10 important lessons about Magic and life – Wisdom Fae Under the Bridge by Graeme McIntyre
“Friendship…is not something you learn in school.
But if you haven’t learned the meaning of friendship,
you haven’t really learned anything.”
– Muhammad Ali
I recently played a Modern PPTQ in Wolverhampton, in which I got crushed and David Inglis won this event. When we were heading back to our car to get home, we became aware that the multistory carpark in which our car was located was already closed – until Monday. Sheila Whysall offered to drive from Nottingham to Wolverhampton to take us home, but by this time we were already in Andy Quinn’s car. Andy, who was the head judge for this event, elected to drive a 2.5 hour round trip after judging all day to get us home, rather than see us stuck. This is one of the coolest things I’ve seen in Magic in recent times, and made me feel really good about our community. So today, I thought I’d write an article about the people in Magic who have had a big impact on me, helping me out and teaching me over the years, along with what they’ve taught me.
1. Stand your ground
Craig Mason was the original owner of Highlander Games in Dundee. I used to go into the shop after school, as did a couple of my friends, and he was like a big brother to us. I was a pretty messed up kid (worse as a young adult), and he talked me through my problems instead of just banning me for some of the totally unreasonable things I said and did in the shop. He even gave me a job some years down the line.
Craig taught me to stand my ground, when I knew what I was talking about, even if other more experienced players were shouting me down. Often discussion in Magic can be a popularity contest rather than a rational debate. As I developed in ability, I would often put myself at a disadvantage in these “discussions” through my aggressive approach, meaning that the weaker argument prevailed at times. Craig helped me understand that it’s one thing to sell people on an idea, and another one – to be sold on one myself.
2. Appreciate the depth
Oli Bird is a level three judge from Dublin and has been around forever. We’ve known each other for over 10 years now, having got to know each other at GPs across Europe and then various weekends when I went to the Irish PTQ to play, or he went to a Scottish PTQ to play. In my early twenties I was frequently short of both cash and cards, and Oli was quick with both. He’s had my back when others have condemned me plenty of times, too.
Oli plays more Sealed than anyone I know, apart from Neil Rigby. He wins a lot too. Every time a new set comes out, I try and have a reasonably long conversation about the format with Oli, as he doesn’t just play – he thinks loads about the format, too. A well-informed perspective formed in isolation is a really useful thing in Limited. Often I have tried a card based on Oli’s appraisal and been better for it.
3. Community is important
Gary Campbell is the grandfather of Scottish Magic. 19 years ago, he was a guy who came into the shop who was widely considered to be one of the best in the country, and he had all the cards (Power 9, working on second playsets of dual lands… all the cards), but friendly and happy made time for me. 17 years ago, he was teaching me how to be a reasonable card player as he might have an apprentice (e.g. scolding and hazing, but well-meant), always quick to loan cards and generous in trade. 16 years ago, he was driving me to PTQs all over the country. 12 years ago, he was my boss in Highlander Games after he bought it from Craig Mason. 8 years ago, he was telling new people “watch Fod; he’s good, you’ll learn.” (for new readers: that’s me).
After I left Dundee for University in Glasgow he got the unit next to the shop to expand, followed by the one on the other side a few years later. Back in the day, Magic was much less successful and card shops were rarely profitable. Highlander Games and the community for which it is responsible is an impressive thing, especially if you know the story of how it got there.
I once won a PTQ when I was super skint, and back then they used to give you money instead of paying for the flight. The guy I split the final with was hasting me for the cash (which I didn’t have – they didn’t pay you quickly). Gary just paid him whatever it was – close to £200 I think.
It’s hard to think of something in particular that Gary taught me because I would say that he was the most important person in my fundamental development (although, many others contributed in part). Some things that stick out beyond “FFS, Fod! Don’t block like that, you dozy mare!” are to ask how many cards people have regularly (to make them think twice about drawing extra, but also because it’s an often overlooked part of evaluating the game state) and not to play too fast (although, always faster than him…).
