Why We Play

Well, we had an eventful weekend in the Magic community, didn’t we? The Pro Tour has always been one of my favorite events, and ever since I started playing competitively I dreamed of battling against the best on Magic’s biggest stage. I even managed to get there myself a few times and was unceremoniously crushed each go, both in the matches themselves and on an emotional level as well.

We always try, both in Magic and in life, to line our expectations up with our reality. To realize our dreams, if you will. I’ve long stopped putting the weight of the world on my shoulders when I enter a Magic tournament. I know I can play the game well. I know I can improve too. But there’s still times when I let a close game slip away or when I’ve grossly misjudged the metagame that I wonder if maybe I’m just not smart enough or just too impulsive or a litany of other self critical thoughts. It’s a tough place to let your mind go when you’re reconciling who you want to be with who you know you are. Pretty heavy stuff for a card game.

But we pay the costs each weekend. Where else could you be instead of at an Open or a GP? What friends and family members are you sacrificing time with to sling spells and clock miles on highways and airplanes and nights in hotels and on friend’s couches? I try to explain my life to my friends and acquaintances at the softball field or the gym and they look at me wide-eyed like “I didn’t even know that was a thing people could do.” It really does feel like an alternate reality sometimes. This weekend I saw some friends transcend the grind and I want to tell their stories from my eyes.

I’m a sucker for sports nostalgia. I’ve loved sports basically my entire life and when I have the desire to feel a little rush of emotion I’m quick to watch some tense baseball moments or, as a glutton for heartbreak, 2nd and goal from the 1 yard line in super bowl 49. I’m a Boston Red Sox fan and I’ve watched the final out of the 2004 World Series countless times. I was 15 in October 2003 and I stayed up watching the final game of the ALCS as late as I could before I finally headed to bed with school looming a few hours away. When I woke up Aaron Boone had broken my heart before I really knew what those words meant. When I watched a curse reversed a year later it was one of the few things I remember clear as day even 13 years after the fact.

The intensity of playoff sporting events is really a harnessed lightning if you’ll pardon the pun. It’s capturing the intense emotion of competition and funneling it through a TV set, a radio speaker, or, if you’re lucky, your own eyes, right to your heart. We all understand competition. Even those of us who aren’t sports fans understand fighting for a promotion at work or the stare down of an intense poker game or maybe even the battle for a special person’s affection that feels so visceral and so pure when you’re young and full of emotion. I promise this is going somewhere. Just hang on a bit, it’s a long ride.

One of our stories starts on a NYC street on the lower west side about 11 years ago. I was in college in the NYC suburbs in a unique place called Westchester county. My alma mater, Pace University, was just a 40 minute drive from downtown Manhattan. Being so close to the cathedral of East Coast Magic, Neutral Ground, caused me to make the drive down to their midnight prereleases pretty regularly. I had been playing PTQs on and off for a few years now and knew the place well enough but I didn’t really know anyone there personally. One failed Ravnica block sealed PTQ led to me watching the top 8 with weary eyes, crashing from a caffeine binge that holds wonderfully few repercussions in your late teens. One kid in particular drew my attention. About my age, a stocky Hispanic kid with beat up sleeves and confident mannerisms. I had watched him lock up top 8 earlier and I watched the guys draft with such intensity and poise and wished to be good enough to sit there with them some day.

I don’t think that kid won the PTQ–I think Steve Sadin did, but I don’t know for sure. But the kid was memorable. He played his cards with both confidence and passion and didn’t look as nervous as I would’ve. I remembered this dude. A few months later I was leaving Neutral Ground in the breaking dawn, exhausted from a midnight prerelease and too many Red Bulls. I saw the same kid walking down the street, presumably heading to battle in the morning flights. He looked pretty intense for this early in the morning and I met his eyes and gave a bit of a half nod which he returned.

Years later I would know this kid to be Christian Calcano, a northeast PTQ warrior who finally made it and has been on the train for years. Calcano has even won 2 Grand Prix during his tenure as a Magic pro (notably with 3 sulfur falls in his deck). He probably doesn’t remember when we passed on the street in NYC all those years ago but we’ve become friends since and when I watched his tearful top 8 interview this past weekend I saw that kid at the PTQs again. I saw the love for and dedication to the game finally being validated in the best possible way. I remember being invited to team draft after hours at Neutral Ground with some of the best local players, Calcano amongst them. When we played and I managed to tag his big creature with a Draining Whelk for the win I walked to my car on cloud nine.

