SCG Talent Search – What I’ve Done: The Confessions

Thursday, December 9th – John Dale has some ‘fessing up to do! Why does he owe apologies to Kyle Sanchez, AJ Sacher, and Craig Wescoe? Find out inside…

“In this farewell, there’s no blood, there’s no alibi
‘Cause I’ve drawn regret from the truth of a thousand lies
So let mercy come and wash away what I’ve done…”

— Linkin Park,

“What I’ve Done”


Our errors in life follow us, hovering over the shoulder like a personal Guiltfeeder. For as long as we can think, we either live with our mistakes or come to terms with them, either through a genuine will to change or a fall into callousness, penitent understanding, or erosion of the soul.

Whether your errors are grave sins or small foibles, when the feelings of remorse grow too strong to ignore, I believe there’s one correct path: to admit our wrongs and seek forgiveness—in short, to confess.

I cannot ask you to make such a confession, though, without asking it of myself and then acting upon it.

We’re all Magic sinners, one way or another. Nobody plays Magic for eight years without stepping on toes and occasionally acting like an utter jackass, and I’m hardly an exception. Like a Kamigawa Spirit cobbled together from symbols of the past, my Guiltfeeder is a strange-looking beast. There’s a large foil Cabal Interrogator in the middle, surrounded by a snippet of local Magic lore, a forum post I can’t bring myself to delete, and a 3-0 draft deck I’ve kept together for weeks. My Guiltfeeder may be invisible to everyone else, but I can still feel it behind me, and I can’t ignore it anymore.

If I don’t take hold of the remorse I feel, I’ll never be able to let it go.

I’ve written out four confessions to four of my worst Magical sins. Two of them were known before this, and two I’ve kept hidden until now. One is less than a month old, while another has gnawed at me for the better part of seven years. They all weigh on me, and I’m ready for that feeling to end.

As the song continues, “I’ll face myself… and let go of what I’ve done.”

Are you with me?

Cheating with the Five Cabal Interrogator Deck (July 12, 2003)

This is perhaps the worst of my Magic sins, and the one that has haunted me the longest.

My first Grand Prix tournament was in Detroit. I’d just turned eighteen. I didn’t know what I was doing in Magic or in life. I was playing mono-black Discard-Zombies in an Onslaught Block tournament, and terribly at that. I was making bad (dollar-value) trades and parting with the rest of my money when I bought an overpriced foil every time I won a round.

My first win came in round 4. I cheated in round 5.

I don’t remember what my opponent was playing, but it was a solid deck, Tier 2 at least. He was a good player, too, better than the 1-3 bracket. I have his full name from my DCI records, but he’s not a Magic celebrity like the others I’ve wronged, so he should have a measure of privacy. His first name was Sean.

We shuffled up and traded decks. He pile shuffled mine and ended in an awkward place in his four-card pattern.

“You have 61 cards.”

I’d registered a 60-card deck, and I knew it. I felt scared, trapped… all the emotions that make people lie to judges and get disqualified. So of course I tried to bluff him.


One word. Deceptive. Illegal. This wasn’t
The Danger of Small Cheats…

more like The Danger of Pathetic Cheats. I put on what I thought was a poker face and considered what I might say to the judge. My head was full of lies.

It never came to that. Sean gave my deck a few riffles and handed it back. Then he beat me easily, two games to none. I’d cheated, and I wasn’t even good enough to cheat him out of a game or a match. The person I’d really hurt was myself.

I found the extra card after I signed the match slip and slipped away from the table. It was a foil Cabal Interrogator. I’d bought it after my round 4 win and added it to my deck, but I hadn’t taken a regular copy out to compensate.

I thought about that match after my tournament was over. I took away three big lessons: don’t mess with your Constructed deck during a tournament, cheating doesn’t feel good (I make an even worse sociopath than I do a person), and call the judge on yourself if you’re in the wrong.

I’ve parted with of most of my Onslaught Block cards, but I still have that foil. Those five Cabal Interrogators and I kept the secret for seven years, but it’s out now.

Sean, if you’re reading this, I’ve lived by the lessons I learned ever since. I hope that’s some consolation.

