TWoo Cents – Stories of a PTQ Grinder: Untold Tales of the JSS

It was March 2005 and Champions/Champions/Betrayers Sealed deck was the PTQ format. I was finishing up my freshman year in high school and my brother, Elliott, was finishing up his sophomore year. The two of us had done more Magic Online drafts than Kai had won Pro Tours (not a very good analogy, because we had done a lot more than 7 CoK/CoK/BoK drafts). At 15 years old I was finally becoming conscious and the two of us were already reaching our technical peaks thanks to the copious hours plugged in. I hear we were very obnoxious to play against. New to the scene, I was in the awkward in-between stage of small child and cocky teenager (now reluctantly transitioning from cocky teenager to adult). Each match was a race against every other match in the room to be the first person done. I would be leaned forward, uncontrollably wriggling, hand on my deck, ready to hyperstart my turn by the time my opponent was entering his first main phase. My in-between-rounds pastimes were DC10 off a rare stack with my brother, walk-by kibitzing in straggling matches just to speed them up, and stepping on people’s feet. I tell you this because I am not the hero of this story. Elliott is not the hero of this story. Brian Larson is the hero of this story.

In the first PTQ of the season Elliott beat me playing for Top 8 and got himself involved in the infamous (to those who remember it) top four PTQ split. Everyone had to give back their money and the winner had to give back his qualification. I guess if you don’t push the dog’s nose in it he’ll never learn, right?

Today was the second, and last, PTQ for London. My brother opened a monstrosity containing foil Opal-Eye, Opal-Eye, Foil Yosei, 3 M11 Mind Controls, and Shuhei Nakamura. Okay, not all of that is true, but it was still enough for Elliott to easssssilllly top 8 again. My memory is hazy, but he might have taken a three-hour lunch break before returning and finding his deck 6-0 in games without him.

My road to the elimination rounds was a little tougher. I remember thinking my pool was miserable, so I had to be a little ambitious with my mana in order to squeeze Fumiko the Lowblood and Oyobi Who Split the Heavens into my green deck. In one game I double mulliganed into a one land hand with Oyobi and Petalmane Baku. I continued to brick while my opponent ramped up to a turn 4…. Iwamori of the Open Fist. It would be cooler if I was facing elimination and won this round, but I lost regardless. Besides this minor obstacle I climbed the standings riding the back of the low blood. Elliott and I didn’t have to play this time, so there we were, in our first shared PTQ top eight.

To say we had mastered this draft format is a bit of an understatement. I don’t want to go into rating details because this story is pushing the definition of vain, but I will mutter the word “high.” I spent most of my drafts first picking Eerie Procession and Reach Through Mists but when my brother had the chair and computer he kept us straight. I squirmed frustratedly behind him while he drafted “real” decks in front of me, but the results were there, and the both of us knew it. U/W was the deck.

In the draft we were in opposite brackets, so the dream was alive. I had drafted the format so many times that no color was out of my comfort zone, but b/g snakes wasn’t exactly my preference. Still, the deck was very good. I had Sosuke’s Summons, Seshiro the Anointed, Hideous Laughter, and all the solid creatures you could ask for, plus a few extra. My brother was exactly where we wanted to be- something like a full house of River Kaijins over Kitsune Diviners.

Our unlikely challenger was born Brian Larson, but today is the day that Brian makes his name. He is someone I have never seen before or since. No one has seen him before or since. He is type of guy who drops into a PTQ like it’s a truck stop – a wayfarer in the mold of Anton Chigurh. He was seen after the draft with his cards aligned not by converted mana cost, but in 5 equal stacks, sorted by color. He declared, “Now to pick my colors!” Brian must have been a master of Sealed deck- it was worth the handicap he started with in order to create the natural environment that would evoke his savant-like powers.

