Well, guess what, this weekend for him something amazing is happening. Dave is in Dublin Ireland for the Magic the Gathering Pro-Tour. He's worked hard to get there-- and he absolutely deserves to be there. Dave has a skill at card games I wish I did, and I'm no spring Chicken. At the college we both went to, my freshman year I cleaned up at the tournaments that were held, won tons of prizes. Infamously, I once walked out a tournament with two full boxes of cards I'd won. So lets be clear here: I was good.
Then Dave arrived and beat me at Magic over and over again.
He's a skilled, talented, and creative player, and he finally has the chance to show the world that. I know he's going to, and I absolutely believe in him. I'm cheering him on every step of the way, and I hope you will too! If you want to leave Dave encouragement, please do so in the comments below. He'll see them.
Cheer him on. He's gunna do great.
Now then, to celebrate Dave's card tournament prowess, lets take a little detour into the 10,000 Dawns...
The Card Player, by James Wylder
“Well, you win again,” John Vice sighed.
His wife Miranda, who had lost half an hour ago, was reading a book, “Yeah, good game,” she droned.
“Do we want to play again?” Lametrius asked.
“No, I think its time we head back home,” Miranda said.
Arch put a question mark up on the screen like oval where his face would have been, “Its mid afternoon.”
“Yep, time for bed, bye,” Miranda said, dragging her husband out behind her.
Grumbling, he followed, “What was that all about?” he asked after they’d gotten a bit from Arch’s place.
“Game night just isn’t fun anymore, Arch wins every game of Magician: The Hammering we play. His deck is perfect.”
“I’m sure its not perfect...”
“Name the last time he lost,” Miranda countered.
John thought. She had a point, “Okay fine, but what are you going to do, kick him out? He’s got a computer in his brain you can’t just tell him to pull it out. He can optimize his decks well, that’s not his fault.”
“What we need to do,” Miranda said, “is find someone who can beat Arch at cards.”
“What, like a master tactician like Kinan?”
* * * *
“You want me to play a card game?” Kinan said in her monotone, “To beat Arch, because you can’t beat him?” Kinan gestured at the table in front of her, where she was mapping out probabilities for which realities in the 10,000 Dawns be taken over by the Council next, and listing ways to save each one. “Perhaps, I might have more important things to do?”
“Yeah okay sorry bye,” John said quickly, dragging a protesting Miranda out behind him.
She pulled her hand away from him as they exited Kinan’s planning room, “Okay, so maybe she’s trying to stop the destruction of the multiverse.”
“So I suppose that takes priority.”
“So I guess we’ll go with plan B.”
“You did not tell me we had a plan B.”
* * * *
Graelyn stroked her cat Mister Sprinkles as she sat on her bed, she had a tablet open to a science book on one side of her, and another with sheet music on the opposite side. She seemed to be going back and forth between them at her mind’s whim. John and Miranda were sitting cross legged on the floor of her room, because Graelyn only had one chair and it looked so impeccably in its place in the order of her room neither of them wanted to disturb it.
“I’m not really sure why this is important,” Graelyn said.
“Its killing game night,” Miranda replied.
Graelyn shrugged, and scrolled down through the music. “That key-signature is just unfair, who would do that? That’s just--”
John cut her off, “Grae, listen. Arch loves tabletop games. He loves them a lot. But if he can’t get challenged, what will that make him?”
Graelyn didn’t look up from the music, “The best gamer on all of Spiral.”
The Vice spouses sighed in unison.
“Think about it this way,” Miranda said, “If you do this, John will make you all the peanut butter blossom cookies you want. For a month.”
“For a whole month you’ve got to-” he saw his wife’s expression, “be absolutely right that I will do that.”
“And I’ll make you tamales, real ones not printed ones.”
“No mole sauce, its boring. I want them spicy. And you need to make a cat friendly one so Mister Sprinkles isn’t left out.” Graelyn picked up the cat as she said that, dancing him around on her lap to the cadence of the words.
“Whatever, Gringo. Do we have a deal?”
Graelyn nodded, and saved her spots on both tablets before shoving her glasses back into her face and staring intently at the pair. She clasped her hands together, letting the cat finally escape to wander around the room aimlessly.
“So, tell me about this game.”
“Well, its only the most popular Trading Card Game game in the universe,” Miranda began.
