For most couples, the last anniversary they can reasonably expect to live to see is their 50th anniversary. The golden anniversary. I am proud to say that my grandparents, Ed and Angie Prosak, celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary . . . over eighteen years ago.*
I also happened to learn how to play Magic: The Gathering that weekend. Growing up, my immediate family and I would often go on road trips to visit the rest of our family and spend a weekend doing so. On this weekend, I spent most of the time with my cousins Ben and Stephen, and they wanted to take a break from our endless grinding of Tecmo Super Bowl to play this new game they found.
No prizes for guessing which game they found.
A Plane Of Our Own
As you may know, the Magic: The Gathering of 1995 that I enjoyed is a little bit different from the game we know and love today. First off, the Internet wasn't really a thing yet. Second, I didn't have a widespread group of people to play with. Basically, only my brother and cousins played, although after a while I found out that a few of my friends at school also learned to play. I don't think I played against more than ten different people for the first three or four years that I played Magic. To us, it was like another video game—something to do if it was too cold or rainy to go outside and play sports. And something else to get addicted to.
The game was also played quite differently. Let's face it; the Magic rulebook has never been a thing of beauty. The game is simply too complicated to cleanly explain how to play. Therefore, my cousin took the liberty of explaining how the game worked. Ideally, you get five players, one for each color. Each of them gets a deck of that color (we just ignored all the multicolored cards) and tries to kill the players of the opposing color. Red and blue try to kill each other, black tries to kill white and green, and so on around the color pie. Allied and enemy colors are in the rulebook! Of course Stephen, who taught us all the game, took all the good green cards (Shambling Strider OP—we never used the ability!) and even the good artifacts like Colossus of Sardia.
Because we couldn't always play the awesome five-player games with my cousins, my brother and I decided to get some cards and play duels. By this time, we had figured out that you could play multiple colors together. After a few trips to the flea market,** we had multiples of some of the cards but still had no idea what was rare and what wasn't. We had some awesome decks and some awesome rules.
Anaba Shaman was easily the best card we had. It was better than Zuran Spellcaster because Anaba Shaman could kill the Spellcaster but not vice versa. We didn't have enough removal spells of course. My Noritt deck was a thing of beauty, and I was so happy whenever I drew my Merieke Ri Berit. I also loved my Teferi's Curse deck. I thought that card was incredibly powerful—I would simply enchant all of my brother's creatures with Torture and then BAM! Pyroclasm for just your creatures. Speaking of which, Pyroclasm was one of our least favorite cards. It was too hard to break the symmetry on it. My brother was fond of his Circle of Protection: Red + Power Surge deck.
One game that I'll never forget was a pretty intense battle where neither my brother nor I could get an advantage. I was looking at the last card in my library, but I had finally killed the all-powerful Ebony Rhino and was going to kill him on my last attack step. In my excitement, I drew my card and started to line up my creatures. My brother wasted no time jumping up and exclaiming
"YOU MISSED YOUR UNTAP STEP!!!!!!!!!"
He was right. Untap was the first step of the turn, and I went to my draw step. Therefore, I don't get to untap. Rules are rules.
The Internet (Relay Chat)
Once I started high school, I developed a new group of friends, but only a few of them played Magic. Truth be told, my best friends and I were into the Decipher Star Wars game. We didn't really understand that a game where everyone starts with Fastbond and Necropotence is a poorly designed game. Nor did we know that Fastbond and Necropotence were Magic cards. But Lightsabers are sweet. One of my friends got his Star Wars cards from a sweet comic book shop. I never got into comic books, but if they sell cards, I'm a loyal customer! One day someone showed me their deck that they got from the Internet.
Wait. There's stuff about Magic on the INTERNET?
Kinda hard to play Magic on the Internet, don't ya think? As it turns out, there were decks, strategy, and tournament reports on the . . . wait, did you say there were Magic TOURNAMENTS?
Mind = blown.
I've always been a competitive person. I played in a ton of sports and academic competitions. Most of my leisure activities in life revolved around me trying to beat someone at something, even if there was nothing but pride on the line.
Magic tournaments were awesome. I even found a way to play Magic on the Internet. Back in those days (1998 or so, pre-Magic Online), IRC was the go-to form of communication for Magic-playing aficionados. E-League and I-Magic were leagues that offered online tournaments played through Apprentice, an extremely primitive version of Magic Online (or Magic Workstation). Apprentice and IRC taught me about cutting-edge Magic strategy. Instead of playing with whatever I could personally come up with based on my meager collection, I could build whatever I wanted with the deckbuilding expertise of thousands of deckbuilders that posted their decks on the Internet.
I went away to college at Xavier University, but my love of IRC and Magic remained. At times, I felt like I led a double life. I had my normal college life, complete with sports, music, and classes. But then I would play a bunch of Magic with a bunch of people whose faces I had never seen. I wanted an outlet to play real life Magic again, but I didn't know how to make it happen. By this time, my brother was on the other side of the country, and I didn't really play Magic with any of my other friends.
