III. The Man Who Didn’t Want To Be A Section. Ed Fear. Guptil And The DCI Tank Squad.
I told a man I know that I was planning to write a large tournament report. “I’m hoping,” I said to him, “that it will be the definitive tournament report – the tournament report by which all other tournament reports are measured.”
III. The Man Who Didn’t Want To Be A Section. Ed Fear. Guptil And The DCI Tank Squad.
“It will catalogue everything…the whole experience,”I continued. “And of course, there will be a section about you.”
At this news, he seemed to unburden himself of something that was half scoff, half tired demurral.
“I don’t want to be a section,”said Josh Bennett.
As much as I hate to go against the wishes of a gentleman who is, in the art of prose, immeasurably my superior, I feel that to do any less would be a disservice. Resplendent as always in stylish black garb, accentuated by that rogueish coif of what you can only call”majestic” proportions, Josh Bennett deflects acclaim like Neo dodges bullets. He bends his body in unimaginable directions while the compliments fly by, missing the mark by mere inches. That’s noble in its way, but sometimes you have to grin and bear the praise, if only to throw your admirers a bone.
I remember talking to the Ferrett about OMC, and I said something to the effect of “I think I can be as good as OMC when I’m on my game.” We weren’t talking about Magic, as I’m sure you know. His response was both correct and slightly stinging:
“You’re not OMC,”he said. “No one is.”
Oh, and dear reader, how true! I had occasion to talk to Josh Bennett for a good ten minutes on Thursday, and I’m happy to report that it wasn’t nearly as awkward as the first time we had a conversation, at Canadian Nationals. We talked about Magic, writing, clothes (“When did you get style?” he asked, and I didn’t have the heart to tell him that the hair was actually the creation of a homosexual hairdresser by the name of Luc) and life in general. He remains as sharp as a tack, conversationally, and I always feel like I’m one step behind when I’m speaking with the man.
Was that last sentence filled with sufficient profundities? I’m not boring him, am I? Is he going to look at his watch soon, and tell me that he has to be going? I must hurry up and say something intriguing!
One of the best parts of my Pro Tour weekend was when Josh and I were sitting around, very late Saturday evening, discussing the new cardface design with Steve Wolfman, Elijah Pollock, Jurgen Hahn, and others. He expressed his opinions on the subject with such eloquence that I suddenly had an image of the group of us gathered around his chair not as fellow players but as devout religious scholars trying to absorb the last theological wisdom of an ancient, dying rabbi. This odd notion was further reinforced by the fact that OMC was suffering from the flu for most of the weekend, and his sentences were regularly punctuated by an array of coughs, sniffles, and other excruciating, phlegm-related esophageal asides.
At one point, nearing the height of his sermon about the new cardface, he broke into a coughing fit of such grandiosity that in the midst of it I offered to get him a drink of water, and things became even more surreal.
(master, don’t strain yourself, let me get you a drink, sensei, let me get you a drink, my teacher, so that you might impart more wisdom on me before your time on this planet is done)
Of course, he refused it (the man can’t take a compliment or a glass of water, it seems), but Jurgen Hahn left to get him one anyhow, and the subject turned toward Being Sincere vs. Being A Phony, a discussion into which he launched his prodigious intellect with aplomb. The beginnings of this conversation were sown when I remarked to OMC that I didn’t think I could be outgoing like, say, an Ed Fear or Peter Szigeti… Something that might be necessary to get to know people on the Pro Tour should I be on the train one day. That got us going, and before it was over, we had opinions from the passing Dave Price, the returning Jurgen Hahn (who had the water), and many other wandering (and often hopelessly inebriated) luminaries.
Is it easier to be sincere, and thus face the rigors of trying to be true in a society of phonies… Or easier to put up a false front, and act outgoing when in fact you are more introverted than the average belly-button? This is a conversational can of worms that I won’t open here, but ask yourself this question before you roll into bed tonight.
