“Do you have a mass removal spell?”
Paul Rietzl waited from across the table. After weeks of preparation and years of preparing for this moment, was PT Paris really going to end like this?
Just one year earlier, I had given myself one year to win a Pro Tour. I had changed my eating habits, my sleep schedule, got unhooked on caffeine, and revamped my preparation (with more focus on playing well instead of just finding the best deck). After a weekend that had felt more poetic that one would dare write, was it really over?
I had one last play: a Prophetic Prism to give me one more shot, one final sweat. I flipped the top card of my deck over, just as I had against Uri Peleg in the finals of the 2007 World Championships when all I needed was a burn spell to deal with his one Hypnotic Specter blocking my Bogardan Hellkite. This time, Pyroclasm was it. I had exactly one out.
Rietzl signed the slip, politely shook my hand, thanked me for a good match, and darted to other side of the hall to make it to the next round of the Limited Grand Prix that he was multi-queuing.
I walked away slowly, reeling from the blow, devastated.
As I walked towards the drinking fountain, I passed Brian Kibler headed the other way.
“You earned my vote.”
It took me a second to realize what he was talking about. When it comes to the Hall of Fame, there are always a number of people on the cusp fighting for votes. There are so many more legends of the game than there are slots in the Hall. “One more Top 8,” is a popular saying.
My mind drifted back to Randy Buehler, who had done commentary on the Top 8 of my last Top 8, Worlds 2007.
“Now you are in the discussion. One more Top 8…”
The year was 2005. I sat alone in a cold room, an opened envelop in front of me.
I knew the nature of the contents, though not the details. Though they did not apply to me directly, it meant the world to me. It was my lifeblood, my culture. I knew it was the results from the first Magic Hall of Fame vote.
Magic had been around for twelve years, the Pro Tour for a decade. Magic had always been everything, but it was always so niche. Had it really grown so big and had so much life that there was a Hall of Fame for it?
It had pained me to discover that when I retired to go to work for Wizards of the Coast R&D, I had done so with 98 Pro Points. Why hadn’t I played in one more event? There were nowhere nearly as many Pro Points to be had in those days, but surely I could have picked up a couple more.
It wasn’t so much being on the ballot. My career had been short, even if somewhat bright. My first three years of Pro play had been fire and the last two weren’t too shabby, but I had just one Grand Prix Top 8 and the junior division had lost the prestige it once held, not being viewed as equal footing to the adult division (despite often being tougher, with alumni including Jon Finkel, Kai Budde, Zvi Mowshowitz, Brian Kibler, and more…) I knew I would not have been a realistic candidate, but I would have liked to vote. The Players Committee only got to vote for one player, but I would have loved to have contributed to the culture that meant more to me than anything else in the world.
I was not surprised to see Finkel, Darwin, Comer, Hovi, or Rade make it. All five were legends. I was sad to see Chris Pikula miss, and by just one vote.
What a difference a single vote can make.
At least he had to be a lock for next year. I looked at the list again, my mind drifting. I had a vision of a Hall of Fame Ring on my finger, but just as fast the fantasy evaporated. But why? What if…
It had always been Magic.
Granted, Magic hadn’t been invented until I was thirteen, but once Richard Garfield unveiled his masterpiece, everything changed for me.
I was blessed to have parents who provided me with no end of opportunity in my childhood; however, it was also a painful one. I was depressed, lacked any connection to other people, and felt hopelessly alone all of the time.
I had immersed myself deep into the world of video games and wanted to be a game designer when I grew up, if I wasn’t an astronaut. I had not found happiness, however.
I tried finding purpose in sports, playing football, basketball, baseball, wrestling, high jump, the mile, soccer, gymnastics, and more. A season-ending football injury left me without purpose for the rest of the year. What did it even matter? I performed well on the field, but I was an outsider. It wasn’t just that I was unpopular. I was alone and without purpose.
I was at a McDonald’s with my cousin and much of our families waiting on chicken nuggets. A year older than me, 14, it was not that out of the ordinary for him to have new things to show me I had never seen. That day, he showed me Force of Nature and 59 other Magic cards. He had no idea of the rules, but if there was one thing I knew, it was that Force of Nature was awesome.