<beatdown> ne1 from cincy?
Easily the most important IRC chat message I have ever read.
If you recognized that screen name as one of Justin Calhoun, I am incredibly impressed. Justin Calhoun is the man responsible for getting me into real life tournament Magic. I answered his message, and despite his attendance at the rival University of Cincinnati, Justin and I became friends very quickly. When I didn't have real life cards that could compete, Justin let me borrow cards from his collection. The first year he gave me rides to Magic festivities, as I did not have a vehicle. We drafted nearly every Tuesday (I had minimal idea of how to draft) and made friends with the members of Team Acme Games.
"Asl;djfsdfk;janyone want otj?s;dljfaslkdfj"
I did not play in very many sanctioned Magic tournaments initially. It took me a year to play in ten Magic tournaments. For the Acme crowd, only the local drafts and the big tournaments (such as States Regionals, and PTQs) were frequently attended.
The eleventh tournament I played in was 2002 Ohio Valley Regionals, with 688 players. The seventeenth tournament was Grand Prix Cleveland 2002, with 607 players. Those were the two highest attended North American tournaments at the time.
I made Top 8 of them both.
I won an amateur prize at Grand Prix Cleveland, which remains my only Grand Prix Top 8. I definitely credit Magic Online for my early success. I was one of the initial grinders on Magic Online. One of my proudest achievements is that the people at Magic Online do not have my credit card number.
That's right; I have never paid for anything on Magic Online.
If you beta tested the initial version of Magic Online, you got a free draft set. Well, I won that draft, did well enough in drafts to feel confident in joining a Sealed Deck Premier Event, and won that! From there, I had the ability to build my beloved U/G Upheaval deck (Merfolk Looter > Wild Mongrel). Back then the Standard tournaments were comically easy. There simply weren't enough cards online for everyone. Nearly everyone was on some sort of budget deck. I remember not playing the full four Yavimaya Coasts for a while simply because they were too hard to find (Invasion Block was never the primary Draft format on Magic Online).
My first Pro Tour was in Houston, and I built an Enchantress deck that I thought was an excellent choice. I defeated Ben Rubin in my first Pro Tour match ever, only to fall just short of day 2 with a 3-3 record. I had worked largely alone for the event, as it was impossible to play Extended on Magic Online and other players just weren't interested since Extended was out of season. I made a pretty crucial deckbuilding mistake and played Eladamri's Vineyard in a combo-heavy field—whoops! Seal of Removal would've been much better, as even the control decks had Psychatog and the combo decks were Reanimator and Hermit Druid based.
I knew I was close, and I wanted back. I continued to do very well; maintaining a Constructed rating of over 2000 was very difficult, but I was over 2000 more often than I was under. Part of my problem was school. First, I was your typical broke college student, and flying places wasn't easy. Second, my course work was demanding, and I wasn't cruising through school the way I was normally accustomed to. I remember being qualified for a few foreign Pro Tours but couldn't realistically go to them. Magic wasn't that important to me . . . yet.
Due to unfortunate life events, I left Xavier and found myself in Arizona in 2003. My mom has lived in Arizona since I was young, and I would visit her every summer. I enjoyed nearly everything about my visits there, and I promised her that I would move out there when I grew up. Well, I hadn't grown up yet, but I moved out there anyway. When I moved out there, my mom was literally the only person I knew. Since I had left school, I figured now might be an opportunity to chase the Pro Tour dream I hadn't been able to chase previously. Honestly, my life was somewhat in shambles at this point, and Magic was what I had going for me.
Magic in Arizona was different. Everything was held at the local store, Gamer's Edge, except for Prereleases. Gamer's Edge was quite the drive. In fact, my friends often claimed that I lived in California despite living on the west side of Phoenix. Local success came easy. I won Arizona States approximately three weeks after moving there (and later three more times just to prove it wasn't a fluke). Pro Tour success, on the other hand, never came. To this day, I have never made money on the Pro Tour. Looking back, there is a simple reason I didn't have Pro Tour success despite focusing on it.
My s*!$ didn't stink.
For quite some time after I moved to Phoenix, I felt I was God's Gift to Magic: The Gathering. I was exactly the type of "pro" that players complain about as being too arrogant, too unapproachable, and unpleasant to be around. I trash talked opponents I didn't know, I would berate people for their mistakes, and I generally made other players' tournaments less enjoyable.
Pro Tour Columbus 2004 was coming up, and I wanted nothing more than to qualify for a Pro Tour in my home state. I had been grinding away, basically driving five-plus hours whenever I wanted to play in more than one PTQ in a season. In my first year in Phoenix, I made eight PTQ Top 8s. I managed to win two PTQs that year, but I wasn't enjoying myself. I wanted nothing more than to get home from any tournament I went to. Granted, I'd be driving on minimal sleep more often than not,*** but at some point I failed to realize that Magic was played for fun.
