Chasing Kate – Why (and How) I Qualified for Pro Tour Dark Ascension

Chris's story isn't glamorous, friendly, or even completely safe for work. It's an honest retelling that shares some of the perspective that caused so much fervor around the initial launch of Planeswalker Points. "The grind" to qualify brought out the dark side in the community, and if this serves as nothing more than a cautionary tale then it's served a worthy purpose. But there's much more than woe to be found here.

When I awoke, a stranger was standing in front of me. “Would you like some food?” he asked as he extended a McDonalds breakfast sandwich to me. I politely declined and looked around. It was 5:00 A.M., I was at the 34th Street Station, and for the last four hours, I, along with two other people in the car, had been sleeping. The kind Samaritan made the same offer to the drunk man in one corner (whom he could not awaken from his stupor), and then went on to offer it to the man with the shopping cart that wheeled his life (who gladly accepted).

“What the fuck am I doing?”

This question echoed in my mind for a few minutes, and I couldn’t really answer it. What was I—with my post-collegiate education—doing sleeping in a subway? What was I—born an upper-middle class white male in the middle of suburbia—doing with my life? What was I—who scored a 176 on his LSAT—doing with no real job, no real future, and no real relationships?

“Well, self,” I said, “it’s quite simple: You’re grinding Planeswalker Points.” With that acknowledgement, I nodded and smiled slightly, put my hood back over my head, and went back to sleep for another hour.

It all started with a rather huge announcement on the part of Wizards: Elo (people really need to remember that it’s not an acronym, but instead, the system is named after someone) was gone and replaced by a new system: Planeswalker Points. It was immediately obvious that the system was breakable, and I devised a quick .m file to calculate how many points I could expect per event* (please skip over this footnote if you’re not thoroughly versed in nerd; sorry!). With the information calculated, I quickly decided that if I could manage around a sixty to seventy match win percentage overall, I could qualify (I was under the impression that around 2,200 points would safely make it to the Top 100, which ended up being surprisingly close to the actual threshold) by showing up to “just” GP: Montreal, a PTQ almost every week, and my store’s weekly eight-round FNM, but I wasn’t fully committed to the idea yet.

An aside about fairness: Life’s not fair. Get used to it. People in the northeast had such an absurd advantage under this system that it must be almost sickening to people in other parts of the world. Some weekends, I had the choice of whether to drive sixty or seventy minutes to make it to the closest PTQ, while over in Brazil, people had to fly to one of three events the whole country had over a three-month period.

GP: Montreal was my first week “on the grind” (what an innocent and naïve soul I was!), and I ended up going with quite the cast: Tony “Ballface” Buscaino, Jeph “I’m Judging” Foster, and Alex “No Nickname Necessary” Bertoncini. The drive there was quite average (featuring the relatively standard Magic Card Penis Game, in which you take one word from any Magic card and replace it with “penis.” Some examples are: Ancient Penis; Penis, Who Shelters All; and Alex’s favorite: Bloodstained Penis) up until Alex purchased a life-changing item.

Around thirty seconds after this purchase was made, its full potential was noticed:

“Four-way high card?”

“How much?”

“A dollar a round; most anyone can lose in a single deck is $13.”

In unison: “All right.”

Five hours later, we arrived at Tony’s lake house in Lake George. Alex was up $30, I was up $25, and Jeph was up $2 (you can figure out Tony’s balance from the information given). After a quick run to the local supermarket for some food and drinks (the refrigerator contained zero beverages that did not have alcohol at all points during this trip), we settled down for some cubing and a good night’s sleep. We left the next morning for Montreal and arrived at the site at around 3:00 P.M. Immediately upon arriving at the site, I tried to locate an FNM. “Hey, is there an FNM around here? I need my PWPs”. For those of you with any capacity for logical thought, alarm bells should be going off in your head: Someone is in an amazing city for the first time, and the only thing he cares about doing on a Friday night is playing FNM for PWPs . . . something’s wrong here. I, however, am not capable of such things, and after finding out there was an FNM an hour away by car, Alex and I scrambled to find someone to drive us to it and were quite upset when we failed at our quest. Resigned to my fate, I went out into the city to walk around and mope, recounting every emotional injury ever inflicted upon me (it was a long walk) as I watched everyone enjoying themselves and having good times with other people (I hate people).

