Lately I’ve been feeling loose-limbed and at loose ends; free and easy yet also somewhat doom-y. I blame the pivot point of the seasons. Right now is a confusing time weather-wise in New York, wherein the light and the temperature, caught on the cusp of lengthening and warming, respectively, can fool you into feeling like it could be either spring or fall.

In which direction are we headed?

The other night after a press event in the city, I found myself walking down Metropolitan Avenue and then Lorimer Street in Williamsburg. I was aimed at the bar Night of Joy, to meet up with a few fellow writers and editors. But I needed a bite to eat before drinking, so I slid into the mobbed-up pizza place around the corner from the far-more-mobbed-up JR & Sons bar, about which, years ago, a colleague told me, after I told him I’d tried to stop in there for a beer and it hadn’t gone well, “Oh no, that’s not for us”—meaning hipsters—“We don’t go in there.”

The place was nearly empty. I sat down at a stool and ordered a slice, with the kind of blissful economy of language that you only get when you order a “regular” slice at a New York pizzeria.

Within a couple of minutes the slice came out, and—while it wasn’t the best slice I’d ever had—it was pretty fucking close to perfect, with the right amount of weight to the crust that lets you fold it halfway in half, at a 45-degree angle, and chow down.

While I was eating, the cute counter girl was on the phone. When she got off she wordlessly accepted the $5 I’d placed on the counter and handed me back my change. I left a buck tip and fairly glided out the door, back out into the street. I was wearing a red gingham shirt with the sleeves rolled up, and I felt a light breeze through the hairs on my arms. I felt good, if odd.

What does this have to do with Magic: The Gathering? Maybe not much, except that Magic is a big part of my life, and the way in which I experience life affects how I experience Magic, and vice versa.

I’ve felt this same sort of weightlessness lately with respect to Magic. For one, I haven’t crushed a big tournament in a while. Sure, I Top 8’d a PPTQ recently, but that felt cake walk-y. At Grand Prix Atlantic City, I took a deck that I thought was worthy of more and did less with it. I wasn’t even super disappointed, though, and I didn’t grind out my last couple of matches in the main event, for Planeswalker Points, as I have done in the past.

Part of the reason why is that I’ve kind of fallen off the train, as they say. Not the Pro Tour train—I’m not on that by any means—but the train of having two byes, which is the most an amateur Magic player can hope to obtain. I’ve had two byes for a couple years now, and unfortunately this year a combination of being busy, not attending enough GPs (and not doing well enough at them), and—particularly—the collapse of the old PTQ system, which was a great way to farm points and compete in high-level events, have conspired to keep me quite shy of the two-bye level, 2,250 points.

So after Grand Prix Las Vegas next weekend, my two-bye streak will come to an end, and I’ll go back to just having one free win going into GPs for the next year. This is a significant disadvantage, both in terms of just making Day Two, as well as, if you have a good draft run, breaking into Top 8, as bye wins are essentially “perfect,” and can’t drag you down on breakers.

Anyway. It is what it is. I still very much enjoy the game, and paradoxically I think I’ve been getting better lately, even though I’m playing less than I used to. Probably that’s both true and untrue, as you really need to play a lot a lot in order to master this game, but I do think that technical skill can be improved even with relatively infrequent play.

In the meantime, I’m not going to interrogate this feeling of weightlessness too much. Rather I’m going to roll with it, enjoy the contours of the experience itself—the other night at the pizza place I felt deliciously present, if slightly spooked—and try not to murder Matt Jones on our flight with Dave “Bones” McCoy out to Las Vegas next Thursday. (Matt’s got the middle seat.) Wish me luck!

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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