Grand Prix Chicago: Too Long, Didn’t Read

Trying to be gracious in victory and in defeat is a skill I am still trying to perfect. I do not know if I have ever pulled it off, but I am very sensitive to how my opponent feels and try to act appropriately. So far, I was in rough shape having suffered from insomnia for at least a week before the GP and just stressing very badly. Not that I felt pressure to win or even place highly (really, I probably had a better chance of winning the Powerball without a ticket) but I am “very hard on myself” as many people close to me have said. I started playing in 1996 and this was the first really high level event I have played in.

There was a long gap between active phases, I gave up Magic after returning to WI after my service in the Army, only getting my cards out sporadically after that and actually playing even more rarely. When I found out people still play Magic and met some around here to have regular games with, it still took a while to start getting new cards. I cannot remember the exact circumstances but there were real tournaments I played in during the Army days in Kentucky, though none were even close to the size of a Grand Prix. I simply mean that the 37 year old me is a very different person and player than the 21 year old me. Back then I was all about burn, mana flared fireballs and forked were among my weapons of choice. I thought the older, wiser, more patient player was a U/W control kind of guy but after my poor showing despite all the work I put in to succeed I have to confront the possibility that I’m just not cut out for this.

Joe and Dan, my first two opponents at the GP were not exactly fun but they weren’t jerks either. The next matches were the high and low of it. My next opponent was Marvin Abram and a more jovial, good-natured fellow I probably could not have found. He came all the way from Virginia to play so I was a little bit intimidated. Would you travel almost halfway across the country if you did not think you had a good chance of taking down some dollars? Love of the game is one thing, but gas is not cheap. Anyway, Marvin had a Bant ‘Walkers deck and we had practically identical sideboards, this made for another grueling slog as we tried to resolve spells, build board presence, and answer each other’s threats. After 2 rounds of going to extra turns I was not looking forward to it again but I flashed the thought that another draw would actually be a pretty good result. So after going to a third game with only about 13 minutes left, I thought maybe I could stall enough to be saved by the bell. I am blanking on the exact events but I did not make it. First loss of the day, but I like to think I played well and accepted the defeat graciously. I finally found Vince on my way outside for a smoke break (at that point, I did not care that the next round could begin any minute, I had to take a hit the restroom and needed to recover my nerves a little) and was telling him about the match with Marvin. Then, when we actually saw Marvin talking with his buddy I got a kind of after-action report, he told Vince that our match was awesome and I’m pretty sure he was sincere. So Marvin, if you’re out there, you’re alright in my book.

I was not so lucky next round, there was enough time for me to get to the assigned table (I think) but by this time my brain was pretty much fried. I read that his name was Gary on the slip but there was no friendly banter, no questions, no nothing. Just an angry white guy who could barely contain his aggrieved sense of entitlement to easy wins. Gary had a Jund Monsters deck, under better circumstances I know I would have beat him but that’s the way it was. Combat and street fights are rarely under ideal conditions, in some respects magic is the same way. I tried to be cool, but it was just a waste of time. This was the only time during the day that I was tempted to simply sign the slip, punch him in the face, and walk away. First impressions are often correct and the match did not get any better no matter how polite I was. So Gary, you’re a dick and I don’t know how I put up with sitting across from you for an hour.

Next was the “gift” I alluded to in an earlier post. I have not played against a female Magic player since Caleb’s little sister stopped playing in our group. Now, there were women playing, and I know that a lady made it all the way to the finals but it was still a surprise to see Jaelene when I sat down. She was very nice but had only been playing a month so all the misplays she had were not really mistakes, just lack of experience. Her boyfriend came over while we were still playing and I gathered that he had taught her to play and gave her the Selesnya Aggro deck she was using. It was a really good deck and even with all of the missed triggers and missed attacks winning was no cakewalk. Even though I knew she must have won a match to be playing me at that point I still kind of felt bad beating her the same way two games in a row. It was exactly how an Azorius control deck is supposed to work, survive the first few rounds to stabilize the board, establish control, and get an Elspeth on the board for the win. I went ultimate with Elspeth several times that day and kept saying “I’m going to get an emblem for her right after this, I promise.” I usually do not need to announce that I am casting a Sphinx’s Revelation in response to my opponent’s end step, it is just implicit but against Jaelene I did. It was a little unnerving.

Could anyone say I “deserved” that win because of all the work I did? There is a saying “if hard work was all it took to succeed, every woman in Africa would be rich.” So no, there is no entitlement in Magic, I did not deserve to win because I was more prepared anymore than I deserved to win because she was a girl. I put together the full standard control after the last outing to Chicago, gone were all the creatures and Ephara, in were all the regular mix of counter spells and removal. I practiced and refined every chance I got and tested it at FNM and our local tournaments but it is never enough. MTG is still a game that depends on chance, you can try to improve your odds by playing the strict minimum of 60 cards and the maximum of 4 copies of key spells but there is still a chance of mana-flooding or drought, or never hitting the card you need at the time you need it. Even the best pro players still lose games and matches. Defeats are as inevitable as bad dreams, bad days, and paying taxes. My last match was against a guy from New Jersey, he had a Jund Monsters deck too. I lost to him, life goes on.

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