Wisdom Fae Under the Bridge – Growing up with Magic The Gathering in Scotland by Graeme McIntyre
Over the years, I’ve seen a lot of people come and go. People get busy with work, move away, get bored and find something new, or slowly slip away, by attending less and less regularly. There are certainly times when I feel like maybe it’s time to move on, too. This article is concerned with how it is that I started playing, key moments in my development, and some crossroads where I might have given up– but didn’t!
The school years
When I was in high school, I used to war game a fair bit. I also used to play Dungeons and Dragons, and a friend within that circle introduced me to Highlander Games. At the time, the shop was about a 3rd of the size it is now; just a single room with space for maybe 12 people. It had a thick steel door, and you could hardly see in through the window and heavy metal grate*. (Things have improved substantially since!)
I’d passed it by on my way home from school every day for a year without going in; I was a bit intimidated by all these rough looking guys in leather jackets and heavy metal t-shirts. But I went to keep my friend happy (and to hack up orcs, obviously) and was soon acquainted with Alistair Glen, Darren Jamieson, Chris and Neil. We role played a bit, but they also played this weird game with cards, and even now I can remember watching William with a picture of a bird with a white trim and some maggots with glass beads on them and a green trim play against Alasdair, who turned three sinewy monsters with sharp teeth sideways, which William put his guys in front of confidently, only for Alasdair to play two pictures of a guy clicking his fingers, and a picture of an angry guy, and the game was apparently over. Perplexing!
I learned to play soon enough, naturally, and over the next six months worked on a black deck of 87 cards and not enough swamps, full of expensive monsters my friend had given me.
“There is, idiot; Living Death.” He snorted.
I strongly expect William just wanted to rub my nose in the fact that he knew more about the game than me, and that helping me was purely an accident, but this was a pivotal moment for me, and the path to real decks and tournaments had opened up. My warhammer armies grew dusty on the shelf, as I began attending drafts and acquainting myself with the tournament players in the area.
Because the draft night conflicted with the gaming night at games workshop, I’d rarely met these guys, other than Silas Bath, who worked on Fridays, and Craig Mason, who owned the place and turned up to give Silas a lift home at closing time. Joules Haigh, Clark Swan, Gary Campbell, Dougie Anderson, Mark Wotton, Rob Brooks, James Mitchel and Iain Young.
It has to be said, I actually idolized these guys back then for their incalculable skill, skill which I wasn’t even good enough to appreciate, and of course their great collections of old cards, some of which were from tournaments in other countries. They were decent with me, although I also took a slagging for my general lack of ability, it was always good natured. This when I became known as Fod (short for cannon fodder), which I was quietly pleased with; I knew I’d get better, and having a nickname was synonymous with being in that crowd (Gary was “0-0-6”, Clark “greet”, Joules “LALA”, James “Judge James”, Rob “shuffles”, Dougie “slacker”, Silas “jaws”…. Iain’s escapes me).
Some time passed, with me attending events across England, road tripping with these guys, being made fun of and borderline tortured. Being young and brainless, as well as a irksome, I was perfect for a wide range of practical jokes, such as changing my Scottish money for English money, telling strangers in suits I was picking up my bag at the airport because “they’re security”, pretending to drive away at services and being told green chillies were …”asparagus. They’re nice, just eat one you’ll like…”. This was combined with a healthy dose of lectures from Gary on how my head was up my *** and I needed to sort myself out. It sounds rough, but this was legitimately all meant in fun, and provided a welcome escape from a pretty unsatisfactory situation at home.
The next big change was the Invasion block PTQ in which I made the final, against Silas Bath, having beaten Craig Mason and Pete Norris (a massive deal – all the guys I thought were good spoke with reverence about the good English players.). I lost, although realistically this might have been for the best; I’m not sure how well I’d have managed going to New Orleans on my own at that age. Never the less, the idea had at this point occurred to me that I was maybe ok at the game, having top 8’ed a couple of other PTQs that year.
I remember attending Gen Con in London that year, which was a pretty immense experience. I’d never been to London before, which was in itself something noteworthy (Dundee is a bit of a 1 horse town, when it comes to it), but the nature of such a big event is a grand thing anyway, combined with the fact that I was a kid and it was the first time I’d been somewhere like that… it was a big deal.
This marked a shifting of gears, and an active attempt to win PTQs…
The college years
…without results. For the next while, I played a lot with Rob Brooks, as I had before, but now with less of other games and messing around; it had become a slightly more purposeful thing. A year or so of this, and things had shifted slightly to testing more with Bradley Barclay, Jamie Ross and John Isaacs. This was a pretty good time, in my eyes, as despite the fact we were all young (I was the eldest at 17), we got things done, played loads and were sort of a “team”.
A lot of the old guard had fallen by the way side, and our little group was a major consideration for the Scottish PTQ. I’d dropped out of school, and Craig Mason gave me a job in the shop more out of pity than necessity, but this obviously had a major impact on how much I played, as well as how much I could afford to travel. That year, Bradley and I top 8ed Scottish Nationals, Bradley did well at Worlds, John won his first PTQ and promptly top 32ed the event, which meant that he and I both went the PT Amsterdam, after I beat Jamie in the final. That’s the most successful any collaboration of players I’ve played with has ever done, and I remember these times fondly.
