With #SCGPC this weekend, I have a strong incentive not to publicize my thoughts on the various formats. Fortunately, it also has me reflecting a lot on my last year of Magic and the lessons I have learned.
Making the #SCGPC is a fantastic accomplishment and one that I am quite proud of, but it would be incredibly arrogant of me to think of it as entirely individual. I have had so much help from so many different people that enumerating them would be impossible.
And honestly, this has been the case for my entire Magic career. The game may be played one on one, but those games are won and lost based on many more sets of hands. Many writers have extolled the virtues of networking to improve your play and that is certainly the case. From having people to travel with to more tournaments, a bigger pool of cards, and the opportunity to practice with better players, there are plenty of reasons to immerse yourself in the community.
But the reasons to network with other players transcend well beyond their utilitarian value to improving your game. As you meet other players and forge friendships, the game becomes bigger and more important in the grand scheme of your life. You not only grow as a player but as a person.
Suddenly you are working not just for yourself but for your friends and teammates. Each success any of you realize is a success for all of you. It multiplies. When things do not go as well, your failure is divided amongst everyone, cushioning the blow.
So when I talk about networking, I mean of this kind. Networking to immerse yourself in the community and take part in something that is bigger than yourself. When you do so with humility you will be met in kind and not only will your game improve, your experience will be much more meaningful. You will find people that see more in you than you see in yourself, and their faith will give you the confidence to reach that potential.
You cannot do these things by yourself. Isolation breeds doubt as you constantly second-guess yourself. It also breeds complacency when you are too close to your own problems to see them. Everyone has their biases and there is only so much self-reflection can accomplish. You need honest, well-meaning outside perspectives in order to grow, both as a Magic player and as a person.
Somewhat unfortunately, the people who help and support us along the way are never acknowledged for their role in our successes. I would like to rectify a small part of that today by recognizing the people who have helped me achieve all I have over the last several years. I probably don’t tell them enough how grateful I am for all they have done, and in many cases, continue to do. I certainly would not be writing this today or competing this weekend without them.
First, my incredibly supportive family, especially my parents, whose patience I have tested over the last four years. They had much more sanity than me when questioning the legitimacy of pursuing Magic full-time, but slowly their concern has turned to excitement over my latest article or tournament finish. Seeing that change in them has been given me more pride than any accolade or trophy.
To my fellow Claremont College grads, who have truly been a second family. Like the first, they were quite skeptical at my chosen path, but have also become incredibly supportive, watching a game where they have little to no idea what is going on just because it’s meaningful for me. I always try to emphasize the downsides of traveling as much as I do, but they feign just enough envy to make a life of hotel rooms and convention center hot dogs glamorous.
To Team Perfect Scrubs, the ragtag group I first started traveling with regularly. I was drifting away from Magic toward the end of high school, and for better or worse, they roped me back in. We spent a lot of weekends waking up before sunrise, piling into a car, and driving off to a PTQ where if we were lucky, someone would top 8. It is with them that I first started looking at myself as a Magic player.
To Eric Meyer. Eric is the owner of Ice Imports, a gaming store in Connecticut that I have represented for the last 3.5 years. Back in 2012 when I was far less accomplished, Eric had the crazy notion that I should be a sponsored Magic player. This allowed me to travel more liberally as well as giving me the chance to become an ambassador in the local community. Beyond that, Eric has taught me the importance of taking risks in life. There is almost never a perfect time for anything, so you have to be willing to take chances despite knowing that you will make mistakes. All you can do is learn from them and move on. (This applies to Magic, too.)
Keeping on the theme of people that took a chance on me, where would I be without our benevolent dictator, Cedric Phillips? I have been reading Magic articles for over ten years, but the idea of writing them was little more than fantasy. Now invariably a few times a weekend, someone approaches me to thank me for my work, which remains both surreal and humbling.
Beyond the incredible help to my professional career, Cedric and his vision for the future of the game itself have been an inspiration to me. I started playing Magic when it was still a niche hobby where everyone either accepted or relished in their outsider status. As Magic has grown, Cedric has refused to accept any limitations for the game and has worked tirelessly to make it as big as possible. This confidence in me and the game of Magic has been a constant source of pride for me, even at the worst of times.
Next, I move one seat over, to Cedric’s partner in the booth, Patrick Sullivan. Getting to know Patrick over the last few years I have come to truly idolize him. Nothing about Patrick is a facade, and he is always willing to take time to talk to a fan, even if it comes during the ten minutes he has to eat a burrito between rounds. Patrick does not demand respect outright, he commands it by being among the best ambassadors Magic will ever have. While I may be seeing a bit less of him now that he’s taking a step back from commentating, now that he will be playing more I can finally get some revenge for punting that match with Maverick three years ago.
To Brian Swatkins, Chris Marshall, Jason Ellis, and Chas Tanner. These three guys have spent countless hours listening to me rant about various things in car rides, whether it be how unlucky I was to lose round six or my disdain for Taylor Swift’s music and her cult of fans. We may have been sick of each other by Sunday night at 2 am, but come the next Friday we were back at it. I hope you have enjoyed it as much as I have.
To Justin Bransfield. Justin is one my oldest friends. We met right as I started playing Magic in middle school. Over the years I have tried to influence him to become as psychotic as me and grind Magic non-stop, but he’s always had more sense than that. I guess that explains why his aptitude for the game has always been so high. His talent always brought out my competitive drive, pushing me to work harder and improve. While comparing yourself to others is often fruitless, I think it is important to have people around that push you.
And finally to Shawn Falbowski. While I met Shawn through Magic and we talk about it a fair bit, our friendship has been especially important to me because it has keeps me grounded. Well, as grounded as being kidnapped and transported to Manhattan for a day of solving escape rooms can make me.
I could keep going, listing hundreds more people that have helped me along the way. They have loaned me cards, listened to me stress out about deck choices, or helped me flesh out an article. And it would be all too easy to look at that list and think that it somehow diminishes my accomplishments. But as I noted earlier, in reality it magnifies them by spreading the same happiness and pride we feel in those accomplishments to everyone who was rooting for you.
I don’t know if this sense of camaraderie manifests in other communities, although I suspect it does. Succeeding in any high level competition means dealing with lots of stress and putting in a lot of work and there would be no reason to do that without a great network of people in support.
In the middle of a long year of grinding tournaments it is rare that I have time to look back, reflect, and reminisce over the road I traveled to get here. Instead I, like many people, am constantly looking forward–to the next tournament or the next article. A lot gets lost in the constant lurch forward, but we should all take the time to ensure that those people that have done the most for and meant the most to us know how important they are.
I am sure to have plenty of people in my corner this weekend, and I certainly hope to give them something to cheer about. Because, when push comes to shove, these are the people that make my Magic life worth it. Worth the stress of preparing week in and week out while sacrificing most of my weekends. Worth the pain of mulling to five in a win and in match or the frustration of a delayed flight.
Many people like to compare Magic to the matrix as though it was some sort of alternate universe that we escape to when “real life” is too stressful. And for the majority of people for which Magic is a hobby, it does often function as such an escape. But for me and a growing population, Magic is our real life. And maybe that does take some of the whimsy out of the game since high-level competitors are too busy metagaming and fine tuning manabases to remember the days when we battled 80-card decks in the cafeteria. But as I have hopefully demonstrated here, Magic can be just as meaningful when it takes on a primary role in your life.
Because in both cases, it is the company we keep that makes it all worthwhile.