I am very excited to announce that today’s column is penned by Peter Papachronopoulos (whose last name nearly detonated my spell check). He is a funny person and talented writer so I had been hoping to nab him as a guest columnist for quite some time. When he agreed to write the piece and then sent me a draft of his first column with an Ace Ventura reference in the body of the e-mail, I was worried I might have chosen the wrong guy. After all, was saying “Alllllllrighty then!” even funny 20 years ago? But Peter did an awesome job with this column about his experience playing Magic: The Gathering in some local tournaments for money. Don’t worry, I’ll still be here with my bizarre obsession with footnotes. The column is Peter’s, but any time you see a footnote, that’s me jumping in to make a random comment.
If you want to see more of Peter’s work, go to http://theloweststair.
Odd job: Pwning n00bs at MTG
Pay: At the bitter end, a net gain of $11.58
You have to understand. I was desperate. I was working from home a lot, and I couldn’t afford a desk, or anywhere to sit besides my bed. My apartment was too small for a dinner table, and a coffee table cost too much. I would often devour my meals standing over the sink or a trashcan. It was no way to live. So I began searching for supplemental income. Fate stepped in to assist me one Friday night, when a new work friend named Chris reintroduced me to a game I had played throughout high school and a bit in college. A game I had run screaming from when I realized I valued the company of normal people, an active social life, and basic hygiene more than I thought. A game that exists on the periphery of my conscious mind, peeking in every so often as it tries to lure me back. The game? Magic: The Gathering.
Magic: The Gathering (henceforth known as MTG because it makes me feel less ashamed to type its shortened name) is a trading card game whose cards are all styled to fit a dark, elaborate fantasy world theme. The cards feature such things as goblins, elves, demons, and the occasional hot sorceress. Not to get too off-topic, but I should point out that what Barbie dolls do to eff up young girls’ perception of the female body, MTG has done times one thousand to its adolescent male players. But I digress. Growing up I was hyper-competitive but not exactly able to dominate in athletic situations. When you’re so competitive that you’ve almost gotten into fistfights over games of “Rock, Paper, Scissor,” and so out of shape that it takes you 25 minutes to “run” a mile, you are smart to avoid sports. Sitting at a table and playing cards competitively was exactly High School Peter’s speed.
I grew up in southern New Hampshire, however, and no matter how good of an MTG player you are in southern NH, you ain’t going to be cashing checks because of your MTG skillz. But Chris My Work Friend showed me that in my new home of Chicago, there are several weekly tournaments with cash prizes or that at least give out tons of valuable cards that can be turned into cash. So, armed with hours and hours of research on the current best cards to play, a new, painstakingly assembled deck, and the deep, deep yearning for a place to rest my steaming hot bowls of soup when eating on my couch, I registered for the biggest Chicago MTG tournament I could find. When I invited Chris My Work Friend to join me, he narrowed his eyes and slowly stroked his carefully groomed, flaming red goatee for several moments, straightened out his shiny, perfectly ironed vest, and informed me he didn’t think a tournament was his style. I had a feeling. MTG has been around for 20 years, and the game has always been approached by players in one of two ways: either build a deck that can beat everyone else’s or hoard as many of the rarest cards as you can find. Chris My Work Friend isn’t a player, he’s a hoarder who owns no less than 10,000 MTG cards, enough to make me worry someone will find him one day crushed beneath a pile of them. Though if that happens I’m sure he’ll be wearing a creepy smile on his face.
Oh, gentle reader, if only High School Peter could have seen me that day! 30 other players– some with incredibly valuable and strong decks– filled up a storefront that had been taken over by the card shop next door. The room was dank and dimly lit with concrete walls and floors. It served nicely as its tournament area, and I’m sure would also be a terrific place for some late night serial killing. I felt a combination of nerves and glee as the first-round match-ups were announced. I took my seat on a cold metal folding chair, while dozens of players around me produced their decks and began to rapidly shuffle while trading nerd pleasantries or staring with dead eyes at their opponents. As I drew my starting hand, both my nerves and my glee vanished. It was business as usual, as though hypercompetitive, tragically under-athletic High School Peter had never stopped playing. I trounced everyone I played. I readily handled every card thrown at me. My deck cost me 20 dollars to build and was full of cards that only the most deep-thinking players could appreciate. Cards only their printing press could love. My opponents’ decks cost upwards of $500 to assemble, and yet, countless times that day, the smirks of the unwashed nerds I battled gave way to scowls of discontent as their precious cards, and by extension their fragile egos, were dashed upon the shores of my clever deck and borderline-reckless, nothing-to-lose playing style. At one point, my new desk and coffee table appeared in a daydream behind one of my opponents. They looked so real, I could’ve reached out and touched them, and then grabbed them and used them to beat my opponent senseless.
