Saturday, September 29, 2007

4 - 0

First of all, I left quite a few demanding clients behind when I left work on Friday night. (I finished what I could, of course, and set quite a few meetings for Monday.)

Second of all, I still have to finish editing one of my textbooks this weekend. (The editors have done everything but send the hounds after me, and I think it's about time that I cut them some slack.)

And third of all, I don't play Magic: the Gathering very often anymore. (The expense turned me off a long time ago, although it hasn't dampened my enthusiasm for games in general.)

Despite the above, however, I still attended the prerelease tournament for the game's new expansion set this morning. It's obvious that the days of my youth are starting to get behind me... I was no longer the young turk who strutted around like he owned the place; Instead, I was the one-time player, the experienced tournament-organizer, and the odd working-man who slunk around with a ratty black bag over one drooped shoulder.

The folks who make Magic: the Gathering, you see, release a new expansion set every three months or so. These expansions add a host of new cards to the playing environment, and basically give players some new tools to build decks with. A week before each new expansion releases, though, the stores will often hold prerelease tournaments -- events where players can first try out the new cards before they actually go on sale.

Prerelease tournaments are held differently from other gaming events. For one, players don't build decks at home and bring them to the venue -- instead, the players at a prerelease are given some sealed product (thus a random selection of cards), from which they need to build the best deck that they possibly can. With no buying or trading allowed, and with little or no prior knowledge of the set to begin with, the event therefore tends to be an exercise in serious analytical thought.

Then there's the payout. Each player gets to play exactly four matches with their patchwork deck, against opponents of varying skill levels. For each match a player wins, he/she gets to take home a booster pack (15 random cards) of the new expansion set. Players who manage to win all four of their matches earn a nice t-shirt. (And as you might expect, there are very few players walking around with such t-shirts.)

That's all there is to it, really. You'll find no championships on days like these; It's merely a question of trying to cobble together a logical deck of cards in fifteen minutes, surviving four matches against similar opponents, and picking up scads of new cards.

I find that I'm surprisingly good at this sort of thing. I don't mean excellent good, of course, but definitely good good. On average, my record has been 3 wins - 1 loss for each prerelease I've played in. Scratch that -- my record is always 3 wins - 1 loss for virtually each and every prerelease.

I have been chasing the elusive 4-0 for the better part of two years now.

I'm told that an 3-1 batting average is pretty darn good. I suppose that it is; Most players barely manage to split their matches in these tournaments. But as nice as a 3-1 average is, it's not a good memory to consider. Not when every single tournament has brought you exactly one single moment of grief -- that time when your deck refused to work properly, that time when you made that incredibly stupid mistake during a critical play, that time when an opponent lucked out at the last minute.

One hour after I finished stitching together my deck, I notched a loss from my very first match. Darn it.

And, true to form, I won against my next three opponents. Double-darn it.

I sold my winnings to a bunch of eager players afterwards, making up for my entrance fee and then some. I'm not in it for the money, and I'm not in it for the cards. I'm in it for the play, of course -- after three weeks of stress at work and life in general, the prospect of just sitting at a table and smashing face is quite appealing.

But mostly, I'm in it for the big 4-0. Unlike most players, I don't see it as four free booster packs and a t-shirt, much less a monetary equivalent or a prestigious deal. I see it as a perfect day -- an entire tournament where you manage to figure out the deckbuilding schema correctly, avoid any errors in judgement for four straight hours, and generally just do everything right.

There are many endeavors like this. Maybe you have obsessions with some of them, yourself. Maybe you're looking to play that one perfect game of badminton. Maybe you're striving for that one landmark piece of writing. Maybe you're pushing yourself to finish that one, perhaps even one business project without any hitches at all.

It's rare. It's difficult. But it's still there, and it drives you nuts.

I will have my 4-0. And darn it, I'm not even going to be satisfied with just one. Having just one of them doesn't just give you the exhilaration of finally reaching your goal... it also implies that it's possible to do it again.

We suffer. We stumble, we fall, and we crawl into the corner and hug our knees to our chests.

But we know it's there. We know it's there, and we know darn well that we're going to reach it one day.

I have some very demanding clients clawing at my feet. I have some desperate editors banging at my door. I have age causing the wrinkles to form at my brow and telling me that I'm no longer as young as I used to be.

But I still tried today. And in three months, I'll try again.

Will you?


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