his opponent’s good draw step rewound, by claiming that his opponent stacked his deck and didn’t present it for him to shuffle. He did present it, and it was shuffled beforehand, but why tell the truth, when you could just lie to judges in order to gain an unfair advantage? Somehow Dezani is allowed to keep playing the tournament, and proceeds to, scant minutes later, lie again, this time to his opponent. Both players have Karn, Dezani has Mycosynth Lattice and Ensnaring Bridge, but notably, the only one with creatures is the opponent. Dezani claims that since he has more cards left in his library, they’re just going to go draw discard until he wins, and that he won’t be able to be attacked because of Ensnaring Bridge. The legality of this lie is dubious, since you’re supposedly allowed to lie about future game states, but the morality is clear. Get this kind of behaviour out of the game. It’s pathetic.

Anyways, I win a pair of Hogaak matchups as my opponents brick off into Rest in Peace, or something like that. Honestly, these Hogaak games are so dreadfully boring that I can’t be bothered to remember. I’m 4-1 and feeling good, until a very evocative Japanese opponent leads off with a Turn 1 Goblin Guide. We go through the motions, and he’s kind enough to make me feel like I had a chance, waiting to Skullcrack me for lethal in Game 3 until I cast the Timely Reinforcements I had been holding. I play against Vidi on Phoenix in the last round. I joke about how I play Azorius to beat up on Phoenix, but hadn’t played the matchup in weeks. He beats me easily, and I end the day at a sad 4-4.

Andrew and I go to a tapas place nearby, but are denied a table at the empty restaurant, presumably by virtue of being tourists. Interesting strategy, to have an economy that subsists largely on tourism, then treat them poorly, but what do I know? Eventually we find a place that will tolerate our existence, and order a bunch of cool stuff. I remember reading somewhere that, in Spain, anything that sounds like it comes out of a can is going to be delicious, so we get a dish of anchovies and olives. Absolute fire, huge hit. Croquettes, some sea creature, and a pork roast, all served with delicious fried potatoes, round out the excellent meal.

Day 2

A short but sweet sleep later, I find myself once again staring at three little piles of cards, each wrapped in an all-too-familiar little strip of paper. This time, I stay open throughout pack one, only sliding into my comfortable Izzet Spells archetype once I see its integral pieces going by late. This deck is very powerful, unlike Friday’s iteration, and I 2-1 the pod, losing only to Jon Stern’s even-more-powerful deck. Unfortunately for me, the 11-5 dream immediately dies, as a match against Eldrazi Tron goes to time, and despite being confident that I was not to blame, I concede, unwilling to throw the invite equity to the wind. I go 2-2 in my meaningless rounds, losing twice to unreasonable Hogaak draws, and missing any extra prize along the way, and am disappointed to find that the fellow I conceded to had gone 0-4. Oh well.

At some point during these Modern rounds, I’m standing with Edgar, who’s coming off a rough loss, watching some match at the top tables, and a friendly Portuguese fellow walks up to him. He says he heard him on a podcast and was a big fan, but criticized Edgar on his inability to pronounce Magalhaes. He corrected it, and as a foolish French Canadian, all I heard in the correct pronunciation was some additional phlegm, but what do I know. Either way, it kicked absolute ass and I can’t wait for someone to tell me that I don’t know how to pronounce my own name. Nothing but respect for this guy.

At this point I’m sad and exhausted, and while Andrew was excited to go out on the town and be judgmental towards craft beers — or whatever the hell else he does in his spare time — I can’t bring myself to do anything other than charge my phone, eat McDonalds, and sleep. It was gross, by the way. Somehow worse than here. Get it together, Spain.

I wake up thirsty for more Magic, and play the MCQ, replacing every single card in my sideboard with Leyline of the Void. I win a few matches before losing to Calcano’s Hogaaks (despite putting two of my fifteen Leylines into play on turn one), win another meaningless round, chop the last one, and meet up with Andrew for my redemption tour. We meet fellow Canadian Morgan McLaughlin at a very unique bar downtown, where Andrew introduces us to Lambic beers. It’s a sour beer, but instead of introducing some lab-grown yeast to create the sour flavour, they just leave it in an open vat in an attic or something in Brussels, and the yeast present in the air ferments and flavours the beer. That’s disgusting, but the beer was very good. Belgians, eh? We hit up the excellent Italian place we stumbled into on Thursday night, got offered shots of limoncello by the generous owner, and flew home the next morning.

It’s weird, to me. My relationship with this game is so chaotic, so mutable. One day, I’ll swear it off completely, making grandiose life plans. The next, I’m looking up flights to the worst cities outside of Florida. I stand by my new approach to the game, where I’m just looking to have fun and tread my own path, but I came to one more crucial realization as I sat on the plane home, squished into the same horrible seat I had been condemned to on my way out: I’m damn lucky. Not only have I been to some amazing places, seen some amazing things, and eaten some amazing food, all thanks to this stupid wizard card game that I’m hopelessly addicted to, but I’ve also built irreplaceable ties with an amazing group of people. My life wouldn’t be the same without you all. Thank you.