My 3rd opponent wanted almost nothing to do with me. He had the same record as me, but he had come to win whereas I had come to get content for a magazine. I mean, pleasantries were exchanged, but he then preferred to play in almost absolute silence. I get that not everybody is as outgoing as myself, and let him to do his thing. For my part I kept trying to just play my deck as best as I could and try to avoid making any more mistakes.
Higher level Magic players will talk about, “Racing,” their opponent. What that means is that it is their intention to deal more damage every turn than their opponent. In a lot of games it’s not about the race, it’s about developing your threats. In other words, putting out things and keeping them in play. Eventually you have more than your opponent and you can manage to win that way. “Race” means that I am going to hit you with everything, every time I can and I expect you to do the same. Hold nothing back, and start looking for advantages. If you can deal more damage than your opponent can you should win.
Round 3 was basically that, and it was equal parts thrilling and terrifying. My Red Black Aggro deck was built for speed, but not just raw speed. If it was a car it would be more like a Rally Car than a Supercar. Maybe not as fast in a lap on tarmac, but real quick over almost everything. Considering that, “almost everything” was what I expected to face it seemed like a smart choice. My opponent ran what is called a “Mono-Red Aggro” or more conveniently, “Red Deck Wins.” To lose to it, just wait 4 turns. To beat it you need to stop their things and wait for them to run out of new ones. There’s a saying with that deck, “If it’s turn 6, you’ve lost.” Using my car analogy – it’s a dragster.
Basically both of our decks were designed to go all out and hope for the best. The play was all about the race and eeking out small advantages. Which of his threats I should neutralize versus whether I should add to my own presence became the useful choices I could make. No matter what damage was going to happen, simple as that. It wasn’t about not getting hit, but trying not to get hit so hard you couldn’t recover. Coincidentally, if either of us made a mistake then the retaliation was painful. In Magic if you’re in a Race and you get behind it is very hard to catch up.
In the end, I never did. The deck I built to be fast just wasn’t fast enough. Now my card choices began to fill my head. “Was my deck good enough? What could I add to my deck to make it better?” But I had to come back again and again to the fact that my losses had been because of my errors. It was my fault.You can’t win them all, I was fully aware of that, but now I really wanted to.
8 rounds is a lot. Each round has a time limit of 50 minutes but will frequently go over due to another esoteric tournament rule. A good measure is that you’re probably going to spend and hour and a fifteen minutes per round of play. So that adds up to 10 hours of playing Magic, That’s a long time and it’s even longer when you’re locked in a sauna and have done nothing but lose all day. Now you are probably surrounded by people in the same boat and they are happy to tell you about their losses, but there is a sensible feeling of loss in the room. The high hopes from that morning are more or less over by Round 4. Maybe if your cards start going the right way you can pull the magical comeback tour and get into the Top 8. But from where you are now that seems like it’s a lot further away than it seemed before your record had all of those loses dangling off of it like shitty X-mas ornaments. Now’s about the time you start thinking crazy thoughts – like you should Drop.
For every match you play there’s a little slip you fill out. It has the names of the players and out of 3, who won how many games. For my part mine had all read 1-2 for example. Then you sign them and the winner turns them in to a judge. Consider it a sort of victory lap and try not to look smug. On the bottom there’s also a little check box that asks if you would like to drop – in other words leave the tournament. There’s nothing wrong with that, and actually if you drop early you can still go enjoy some other side events. You can draft for example. For my part, I was almost there. One more game. “If I lose again, I’m out,” I told myself.
The next game went well thankfully. I mean, I still lost, but the game was good at least. In the end I played another person just as outgoing as me. Neither of us did anything stupid, and I got to be impressed that his deck was built to combo into infinite turns. The Johnny in me thought it was cool. The growing Spike was less than pleased, but screw it, I was enjoying myself again. After the loss I signed the slip, marked, “Drop” and went on my merry way home.
“I’ve never managed to get that to go off before.
“Dammit, when you’re right you’re right
– that is cool.”
What I find interesting, although not surprising, was how cordial everybody was during the entire event. Generally speaking, Magic is a very friendly game and for many people, even those at a Regional tournament are friendly. There really is a community that lives around this game, and I was happy to find out that in spite of the competitive nature of the event, that friendliness remained.
Since then, I’ve thought a lot about Magic. Not just the regular stuff, but obscure concepts like Quadrant theory, tempo, archetype variants, virtual card advantage, and budget considerations. I feel like I’ve fallen down a rabbit hole and am in a weird new world. Magic is still the game that I have played and loved for years, only now there’s a competitive side to it that I didn’t know I had. I don’t know if I can be happy just playing to play, or whether I can enjoy building some weird contraption that sorta works half the time. Now I want to win, and I want to do it with my own creation, and I want one of those Top 8 playmats and I don’t want to dwell on the losses the way that I am. Now there’s a hunger, for lack of a better word.
I think that my experience preparing for and attending a Regional has really made me a better player. The Johnny in me has joined forces with my nascent Spike. So for that, I am thankful. But at the same time I don’t know how easily I can go back to just playing like I always have, or if I can at all. What I can say for sure is this – I haven’t been this excited to play Magic in a long time.