In the first round of top eight I was paired against Eric Gutierrez himself. For those of you unfamiliar with the name (all of you), I could describe his smug, grin, his meaty and darty eyes, or his plump head of hair. Or I could let a brief match recap simulate for you the experience of playing against one Eric Gutierrez in all of that moment’s glory. I was on the play with an average draw. Eric led with Plains, Plains, Plains and nothing. Still nothing. On the fourth turn he drew, smiled, and triumphantly played a Swamp. Now, with the lands he needed and now had, he summoned forth the dreaded Honden of Night’s Reach!

My brother quickly advanced to the semifinals. We played side by side as I battled our challenger. Brian had defeated Warren Woo to get to me. Warren was no relation to Elliott and me, but he shared our surname and a JSS history, so it stung to see him go down. Still, I knew Warren to be an adequate player, and I was happy to be battling someone who appeared to be in his first ever Magic: the Gathering draft tournament event. By the time I won my first game Elliott was already waiting for me in the finals. I was mentally deciding which one of us would go to the Pro Tour- I guess it would be Elliott because I had one more JSS before I was of age. Yes, Elliott can go to the Pro Tour, I will go to the JSS.

Somehow, I lost the second game. The fact that I don’t remember what happened is inconceivable to me, because I carry all of my bad beats to the grave. The way I saw it I would have had to mulligan to 3 in order to lose. That plus more must have happened in order to create a bad beat so heinous that it is repressed deep in my memory. In the third hand I began the historical punctuation of my Magic career with loose keeps and “so close”s- 5 lands, Roar of the Jukai, Hideous Laughter. When I finally drew a creature it was when I was checking what would have happened if the game had continued another five turns. I couldn’t believe it. Brian Larson – 2, Woos, 0. But still, it was okay, because I didn’t intend to play in the Pro Tour, and my brother would surely crush him.

I would add dramatic flare to the finals match if I could, but the ramifications of either player winning are enough. I don’t remember any plays of the match. I do know that if I had beaten Brian, I would have played in the finals of a PTQ with my brother. I would have scooped him into his first Pro Tour. Has any duo of brothers taken first and second at a PTQ before? Maybe, but I doubt it. It could have been history. It would have been my proudest moment. It is my greatest story that never happened. Few people even witnessed. Elliott and I were alone in the community, and Brian was alone in the community. There was no Facebook, there was no Twitter, there was no Channelfireball. Maybe four pairs of eyes saw. It was us, Brian, and one sleepy judge.

Brian was the type of guy who “didn’t know” if he was going to the Pro Tour. He probably didn’t go, but that’s okay, it’s better to play that type of thing safe. He probably didn’t realize what he had broken up in those three matches, or the title that he had claimed when he walked out that door- Brian Larson, the Chosen One, the Woo Killer.

(For those curious, the top 8 decks- http://www.wizards.com/Magic/Magazine/Events.aspx?x=mtgevent/lon05ptq/0423seattle)

JSS Baltimore #1, 2005

Me, my brother, and my dad made the trip to Baltimore in the summer of 2005 (eff you grammar). I came to play in what I thought would be my last Junior Super Series and we made a family trip out of it. My brother and his Hidetsugu’s Second Rite deck had lost in the win-and-in round of Regionals to Dave Meddish so he was there hoping to grind in. My dad was going to do some sightseeing, which meant hike around in the sweltering humidity. In Baltimore you had to use McDonald’s and Subways as waypoints to avoid heat stroke. I was familiar with heat from visits to California, but my skin was virgin to the damp suck of hot wind that is Baltimore in summer time. My world-traveling is not extensive, but I maintain that that city is the literal armpit of the world.

I was sporting the hot new White Weenie deck with Isamaru, Hound of Konda, Savannah Lions, Damping Matrix and Hokori, Dust Drinker. This was before I had Magic Workstation so my ability to fine tune decks was abysmal. I had lots of good conceptual ideas but usually didn’t have the ability to test them. My sideboarding construction usually involved me flipping through my rare binder for “hosers” and I usually came up a few cards short, allowing a few pet and gimmick cards to make it in. For this tournament that card was a foil Orb of Dreams. If that Orb of Dreams wasn’t foil it probably wouldn’t have made it. It was untested, but what if I won an epic match because I drew that one card at the perfect time? Some people devote an extra sideboard slot to beating RUG, I devote an extra sideboard slot for this.

