We went into it with the best intentions.
My two coworkers - Yonathan and Dan - and I planned to head to States in nearby Liverpool last weekend and scheduled the requisite time off. We hatched a casual suicide pact, promising to test a lot with each other, break the format, and bask in the glory that comes with becoming champions.
This is not what actually happened.
Planned testing sessions - where the goal is to sit down, figure out what our decks do, figure out how to sideboard, break the format, enjoy the spoils of victory, quickly became "go home and go to sleep," or "go to J.Ryan's, order some pints, and talk about work." Our last chance to hang out and discuss Standard a little bit - last week's FNM - I skipped in order to go home and get some rest.
One text from an old friend, a bunch of beers, and a couple rounds of shots later and I'm getting to bed at around 4:30, States blissfully forgotten.
I've long maintained the stance that while it may seem appealing, Magic and booze do not mix well. You simply cannot partake in both activities both simultaneously and optimally, and trying will always show you where your real priorities lie. For me, I always try and play Magic as well as I can, and alcohol serves as an active impediment to this. This was made abundantly clear to me at a cube draft the night before the Khans of Tarkir prerelease, where I drunkenly tried to draft combo simply because the idea of trying to pilot the deck in the state I was in amused me. I sobered up immediately and punted out a quick 0-2 before retiring to the couch to play Mario Kart and tend to my wounds.
They tell you to drink water at tournaments. Stay hydrated. You see, there's a lot of thinking going on in the average Magic tournament, and if you don't stay hydrated, your head's going to hurt a lot and it will make you very sad. Alcohol will only accelerate this process. This should be obvious enough to anyone, but people still insist on trying to mix the two. It doesn't work. Trust me on this one. I've done the legwork.
If playing drunk is bad, then it stands to reason that playing hungover won't be much better. And yet, when I woke up at 7:00 AM, two-and-a-half hours after getting to sleep, I figured I might as well try my luck at some Magic cards. After a quick stop at a gas station for a bottle of ginger ale to calm the stomach and a bottle of water to try and get hydrated, I was off.
Anyone who travels often for Magic tournaments knows the pall that hangs over bigger tournaments. Tournament sites can easily be spotted by the groups of men with backpacks wandering towards them, lumbering slowly towards their fate. I don't think that this pall is just me projecting, even if the evidence I have to back it up - conversations with friends - is purely anecdotal.
A close friend of mine, Bret Weed, coined General Malaise as a shorthand way to describe the sort of black cloud that seems to hang over Magic tournaments, seeping inside to the denizens therein. Granted, lots of you probably don't know what I'm talking about, and that's okay. Next time you're at an event, look for it. It's not tough to find, and tends to manifest itself in things like wild swings of tilt, sardonic comments, and overall despondency. The term, used in a sentence:
"Man, there is an awful lot of General Malaise up in here."
Look, these things can definitely be dreary. Tournaments are early in the morning. It's dark and cold outside. You know that, if all goes to plan, you are spending what could possibly be a beautiful day completely indoors. Everyone around you in this room exists at varying levels of desperation. Desperate for a win, desperate for a decent finish, desperate for some validation, whatever. And it feeds your General Malaise. You start to wonder what you're doing here. The thing about the General Malaise is that it creeps up on you. You gotta fight that stuff off. The only reason I went to this tournament on three hours of sleep was because I knew Yon and Dan would be there; the best way to ward off that pesky General Malaise is with friends who understand it and have a healthier appraisal of Magic in their lives than "JUST WIN AT ALL COSTS."
Just to be safe, I texted both of them to let them know that I had had a rough night and that I might be feeling some of the after-effects throughout the day.
I got to the tournament site the first out of the three of us, and immediately sat at one of the tables and tried to go to sleep. It didn't work. Dan texted me asking if I wanted anything from the convenience store; I told him to grab me an empty bowl, a box of cereal, and some milk, fully expecting him to ignore me. Yon showed up shortly thereafter and let me know in no uncertain terms that I looked awful, and as an act of contrition, offered me some toothpaste and some aspirin. Brushing my teeth with my finger out in the Holiday Inn parking lot, a classic move that I hadn't employed since I was in undergrad, can safely be considered a low point of my life thus far.
Just as I started to catch my second wind, I saw Dan walk in with a grocery bag containing
● A box of Cap'n Crunch● A package of Double Stuf Oreos with one sleeve already gone● A bottle of chocolate milk● A travel-size box of aspirin
I have to reiterate here, I did not expect him to bring me anything; the outsize nature of the request was more or less reflective of how I was feeling. Get me the Queen of England for all I care, all I want to do is crawl under a front porch and die. But Dan's the best, and he actually brought me a box of cereal. He might as well have brought me bars of actual gold. That Cap'n Crunch really hit the spot, and was the source of endless fun games throughout the day. Games like "How Much Cap'n Crunch Can I Throw In Dan's Mouth From Across The Table" and "Sit Far Away From The Cereal Bag And Try To Throw Cereal Into It" have now become staples in my repertoire of patented moves to kill time between rounds.
