when edgar told me i made it to nationals for magic: the gathering — my current obsession — i decided i wanted to go .
here’s what happened on day one.
*cue law and order gavel slam*
standard round 1:
i played against a gentleman named eli who drove six hours to the tournament. he left his kids and wife at grandma’s — about three hours away — and while he isn’t the biggest fan of the standard format, he wanted to collect some points.
eli played a red aggro deck, and we went back and forth. i won the first, eli took the second, and i took the third — each player on the play winning their game. eli had to take a mulligan on game three, and he scryed away a land which would have given him a chance to cast hour of devastation, wiping most of my board. i had a glorybringer the turn after, but it would have been a surprising turn of events.
eli, edgar, and i talked after the match, and eli told us about mtgfinder.com.
thinking about using the crap out of it.
standard round 2:
i spotted the california tattoo on andrew’s arm and asked him if he was from the golden state. he told me he was from fresno, and we had a quick conversation about where i was from.
“you know where monterey is?” i asked him.
“it’s an hour south of san jose.”
andrew asked me if i traveled much to tournaments. “nope,” i told him, “this is my first big out-of-state tournament.”
i’ve played in canada, but i didn’t travel to the great white north specifically to play magic. if i were to visit korea, maybe i’ll hit up a shop to see what mtg is like in my birth country.
andrew told me he came all the way to columbus, ohio for the foil promo card that each person participating in nationals got.
“i don’t play standard,” andrew told me, “but i wanted this card!”
we had an interesting match; andrew surprised me with a new perspectives deck (a combo deck that can win in one giant long swoop once it starts going). at first i thought he was playing a control deck, and i cautiously played around essence scatters, negates, and settle the wreckages. when he dropped new perspectives on the table, i could only sit there, helplessly watching as he laid out most of his deck.
game two, i went full steam ahead. unfortunately for andrew — and fortunately for me –he was stuck on two lands. he scooped around turn five.
for the final game, andrew brought in a nice little card that gave him life and took away mine every time he discarded or cycled. that gave him some leeway as i hit him with a swarm of creatures only to see him drain my life and keep me from a lethal strike.
i worried about making a mistake, and while i won, andrew and edgar both told me what i could have done to improve my play in case i ever get caught in the same position again.
i could have lost this one, but i came out of it holding on to dear cardboard life.
standard round 3:
i didn’t expect to be 2-0. the day previous, i joked with edgar about losing the first match on purpose so i could go directly into the loser’s bracket and score some easy victories.
at 2-0, i knew i was playing someone else who had gone undefeated up until now. things weren’t supposed to be easier — i was climbing uphill, and i felt like a loss was coming.
i expected to play a control deck, but i ended up playing an opponent playing a similar deck to mine.
the mirror match did not go well for me. he ran over me after i had to go to six on the first game and missed a crucial land drop that could have turned the entire game in my favor.
john had an easier time during game two when i drew nothing but land.
“good luck!” he said, leaving the table. up until then, he seemed very stern and serious. the parting words lit up his face in a bright smile.
magic is competitive!
standard round 4:
being 2-1 felt about right. i was coming back down to earth from a high, and i asked myself: did i really expect to go undefeated?
during the first game of round four, kyle used refurbish to grab his god pharoah’s gift from his graveyard. i rolled my eyes believing the end was inevitable.
a part of me felt resigned to the thought of losing another match, but i decided to adjust my attitude and play it out. i had a phoenix hovering over the 4/4’s that kyle’s artifact was creating. the phoenix darted in for attacks dropping kyle’s life points down while i chump-blocked his onslaught of the undead.
looking to end it soon, he used a turn to attack with all his creatures. i killed one with a spell and soaked up some damage with a block. the unblocked creature punched me in the face bringing me to lethal — overkill, even — on kyle’s next turn if i didn’t do something immediately on the following turn.
i knew the count, and after drawing a card (goblin chainwhirler) that would ping kyle for one on etb (enter the battlefield), i lamented very audibly, “just one more!”
i had a scrapheap scrounger (3/2), a phoenix (4/3), and soul-scar mage (1/2) on the field. i held up the cut / ribbons in my graveyard and checked my land count. i had six lands — enough to shoot for four. kyle was at 13 life. i counted out how much potential i could do.
what if i cast chainwhirler?
count it again.