While our dad was off sightseeing, we were busy sightseeing, which meant playing in National grinders. My brother didn’t have much luck with his red deck, but I rode my WW deck to the finals of the last grinder (during which my Jackson stuffed wallet was taken). Elliott watched over my left shoulder and Mike Thompson watched over my right shoulder for a memorable and embarrassing final game. Here I was, having flown across the country, a single game away from playing in my first nationals. On the play, I started with a Plains and f6ed through my turn, while staring at my Isamaru and Savannah Lions. I might have been a little nervous. Elliott and Mike didn’t say a word. They looked on in horror. I had to play Raise the Alarm the next turn, a bear and Ismaru the turn after, and Glorious Anthem the turn after that. My opponent, loving the extra turns with his Tooth and Nail ramp deck, played Sylvan Scrying and passed it back to me with a forest and the urzatron in play. I had the Damping Matrix to block his Oblivion Stone but nothing to stop him from playing his forest and Tooth and Nail for the game-winning Platinum Angel next turn. He would be dead this turn if I had played that guy on turn 1… And then I drew it. I drew the Orb of Dreams. It nerfed his Oblivion Stone, and kept him short of Tooth and Nail that turn. It’s not every day you qualify for Nationals with a “it would be cool if” card.

I had mixed feelings about grinding in. It was definitely cool, but I still had the JSS and my brother had come all this way and now had neither. If I could have given it to him I would’ve. From a selfish perspective, it was cool because he had time to watch my matches and root for me in the JSS later.

Seattle was a small pond and at Nationals I was still a big fish, but now in open water. I wasn’t ready for Nationals and I got chewed out quickly, but not before I got to ruin the start of someone’s day round one with a little kid bad beat. I did get a chance to play against my first Pro, Antonino De Rosa, which was cool.

The Little Kid Hustle

Imagine after a long day at Nationals you and your friends are at the tournament hall, looking for a draft. Two little kids come up to you, asking for a $20 draft. They say it’s just them, but they will go try to find a third. Do you say yes or do you feel bad and say no? They know what they’re getting into.

This plot was carefully arranged. Elliott and I had our third already – Mike Thompson, who was atop the standings after day 1. He was hidden out of sight, and when the draft began he was simply our friend “Mike” who showed up. This was Kamigawa draft still. Mike, now watching over my left shoulder, was 2-1, and Elliott, now watching over my right shoulder, was 1-2. It was game 3, and I was telegraphing Overwhelming Intellect. Overwhelming Intellect was the original Darksteel Sentinel – if you leave uu4 up for no real reason you might have well licked the card and stuck it to your forehead, Indian poker style. I’m not sure what creature my opponent ended up playing, but it probably wasn’t Draco like I remember. They treated us and we gamed the rares. Mike took the Cranial Extraction that I felt I deserved.

The Main Event

If you haven’t played a tournament with one of your parents on site you should give it a try. If you think you’re too old, you aren’t. You can’t be too old for family. There is nothing embarrassing about your dad giving you a Styrofoam container of shrimp fried rice, orange chicken, and Mongolian beef while the rest of the ravenous tournament hall looks on. There is no faster way to generate jealousy.

At 1-1, I went to judge Tony Mayer of Seattle and asked him what I would have to do to get a feature match. He told me to come see him at 7-1, so six rounds later I did, and I got my first feature match.

I’m not going to tell you the name of this opponent to protect him from embarrassment. I won’t tell you that his name is Sean Inoue. Whoops. It was the third game and I was on the play. I don’t remember the specifics of what I played but I remember the specifics of what he played.

I began to apply pressure and on his second turn he tanked with a single Forest in play. He hadn’t mulliganed… could he have kept a 1 lander? It was impossible. Sure enough, he binned a Sylvan Scrying and passed it back to me.