4. Creatures mean power
Jeremy Mansfield is a pretty interesting guy. A few years ago he would have been instantly recognizable as “that guy from Scotland who wears all the weird hats” to anyone in the north of England and Scotland. An incredibly decent human being who has driven me all over the place, loaned me cards for more events than I even remember playing, and been acting in my best interest on the internet for nearly two decades.
Jeremy doesn’t play the cards that have a feel bad effect on the game – Plow Under or Armageddon, for instance – for moral reasons. Onto of this he likes to build his own decks/modify existing decks substantially. Discussing Constructed format with Jeremy has definitely helped me in lateral thinking about sideboard cards, and more importantly it’s taught me to look for the powerful effects.
While Jeremy will steer clear of wrecking your lands, or countering your spells, he will have no issue at all in pummelling you with some big monster. Sometimes the difference between an expensive EDH creature, and a total house like Thragtusk isn’t immediately obvious, but Jeremy – who won’t be reading the blue instants on the spoiler – will have thought a great deal about the rare and mythic creatures, which are often actually the good cards. He sacrifices some options, but gains heightened senses for other options. Like Daredevil.
5. Lead by example
Craig Jones is something of a hero of mine. The second and third Pro Tours I qualified for were PT LA, where I didn’t have a place to stay, and Craig let me crash on his floor, even though we barely knew each other, and PT Honolulu, where Craig came second. Throughout the preparation for both these events which Craig headed up (email lists over a 6-month period, or so), he demonstrated a desire for the UK to be something more than it currently was (and still is). He wanted it to be comparable with other European countries of equal size, which have always outperformed the UK. He talked about this with genuine passion. That generation of successful UK Magic players were by and large a class act, but Craig seemed like the most obvious example, if for no other reason, than he once top decked Lightning Helix in the Top 8 of a Pro Tour.
Craig taught me to lead by example. I’ve been better and worse than I currently am at this, but I do try to be an exemplar for others. A combination of being easily frustrated and precious about my time hampers this effort, but I do try.
6. Put your ego away
Guy Southcott is a Glasgow player who rarely plays now. He was universally happy to loan me cards, and always up for driving me places, and did more than his share of organizing the particulars of events. He stuck his neck out for me when the occasion warranted it. Fair, reasonable, generous, and dependable. Exactly the sort of person you want around as a testing partner.
Guy was pretty successful around the time I moved to Glasgow, for a period of 4 years or so. I can’t remember how many Pro Tours he has qualified for, but I have a suspicion that it’s more than my own 5, and he only really played for 4 years, to my 15 of serious play. He worked hard, and basically never let his ego get in the way of anything. He listened far more than he spoke, and he learned as a result. I try and base the way I approach Magic largely on how Guy did, especially where ego is concerned. No pointless arguments for me, please!
7. Relax and relationships
Martin Cairns, a very long time ago, used to own a shop in Glasgow called Arena Games. He’s in his mid-forties, from a rough area bit of the city, not university-educated – not the standard demographic for a Magic player, for sure. I’m the second person in my family to go to university, and loads of the people I grew up around were like Martin. My Father had passed 18 months before I moved to Glasgow, and I suppose both of these things contributed to our unlikely friendship. There were loads of things which I didn’t like about Magic in Glasgow – and for the most part he and I were in agreement or at least he could see where I was coming from. He’d often given me a lift and showed concern over my safety – tournaments often finished up pretty late, and it wasn’t difficult to get in trouble in the south side of Glasgow. He helped me a bunch of times with stuff that’s a pain if you’re short on cash and can’t drive: like moving house, picking up furniture. If I ever got in any real trouble, I’d have called Martin.
On the last day of our move from Glasgow to Nottingham, it was just me and Martin. We’d stopped in the stair well, and he said – out of the blue – “@*~! sake mate, I’ll probably never see you again.” I nearly cried.
Martin didn’t play Constructed but would often draft 2-3 times a week in real life, as well as a bunch online. We talked loads about Limited and were pretty competitive – there was a white board in the shop along the bottom of which was a score between him and me. He was also a massive wind up merchant, no matter what game we were playing, and in addition to various dubious combat tricks he convinced me could make the cut from time to time, my psychological game improved drastically due in equal parts to phasing out a lot of his antics, and in taking myself less seriously.