The next day at the event, I took my third loss in Round 8 to Wrapter and had to play Round 9 out regardless in order to earn PWPs (one of the many joys of the system is that you were never “dead” in an event—there was always a reason to keep playing, even if you didn’t really want to). It was Game 3 of Round 9, and I was dead on board unless he found a way to not attack; lucky for me, he did exactly that when he said, “Attack?” followed by, “Tap your guy with my Scepter,” before actually declaring any attackers. He then attempted to attack, at which point, I politely reminded him that it was too late since he had already passed combat. He protested, at which point I smiled and called for a judge (with a shocked and appalled judge Jeph Foster looking on), and I won the call. When I killed him on the next turn with my lethal swing-back, my opponent questioned why I was such a dick when we were both out of contention, “I needed the 24 planeswalker points,” I replied as I walked away, match slip in hand.

Saturday night was another night spent in self-imposed solitude; the people I was staying with tried their best to drag me outside and make me have a good time, but I refused (I really don’t understand the appeal of strip clubs in all honesty, but I’ve also never been to one, and I really don’t plan on changing that) and went for another random walk in the city in order to relive my worst moments again (Kate, my closest friend and someone who claimed to love me had recently completely walked out of my life, so I had fresh ammunition to work with), when I took a wrong turn at some point and became completely lost. I was lucky and ran into someone else who was staying in the same hotel, but he was higher than a kite, so we were in for an interesting journey. One hundred fifty minutes and around four miles of walking later, and we finally managed to find the hotel, where I got an impressive hour of sleep before having to wake up and get ready for the PTQ.

My pool was all-in on Voltron (it even played a Diabolic Tutor), and I picked up my second loss relatively quickly. It was in the X–2 bracket where I witnessed one of the most disgusting displays of poor sportsmanship and condescension during a Magic tournament (which is saying a lot): someone who recently “wrote” an “article” on StarCityGames, after losing his match, spent fifteen minutes berating his opponent and explaining to him how he “deserved” the Planeswalker Points more than the opponent; the only reason this spectacle only lasted fifteen minutes was that my opponent and I decided we would speak up and tell him he was being a “[CENSORED before I make another Geordie Tait article]” or a “douche” (I don’t recall which term I actually used), which incited him to tell us about how he once skipped a PT he was qualified for in order to judge, and how this entitled him to the points.

After the PTQ was over (I had to play every round, after all), we went back to Tony’s lake house and stayed for a few more days, but the rest of the trip continued without any major incident (other than another NYC player not in our car asking a random clerk in a store where he could buy drugs since she “seemed cool”).

I returned back to Long Island on Thursday and had plans to spend the weekend in New York City watching my father’s new girlfriend’s dog. I had set aside time to go to my first FNM at Jim Hangley’s, but an unfortunate subway delay dashed my hopes, and I had to find alternate plans for the night. I arrived home to the following message on AIM from Kate:

isn't it obvious to you that we shouldn't talk? i wasn't intentionally lying when i said i was coming back last time. i really was planning on talking to you again. i got really busy and i decided that i would talk to you when i didn't have to make special time for it and that seriously hasn't been the case, but even if i did i really don't think it's best for us to talk. you are such a deeply unhappy person and i really hate that for you. i'm sorry for hurting you but i don't know why you ever gave me enough power in your life to do so. and since you said you fucking hate people and hope people don't get what they deserve, i can safely assume that you hate me now. and i think that's best. it means you won't sit around and wish that i would talk to you. i'm SORRY for ever being involved in your life but it won't happen again. i really hope you find what makes you happy.

I was destroyed; one of the only people in the world I trusted had just made it clear that she no longer wanted anything to do with me. It was in this moment of intense hatred that I decided I would temporarily ignore the other aspects of my life and qualify for the Pro Tour. There are two issues of note here:

  • Never before has it been possible to simply decide to qualify. In years past, there was always the requirement that you had to win a PTQ or Top 16 a GP in order to do so, and you could never count doing one of those as a sure thing.
  • Why would I possibly make such an important “life” decision when so upset? It’s mostly because I feel that my decision-making process is best when it comes from hatred—of both others and self. I only decided to take Magic seriously after coming back from a certain international journey in January of 2009, and the improvement I made over the next few months allowed me to qualify for Pro Tour: Amsterdam and go infinite on Magic Online (I’ve never made a good non-Magic-related life decision, so I have no other examples to list).

