Farewell From The Esper Professor

In his farewell to writing for SCG, Shaheen Soorani looks back on over fifteen years of Magical journeying, and forward to a new challenge.

Supreme Verdict
Supreme Verdict, illustrated by Sam Burley

With a heavy mind and heart, I have decided to retire from writing Magic content and working for Star City Games. This decision was one of the hardest of my life, as this company has stood beside me for seventeen years, through thick and thin. If you all would indulge me, I wanted to recap on the experiences I had as a writer here, what it meant to me, and how you all, the readers, helped me become the man I am today.

In the Beginning

As a young, 23-year-old man, I decided that I wanted to make my mark on the international stage of this competitive card game. I looked up to the pros at the time, especially folks like Kai Budde and John Finkel, and knew I could battle alongside them if I put my mind to it. The problem (or blessing) was my passion did not come from playing the best deck and winning. Each of my decks came from the heart, fitting my play style of quirky combo or control, and were all discarded by the mainstream consensus on what was “good”. This held true up until the State Championship of Virginia in 2005, where I crafted a Greater Good combo deck that would change my life forever.

Greater Gifts, as it would eventually be called, was picked up by Frank Karsten for the Worlds that soon followed. He put the deck on the mark and humbly gave an unknown American player in Virginia credit, which helped propel me to a more recognizable status.

I had a great finish in Regionals earlier, 9-1-1, with a Selesnya Control deck utilizing Skullclamp and Decree of Justice, which lit the competitive fire I had within. It was Greater Gifts, The Masterpiece, and Esper Control that caught the attention of the next big name, Michael Flores, who was a writer for the official Magic website at the time.

The Call

I found my name appearing in “Swimming with Sharks”, where Michael Flores showered my deckbuilding prowess with praise. With each recognition, I became more incentivized to succeed and design decks that would be great against the metagame. Control and combo became my identity, and I began to rack up smaller events, qualifying for Pro Tours and progressing toward playing with/against Kai Budde on the world stage. Right before my ninth-place finish at the 2006 Worlds tournament, I received a message that I never thought I would get.

Ted Knutson, the editor of Star City Games, asked me if I would like to create content for the biggest Magic website in the world. I knew SCG well, having played in their basement-sized card shop in Roanoke multiple times. I also knew Pete Hoefling and Ben Bleiweiss from the Pro Tour Qualifier events that I attended there. SCG was just starting to get events fired, well before the SCG Tour became official, and I knew that this was the opportunity of a lifetime for me. I immediately accepted and began my content creator journey.

Throughout the years, I worked with multiple editors, each helping me in their own way to become a better writer. The content for those articles came from my professional events, playing through dozens of high-end events. Each Nationals, Pro Tour, and Worlds event gave me a global perspective on the game, allowing me to bring my readers control and combo content from the top of the mountain. I had a great life, effectively juggling events and teaching high schoolers. Eventually I had to tone the traveling down some, leading me to focus on the SCG Tour.

The Tour

This is where I had the lion’s share of my success, in Opens and Invitationals. Finding my home in the SCG writing and events gave me purpose, especially when I hit the rough patch in my life. I went through a brutal divorce about eleven years ago, at the height of my tournament and writing run. If it were not for the consistent affirmations from my readers, the purpose I gardened from being an SCG author, and the game of Magic, it could have defeated me. The love from people I interacted with through the game kept me going, and I want to take this time to thank you all for the clicks, messages, questions, likes, requests for signing playmats, and everything in-between.

Fast-forward to today, I have a beautiful wife who gave me a son who has changed my life. To Sarina, the woman whom I have been with for almost ten years now, thank you for the support, balance, and love you have brought me.

She encouraged and supported my return to the Pro Tour, after dedicating myself to SCG events for an extended time, and I got back there. I made the Top 8 of two Grand Prix, something I had never been able to accomplish.

In addition, I became a Gold Pro and put together multiple professional teams, one of which made it to the Top 4 as a huge underdog, when teams competed with top finishes. She helped an old man have a competitive Renaissance, even though it came at the expense of time with the family.