8. Tempo FTW
Bradley Barclay and I started testing together in 2002, and while he has taken time out of the game off and on, we have always been super tight. It’s a strange thing to consider that he was 12 when we first met, now that I’m 30. We’ve slept in train stations together, travelled to a Pro Tour, been to countless events, tested 1000’s of games, been right there for each other when people close to us have died, sought each other council on all the big choices. Needless to say he’s fought my corner 100s of times, because he was a close friend of mine when I was 17-21.
I was better than Bradley when we first started testing, but it only took him 6 months to catch up, and 6 months later he was considerably better than me. The biggest thing I learned from Bradley was the importance of tempo in Limited, and how having a good curve would allow you to obliterate most people (before playing Magic he was a studious chess player). But I could just as easily attribute 10% of all knowledge I had about any Limited format he and I drafted together, the fundamentals of building a Control list, how to win Control mirrors, how to sideboard for Aggro mirrors… basically, everything that Gary Campbell hadn’t taught me which Bradley and I were on a trajectory to learning, Bradley picked up before me – then he taught me. I doubt I would have accomplished much in Magic if it wasn’t for this friendship.
9. Attention to details
Ross Jenkins is the only person who I feel like I “trained” to be a serious Magic player, who stuck it out. It’s gutting that he’s never been on the Pro Tour. I still play Magic with Ross on a regular basis, even though he lives miles away. There’s so much to be said for a good testing arrangement, and if nothing else, Ross is now pretty isolated from people who are on his level. After I moved to Glasgow, it was me and Ross who tested loads, instead of Bradley and I (they both later ended up moving to Glasgow as well as it happens), and naturally this means that we have played loads and loads of Magic. We’ve travelled loads, too, and have a lot of mutual interests in respect to philosophy and social theory. We’re super tight.
Ross and I learned a lot of things together, but three things strike me as particularly important. When I moved, it became apparent – in the face of fairies, and Cruel Control – that my Control game had stopped developing at some point, and we relearned Control to fix this (meaning I wasn’t stuck just playing beat down when it was bad). Second, we learned how and when to stick on a deck, and when to drop it, even though this was mostly a result of learning from our mistakes (e.g. we stuck too often). Lastly, Ross is excellent at applying critical thought in an impartial way throughout a process, and to fairly minor details. I am generally a broad brush strokes sort of person. Back then I often lacked perspective and I was inattentive to details. I can still lose some details now, but I can normally see them coming and try to double check.
10. Patience and passage of time
The number of times I’ve argued with, then ultimately accepted, the advice of Joe Jackson doesn’t reflect well on me. Maybe I should just skip that first step? We’ve been pretty good friends since he drove me and two others 11 hours each way to Minehead from Dundee for GenCon in Kamigawa Block Limited season. We played Warcraft together as well as playing loads of Magic in Dundee. We’re really close friends, and he’s been there during some of my darkest points. He’s loaned me money, fixed my computer, looked over academic applications for me, and just generally had my back for years. I was pretty gutted when he moved back to Glasgow after his degree, and thought it was a pity that he was in Warwick by the time I have moved to Glasgow. As it happens he moved to Nottingham not a long time after I did, and now we’re looking at buying houses in the same part of town, 10 years down the line.
Joe does well in complicated board situations, which has been a weakness of mine at times. To a large extent I’ve gotten away with it, because other people are even worse at them then me, and by simply waiting you can often reap great rewards from their impatience. That said, it’s possible to work through things a lot of the time, because frequently half the permanents aren’t especially relevant.
Apart from Joe, I don’t really see these guys very often now, but just as I met new people in Glasgow when I moved from Dundee, I have met new people in Nottingham. I play loads of cards with Matt Light, Neil Rigby and David Inglis, and while those relationships are solid, there are other irons in the fire. There are loads of great people around in Magic, and plenty of opportunities to make meaningful and lasting friendships. I suppose it goes without saying, but I am exceptionally grateful for the opportunities which I have had, and the friends I have made.
That’s it for this week, next week I’ll have something to say about the testing process I used for the upcoming RPTQ, and a report on that event.
All the best,