My first two events were in London and Amsterdam, and they left less of an impression than I would have liked, but I knew I wanted this thing of beating people at cards, and going places. That my friends were doing well too was a big deal, although I don’t think I’d have ever recovered if Jamie had beaten me in that final (misplayed and man burned to death with a sink in play and the win on the board the following turn – talk about a dramatic rescue!).
Not much success for a while, and one day I was working and this slightly unhinged, slightly terrible guy from a year or so before comes in with one of the most attractive women I’ve ever seen. I was literally stunned, and the guy is rambling to me while I try and regain my composure…
“Hey man, I’m back from the states, this is Julia, I met her in so on and so forth….”. he gushes.
“Oh, high….I’m sorry, I seem to have forgotten your name.” I must say, I wasn’t that embarrassed…
“Joe Jackson.” Oh, yeah.
This is a good example of why it’s a good idea to be nice to people, and not dismiss them because they’re bad at cards. Joe went on to get me hooked on World of Warcraft, where I met my fiancé, and will be my best man.
The two years with Mirrodin in Standard were hellish, and Champions of Kamigawa didn’t really do it for me either, the result of which is a night in Joes flat with him and Bradley, where we discuss my inability to win at Magic. Depending how this conversation had went, I might have resolved to quit, and spend even more time playing Warcraft, but my friends said the right things. Mostly, suck it up and play better. I distinctly remember playing against Declan Cashen in draft, starting to let my frustration get the better of me, and I was about to scoop, when I remembered the discussion, buckled up and turned it around. I won a PTQ the following week, in which I expected I couldn’t really afford to go to the PT, but I managed.
PT LA was amazing, and I got to know Craig Jones, Stuart Shinkins and Tom Harle pretty well. This might not have been the case if Gary Campbell had booked my hotel (I didn’t have a credit card) correctly, but as it transpired I had nowhere to stay when I got to LA, and these guys let me crash on their floor. I got crushed in the event, but that was fine. Easily one of the best magic tournaments I ever played, and reminded me why it is that I played the game.
A couple of weeks back in the UK, and I won another PTQ, this time for Honolulu. Joules said to me in the car on the way home “well done Graeme; you’re not just one of these guys won wins a random PTQ anymore”. I nearly day two’ed this one, with a horrific list of red green aggro that didn’t have most of the cards the deck that won did, and I had access to a list of the deck that came second…. All of which is regrettable. However, this was a great tournament too, and I was starting to feel once more like I might have moved on in terms of development.
Nationals rolls on pretty quickly after, and as I walk in Jeremy Mansfield says to me “oh hello old boy, I hear you can’t lose a game in constructed; good luck this weekend!”. It feels at this point like maybe my feelings are shared by others, and that I’m about to really step up. Supremely confidant, I beat my first 4 opponents, their mistakes only feeding my confidence. A slightly rough draft, followed by 2 wins in the next and a concession from Bradley, and all I need to do is win one match in 3 with what I feel is the best list of the best deck in the event, while I’m playing well. This might well be my highest point in the game, and one of the weakest in Scotland, certainly, but also probably the UK (there is something of a changing of the guard coming up). This crashes down when I fail to win one in three matches. I came pretty close to tears.
Times change a little, and I’m playing for a very demanding world of Warcraft guild, so I have literally no time, because I’m also actually attending college, rather than just playing magic. Bradley is playing less, and most of my testing is done with Ross Jenkins, who I become close friends with after losing his passport at GP Cardiff. This year features me travelling to a lot of events and getting crushed. I take a half way decent run at nationals that year, crushing the limited section and failing the constructed section due to my poorly build deck. University begins in Glasgow, and single life ends. I begin to question how much I’m really going to play magic once more at this point.
The university years
But the Glasgow guys seemed ok. Billy really wanted to win, Gerry thought things through meticulously, Guy was on the same page as me about working hard and Paul had seemingly endless energy and potential. Joao, who owns Spellbound Games, the local gaming shop in Glasgow is a nice guy who I had seen around from time to time over the years, and his assistant, who used to run a shop in the old days, was on about the same wave length as me. There were loads of other people on the periphery too, and the city seemed to have something going on with Magic every other day. There was a freshness and energy to it that had long since left Dundee.
A couple of years later, I quit Warcraft, and tried to up my game a bit again, and was rewarded with a PTQ win for Austin. Not that I just clicked my fingers, but there was a definite correlation. The group being organized and energetic definitely helped, too. This came apart once Paul and guy lost interest in the game, and there was a pretty difficult period between this event and Ross and Bradley moving to Glasgow, which is roughly where I’m at now.
I was considering calling it a day during Modern, where I simply couldn’t win a game, given that I’m going to need to get a job at some point, and it might be pretty difficult to keep playing while I work on my education (my grades probably suffer), as well as a number of changes to the structure of the game with which I am less than pleased. But then I did reasonably well at the WMCQs and I remembered that I could actually win events. I also played a PTQ with a new group of guys over the summer, and it was one of the best tournaments I’ve played in a long time.
Next week I’ll write something more concrete in relation to the Limerick PTQ.
*both of these shops are much nicer now, and if you’re in either city, I would sincerely recommend that you pay them a visit. Please join their Facebook groups below.
Thanks for reading, thanks for sharing.