Breaking Through: Credit Where Credit is Due
Magic is a journey. Each of us has a story to tell and a host of giants upon which we now stand to have reached where we are. It is easy to get caught up in the moment and forget about those who have paved the way, but it is important that we actually pay our respects from time to time. I have been very fortunate to get to where I am but I have only gotten here thanks to an amazing cast and crew from some of the game’s greats, to those who simply took the time to intimately talk with me. Today, I would like to discuss a list of 10 of those people in moments that have touched my life and Magic career. These people all deserve recognition in my book at least, regardless of how unimportant it may seem to others, I cannot express enough gratitude for the help each has given me.
Being a Magic player in your early 20s means you not only have to grow as a player, but as a person as well. This means that much of what I learn at the table translates to everyday life, so the impacts people have had on me have been profound. Hopefully, this expands beyond a simple “Thank You” note to those who I look up to, but even if it doesn’t, thank you from the bottom of my heart.
Paul may not have been around very long in Colorado, but his impact while he was here was pretty profound on me. I had done plenty of Pro Tour gazing from afar via the Internet and submersing myself in each and every article or video I could, but I still had no pro aspiration in the confines of my region. Paul sort of showed up unannounced and I certainly did not spend as much time with him as I should have to become technically better, but his impact was felt in other ways.
Paul taught me how to approach the game by example. Would head down to an event like States and maybe play a cube game or two with Paul, but his mannerisms and respect for the game was more than enough to change the way I was approaching the game. He handled himself with class and dignity and made for an excellent role model. Sadly he left Colorado before I got my big break so to speak, but I will always treasure the example he set for me.
Gerry and I have always had a fun relationship, but I take more away from him than he is probably aware. Gerry is famous for telling you exactly how it is, and while this can be a bit overwhelming at times, once I learned to take his bluntness on the chin, the lessons hidden in the aftershock were actually quite profound.
Gerry was able to set me straight with some bad habits I was involved with for a long period of my Magic career. Some of these were simple deckbuilding mistakes, while others were actually a critique of my views on the game. It is no secret that my approach to the game is a bit unorthodox, but Gerry couldn’t care less about all of that. He was able to tell me things that others were afraid or incapable of doing. Gerry may not even realize that I have changed some ways I approach the game as a result of talking to him, but I most certainly have and they have definitely been for the better.
While it is nice to have people who are better than you at whatever it is you wish to do, both to aspire to be and learn from, having a grounded individual outside of that group is probably just as, if not more important. BDM was never someone I looked up to as a player of course, but rather a mentor who was able to both appreciate me as player while giving me someone to appreciate as a person.
Brian has always been a source of happiness for me. I cannot exactly explain what it is about him that brings me so much joy, but he just seems to connect with me in a way that does just that. He does not take himself too serious yet is able to become that person when you need a rock. I enjoy the idea of being able to be a fan of his while he can look at me and think the same, despite our area of expertise overlapping at least partially.
Brian was in a way, the first person to discover me. He sifted through the PTQ results of 2008 and somehow chose my little brew as a deck to feature. I am not sure if he expected anything big at the time, but he did offer me a stepping stone as both a writer and player that would directly lead to where I am today. For some reason, I have an urge to make Brian proud tournament after tournament which only speaks to the level that I respect his opinion of me.
Six months before I ever won that PTQ that BDM featured in his article, I was in a bar in Kansas City found in the convention center that was hosting GP K.C. 2008. Here, during an interview for the Magic School Bus (a podcast I was formerly on), Patrick Chapin asked a one of the podcasters who he thought the 5 best deck builders in the World were. The host replied with a list of 4 greats and myself (which while flattering was certainly not true at the time), Chapin naturally asked who I was and proceeded to have a drink with me while asking about various decks I had built.
This exchange was far from profound, but it instilled a bit of hope in me. I was no longer just a lone wolf who had to judge myself. Now, one of the best deck builders in the world was at least taking some interest in the work I had done. Granted, nothing I had accomplished was much of anything at this point, but it was as if he saw some potential in me that gave me a fire inside. I no longer had something to prove, so much as something to fulfill, which made the journey that much more memorable. Now Pat and I have a much closer relationship and it is cool to look back on that day as almost a destiny of 2 paths meeting. What a long way we have come and what a long way we have to go.
Just to make BDM feel better I had to add another commentator to the list… In all seriousness though, Rich has been very influential in the past few months and including him was quite easy. I began actually talking with Rich around Grand Prix D.C. and am certainly glad that the ice was broken on that relationship.