I was now officially on the grind: I committed to showing up to every FNM at my local store, Mark’s Comics, had for the rest of the season . . . as well as going to a PTQ every weekend.

For those of you worried how much longer this report will be (given that I spent almost two thousand words discussing just one tournament that I actually attended that occurred over three months ago), you don’t need to worry. This event was before I was fully adjusted to the new PWP system—before I came to the most important realization of the post-Elo world: Individual tournaments don’t matter. A corollary to this realization is the acceptance that winning a tournament was now Plan B; Plan A was simply to earn enough PWPs to stay in the Top 100, which affected some of my deck-building decisions: Rather than stress power that would have allowed me to Top 8 if I ran well, I aimed for consistency to maximize my chance of simply X–2’ing. It also impacted my play—rather than replay every excruciating turn of the matches I played (especially those I lost), the matches stopped mattering, I stopped putting my hundred percent into it, and I made some nonzero number of game-losing errors that could have been avoided by giving a shit. So, the rest of this “report” will be a series of dates, events, and records, along with any details of them that stuck with me.

9/30/11–10/2/11: The grudge match in Philadelphia, where I went a combined 14–11 and won $1,000 from Top 4’ing the main event with mono-red (I’m still owed $250 from the person I split with in the Top 4. You can find a more detailed report from the event here.

10/7/11: FNM, 6–2

10/11/11: Aforementioned article posted on SCG, wherein I call an MIT-educated L3 “typically incompetent” and accuse a frequent judge of the SCG Open series of being “scum” for simply enforcing the rules.

10/12/11: Due to the positive reception my initial article received, I am hired by SCG content manager Steve Sadin, someone whom I’ve known for the past eight years.

10/14/11: FNM, 4–4 (One win was a bye.)

10/15/11: Send Kate an e-mail telling her I miss her.

10/16/11: PTQ in Rochester, NY (involving a very long bus ride), 6–2. Met and played against both Bill Boulden (whom I beat) and Jon Corpora (who crushed me and had the nerve to ask if I talked during matches while he was beating down with his multiple bombs)

10/18/11: Get an offline message from Kate: “i'm sorry :( i hope you start feeling better soon, dear. have you ever seen breakfast at tiffany's? i think i might be holly golightly. just a thought.”

10/21/11: FNM, 8–0

10/22/11–10/23/11: SCG Open: Baltimore, 6–3
1 Standard and 6–3 Legacy (with a Merfolk deck borrowed from Alex Bertoncini), which managed to minimum-cash Legacy. I don’t remember whom I stayed with for the weekend—possibly Ryan Rolen.

10/27/11: Second article up on SCG, Jon Finkel recommends people read it on Twitter.

10/28/11: FNM, 4–4. Going through all these tournaments makes me realize how much I suck.

10/29/11: PTQ in NYC, 4–3–1. This really isn’t getting any better.

10/30/11: Send Kate a “:(“ because I missed her.

11/4/11: FNM, 5–3. I guess this is a bit of an improvement.

11/5/11: PTQ in Rhode Island, 5–3–1

11/7/11: Draft out a blog entry about how “every day feels exactly the same. Having something constant to look forward to every day demarcates them. The only day whose existence I acknowledge is Friday, knowing I have to spend my night in a confined space with people who aren’t particularly fond of me followed by another day in a larger (but still confined) space where even more people aren’t particularly fond of me.” Never published the blog entry.

11/11/11: (Dreams are supposed to come true on this day; they didn’t.) Third article up on SCG (it was not particularly well-received—topic was way too niche). FNM, 6–1–1. Slept overnight in a subway for the first time (not the event alluded to in the opening, which happens during the second sleepover).

11/12/11: Take the bus to a PTQ in PA, 4–5. Almost have to spend a night camping out with Occupy Philadelphia, but am lucky and find a bus that was running very far behind schedule.

11/17/11: Kate messages me because she’s “just making sure [I’m] alive.” We talk for several hours, and she promises to start talking more frequently.

11/18/11: FNM, 6–1–1. Getting better! Wizards also announced that Worlds will now count for competitive (and not just professional) PWP, essentially killing any chance I have of qualifying for the Pro Tour. I wrote an open letter on my old blog (dieplstks.tumblr.com), and thanks mostly to Zaiem Beg’s efforts at the event, WotC mulligans and establishes two separate PWP lists. Also wrote a blog post.