Feeling a lot better, both in my stomach and about the day ahead, I sat down for round one. I was staring down the barrel at six rounds, a refreshingly small tournament.
Joe From Work: I want to write articles for TCGplayer too.Me: You should.Joe From Work: They would be called "DESCENT INTO MADNESS."Me: I like where this is heading.Joe From Work: And first I would talk about Type 2 or whatever and then I'd go straight into how the Earth is actually flat and how the sun is one-sided and that we've never seen the back of it and how babies are a herd animal."Me: You need to submit this immediately.
I went into battle with my trusty GB Devotion deck, having been unable to watch any of the PT coverage the night before. Which is a shame, because I would've gotten that sweet, sweet See the Unwritten tech. Oh well.
Looking back, I still like Genesis Hydra a lot. It's a cast trigger, and it's a huge monster in its own right, both of which make it appealing against the UB decks that are sure to gain some traction post-PT Khans of Tarkir.
"I'd Really Love to See You Tonight," by England Dan & John Ford Coley, which is apparently the name of a band that not only existed, but put out a record that hundreds of thousands of people - actual human beings out in the world - loved. The 70's were really weird.
Game one of round one I make a pretty big mistake in the mirror, following up a turn three Eidolon of Blossoms (affectionately nicknamed Dolan) with a turn-four Polukranos, World Eater instead of my first Doomwake Giant against his board of Voyaging Satyr and Dolan. My opponent, Shawn, casts a maindeck Reclamation Sage, hitting my turn-three Dolan, and it hits me - he has way too much devotion to green in play. I stare at the pair of Doomwake Giants in my hand and have myself a little mini-freak out; if I just play Doomwake Giants on turns four and five it really cramps his options, but as it stands, he's going to have next turn to resolve something huge.
I sheepishly cast Doomwake Giant on my fifth turn, killing exactly one Reclamation Sage with it, and my opponent responds with Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx into Eidolon of Blossoms + Hornet Queen, which is the best possible scenario for me. If he drops any other fatty, I'm dead, but since it's Hornet Queen, I drop the second Doomwake Giant on my turn, wrathing his board, and that's ballgame.
Game two Shawn lands an early Arbor Colossus and monstrouses (is that a word?) (I can assure you it is not. - Frank) it into nothing, but that's his only pressure. We swing back and forth - him with a monstrous Arbor Colossus, me with a pair of Doomwake Giants - and I'm able to chump while he takes damage because I'm generating so many cards off an early Dolan. Shawn gets flooded pretty bad and finally decides to leave Arbor Colossus back when he hits seven life, so I cast my own Polukranos and pass. He casts his own Dolan, and on my turn I monstrous my Polukranos, killing his Dolan and making my Polukranos a 7/7, and swing for the fences. He has to block Polukranos and takes eight from Doomwake Giants and dies.
Round two saw me paired against a monored deck that dealt roughly six damage to me every turn past turn four. And that was without the aid of the combat step.
In game one I've got no idea what I was playing against, and when my opponent Bill wins the die roll and goes "Mountain, go" for three turns in a row, my leans-way-too-heavily-on-mana-dorks-draw and I are terrified of Anger of the Gods, enough to yelp "PLEASE NO ANGER" aloud when Bill taps out on turn three. Luckily, it was for a Krenko's Enforcer, and when his successive turns were Purphoros, God of the Forge into Hordeling Outburst, my double-Courser of Kruphix draw gains me just enough life to hang in there till I draw some fatties and smash him.
I get similarly lucky in game two; this time with a Nylea's Disciple to compliment my double-Courser of Kruphix draw, and all of a sudden I'm 2-0.
● Set up a board state with Naked Singularity and a bunch of basic lands. Ask coworkers what they can cast. Tell them that this is part of their evaluation.● Play the mana cost game, which is: pull a random Magic card, and go around in a circle where everyone names cards that share a mana cost until people can't think of one and are knocked out, one by one. Losers all buy the winner lunch.● Sell your booster packs to Alex. Watch him crack a foil Sorin, Solemn Visitor right in front of your eyes. Angrily claim that if you had opened the packs, they would've been garbage. Cite Schrodinger's Cat in your protests.
● Pop into the RI room. Bring up Benghazi, or ISIS, or something else vaguely political. Immediately leave, knowing that they will argue about it at least until lunch.● Play "Can You Feel The Love Tonight" by Elton John on the speakers. Take note of how different people react. Load all the information into a spreadsheet.
