A little less than seven and a half years ago, I didn’t know what the hell to do. I was sick at my desk on Hudson Street in New York City, brain-cracked from alcohol and cocaine, having been fired from a dishwashing job on Antarctica a year prior. I was 26.


I couldn’t work. I was suffering, as the program I would later join described it, from “pitiful and incomprehensible demoralization.” And I found myself Googling Magic: The Gathering.

I had played as a kid, me and my best friend Brian, around the time of Revised, Fallen Empires, and Ice Age. Because of Christianity, our parents had made it a condition of our playing that we throw out all the black cards immediately upon opening the packs and tournament boxes. Suffice it to say, it was an unbalanced metagame.

About 13 years later, my life also was an unbalanced metagame. I went out most nights in the West Village of Manhattan or in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and couldn’t stop once I’d started. It got to where I was proud of myself if I only passed out at night (meaning I didn’t do cocaine).

Eventually, things sort of cracked apart and I “came in,” as they say—meaning joined the program of Alcoholics Anonymous. I started going to meetings—again in the West Village and Williamsburg—and I really took to it. Going from being a guy who couldn’t piece together more than a day or two without a bad binge, to being someone who was sober for a week, two weeks, a month, 90 days—it was mystifying.

But AA wasn’t the only thing I did. I also started playing Magic again. Thanks to the long memory of Google, I can show you the exact ad I posted on Craigslist, on April 30, 2006. I was 10 days sober:

Screen Shot 2013-09-12 at 9.35.26 PM

A guy named Carl, who at the time would periodically check Craigslist for people looking to play Magic, saw my ad and I think passed it along to another guy, Brandon “General” Patton, who responded thusly:


I’m in a hurry right now, but real quick, about 5 of us are getting together to play multiplayer magic tomorrow, (THRS) in Manhattan, if you’d like to join us. Maybe tonight I could describe us whgen I have more time. We’re upper 20s/30s, laid back, don’t like playing at Neutral Ground. Too young, loud, obnoxious. Let me know if you can come around 6/7 pm near Washington Sq park and I’ll give you the address.

Otherwise, there are a bunch of us who try to meet up once a month for multiplayer or team dratf or other random games.



That was at a genius mathematician named Adi’s house, who at the time was living in grad student housing at NYU. I had not tapped a card in 13 years. I went, we drafted Ravnica/Guildpact, I had zero idea what I was doing—I seem to remember being told after the fact why a card like Faith’s Fetters is good (“See, it removes your opponent’s creature”)—and I had a fucking awesome time.

I was shaky, still. But I remember walking away from Adi’s that night, through the West Village in early May—through the sort of scrubbed-clean canyons of that part of Broadway—and feeling very light and very free. I was happy.

Over the next few years, I played a lot with those guys—Carl, Tony, Brandon, Damon, Esteban, Adam, Kevin, Joel, and me were the main crew, with supporting cast members stopping in for certain amounts of time. We played at a deli near the Chrysler Building, and we took periodic “Magic retreats” to Brandon’s house on Staten Island, Adam’s apartment in Philly, and so on.

Most nights of the week, in those early years, I was at an AA meeting. One night or so a week I would be playing Magic. Sometimes I would think, when I stepped outside the Magic deli for a smoke, “I should be out meeting girls.” But I was having a good time. Good, clean fun, as they say—in my case quite literally.

I had fun in AA, too. After meetings we’d go to McCarren Park or out to dinner or to sober parties and I would, then, “meet girls.” Everything was clear and present and healthy (except for the cigarettes, of course). During those early years of sobriety, AA and Magic were my twin pasttimes.

I worked the 12 Steps, with a couple different sponsors. I learned how to draft a decent—by no means good—draft deck. I learned how build a sealed pool (again, not well). I won the Coldsnap pre-release at Neutral Ground, thanks to I think five copies of Krovikan Mist. Incidentally, in the finals of that event—the final standings sheet for which I still have, folded up and squirreled away in my card box, as a memento—is where I met Damon, who went on to be a really good friend of mine. Later, he was with me at my apartment, playing Magic—just me and him across a card table, kind of like how my old roommates and I would drink and do coke around my kitchen table—the night my apartment building caught fire.

Yep, that’s me:

I “put a year together,” as they say. I took service positions in AA, making coffee and sweeping up after meetings. Eventually I chaired meetings and told my story, or “qualified,” in front of a couple hundred people in a church basement in Brooklyn. I sponsored other guys and took them through the program.

Eventually, my relationship with AA shifted. I stopped going to as many meetings—more like two or three a week. My life was stable, I felt much calmer and better, and about four years into sobriety I met the awesome woman I’m now engaged to, Kim, on a plane headed to Dallas, about a month and a half after my 30th birthday.