“just one more!” i whispered, forcefully.
i sat there shuffling the cards in my graveyard, looking for an out that i couldn’t see — an out that my head kept telling me didn’t exist. i was about to scoop when i decided to count again.
if you were paying attention, you would have been able to spot that i actually had 13 damage ready to go — the perfect amount to kill kyle with. i don’t know why i kept counting 12 — and yes, i counted the prowess trigger.
maybe it was fatigue. maybe it’s a disorder that keeps me from mathing correctly. whatever it was, i would have been devastated if i hadn’t caught my mistake.
after i realized i had 13 damage in the chamber and kyle was tapped out completely, i made it a point to count, count again, and count some more before making my move. kyle paused for a second, then he picked up his cards ready to start game 2.
i can only imagine what he was thinking as he watched me complain about not having enough damage. i hope he doesn’t think i was sitting there trolling him for five minutes.
math is not my thing.
for game two: kyle couldn’t find his artifact, even though he went through a lot of cards to dig his way into one.
my army of creatures, two removal spells, and a chandra eventually ran him over on the final turn.
standard round 5:
played against stephen and his version of the god pharoah’s gift deck. since we were both in the 3-1 bracket, i thought i’d have a tougher go of this one simply because of the law of averages. there’s enough variance and decision-making that goes into each match that could see two opposing decks beat each other.
what were the odds i’d beat another gift deck, and from someone higher ranked?
against doubt, i pushed myself forward.
things escalated quickly, and i had to make a spot decision.
i felt like i made a big mistake using abrade to blow up stephen’s artifact instead of his shalai, which had taken a hit from soul-scar mage’s ability.
shalai gaves stephen’s creatures protection from my spells, but his pharoah’s gift was literally raising the dead.
i started to beat myself up over what i thought was a poor decision, but over the next few turns, stephen cast several more creatures that made me realize doing either wouldn’t have won me the game. either shalai died, and stephen continued to resurrect his growing army of undead creatures before each combat or i got rid of the artifact only to face off against the creatures stephen played from his hand that went on to buff the rest of his board and give him life.
i was caught between a rock and a hard place. actually, no, i was caught in an iron maiden filled with rusty nails.
i made some adjustments to the deck and took game two. i sided in a set of duress cards, a doomfall, and anything else that would keep stephen from using his cards.
a week ago, i played a mono-red deck for the store championship. i ended the day with a 2-2 record and complained that i needed better removal and a bit more control.
the decision to come to nationals with a red/black deck is one i do not regret. having played a full round of standard at nationals and scoring a 4-1 record, i couldn’t have been happier.
well, maybe if i went 5-0…
draft round 1:
after standard play, we moved into draft. i sat at a table with seven other 4-1 players. i was nervous having to go through my first super-competitive draft round because of the formality.
i fumbled my first pack and dropped some cards on the floor. the player next to me looked at one of the patrolling judges and shouted, “i didn’t see them!”
before the draft started, i told edgar i was going to stick to two colors. like many promises, i ended up eating those words. i found myself drafting three colors, and i stressed out over my mana base because i didn’t have much in terms of fixing. i did have very powerful cards, and i rushed to edgar to seek his approval and some words of encouragement.
“this looks sweet,” he said, “you will do well.”
when the pairings were announced, and i sat down in front of my opponent and did what has become a forced habit after i was caught having too many cards during a deck check at a pptq: i counted the cards in my deck.
i counted it again.
i started to panic. was a card missing? did i miscount?
“judge!” i yelled.
“what can i help you with?”
“i counted my cards,” i explained, “and i only have 39.”
“how would you like me to help you?” he asked, very politely.
my mind blanked. “what are my options?”
“did you drop it or misplace it? i can go grab your decklist, and we can see what’s missing,” he suggested.
i thought it was a very reasonable solution, and the judge rushed off to find my decklist. i apologized to my opponent, gabriel, who was very gracious.
“do you want me to step away from the table so you can lay your cards out and figure out what’s wrong?” gabriel asked. i was taken aback at the amount of consideration he was giving me.