I'm in a WMCQ grinder in Philadelphia a couple weekends back, in a match that saw my Pack Rats against his Polukranos. I go for a pre-combat Banisher Priest on his Polukranos with three mana up and one card in my hand. My opponent activates Polukranos, announcing how much X is, and goes straight into assigning targets. I cast Hero's Downfall on my opponent's Polukranos, and he informs me that Polukranos will still fight my creatures, as targets are decided upon resolution of the monstrous trigger. I call a judge over, and learn that Polukranos indeed only targets creatures upon resolution, but since I was never really given priority before fight targets were declared, I got to cast Hero's Downfall as I'd intended it: in response to the monstrous activation.
I've got a Polukranos monstrous trigger on the stack. In this instance, X equals 16. I give my opponent an opportunity to respond, knowing full well he's got a Temur Charm waiting in his grip to go with the Polukranos + three open mana he's got in play.
He could respond with Temur Charm, fighting our Polukranoses against each other, which I'm actually anticipating; I've got enough mana left over to monstrous again, killing his Polukranos. It was just one of those games.
Instead, what happens is I'm allowed to choose targets, at which point he cats Temur Charm. A judge is called, Polukranoses ability is explained, and the game's over. He stumbles a bit on mana game two and all of a sudden I'm at 3-0.
I split rounds four and five, losing very convincingly to Abzan Reanimator in round four and getting the unsolicited concession in round five from a great local guy, Theo, who was 2-2 to my 3-1, and scooped to me without a moment's hesitation to keep my Top 8 hopes alive.
My knowledge of how tiebreaks and IDs work could be described as "non-existent"; I'm generally able to intuit whether or not I can draw in if I'm not with anyone who's actually capable of doing the math, but I try to just travel with people smarter than me instead whenever possible.
Ryan Dunn, my round six opponent and fellow General Malaise-r, has become one of my best friends in the short time I've known him. He is smart, thoughtful, and seems to be inherently good at anything you put in front of him. We've crashed at each other's houses multiple times. He is also an emotional desert, so I always find his interactions with the general public pretty great.
He is 4-1 after scooping to one of his fellow Rochestarians in round five because he assumed X-1-1 was a lock to make Top 8.
Talking to Ryan between prior rounds, he is pleasantly surprised to be winning games at all; he's running a Boros burn deck of his own design, and after a couple of games against him I have no clue how he can possibly beat anything. Ryan's only responses are to giggle, or to pick up the creatures I control and place them in my graveyard against my wishes, which is par for the course for anyone who's ever playtested against Ryan Dunn.
Sitting down for round six, I am flanked - two matches of X-0-1s that double drew into Top 8 to my right, three matches between X-1s, the winners of which will make Top 8, to my left. Ryan Dunn and I are the fourth match of X-1s, meaning that four X-1s will make Top 8, jumping the X-0-2s in top eight seeding.
Ryan is late for the match, having gone to get food. I text him. No response.
Three minutes pass. He will start our match down a game. I know the matchup is virtually unloseable - sideboarded games see me bring in Nylea's Disciples and a matchup that is already heavily favorable for me - but this is not the way I want to see this go down.
A minute-and-a-half away from a game loss, Ryan runs full-sprint into the room, sits down, and offers me the draw. I tell him that I don't think we can draw in, and he goes to check the pairings. At this point, the judge is pressuring us to make a decision, and Ryan is sure we can both safely draw in. Assuming that I simply missed something, I write down 1-1-1 on the sheet, we both sign it, and hand it in.
We start discussing how things are going to break. I point out to Ryan that we were one of four X-1 matches playing, and that the X-0-2s were locked. We eventually arrive at the same conclusion - we done goofed. Ryan, apoplectic, goes to the head judge and tries to retroactively concede the match, since he knows that his breakers will trump mine and he feels bad. There's an agreement worked out where Ryan can drop after final standings are announced, at which point I will be in 9th place but will still play out the Top 8 in the spot he would've taken. Ryan grows increasingly agitated, mostly at the situation, as he tells me all of this. He admits to being flustered, both at being nine minutes late to the round and at the judges pressuring him to make a decision.
At this point I'll say that I think this event was run great. Lots of people register irritation when they're hurried along by judges, but it's important to recognize that they're not just doing it arbitrarily; it's their job to keep the tournament running, and a match that starts 10-15 minutes late already isn't conducive to that. This was the argument that was presented to me by the head judge of the event, Will, who went out of his way to seek me out and open up a dialogue with me about what went down. I really appreciated that.
I wound up losing in the quarterfinals to an Abzan deck. My opponent was a very crisp, tight player, and my heart was just not in it after the events of last round. I kept one-landers twice and split those games, until getting rocked in the third by an End Hostilities I played straight into.
See you next week.
Jon Corporapronounced Ca-pora@feb31st