Yesterday I witnessed the most ridiculous game of Magic: The Gathering I’ve ever seen.
Dessie, who I live with, was a few rounds into a ranked Arena match and inches away from a win. She had flying creatures her opponent had no defence against, and though they weren’t particularly powerful, they’d nearly pecked their way to victory. But then, as tends to happen in Magic, everything changed.
It was a game-winning moment. Her opponent found the card they needed to ignite their game plan and suddenly, their combos fired. Really, the game was over. Anyone watching could see it. Dessie had no answer for what was happening. Were it me, I’d have given in, ducked out with a “good game” there and then. But Dessie refused to, and it’s her stubborn pride which is crucial to the tale ahead.
Her opponent’s game plan revolved around stealing health to trigger chain-reactions of buffs. You can see it in the video if you care about particulars, but all you really need to know is it worked like pressing the equals button on a calculator: keep pressing after a sum and the number grows, higher and higher and higher.
It was very impressive. Soon, creatures that did single-digit damage were doing double-digit damage. Consider that players begin with 20 health in Magic and the threat is obvious: they were now capable of one-hit kills. What’s more, the player’s health was going up. Every time they stole health, it climbed. What was once a fair fight wasn’t any more.
But, beautifully, they couldn’t win. Dessie, for all she was hopelessly outgunned, had an almost unbreakable combo of her own. She had creatures she could temporarily turn invulnerable, plus the ability to remake flying fodder, so each round she could soak up her opponent’s increasingly unbelievable attacks. And she did, round after round after round. She would not give in to the inevitable.
What this meant was that equals button we talked about, it kept getting pressed. In probably every other instance of this game being played, the match would have ended, but this one was still going. So the game kept doing the maths and the numbers got ridiculous.
Creatures that seemed game-endingly deadly with double-digit damage now did triple-digit damage, and up and up they went. Now they were into the thousands, now they were into the tens of thousands. One card ended with 98,500 damage.
Her opponent’s health was equally astronomical. I’ve never seen someone’s health climb into the hundreds let alone the thousands. The tens of thousands? Get out of here. The hundreds of thousands? Impossible. But there they were, by game’s end, with 488,258 health.
I wondered what they were thinking. I bet a small part of them was laughing at the absurdity of it all, as we were, maths gone wild. They wouldn’t have seen it before either. But I bet the joke soon wore off. All this work for one Bronze-tier victory? They’d won the game 45 minutes ago, effectively, why was it still going? Dessie even got a curt “Good game” as if to press the issue. But she wouldn’t be swayed. She had trapped them in their own victory, turning it into a kind of victory of her own.
You know, I began – ludicrous as it sounds – to think she might even turn it around. That’s how surreal the game was. I already didn’t believe what I was seeing – how much more outrageous would a turnaround be? Then she baked one of their mega-creatures into a pie (this is an actual card in Magic), destroying it, and my heart almost skipped a beat. Could it really be?
Alas, no. Of course not. Even if Dessie had wiped the board clean, they had hundreds of thousands of points of health to chip away at. It would have taken all day. In the end what broke the deadlock was one card with one ability: Trample. Now they could deal their remaining damage, after being blocked, straight to Dessie. No longer could weak invulnerable creatures or flying fodder deny them. Dessie died with minus 101,737 health.
This game was a rarity, a moment where a set of variables aligned in a way it never will again. And not just mathematical variables. Yes, they behaved in a way we dream about in a video game, particularly a competitive one: values all at maximum, attack undefendable. But there’s the human variable too. None of it could have been achieved alone. Were it not for those two particular players, especially one as stubborn as Dessie, and those exact cards, none of this would have happened.
I’m sure Dessie’s opponent will use the same tactic to see off many other players in Arena, and the matches will eventually blur together into a comfortable montage of victory. But I bet they’ll never forget the time they came up against Dessie. And that’s what we really chase, isn’t it? Those moments. The moments that stand apart.