“In fact in most universes, once you get far enough into the future.”
“Yes, John, anyways, in the game you play a Magician trying to hammer down their foes with spells. Your goal is to deplete the other magicians’ health scores till you win. To do that, you can play monsters that attack your foes, play spells to attack them directly, or power up your spell hammer which can lead to an alternate win condition if you power it up enough.”
“So, wait, you’re magicians? Like, poof, rabbit out of a hat?” Grae asked.
“No, you’re really wizards, but don’t worry about that part,” John said.
“Why isn’t it called like: Wizard: The Spellening, or Magic: the G--”
“Don’t worry about that part! Look, the main point here is that Arch has figured out how to break the game consistently. He can’t lose. The worst thing is the way he’s playing his deck requires such fine and meticulous gameplay that most of us just can’t remember all the different ways his deck can adjust to problems,” Miranda rubbed her forhead, and then gestured to John who took off his backpack and opened it up to reveal a bag of cards, “Those are all the cards you can play with in the game right now, we left a list of the cards in Arch’s deck in there too. Can you beat him?”
Graelyn nodded, “Of course I can beat him. I can be the best at anything I set my mind to.”
John and Miranda exchanged a look, that conveyed the eyeroll they didn’t want Graelyn to see.
“Leave the cards. I’ll get to work immediately. Mister Sprinkles,” she said, putting a hand on her hip and pointing at the cat, “we’re going to win us a card game!”
“Meow,” said the cat, towards an empty mug.
* * * *
The cards were laid out over nearly the whole floor. She’d memorized most of them by now, and she lay in bed staring at the ceiling going through card combinations. It wasn’t going well. By all accounts, Arch had found the best strategy. And by that, it wasn’t just the single best strategy, but a cascading sequence of inter-playing strategies that could take over from each other if another ones failed.
They weren’t wrong, Arch had broken the game in a way a normal person couldn’t. Graelyn knew if she played the same deck against Arch, she’d lose. Not because Arch could think better than her, but because Arch could memorize possibilities better than her. She felt like a chess grandmaster trying to beat a computer that had learned every possible move in the game.
Graelyn pulled her glasses off and rolled over, shoving her face into her pillow. She was going to embarrass herself. She was awful, and terrible, and after telling the Vices she’d wallop Arch, he’d annihilate her. Waves of self doubt rolled over her, and the cat walked over her back just to rub it in.
“Goodbye cruel multiverse, I can’t even win a cardgame,” she said unintelligibly into the pillow.
“Mrow,” said the cat.
“Arch is the best at this, he’s too good!” Graelyn rolled over again, spooking Mister Sprinkles who left off of her back onto the cards. One card flipped up, and caught Graelyn’s eye.
“Ursine Bear,” a boring common card that had no special abilities. She could only sort of make it out with out her glasses, but she recognized the vague shape of the art.
“Of course,” Graelyn said, grinning, “I should have thought of that first.”
* * * *
“Graelyn is challenging me? But she doesn’t play Magician: the Hammering. I tried to get her into it and she kept picking up her cat and pretending it was singing Phil Collins songs.”
“She is. She’s got an amazing new deck, with a strategy you haven’t seen coming.”
Arch would have raised an eyebrow if he had one. He was certain he’d calculated every card interaction perfectly… But then again Graelyn was very clever. She walked into the gaming room, wearing her usual skirt, tie, blouse, and blazer combo, but in brown instead of blue today. On her lapel was a bear pin.
“Hey Arch, ready to lose?” she said nonchalantly.
“Nice pin,” Arch replied.
“Thanks, so are we rolling a die to see who goes first?”
“I’ll take odds,” Arch said.
“I’ll even it out then,” Grae replied.
Grae won the roll. He watched her first turn play out. She set down a Tarpagorn upside down, which meant it would produce boon points for her every turn. It was a weird choice though: Tarpagorn was a powerful card. Some of the best combos in the game used it. Arch tried to think of a way to play it from its spot as a boon card, but there was no way to do that that wasn’t needlessly complex. It would take too long to set up. Unless she was going to stall him?
“I play, Ursine Bear!” Graelyn said.