11/25/11: Fourth article up on SCG. FNM, 6–1–1

11/26/11: PTQ in NYC, 6–3

11/27/11: GPT in Long Island, 6–1–1 (winning it). In the Top 8, my opponent had a Murder of Crows, and I had an Abattoir Ghoul. He blocked my Ghoul with an X/2 and I asked, “Can I gain life?” He said, “Yes,” and then attempted to draw a card for Murder’s ability. I stopped him (I asked just so he would miss it), and I won the judge ruling. I justified it to myself because I needed the PWPs; I’m scum.

11/29/11: I IM Kate and remind her she promised to talk more again.

12/2/11: FNM, 5–3

12/3/11: PTQ in Connecticut, 7–2

12/5/11: Write this blog post on my other blog (co-written by Jesse Mason).

12/9/11: FNM, 6–1–1. I have my second sleepover in the subway system

12/10/11: PTQ in Philadelphia, 5–4

12/15/11: Submit fifth article.

12/16/11: FNM, 6–2. Pete Hoefling announces Alex will not receive his prize even though he won the event. I object to retroactively applying those rules on my own Facebook and in the comments of the announcement.

12/17/11: Final PTQ of the season in NYC, 6–3, but I concede to two friends since I’m essentially a lock for a PWP invite.

12/20/11: SCG fires me for my attack on “other writers in a non-constructive manner.”

12/23/11: Final FNM, 6–2

1/5/12: Received my official invite:

Dear Chris Mascioli:Congratulations on earning a Planeswalker Points invitation to 2012 PT Dark Ascension! Please read these instructions thoroughly.

1/6/12: Decided I would e-mail Kate (who never got back to me after 11/17) and tell her about how I managed to win a ticket to Hawaii; I got the following reply:

Delivery to the following recipient failed permanently:broomstickwaltz2@*************.com

Technical details of permanent failure:

Google tried to deliver your message, but it was rejected by the recipient domain. We recommend contacting the other email provider for further information about the cause of this error. The error that the other server returned was: 550 550 *******: Recipient address rejected: *************.com (state 14).

I’ll leave you the same way I was left: with a song.

Chris Mascioli

chrism315 on MODO

@dieplstkson Twitter (please follow me

My Blog: dieplstks.blogspot.com

My Facebook (Feel free to add me or subscribe.)

P.S. Kate, if by some miracle (I know your cousin plays casually), you happen to stumble upon this, I miss you a lot still . . . :(

 


*clc; close all; clear all;
winp=0:.01:1;
lossp=1-winp;
%%FNM - Assuming an average of 2.5 participation points
pp_FNM=2.5;
%Average matches won - Assuming 4 rounds and no draws
wins_FNM=winp*5;
%total points earned
points_FNM=(pp_FNM+wins_FNM*3)'*3;
%%SCGOpens - Assuming 6 pps
pp_SCG = 6;
%Average matches won - Assuming 9 rounds and no draws
wins_SCG=winp*10;
%total points earned
points_SCG=(pp_SCG+wins_SCG*3)'*3;
%%PTQs - Assuming 5 pps
r=9;
pp_PTQ=5;
wins_PTQ=winp*r;
i=1;
for i=1:size(winp,2)
T8p(i)=winp(i)^(r-2)+winp(i)^(r-1)*lossp(i)*nchoosek(r,r-1);
i=i+1;
end
points_PTQ=(pp_PTQ+wins_PTQ*3+T8p.*winp*3+T8p.*winp.^2*3+T8p.*winp.^3*3)'*5;
%%GPs - Assuming 7.5 pps
pp_GP = 8;
%Average matches won - Assuming 9 no draws
%day 1
wins_GP1=winp*9;
GP_points=(pp_GP+wins_GP1*3)'*8;
%Chance to day 2
i=1;
for i=1:size(winp,2)
day2p(i)=1-binocdf(6,9,winp(i));
i=i+1;
end
%points earned on day 2
wins_GP2=winp*7;
%Chance to T8
i=1;
for i=1:size(winp,2)
T8gp(i)=1-binocdf(13,16,winp(i));
i=i+1;
end
%total points earned
points_GP=(pp_GP+(wins_GP1+day2p.*wins_GP2+T8gp.*winp+T8gp.*winp.^2+T8gp.*winp.^3)*3)'*8;

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