My eyes lit up. This game was mine and this match was mine. No one could stop me from winning this tournament. I did my thing and passed it back to him. He drew for the turn and played an Urza’s Power Plant. He played nothing and passed it back to me. Wait, how could he have played nothing there? Why did he discard the Sylvan Scrying if he had no turn two play? None of this made sense to me, but it would be too little too late for him. I bashed again and played a Damping Matrix. He drew for the turn and played an Urza’s Mine. Then he played a Viridian Shaman on my artifact. This was really annoying, as the draw bought him more time, but the game was still firmly in my control. I attacked again and he was down to one turn. He drew for the turn and played Urza’s Tower. He then played Oblivion Stone and cleared my board. That was rough, but I had kept reserves just in case, so he was still on a one turn clock after I deployed my men and passed it back to him. He drew for the turn, played a Forest, Played [card]Tooth and Nail[/card], and I lost.

To this day I can’t believe this happened. I question my memory. I question reality. The Tron in succession and then the forest? Off of a 1 land hand in a ramp deck? With no mulligan? With a discarded Sylvan Scrying? I sat with my back to the crowd of one, my brother, who tells me I’m sane and that yes, it did indeed happen. If this was Magic Online I would have told you that Sean had simply f6ed by mistake. But this was not Magic Online. Every play was under his control, and facing the crowd, he was the sole audience of his hand.

There are a couple possible solutions. The first is that he choked but got astronomically lucky. But that would be like drawing your one Illusions of Grandeur followed by your one Donate. In the top 8 of a Pro Tour. In Rise of Eldrazi draft.

There is another possible answer, and it is masterful. Beyond masterful. It was art. I purport, and imagine with me for a minute if this is possible, that by the second turn, with a Forest in play, Sean was holding Forest, Urza’s Power Plant, Urza’s Mine, Urza’s Tower, Viridian Shaman, Oblivion Ring, Tooth and Nail, and Sylvan Scrying. He tanked, because he considered making a play so dark, a play so dangerous, that it had the potential of tilting me to the core, leaving me a soulless husk of my former and potential self. Is it possible that he saw the line of play to victory, and risked it all to give me this story? It just might be.

I rattled off a couple more wins after that match, one of which was via a game 3 game loss from shuffle tutoring a Vedalken Shackles. I would have never known if I hadn’t gotten to my match early and picked the seat facing the railing so that no one could watch me. An unlikely bystander spotted the cheat and called a judge. If my opponent had the foresight to underdraw he probably could have denied it and never been caught. At the time I was young, naïve, and trusting, and I believed it was an accident. I wished him luck and moved on.

With two matches left I had a pair of win and ins. I lost a feature match playing next to Gavin Verhey first. I would go into details, but it wasn’t particularly interesting. It would just be complaining. In the last round I played against Sean Pottenger. Sean had flown from Hawaii to GP: Seattle (my first GP), not for the GP, but for the JSS Challenge the next day. His gamble paid off, and he had a potential top 8 berth to earn from it. In the final game I drew four Chrome Moxes and three Damping Matrixes. I don’t know if that’s what happened, but my memory couldn’t be clearer. I hope I shook his hand. I cried. Just a couple gentle tears of defeat dripping onto my metalcraft. This is one of two times I cried in tournaments – the other my body was wrecked with heaving sobs for the better part of an hour. That’s a story I might never tell.

I watched as some worse player 3-0ed the top eight with a worse version of my deck. This was back during times when I let losses move me (oh wait, I still do). I couldn’t touch a card for a while after this and it began a three year semi-retirement.

Accidental Mastery

I have made a lot of mistakes in my career. A lot of misplays. A lot of bad keeps. A lot of missed judgment calls. A lot of “why did you do that?s” A lot of “WHY DID I DO THAT?s” But occasionally, OCCASIONALLY, and I mean one out of a thousand, one out of a million occasionally, I will make a moronic mistake that when observed or remembered, turns out to be SHEER MASTERY. Not intended mastery, but pure luck. And not luck in the sense of the right card at the right time, but accidentally doing a play that is so next level, so beyond given, that it can turn a lost match on its head.

