Paul sat back and absentmindedly flipped through the pile of cards I handed him, pausing only occasionally to read a card he hadn’t seen before. In front of him sat two piles: one for the stuff he had already looked through, and a second pile. Smaller, neatly-stacked; the cards he was hoping to trade from me.
I’m a guest in this house, the home of a mutual friend Paul and I shared. The plan was to do a M13 draft. The only snag was that not everyone got the memo about bringing their own packs, so we we’re waiting for the rest of the group to get back from Target. That leaves a few of us sitting around the kitchen table. While Don and Hieu played a casual game, Paul and I pull out our binders. This ought to be good. I can’t help that thought as he pulls out his worn and tattered old 9-ring binder.
“So, how long have you been playing?” I ask him casually as I tear quickly through his binder.
“Since like 1995 or so. On and off.”
A pity there’s no dual lands I can take. That’s the first thing that runs through my mind.
“That’s pretty cool. I’ve only been playing a few years, I wish I had been in it that long.”
“It’s been fun. These Planeswalkers are totally new, though. They’re pretty cool,” Paul remarks as he lays a fresh Jace Beleren onto the small mass of cardboard in front of him. Next to it are several cards I’m ecstatic to trade away. A Nissa Revane. Stormtide Leviathan. Pithing Needle. Some more dollar cards that have been rotting in my binder for years.
“Yeah, Planeswalkers are fun,” I reply automatically. “I think I’ve found everything I need.”
I’ve been here before. The setup, the small talk; it all comes so easy now. What I want, what I need, is sitting here in front of me, practically begging to be mine. All I have to do is take it.
And my mind begins to wander.
Another day, another convention. This time a Star City Open. Sunday. I came with some friends but didn’t have anything to play, so I nonchalantly walk up and down the aisles watching games being won and lost. Hopes fulfilled and dreams crushed, all in the frenzied snap of a card as its owner taps twice on the top of his deck and pulls the would-be savior into his hand.
Farther down the aisle, I spot the far end of the tournament and the start of the trade tables. One of the first trades I catch is with a young, dejected tournament grinder, his day doubtlessly ended both by fate and fatesealing, slumped low in his chair with a binder in front of him. A large man stands across from him, gesturing wildly at cards.
“What’s this worth to you?” he barks at the crestfallen player.
“Um… I think it’s around $10.”
“No way man! Are you crazy! This is only worth four or five dollars.” He rips the card out of the binder and waves it around to prove his point. “And look here, that’s a scratch on the back!”
“I guess so, I haven’t seen the price in a while.”
The Cryptic Command is tossed onto the table in the $4 pile.
I frown disapprovingly at the situation occurring in front of me. I see one of my friends standing up from his match, his face alight with ambition and a small slip in his hand as he does so. With one last glance at the scene in front of me, I take off to join him.
“The problem with arguing with you is that you can never admit when you’re wrong.”
“I don’t think that’s true…” my voice tails off as I reply, my words sounding weak even to me.
I begin to edge away, and already the conversation is repeating in my head.
The words are a jagged knife, and my brain has turned to melted butter. I wrestle with them all day, playing the confrontation over and over again in my rattled mind. Is it true? I’m stubborn, sure, but who isn’t? In my mind, I’m simply logical. Present me with a mathematical basis for why I’m wrong, and I’ll gladly apologize and concede the point. Hell, I’m married. Of course I know how to apologize and admit when I’m wrong!
The near-blissful effect of the alcohol is still going strong. The plan for the end-of-semester party was to have a good time, and in that, we’ve succeeded. Bottles lie empty across the room. Ping-Pong balls have been thrown, and dares have been completed.
Now it’s time to crash, and everyone in the room is lying in a haphazard mess of blankets, pillows and sleeping bags across the ground. Space is crowded, and people are nearly on top of one another in a tangled mess of arms, legs and bottles. I lie down for a few minutes but quickly get back up and head toward the bathroom to wash my hands before I head to bed.
She’s there in the too-small hallway with me. Waiting, the same as me.
“Corbin!” she delights as she closes the short distance between us. “Are you having fun yet?”
She leans in close and gives me a tight hug. One she doesn’t release. Awkwardly, I break contact and take a step back, stumbling just the slightest bit as I do so.
She puts a friendly hand on mine to steady me, and then wraps it around my waist as she helps me to balance on my wobbly feet.
