This is the hardest thing I've ever had to write. I can barely keep my eyes from watering or lips from trembling. This is about my friend and my brother Stevie Kaufmann. Stevie was taken from us by a drunk driver on Sunday, September 15 while traveling home from SCG Open Series: Atlanta with his friends Matt Hatch and Kris Hackleman. (Matt has broken and bruised ribs and a collapsed lung but is okay otherwise; he was discharged Monday. Hackleman was the least injured from what I understand with lacerations, bruises, and needing stitches on top of his head).
He leaves behind his fiancee Brittany Craven, his stepson Liam, his newborn son Sterling, his brothers Joey and Chi Kaufmann, his mom and dad, and so many friends he made throughout his life, many of them from this very game that binds us together. Stevie was an amazing father and just as amazing a friend.
I met Stevie through his brothers while I was in high school during my freshman year. We all played lunch table Magic every morning, every afternoon, and sometimes after school. Chi, Joey, and I developed a close friendship, and they invited me over to their house to play. That's where I met Stevie for the first time. He was a little brother from the start; I think he was 12. I remember his brothers saying I couldn't beat him the first time we played Magic. I thought, "How could he beat me? He's barely in middle school." He weighed maybe 80 pounds, and I'd just bought the gold-bordered Sligh deck from the World Championship. I felt pretty invincible before actually shuffling up against him after being egged on by his brothers.
He beat the crap out of me. He had Counterspell, Forbid, Ophdians, and Mahamoti Djinn versus my Ironclaw Orcs, Jackal Pups, and Shocks. I remember being so mad. We kept playing throughout the night, and even at twelve years old he taught me a lot. Those days and experiences developed the foundation of what would become my family.
Because of Magic I spent a lot of time with Stevie and his brothers. His parents got to know me and literally took me in as their own. I didn't have the best house to grow up in, and thanks to our friendship, Stevie's family took me in. They made sure I was fed. They gave me a place to stay nearly every weekend for four years straight. The Kaufmanns taught me the definition of family. Stevie was a part of that family, and I thank him and his brothers every day for letting me experience that. I wouldn't have been able to say this if we didn't bond over this card game. If we didn't spend every night on instant messenger talking about the decks to beat on The Dojo or what we were going to play at States or whatever tournament was coming up. I never knew what a little brother could be like until Stevie. I cherish that feeling.
The next chapter of my relationship with Stevie was heavily involved with Dance Dance Revolution. Chi, Stevie, and I took a break from Magic, probably because it was Onslaught or Mirrordin block, and really got into fighting games in an effort to find something to bond over that wasn't Magic. We were always trying to beat each other at something. During that time Joey was just finishing up his tour with the Air Force and started telling us about this dancing game he started playing and how much fun it was. When he returned to CHS, I think the first thing we did was find an arcade, and from there we were hooked. All of us tried it, but Stevie and I really bonded over it. For about a year we played close to every day at this arcade called The Dive.
During this period I lost about 150 pounds. He was beside me the better part of the way during this time of my life. He helped me reach a milestone I never even dreamed of accomplishing. I was a fat kid my entire life. I don't remember a day during my entire duration in the public school system where I wasn't reminded of this. He helped me beat being obese for the first time. He helped me lose all the weight that I had and helped me realize how good of a person I was. If it wasn't for him, I would have never had that confidence. That entire journey was so important to me. I never had the chance to tell him how much it meant to me to have him beside me. To have him challenge me to be better than he was, to compete against just like how we were in Magic. I know I wouldn't be as good as I am at some things in this life if it wasn't for Stevie always being better. He made me better in every way imaginable.
Stevie started drifting out of my life shortly after; he was doing his own thing up in Columbia, SC away from Charleston where we started. After roughly three months away from Charleston, Stevie started playing Magic again. He messaged me about this deck called Boat Brew (pronounced "Bwoat Bwew" by Stevie), and from there we started playing Magic again.
I remember going to this tournament in Columbia where he and some friends he made came down and we came up to see him and play. It was the first time I'd seen him in months. I remember him introducing me to a young Ali Aintrazi and beating me with Boat Brew in the early rounds of the event. We both made Top 8 that day. I love those events where you and your friend make it, hoping you can dodge each other til finals and battle for first! Sadly, I didn't keep my end of the bargain; I lost to B/W Tokens I think. Stevie kept his end of the deal though and ended up winning the whole thing. I was so happy for him. I remember thinking how much better a player he had become since the last time we shuffled up against each other.
