A Long-Overdue Pilgrimage

Bennie took a long-overdue vacation… and visited the StarCityGames store in Roanoke! He’s off today, too, walking the Earth and battling Commanders…

Not long ago, I realized I had a ton of vacation time I’d neglected to use throughout the year. For my full-time job, I’m the only guy that does what I do in the company, so when I take time off from work there’s no one there to pick up the slack—the work just piles up and waits for me. There’s always a ton of stuff for me to do, so when I take time off there’s always a part of me that frets about what’s accumulating while I’m gone… so given that disincentive, plus the fairly generous vacation days awarded to me for being with the company for so long, the days can stack up by the time the end of the year rolls around.

So I finally had to buckle down and figure out how to burn the time. As I was looking at the calendar and looking at various possibilities, it occurred to me that perhaps I could use a couple days to drive to Roanoke, Virginia and visit the home office of StarCityGames.com. If you read the column I wrote back in July – 1.5 Million Words: A Magic Life – you’ll know that my whole Magic-writing career was jumpstarted by being one of the first batch of writers recruited to write content for a new website launched by Star City Games. I’d known Pete Hoefling for a couple of years before that by bumping into him at a few Magic tournaments, and had gone to a few PTQs he hosted at his then-relatively-small comics and games shop. Over the years, I’d made the trip to Roanoke for tournaments and watched as they moved to a bigger space as both their online presence and Organized Play division grew and grew. But constraints on my time and having issues with reliable transportation made taking the considerable trek to the western part of Virginia something that didn’t really make sense over the past few years. Thinking back, the memorial tournament held in honor of Richie Proffitt back in 2008 (I wrote about it here and here) might have been the last time I made it out there. To put that on the Magic timeline, the last time I travelled to Roanoke, Eventide boosters were on the shelves. Shards of Alara, Zendikar, Scars of Mirrodin, Innistrad, and Return to Ravnica Blocks have all come out since then.

Yeah, a trip to Roanoke was long overdue.

So, the vacation days gave me the time, but what about reliable transportation? Well, mounting repair bills on my 2002 Kia Rio had finally forced me to throw in the towel and go shopping for a newer vehicle, and I finally found one that made me pull the trigger:

Vroom vroom baby

It’s not green, or neon green… the color is called Alien!

Yes, ladies and gentlemen… I have joined the Hamster Club, jamming along in my 2010 Kia Soul… only this is the Kia Soul ! (aka Kia Soul Exclaim), so it’s got extra bells and whistles including a sunroof and an incredible stereo system. I cannot say enough about how much I love this stereo system. I so rarely get to listen to music anymore except when I’m in my car, and while the stereo in my old car was decent the one in this car rocks, and it rocks hard! I mean, I could roll down the windows, crack the sunroof and be That Guy – you know, the guy who drives by on the city street and everyone turns to look because his stereo is loud and kicking? Only instead of it sounding like he’s gonna blow his speakers, this stereo sounds sweet.

Plus, it’ll sync with my iPhone wirelessly and let me just say “Call Cedric Phillips” into the microphone in the ceiling and suddenly my editor is speaking to me from the speakers of my car. I know this isn’t exactly cutting-edge technology, but considering I’ve only had a smart phone for a little over a year and my previous car was circa 2002 tech, I’m still making up a lot of ground.

So, I had the time… the transportation… and the music…

My Tunes

With my iPod plugged in I was ready to make the run!

On the road again...

The fastest way to get from Richmond to Roanoke, Virginia is taking I-64 West from Richmond and then getting on I-81 South to Roanoke, about 189 miles. Pretty much straight pedal-to-the-metal highway the whole time and taking a little under three hours. The other option is to meander around to the south side of Richmond and pick up Route 460, which more-or-less runs straight west to Roanoke through the back country roads of southwestern Virginia. It’s a little shorter distance but takes longer because of all the stops along the way through the towns of Farmville, Appomattox and the city of Lynchburg. It’s actually a pretty nice drive, but for this journey I didn’t want to waste any extra time on the road.

Pete suggested I meet him at Star City Games at 6pm, and I make it there with five minutes to spare.

Checking in...

I see the mass exodus as the SCG employees head home after putting in a full day and finally see Pete. We go out to eat dinner and then head back to his place. Pete’s got a nice house not far from the store, and we talk about Magic, business and life until late in the evening before calling it a night.

The next morning, I follow him back over to SCG for an actual look-see around the place. But first I’ve gotta make a pit-stop.


Guarding the restrooms is none other than Chandra… I guess to make sure you wash your hands before you leave? Or maybe she has fun with the occasional burst of methane?

Walking around the store I notice some nice art prints on the wall. I actually own these two here myself!

Looking around...

There’s also some cool SCG swag for sale…

A wall of things, all of which I need.

