Few things can still provide the same thrill of waking up and leaping from your bed on Christmas morning as a kid. Emerging from my deep slumber on Saturday, I sprung from the covers and bolted to the sink to wash my face: I realized I still had two whole days left! Just the same, it became clear that two days had already passed, and that forgoing a full night’s rest in favor of maximizing my presence at the convention center still felt like I was missing out on time with friends. I also remembered that I brought homework for myself, and was failing monumentally at collecting the signatures I sought to harvest. Behold, the barren playmat:
Thus, the number one priority of the day became meeting more people and getting them to scribble on my makeshift yearbook. Palmer was also working on his own playmat, and since I had advertised my project on Twitter before my departure, avoiding the embarrassment of coming home with an incomplete knick-knack was fundamental. I also wanted the keepsake. So I rolled up my giant mousepad and tucked it under my arm, then made way for the great hall of geeks and gamers.
“Are you here to play Magic?” asked a man, spinning around on the escalators descending from the monorail station. “My name’s George, but everyone calls me Old Man George.”
“May I ask?” I responded, catching up with him at the bottom of the stairs.
“I was at the first Pro Tour in New York. Half of us there were from the same shop in Long Island!” he laughed.
His accent was thick and hearty: the kind you mimic when asking for the south side’s best cup of ‘cowfee’. George had a white shirt on with the card ‘Fling’ printed directly on the back and sported a New York Giants baseball cap decorated to the brim with Magic-related pins. He told me he’d been playing Magic for as long as it’s been a game, and that his nickname came from kids in his game store who hassled him for being twice their age twenty years ago.
“You wouldn’t believe it: my buddy Brian is now as old as I was when I went to the first Pro Tour.”
“Does that make him Old Man Brian, then?”
George and I scuttled into the convention center as he told me stories about Magic’s younger years. He said he still loved the game, but now made time for it because of its people. I shook his hand as we split: I was without my morning coffee and craved the caffeine something awful. Equally awful was the line at the Starbucks in the convention center. I realized I had arrived in between the first two rounds, and the grinders had already filled up the shop’s queue to the wall and back. Despite my hellishly stubborn conviction, I had to pass on the bean water: the playmat beckoned.
As I adjusted the sails and took off towards the hall, I pulled up Twitter to find Titus Chalk inviting fans to grab a signed copy of his novel Generation Decks from the ChannelFireball booth. Our timing was pristine, and much like all the other online acquaintances I was meeting for the first time in Vegas, Titus and I have gone back and forth on the internet for years. I remember the launch of the first version of his book, and seeing it available internationally in paperback as well as generating popularity with the press has been crucial in helping Magic expand outside of its rather bubbled borders. The young journalist based in Berlin has an affinity for words and a rich history with the game, so finally having a physical manuscript that can be marketed to curious muggles is an outstanding achievement. I’ve read a little more than half of the novel and dig it. I also just dig Titus: he’s got killer style, likes rock and roll, and writes for a living.
“So great to finally meet you,” he said, shaking my hand.
“Dude, likewise,” I responded as I cracked open my copy of his novel and handed it over to sign.
We got to chatting and I noticed, yet again, just how easy it is to talk with the real-life versions of my longtime digital friends. Maybe I’m just used to the transition from screen to skin, being a netpunk kid of the AOL era. Or maybe Magic players have a knack for being entirely themselves, their avatars acting as extensions of their quirks and interests and not façades of them. Lingering around game shops for the better half of five years, I’ve always admired the authenticity of geeks. They’ve never surrendered themselves to the image of the cool guy, and in completely disregarding the simulacrum, they’ve become gods in my eyes because of it.
I say “they” here because, much like Titus, I’ve always struggled with putting my nerdy interests on full display. Most of my friends have no idea about my passion for Magic. They know nothing about YouTube, or why I’m always busy on Sunday nights “meeting up with friends” for six hours to play EDH, or even how I spent five days in Vegas and emerged without a hangover. I typically wait weeks before letting a potential love interest in on my wizarding world, and constantly trying to play cover-up and cloak my engagement with this hobby has been exhausting. I know I need to own up and be more open: I hide not because I’m ashamed of Magic, but because I’m afraid of the stigma that haunts it. It’s cowardice at its finest, but it’s also why I appreciate Generation Decks so much. Video games and D&D have had their hipster revival. Why hasn’t Magic?