The very next weekend, I discovered my only friend outside my family had recently discovered Magic as well. He knew more of the rules than my cousin, though I could tell Frozen Shade’s pumps weren’t supposed to be permanent.
My mom was going to get me some Arabian Nights Magic cards as a present, on a whim, while picking up some Dungeons and Dragons books. I didn’t really have friends to play with, but I spent days and weeks planning campaigns. She returned them when she discovered that they were supplemental product, not the core game (at the time, Unlimited).
After learning the rules from my friend, I immediately suggested we draft out of his cards. That wasn’t a thing people did (or had ever heard of), but I had a fantasy league baseball background and no cards to my name. We Rochester drafted out of his collection, and I summoned my first Craw Wurm.
My family went on a vacation immediately after this, leaving me with no time to get cards of my own. The Internet wasn’t much of a thing yet, so it wasn’t like there was anywhere to look up information on the cards. Instead, I just got in the back of the van with my four younger brothers and sisters and headed down to Florida.
As long as I could remember, I had been making up games to play with my four brothers and sisters. It was 1994, I was 13, and I didn’t only a single card.
That was the first time I made my own Magic set.
I taught my brothers and sisters to play. Whatever rules I didn’t know, I made up. I already knew that this wasn’t just a game. Things had changed. I always knew, and it had always been Magic.
Magic had immediately consumed me, but as much as I poured into it, it continued to give me more back. By my second year in the game, I heard about the creation of the Magic Pro Tour. I had always excelled at the game at the local level, but now there was a much bigger stage to play on.
School made it difficult to attend PTQs, but eventually there was one in Michigan and my mom let me go (thanks to a ride from my perennial chaperone, Eric D. Taylor). I was just 15, so they explained to me that I should play in the junior division. Strangely, in those days, you could still get paired against adults (and indeed, I played against nearly all adults until the Top 8). I piloted a four-color Thawing Glaciers control deck, winning easily and without taking even one loss.
It was at Pro Tour Dallas (ahhh, Dallas…) that I met my idols, Mark Justice and Brian Weissman, and was introduced to some men that would change my life, Chris Pikula and Brian Hacker. It is amazing how much of influence a 20 or 30 year old can have on a teenager. It would have been so easy for Pikula or Hacker to dismiss me (no question I was annoying). It would have been so easy to make fun of me, or at the very least, ignore me. They treated me with respect, talked to me like an adult, and showed me the Venn diagram between being a man and being a member of the Magic community. They loved the game as much as I did and helped me realize that it was ok to love Magic this much.
Magic had already begun building something inside of me. Was it confidence? Was it obsession? Dallas was something different entirely. I had been transported to a new world. Here I was, 1000 miles from home, in a hall filled with people like me. For the first time in my life, I didn’t feel alone.
Jon and Zvi in the Hall of Fame? Obviously. This is the Magic Hall of Fame, and it wouldn’t be the Magic Hall of Fame without them. As I read and reread the announcement article, it was a bittersweet realization that Magic had indeed grown to be worthy of a Hall of Fame, but where was I?
I used to be the youngest Pro, a sixteen-year-old kid surrounded by college kids from Ithaca and twenty-somethings from So-Cal. When anyone asked me what I was going to be when I grew up, I told them:
“A professional Magic player.”
Of course, that wasn’t really a thing back then. Not yet.
Some had a good laugh, and others tried to “steer me straight,” trying to get me to realize I needed to focus on school so I could get a job.
Who has time for a job? I’m too busy working all the time…
I reread the announcement one more time and decided that I wanted to be in the Magic Hall of Fame. Magic was the most important thing I had ever done or been a part of. It had changed my life, helping me make friends and share experiences with countless intelligent and interesting people from all over the globe, and it had instilled in me confidence and purpose. My education I owe to people and places Magic has brought into my life.
Magic helped me see the world, a blessing that has aided me in innumerable ways and made all the difference in shaping me as a human being. Magic gave my mind something to think about that would never run out. After I discovered Magic, I was never bored again, not even for a moment. There was always more Magic to think about.
I had a common language to speak to people in. I had a culture to be a part of. I was a part of something good that was becoming great.
Magic already meant the world to me, but I knew in that moment that I actually wanted to step up and give my all to Magic. Not just playing and winning, but helping Magic have a positive impact on others the same way it had had on me. I can never repay Chris Pikula and Brian Hacker for the positive impact they had on my life and on the Magic community. The best I could do is try to follow in their footsteps.