Everyone in the room looked either confused or disappointed. Arch was the former. That card was useless. Aside from the fact that it was a bear, it had nothing that made it useful or interesting at all. Grae passed her turn, and Arch played his usual first turn play: Arch Heathen of Pro-Raphealites upside down as a boon card (when it was upside down it had text that flipped over with it at its usual bottom, that let it produce an extra boon point, so it was a great way to start the game), and then use that to play Despair of Haunting Millions. So over all, a good first turn.
Turn passed to Grae. She drew a card, and…
“I play Cupboard Bear,” Grae said.
Aha! Two bears? That… Bears didn’t do anything. Arch combed through the possible combos of bears. There was nearly nothing distinct to them, and even less that wouldn’t be better done with a different card.
“I’m… Really confused as to what you’re doing Grae.”
She smiled, “Are you afraid this is getting too… Hairy?”
“I just don’t understand your strategy.”
“I think you’ll find a way to… Bear it.”
“Are you really going to make puns about this?”
“No need to get up at paws about it!”
“Look Grae, if this is just a joke… Look I know the Vices set you up for this, they aren’t exactly subtle. You can back down.”
Graelyn made a dismissive gesture, and then pulled out a pair of sunglasses from her pocket, “I’m sure I’ll be able to,” she slid them on over her glasses, “claw my way to the top.”
Arch racked his brain. What was her strategy?
“I attack with Ursine Bear.”
“Fine, I take it,” he needed to figure out what she was doing. Grae kept attacking him with her idiotic bears while she played seemingly random and unconnected support cards, and counter-hammered (which stopped him from playing a card he was about to) the parts of his combos he needed to win instantly. The bears were a distraction, they had to be. At one point, she played Tim-Man, which was a powerful card definitely, but then she didn’t attack with it next turn, just used her bears.
He destroyed some of the bears, but she didn’t seem to mind, just played more. What did she have up her sleeve? Turns went by as he went through the options. She played “Crocotta’s Hollow” which gave all Croccotta cards a bonus, but Grae didn’t even have any of those in her deck! At least that he’d seen yet? He worked tirelessly to destroy the things that weren’t the bears as she played them, so maybe her own combo simply wasn’t coming together…
Eventually, Graelyn announced an attack from her bears, and Arch realized he was about to lose. He set his hand down and nodded.
“Good game… I don’t know what you were trying to do though. What was your strategy? It seemed like your deck was just...”
“Random cards and a bunch of bears?”
“Yeah, yeah that’s what it looked like. So what were you trying to do?”
Graelyn packed up her deck, putting it into her bag, and taking her needless sunglasses off dramatically, “I was trying to distract you with useless cards and then beat you to death with the most boring cards in existence. I figured you’d be expecting me to come in with a master strategy of card combos to outwit your own, but that’s impossible. Your deck is too good and you’re too good at playing it. So the only thing I could do was to make you worse at playing it by making you have no idea what I was doing and then hitting you with cards you didn’t think were threats.”
Arch stared at her for a moment, then broke out into laughter, “Okay, that was pretty great. Congratulations Grae, you did a good job. I did not expect that strategy.”
Graelyn threw her arms out wide, “Of course. I aim to inspire.” She turned to the Vices, “And you two. I want the cookies and tamales now that I beat Arch so he doesn’t ruin game night for you anymore.”
Arch narrowed the aperture of his camera, “Wait, wait, waiiiit everyone hold up here. First off, you bribed my best friend with food to beat me at Magician: the Hammering?”
The Vices looked awkward.
“And,” Arch continued, “you didn’t just tell me I was making game night not fun? You could have just told me. I can tone down my processor to not outmatch you on an analytic level.”
Graelyn turned around in her chair, “Wait you guys seriously didn’t tell him?”
The Vices looked at each other.
“Time for bed Miranda?”
“Sounds great John.”
“It is literally just after breakfast,” Graelyn said.
“Never too early!” John replied, as he and Miranda zipped out.
Graelyn shook her head, “So Arch, another game?”
Joyful fireworks played out over the screens of his skin, “I hoped you’d want to. But… Can you not play the bears?”
Graelyn pouted her lips, “You don’t need to be ursine about it.”
“You don’t have to make this grizzly!”
“What, are things getting a little… Polar-ized?”
“Just get your damn deck out.”
She shuffled the cards together, “Lets see who wins this time. If I lose I’m sure I’ll just grin and… Bear it.”
They rolled to see who would go first. The game was on, just bearly.