Yes, I Got to Play Kyle Sanchez (February 9, 2008)

This guilty memory hangs by a thread, a thread I’m ready to snap.

My only PTQ Top 8 (so far) came at a qualifier for Hollywood. It was held in Fort Worth, Texas, and I rode in from Dallas on the train. I remember what I was wearing: white dress shirt, gray slacks, black tie.

I remember what I was playing, too. I had Affinity, a terrible, nonsensical, absurdly tarted-up version of Affinity. The decklist deserves to be buried forever, but you wouldn’t believe me if I didn’t show you how bad it is, so here you go.

That’s right… three copies of Atog, two of Myr Enforcer, one Tarmogoyf, and a sideboard featuring such platinum hits as Krark-Clan Shaman and Envelop. But I was playing Arcbound Ravager as a four-of, and that was all that mattered. The Osyp line about Arcbound Ravager is ridiculously true: “Arcbound Ravager is like a fairy godmother. It sits on your shoulder and says ‘You play badly, but I don’t care. I still love you.'”

Let me tell you, I was feeling the love that day, right up to the quarterfinals. Eight rounds of Swiss in the PTQ, and I started 4-0. I was smashing people with crazy draws. Red Deck Wins, Destructive Flow, Mono-Blue Control, didn’t matter. Then I faced a strong out-of-town player piloting Rock in round 5. Game one: Living Wish for Kataki, War’s Wage. Done. Game two: second verse, same as the first.

I knew my winning streak couldn’t last forever, and I was in a bad state of mind, ready to scrub out like I’d done every time before. I waited for the round 6 pairings to go up. Then I found my opponent. It was Kyle Sanchez, the once and future StarCityGames.com columnist.

I felt like dead meat with a side of elation.

I was going to face one of my favorite Magic writers, he was going to slaughter me in two games,
and then he was going to write about it.

This was going to be humiliating and awesome.

Then a weird thought crossed my mind: “Wait a minute. You still have a chance.”

Then a weirder thought: “You’re going to get embarrassed anyway. What do you have to lose?”

And in a split second: “Here goes nothing.”

What happened next has grown into local legend. I respectfully dispute any accounts of shrieking, screaming, or almost hitting other people with my notebook.

I will, however, admit to jumping up and down and proclaiming loudly, perhaps with a side of freakish rapture, “Yes! I get to play Kyle Sanchez!” I even mispronounced his name when I said it, just for good measure.

Then I looked around, mumbled an apology, and went to the proper table. I shook Kyle’s hand and introduced myself as a fan of his. I went a little hyperbolic and called myself a fanboy. We were deck-checked, and Kyle ducked out to hide in the restroom. The gambit was working, yet it wasn’t entirely a gambit. Sure, my outward behavior was exaggerated, but the core of it was authentic.

Poor Kyle didn’t know what to think, and his mind definitely wasn’t on the game. Arcbound Ravager played fairy godmother again, and I beat him in two games.
He wrote about it, of course, all Kyle-style.

He also carefully avoided me for a year and a half.

The “Yes! I get to play Kyle Sanchez!” and all related tactics are retired forever. If I ever get another match against a favorite pro or
writer, I’ll express my appreciation for work well done, but I won’t tell Patrick Chapin
how good he looked in that dress

for example.

As for Kyle, I finally came clean to him at the Public Events for Pro Tour Austin. He’ll talk to me now, and under the circumstances, that makes him a bigger man than I would’ve been, so thanks, Kyle.

The Day I Called Out AJ Sacher (July 22, 2010)

I loathe forum trolls, but on a few occasions I’ve become what I hate. One of those ill-intended forum posts directly led me to entering the StarCityGames.com Talent Search, and so led me here to these confessions. I can’t go on without coming clean on that incident.

The target of that post, which I wrote with far too much venom in my heart, was AJ Sacher. I’d been reading his Star City articles for about four
months, and while he irritated me, I liked what he was trying to do. Then came the final straw. His article
“Learning to Fish”

went up, and I thought it was terrible. I went nuts on him in the forums. I went back to read what I’d written, and I was even harsher than I’d remembered. Three of the worst bits:

“By the same standards you hold other people to in Magic, you’re not good at writing.”

