Origins Part 5: Change of Heart

frazier smithDeath by a die. How ironic? And yet, that was my future in this tournament. I watched it spin for what seemed like a lost millennium, and waited patiently as my palms filled with perspiration. It all came down to this. If it stopped on an even number, I would be the winner, but if it stopped on an odd number, I would be eliminated on the spot. As it slowed, I thought to myself about how much I wanted to win—to live—but only a fool would think that a die could give life. It finally came to a halt, revealing the number…

Three. Death by a die indeed. I sat there staring at the three black dots going diagonal from one corner of the little cube to the other. It was over. I lost and he won. I guess I would have to settle for Top8 this time. At the very least, I did feel a little relieved; the anxiety was killing me inside. “Three, huh? So I guess I’m supposed to pick that one,” he inquired while pointing to my facedown Scapegoat. What was he rambling about? I was just about to pick my cards up until he interrupted my thoughts with that statement. What did he mean by, “I’m supposed to pick that one?” Had he decided on another method to determine which backrow would be caught up in his Mystical Space Typhoon? If so, it would give me a second chance. I wanted that chance.

“Well today I feel like going against the dice. It is opposite day after all.” My heart was pounding. I tried my hardest to remain indifferent about his words. I didn’t want to give it away; his second guessing would be his downfall. “What do you think I should do?” he asked. “I don’t know, you tell me. I usually just go with the heart of the cards. They don’t call me little Yugi for nothing,” I replied in a calm and collected manner. “Hmmmm…well in that case, I’m destroying that one.” I pointed my index finger back and forth between the cards to confirm which he wanted. I was done with all the games and beating around the bush. I just wanted this to be over. At this point, I was more annoyed than nervous, and my expression probably showed that.

Nobleman of Crossout“That one,” he said commandingly. I lifted it up to where only I could see the card’s face, and stared at his choice. “This one? You sure?” I asked in a higher pitched voice. “Yep that’s the one.” I flipped it over completely to reveal my bluffed Nobleman of Crossout. I put it in the grave so fast that you would’ve thought it was on fire. I looked up at him and said with a smirk on my face, “Your turn.” He drew and shuffled his hand before activating Creature Swap. I chained Scapegoat, summoning four tokens in defense position, and proceeded to kindly hand him one while taking his Pyramid Turtle. “So you did have it.” “Yeah, I thought I lost when the die landed on three, but you went against it. That was too close for comfort.” He was nodding his head slowly in a way that told me he resigned himself to defeat. That was the best trick in his Hidden Arsenal and it failed. I was the victor.

After that was over, I was able to stretch and shake out some of my nerves. I hadn’t noticed just how many people were watching the match. Since it was Top8, everyone who didn’t make the cut decided to watch. I looked around and my friends were nodding their heads approvingly. It felt good to advance to Top4 in such a huge tournament. And to think I had a hard time topping locals. I took my minor free time to check out the other matches to see what I was up against. Kevin and Dontaye had both been eliminated!? I couldn’t believe it. Something must’ve gone wrong. I thought for sure it would have been those two in the finals, if anything. The two players that beat them had to be either very good or very lucky. And then I started thinking back to what McCabe said to me before, “I’m really not that good.” If he didn’t consider himself to be that good, I wonder if those two were in the same boat. They could all consistently beat me, but I suppose that wasn’t enough to win a whole tournament. I was nobody at the end of the day; just a small fry in a shark tank.

I scanned the room to find the only match that was still ongoing--Edgar’s. He managed to pull it out against a Burn player that had apparently been trying to stall him. You would’ve thought they played three full games but he said it was only 2-0—the guy was just taking years to make his plays. I’d never given much consideration to Edgar as a player before this moment. I knew he was pretty good but I didn’t see him as an obstacle to overcome.  He always seemed too carefree about the game and the competition—absentminded almost. But the keyword was “almost.” I’m not sure if that was part of his strategy, acting so oblivious to everything, but it worked. Considering that he was also really good friends with Dontaye and Kevin, and much older than them, I think it was safe to say he shouldn’t be underestimated. I would keep my guard up just in case I had to play him in the finals.