This is a match that has been written of before, but the pivotal play never has, and that’s because it wasn’t a play. To the casual observer, it was nothing.

In 2009 at GP Seattle I sat down against Cedric Phillips at 10-3. If I beat Cedric and my next opponent (which is an even better story, if a little too self-glorifying to publish here) I am going back to the Pro Tour.

This was my first time meeting Cedric, and he was playing a Kithkin deck. I didn’t have much time to prepare for this tournament, so this matchup was untested, and my sideboard in general was untuned. I was short a few Wraths in my sideboard for this matchup in particular – I had only 2 Wrath of Gods and 1 Hallowed Burial, and it would be tough to win without drawing one in both game 2 and game 3. In the first round of today (the second day) I figured out how I could do it when I played against Kithkin for the first time. In the third game my opponent played around Wrath by spending his first three turns leveling his Figure of Destiny. This stole enough tempo from him to let me win by casting the Grixis Charm I had sided in.

The first game against Cedric went about how I would expect. He had a very fast draw and the only spell I was able to play before I die is a Rain of Tears. I remember tanking for a long time before playing the Rain of Tears, because if I cast it I might give up that I am playing land destruction. If I don’t, Cedric will see my lands and assume I am playing the Seismic Swans deck that ran through the Euro GP the weekend before. I ended up deciding there is a *chance* of me winning so I played the Rain of Tears only to concede one turn later. I boarded in my 2 Wraths and 1 Hallowed Burial, but not my Grixis Charms because I think it’s important that I always hit land destruction when on the play in this matchup.

The second game took me hours to recollect in exact detail, but here it is-
Me- Vivid land.

Ced- Goldmeadow Stalwart.
Me- Cipt land # 2.

Ced- Figure of Destiny, Pithing Needle on Seismic Assault.

Me (18)- land, Rain of Tears

Ced- Wizened Cenn, attack

Me (13)- Land #4, nothing, go. At this point I was holding 3 Incendiary Commands so I was hoping to take control of the game next turn.

Ced- Wizened Cenn, level Figure of Destiny, attack

Me (2)- Since Cedric had 2 Wizened Cenns, my Incendiary Commands were now blank.

My Pro Tour fate now hung in the balance of one draw step. I reach deep into the bag, hoping to pull out a hare or a sword or a phoenix but found myself staring at the one Hallowed Burial! I went to 1 life from my singleton Adarkar Wastes and wrenched the game from his hands. I spent the rest of the game playing Incendiary Commands, but before it ended I drew one of the two Wrath of Gods. When he went to concede I had the courtesy to hand him my graveyard to look at. I don’t know why exactly I did this. Short answer is that I’m a fish, but the real answer is the cemented muscle memory of handing people cascaded cards to peruse all weekend long; it just felt natural. When I handed him my graveyard I accidentally handed him my hand too in one big stack. Woopsie, awkward, that didn’t happen, let’s go to the next game.

So in the third game I sideboard in the Grixis Charms. Cedric drew a Figure and chose to play around my Wraths, and I was able to win because of the tempo gained from Grixis Charm. I didn’t draw a Wrath this game, and if Cedric had played out all of his guys as fast as he could I would have lost.

Did you catch it? The first thing I want to point out is the Pithing Needle. If that mana was spent pumping his Figure of Destiny I was never even reaching into the bag. I was dead. That is the advantage of looking like a fish and playing a homebrew.

But the real highlight of the story, the real accidental mastery, is what happened when I handed him my graveyard. Cedric beats Hallowed Burial. It is too slow even when I’m on THE PLAY, now that he knows not to waste time with Pithing Needle. BUT, something happened. I handed Cedric that stack of cards, and he fingered through it for a moment and STOPPED dead on the Wrath of God. He looked at it and furrowed his brow. Meanwhile I was trying to act like nothing has happened. He thinks, and handed the stack back to me. How many Wraths am I playing? And 4 mana Wraths? How could he know I only have 3, with only 2 costing 4 mana. He couldn’t. To him I might have had 5. I might have had 6. And he played accordingly. Cedric took advantage of an information give-away and played as only a master would. Unfortunately for Cedric, he was the victim of accidental mastery.