“You know, I’ve been thinking…” she whispers quietly as she looks up, her eyes searching for mine.
We make eye contact for a few brief seconds, but I can’t return her stare, or her affection, and I break the lock. I look down sheepishly at my feet, trying to ignore the tingling in my fingers. Is this what it’s come to? The flirting over the past several weeks, on my side at least, has been harmless. We both know nothing can happen, and why I can’t let it happen.
But still, here we are. In this one moment, alone.
Lost in my thoughts, I don’t notice her move until her hand is touching my face, bringing my head up until we again lock eyes. She grips tighter and closes her eyes, as the inches between us disappear.
My resolve begins to crumble. She’s beautiful, and we’re alone. And a year really is a long time to wait. No one will know. What I want, what I need, is standing here in front of me, practically begging to be mine. All I have to do is take it.
I step back suddenly, the soothing haze abruptly lifting from my fevered mind.
“I’m sorry, I just can’t do this,” I practically gasp as I pull away.
“Is it me?” A piteous whisper.
“It’s just wrong. I’m sorry.”
I snap back from my dreams of crushing Faeries in the Pro Tour to the table in front of me.
“Wake up! Attack you for 15?”
The Bogardan Hellkite and several of his brethren are turned sideways. I quickly survey my board, take one more look at my hand, and scoop up my cards.
“Stupid Dragons,” I mutter.
“Hey, I love my Dragons! And don’t worry about it, it’s just one game,” he replies warmly. “Do you have any of the new ones, by the way?”
The binders come out. I’ve only been playing for a matter of months, and my collection is downright tiny. A full 18 hours of classes and my $8/hour job aren’t bringing my Pro Tour dreams any closer to reality.
I spot a Thoughtseize in his binder.
“This card is awesome right now,” I inform him. “Are you interested in trading it?”
I pause for a second and think about what to tell him. Probably the first time I’ve ever considered the morality of a trade. Not the last.
“Thoughtseize is worth $20 and these aren’t even close to that.”
The words spill out of me.
“That’s fine,” he answers with a wave of his hand. “I love Dragons!”
“Really? Are you sure?”
“It’s only cards, man. Go for it!”
Sunday evening. My friends and I head back to the Star City Open hall after grabbing a quick bite of dinner and discussing everyone’s bad beats to no end. The disappointment in the group is obvious, but no one’s bitter as we head back to the hall. We’ve had a good weekend, and we’re looking for just a little more time to hang out before starting the three-hour drive home.
After meeting up with some out-of-state friends and playing some EDH, I get up to wander again. Across the room I spot the same man as before, and I head in his direction, stopping along the way to watch another ongoing EDH game.
Sitting across from him this time is a 13 or 14-year-old kid who has a few cards pulled out. The pair is done flipping through binders and are trying to work out what’s on the table, so I ask and then start flipping through the kid’s binder. I immediately spot a lot of cards in his binder I’m interested in: a promo Damnation, a Reflecting Pool.
I look up, and I see the kid anxiously tapping on his phone as if he can will an Internet connection into it through sheer determination.
Across the table stands an intimidating figure, arms crossed sternly, berating the kid to make a decision as to whether the grossly lopsided trade on the table in front of him is acceptable.
“I think so, but I’m not sure. Give me a minute to make sure.”
“No can do. I’ve got to leave soon, and they’ll be closing up soon. Make a decision!”
Truthfully, the hall will be open for another hour or so. I settle back into my chair and wait for them to finish so I can trade with this kid.
“It’s not working… so I’m not sure,” the kid whimpers, looking around.
I see the man on the other side of the table move in for the kill, a practiced assassin.
“How about if we pull out this Memory Plunder from your side and do the trade like this so it will be more even?” he asks confidentially, a perfect figure of geniality and politeness.
“Then it still wouldn’t even be close to fair,” I say.
The words spill out of me. No one is more surprised by my outburst than I am.
I stare at the pile Paul has spread out on the table. I look again at the cards in front of me and think of the money to be had.
“I can’t wait to put these into my deck,” Paul announces to the table. “And I’m not using any of those you pulled out. This seems fair to me.”
I’m still staring blankly at the cards on the table, my mind far away.
“So,” Paul continues as he looks up at me.
“What’s it gonna be?”
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