And strangely enough, that’s exactly what happened. We both won our Top4 matches with relative ease, so one of us would be walking away a winner. That was great because we both represented JMC Collectibles, too. I felt like I wanted it more than him, though. He hardly ever plays at locals, and yet here he is in the finals of this tournament. “If I win, will you still take me home, Edgar?” I asked jokingly. “Of course, man, but don’t cry in my car if you lose,” he said back in the same manner. I wasn’t nearly as nervous for some reason, despite having made it this far. It felt like the pressure was off. He was the last person standing between me and first place. I had to make every play count. The Goat Control mirror match was a true test of skill, so this could get intense.

graceful charityWe played three long games of Yu-Gi-Oh in the next hour. There was no time limit for the finals, so you could imagine that we both took a bit longer than usual to think out each move. I used many of the theories that I learned from reading feature matches and articles on to make the best plays. I held onto Graceful Charity until I drew into Sinister Serpent, or searched it with Sangan. I caught him in a devastating “pro heavy” by setting Scapegoat and Heavy storm, making him think that it was okay to set his own two cards. I waited until I knew his Sinister Serpent was in the graveyard before I played Delinquent Duo, and I baited out his Nobleman(s) with other monsters so that I could safely set my Magician of Faith. At the end of it all, I won the match and thus the tournament. I was immediately filled with excitement, having finally accomplished something in this game. Edgar congratulated me and offered a handshake before I got up and shouted out, “Yeah, baby!” This win meant so much to me because I competed against players that I considered way better than myself.  It boosted my confidence, which was something I didn’t have prior to this because I was so used to getting destroyed on a weekly basis by the same people. This was my turning point, but not in the way that you might think.

Over the course of the next few weeks, Dontaye, Kevin, Edgar, and McCabe didn’t attend JMC as much anymore. I still came religiously each and every weekend, though. Of course Dontaye still ended up winning that season and getting his box and Millennium Puzzle trophy, which was no surprise to anyone since he was so far ahead when I first came there, but a new season was starting, and if they weren’t going to be around, then it was mine for the taking.

A new forbidden/limited list would soon drop as well, and it would introduce Bazoo Return and eventually Chaos Return. During this time, I became a monster in the local area. We had plenty of new players every week, but none of them were nearly as good as the old school guys or even myself. Half of them didn’t know what Metagame was, and the other half that did were just unable to keep up. I became the new tyrant in the store. My name was at the top of the scoreboard and everyone who attended knew who I was. I had the best collection, the best deck, and an ego to match. I was developing a strong sense of arrogance, which gradually became intoxicating. The other players aspired to beat me week after week, and they failed miserably just like I had with Dontaye and Kevin. I didn’t bother to make friends with any of them; if you weren’t in my group already, I assumed you were bad. I became cold and standoffish to the local community. It was wrong, but at the time, I was too busy being full of myself that I never stopped to look at what I’d become. To me, being a pro meant that you had to act that way. You couldn’t socialize with the “randoms” or help players get better. I completely lost myself. There was no one to set me straight anymore. Time passed by like this until the summer of 2006, when UDE announced the first ever SJC in Philadelphia. I set my sights there, in the City of Brotherly Love, and the place that happened to be my hometown.

I was brimming with confidence in the days before the event; you couldn’t tell me that I wouldn’t do well. “What are you gonna play?” my friend Eric asked. “The best deck of course—Chaos Return. It’s been consistently topping and winning almost everything since it came out. I don’t even think there’s anything else to play to be honest.” “Oh wow, so is there anything that sets your deck apart from the others then?” “I mean, it’s going to be just like JMC. Other people will have the deck, but they won’t know what they’re doing, so I’ll just beat them.” “I see.” He didn’t sound too convinced and I found that to be insulting. “What, you don’t think I can do it or something?” I asked very cut and dry. “It’s not that. I’m just saying, if everyone is playing the same deck, why don’t you try to counter it?” “Oh that’s stupid. I’m not playing Anti-meta. Those decks are so trash. They’re always out of the tournament by round five, if that.” He shook his head left and right. “No, I didn’t mean Anti-meta. But maybe you could make your Chaos Return deck a little differently to give yourself an edge.” I became more annoyed with his suggestions. Why was he prying for me to change my deck so much? “Well you know what they say, ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.’” “I guess,” he said sullenly.

I wasn’t about to make any changes to what’s been working, and what’s been proven to work, just because my best friend said so. He didn’t take the game as serious as I did, so what did he know? I was going to play test a lot before the SJC and then do well in it. That was the plan.

I’d changed into something unrecognizable to my peers, but that was the least of my concerns. I just wanted to become a pro—like the members of Team Overdose—and I’d stop at nothing to get what I wanted. I was falling fast…

To be continued…

Frazier Smith

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