SCG Talent Search – Dreams, Shame, And The Future Of Magic

Thursday, February 17 – This is the last stand for these four SCG Talent Search contestants! Read Dan Barrett’s dream about Magic’s future and its integration into our community at large. Vote to see him become a regular columnist!

When you spend enough of your time thinking about something while awake, it begins to bleed over and permeate your sleep as well. As such, like many of
you surely do, I dream about Magic with some regularity.

Most recently, Matt Light had to come travel 100-odd miles to use my computer for a MODO PTQ, which he won in the lounge while I was watching TV in
bed. He then insisted on playing that Pro Tour dressed in a pink Power Rangers outfit. Complete with a little girl’s ballet tutu.

Before that, it was me winning a twelve-round, 1300-player “win a dog” tournament in Amsterdam, taking home a floppy-eared and waggy-tailed golden
retriever (called Roger or something equally ‘not a dog’s name’), and becoming the envy of all my friends. Here’s what that might have looked like:

        retriever win a dog

It’s funny the things you dream about, huh?

Now, what if we dream about the best possible future for Magic — a future in which the game is a household name and has grown to a size we couldn’t
imagine… except in our wildest dreams?

 *  *  *

It’s Sunday at Pro Tour Beijing 2022, and after 24 rounds of competition over the last three days, the Top 8 competitors are waiting in the wings
before heading out into the arena to play for the 2,000,000 top prize. Among them are Jen Seagram and fellow Fireball teammate Bella Flores, each
vying to be the third female to win a Pro Tour, Hall of Famer Brad Nelson on his triumphant return to the game, and the wunderkind Chase “Jace” van
Hammel, aged only fifteen, and already a two-time PT Champion.

The format is Standard, with a Mirrodin Reclaimed Winston Draft final, following fifteen rounds of Standard and three drafts. Jace the Omniscient
is a $300-card in Standard, and a Japanese foil, if you can find one, is over two-thousand dollars. The top pros are winning six figures each year
from the three main tournament series, with sponsorships from strategy sites, energy drink and clothing companies to match. Worldwide, there are
now over 200 million Magic players, with close to 15 million of them around the world tuning in to the live coverage streams on their phones and
via Magic Online for this Top 8.


In the ESPNG coverage studio, hosts Tim Willoughby, Christy James, and Dan Barrett have finished ribbing Gerry Thompson yet again for his
ill-advised “Ke$ha” tattoo (which he got following a prop-bet at PT Las Vegas 2012) and are now welcoming Bella Flores and dad Mike for a brief
pre-match interview, Bella joking about her “family tribute” deck name: Napster Lightsaber.

Back out on the floor, commentary stalwarts BDM and Rich Hagon are setting the stage for the night’s festivities, running down each competitor’s
stats and past achievements.

“… I mean, of course you want to believe in the girl you saw grow up into the Pro Tour, who cut her teeth on the 100K opens before she could even
drive, or the Hall of Famer just now coming back to the game straight into a PT Top 8, but…”

“Chase. Van. Hammel.”


“Well, they don’t call him ‘Jace’ for no reason — that lad is incredible! He knows just about everything there is to know about this game!”

“Yea and the youngest Pro Tour champion ever. Can you really bet against him after winning so decisively in Rio de Janeiro?”

“The bookies are certainly with you on that one BDM — my sources tell me he’s a 3-to-2 favorite — if you’re a betting kind of guy, of course.”

“Well… with the change of format to Winston Draft after the semis, I think anything could happen tonight!”

“We’ll just have to wait and see… Now, let’s go to our announcer and head judge for the player entrances.”

“Okay, we’ll be back with the play-by-play in five, folks!”

 *  *  *

It sounds like pure fantasy, doesn’t it?

Well, right now, it is.


Well, for Magic to ever get that big, we need some huge things to happen that we can’t even begin predict (one of Nassim Taleb’s Black Swan events). But, we also need to provide an environment that will
allow the game to expand as much as possible in the meantime.

And right now, many of us are failing miserably at this and in one area in particular.


We’re ashamed, not proud, of our game. We hide it from our friends and family. We mumble, rather than shout. We stay silent, rather than evangelize
about Magic.

We look down on ourselves for loving to play magical cards, joke that it’s an “ironic” hobby, that we are playing “a children’s card game” to our
“other friends,” and that we’re only in it for the potential prizes. We look down on ourselves and seem to have an opinion like this about what we
Magic players are like as a group:

Magic on Family Guy

It just isn’t true, and yet we insist upon perpetuating views such as this about ourselves, that Magic is socially unacceptable — refusing to show how
great Magic really is to the rest of the world.

Because of this, the rest of the world carries on believing whatever we let them, stumbling in the darkness of ignorance.