I still played Magic. But my original group “grew up” and left town or stopped being able to play as often, in dribs and drabs. The deli closed down at night. Carl got married and had kids. Adam got married and moved to Philly. Brandon moved to New Haven. Damon got married and moved to Long Island. Kevin got married and moved to Coney Island. Me, I stayed in South Williamsburg, dating Kim and going to meetings.

I found a new crew of people to play with, in the form of Brooklyn Gamers, which later became the Twenty Sided Store. Pre-releases at the Change You Want to See Gallery on Havemeyer Street in Williamsburg led to a regular Two-Headed Giant game with Christian, Brian, and Patrick; which in turn led my first trip to a Grand Prix, in Toronto; Magic Online; and store drafts.

About a year and eight months ago I started working for The Fix, a web magazine about addiction and recovery. I was the Rehab Review editor. I got to write a bunch of amazing feature stories, about Internet addiction, abusive rehabs, sex-addiction programs, moderation management outpatient rehabs, and more.

In the course of my reporting during my year and a half at The Fix, my thinking about addiction and alcoholism began to change. In the office, we talked—and wrote stories—about the “grey area” of addiction, meaning people who once had problems with substances, but no longer did, whether through the program, through a transformative relationship, or simply “aging out” of problem use. The fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, published this summer, even changed how it defined substance use disorder, placing it on a spectrum of mild to moderate to severe. No longer did the official mental-health community define addiction as a black-and-white, off-or-on, binary proposition.

And that’s how I began to see it for myself. It had been six, going on seven, years. I thought, “How exactly am I an alcoholic?” I hadn’t had a drink in a long time, and I felt like a drastically different person than I did when I was 26 years old. I didn’t feel the same feelings of anxiety or anger or fear that I once did; and nor did I feel like, if I took a drink, that suddenly I’d be “off to the races,” as they say—on a multi-state run, draining bank accounts, showing up late to work, staying out all night and skulking back in the harsh light of morning.

I’d also begun to get more serious about Magic. I went to more GPs and PTQs, and I started to do (relatively) well. I was win-and-in for day two of GP Philly last fall, and I day two’d both GP Pittsburgh and GP Las Vegas this year, making 56th in the former. I began to believe that thinking about Magic in what I thought was the correct way—divorcing oneself from the results; embracing randomness; making the right decision regardless of what happens afterward—helped center me in the same way the program had and did. “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” The principle of acceptance helped in both worlds.


And so, a couple of months ago now, after much discussion with my fiance, with good friends both in and out of the program, and even my sponsor, I decided to give drinking another try. I didn’t want to be taking medicine I didn’t need. So on a Saturday in late June, on the way back from riding bikes to my brother’s house in Red Hook, me and my fiance stopped off on the way home at a bar near our apartment called Trophy Bar and had a couple Budweisers. And it was good. (I’d forgotten how burp-y Budweiser was.)

This is not just a gratuitous picture of a beer; it's a picture of my first drink after seven years of sobriety. So, cut me a break.

This is not just a gratuitous picture of a beer; it’s a picture of my first drink after seven years of sobriety. So, cut me a break.

Since then, drinking hasn’t been that big of a deal, which is as it should be. And my Magic-playing hasn’t suffered, either. (Well, it hasn’t suffered because of drinking; spending lots of time writing and editing Hipsters of the Coast, however—that’s another story.)

Some people will see this as an admission of defeat, of relapse—but I don’t see it that way. Some people also will see this as a betrayal of the program of Alcoholics Anonymous—but again, I respectfully disagree. AA is a beautiful program, and I absolutely needed to join it when I did. I highly recommend it to anyone who has a problem with substances and needs to stop. Furthermore, I can’t see how my honesty and forthrightness about my own personal situation—emphasis on the personal; my story is not necessarily anyone else’s—and my eventual return to moderate drinking after a long period of happy and productive sobriety, could in any way dissuade anyone who is considering joining AA from doing so, as many anonymity advocates often argue.

I’ve got tabs on my drinking, and I will continue to monitor it. If I ever need to return to sobriety, it’s not like the last seven years of my life were miserable—not at all. They were filled with coffee, seltzer, diners, parks, great meetings, Grand Prix, FNMs, 2HG nights, and tribal brews (meaning decks) with friends.

Though certain aspects of my life have changed—and will continue to change—Magic remains a constant, a story-filled thread from the back to the front of my life. And after a similarly timed break from alcohol, I’m back to having some convivial drinks with friends, family, and, tonight, an old editor and friend of mine—and then coming home to write about Magic. “Count it all joy.” That’s how I will think, too—win or lose—about the M14 sealed PTQ at the Hotel Pennsylvania tomorrow. Hope to see all of you there. And hey—maybe we’ll get a beer after, and trade some bad beats stories. I’m buying.

23/17 is a Hipsters of the Coast column focused on Limited play—primarily draft and sealed, but also cubing, 2HG, and anything else we can come up with. The name refers to the “Golden Ratio” of a Limited deck: 23 spells and 17 lands.

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