The subject would eventually switch to the”Final Fantasy” series by Squaresoft, where many different opinions were heard. Josh liked Kingdom Hearts, but I prefer to play games where one of the heroes isn’t a talking duck who walks around bare-assed in a sailor suit. Steve Wolfman swung in with the minority opinion that Final Fantasy I was the best (what the hell?), and Elijah and others were adamant in their disgust with Final Fantasy 8, a game that I don’t feel was that bad. It should be noted that Elijah has got the”ace up my sleeve” tattoo sported by Ed Norton in Rounders, something that earns him a ton of style points in my book. That being said, Final Fantasy 8 was better than Final Fantasy 9.
The group eventually broke up a little, and Tom Pannell (a face I still recognize from my second-round drubbing at GP Detroit 2000, where he was my only Day 1 defeat) dropped by to tell OMC that he should get some sleep because he had to be up early the next morning. In the background, Peter Szigeti was wandering around and yelling “Kaboom!” every so often. I was introduced to the”baby-faced assassin,” a minor obviously under the influence of a lot of alcohol. I won’t lie and say that this didn’t make me a little uncomfortable, but everyone seemed to take it in stride, so I decided not to call the CPD.
So Josh Bennett, the man with the laptop, had to go to bed. And I suppose that’s the end of the OMC section.
Sorry, Josh. I had to do it.
So those were my second and third conversations with Josh Bennett, and I think they went well. Of course, OMC wasn’t the only guy I touched base with over the course of the weekend. Another familiar face that I was glad to see was Mike Guptil, who was head judge at the event. As usual, I have nothing but good things to say about Mike Guptil. His events are always well-run, and he is a man of good humor and good character.
Mike, social predator that he is, once saw fit to riff on my Canadian heritage by exclaiming “Draft…eh?” while calling the Top 8 Rochester at a PTQ in Detroit, and that, really, is the quintessential Guptil – a man apt to mix business with pleasure. In fact, the PES headman is, without a doubt, an ideal face for the DCI when it comes to both professional skill, event management, and the all-important human aspect.
Tournament organizers and judges are people too, of course, and both”The Guppy” and Detroit-area judge Shawn Jefferies are faces that I’m glad to see when an event rolls around. In fact, as I write this, I’ve just returned from finishing 4th at a two-hundred-player prerelease where Shawn was the head judge, and things went swimmingly as usual. These guys, and others like them, are just invaluable when it comes to keeping Magic alive. The DCI Tank Squad, as I’ve become fond of calling them (a name reflective of the ironclad nature of their characters, the powerful and authoritative nature of their positions, and the prodigious nature of their physiques) are always ready to roll into action when a tournament needs structure, when a question needs to be answered, and when a decision needs to be made.
I bet Mike has a lot of good stories to tell, and I don’t mind telling you that in the future, I hope to have a chance to sit down and have dinner with the man, if only to hear a few of those tales. As it was, I only had a few precious minutes to chat with Mike at PT Chicago, but it was a good feeling to catch up with him before he had to don the red shirt. In fact, at the time we talked, it was the infamous Gis (a man of striking good looks, I might add) who was clad in red and black, running the last chance qualifier. I would see Gis later on at about 3:00 a.m. at the bar, probably jet-lagged to hell, and sitting next to a alcohol-laden drink about the size of a small birdbath.
Anyhow Mike, if you’re reading this, and you happen to come up to judge Canadian Nationals again (fat chance; it’s in Montreal), dinner is on me, as long as you’re willing to lend a voice to the table and tell me a little bit about what it’s like to be a guy like Mike Guptil. If not then, I’ll grab you some Mickey D’s the next time you head judge a PTQ at The Game Store Pandemonium. A poor substitute, to be sure, but it’s the least I can do for a man who contributes as much as you do to the game.
So that’s “The Guppy“And OMC. This section ends with the tale of a man who I didn’t so much speak to as see. That was all that was necessary. Why? Well, stand any closer and I might have caught fire. Entire improv comedy troupes, I’m convinced, are no match for Ed Fear.
Ed Fear is like an answer to which there is no question. The running commentary he provides as he plays is ever present, and it doesn’t seem to require any effort on his part. It’s second nature to Ed, who, it should be noted, looks a lot like that guy from the much-maligned Rob Schneider movie “Deuce Bigelow, Male Gigolo.” You know the one…The hunk who flashes a knowing smile and says, in playful tones, “Women pay me to… give them pleasure.”