Don’t believe me? Some hard evidence:

I met my now good friend Phil Dickinson at Nationals 2009. Up until that point, his girlfriend had no idea what it was he was doing in secret, all
those evenings and weekends away. He nearly didn’t tell her why he had to go to Brighton for four days with some apparently good friends that she’d
barely met. And when he did, while she didn’t mind, he felt embarrassed doing so.

Rising stars Jason Ford and here Julian Booher have recently referenced the issue of telling their “other friends” that they play Magic:

Before this year, I wouldn’t necessarily hide the fact that I play Magic from my friends, but I’d avoid talking about it… While I understand high
school is pretty different from college and so forth, it just seems ridiculous that some people are completely ashamed to be Magic players.

In an article describing how he met his now
wife, Matt Elias describes a similar reluctance to “own up” to playing Magic, this time to the women in his life:

Jen knew that I used to play Magic and knew that I’d played it a little bit again recently and never looked down on me for it. I didn’t feel like I
had to hide it from her.

I had dated Lauri for several years before I told her that I’d ever played Magic, so this was a change.

And in one of fellow #scgsearch writer Pedro Alvarado articles, we see it all over again, even
(though perhaps jokingly) comparing the admission to that of having an STD:

At one point in time relationships reach the full disclosure stage where you say things like “I have a venereal disease” or “I’d like to have eight
children” or “I hate children” or “My cats are more important than your religion” or “My religion is more important than your cats.” The moment
when you confess to “The Secret.”

What secret? You know… that secret. The one that’s so dark you’d rather just get it out in the open, so it doesn’t come back to snake you later.
The one that has bit you in the past.

Me: “I play cards.”

These few examples are just the well-documented tip of an iceberg of shame we seem doomed to sink ourselves on.

But why do we behave like this? There are a lot of misconceptions and myths out there that cause such behavior, so let’s identify and dispel them:

Myth #1 — “Regular people don’t think playing trading card games is interesting or cool”

If you think this is true, then you need to give the average person a lot more credit. The vast majority of people will give you the chance to talk
about any interest you might have, even if they’re not going to rush out and take it up themselves. Just think of the times you’ve listened to a
co-worker talking about their weekend playing a sport, going to a wine tasting, etc.

The stigma around being a Magic player (or any other “geek” hobby, for that matter) is almost entirely created by the players themselves and is
perpetuated by their not wanting to talk about it for fear of the reaction they will get.

It’s something that winds up my girlfriend Hana a treat:

This seriously annoys me when Magic players display this attitude, ‘Oh no one gets me and I can’t tell anyone about my card game which I think is
really good fun because they’ll think I’m lame, in fact I’m not even going to try and explain it to anyone to make it sound fun because there’s no

The ‘taboo’ of playing this kind of thing is made worse BY THE PLAYERS THEMSELVES because they are often embarrassed to tell people they play it
because of the perceived negative reaction they will get.

That an outsider to the game can so readily identify this problem is proof of how prevalent it is.

So, give people a chance before assuming they don’t want to hear about what interests you.

Myth #2 — “Girls/guys don’t want to go out with Magic players”

I’ll let you into a little secret here — geeks are hot.

Being passionate and resolutely unapologetic about what you enjoy doing is very attractive. It doesn’t matter what it is (as long it’s not
illegal/immoral), just that you love it.

Sure, maybe for some small minority of people, your having a particular hobby or interest you are passionate about is a deal-breaker, something they
are unwilling to tolerate.

F*** those people. Seriously.

People who won’t like you for who you really are are not worth wasting any time on. And have you seen Brian Kibler?! Do you think he gets many
rejections on the basis of his being a Magic player?

Now, imagine the following conversation and how ridiculous and unreasonable it sounds:

“Oh hey man, how’s it going with that chick…? Laura was it?”

“Yea, we went out the other night, saw a movie, had some drinks, it was fun. We made out at the end for a bit, and she said she’d had a great

“Awesome! Sounds like she’s keen for a bit more… if you know what I mean!”

“Yea, well… I don’t think I’ll be seeing her again.”

“Really? She’s hot, dude. I’d totally hit that.”

“Oh, she is, don’t get me wrong. But when we were driving back, I asked her what she’s doing on the weekend — and it turns out she’s on the hockey
team. Like, what a loser, there is no way I would be caught dead with a girl who plays hockey. I mean, if she played Magic: The Gathering or
something I’d be fine with it, but hockey?! Are you freaking kidding me?!”

“I hear ya, bro. Screw that.”

Now swap Magic and hockey back around: Yea, that’s what some of us actually think people will say and think. Stupid, right?

Myth #3 — “I can’t explain and/or defend my hobby”

Can’t, or won’t?

