*But not for Hugh “You Know Nothing of My Work” Kramer, and through no fault of fine T.O. The Uncommons!

How does the candy bar jingle go? Some days you feel like a nut, some days you go to the bathroom all over yourself in the subway?

No? Well, regardless, that’s kind of how I felt this past Sunday at my first-ever Magic PPTQ, or “PreTQ,” as some of the hipper teens are calling it.

Everything was set up to be perfect: The wife was out of town, I’d gotten a good night’s sleep, and the venue was in Manhattan, on 36th Street, hosted by a relative newcomer to the NYC gaming scene, the pleasantly overstuffed Greenwich Village shop The Uncommons.

It’s bad when you think back to a sealed-deck tournament and you can’t recall what your rares were. I’m not going to bore you with my decklist, because basically I was on Five-Color Pile—correctly, according to eventual cham-peen Hugh Kramer, but without any of the usual high-powered incentives one gets for pursuing such a strategy.

Rather, Five-Color Pile was kind of my only option to make a better-than-marginally playable deck. And I probably slightly misbuilt it, too, as Hugh helped me see during a between-rounds deck tech. But hey—optimally building a five-color deck in Khans of Tarkir sealed is probably one of the tougher Magic challenges in recent memory, and I am not the best player by any means, so it stands to reason that mistakes would be made.

Oh, and now I remember (actually I got up and checked)—my rares were Flooded Strand, Dragon Throne of Tarkir, Trail of Mystery, Rakshasa Deathdealer (not a great card in Five-Color Pile, given that you’re never going to have that many Forests and Swamps), Icy Blast, and Altar of the Brood. Fuck several of those cards.



I get on the elevator, having just suffered a humiliating 1-4-1 record in the six-round event, when a heartbreakingly awkward, wispily mustached, tie-dye-shirted 13-year-old follows me on with his mom. The kid seemed chastened, but trying to remain in good spirits; he, like me, had done a fair piece of losing. The room had been filled with very competent players, as well as (and this is interesting to note, and perhaps not a good sign for this whole new PPTQ system) a much larger number of kids and way-out-of-their-depth players than you’d normally see at a PTQ.

The kid said something to his mom about how he lost a lot, and he seemed bummed about it, so I said, trying to cheer him, “Well, you know what they say: You learn way more from losing than from winning.”

“That’s just what they say to make you feel better about losing,” the kid replied in a morose, yet not unkind, manner. He seemed like a sweet kid—like a lot of us back then, probably.

“No, it’s true,” I said, and the kid’s mom agreed. I continued, “When you win you never see the mistakes you could be correcting in order to make yourself a better player.” And the kid sort of agreed, or trailed off.


As it happened, the advice I offered the kid wasn’t just happy horseshit, to use a favorite expression of a crazy old boss of mine. The adage of learning through losing was very much on my mind, as I had made some grade-A boners, as well as some more subtle, grade-C boners, on the day.

The biggest mistake, and one I made a couple of times, was …


These situations are classically difficult to remember, given that the key mistake by definition typically happens way earlier than the end of the game, and in fact usually happens in the very early turns of the game, when you and your opponent are both trying to figure out who’s the beatdown and who’s the control.

There was one game wherein I was really up against it from an aggressive Jeskai player with a Mystic of the Hidden Way and a Jeskai Windscout that were eating up my life total, and quick. But I managed to craft a board state wherein I was able to flip up Mistfire Weaver, block his Windscout, cast Feat of Resistance on Weaver to kill his flier and let mine live, and then on the following turn flip up my own Mystic and start crashing in for seven damage a turn.

Now, this whole plan was (shakily) contingent on the Icy Blast I had in hand, which with the four-power Weaver would allow me to freeze his team for two turns. I did this, but didn’t see any more cards to help put me over the top, and died after hitting him for a final seven damage, leaving us both at three life, and him with an untapping Mystic of the Hidden Way as I passed the turn back. Thus I ate it.

Jump back to way earlier in the game, when I had out a couple creatures, including a Longshot Squad, which on one turn I declined to attack with.

It’s not like I forgot to attack, or something as elementary as that; rather, I had done that thing wherein you don’t attack with a guy, thinking you’ll leave him back to block, and then you later realize that you don’t actually want to block with your guy after all. Given that all of my opponent’s creatures had been tapped on my turn, and that I didn’t end up doing anything with the Longshot Squad on my opponent’s turn anyway, I should have attacked and gotten in what would have been an eventually lethal three damage.

At the time I had that feeling you always have when that happens, a vaguely ill feeling, like a wave of mild nausea, where you realize you ate something that had gone off a bit, but you aren’t sure yet whether or not it will come back to haunt you. It did.

So what do I do about this mistake in particular? Well, there was a time, too, when I didn’t think as rigorously about using all of my mana every turn. Now I do, and my game is better for it. So in the new year I’m going to resolve to keep “getting the very most out of my creatures” top of mind. Just like I don’t want two or three mana to sit there doing nothing over the course of a whole turn cycle, I don’t want to leave my durdles doing nothing, either.



Hey, it happens. In one game I had locked down my hellbent opponent’s board with Icy Blast, and was going to kill him next turn. Instead, with me at four life, he topdecks Arrow Storm. “Phew!” he said. I’ll say.

Of course there’s nothing to be done about this, nor should there be—I win just as many (if not more, given that I’m a decent player and try to think about playing to my outs more than some players) games from topdecks as my opponents do, so it’s a wash and we shouldn’t be tilty about such things. Topdecks are exciting and one of the reasons we play this game of skill *and* chance.


This is another big one. In one exciting G1 my opponent had worked me down to one life, but my Secret Plans and Trail of Mystery had helped power me back into the game, and I was holding on tooth and nail when I finally found the Sage-Eye Harrier that would allow me to block (and kill, thanks to Trail’s +2/+2 trigger) his otherwise-lethal Alabaster Kirin. I had just enough mana to make it all work: casting the Harrier as a morph, doing something else I had to do that turn (I forget what), and then four mana to flip up the Harrier to block.

Then I outlasted my Tuskguard Captain. Three mana left, not four. FML.

Granted, I was already a bit tilty from losing, excited about maybe turning the corner and winning a great comeback, the board state was very complex, and I was playing fast because G1 had already taken forever. Still, I literally gave away the win. That match eventually came down to a draw, after I won G2 and couldn’t close it out in time in G3.

Later on, in the sixth and final round of the day, in the 1-3-1 “You Have Nothing Better to Do With Your Sunday” bracket, I cracked my Flooded Strand on T2. I flipped over my deck to start my search and saw a Mountain—which was not in my maindeck. (I had periodically been siding in a single basic Mountain to find with Trail of Mystery, in addition to four other cards as suggested by H.K.)

Internally I just deflated. Not reporting the mistake flashed through my mind: We were literally at the next-to-last table, with no hope of prizes, and no one would ever know—except me. As they say …


Well, not that last part—but you get the idea.

So I called the judge on myself and got a game loss, after which I proceeded to lose one of the more frustrating and drawn-out games in recent memory. Chalk one up for moral victories, I guess.

That’s all I’ve got for today, kids. In the meantime, happy new year! May you make fewer mistakes—and learn more from those you do—in 2015 than you did last year.

23/17 is a Hipsters of the Coast column focused on Limited play—primarily draft and sealed, but also cubing, 2HG, and anything else we can come up with. The name refers to the “Golden Ratio” of a Limited deck: 23 spells and 17 lands. Follow Hunter at @hrslaton.

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