The Quest for the Ninja Panda
I was very pleased with my play during the Grand Prix. When Sunday rolled around I knew the event was winding down and I decided I'd just play some of the smaller, less stressful events. Normally when I play Magic (and games in general), I value having fun playing more than I do than just winning. When someone I'm playing with makes a mistake or I can see an area that I could help them with, I will let them "take it back" and play correctly or provide them advice to help their play. I had just assumed that this Sunday would just be another relaxing day to play a little bit of magic and socialize a bit with other games. Turns out I was gravely mistaken.
Nearly every Grand Prix has a charity event on Sunday. It's a 5-round event that normally starts mid-afternoon (3-4pm). These events are run for many different charities, but nearly always something in the gaming-genre (such as raising money for ChildsPlayCharity,org). This particular charity event was raising money for #TeamPanda, a fund to help a young magic player who was seriously injured in a car accident (read more here).
While it might sound fun and motivating to play in an event for charity, these are brutal events. First, they are remarkably cheap, costing only $20 for a sealed event (normally a sealed event would be $30). This means that everyone who was nearly out of money will try and scrap together $20 to join to try and hit it big. This leads us to the second reason these are brutal - the prizes for such a low-entry-fee are really good! You the normal prize payout for a 5-round event (5-0 gets two boxes [aprox $200]) and there are always extra prizes donated. Third, this is the event that a lot of people who scrubbed out of the main event on day one and then lost whatever large event they were trying to win on day two join at the last minute to try to "win something" before having to go home. These folks are generally angry and upset, making for a crazy player environment. You do have a few folks who do just want to play for fun and enjoy themselves (i.e., normally me). Lastly, this is a regular rules enforcement level (REL) event, which is another way of saying: Barely any rules at all. All of this mixed together creates a whirlwind of an event.
As I was waiting in my seat to open my packs and start the chaos, the head judge was making his normal announcements ("It's for charity!!") and then he said he was going to show us the extra donated prizes that were going to be included in this event. He showed off a playmat, drawn by RK Post, I believe. A 1oz silver magic coin and some magic co-play costumes.
Then he held up this.
Within about 4 nanoseconds my brain instantly went from "Friendly Mr. Anth" to "Kill The Peoples" mode. I wanted that playmat. I needed that playmat. I was going to have that playmat. I've been playing magic for more than 20 years, and in that time I feel I've learned how to play the game pretty well - I know the rules and have a pretty good win percentage - but I don't consider myself a particular good player, certainly not a professional - but I knew as soon as I saw that Ninja Panda, there was not a player in that whole conference center that was going to get in my way.
I built my deck - more accurately, my deck built itself - I opened absolutely awesome cards; even the universe knew what was about to go down. Round one pairings went up and I was paired against a somewhat new player; this was her first "big event". I nearly felt sorry for her before the image of the Cobra Kai leader from Karate Kid screams at me: "No mercy! Mercy is for the weak!" She made mistakes. Small ones. In this situation, lethal ones. The match was over. Round two awaited.
Round two I was paired against an older gentleman, who was quite nice. It was not a good day for nice. Sadly for him, it seems as if his deck was made of blank cards - he played very few cards, and those that he did, I dealt with in quick fashion. When we were done, he thanked me for the match and actually said that he was surprised with the way I played that I wasn't still in the main event. I really appreciated that, and even commented that to me, this was the main event. Did I mention I wanted that mat?
My third round was probably the most enjoyable (not the most fun, that was round four). I was playing against a stuck-up, pretentious, 30-something punk who was putting other players down and basically making a fool of himself. He was saying how great he was, how many Pro Points he had and how he would have made Day 2 in the main event, but he got game losses for stupid things and that the judges (referees) were incompetent and did not make rulings in his favor. I swear, in my head I heard Mr. T. say "I pity da foo!" He made dumb mistakes. I did not let him take them back. He made bad plays. I stared right at him the entire time, asking him frequently "are you sure you want to do that?" and "I want to make sure, you are done, correct?". His mind started to crack. I did not stop for one second. The match is the best of three games, and I won game one after a long battle. He scrapped a win in game two and we went to game three. It played out basically like this:
Turn 1: I play small pointed stick; attack.
Turn 2: I play medium pointed stick; attack.
Turn 3: I play thermonuclear warhead; smile evilly; attack
Turn 4: I play Deathstar; attack
Turn 5: I put away my cards and get ready for round four.
Round four was one of the most fun matches I had not only that day, but over the entire four days! I was paired against a younger Asian lady, who when she initially sat down acted very "Oh! Hai! I've never played this game before, I must be very lucky!". When we got our match record sheet, I looked down and saw her DCI number and commented: "Six digits huh? Guess you've been playing for a while." She smiled and was about to say something disarming and then looked at the paper and saw my DCI. She stopped smiling, she looked at me and said: "This will be a fun match." She quickly changed gears in both her attitude and relaxed play style and we had a absolutely back-and-forth battle. Other players actually started watching us play, it was very Rocky-esq. We only played two games, and while I was playing some of the best magic I've played before, I was also just a bit luckier than she was that day. After winning the second game, I felt mentally exhausted. And I still had one more round to go.
Turns out, that the last round was remarkably anti-climatic. My opponent, who turned out to be a semi-pro, but just missed playing in Day 2, had not realized that I (to quote my favorite movie ever, Blues Brothers), "Was on a mission from God." I proceeded to draw perfect magic cards, while he drew, what I can only guess were, Uno cards, some Subway coupons, a dry cleaning ticket and a three-of-clubs. He was, to use the technical vernacular, smooshed like a bug.
After winning I think I must have sprinted to the prize collection area. The guy behind the counter was fumbling around trying to find the boxes to give me and I wanted to scream at him: GIVE ME THE PLAYMAT!, but I kept my cool for nearly 8 seconds after he handed it to me before I screamed "It's mine!!!"
I've won a lot of stuff playing magic over the years, but I can say without a doubt, this is one of the proudest and most awesome trophies that I've ever won!
Go Ninja Panda!