I was gleeful that I got over on one of the best around and these small victories fueled my own Magic storyline in a way. The fact that even the better players around could be beat gave me the hope I needed to keep playing even though I wasn’t very good (I’m still not very good 🙁 ). I was so happy for Calc that I furiously clicked on the clip of his interview with a ferocity that glitched my phone out. I closed out the Facebook link and I’m staring at my home screen and somehow, Calcano’s voice is coming out of nothing and I’m hearing him choke back tears under the weight of his biggest Magic triumph on repeat over and over again. It stopped after a minute or so but it was a really weird poignant moment that made me pause and reflect on how happy I was for my friend and fellow former PTQ grinder. Despite his success I still have his number in sanctioned Magic.

That’s the thing when you’re famous though, you don’t remember every battle you had against some plebeian like The Daddy. I remember though; I remember beating him in top 8 of the old Time Walk Tournament at Neutral Ground or in their Thursday night drafts where the winner got 50 dollars. Moments like this weekend are why I play Magic when there’s better money in other games and way better money in real jobs or whatever it is normal people do.

I’ve got one more story for you today and it’s about this article as much as it’s about one of my favorite players and how he also realized a dream this weekend. As much as I remember Christian Calcano from the days when I first started playing tournaments I remember Gerry Thompson from when I started grinding in earnest. When I watched Calc wreck people in church basements and legion halls, the Pro Tour was a distant dream for me. I wanted to succeed but I didn’t even really understand what that entailed yet.

Years later I was finally hitting my stride and had experienced the frustration of a few PTQ finals losses. I was hungry and I wanted the Pro Tour. I also wanted the popularity that came with success and the opportunity to share my ideas like the best players did in weekly articles. One of my favorite writers was Gerry Thompson. He was able to convey meaningful information and still keep the articles full of interesting stories from his travels playing Magic. I started to look up to Gerry as one of the players I wanted to emulate.

More than that, I wanted to write because of the way he did it. I wanted to give people my thoughts and insight, but I also wanted to give them a window into the way life works for Magic players. As I continued to play and even reached the Pro Tour (got crushed), I would see Gerry at events and would always attempt to pick his brain whenever he wasn’t surrounded by people (and even sometimes when he was).

Without realizing it he became a sort of a harsh mentor to me, shooting down the nonsense ideas I threw at him and also when I shut up long enough to hear it, giving me some solid advice that helped me grow as a player. After Mantis Rider carried me to a trophy in 2014, Gerry reached out to me and told me that I should think on my opponent’s turns so I don’t give away so much information. That was something I really didn’t lend too much thought to until then. Last year when he started up The GAM Podcast with Michael Majors and Andrew Brown I saw him at an event and prodded him with a question: “If I actually win something, can I be your first guest?” He said sure, naturally assuming I was relatively unlikely to win and thus being free of the burden of a Wild Daddy running rampant on his podcast.

In true Daddy fashion I missed a flight to a Modern Open in Dallas and was rebooked direct for free. I arrived late enough that my MetagameGurus teammates couldn’t stop me from registering my pet deck, Grixis Delver. Less than two days later I was flying back to New York with my second trophy and a day later I was recording my episode of The GAM. Pretty funny how things work out. As much as Calcano’s competitive spirit inspired me to keep battling through mediocre results, Gerry’s insight and his unique talent for writing helped shape me into the Magic personality that I am today. I’m lucky to be able to share my ideas to people who can enjoy them and hopefully be inspired or forced to think the same I was when I read Gerry’s articles.

After I heard he won the Pro Tour (was of course playing a stupid PPTQ instead of watching) I had a few thoughts.

  1. It’s about time, dude is good.
  2. He just told me in Richmond that I should take the Censor and Glimmers out of my Marvel deck and then beat Yuuya who had all those cards. What a master!
  3. Will a Nashville supermarket run out of frozen pizzas tonight?
  4. That’s Gaaaaammmeeeee!

I’ve had a lot of positive feedback regarding my articles lately. So thanks to all of you who are reading and discussing, I really appreciate it. I wasn’t sure anyone would read my stuff aside from Grixis fanatics, my editor (hi!) [Hello! -Ed.], and my brother. Evidently there’s a few more of you out there now and that makes me happy.

Next week, I’ll have some results from my poorly planned trip to GP Montreal where I will undoubtedly spend way too much money calling my girlfriend on the phone and receive sideways glances from Canadians for my overtly patriotic clothing.

Maybe I’ll win some matches with Ulamog while I’m at it. May the Marvel odds be ever in your favor. Thanks for reading!

Kevin Jones
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Kevin Jones

Kevin has been playing Magic on and off since Urza's Saga. A fixture on the SCG Tour, he has played in all 3 Player's Championships, has amassed 9 SCG Open top 8s with 2 wins, appeared in 2 Pro Tours and is the 2014 Eternal Weekend Legacy Champion. Also, he's The Daddy. You can find him on Facebook, Twitter, or playing a mediocre blue deck at a Magic tournament near you!
Kevin Jones
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Published:May 18, 2017

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