Changing Priorities

As my son Ares got older, keeping up with competitive Magic became challenging. For the first time in nearly two decades of writing, meeting deadlines became difficult and supplying those articles with unique, quality content took much more exerted effort. Becoming an Assistant Principal was the final straw on my weekly column, so I spoke to my very understanding editor, Heath Oldham, and moved back to biweekly. For those of you in education (or adjacent), you know the difficulty of my profession. It is exponentially more work than anything I have ever done prior. Keeping my family unit strong, bettering the lives of students, and maintaining my friendships began to push back Magic as a distant fourth priority.

I love Magic, and it is the greatest game in the world. This card game, fueled by the support of SCG, has allowed me to make a difference in the lives of those who play. I have received numerous messages, physical letters, and opportunities to talk in-person at events from those who call themselves fans of my work. Many years ago, I lifted the control banner and charged into battle, giving those with similar playstyles a resource to tap.


One thing I really pride myself on is accessibility. I have never considered myself an elite player, or too good to interact with someone. I despised those types of players at every interval in my Magic career, and I swore to never allow myself to become that way. When one of my best buddies, Brian Braun-Duin, qualified for Worlds through our last-ditch efforts in a Brazilian Grand Prix, the best players in the world questioned his legitimacy when he ultimately won the event. This is just one example where I found myself appealing to the masses, to make sure they knew we are not all like this.

With every event, I made it a priority to build a bond with those I interacted with. I never went into a match thinking I deserved a win and made sure I treated each opponent with dignity. There will be exceptions, of course, but those Bertoncini-esque players are far and few between. The legitimacy and exposure I gained from SCG fueled my ability to make relationships everywhere I went, leading to life-long friendships and networking. Most importantly, I wanted everyone I interacted with at an event to leave with positivity, knowing that they could reach out to me anytime for any reason.

Aiming Higher

My family, career, and personal life all led me to this decision, but there was one final nail in the coffin. Next month, I am continuing my professional journey toward a Ph.D., which will be a heavy undertaking. Not only does it take a ton of mental energy, it will also put pressures on all the facets of my life. I spoke to my wife about this for weeks and then messaged Pete Hoefling, president of SCG, with my decision.

I have known Pete for a long time, as I mentioned, but it goes a bit deeper than that. Through a lot of overhauls (writers, format, Premium, Tour, etc.), I was allowed to continue working for the company. I am sure he will justify it through productivity metrics; however, I know that our history going as far back as it did was a huge factor. I want to take this opportunity to thank him, and the entire SCG crew, for the decades of support and love I have received. From the card buyers and management to the judging staff, each of you have had a monumental impact on my life. This decision was entirely mine, and I truly believe I would have remained employed for another two decades if I wanted to.

To the Readers

Last but definitely not least, I want to talk directly to my readers. From the readers who just started enjoying control/combo content, to those who remember the years when I was dedicated to my profession as The Esper Professor, thank you for everything. I would never have gotten to where I did in Magic without you. In the dark times of my personal life, in the best of times, you all were there, reading my material and asking me great questions. You all made me feel like a celebrity, even though my finishes were far from deserving of it. The legitimacy that SCG gave me was fueled by you all holding me accountable, to be an expert in the ways of control. That accountability led to nearly two decades of work I can look back on and confidently be proud of.

I am not in full retirement from the game. Ben Bleiweiss always gives me a hard time because I “quit” right before my final Nationals tournament, ending up making the Top 8, and then of course un-quit. Most people reading this can relate to the fake quit, so I will not dare to say it again. What is done is content creation, at least until I am finished with my Ph.D. in three or four years. If there is an SCG CON in Baltimore or Richmond, though, you will definitely see me playing a variation of Azorius/X Control.

To Control Nation


For my control nation out there, I love you all. Continue to cast a Counterspell on curve, sweep their battlefield, and slam a dynamic win condition. Relish the time when your opponent has been dead for fifteen minutes but refuses to concede. Bask in the mana flood, where we love to be, while your opponent complains about drawing their seventh land. Dare to play the deck that all your “friends” say is unplayable, then take down the event with ease.

For me, pick up the control banner and never let it go.

I know you all will make me proud. One last time, good luck in your upcoming events and never hesitate to connect if you need anything.

– Shaheen

soorani DOT mtg AT gmail.com