My identity crisis aside, it was almost noon and I still didn’t have coffee, which was grounds for an actual crisis. I quickly checked the Twitterverse and found another timely tweet posted by a stranded wizard in need. Enter Corbin Hossler:
In much the same way political affiliation matters not in times of tragedy, gearing up for a 10 hour shift sans java is like lighting the beacons of Gondor. If I am able, you will be replenished. I responded by asking for his drink order and told him I would hand deliver it to the booth. This gave me an opportunity to pick up my long overdue latte. It also gave me a window to see Corbin again: we briefly met at GP San Antonio, and given that I’ve listened to Brainstorm Brewery since the Chromanticore episode, I hoped to grab his signature for the Vegas mat. After a quick chat and a solid handshake, I headed back into the wild to hunt signatures and left Corbin fully loaded to type away furiously for Wizards text coverage.
Of course, Xemit had different plans for me. He couldn’t stand the embarrassment of losing to some YouTube scrub with his own cube, so he summoned myself and six others for a grudge match. Of these was Lucas, MrLuBuFu, Jeremy’s compadre from the early YouTube years and fellow University of Colorado graduate. We missed meeting each other in-state on multiple occasions, so Vegas presented another opportunity to shake hands. Casale also joined (this time without The Calculator), as well as Denny and Daniel, fans of the channel and cubesters themselves. Denny drives a semi truck around the country for a living and shares music playlists with me on my Discord channel. The dude is cool.
What was cooler was smashing Jim’s face in with an Esper Brago deck that ground out card advantage and punished his Eureka strategy with a fistful of Enter the Battlefield value creatures. It turns out holding Man-o-Wars and Shriekmaws can nullify just about anything your opponent cheats out, including old Emrakul, the woebringer of our previous match. Revenge is a dish best served cold, and no better to deliver the frigid plate than through the air on the crown of a flying dead guy. After sending Casale back to deckbuilding 101, I stumbled upon yet another personality I was looking forward to finding in the desert this June: Max Kahn.
A Level 2 Judge and event manager for Nerd Rage Gaming, Kahn is usually the dude I ping when my Commander playgroup runs into a corner case rules debacle. The most recent headache: what happens when two Notion Thieves are in play in a four player game? Who gets to draw, if anyone? Add Leovold to that mix and I’d rather concede than suffer through reorganizing the replacement effects. Shoutout to Max for always being available: you are appreciated. I learned later that he made Day 2 in Limited, so kudos times two.
“I’ll go to one life,” said Xemit as I attacked in the air with Restoration Angel.
“One is not none,” I replied.
Like Casale the day prior, Jeremy seemed far too comfortable with letting me execute my gameplan virtually uninterrupted. This time, though, he wasn’t sitting on a million colorless mana. Instead, he had a few Mountains and Islands in his pool and spent the majority of the game drawing cards and fixing his library.
“I’ll untap and cast Zealous Conscripts on your Angel.”
I looked over at my life total and nodded. He hadn’t hit me all game with anything.
“Uh. Yeah. You gotta start somewhere," I mocked.
“Next turn I’ll put Splinter Twin on Conscripts?”
And like a DJ spinning vinyl, he tapped and untapped the Conscripts back and forth, killing me instantly.
“One is not none,” I sighed. “You know, Jeremy, for a dude who hates Modern as much as you, I find this as ironic as it gets.”
It’s true. I challenge you to find anyone who loathes Tarns into Visions or Goyfs off of Bobs more than Xemit. His admiration for Legacy has left him blindsided to the middle-ground degeneracies of Living End and Grishoalbrand, and even if Travis Allen is the self-proclaimed curmudgeon of the Aristocrats cast, his pessimism is unmatched by Jeremy when it comes to Tom LaPille’s brainchild. On the flip side, my next target for the signature hunt was none other than the master of modern robots himself: Frank Karsten. In my efforts to deliver Corbin coffee and get my paperback novel signed earlier in the day, I arrogantly zipped past the mastermind of mathematics without stopping to introduce myself. Yikes. If it weren’t for his kind message sent just after I passed by, I may have lost my opportunity to chat with one of the game’s greatest minds.
“I know I’m not the target audience for your videos, Sam,” said Frank moments after signing a giddy fan’s Mox Opal; god knows how many exist with his name in ink on the textbox, “but I really enjoy your work.”
