Kerouac's Masters

Posted in Event Coverage on May 2, 2002

By Gary Wise

It's 7:06 AM. Masters Day

I woke up half an hour ago after going to sleep at 1:00, but when I stirred , my mind went immediately to Magic and within fifteen minutes I was completely wired. I've made the toughest decision involved with this tournament, deciding to play a two-color Oath deck for two reasons: First, it has what I think may be the three best cards in the format: Brainstorm, Force of Will and Oath of Druids, and second, it has Back to Basics in the board.

When I awoke, I grabbed my bedside copy of Jack Kerouac's On the Road, a book I've wanted to read for a long time, and reading one chapter inspired me to sit at my keyboard and get my mindset on a page. I'm a mess of tangled nerves, frightened insight and daring hope. I'm only seven chapters in, but Kerouac's main character Sal has endeared himself to me, serving as the book's focus while experiencing wonder as observer. Two chapters back he had seven dollars to his name, then he spent five on an all-night drinking binge with Montana Slim, a leery drifter with a sneer to his lip. In chapter seven, Sal hooked up with his Denver chums Dean and Carlo Marx and spent his last two dollars on the reunion. I could win eight thousand dollars playing Magic today.

This weekend's Pro Tour will bring the total I've attended to thirty, and in that time I've played some pretty big matches. I've seen the lights of the Sunday stage up close and from the fourteenth round distance and you'd think that would prepare me for the rigors of masters play, but it's a frightening thing, the prospect of twenty grand for five rounds of Magic. Twenty grand is a lot more time in the sun.

I watch the Kai Buddes and Ben Rubins of the world with their nerves of steel and wonder in amazement how they do it, how they remain so calm in the face of pressure, and I have to think it comes down to the fact they've won so much already, but how about the first time? How did the fifteen-year old Rubin avoid breaking down at LA3, or the nineteen-year old Budde do the same at Tokyo? I have to think that the security of innocence had something to do with it. I don't have that luxury.

Twenty thousand dollars is a lot of money, and heap on it the prospective prestige of masters success and there's a lot on the line. Even if the money meant nothing, the idea of success in an endeavor in which I've strove for it for so long would be enough to inspire me to the work I've done for the two weeks since my return home from Canada. I've played day and night, testing various options, eliminating a few, lacking the time to learn others. Turbo Land with Fire/Ice could have been the answer, but not for this limited man's player.

God I want to win.

That's why I play Magic. The money keep this road trip fueled, but knowing that victory can be mine, in any adventure is a powerful motivator. Victory, prestige, recognition, respect, self-assertion, expertise, power. That's what Magic gives me. But it all means nothing if I lose the first round. I'm the lobster in the pot about to boil, but I can still get out. All I have to do is win.

Thus far, On the Road has taught me that sometimes you shouldn't worry about the consequences of your actions, and that instead you should just stick out your thumb, catch the first ride and let it get you that much closer to the place you want to be. Applied to my situation, I guess that means that I just have to go and play, not worry about winning or losing, and just do what I've done so many times before, but while I know that to be true, the pressure of the check is still there, lurking in the back of my brain, waiting to come to the forefront the moment my first match becomes a real contest.

A year ago, I made the second round of the Barcelona Masters before Jay Elarar's trash talk rattled me into a loss, a very large monkey my not-so-broad shoulders have carried for twelve months. Maybe that's why the pressure feels so intense, the desire to avenge myself, the need to forget my error. The Pro Tour has a way of washing away everything you've done, be it good or bad, after a year, taking with your accomplishments your pro points and their effect on your standing, so all I have to do to rid myself of the memory of the Elerar fiasco is play the game. Why does that seem so difficult? Regardless, all I can do is tap my lands, attack with my guys, cast my Blessings and hope for the best.

I guess I don't really know what I'm looking for from this. Vindication, victory, validation. I guess thinking about it only makes it worse, so I'm going to stop now. There's Magic to be played.

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