I first saw Ed, who was dressed impeccably, when he was playing TurboLand during the Venice Qualifier on Saturday afternoon. Zvi was watching as Ed worked his way toward victory, but he couldn’t stand the suspense and eventually walked away in what may have been either boredom or disgust… If you believed Ed Fear, who was more than willing to flash rapier-like self-depreciating humor in his quest to entertain his many onlookers. And he never got tired of such fare. Ed thrives on the thrust and riposte and counter-riposte, and it struck me quickly about Ed that the absurdity in every situation is something that his mind finds easy to grasp and to use, for better or for worse.
The Alpha/Arabian/Arabian sealed deck tournament was even more entertaining than usual thanks to Ed Fear.
“My extensive experience with the format tells me thatNaf’s Asp is key,” he was heard to remark, drawing guffaws from onlookers who were, I have no doubt, there almost not so much to see Alpha cards being played as to see Ed Fear playing with them. They were not disappointed, and though I was elsewhere, I know each and every rubbernecker must have gone away happy from that series of games, having spent an evening as they did listening to the funny man with the stylish coat, the alternative-universe Superman goatee, equal parts moxen and moxie.
And of course my brief summation does not encompass everything that Ed said or did over the course of the weekend, but listing Ed Fear witticisms would be like listing grains of sand. When you lie on a beach and the warmth of sun-heated sand is below you, you don’t count the grains, you just lay back, listen to the surf, and enjoy the day.
IV. An Hour With Rosewater. The Bitch Of The Month. Necro Hut (Pay the life!).
Okay, so maybe this report is a little disjointed. That may be because, as I sit in this chair enjoying a Diet PC Cola (a concoction that barely qualifies as a beverage), the weekend has become less a coherent experience and more of a jumble of images and events. This phenomenon doesn’t overly concern me, though. In the end, one way or another, the story will be told.
I talked to a lot of people over the course of the PT weekend, some for mere seconds, and some for many minutes. Of all the conversations I had, though, not a one had the longevity of the verbal back and forth that I had with Mark Rosewater, the noted card designer, game show host, and voice behind the Monday column at Mtg.com. The length of the conversation was in and of itself surprising, because I didn’t expect to have any kind of rapport with the man, despite the fact that I was a die-hard Magic player. Sure, Rosewater is a player himself, a gaming enthusiast, and a writer, so we surely have things in common… But everyone wants to get in the ear of a man of his stature and position in the Magic community.
The man makes the cards that we play with. On any conversational dance card, he’s number one. So I had trepidations. I would later explain to Josh Bennett that I was a prisoner of the”Soundgarden” principle, which states that an artist, entertainer, or designer will not necessarily enjoy your company simply because you like their music, or in the case of Rosewater, the game to which he contributes his talents.
As it turned out, I needn’t have worried. Mark Rosewater, simply put, loves Magic. He loves it enough to talk to anyone about it. For hours. I know this because he talked to me for an hour, and not once did he glance at his watch, or even intimate that he had somewhere else to be. We talked about storylines (did you know that the Weatherlight Saga was supposed to go much differently?) and characters and flavor and the workings of the company for a solid hour, and it was one of the most educational experiences of my life as a hobbyist. He even admitted to reading my column every once in a while, though by his own admission he was never able to wholeheartedly enjoy it (“You know your audience,” he confided, simultaneously stroking my ego and telling me that the sort of sophomoric humor found in TDS wouldn’t play in the bigs).
Honestly, I’ll settle for a roundabout compliment if it’s from Mark Rosewater. The man is my new hero. Heck, even something that sounds like a compliment would be fine.
“Despite the fact that your face scares children, I admire your editor.”
I learned quite a few things about Mark Rosewater that I didn’t know, and I’m glad I did, for I feel I’m the better for it. According to no less an authority than Ben Bleweiss, Mark lives off of pizza.
“If you ever have dinner with Mark, you’ll be having pizza,”said Ben.
He’s shorter than I expected, arriving at about the 5’7″ mark just like myself, with a graying but full head of hair and a very clean-cut look. He’s got a mild voice that will never find movie voice-over work, but is perfect for conversation. And converse we did. At length. There came a point midway through when it looked like we might get into an in-depth discussion about a piece of business, and that was the point of no return. Either he glances at the watch and makes his goodbyes, or…
“Well, why don’t we sit down,”he said.