“i — i would really appreciate that,” i said.
gabriel suggested i count the cards i drafted, and then i realized i made a critical error. though i had it right when i filled out my decklist, i counted the played cards on the sheet one last time and counted one card twice — once as a land and also as drafted card. so instead of 40 cards in my deck, i had 39.
“well, i think i know where the problem is,” the judge said, bringing my decklist over to my table.
“i think i counted wrong,” i said, embarrassed.
“unfortunately, you will get a game loss,” he told me.
“will this affect every game?” i asked, freaking out, “can i fix this for future rounds?”
the judge calmly explained that i would take a game loss for this round, and i would have to play the second game in the match without sideboarding. i would have the chance to choose whether to play or draw.
“but what about future games. will i suffer a game loss for every first game?”
“oh, no! that would be terrible!” the judge replied, “but since we don’t know what your 40th card would have been, you will have to choose a basic land to round out your deck because you can’t continue to play with just 39.”
i chose a forest, and the judge made an adjustment to my decklist.
gabriel won the game, and i took another loss.
draft round 2:
i played against a deck with a lot of removal, but i otherwise felt solidly in control during the first game, which i ended up winning easily.
i made it a point not get cocky, and i told myself not to judge the outcome of the entire match on just one game.
and i began to stress out, mildly, during the second game that started off well until we both threw a bunch of cards around during an attack on turn five or six.
when one of my creatures was targeted with removal (vicious offering), i tried to buff it with a gift of growth. mitchell threw another vicious offering on the table, and i ended up losing two creatures in a three-for-two that put mitchell ahead.
i didn’t need to worry for long.
a few top-decks later, i had whisper up and running and bringing back creatures from my graveyard. one of the creatures, yavimaya sapherd, comes in with an extra creature when it etb’s, which created a nice little resurrection engine that mitchell knew he couldn’t beat now that he had spent all of his removal.
draft round 3:
i felt better about making a stupid deck construction mistake and losing my first draft match. going 5-3 was my dream, and i now had a chance to go 6-2, which was beyond what i hoped for.
i asked my next opponent what his first two games were like.
“i went 2-0, then i got 2-0’d.”
“by who?” i asked.
“the guy sitting next to you in the red shirt,” he said.
“oh, i lost to him too,” i said, not wanting to explain any further.
i won the first game even though i made a terrible mistake. my opponent used one of his dice as a token, and i completely forgot what it was for when i made an attack that he swiftly blocked. instead of forcing him into a corner, he was able to kill a significant part of my board, and i didn’t know how i was going to take away his remaining three life points.
he managed to create a very large board for himself, and i squeaked by gaining life through various means.
eventually, i drew a windgrace acolyte — a card that would give me three more life, but it would send three cards to the graveyard. i looked at the other cards in my hand, wanting a better solution. it took me a while to realize my opponent didn’t have flying creatures, and with only three life left, he would die on my next turn if he didn’t remove the flier or summon a blocker.
my opponent, knowing he had to act, decided to send all of his creatures at me, but i held back the flier. on my next turn, i went to combat, and he picked up his cards.
“you got it,” he said.
the second game was a difficult one. after the first game, i saw joseph reach for his sideboard with purpose, and i knew he had an answer for my saprolings deck — radiating lightning, a card that hit me for three damage and hit all my creature for one.
i started the game with a slimefoot and a saproling migration that gave me some tokens. slimefoot created another saproling or two for blockers, and nothing happened in terms of combat for several turns, though my opponent’s board state was starting to get bigger and bigger.
for some reason, and this is a habit of mine that has lost me previous games, i made it a point to hold a land card in my hand. when i drew another land and put it down, i realized i would have had eight lands — enough to create an extra saproling on that turn.
it was a mistake that cost me the match. joseph cast a radiating lightning, killing every single saproling. though it gave me life and drained him one point for each killed saproling, a few turns later, joseph was at one life.
one. last. life point.
for game three, joseph rushed to an early lead and forced me to discard the last two cards of my hand before putting me on the shelf for the rest of the day.
i finished 5-3, my original goal.
but i could have been 6-2.
i’m a sad boy.
quote of the day: “you made me f*king paranoid about flouride in water!” – edgar, deciding he was going to walk to a store 15 minutes away at 12am because he was thirsty.