Magic The Gathering in Leeds: Past, Present & Future – Shared Discovery with Rob Wagner

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Farewell Note To This City by Rob Wagner


Hi all, it’s an unusual contribution from me this week – I’m leaving the city in which I’ve had so much fun playing Magic and I want to write a bit about it, as Mark Pinder recently did for Grimsby.

I’ve met a great many great people playing up here and mentioning them all would take more words than would fit on this server, but I’d like to give an overview of my history in Leeds and some of the key players.

Era 1 – Wei Rao & Joe Churcher

I first turned up to Leeds’ WNM in January 2008 where I got summarily executed by Jin Shen and Rik Powell. At the time the events were being run by Wei Rao, who was doing a PhD at Leeds Uni (as I was also), and Joe Churcher (who now works for Wizards down in London). Pictured here with occasional PTQ winner Mick Edwards, Wei I believe was involved with getting a regular weekly Magic event set up in Leeds to begin with, which started off as being vaguely a part of the Sci-Fi and Fantasy society at Leeds Uni.

Regulars from back in the good old days include Wayne Cook (now living in Canada), Steve Tyson (now cycling around Canada), Robertas Aluzas (originally from Lithuania), James Marshall (Pirate wannabe), Matt Kitchen (The Dandy Inferno), Coran Sloss (Dragonmaster) and Jon Slack (consummate gamer). I used to do quite well at early drafts, with Me, Mick and Joe Churcher often splitting the honour of winning each draft.

Era 2 – Rik Powell

After a while, Wei had to move away so ownership of the group moved to Rik Powell. Some of you may know Rik as he now works for Wizards of the Coast in London. For me, Rik was really the one who helped to organise and drive more competitive Magic taking place in Leeds. There were people going to various events, but we really got testing going at Rik’s house as he had a load of cards available so we were able to make up decks and just hang out, play on Magic Online and test for events.

During Rik’s time running events we parted ways with the Sci-Fi and Fantasy society and started to run events in a few different pubs and clubs (in the old-school sense) around Leeds. Our numbers became bolstered through people being keen on getting a more competitive environment and also because the Bradford events, which were run by Nick Sephton until he left for the Isle of Wight, were beginning to wane so some people who had previously been going over to Bradford to play from Leeds started going to their more local events.

This was really the time that I met all the people I know best from Leeds Magic and WNM became quite an arena for competitive play. We were getting around 25 players regularly, which was really very good for a non-store group.

My biggest playtest parters at the time were Mick Edwards, Andy Edwards (no relation, though Matt Light thinks they’re Father and Son), Jim “Antti” Marlow, and Fu Sheng Wong. Fu is originally (and now currently) from Malaysia but was over for university. His brother was at university in London and has been on the Malaysian national team a few times. They’re part of the Soh brothers’ playtest group, but Fu assures me his job is to fetch drinks and the like.

In addition to those, Martin Sylvester is someone who very much plays Magic, then doesn’t play Magic, then plays Magic, then doesn’t play Magic (currently doesn’t). Ben Heath is, well, I assume a lot of people reading this know who Ben Heath is – we taught Ben everything he knows 🙂

Andy Devine and Rob Catton (who’ve both written for this site also), Aaron Copping, Colin Ward and Kenny Hall were some of the Bradford players who started showing up to our events and made them a lot more lively. We also met up with Craig “former Nat Champ” Stevenson and Paul Wray for PTQs but they were hard to get out of hiding for regular events.

From the left: Jim Marlow, Rob Catton, Mick Edwards, Andy Devine, Martin Sylvester, Me, Andy Edwards, Ben Heath.

Era 3 – Me

After a while, Rik finished his course and decided to move down to London to pursue his fortune. As such, someone else had to step up to look after things. At Nationals 2009 in Brighton I took my level 1 judge test, which I barely scraped through on at the first attempt after over-thinking myself on some 2HG questions. At that Nats I shared a flat in Brighton Uni with Mick, Jim, John “Wizbit” Ingham, Kier Teasdale and Mark Hammond. Mark was friends with Wizbit and Kier and I didn’t know him that well at the time, but he’d go on to be an important part of the Leeds Magic scene (as you’ll see later if you keep reading).

Mark Hammond, Wizbit, and me.

I very quickly had to get up to speed on running events, which was really hectic when I started but I got used to it all fairly quickly I think. The hardest bit of running events is keeping track of everyone’s names, especially when people start coming along in groups of 3 and 4. You learn after a few weeks of them showing up, but definitely have to figure out how to avoid referring to people by name so as to not arouse suspicion.

