Tales from the Shuffle: My worst mistake
Our community has been good to me lately.
In this crazy game that we love, there is a big difference between ploughing a lone furrow and having a vibrant circle of friends and allies around you, who stand ready to lend you their time, wisdom and cards.
It’s the difference between getting the crucial cards together for your deck, or not; between going on a road trip to a major event, or passing on it because it’ll be miserable to do the travel and overnight stay alone; between feeling motivated to keep playing because the scene is fun, or to give up because even a room of people can feel lonely when they’re all strangers.
This week, in light of the generosity displayed by my local scene as I scrabbled to assemble a Modern deck, I decided it was time to give something back to the community. But what could I offer which would strike the right chord?
Then, it hit me like a bolt from the blue (I figured this was more exciting than saying, ‘like a Facebook thread‘):
I do have something I can give back to the community: a barrel of laughs, at my expense.
So here it is, Ladies and Gentlemen… the story of my most gut-churningly awful play mistake. Trust me, you’ll enjoy this one; like a fine wine, the taste of my tears has improved with age.
It’s October 2005, just days after the release of the original Ravnica.
To my delight, I’ve been able to obtain a playset of Watery Graves (shoutout to Gary Campbell) which will enable my dream of playing a strange, disruptive Blue-Black Control deck at our regional championships.
I duly mash together a heady brew of Hinders, Kagemaros, Jushi Apprentices and Hypnotic Specters. The deck sounds terrible, but was actually OK (if not format-breaking) – flipping and activating a Jushi when you have Kagemaro in play leads to some short games.
I cruised through my first two matches, doing cool things and countering spells. People started coming up to me between rounds, asking me about this bizarre deck I was playing.
I took a loss in round three to the inimitable Greig Davidson, playing a Naya-coloured strategy that churned out saproling tokens and equipped them with Sunforger. Despite having delicious Sideboard tech for the match – Helldozer, a strictly-better version of my beloved Demonic Hordes – I couldn’t quite overcome his Vitu-Ghazi, the City-Tree powered assault.
That left me, in round four, facing a very early version of the Heartbeat of Spring deck… piloted by none other than my best friend, Chris Connelly.
The stage was set for drama – but neither of us could have predicted the astonishing cataclysm of decision-making that was to follow.
The moment approaches
Counterspell decks are not a good match-up for Heartbeat of Spring… and so it was that I found myself 1-0 up after a long, but controlled first game.
In the second game, as time ticked down, Chris took an opportunity to slap his deck’s kill-condition – Maga, Traitor to Mortals – into play as an 7/7 when my shields were down, hoping that he could push through the remaining damage by swinging for the hills.
To his dismay, I followed up the next turn with a Kagemaro, leaving six cards in my hand. Under the pre-M10 game rules, damage was dealt using the stack: this meant that my Kagemaro would be able to block and stack 6 damage on Maga, then sacrifice himself to leave the Traitor to Mortals a mere 2/2, doomed to head for the graveyard when damage resolved.
Disheartened, Chris played a land, another Heartbeat, a second creature as a blocker – my memory is poor, but I believe it may have been a Carven Caryatid – and passed the turn.
At exactly the same instant, time was called on the round.
Chris had no outs. His win condition had already been played; he had no good attacks; five turns remained, only two of which would include combat steps for him.
All I had to do was nothing.
The Pride that dares too much
As I reached for the top of my deck, I experienced a strange little emotional flutter in my chest.
Ordinarily, I would simply pass the turn twice and claim my one-nil victory… but this was my best friend. Wouldn’t it be more fun, a better source of banter, if I could sweep him 2-0 in extra turns even though I didn’t need to?
My fingers rested on the cool plastic of the topmost card sleeve; an evil smirk crept onto my face.
Yes, that was it. There was no way I could lose this game; I might as well go for the brutal rub-ins. Internally, I started to cackle, thinking about the joy of adding insult to injury… my mind drifted from the game state to the image of mercilessly teasing Chris over pints that evening.
I flicked the card onto my waiting thumb, swept it into my hand and turned Kagemaro sideways. “Swing with the Demon.”
The plan that came to me in that moment was simple: in my hand, I held two copies of Boomerang. I would simply clear out the blockers with bounce spells to force through my damage, right?
I’m sure you can see where this is going.
“Before blockers,” I announced smugly, “Bounce your guy.” I revealed the Boomerang.
By this time, we were playing the last game of the last swiss round in the tournament. With nothing else to do, the other players had gathered round our table, forming a thick scrum of bodies. Their stares were like floodlights, illuminating in excruciating detail what happened next.
“Which guy?” Chris asked in a resigned tone.
That’s when it happened.
For reasons I will never understand, when either creature would have sufficed, in an indefensible brain fart, I snapped my card down onto Maga, Traitor to Mortals.
Silence fell on the crowd.
Chris, starting to smile a puzzled smile, peeled his once-wasted win condition back into his hand. As he blocked with his doomed Caryatid, the shockwave hit me.
I glanced down at my hand. There was a bounce spell, some lands, some ineffective creature kill… but no counters.
I had absolutely no way to stop him playing that Maga again for my whole life total.
In that tomb-like hush, Chris untapped, drew, and turned all of his six lands sideways .
Praying silently, I activated Jushi Apprentice, then drew the card directly into my eyeline…
As Maga’s trigger resolved, Chris exploded with delighted laughter – this irretrievable match was now a draw. The crowd, aghast, muttered agitatedly; no-one could believe what they had witnessed.
“Did you SEE that?” whispered one voice.
“Why did he even attack?” asked another incredulously.
I sat at the table, with my head in my hands, struggling to imagine a way this moment could be any worse. I didn’t have to wait long for an answer: within a minute, Greig helpfully pointed out that I could still have stayed alive by casting Boomerang on one of Chris’s Heartbeats, during the upkeep step.
I still advanced to the Top 8 of the event, but it was irrelevant. I was in despair, having publicly committed one of the most grievous errors in the history of the game.
I’d like to apologise to him now, all these years later, for the match that followed. I can’t remember anything that happened in that round, except that I signed a match slip saying I had lost 2-0: he’d have had better games with a brick.
I sat in a corner for a while, stewing in my own self-loathing.
Thankfully, James Love picked me up by the collar and forced me to join a triple-Ravnica draft, or I might have torn open my own wrists with my teeth. It was the best thing he could have done: 45 picks later I had about six Shambling Shells, three Putrefys and a bunch of irrelevant curve fillers, which was enough to deliver a 3-0.
I felt a little better after that, but the whole episode still haunts me to this day.
Making apocalyptic mistakes, so you don’t have to
Please, please learn from this. I’m begging you.
Don’t do stupid things when simple inaction will suffice.
Don’t let pride dictate your decisions.
And if you do realise you’ve screwed up? Stop what you’re doing, do not pass priority and think calmly about every single possible play you could make with the tools at your disposal; don’t let yourself be the guy who missed the Boomerang.
One last thing
If you do ever commit an atrocity like this in public, remember that one day, you’ll be able to laugh about it – and so will everyone else you ever tell. Something which creates so much happiness can’t be all bad.
Until next time, Planeswalkers… play carefully, and ignore the stupid voices in your head.