If you don’t try to challenge people’s perceptions of whatever it is you do, then nothing will ever change in how you and others who share your
interest are looked at by outsiders. While many laymen will recognize the name “Magic: The Gathering” and have some vague impression of what it is
(that may be slightly negative, sure), by explaining from the beginning and answering any questions or refuting any misconceptions they may have, you
can quickly get them to appreciate it.

WotC doesn’t like this expression (it makes Magic sound a lot like gambling for one), but “It’s like a cross between chess and poker, with a mild fantasy theme” is a great start on describing Magic as something better than ” Pokémon for people too old for Pokémon“.

David Williams frequently gets flak from other poker pros at the tables for his enjoyment of Magic — his explanatory response to jokes made about him
“messing around with Dragons and Elves” is excellent:

It’s played like a game of chess. Usually 1-on-1 but instead of playing with six different pieces, you select your own pieces out of a pool ranging
from hundreds to thousands of options.

In chess, it doesn’t matter that the King is shaped like a crown or the Knight is shaped like a horse. That’s for flavor and to help identify each
piece. They could all be a block with the word KING or KNIGHT on them telling you what they are or with a sentence on them telling you how they
move. The same thing applies to Magic cards. There is text on the card, which tells you how the card “moves.” Each card may have a Dragon, Elf or
other fantasy element, but for gameplay that doesn’t matter. That’s purely for flavor and an added element to help in collectability.”

It’s not hard to explain what Magic is, if you decide you want to do so. The hardest part is resolving to give that explanation. Educating others is

Myth #4 — “It’s okay, I don’t need to tell them anyway”

Now we’ve covered why people will (for the most part) take an interest in what you have to say about cards, that you won’t be looked down upon for it,
and how to defend common misconceptions, a question — Why wouldn’t you want to share your great enjoyment and experiences with your “other friends?”

As I explored in my first article for this contest, Magic
is about so much more than just the games. For example, on one European Magic trip, we were packed up and ready to go home when one of our group (and
the skinniest one at that) sat down on a wooden chair in our room, which promptly exploded. Worrying about getting our deposits back, it was somehow
decided we should “dispose of the body.” This meant breaking up the chair further, climbing down from the balcony onto the second floor roof,
walking across it, and hiding what was now firewood under a ventilation pipe. All while being as quiet as possible and trying not to be caught in the

Now imagine six guys doing that, in absolute hysterics, at about 7 am in the morning, painfully hung over. This situation had nothing to do with the
cards and yet would never have occurred without Magic. But there are the funny and satisfying experiences that come from the games themselves too and
the culture and community that surround it.

Why would you not want your friends and family to have an understanding of what is undoubtedly an important part of your life and enjoy it with you?
Just as you take an interest in and support them in their endeavors, they deserve to be able to do the same for you.

How to build that Magical future:

Force yourself to be able to explain Magic better. Think about what it is at the most basic level that got you hooked (for me, it’s been the constant
learning and mental challenge, with a competitive element), and how you would explain this, the mechanics, and flavor of the game to someone who
doesn’t play anything more complex than Monopoly.

Next, put this into practice — tell a friend who doesn’t know much about Magic what it is. Answer their questions. Show your passion. Don’t force it
upon them, but if they show any interest, offer to teach them the basics.

Finally, make it easy for people to ask you about Magic — wearing Magic apparel (which has vastly improved in just the last year) or using a Magic card
as your bookmark can (and will, trust me) lead to even strangers asking you “Hey, what is that?” At which point, you should now be able to give a
compelling explanation. Don’t hide the fact you play; be open about it.

Take pride in the things you love:

This video
was recently linked on Twitter by Brian Kibler — you needn’t watch it all (it is nearly two hours long, though fascinating!), but please watch the
first few minutes.

In a single line one minute in, he gives one of the most important lessons we, as gamers, can learn in life:

There is nothing more cool than being proud of the things that you love.”

There is no reason for you to be ashamed of, or apologize, for any hobby you genuinely enjoy. Take pride in our game, and help build the foundations
for Magic to grow ever more successful in future.

 We owe it to ourselves to do better.

*   *   *

Thank you to everyone who has read (and even voted for!) my articles over the past couple months;
it’s been a pleasure to have you here as an audience, and you should now have an idea of what to expect from me in any future writings and a reason to
vote for me now.

I’d also like to thank Ted Knutson for making this Talent Search happen, Ferrett for giving me so much useful advice, along with Tim Willoughby (who
did this week’s photoshoppery), Sam Stoddard, Tom Reeve, the regulars on DT and GG, and all those who’ve spoken to me about Magic and my articles on
forums, Facebook, Twitter, and in person. Plus of course the lovely Hana, for putting up with my constant writing, editing, and Magic-playing.

Until next time,

Dan Barrett

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