Of course, we also talked about his column, and his own experiences as a player. We got to discussing effective flavor text, and the sinister flavor of Volrath and how he tormented Karn, and Mark mentioned that Propaganda had one of his favorite flavor texts, a chilling passage that was a perfect indicator of the flavor they were searching for with Volrath, but we couldn’t remember quite what it was, so we went over to Gaming Jim’s booth to find a copy. He didn’t have one available, so we asked Alex Shvartsman, who had some, and we got to read the text. An excellent end to that leg of the conversation, but unfortunately it was the beginning of the end of my hour with Rosewater, because when we went over to the booth, about four other people started conversations with him.
I stayed and listened, and Mark was glad to converse with all of them, but I wasn’t able to introduce myself back into the give and take. Mark was on to his next conversation of the day, you see. I’d been kicked out of paradise.
Oh well. I’m satisfied with what I got. Let the others have their chance.
Now, by this time, my friends were out of the last chance qualifier, but I did see a couple of familiar faces, and I’ll tell you about both of them in turn, as both men have no behavioral peers. The first was Adrian Sullivan, a sight to behold at the Magic table, and one of the game’s more creative minds.
The second was Mark Zadjner.
Let me tell you about Mark Zadjner. No one I know pronounces his last name the same way twice in a row, and this is perhaps fitting, because his own behavior is consistent only in it’s inconsistency. Mark Zadjner, another talented Ontario player and a mainstay at most events in the area, is an original, a man who will never be duplicated.
Mark Zadjner is brash. He is outspoken in the extreme. Mark argues with judges and tournament officials on a regular basis. He uncorks racist remarks in the direction of tournament organizers, and doesn’t give it a second thought. He parades through the play area leaving behind an olfactory waft of illegal substances. Mark has been Team Academy”Bitch of the Month,” a badge he carries with something that resembles pride. Still, I think Stoke and the TA boys have it wrong.
Mark Zadjner isn’t Bitch of the Month, he is Bitch of the Century. Woe betide the man who gets in his way.
If Mark Zadjner were a character in a dramatic screenplay, you’d look at his manic nature, his lanky, angular way of standing, (always with hands planted on his waist, elbows extended behind him) and his over the top attitude, and scrap the whole project. Such a character is just not realistic. No character, you say, would gallivant through a PTQ site smelling like a Miami bodega that just caught fire and exploded. No character would disrupt the Top 8 Rochester at a PTQ with sharp exhalations of breath at every sketchy pick, and muffled cries of “These guys are sh*t!” with every perceived mistake.
And that character, after being asked to leave the area, certainly wouldn’t dare evaluate the work of Head Judge Duncan McGregor with words usually reserved for guys who cut you off in heavy traffic. Such a character, you’d say, is not plausible.
Well, he’s no character. He’s just Mark.
That’s what I heard, and of course I immediately knew the unmistakable voice of Mark Zadjner, a young man you never want to exclude from your PTQ, regardless of how late he is. Now, I’ll admit it – Mark intimidates me a little bit. As they say in Southern Ontario…I’m not going to lie. I don’t know how to deal with him, so I just try to be friendly. It works, and Mark and I have a pretty good working relationship. He shows up, we see each other, we say”hi,” swamp a few quick sentences of obligatory dialogue, maybe tell a story or two, maybe draft. Surprised? Maybe you are; I’m not the type who typically tolerates people who are disrespectful to judges and event staff, people that I have a lot of respect for. Still, if you are too quick to dismiss Mark as a boor, you might be missing something. You see, there is more to this Ontario boy than meets the eye.
I remember the first time I drafted with Mark (so far the only time, though I look forward to my next chance), and I was impressed with the young man. He was friendly. He was helpful, he asked for out opinion on his build with not a hint of elitism or malice. Trent Rogers and I, who were on his team in this four-on-four contest, had a lot of fun, and Mark was a cordial and stand-up teammate the whole white, offering advice and aid without the slightest hint of impatience. He made no objectionable remarks of any kind, in fact. It was amazing, considering his behavior up until that point of the day had ranged from belligerent to”lunatic fringe.” Even when I tanked in my match against”Ontario’s Pride” Kyle Reid, making terrible play errors seemingly every turn, Mark took it in stride.