“What will anyone remember from any of your articles in the past four months besides your insults?”

“If you don’t have one, get a copy of
The Elements of Style

by Strunk and White. Read it front to back. Do it again. Your grammar is fine, so focus on structure and style.”

Oy. Like the time I was a fifty-minute fanboy for Kyle Sanchez, there was a piece of truth in what I was doing; I tried to give him some good advice. After what I said before that, though, it’s no wonder he didn’t take any of it!

Then another commenter, madsage2049, quoted my post and said, “Why isn’t this guy writing instead? I learned and enjoyed more in ten lines from him than the last six Sacher articles combined.”

I was totally flattered, but with Star City on a closed system, I didn’t know how to break in, and I didn’t want to appear arrogant, so I said I wouldn’t deserve it. I praised the dedication needed to write articles week-in and week-out and said I didn’t have it, but AJ did. Again, there was a measure of truth in what I said—but it was just another honest core surrounded by deception, this time false modesty. Of course I thought I could do better…

A couple of months passed. There was a kerfuffle, and AJ took his talents elsewhere. Six weeks after that, StarCityGames.com announced the Talent Search.

As I read about the Talent Search, I thought about AJ and what I’d written in the forums about his article, and I felt like a total hypocrite. I’d called him out, said he wasn’t a good writer, and told him to go back to the basics. I’d torn him down, only to turn around and say I wouldn’t be worthy to follow in his shoes. The Talent Search was like a sign: put up or shut up.

I started to write.

I submitted the provocative article that eventually came from that first writing session. I called it
“Flirting at Magic Tournaments: A Primer,”

and it was chosen for the Talent Search. When it went up, I got a lot of hits, a little praise, and plenty of criticism.

It all felt like justice.

AJ, I apologize for slamming you in the forums when I could’ve given you calm, constructive advice in private. I hope you’ll forgive me.

Craig Wescoe, Alone (November 14, 2010)

I may be more aware of my faults now than when I was younger, but I’m still far from perfect. You’ve read about three of my worst Magic moments already, but just last month, I did something I’ve regretted ever since. Technically, it’s more a sin of omission than a sin of commission, but a sin nonetheless.

I was in Austin, Texas, for a Limited 5K tournament. I had a great road trip down and back with a few other Dallas folks. Dodgy truck stops, a small-town Wal-Mart, orange-pineapple juice in a Dixie cup, honey ham on raisin bread, and an iPod on shuffle and hooked up to the sound… good times.

We got to the tournament site, and I recognized a few people. One of them was Craig Wescoe, eventual winner of the tournament, former StarCityGames.com columnist, and

no stranger to the mea culpa.

I’d never seen Craig in person before. He wasn’t smiling like in the pictures I’d seen of him. He seemed sad, or maybe tired.

He wasn’t just sad or tired, though. He was alone.

I remember him walking alone, pulling a blue-green suitcase behind him. I remember him sitting alone between rounds, a bunch of bananas on the table in front of him. I don’t remember seeing anyone else talk to him. I thought about going up to Craig, saying hello, shaking his hand.

Like everyone else I saw, I kept my distance.

I told myself I was being smart, that Craig probably wanted to be left alone, but I felt like a coward. I went 0-2 drop in the main event, then 3-0 in a draft with a deck I still haven’t taken apart. Before my carload headed back to Dallas, I went 1-1 at sober pool in the Casino el Camino on Sixth Street, and I thought about him the whole time.

I’m sorry, Craig. I should’ve introduced myself, even if it was just a quick hello. I try to be a good person, but sometimes I’m bad at it.


Thank you for reading and sharing in these confessions of mine. I hope I’ve inspired you to look at what you’ve done in Magic, and if there’s something weighing on your mind, to seek forgiveness.

I started this article with Linkin Park singing a line, “in this farewell.” With five contestants competing for two spots in the next round, this article could be my farewell, but I’m not ready for my Talent Search to end. If you want to see more of my writing, please vote for me in the box below. Thank you.