I love the Boogeyman
This story is inspired by the Great Designer Search 2. It seems to me that R&D lost some of its reckless confidence and is scared of making a mistake. They don’t want to mess around and have to ban cards. They don’t want to make cards over powered. They don’t want decks warping a metagame. They don’t want to make another Affinity, or to make another Dredge. Maybe they should.

In the early spring of 2008 I came off my 3 year semi- retirement. I don’t think I had played in a PTQ since 2006 but in between that time I habitually checked who was doing well and what was doing well. Sometime during this stretch Dredge happened. This was a deck that was just absolutely ridiculous- it could kill on the second turn, and it could do this without ever playing a creature. People were using 10 of their 15 sideboard cards against Dredge and they were still losing.

In March I played in my first PTQ again. It was Extended and I brought Goblins. I actually spent a lot of time testing, using Magic Workstation, and I had played a lot of Goblins in the past so I was confident in the possibility of actually winning this tournament. At this point I knew what Dredge was, but I had never played it, never played against it, and never seen it played. I had a concept of how it worked in my mind, but that was all. Dredge was the boogeyman, but I wasn’t scared. Maybe I just didn’t know better, but I had nothing in my sideboard for it. I had 3 Earwig Squads that I could bring in, but that wasn’t much.

At 4-1 or 3-1, needing to win this round and the next to advance to single-elim, I was paired against Dredge. In the first game he killed me on the second turn. Like holy-s***-what-the hell-is-going-on. In the second game I hit him with a turn 2 Earwig Squad, and was able to kill him before he got back on his feet. The third game started with plenty of time on the clock. That’s how it always goes, for those epic game threes.

I don’t remember how many times my opponent mulliganed, or if he did at all, but before he finally kept, he tanked. He knows his tournament is on the line. I can only imagine what he was thinking about as I looked through my seven and wondered if they’re good enough. No Earwig Squads but I had some solid goblins and a Mogg Fanatic. He led with a Putrid Imp or Careful Study – no way to be sure. I started with my goblins plan, and hope, just hope, that I could find a way to win. He went to his upkeep, dredges, and passes. It turns out he’s SLOW dredging! I have a chance!

The next million turns were about board control. I was using every Goblin Ringleader and Goblin Matron I had to find Fanatics to remove his Bridges and his [card]Narcomoeba[/card]s to keep him off three creatures to Dread Return Akroma. Ichorids were going at my life total and I was having to trade for zombies here and there. Each turn we jockeyed for position. Keep in mind I had never seen Dredge play before. I didn’t know games like this were even possible.

Every turn he flipped another small chunk of cards into his graveyard. At times I thought I was going to win and at times I thought he was going to win. In retrospect, maybe I understand the “problem” with dredge. A slow Dredge game plan is about equal to a regular Goblins draw! How unfair is that?

The game was real late and the clock was running low. Worst, I could feel the game slipping from me. I could see it. I’ve done what I could, and he was low, but he was about to get his third creature for Akroma and take over the game. I tried my hardest to manage his creatures and resources, but here I was, losing a forty minute game to slow dredge. I passed the turn to him, refusing to resign defeat, but just hoping it will be painless if it happens. He went to his upkeep and called a judge over. They conversed. Just great, I had even more time to think about how I was going to lose. He came back to the table and he told me I’ve won.


Apparently he had no cards left in his deck, and couldn’t dredge. I didn’t realize this was a rule. I thought that he could just keep going and going.

I went on to win this tournament, but for some reason, of all the memories that could have stuck with me, this was the one. It might be my favorite game of all time. I faced the boogeyman, saw what it could do, saw what it couldn’t do, and came out on top. I, David, had fought Goliath to the death with no sling shot, just my bare hands.