Later on, he went back to tormenting judges and disrupting the event.
Yes, somewhere underneath the swaggering youth that is Mark Zadjner, there is a gentle human being. I know this for a fact. And he is a talented player, as his victory at the last chance qualifier demonstrates. Twenty years from now, when Mark is dead and gone (and like Hendrix, he’s the type that might go that young), I’ll be able to say that I played Magic with Mark Zadjner from time to time…and I think I’m the better for it.
Understand him? No. Condone him? No. Relate to him? No.
Enjoy him? Yes. God, yes. His antics are, simply put, a guilty pleasure.
And then, there’s Adrian Sullivan. I was pleased as punch to get Adrian to sign my Sylvan Library, which he modified to read”Sullivan Library,” and it was, as usual, good times to watch him play. I met him for the first time at GP Cleveland (something that I documented in my report), and I’m happy to say that he hasn’t changed much, from dress to play style. Still playing his cards backwards, still carrying around a big coffee mug/Thermos, plus his lunchbox filled with assorted odds and ends, and the Giant Sullivan Penny. I wouldn’t have it any other way, of course – Adrian is just another PT original.
On that Friday in Cleveland, it turned out that we were both wearing tight red shirts and black pants, which was pretty funny to me. I don’t think he really noticed – he was too busy trying to pilot his 3threecolor deck to a winning finish. The card quality was high (Slice and Dice, Prowling Pangolin, and good green as well), but the mana was ugly, especially given the lack of Krosan Tuskers or other mana smoothing effects. While watching Adrian play, I had the chance to talk to him about some of the finer points of the format, including his decision to leave Lavamancer’s Skill in the Sideboard. In his opinion, it was just an invitation to get two-for-one’d, and not worth playing without a good number of Wizards. I preferred to think of it as a combat aid – giving your 1/1 creatures the ability to trade with opposing 2/2s, and so on. (Still, Kai would note in his tournament report that the card was”pretty awful in any non-blue deck.” Personally, I would take it higher than both Nick Eisel and Ken Krouner, perhaps over Goblin Taskmaster.)
One of the games was especially funny – in order to get more consistent mana, Adrian boarded out his Black and put in everything he had available in Green, including two Elvish Pathcutters. Unfortunately for him, he got terribly mana flooded, and drew both Pathcutters and nothing much else. Eventually, his opponent had some creatures on the board, and poor Adrian had nothing but land, two Elvish Pathcutters, and more land in hand. People would walk by, and stare quizzically at Adrian’s board, wondering why the blazes he was playing double Elvish Pathcutter. I could almost hear them as they walked away:
“Well, that Sullivan has finally lost it. I knew it would happen.”
No, he didn’t win that game, America. Doubtless, most of it was spent suppressing the urge to scream out something along the lines of “Stop gawking! I have a good explanation for this, I swear!”
We had a chuckle about it afterward, and when I was wandering around on Friday between rounds, I was able to watch him play some more, this time in the Venice qualifier. He was running a three-color Psychatog deck. More good times. He also spent a good deal of time on the weekend testing out a Wildfire deck of some sort, and it warms my heart to know that Adrian is not yet out of wild deck ideas.
One day, I hope I get to play Adrian at an event of some kind. I played Eric“Danger” Taylor recently at the Legions Prerelease in Garden City, and it was both a close, difficult match, and great fun. I think slinging spells against Adrian would be like that. I was lucky enough to pull out a win against EDT (a lovely feather in the cap for a smalltimer like myself), after which I could barely contain my excitement at being able defeat such a respected name in the game of Magic, even if it did require him to miss an important land drop in Game 3.
The card signings, the giddy feeling at grabbing a lucky win over EDT or talking Limited with Adrian Sullivan… They all come back to the same thing, the concept of Magic celebrity. It’s an interesting thing to behold, and though some might consider me a”nerd” of sorts for holding these in-most-aspects-ordinary men in such regard, I can’t help it.
It’s my hobby, and every hobby has its heros.
You can have Ben Affleck and J-Lo and Jack Nicholson. My celebrities are guys like Sullivan and Taylor, and, to a lesser extent,”Ontario’s Pride” Kyle Reid. A much, much lesser extent.