I reached my breaking point at the final PTQ of the Columbus season. I was three for three in PTQ Top 8s with Affinity but zero for three in taking home the coveted blue envelope. Each time I had lost to the mirror and felt I had played much better and drawn much worse. I switched to a R/G deck that was a ham sandwich outside of the Affinity matchup. Somehow I played against almost no Affinity decks on the way to yet another Top 8.
**2004 Adam Speaking**
Man, why is nobody playing Affinity? Who cares that I'm not playing Affinity, but man are all my opponents stupid. Thankfully I'm awesome at Magic and can just play circles around everyone. Oh great, another stupid deck in the finals. This U/G deck is a pile. Can't ever beat Affinity. LOL Crystal Shard.
**Back to 2013 Adam***
My tournament and my Pro Tour dreams ended with an exactly lethal Rude Awakening. I thought I could Magma Jet away enough lands to stay alive, but I miscounted. I drove back in silence, even with three other people in the car. I spent several days thinking about that finals loss. Why did I care so much? Was this worth the awful feelings I felt? I knew I had to give up Magic.
I didn't truly quit Magic. In fact, I played in FNM and a PTQ in town the very next week. I still played Magic regularly, as I simply couldn't get away. I had made some good friends, and I didn't want to leave that life. I made a compromise.
I decided to pick up Vs. System
For those of you that don't know, Vs. System is a card game that started with a Pro Tour that was created with the intent of competing directly with the Magic Pro Tour. I had already dabbled in Vs. System, choosing to skip the first Vs. Pro Circuit in favor of Magic Worlds in 2004. Brian Kibler won that Vs. Pro Circuit and got to ride around in the Batmobile. For some reason, I thought that simply by switching games I could reverse the negative feelings I had towards Magic. It was a stupid plan, but I had stopped grinding Magic and started grinding Vs.
Somehow, it worked.
Initially, the results were the same. I'd go to a tournament with 100-150 people, make the Top 8, but not win the tournament. The only difference is that I won $1000 or so playing in the Vs. tournament. The 100-person Magic tournaments were simply PTQs, whereas the 100-person Vs. tournaments were GPs ($10ks, in case you were wondering why I am called a $10k Champion). While I still had an intense desire to win tournaments, being rewarded even if when I didn't win the tournament was a great feeling. Flash forward to now and there's a reason I love the StarCityGames.com Open Series. You don't have to win the tournament to feel a sense of accomplishment!
Vs. System is responsible for a few different things in my life that I've taken back to Magic. Prior to shifting away from Magic in 2004/2005, I had not gained any national notoriety in Magic circles. I could play in an entire Grand Prix and no strangers would recognize me. For whatever reason, that bothered me. However, Vs. System changed that. I was a "player to watch" for any Pro Circuit preview. I signed more Teen Titans Go!s than I could count.
At a $10k tournament, my friends set up a "trap" for me. My friends knew how much I hated giving deck advice. At the time, I viewed it as a waste of my time. So a good friend of mine, Dave Spears, got one of his local friends (that I didn't know) to come up and ask all sorts of stupid questions. Exactly the stuff that got under my skin. As I was trying to get this guy to leave me alone, I saw Dave and a bunch of my friends laughing hysterically. I never mentioned this to Dave, but that was the best possible thing he could have done for me.
It was at that point I realized that I need to be a better ambassador for the game. If I'm going to be a public figure within a game, I need to embrace that and make the game I love look as good as possible. I started writing about Vs. and became a community contributor in addition to a top-notch competitor. This coincided with actually taking home trophies. I managed to win two $10ks and later a Pro Circuit. To this day, the moment I realized I was winning the Pro Circuit is one of the happiest moments of my life. Unfortunately for me, Vs. System was a short-lived game and died shortly after I won the Pro Circuit.
Three Dimensional Squares
One of the first friends I made in Arizona was the esteemed Anthony Avitollo, and to this day we remain very close friends. I somewhat recognized him from Ohio, and he had moved to Arizona shortly before I did without knowing anyone. We were in similar situations.
I don't what the motivation behind it was, but one day Anthony and I decided that we wanted to build something sweet. Anthony recognized that downtime in between rounds is often dull, and Mille Bornes only went so far. We had both played Type 4 / Limited Infinity stacks in the past, but I remembered something some Canadians had brought to a Grand Prix long, long ago.
I'm almost positive that Anthony and I built this Cube with no known information on the Internet. I'm not going to claim that Anthony and I invented the format or anything (because we didn't), but we didn't have anything to go on when we built our Cube. To this day, building a Cube is one of the coolest things I've ever been a part of. I definitely enjoyed Cubing far more than sanctioned Magic during this time. As the joy of Cubing**** expanded, many other people built Cubes. I'm never one to turn down a good Cube draft, and by my count I've drafted 42 uniquely different Cubes. Ah, the answer to life, the universe, and everything.