From there we never really went too long without seeing each other. He moved back to Charleston, and we kept playing Magic. It seemed like every Friday we talked about our lists and sideboards for FNM, only to later have to battle each other. We always managed to ride with the same group of people and always found each other after each round. I spent half the weekends of my life with Stevie. Now I won't get to anymore, and it breaks me in half to admit that.
One of my absolute favorite times with Stevie was this past year at the SCG Open Series in Charlotte. This was one of the few times we weren't able to ride up together, but I got to the site as early as possible so I could lend him his deck for the day. It was a R/G Burning-Tree Emissary Aggro deck similar to the one I played in Montreal but with Firefist Striker in it and a few other minor changes. A few days before, we talked about some card choices, and he really liked the deck. By the end of the day, he was top seed after Swiss. Two hours later he was in the Top 4. The next day he won. I remember literally bellowing cheers for him when they announced his name as first seed and when he was announced champion. I remember him hiding his head in his forearm in embarrassment after I started screaming "yes!" I remember the room being silent except for my excited echo reverberating through the tournament hall and him looking back at me laughing. He was so happy, and I was so happy for him.
On the ride home he asked if I had an invite to the SCG Invitational. I didn't, but I told him I'd go ahead and win a Super IQ so we could go together. The very next weekend I did that. I was excited by the idea that Stevie and I would be going to a big event together finally. We talked about Legacy decks we might want to play, and as Theros started to leak, we bounced ideas off of each other. We were just waiting for an Invitational to come to the Southeast again so we could go. We won't get to do this now, and it really breaks my heart. I hate so much that a drunk driver just took away our plans, not just going to a tournament together but spending time with our families together. We were going to have our kids celebrate Halloween at my house this year and walk the neighborhood together. I'm really trying not to be negative because I want this to be about how great a human being Stevie was, not how tragic this event is. I just can't help but write about this.
The last thing I said to him was how I thought he should play Think Twice over Quicken. I don't know how to feel about that. Would I go back and tell him something different if I could? Of course I would. I'd tell him that his family is going to be okay, that I will do everything in my power to make sure they're taken care of, how much I love him, and how excited I was that we both finally got an invite to the Invitational and how I was excited to complain about Legacy with him. But I can't tell him differently now. So I guess the next question I need to ask myself is "do I regret the last thing I said to Stevie?" I don't. We were talking about a game that was so much more than a game to us. We were talking about the thing that introduced us to each other. The thing that gave me a family, gave me brothers and people in my life that I truly cherish and appreciate.
Stevie was the first person to hold my daughter other than myself and my wife. He allowed me to be one of the first people to hold his son. He was an uncle to my daughter. As great and hardworking as he was towards Magic, he was even more dedicated and fantastic at being a father to his sons. He was more than I could have prayed for in a friend and more than I could have imagined in a brother. He was my family, and I loved him. I hope that anyone with a story about Stevie leaves it in the comments; I would love to read it. Do not let the people in your life and the friends you've met through this game or in any other way get away from you. Tell the people you love that you love them. Take the time to tell them what they mean you and make sure they know. Take more pictures with them so you have something to remind you. Just make the most out of whatever opportunities you are fortunate enough to have with your family and friends.
We plan on holding a tournament in Charleston in memoriam of Stevie. No definite plans logistically, but sometime soon I will post details online and hope word reaches you if you're interested in attending. His brother Chi is accepting donations for his family if you're wondering how to help. His PayPal is Charles.Kaufmann@gmail.com. They also have an account at Wells Fargo. The account number is 9034872433. If you have any questions or concerns, please don't hesitate to message me, Matthew Keene, on Facebook, and I'll do what I can to help.
Lastly, here are a few quotes and pictures from those who loved Stevie as much as me.
"Stevie, all the wild and crazy stuff we've done will live forever. I told Chi everyone has lost a great son, brother, fiance, father, and friend. I know we had a while where we didn't talk, but we came back man. Recently you've been my rock; you've helped push me and keep my head straight. I can honestly say I love you man; rest in peace Adonis, Steve Kaufmann" — Jameson "JJ" Ritenour
"I lost my hetero soulmate." — Joel Evans
"Never less than a champion" — Charles "Chi" Kaufmann
"A friend, a father, a champion" — Kyle Farrington