Our first intimate conversation came during the moments before Grand Prix Gothenburg. I sat there with my friend Sara and Rich and talked about everything from Magic, to sports, to life and it was one of those moments that was perfect, but for no particular reason. This seemingly out of place moment would lead to building a level of trust with Rich, learning that I could confide in him and him in me.
This trust would be confirmed just a week later after what seemed like the world crumbling around me just 3 rounds into day 2 of Pro Tour Amsterdam. Rich gave me one of the most inspirational talks I have ever received and actually turned my sinking ship around, at least mentally. My spirits lifted, I managed to salvage an otherwise bad day 2 and took the lessons I learned from Rich all the way through to present day. The exchange seemed simple enough, but I anticipate it leading to many other similar situations with Rich in the future and look to him as a source of inspiration.
Ben has quickly grown to become one of my preferred “go to” sources for all things Limited. Admittedly, I was not familiar with his previous success when I first became acquainted with him late in 2009, but even then, his authority on the subject just demanded respect. Since then, I have come to appreciate Ben even more as a player and limited specialist.
There has never been a specific moment in time in which Ben said something so profound that it was worth mentioning here, but he consistently delivers spot on information and in a way that I cannot do myself. Ben has a sort of calm delivery that is able to keep even me in check. I have a bad tendency to be defensive when going over plays or opinions, but when Ben speaks, I listen. He is just so logical and deliberate and it has really given me something to work towards as far as communication skills are concerned.
It would be difficult to be a modern day deck builder and not be influenced by Michael J. Flores. Plus, not mentioning him in your article will cost you at least 53 mentions on Twitter and is there fore a huge misplay.
Flores is definitely an influential individual when you are focused on building off-the-wall decks for the better part of your Magic career. I can only hope that I inspire up and coming deck builders in the way that Michael J. did for me. It is difficult trying to rationalize oddball choices to people in the current Magic system when putting decks through the grind and coming out with a well oiled machine is labor intensive and therefore not done very often. Instead, people take tuned decks and look to further tune them. This method is great for some, but for the aspiring deck builder, there are few people to look up to.
Flores is not only a renowned deck builder, but he has always walked a line between conventionality which made him especially potent to me. Every time Mike would come out with a new brew like Haterade, I would just want to do the same, going deck for deck with him without his knowledge of course. All of Mike’s success seemed to be validation for me as an excuse to continue doing what I was doing and what I loved. If there were no Mike Flores, I would have given up the deckbuilding game long before I ever broke through.
Gabe is has obviously been around the block and back, but oddly enough, my encounters with him have all come in the past 12 to 14 months or so. That said, they were some of the more memorable experiences I have had on the tour. Much like Gerry T, Gabe is not shy with his tongue, but he also has a lot of lessons to share.
Gabe has told me that I remind him of a younger version of himself, which is perhaps why his advice has resonated so well with me. Gabe has been a sage source of advice a lessons despite the comic package and harsh beats at times. I feel like even when I am playing him in a side draft I am constantly learning things about him as well as myself. Gabe is obviously a difficult character to explain though, so perhaps the lessons I have learned from him are just as difficult to convey here.
Luis has had an impact on a ton of different areas of my game of course, both directly, and indirectly, but strangely enough, he did not make this list because of some technical play he taught me. After I top 8ed my first Grand Prix in Tampa last year, I was a little beaten up having lost in the finals to a top decked Soaring Seacliff. At the time, I was pretty down, but Luis was there to comfort me. He explained the accomplishment I had just made and to not feel down just because I had not gotten all the way there.
This was a small effort on his part, but it was genuine and came from a credible source who I obviously admire as a player. The exchange taught me a lot about staying humble and staying hungry for the eventual win. I needed to both be happy with my accomplishment but not be content with the finish which is a delicate balance and Luis was one of the few who could teach me such a lesson.
David Williams/Eric Froehlich
Being a new guy in the Magic world is a blast, but it can also be kind of tough to incorporate yourself with the veterans of the game that you have looked up to for so long. Luckily, this Dave and Efro have helped this along quite a bit. I had to lump the two together as they love to take shots at me, but I understand it is all in good fun and I need to earn my stripes.
The bottom line is that these two are both awesome guys who just sort of make me feel at home when I am on the road. They both tend to put me in my place which is nice, as I can be stubborn at times, but they are also willing to accept when I am right and let me have my victories. Overall, they make for a fun atmosphere that I always seem to look forward to on the road.
And many more…
Of course there are a ton of people who have impacted my life and Magic career who aren’t listed above, but I figured 10 is a good stopping point for now and will continue with more at a later point. The journey is only possible with the help of others and my story is certainly no different. Thank you to everyone for their support and lessons, as it have not fallen on deaf ears.