The place we were playing at at the time decided they wanted to start charging us for playing there. This is pretty reasonable as we were basically in a trial period before where hopefully the drinks we were buying from the bar covered the opportunity cost of giving us a room for the evening. While I certainly did my part to cover this, I don’t think it worked out as they found more groups who were willing to pay. We had a rocky few weeks but managed to join forces with the Sci-Fi and Fantasy society once more, so were able to play in the University (where we remain to this day).

Although I was running the events for as close to cost as I could make them without charging silly numerical amounts (e.g. if it cost me £2.67 per player I’d charge £3 to avoid carrying bolt-loads of change) I’d managed to accrue a bit of profit and was able to fly a bunch of people out to Grand Prix Barcelona. It wasn’t easy prioritising who had been most involved as I only had enough funds to pay for so many people but we got 8 of us who were available to go out and had a right good time.

Clockwise from left: Andy Pemberton, Jon Slack, Ben Flounders, Alex Gershaw

A new wave of players was making its way into the group now, including Andy Pemberton, Craig Tulloch, Ben Flounders, Alex Gershaw, and Dan Lettin. These guys never quite got as into PTQs as the rest of us even though they’d be the next Team Leedsers to regularly Top 8. There hasn’t been a PTQ season since 2009 without at least one Leeds player making a top 8 – I know that’s true because it’s me 😉 We also get a win every 2 seasons it seems, not a bad batting average to be honest.  Anyway, these guys contracted EDHD and can now be found spending their evenings shuffling up far too many cards for their own good (I choose 15 over 100 myself). There’s a separate set of people who prefer a bit of a cube draft, including Dan Hiscutt, Wizbit, Rob Catton and myself but it’s harder to get 6 or 8 for cube than 3 or 4 for EDH.

Era 4 – Mark Hammond and Rich Meeson

In early 2011 I was coming towards and end on my PhD and had to leave my options open in case I needed to move city. I didn’t want to just up and leave and hope someone would be able to take things on so entrusted running of the Wednesday events to Mark Hammond (see above). He’d moved to Leeds and was living in “the Magic House” with Andy Pemberton, Ben Heath, Jon Slack and Ben Flounders. As well as running the Wednesday events, Mark opened a branch of northern games chain “Patriot Games” in Leeds. He began with a small store in the student area but has since moved into a bigger, shinier store just off the city centre.

Me and Rich Meeson

Competition for his store took the form of the existing Travelling Man store taking more of an interest in running events. During the time I was running things, someone was interested in getting events up and running there to provide more places for people to play in Leeds and an FNM sprung up that a few WNM players started going to instead but also allowed a lot of people who found Wednesdays to be busy and Fridays to be free to go to a weekly event.

We were originally running things on Wednesday because a lot of people wanted Friday for drinking and other socialising (I still don’t get to many FNMs). I used to play Bridge in Leeds Uni as well as Magic, and knew Rich Meeson and Sam Fryman from there and managed to get them into Magic after a lot of pestering. Rich had been working with a youth community centre and taught a bunch of the kids there how to play Magic and is now in charge of running events at Travelling Man.

So now there’s two thriving Magic stores in Leeds who both regularly hold large events. The first Standard after the new set is released is often one of the more busy events, at which I’ve seen over 40 players show up – I used to be happy getting 40 at a pre-release!

Due to work taking its toll on my free time I’ve found myself going to not as many weekly events as I’d like, instead focusing on making sure I’m prepared for weekend events. I’ve been mostly testing with Rob Catton and Aaron Copping but we rallied a bunch of local players like Rich Meeson, James Marshall, Alex Gershaw and Chris Hall to test with us for Pro Tour Barcelona this year.

It’s nice that there’s a wealth of players to call on for any competitive event, it feels like I’m overlooking an era akin to when I was running events only I’m much less involved now.

Era 5 – Manchester

So what next? Well, I’m moving to Manchester to live with my Girlfriend and to study for a PGCE in Maths and Physics. With a bit of luck I won’t be far too busy to engage in Magic while I’m there but at the very least I’ll be making it to all the competitive events. I may have to do a bit of work to get the competitive players involved but I know a few of them have perked up when I said I was moving across.

Final Thoughts

This isn’t by any means an extensive history of Magic in Leeds, but I wanted to give a shout out to as many of the guys as I could realistically mention in one article. Thanks for the use of the pictures (all publicly available already) – if you object to being in any of them then let me know and I’ll take it down but I made sure to not show anyone doing anything incriminating.

Hopefully this shows people the value of supporting your local community – we started off with about 12-16 players in a room in the University and now get three or four times that between the University and two Stores! If you don’t go already, why not go to your local store? Then just sit back and enjoy the ride and all the fun of being part of a great scene with a great game.

Thanks for reading, thanks for sharing.


@DrRobWagner on Twitter



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