I’m not one to go full fanboy, but this was Frank f*king Karsten telling me he watched my channel!
“I really appreciate that, Frank. I’ve been following you for years,” I said nervously as I handed him my playmat. “I know you and Matej have both reached out, and that’s just surprising to me to be quite honest.”
“You may not know this,” he replied, “but I’m starting to step away from grinding GP’s. I want to spend more time doing other things for the game. Writing articles. Communicating with players and fans. Doing coverage. Magic is an unbelievable game, and the community that it fosters is so full of passion. I want to get more in touch with it.”
I nodded in agreement. If it’s not clear by now, it’s precisely for this reason that the weekend in Vegas struck a deep chord with me. I know I’m not alone in feeling this way: the Magic Twitter has exploded with new friendships and followers because of the Grand Prix, and with each day that passes, I feel a bit more nostalgic for the desert and its people. I’m sure this will only deepen with time until we get a shot at another hoorah in two years. I hope I can see at least half of my friends again then. Along the same vein, most of the media in these articles has been embedded hyperlinks to tweets. It’s because I want you to know these people. Connect with them. They’re worth your time and follow, and it’s only because of this platform that I had so much to write about this weekend.
After an enlightening dinner with the highly charismatic Rueben Bresler and Jeremy Noell about the intricacies and histories of Dungeons and Dragons, I reconvened once again with Proxy and the crew for another shot at the CubeRedux. Earlier in the day, I found the legendary Marcel (from a podcast) and asked him to sign the mat. “Quality will always rise to the top,” he responded, “keep making your videos.” Meeting Marcel is kind of transcendental. He has a settled smile that makes you feel warm and welcomed, and when he talks to you, he is present. I can't pintpoint it exactly: the dude is just real easy to be around. It was my second fanboy moment of the day.
That fuzzy feeling lasted up through the finals where I met up with Linnemann and his second degenerate deck of the weekend. I suppose after years and years of throwing out Pack One, Pick One requests on Twitter, you tend to get good at the format. Who said Vorthoses couldn’t hang? Marcel was there and snapped a photo of the hot seat:
Now, what you have to know is this: Sensei’s Diving Top is a good card. I understand that. You also have to know that I’ve refused to play with it in EDH because it slows the game down to a halt and, prior to its reprinting, it was unjustifiably expensive to throw in a deck. I was also drinking Gin & Tonics again (as you do) and was delirious from pursuing folks to sign the mat all day. Yeah, these are excuses. Because deep into game two after flopping on my backside to Linnemann’s attacks, I went full Cheatyface and tried to rewrite Top’s textbox live, in-game, while Bruce & Proxy watched.
Turns out, Top doesn’t say “draw 3”. In my desperation to find a Maelstrom Pulse, my only out to Linnemann’s board of four Pack Rats, I peeled three cards off the top and then cracked Sensei’s for a fourth. I knew it was banned in Legacy for a reason, but damn this seemed strong! Why wasn’t I playing this in my own cube? Four cards?! Four?!
“Four cards, Sam, what are you fucking nuts?!” Linnemann caught me red-handed, giving him, Josh, and ReserveList the perfect fodder for any and all future mockery. Lay it on me, boys. Needless to say, I lost again. No, Drew Bentley, I can’t for the life of me finish a cube tourney on top. My concession gifted Mike another Proxy Prize Pack which held a curvy-bordered, Future Sight Sol Ring. He flaunted his winnings again, of course, as I took a moment to re-read Diving Top (as you do).
As the night winded down, I followed Mike, Ant, and Brian (fellow curator to Mike and assistant to The Magic Art Show) up to their Westgate room to joke about Vorthos nonsense and future art shows. Of course, the goal of writing anecdotal pieces such as this is to remove the clause “you should’ve been there” from the story entirely and place your reader directly into the scene, recreating it as best you can so that it feels like they were. Honestly though, I haven’t laughed as hard as I did in that room in a long time. If it weren’t for the looming sunrise and long journey back to Bally’s, I would’ve stayed up all night with those guys. To note: that night I learned the Vegas monorail ceases operations at 3:00am. I also learned that being part of the world of the geeks is far and beyond the coolest clique you could belong to.
And all I can say is: you should’ve been there.