“Why don’t you list your accomplishments and contributions? Everyone knows you’re a writer, but most of the voters don’t even know you worked in R&D, broke more Type 1 cards than basically anybody, and spent countless hours helping shape tournament series. The Hall of Fame means more to you than anything. Why don’t you campaign?”
Because, old friend, I want it to mean more than anything to me. Every situation is different, but for me, this is the way it has to be.
My heart was racing. Somehow, I always seemed to end up back in Seattle, and it was always with big things happening. It was Hall of Fame voting time, and I had gotten that “one more Top 8,” everyone always talks about. Could this really be it? I knew it was still a long shot; only three people a year have ever gotten in since the switch to the 40% threshold. I had the Top 8s, but so did Shuhei, Jonsson, Huey, Herberholz, Ikeda, Harvey, Justice, Long, and Johns, not to mention champions like SteveOMS, Gary, Rietzl, Osyp, and Stark.
It was a tough year, but if it wasn’t this year, Paulo, Kenji, and Oiso lay in wait, ready to make 2012 the hardest year since the 40% threshold. In the world of three people getting in, a new class with three of the top 20 players of all time is a tough one.
Could 2011 be the year?
Shuhei, a true DI, was a mortal lock. Anton Jonsson, one of the finest Limited players the game has ever seen, had come close the year before. SteveOMS, one of the original greats of the game, had been building momentum (and probably should have been in long ago). With so many great American players, I knew the vote was sure to split.
I had heard rumors that people who had been voted in were receiving word. I had received no such word, and I knew in my heart of hearts that I had not made it.
As I flew across the country, digesting the news, I found myself strangely uplifted. Initially, it had hit me like a ton of bricks, but I knew I was going to be playing Magic the rest of my life, and if it was meant to be, it would be in good time.
I missed by five votes.
It was true that the Hall of Fame was what I wanted most, so I looked to see how I could improve. The Hall of Fame is a thing to earn, not to be entitled to. How could I improve my game to earn a spot? The most common reason listed for people that did not vote for me was my glaring shortage of Grand Prix finishes.
I had never taken Grand Prix seriously, as only the Pro Tour ever felt “for real.” The stakes were low enough at Grand Prix that I really just enjoyed seeing everyone and spending time immersed in the culture. This year, however, I decided to take it up a notch. Over the next six months, I made Top 8 of a couple of Grand Prix.
“Why don’t you campaign?”
“You still going to show up?” –Brian David-Marshall
I’m still showing up when my kids are 32.
I apologize if it has been a bit of an indulgent week. It’s not that there wasn’t more sweet new technology unveiled this weekend. In fact, this week was a pretty good one for that. It’s just that it has been a pretty emotional one as well.
In a story for another day, I regained my hearing (which had been 70% gone my entire adult life). Even more powerfully, it is finally starting to sink in. Someday I will get married, and someday I will have children of my own. Today, I am 32, and this is probably the most meaningful thing that has ever happened to me.
Some people feel that Magic is “just a game,” and that is ok. There is enough room in Magic for it to mean a lot of things to a lot of people. I share my thoughts and reflections over the past eighteen years of playing Magic because this game is the greatest thing that ever happened to me, and there is nothing I would like more than to help other people get out of it what I have.
I am so thankful for this game, the people I have met, and the experiences we have shared. I am humbled by this honor and shaken to my core. Thank you for giving me a chance to open up about some of the emotions swirling around inside of me. It has been a week I will never forget. I just about lost my breath when I received a cake this weekend, from two young men I had never met, Max Hausle and Danny Black, with “Congrats Chapin”inscribed in frosting.
William “Huey” Jensen missed by one vote this year. One. While I feel a physical pain from this, it does make me smile on the inside. Huey is one of the all-time greats, and this is a good sign for 2013. Still, there is a bit of reservation inside me. Missing by one vote does not make one a lock for the next year. It might take many years for the injustice to work itself out. I am excited to see what this means to Huey and what this means to the Magic scene over this next year.
Something I realized the moment Scott Larabee told me the news: my perspective had changed a little.
“One more Top 8…”
What was my new motivation? One more Top 8 was no longer the unspoken target; what was there to prove?
Now, it’s time to win one.