This match was solely responsible for the deck I played in Pro Tour Austin, a year and a half later. I played Dredge, but with a 15 card transformational sideboard. All I wanted to do was grind people out. I wanted 40 minute sideboard games. I wanted games to feel epic. I wanted to give to my opponents what my opponent had given to me. And that’s what I got. I didn’t win many more matches than I lost with that Dredge deck, but Austin is my favorite tournament ever. Maybe I will write about it one day.

The point is, people complain about Faeries, people complain about Jund, people complain about Dredge, not because it’s bad for everyone, but because soooo many people love them. Why do you think so many people played Faeries? Because they loved it! People love to do unfair things- they love to hit the jackpot. They just hate when it happens against them.

Yeah, I’ve been turn 2ed by Dark Depths. No, I’ve never played Dark Depths. Yes, I still miss that deck. That deck was awesome! It was so cool! I love and respect R& D but extended used to feel more epic to me. I would move to Legacy, but I crave a rotating format. I need a big, broken, rotating format that is supported. Take chances, get a card banned. Would Harry Potter have been a better book without Voldemort? Give me a Skullclamp to play against and I’ll try my hardest to grind it out with a Culling Scales!

The last time I wrote I talked about how I played 40 hours a week for a summer when I was a kid. A forum response – “Did you ever exercise as a 13/14 year old? How did you not get horrendously fat/ why would your parents allow you to spend that much on MTGO?“ This wasn’t a forum troll, but potentially a deeper indicator of lack of self-respect and pride in the community. Do you think people ranted at Tiger Woods’s parents – “How do you let your son play that much golf?? He should be focusing on school! That’s unhealthy! He’s playing too much!” Maybe, they did. Look who’s laughing now.

Do you think golf is more worthy than MTG? I don’t think so. As long as people are dedicating their lives to something, trying to be the best at it, how can you question it? How can you call it unhealthy? How can you call their pursuit less worthy than some other arbitrary pursuit like baseball? My parents didn’t let me play 40 hours of Magic a week out of neglect, but out of love. They saw their sons doing something that they LOVED and they were as supportive as possible (Thanks mom, thanks dad!). Was the time I spent productive? Absolutely. Look at all the people I have met, look at all the places I have been, look at all the memories I have, and yes, look at all the CAREERS that have opened to me. Have PRIDE in what you do. Magic is AWESOME and it’s an awesome thing to do with your free time. There is no reason to be ashamed. It is something that should be lorded over.

This article has a couple inspirations. The first are a couple writers, and if you aren’t familiar with them, you need to do some detective work. Now. For love of them, for love of me, for love of my readers, for love of the Magic community, for love of the game, I was inspired to *try* to write a masterpiece. If the hands of time never turned this article would be a hundred thousand words. Every game I’ve played, every tournament I’ve ever entered, I have a story that is worth telling. I’d say that this Magic brush has painted my life but maybe these stories are larger than life- for every year that passes Paul Bunyan grows another foot.

Another inspiration is not a Magic player at all, but a Starcraft player. I am not a Starcraft player. That doesn’t matter. Here is the video:


The video is almost two hours. You don’t have to watch the whole thing. Just open the video as a tab, and when you have a little free time watch the first ten minutes. I would be lucky to ever emulate something this incredible.

The last thing I want to include is an interview I did today with a friend. The friend, Paul, is not a Magic player, but he wanted to do an ethnograph of the Magic community for class (or something like that). I saw an opportunity to be an ambassador from this great community, so I did my best.

<3, Travis

Paul: What is Magic: The Gathering?

Travis: MTG is a strategy card game. What makes it unique from traditional strategy games (this includes sports) is your control over your own cards, or pieces. There are thousands of cards and the choice is yours. You don’t have to play with a rook or a quarterback if you don’t want to.

Paul: When did you start playing?

Travis: When I was five my dad bought me some boosters for Christmas. I’ve played off and on since then but there have been other milestones. I started playing in tournaments in the seventh grade, flew to my first event when I was 14, and played my first professional event at 18.