The major thing that building a Cube did for my Magic career was emphasize the fun in Magic. Magic: The Gathering is (at least for me) a two-player game. My opponent was no longer an obstacle for me to ruthlessly defeat but a partner in my enjoyment of Magic.
The Store Shuffle
One thing that I learned about Arizona is how dependent the community is on the local gaming stores. Before I moved to Arizona, most of my Magic playing was done in major events or practicing at someone's place of residence. In Arizona, things were quite different. Major events were few and far between. If you wanted to play in more than four PTQs, States, and Regionals each year, you were travelling. Therefore, most players were content to play whatever Magic was available to them locally. This meant that the stores were regular hangout spots and local tournaments were the focus of the Magic scene. Stores would open and close, and I would migrate from scene to scene. Each time things would get worse before they got better. Comfort is a wonderful thing. I had different patches of friends, each based around a Magic store we used to play at.
Competitively, I played in my last Pro Tour during this period: Pro Tour Austin 2009. I had really deemphasized the Pro Tour and wasn't travelling to PTQs or GPs very often. If I didn't win the local PTQ during this time, I didn't even go. Heck, I conceded in the finals of a PTQ once because my friend wanted to go to the Pro Tour way more than I did. I had adopted the outlook on Magic that so many other Arizonans favored: stay local.
The Open Series
There was just one problem with my view on Magic: the StarCityGames.com Open Series. These tournaments were just so awesome yet so far away from Phoenix. I would travel for any Open within reasonable driving distance—even the one in Denver not within reasonable driving distance (thirteen hours!). I even flew to a couple Opens and all of the Invitationals. Arizona had started a Legacy scene, and I was really enjoying playing in large Legacy events.
To this day, a StarCityGames.com Legacy Open remains my favorite type of event to play in. So many more things matter than in other formats, and it's up to the player to decide what type of game they want to play. As I said last week, the StarCityGames.com Open Series hits Cincinnati this weekend, and I couldn't think of a more fitting tournament to end my playing career.
Back To Ohio
While I was mostly enjoying the Magic scene in Arizona, the rest of my life wasn't doing well. I was another one of those people that had recently finished school but couldn't find anything worth doing. I knew I needed to do something drastic, so I decided to leave Arizona. I still miss the 120 degree August days, but most of all I miss my good friends. However, I knew it was the right thing for me, and given my situation it was the best thing I could've possibly done.
I planned my departure to coincide with the StarCityGames.com Invitational in Charlotte 2011 so that I could visit my parents in Eastern Tennessee around that time. I had no idea what a fresh outlook on life would do to my ability to play Magic. That weekend I played some great Magic, and I found myself in the finals of the Invitational! In most tournaments I do well in, I feel like I have to get incredibly lucky at one point or another. This one felt different—I simply played incredibly well that weekend. Also, I had the power of Merfolk Looter on my side. Oftentimes I look back on that weekend and try to recapture what I was thinking and how I was feeling. I honestly think that wiping the slate clean in my personal life was directly responsible for my success that weekend.
I still didn't know what my future held. My longtime friend JR Wade convinced me to move back to Cincinnati. This turned out to be a fantastic move. I didn't particular care for the city of Cincinnati when I was at Xavier University, but I loved the time I spent there. The people I've met while I've been here have been nothing short of awesome. I've rediscovered my competitive groove, thanks to the increasing amount of Open Series close by. Between my increase in writing, the advent of streaming, and Open Series tournaments, Magic has become the focal point of my life again.
And this time, I love it.
Largely because of what Magic has done for me, I've been incredibly happy with my life. The FNM Hero series has been a blast to play and write about and given me a way to keep Magic fresh. I take great pride in saying I am leaving competitive Magic on top. I may not be the latest World Champion. Heck, 2013 has been a down year in terms of results for me. But I truly feel that I am going out on top. I've always been a competitive guy, but it's taken me a while to realize that my life's worth is not tied to any competition. As long as I'm enjoying myself, I couldn't ask for anything else.
I don't know what the future holds. After playing 4300 sanctioned matches, I am truly going to miss playing competitive Magic. I'm going to miss writing for SCG. I'm going to miss everything that makes the Magic community so wonderful. I am about to start a new life once again, but Magic will still be part of it. Probably more than ever.
Thanks for being a part of it.
*They're still happily married! And living in the same house they built . . . in 1950.
**There was a flea market that was our sole source of Magic cards. LOL @ the concept of shops that did nothing but sell Magic cards.
*** No thanks to Phimus Pan's patented NyQuil + Jacket combo.
**** Shout out to Kstube.