Last week I went to Boston and I played in the StarCityGames.com Open. Now I very specifically worded that because I didn't go to Boston in order to play in the StarCityGames.com Open there but rather I went to Boston and happened to play in the Open while I was there. Granted I scheduled my trip to coincide with the weekend of the event but that was mostly so I could write my flight off on my taxes at the end of the year.
I grew up in New England and my family and many of my friends still live there. I don't make it out that way particularly often thanks to living across the country and spending so much time on the road already so I'd been looking for a good excuse to go visit. The Open was about as good of one as I could hope for.
My plan was to fly in on the Sunday night prior to the event and spend the week visiting with my family and catching up with old friends before playing in the Open over the weekend then flying back on Monday. I could alternately crash at my dad's place in North Andover or with my brother in South Boston the latter of which I figured would be most convenient for the actual tournament.
Little did I know that the “Boston” part of the “Boston Open” title really meant “Boxborough” which is not only well over half an hour from Boston but completely inaccessible by public transportation. Scratch that plan. Thankfully I was planning on renting a car for the week anyway so the tournament location wasn't a major issue for me but it was still somewhat annoying. A tournament that is advertised as being in a city should really be in that city or at least easily accessed by public transit or some kind of shuttle.
Now this isn't a crack on StarCityGames.com in particular whose events are always well run and very organized but more of a general complaint about tournament venues and advertising. Obviously it's expensive (and sometimes prohibitively so) to run events in major cities and I understand if organizers choose somewhat remote sites to cut down on their costs but I think it's important to ensure that players traveling to the event don't have to deal with massive costs of their own. The worst culprit of this that I can remember was Grand Prix Tampa a couple years back which was actually something like an hour from Tampa in Bradenton. If you actually flew into the Tampa airport and took a cab you were looking at something like a hundred-dollar fare! Tampa wasn't even the closest airport to the site—you'd be better off flying in to Sarasota. While “Grand Prix Sarasota” might not have quite the same ring to it it's at least truth in advertising to your players and you won't end up with people like me who are still bitter about it years later.
Anyway I took the red eye from San Diego to Boston on Sunday night prior to the Open arriving bright and early Monday morning before driving to my dad's house and promptly passing out.
As an aside I pity anyone who drives in Massachusetts. While I may have grown up in New England I pretty much didn't drive until I moved out to California. In California everything was built around the highway system so everything makes sense. (This also resulted in the creation of the entire fast-food industry—you're welcome world.) If you want to go from one town to another you get on a highway at one exit and get off at another. Massachusetts however is still pretty much organized how it was in colonial times which means the fastest way to get from one place to another is going down an absurd series of back roads. I have no idea what I would have done without the GPS on my iPhone I can say that much for sure. I was a bit leery when it sent me down a dark creepy-looking road called “Elm Street” one time in the middle of the night but thankfully there were no nightmares to be had.
I spent much of my week exploring my old stomping grounds. On Tuesday I went up to the town where I grew up—Hampstead New Hampshire. If you've never heard of it you're in good company because it's a small town with a population of around 8000 at last count. The last time I'd been there must have been fifteen years ago.
Being back there was kind of surreal. I drove down Main Street and marveled at how many things looked exactly the same. The houses where my friends had grown up the fields where I used to play baseball (badly) the local stores the schools—they all looked just like I remembered them with barely a hint of difference.
I swung by my old middle school after classes were out that afternoon and found one of my old teachers who had been (and still was) in charge of the gifted and talented program. After she got over the shock of seeing me and reconciled the person in front of her with the chubby little kid she remembered from so many years ago we talked about what I was doing these days and I explained the whole thing—how I made and played games for a living out in California.
She asked me to come back and speak to her students later that week both as an example of someone who came from their school and went on to do cool things and to show them that the kind of creative problem solving skills she was trying to teach them in class had applications out in the real world. I of course happily accepted. Who am I to turn down an opportunity to talk about how awesome I am and hopefully inspire some kids in the process?
I distinctly remember daydreaming in music class one day many years ago back when I went to that school thinking about how when I grew up I was going to have a company with my best friends and we were all going to make games. I may not work with the friends I thought I would but other than that things pretty much worked out exactly as planned.