Paul: Describe the average competitive Magic player.

Travis: Describing the average Magic player is as tough as describing the average soccer player or average basketball player. There are half as many mtg players as WOW players. This is a lot, and the only thing that truly ties them together is their hobby. With that said, there are some trends. The majority of players are male, for obvious reasons. Also, Magic is a very expensive game, so it appeals to a grown crowd. I have been playing for a long time, and at twenty I am still definitively a “young” player.

Paul: What is a draft?

Travis: Wizards (the company behind Magic and its competitive play structure) sponsors a variety of uses of their cards. One of these is draft. Eight players sit around a table, and each opens a sealed booster pack of fifteen cards. Each player selects one that they want secretly and passes to the left. They repeat through three boosters of fifteen until they have 45 cards and make a deck from there. Then they play matches.

Paul: How important is deck construction?

Travis: Consider a rock paper scissors tournament in which you can throw only the same move over and over again. If you know for some reason that most players are going to throw rock, you will have a huge advantage if you take paper to battle. Construction is also important because familiarity of matchups results in fewer mistakes. You might be tempted to run a zone defense because you know your opponent has never practiced against zone, even if zone is worse in the abstract.

However, results from tournaments go up on the internet immediately, so your hard work is good for only one tournament before those without the time, skills, or drive can copy your deck. This results in a lot of players not making their own decks, but with the disadvantage of being one tournament behind. Maybe you practiced paper for your tournament, and players are going to copy paper for the next tournament- players might shift to scissors at which point you might shift to either scissors or rock. This is the metagame and it is half the fun.

Paul: You are also a basketball player. How would you say Magic compares to your sports experience?

Travis: This is a very good question and something that is hard for me to answer. I could probably write a book on this but I’ll do what I can in a couple paragraphs. Both have been instrumental in shaping me, and for largely the same reasons.
A short list of things I’ve learned-

• Hard work pays off.

• Being a champion is not about making the last shot or the game-winning play, it’s about forgetting the turnover you made last time down the court or forgetting the play mistake you just made.

• “Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” This is called the serenity prayer. At times in basketball or Magic an entire game or match or series will boil down to one moment. You will take that 50% shot. The ball leaves your hands. You go to draw your last card and there is a 50% chance that you get the card you need. You controlled what you could and now matters are out of your hands. Don’t pray, don’t complain, don’t dwell on it. Whatever happens happens. All that’s important is that you got back on defense and tried your hardest. Don’t bitch about drawing the wrong cards and don’t bitch about the refs. It’s just a waste of time.

• Be realistic with myself. Just because I lost doesn’t mean I didn’t play well and just because I won doesn’t mean I did play well.

• Use both victory and defeat as a source of learning.

Beyond that, both are similar in creating communities. Basketball is special because I will never play at the highest level, Magic is special because I have. You’d think I like Magic more, but when presented with the option I will always take basketball. This probably has everything to do with endorphins.

Paul: Why do you play Magic?

Travis: I love to compete and I’m good at it. Those are the simple answers, but the one thing that Magic gives me that nothing else ever has is the creative outlet of deck construction. It is beyond writing a song or painting a picture. It is art and it is science, and creating a deck that other people play and love and are thankful for is better than winning.

Paul: What kind of impact do you think Magic has had on your life?

Travis: I can’t say for sure, but if I never played competitive mtg I might still be complaining about things I don’t have any control over. With no experience to draw from, I might not have the confidence that I CAN be the best. I don’t know anything for sure, but if I go back and had to decide I wouldn’t take a chance.

Paul: Is there a sense of community among those who play Magic?

Travis: Casual players follow professionals through extensive online coverage, and professional players reach out to everyone through weekly columns. Everyone is connected through facebook. Really the community is as strong as you want to be involved. Everyone makes friends, everyone has a home-town hero, some get to feel like celebrities, and some get to say their friend is a celebrity. The community is visible and connected from the top to the bottom. This is something that basketball doesn’t have- basketball community tends to be more horizontal.


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