2018 was a very special year. It was the year that followed the birth of my son Lavan. It all happened to be my worst Magic season to date as a player. In 22 years, never had I been felt so bad about my ability to play.
While it didn't hit me too hard at Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan in Bilbao at the beginning of the year and Pro Tour Dominaria in Richmond in June, I really started to feel a difference in Minneapolis during the infamous Silver Showcase draft. It was the highest stakes tournament in a long time and I wanted to be in the best possible shape for it. The draft started at four o'clock and even though I was super excited I almost fell asleep during the process. I just couldn't stay focused.
Playing Turbo Fog at the Pro Tour was a battle but I survived. On the way back home, after what felt like an eternity away from my family (ten days), my flight got delayed in Chicago, making my connection in London a very short one. I had a mere 20 minutes to go from gate to gate, but I had seen and done worse—it was just going to be a formality. So I started running through the terminal, and took left at some point. The next thing I knew, I was out of the terminal. I hurried to go through security again, but my access got denied because the flight was already boarding. I got rebooked for a later flight 11 hours later. Ouch.
Never in 22 years of traveling have I made such a crucial mistake. It got me thinking. How come things like that kept happening? My mind has always been sharp for these kinds of things. Was I getting old?
My intermittent doldrums hit their apex during the Atlanta trip. I had my Dredge deck ready in my bag for the Modern Grand Prix, missing red fetchlands. Eduardo Sajgalik had a mix of them for me, two of each. So I registered my decklist, submitted it, and went to sleep. On the next morning, I collected the cards I was missing, and put the deck together with the list I had sent:
2 Arid Mesa: check
2 Wooded Foothills: check
2 Bloodstained Mire: check
2 Steam Vents: ch... wait, what?
I submitted Steam Vents instead of Scalding Tarn. It was the first time I'd ever submitted an incorrect decklist.
I went to the Head Judge to make them aware of the situation. I was offered to either take a game loss for my first match and correct my decklist or keep the deck as it was, so says the policy. I chose the game loss and lost my first round. After collecting a warning for milling an extra card with Shriekhorn, I was out of the tournament quickly.
Then came the Pro Tour.
At 2-2 (after I got a warning for not discarding for a jump-started Direct Current), I'm playing game 3 of a Boros mirror. My opponent is tapped out with one untapped blocker, is at 14 life, and I think I have the win. My board is three 2/2 Knights, the third chapter of History of Benalia will trigger, and I have a Heroic Reinforcements to play. Quick math: three five-powered knights, two 2/2's, my opponent has a blocker, that's 14 damage. Good, I can get back to the winners' bracket.
I played Heroic Reinforcements and attacked with everything. My opponent blocked a Knight and said, "I take 12?"
I thought I had the kill on board... well, I must have miscalculated, the tokens are just 1/1's... I'm winning next turn anyway. "Sure, you're on 2," I said. I proceeded to lose that game, and as I usually do when I lose a close game, I replay it in my head after the match to see where I got it wrong. On my way to the bathroom, I replay the last crucial turns. Three knights, History of Benalia goes ultimate, then Heroic Reinforcements means I have two 2/2s and three 5/4s, they have one blocker, 5+5+2+2... equals 14, not 12. I had it right. My opponent was indeed dead.
I started sweating hard, realizing I had actually won the match. I went to talk to the head judge to see if we could correct the situation, but my opponent wasn't very cooperative. I don't think he had malicious intent when he said "12," and I blamed myself for phasing out during the match.
At that point, I broke down. While I was talking to the head judge, pairing went up for the next round, but my heart had sunk and I wasn't in a place I could play. I lost the two following rounds, and I couldn't keep it together. I broke down in tears.
I couldn't keep it for myself and I started sharing my story. I got some comfort from my friends. "It happens to everyone." Sure, it happens to everyone. But not these kinds of mistakes. Not that often. And not to me. Not like that. I couldn't take ten days away from home, away from Monica, who has to take care of Lavan on her own while I'm away, to commit mental lapses like that.
The problem was that I didn't know what was wrong. I prepared fine; I did a lot of practice drafts and had a decent Constructed deck but I just couldn't play anymore.
That's when I started to worry. When your brain seems to be broken, there are a few things that come to mind, and none of them have a happy ending. Before my mom was diagnosed with tumors in her lungs and brains, she had similar lapses where she would just completely phase out of reality.
The first, frightening thing I thought was that I could be sick. Something was wrong in my body, in my brain, and it was keeping me from thinking straight.
The second, more disheartening but not as serious, was that I was just getting old. I've been feeling that I'm not as sharp as before, but this lack of sharpness isn't acceptable at a high level tournament. This wasn't going to get better.
I scheduled a doctor's appointment and blood tests when I got back, to see if there was anything that could be done, and the blood tests didn't reveal anything wrong. The doctor, however, told me where the illness came from.
Lavan's birth was an immense source of happiness. When people say your life changes when your first child is born, it is true. His birth impacted my work and sleep schedule. I've always been used to work at night, but it became complicated when I didn't get the sleep I needed in the morning. Monica has been doing an amazing job taking care of him and I wish I did more, but the nights and mornings have been really hard. He's still to this day sleeping in our room, waking up three to four times a night.Your brain works like a computer. It runs the current applications (whatever you're doing at the moment) as part of the active memory. In the background, it also sorts all kinds of stuff, including sorting memories and past events. This is usually done during the night, while you sleep. If you don't sleep properly, your brain doesn't have time to sort everything it has to sort. It will be busy doing that during the day, effecting its active memory.
When your computer's running an update, it won't be as fast as it usually is until the update finishes. When you launch an application or a program, it takes forever to start, and if it even launch successfully, sometimes it just stops working for no reason. It doesn't matter how many times you restart your computer, if the update isn't finished, it won't go any faster. And the fact the computer isn't as new as it was a couple years back doesn't help; "you're not 20 years old anymore," my doctor told me.
Making that update takes time. A week of proper sleep won't make up for a long overdue update that's been trying to install on your computer for a year.
So that's what it was. I was lacking sleep. Not the kind of fatigue you have when you miss a night, or when you're jet-lagged. The one that's been lasting for a full year.
The fix would take some time, but knowing that I had to seriously prioritize sleep in order to get better was important. When you're told that sleeping well is important and that eating well is important, you only think of short term benefits. You hear things like "have a good night sleep before a tournament to feel fresh the next day," and while it certainly is true to an extent, it didn't apply to me in that case. Sure it sounds obvious: sleep well and you won't be tired. However, I had never thought the effect of lingering fatigue would go so far.
I didn't choose to sleep badly, which is somewhat different from having an unhealthy lifestyle. I'm not trying to find an excuse to my poor performances this year; tired or not, it's still me playing. I had been looking for a reason I wasn't the best me I could be, and it sounds like this is definitely it.
Since then, I modified my sleeping schedule and the way we handle Little One. I felt the difference at GP Warsaw when I felt I was actually playing, and not just sitting in a chair holding cards, having no idea what to do (how I felt for the couple of tournaments before). A month break in South Africa, leaving Little One to his grandparents in the morning helped a lot as well. I'm finally getting that sense of awareness back, something that I haven't felt in a while.
With all the changes happening in Magic in the upcoming year and my desire to fully recover and take care of my family, I'm going to take a break from making Magic content for a bit. This will be the last piece you'll read from me on TCGplayer.com, but keep an eye open for my future Magic submissions.
Thank you all for the support I received in the last seven years, and see you around!