I came in first place, winning roughly 60 dollars worth of rare cards. After the tourney fee and my new deck cost, I had basically made thirty dollars for a few hours of gleeful nerd-trouncing. Not bad for a first tourney. It wouldn’t be long until I was gliding through Ikea, flitting from minimal Scandinavian desk design to minimal Scandinavian desk design. My faith in my MTG resurrection was enormous, and we all know what happens to people when something relatively minor makes their egos swell too largely. A comeuppance was brewing. I should have seen the signs. The tourneys I played over the following month were rough; I started losing more and more and slipping to the middle of the pack. My $20 deck was getting beat by others worth upwards of $1,000, all played by smelly kids who made their parents buy cards for them. Or maybe they just saved up for cards by not buying shampoo or deodorant for months. That might seem like an exaggeration, but trust me, for some reason 98% of MTG players have terrible personal hygiene. I honestly think some skip bathing because it makes them win more. I pressed on, though, pinching my nose and refusing to acknowledge a simple truth. Like every other part of our society, in MTG the more money and resources you have, the better you’re probably going to do, no matter how talented or smart the person on the other side of the table is.
Everything came to a head during a tournament one warm Saturday night last June. I was beaten soundly four times in a row, the last time by a combination professional poker dealer/professional MTG player. No, I’m not kidding, there are actually professional MTG players. You can always spot them because they are either extra loud, extra obese, or both. The ProMTGer I played noticed my 16-letter last name before we started playing, and asked if I was Greek. I foolishly said yes. He made a snide remark about his being Turkish and so you know what that means, and then he crushed me. Now, getting beat in MTG is one thing. It’s a trading card game, for eff’s sake. But when the defeat is creepily linked to the persecution of my ancestors by the ancestors of my MTG opponent, well, that takes it to a whole other level.
That night snapped me back to reality. Was it worth it? Worth sitting in sweaty, smelly card shops for hours at a time? Worth playing against sweaty, smelly opponents for hours at a time? Was the chance at a small victory, a small wad of cash, and an increasingly smaller and smaller ego boost worth the sacrifice of a warm Saturday night in June? Eff no, gentle Reader. Eff. No. So that night was the last one I spent trying to supplement my income with MTG tournament winnings. I stepped out of the card shop, and as the door behind me closed slowly on all the stank, stale air, a fresh, warm breeze blew past me. I wasn’t angry, I was relieved. I had sprinted through a world I knew so well so long ago, and, thankfully, I discovered there was no real place for me in it anymore. I sold off every valuable card I won to get myself back even, and gave all the worthless ones to a Gollum-eyed Chris My Work Friend. And though I never made it to Ikea for that desk or that coffee table, a few weeks later I remembered I had a folding card table stored under my bed the whole time. It would do the trick until my fortunes changed.
-  I was partly excited to have Peter write this because he’s a good writer, and partly because I loved Magic: The Gathering growing up. I drove my parents to the brink of financial ruin getting them to buy Magic cards for me. I loved the smell of the cards, the texture of the world they created and spending hundreds of hours with my friends battling it out. In other news, I did not get much action when I was younger. ↩
-  This is true. Magic the Gathering appealed to us nerds 10% by presenting an escapist world full of fantasy and exciting monsters who did our bidding and 90% by 1 out of every 20 cards bringing us closer to a woman’s breast than we would get for the next five years. While some of the females on the cards had scary or intense faces, they all seemed to have banging bodies. In fact, the only thing more fantastical than mythical creatures derived from the various elements may have been the idea that in an era that must have been rife with malnourishment, every female could have a a hard waist and a C-cup or bigger. ↩
-  While all this “I’m super unathletic” stuff may make it seem like Peter is humble, don’t buy into it. I’m 80% sure it’s his way of making me feel even worse about the fact that I lost to him at tennis. (And it’s working.) ↩
-  Humble, Pete. Very humble. ↩
This is the part where I usually say, “In some but not all articles, names or identifying characteristics or individual lines of dialogue have been changed to protect identities or because remembering exactly how things happened is hard. But in every case, an effort was made to maintain the integrity of these events that did indeed actually happen.” But God knows what Peter did.
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