I didn’t know they sold SCG water bottles! So I bought one.

...And checking out.

Here’s where you can scratch that booster pack itch… oh, and you can also buy any single from their online store and someone will walk it out to you momentarily. I went ahead and picked up a playset of Reaper of the Wilds because… oh, come on, you know why!


While the play area has shrunk a bit from the time I was here for Richie’s tournament to accommodate SCG’s growth in card sales, Organized Play and to make room for filming their web content, there’s still plenty of room to run PTQ’s, Grand Prix Trials, Prereleases and huge Friday Night Magic events. Those events can last a while, so it’s nice that they have a display letting you know the food delivery options nearby. Oh, and note the handy-dandy ATM right there in the store.

They also have a couple of drink machines, including one that meets your Monster (Monstrous?) needs…

They really DO have everything I need!

… but hang on a second! What are these sweet leather comfy chairs doing here? It’s a Learn to Play Magic station with Duels of the Planeswalkers hooked up to a big screen on the wall.

Sure, let's battle.

Yeah, I can’t resist… Pete’s got some meetings to go to, so I plop down in a comfy chair and fire it up, cracking a sealed deck. For some reason, it appears that all my best cards are in green in black… how odd!


I end up crushing poor Ajani with Overwhelming Stampede and roughly a gazillion points of damage coming through. My next opponent is Jace, who’s got some tricky stuff that provides stiff resistance, but resistance is futile in the face of Overwhelming Stampede.

My next opponent is Chandra, who keeps burning the crap out of all my creatures, making Overwhelming Stampede much less impressive. In fact, I keep losing game after game after game… it’s like she’s totally got my number.

I think back to Chandra outside the restrooms… did I reveal some weakness to her back there?? She’s a tricksy one…

Finally I meet back up with Pete and I get to see behind the SCG curtain…

I'd tell you, but I'd have to... you know.

Unfortunately for my visual tour recap here, pictures are strictly forbidden back there for security reasons. In fact, my recollection of what went on back behind these doors is a bit hazy… I’m not sure what they did to me, but I do remember it was a pretty impressive operation, with quite a few people all working hard to make sure to keep their singles store stocked, the website chock full of great content, and Organized Play providing fantastic tournament experiences. I got to chat with a few old friends as well as met some new friends. My old friend Ben Bleiweiss came with Pete and I out to lunch, and among other things we talked about Commander 2013.

Speaking of, this road is about half a minute from SCG:

Yes, really.

If I were to move to Roanoke, I think the first place I’d look to live would be here…

Before I headed home and with Commander on my brain, on a whim I decided to purchase a “Wholesale Mythic Rares – Lot of 10” pack just to see what I might get that would be sweet for my Commander stash.

Feeling lucky

Outside of the obvious bust in Worldfire (BANNED! Boo-urns!) and the rather awkward Descent into Madness, I wasn’t unpleased with the assortment that I got. Ruhan is the man, I love Hellkite Tyrant, and Eternity Vessel, Liege of the Tangle, and Cast Through Time are all solid Commander cards. Even Misthollow Griffin, Essence of the Wild and Epic Experiment can all do some work in the right decks.

With some cards in my hand and a full belly, it was time to make my run back to Richmond. My alien Soul carried me as smoothly back home as it did for the trip out, and I found myself smiling quite a bit at how nice it was to finally have reliable and comfortable transportation.

Warp speed nine, Mr. Crusher.

My first car note comes due in a couple weeks, so I’m still in the honeymoon period… but I can’t help but think that I’ll be going to more big Magic events outside of my immediate local area. Maybe next time I make that run to Roanoke I’ll come back with a blue envelope?

I hope you enjoyed my pilgrimage pictorial, a little something different to read with your ham sandwich. Once you’re done with lunch – and work, I suppose – make sure you head out and pick up your Commander 2013 decks! As you read this – assuming it’s daylight hours Friday – I’ll be walking the earth, looking for Commander games… and giving out some exclusive sweet token cards to those I do battle with! What are these tokens? Well, to find out more there are three things you can do:

1. Listen to this week’s CommanderCast episode (“Can Bennie Come Out to Play?“), Calvin and William had me on as a special guest and we talked about the token card.

2. Hunt me down to play a game of Commander with me and I’ll give you a token.

3. Stay tuned to my column here at SCG for a very special announcement coming sometime in November!

If you keep an ear out on Twitter and some other Magic corners of the internet, you might even find some other clues…

Take care,


Facebook = Bennie Smith, Writer
Twitter = @blairwitchgreen
Email = [email protected]
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Blog = My fantasy and horror fiction writing

New to Commander?
If you’re just curious about the format, building your first deck, or trying to take your Commander deck up a notch, here are some handy links:

My current Commander decks (and links to decklists):

Previous Commander decks currently on hiatus: