Friday night and the mood is right. Pass by a shady dive and keep on drive. The moon peeks through the open top to join the gang on a clear winter night. The moon hangs out for a while, but eventually the chilly air compromises the comfort level, and windows go up and the box begins. Immortal Technique joins the crew on the speakers while Taco Cabana looks muy delisioso in the rear view mirror.
Another glance sees a cop creeping up, so we turn into the parking lot to head to FNM. We park, but the cop is right behind us, bordering tailgating. We keep our cool and park, and to our surprise he parks next to us. My passenger and backseatsman bail out immediately, rushing the electrical sliding door of Heroes and Fantasies, and relieved faces look back at me as they rest like toddlers touching home base in a game of tag.
Stuck in the car.
I feel a shadow creep up on me. There’s a tap on my window.
“Got a light?” The previously assumed officer announces.
“Yeah, yeah, here you go bro… got a fag to spare?” I replied.
“Yeah, no problem, it’s Camel,” he offered.
“Your car gave me and my buds a bit of a scare back there… You look like an undercover cop with those lights on top of your minivan.”
“Hah, yeah, I get that a lot. I’m a pilot car for over dimensional loads, and I work so much I just leave them on there.”
As we smoked those sticks outside the San Antonio area’s premier game shop, I had no idea I was conversing with one of the most extreme gamers I’ve ever met. Our conversation from there was cut off by round 1 pairings, but my new friend Rob’s legacy would be unveiled during a Sunday interview at the nearby Hooters.
After four games and seven mulligans, I decided FNM wasn’t my scene tonight; I bounced before the third ended. The Elementals really weren’t getting there. Between mana screw, flood, and many mulligans, they just never had the chance to board the bus.
That Sunday at Hooters, I was brainstorming article ideas…
Picture, if you can, four honey-baked hams stuffed into four pairs of tight fluorescent orange spandex shorts, jumping up and down waiting for food to come out from the kitchen. Now picture eight pineapples stuffed into four tight white tank tops, two per top, some more tan than others, but all deliciously appetizing and fruitful. A much more relaxing setting for an interview than that dark stage from Actor’s Studio, or that purple flowery set of Martha Stewart.
I was running the following…
Why Sideboards Should Be 16 Cards! (My first theory article!)
An in-depth look at the mathematics behind the sideboard, and why adding a 16th card would be better than running 15. I was several paragraphs deep into this one before Rob arrived. When he did, I had a better hook.
When Rob and I started talking, I knew I had something special. He started out about his job and life situation. He’s got a wife and kid back home in New York. His job keeps him away two-to-three weeks at a time, since he works with a group of load contractors, like a team of cowboys roundin’ up the herd. From homes, to windmill towers, to hospital boilers, Rob has piloted all kinds of crazy loads.
His crew works from sunup to sundown, which means he works from six or seven in the morning to five or six at night, or seven during the summers. He drives in front or behind large loads to protect them from pirating bandits that might want to steal a hospital boiler, or an air condition unit destined for a cancer clinic. In some ways, he’s a superhero. Not one of the really cool ones that have powers, like Green Lantern or Cyclops; more like a Batman or an Iron Man. Resourceful and smart, he aims to use his cleverness as his prime weapon against fiendish fellows.
While he’s on duty, he occupies his time by tapping away on his PSP. When he’s not working, he spends his leisure hours tapping lands. I’m pretty sure that earns him the title Hardcore Gamer, but when he’s not gaming he also likes to give hobos and stranded people rides across the country. However, he will only allow them into his car if they don’t have lice, so I don’t expect he’ll be picking up Cedric or Yurchick anytime soon.
He noted how annoying playing Magic is during the summer, due to the later sunset time, leaving him less time to make a nearby tournament. During the winter, he usually gets off from working around five, which leaves him plenty of time to find a respectable shop.
Most nights he finds a decent-looking hotel, parks up, and sleeps in his spacious minivan to save money, while capitalizing on free breakfast in the morning. Truck stops provide a premier spot to get a good shower, but he makes it a point to stay in a hotel a couple of nights a week to avoid manic depression from being cooped up in his van all day and night.
His early days of Magic began during the worst set of all time: Fallen Empires. He picked up the game at Neutral Ground, New York, and continued to play until Mirage, where he dropped the game to take care of real life stuff. When Ravnica hit the shelves, and with his job giving him free rein to do whatever he wants when he’s out of town, Magic seemed much easier to keep up. And is a respectable enough pastime to feed the missus, to keep her from worrying.
This is when Rob realized and embraced his gamer roots, eventually leading him to play Magic in 35 out of the 42 States he’s been to, crashing dreams at FNM from Fargo to San Antonio, Seattle to New York. He’s been nearly everywhere, playing the game we all love along the way, meeting new people and creating fond memories all the while.
One of the most beneficial parts of traveling all over, to game shops small and large, is the ability to tap into virtually any number of markets. Each store has its own crowd. Some stores, he admitted, didn’t have a single Standard card for sale in their entire collection. Others could find any card you could ever want, and have solid prices and quantity.
He finds that the real benefit is a secondary one: with Magic, he has access to a second “cardboard currency” he can exchange for cash dollars whenever he’s running low. Magic is at the point where you can find it in virtually any city with a population to support it. It’s a universal market that he can tap into, no matter what corner of the country he’s driving to today.
Equally interesting was the different communities he encountered in his travels. Magic generally has an audience that is slightly older than some other “more cartoon-like” TCGs out there, but he admits some stores are filled to the brim with young talent with no older figure to show them the yellow brick road. Conversely, there were also stores filled with middle-aged gamers, with no sign of young life anywhere to be found. Most communities had several people that he connected with quickly, enabling a much more enjoyable time at whatever stop he played.
There are other benefits to seeing a new group of gamers every week; for instance, no one can metagame against you! Rob was a big supporter of Dragonstorm when it was at its Mono-Red Burn prime, post-Worlds last year, and each time he showed up at an unprepared FNM he would reap the spoils from party-crashing a small pond of casual players.
Dragonstorm was such a huge and successful deck for him that he even got a tattoo of Bogardan Hellkite on the small of his back, aiming fierce fireballs southward toward the inevitable crevice.
Another interesting feature of his travels: the customs he’s learned while crossing the country each week. In one adult community, it’s common practice to hit someone with a phone book if they spill a beer while playing. From there, they’ve created a host of ways to do damage with the yellow pages. Spinning back kicks to the face while holding up a yellow book, punching the book while it’s rested on someone’s face, or simply slapping the crap out of someone and popping their ear drum (which leaves a ringing noise in the ear for the remainder of the night).
He was also somewhat turned off by the “make-it take-it” policy I try and enforce in non-tournament games around San Antonio, particularly in Jace vs. Chandra battles. I just believe that if you win the game you should have the option game 2. Since when do we give mercy to those underpowered? In basketball, if I slam it in someone’s face or drain a sick contested jumper, I wouldn’t give the ball to the guy defending me for good effort! I’d take the rock and do it to him again on the next play. Magic should be no different!
His most pleasant travels mostly come from Northern states. North Dakota, South Dakota, and Memphis in particular are his favorite stops, the latter because of its surprisingly friendly population that he says is nicer than any other he’s experienced. However, everywhere he’s visited has been very chilled and laid back, and he’s had no trouble connecting with people since the foundation for any friendship is solidified by Magic.
That’s the real beauty of this story. The fact that we are all connected. And Rob is shining proof. I’ve played big tournaments all across the U.S., in more States that I can remember, but I’ve never met someone who gets so much joy out of simply picking up Magic wherever his job takes him next. He should really start a blog somewhere, and document his travels and interesting characters along the way. He’s in a different town each week, he finds multiple tournaments to play in wherever he goes, and he has always been received by a warm crowd of likeminded people who have fun playing Magic.
I’ve seen a lot of negative trends recently in our game. JSS falling is far bigger than anybody has made it out to be, and something Wizards should correct. The States dilemma was remedied, but a bitter residue on the tongue remains. Magic Online 3’s initial failure, and the super-bloated egos that erupt from online gaming in general… that’s where it became almost standard practice to disconnect on your opponent and treat them like trash just because they aren’t sitting in front of you. I swear I would be in jail for murder right now if people acted like they do online while sitting in front of me. These are all huge negative factors and directions that our game is taking, but it’s refreshing to hear that the small communities across the U.S. aren’t phased, and are still going strong on the back of wholesome and moral gaming.
Good luck to everyone playing at the StarCityGames.com $5000 Standard open this weekend. Thanks for reading!
Top 5 Picks
1) Fog (again) — Radiohead
2) Yo Yo Affair pt.1 & 2 (feat Frenza) — Madlib the Beat Konducta
3) I Do It For Hip Hop — Ludacris ft. Jay-Z & Nas
4) Circulate — Young Jeezy
5) She’s The One — Black Spade