I had just gotten back to the hotel in Kyoto after a long adventure through an ancient castle when I decided to check up on the Pro Tour Top 8 coverage. My friend Raja was sitting on his bed streaming the semifinals. It was a good one. Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa and Yam Wing Chun were locked in an intense game that would send the winner to the finals.
It was truly a great game of Magic that people will talk about for years to come. The turn before it happened, Yam had the option to race with Hazoret or leave it back on blocks. He got aggressive. “Gutsy. I like it,” I remember saying. “If he peels a burn spell I think he wins.”
He did it. Game over. The crowd burst into a cheer. The multiverse erupted in a wave of excitement because something special had just happened. It made me think of Craig Jones’ Lightning Helix from Honolulu more than a decade ago.
Then the unthinkable happened.
Yam reached for his Hazoret the Fervent.
I remember watching it like it was happening in slow motion:
“NO NO NO NO NO NO NO!”
Yam tried to attack with Hazoret the Fervent—but the God would not go.
Hazoret can’t attack if its controller has more than one card in hand. In his excitement, Yam had moved to combat before casting either of the sorcery speed burn spells in his grip and left Hazoret with a blown tire.
I don’t know Yam Wing Chun. He seems like a good guy. Either way, I had been rooting for PV. I think his articles are great.
After that missed attack, suddenly I was pulling for Yam to find a way. I’ve made costly mistakes like that one, and I know how bad they sting. After the match was over, I felt upset and didn’t feel like watching any more coverage. I went for another walk.
I’m still glad PV won the event. I think he deserves it 100%. But it felt terrible to watch somebody had to lose in that fashion. I’ve lost that way before, and it is a hard pill to swallow.
Been There, Punted That
My mistake wasn’t on nearly as big a stage or with so many people watching. Mine was on the last turn of game 3 of an Extended PTQ with Faeries. It had been a masterfully played game on my end where I had been losing the entire time and had battled through mana screw. Nonetheless, I found myself in a position where I was about to win.
I was at 1 life. My opponent had a Figure of Destiny and was empty handed. I had it all. I needed to attack with all of my flyers, play a land, pass my turn, and before my opponent drew I needed to Mistbind Clique, championing my Bitterblossom, and I’d have enough mana to animate and chump-block with Mutavault, then attack for lethal in the air on my next turn.
I forgot to play the land after combat. The whole thing came apart. I couldn’t play the Clique before my opponent drew a card because without the Mutavault to block I’d have to chump with the Clique and I would die to my Bitterblossom.
I lost. I had it all, and I lost.
I was so angry and disappointed with myself. I remember after the match I walked half a block to where my car was parked and sat there with the heat on in shock for several minutes before finally shouting the F-word at the top of my lungs and putting the vehicle in drive to go home.
I wanted Yam to win after he made that mistake because I know how bad a mistake like that feels. It’s amazing how frustrating and costly a split second of letting the game get ahead of you can be. I must have thought about that moment and how I forgot to play that stupid land every day for a year.
Everybody makes mistakes at Magic. Some mistakes are much, much more costly than others. I mean, PV could have bricked. But he didn’t. My opponent could have bricked, but he didn’t.
I can tell you that the mistake I made was that I got too excited and I was thinking about winning when I should have been thinking about playing Magic. If you take your shields down for even a split second during a match some force sensitive X-wing hotshot will swoop in and fire proton torpedoes into your Death Star’s thermal exhaust port every damn time.
The lesson I learned that day and the lesson that Yam’s game teaches us is that in the heat of the moment, we cannot let the moment get ahead of us. You’ve got to keep it in perspective and focus on every single step of the process.
If you’ve ever played in an on-camera feature match, you might have a better understanding of the pressure. If you haven’t, I promise you that sitting in that seat is a very lonely island. It is exciting, but the tension can be overwhelming.
In the Top 8 of Grand Prix Boston, I got a warning for improperly using Rummaging Goblin because I tried to draw before discarding. To be fair, it was literally the first red discard first loot effect ever in a lineage of a thousand draw-first-and-then-discard effects. After getting a warning that another violation would be a game loss, I literally nearly did it a few turns later! I had to make a serious mental adjustment to stop saying “loot” in my head when I was figuring out my sequencing at that point.
It’s hard when you are trying to focus on so many different things and everything is so important that it is very possible that something slips through the cracks. In each of these cases, it's something obvious: playing a land, executing an ability properly, or meeting the conditions to attack with a God. These are not hard plays but they are forgettable plays, especially under pressure.
The Lesson: When you feel excited or like the game is moving fast, slow yourself down, regroup, and focus.
The last turn of the game is absolutely the correct time to double- and triple-check to make sure that you do every single thing in the correct sequence. The excitement and pressure of big games cause people to make mistakes. The more you are aware of that, the better you can try to prevent them.
The Roar of the Crowd
When Yam Wing Chun topdecked the lethal Incendiary Flow, the crowd in the next room roared, which may have dramatically altered the outcome of the game.
It is possible that had the crowd not cheered so loudly that Yam wouldn’t have been distracted, and that he would have made the proper play. It just may have had an effect on the outcome of the game.
On the other side of the coin, I think the roar of the crowd had other implications. For starters, PV having heard the roar likely would have been able to garner the information that Yam had lethal burn in hand and could play around it for the rest of the game, as he should do.
High stakes games for tens of thousands of dollars should be played in an environment free of crowd noise and interference. If we follow the crowd noise to its most unfortunate conclusion it’s only a matter of time before an audience member impacts a game in a more direct and unfortunate way.
Imagine a close control mirror where somebody from the crowd watching the video in the next room shouts out: “He doesn't have a counterspell! Go for it!” I understand that 99.99% of Magic players would never do something to damage the integrity of the game like that, but what happens if that 0.01% shows up one day? How does someone even fix a situation like that? Either way, somebody will feel like they were cheated.
I don’t think that anybody did anything wrong here. But having seen the impact that the noise of the crowd could potentially cause in a match, perhaps it would be prudent to move the spectators to an area where their applause cannot be heard on the stage?
Just a thought that could potentially avert an even more awkward situation down the road.
I also wanted to make one last observation: I’ve been extremely impressed that 99% of the comments I’ve encountered about the game have been supportive and empathetic. I know that trolls are going to troll, but it’s pretty cool that the overwhelming majority of the community have a heart and a brain.
Let he who has never punted troll the first forum.