When there was less in my life I was more into Magic. Competitive Magic let me feel good about myself when there weren’t many other ways for me to earn that feeling, and I’m grateful for it getting me through that hard time. But I’m busier these days. My last three jobs were physically demanding, emotionally demanding, and now mentally demanding, respectively. With all these other tolls on my resiliency, I find myself needing to disengage from the competitive aspects of the game.

No matter how rational we try to be, humans are fundamentally irrational creatures. We’re terrible at risk analysis, and as a result we tend to get emotionally flattened by foreseeable setbacks. The vast majority of the people who go to a GP aren’t going to make it to day two, and yet it’s a blow when you’re eliminated. For me, there was another irrational element at play: I made day two at the last GP Atlantic City, so going to this one and washing out was going to feel infinitely worse… even though my past performance in a different format has little to no bearing on my chance of success in an already-high-variance Limited GP.

So this time around I said, “fuck it.” I wasn’t boycotting the GP, but I wasn’t going to go all out for it like I’ve done in the past. Frankly, I would have missed it without even really noticing, had it not been for my partner’s enthusiasm for the event.

Dana is a better Magic player than I am in many respects. Despite all my Machiavellian musings, I’ve submerged a lot of my foresight into subconscious processes. At a casual level this is great! This way I don’t spend a lot of energy chasing a plan once it’s become a dead end. I pivot well, and it lets me use my cards in unexpected ways, particularly in Commander. Dana is disciplined, though. She thinks her plays through, and plays several turns ahead.

This serves her well in competitive events, and meant she was all about us going to GP Atlantic City. I did not fight her urge, and like that I found myself bound for what I feared would be a shitty Saturday in a shitty city. While I wasn’t feeling up for the emotional investment that competitive play inherently entailed, I am also terrible at boredom. “Would there be enough for me to do on the side?” I feared.

I had the best time I’ve yet to have at a Limited GP.

Things started off slow, but even while Dana was checking in and getting her deck I found I had time to take a leisurely browse through the wares of the various vendors. I’m a browser, and I enjoy seeing what people have for sale even if I’m not particularly looking for anything. Every once in a while I see something worth getting, and in the meantime it’s interesting to notice things like which borderline rares are on display, or what the store’s demographic is looking to be.

From there, I jumped into a Dragons of Tarkir draft. I hadn’t yet done a proper Dragons of Tarkir draft; while Dana and I will often draft together on MTGO, I’m never the one in the cockpit.

Here’s the deck I drafted:

Drafting Dimir

Creatures (18)
Shambling Goblin
Sultai Skullkeeper
Hand of Silumgar
Sultai Emissary
Dutiful Attendant
Merciless Executioner
Minister of Pain
Sibsig Icebreakers
Ancestral Statue
Gurmag Drowner
Ojutai Interceptor
Silumgar Butcher
Scion of Ugin
Belltoll Dragon
Gurmag Angler

Spells (5)
Sight Beyond Sight
Foul Renewal
Rite of Undoing
Palace Siege
Lands (17)
Dismal Backwater

Sideboard (3)
Ancestral Statue
Fearsome Awakening
Self-Inflicted Wound

I don’t know if it shows, but this deck was a machine! I looped Dutiful Attendants, rebought my exploiters with Ancestral Statue, and filled my graveyard with targets for Corpseweft and Palace Siege thanks to Gurmag Drowner and Sultai Skullkeeper. I played nine games with this deck, before losing in the finals to an inopportune flood of land and a Gruul deck that seemed optimized to beat me. So it goes.

My deck wasn’t good, per se, but it was fun. I regularly saw half my library, and many of the cards I did see would enter play more than once in a single game. Not only did I go to game three every match, but my matches invariably ran long. I was the last game finished for both my first and second brackets, which just let me play Magic for a solid couple of hours. I lost track of the time, to be honest; I was just having a blast.

After my draft I went to catch up with Dana. She was doing well, but a headache was coming on, and she asked me to run to the “nearby pharmacy” and pick her up some headache medicine.

If there’s a pharmacy near the Atlantic City Convention Center, I have failed to find it any of the three times I’ve been there. But I was out, and the Convention Center is right next to a bright little strip mall full of outlet stores. As I was wandering through this bizarre bazaar, I found myself dawdling. It was just such a nice day, and I knew that I had at least an hour, so I put the quest for Ibuprofen on the backburner and I shopped a little. I’m not a huge shopper, but I did need some clothes; while mildly marred by two stores not having anything in my size (I know I’m fat, but my money’s still green), this proved to be a lovely way to spend some time in the day.

Every other GP I’ve been to necessitated missing sunlight. Often completely.

Eventually I made my way to a bodega, shockingly far from the Convention Center and right next to a sex shop that was also a smoke shop. I’ll admit, I dropped in after I was finished in the bodega. I was curious to know what an Atlantic City sex shop was like. Now that is information I know, and cannot unknow.

See, it was both seedy and yet somewhat endearing. New Jersey has been fucked royally by terrible leadership, it has the second worst immigration/emigration ratio in the nation, and Atlantic City in particular is a shithole due to the collapse of gambling revenue. All this, and yet people prevail, selling the same type of shit that’s been sold since humanity was still wrapping its head around the concept of sales.

So, now you know too.

I made it back to the GP in time to drug my lady before her next round. Headache averted, I ran into fellow Hipster Zach, and we sat down for a Chaos Draft together. I think they called it a Wacky Draft, but I’m too old to call something “wacky.” I grabbed Stronghold, Eventide, and Born of the Gods from the grab bag, which was a pretty neat pull. In general, there was a shockingly good ratio of old packs to new.

I opened Mana Leak in an otherwise indecipherable pack of Stronghold; I sometimes forget how relevant those rarity symbols can be when faced with an unfamiliar Limited format. I got passed a pack of Urza’s Legacy with Opportunity in it, and I went careening around from there.

Here’s what that deck looked like:

Sultai Pinball

Creatures (14)
Embodiment of Spring
Renowned Weaver
Welkin Tern
Sultai Emissary
Ashcoat Bear
Lurking Crocodile
Elvish Archdruid
Gnarled Mass
Skyshroud Troopers
Blizzard Specter
Phyrexian Snowcrusher
Brine Elemental
Abomination of Gudul

Spells (8)
Prey Upon
Mana Leak
Monastey Siege
Grim Contest
Ethereal Ambush
Lands (18)
Dismal Backwater
Jungle Hollow
Thornwood Falls

Sideboard (5)
Blight Sickle
Douse in Gloom
Gleeful Sabotage
Invert the Skies

As you can see, the deck is a hot mess. But again, it was super fun. Blizzard Specter was an all-star. One game it picked apart my opponent’s hand, in the other game it kept him from advancing on mana until I had an overwhelming board state. Tromokratis was another notable card in my deck. The games were slow enough that it wasn’t all that hard to get it out, and once it was on the board it played the role of a brick wall until I was ready to drop it on people.

I won my first round, but fell in round two. I actually milled myself out one game. I had turn three Monastery Siege, and an Abomination of Gudul, and between them and the Opportunity I just drew through my deck without getting enough action to push through my opponents bigger green beasts. Still, that’s a crazy experience to have had! You don’t regularly draw yourself out in Magic, especially when your opponent still has half their library left.

After this, it was time to leave. It all happened fairly suddenly, such that I didn’t even have much time to complete an impromptu purchasing session. I wanted Collected Company for weird Constructed brewing, while Dana wanted to go home. We had a long drive ahead of us.

I slept as we slipped out of New Jersey. Dana drove.

Jess Stirba met her partner in 2003.

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