Next stop on my trip down memory lane was my old high school. I went to boarding school—Phillips Academy in Andover Massachusetts. I drove up there on Wednesday afternoon and I'd only been on campus a matter of minutes before I ran into an old instructor of mine Billy Murray. Billy ran the costume shop for the school theatre and was the house counselor of my dorm my junior and senior years which basically meant that he was in charge of keeping us in line.
Speaking of getting out of line—Billy also had the honor of being my probation counselor. I got into a wee bit of trouble during my time at Andover and I received the harshest punishment the administration hands out short of expulsion. What was my dastardly deed? Alcohol? Drugs? Late-night visits from the opposite sex?
Not even close. I went to a Magic tournament.
During my sophomore year I qualified for the junior division of PT Dallas. The tournament was the weekend before Thanksgiving which was a “closed weekend” for the school meaning that students aren't allowed to leave campus. Basically the administration didn't want students taking off early for the holiday. I approached the dean of my cluster (the name for a group of dorms lumped together for administrative purposes) and explained the situation to her. She told me that if I could get permission from all of my teachers they'd make an exception and I could go.
I went from teacher to teacher pleading my case. This was a big opportunity to compete at something that I'd put a lot of work into I told them and if I did well I could win scholarship money! They all agreed and some of them were even excited by the idea and wanted to know if they could follow my progress online. Once I got permission from the last teacher I went and booked my trip so prices wouldn't go up and then went back to talk to the dean the following week where I got the bad news.
It turns out that she actually couldn't give me permission to go because of the special circumstances of the weekend. I had to go talk to another dean—the dean of studies—because of who-knows-what bureaucratic nonsense. I prepared a bunch of Magic paraphernalia including printouts of the scholarship prize money and an old picture from the Scrye coverage of Pro Tour 1 that happened to have me in it.
The answer was no and it had been no before I even walked into the room. The academy did not permit absences for extracurricular activities on closed weekends. I tried to argue about how important it was to me how my parents supported me in going and drew parallels to things he might better understand. Would I be allowed to go if it were a chess tournament? A sporting event? A theatre festival? But it was clear his mind was made up. The answer was no.
I got back to my dorm and called my mom and explained everything. She asked completely calmly “Well what happens if you go anyway?”
So I went anyway. The administration wasn't very happy with that. I had to face a disciplinary committee when I returned who also weren't happy when I told them that I felt what I did was completely justified and that I'd do the same thing again. I had to spend the entire spring semester of my sophomore year within campus limits. If I got into any kind of trouble for the rest of my time at Andover I would be expelled. And I had to meet with a probation counselor once a week to discuss my “progress.”
So yeah. Billy Murray. I ran into him right outside the entrance to the theatre and he told me that to this day he remembers my case as proof that the administration sometimes has no idea what they're doing. They came this close to kicking me out of school for doing exactly what it is that I do for a living today.
I went from Andover to Watertown MA where my brother had set up a game night at his office. A bunch of his coworkers play Magic and love Ascension and wanted to meet me while I was in town. The game night plans were scrapped when we found out that there was a trivia contest that paid out a hundred bucks a head to the winning team—love of competition runs in the family I'm afraid. I showed off some printouts from the new Ascension set and answered questions about Magic while we rang up a commanding lead during the preliminary rounds but we fell short on the final questions and left with nothing but free food and beer to show for our troubles. That was the perfect lead-in to our plans for later in the evening which involved karaoke at a bar called Shenanigans in Southie. I rescued a group of girls who were mangling "Ice Ice Baby" which is truly my magnum opus. I'm not sure there's anything I'm better at in life than Vanilla Ice karaoke—if there's a Hall of Fame for that I feel like I'm a shoe-in.
Eventually I'm going to play some Magic right? Well maybe. I woke up on Friday to a parking ticket since it's pretty much impossible to park in Southie and made my way up to New Hampshire to give my talk at my old school and then visit an old friend. The kids seemed at least somewhat receptive to what I had to say but got most excited when I passed around a bunch of Redakai cards for them to look at and asked where they could buy them. (Redakai by the way is a new TCG that's coming out in June from Spinmaster that I helped design.) I hadn't really planned for it to be a marketing visit but I suppose that's exactly the kind of reaction we're looking for. The most amusing moment of the talk came toward the end when I was explaining that I'd studied philosophy and religion in college with a concentration in Buddhism and one of the kids raised her hand and asked completely seriously “So what is Nirvana?” Sorry but that might just be a little bit out of the scope of what I came to talk about.
So yeah Magic. No wait not yet. I went out that night with an old friend from school and at her suggestion we drove down to Newburyport to go to this Mexican restaurant. We got stuck in traffic for nearly two hours on the way there but at least the food was excellent—as were the margaritas. The latter proved to be something of a problem though since my friend had somewhat overestimated her tolerance and had a bit too much to drink so when 1 am rolled around and I was hoping to get on the road back home she still wasn't quite feeling up to driving herself home. We went and sat in my car so she could lie down and sober up—which turned into her falling asleep until 2:30. The nap did her good though and she was finally comfortable enough to drive so I saw her off and went on my way myself so I could finally get to sleep.
Not yet though. On my way home through the windy dark roads of Massachusetts (the aforementioned Elm Street in fact) I was checking my phone in my lap to make sure I was going the right way and apparently my driving was sufficiently erratic to attract the attention of a police officer driving behind me. He pulled me over and went through the procedure—asked me if I'd been drinking etc. and I told him that I'd had a few drinks several hours back so he had me get out of the car to do a roadside sobriety test. After standing on one leg walking a straight line following his finger with my eyes and blowing into a breathalyzer the officer finally decided to let me go seeing as I was dramatically under the legal limit and told me to try to drive a bit more carefully on the way home.
So around 3:30 in the morning I finally pulled into the driveway at my dad's house in North Andover and fell over into bed. It seemed like mere minutes later when my alarm went off to get me on the road to Boxborough to game. Snore.
Unsurprisingly I played Infect in Standard and if you're looking for my thoughts on the deck check out my videos this week. I lost in the first round to Valakut dropping game one when I should have won—but was too tired to actually think through all of my options—and then losing game two to running Inferno Titans when I had a Vatmother beating down against just Oracle of Mul Daya and nothing in hand. I then beat Vampires and three straight Caw-Blade decks before running into U/B Control which I think is the one matchup that is legitimately really bad for Infect. I couldn't overcome Grave Titan and friends and decided to drop and head into Boston to meet up with an ex-girlfriend from high school rather than battle it out for fifty bucks.
I met up with her at a bar in Cambridge called Green Street which I'd recommend to anyone who likes good cocktails—they have a huge menu and everything I've tried was delicious. We hung out there for a few hours talking about this and that—just catching up on life in general. I nearly lost it when she told me that she was dating a guy named Gideon. I mean seriously—what can't that guy do? When she decided to head to bed I walked her to the subway and went to meet up with another friend of mine who just happened to be hanging out at a bar down the street. I soaked in the glory of a goth-industrial-fetish 80's night before deciding I should probably try to get at least a few hours of sleep—and headed back home to rest up for Legacy.
Legacy didn't go so well. I smashed an Affinity round one and won a great match against Ben Hayes playing U/B Control in round two before playing terribly and losing to Zoo in round three and getting crushed by Natural Order/Progenitus in round four. Thankfully I'd lost just in time for the Draft Open in which I managed to snag a first-round bye in my seven-man pod and then promptly lost in the next round. So it goes.
Sometimes Magic takes me to fantastic places like Rome or Paris which I might never otherwise have seen and sometimes it brings me back to places I never realized I missed. Sometimes Magic gives me opportunities I've always dreamed about like making games for a living with my friends that I might never otherwise have had and sometimes it brings me to do things that I never thought I might like nearly getting kicked out of school. Sometimes Magic introduces me to people who I might never otherwise have met and sometimes it brings me back together with people who I've known almost all of my life.
And for all those reasons I love it and I always will. Even when I barely win a match all weekend.
Until next time