By Gabe Carleton-Barnes

I have a trouble getting interested in the Community Cup. I just googled “Magic Community Cup.” I used the “I feel lucky” option because I’m lazy. I got the the shortest, least interested post I’ve ever seen on the Wizard’s site. Blake Rasmussen (who?) tells us, “The Magic Online 2014 Community Cup—the annual showdown between Wizards of the Coast’s best and brightest and some guys and gals that you all like for some reason—is coming soon!”

What a sham.

The thing is, this should be my favorite event of the year. I talk about the Magic Community all the time! It’s the core of my dinner-party explanation for my obsession with competitive Magic, carefully cultivated to portray my hobby as, well, sane.

But the Community Cup just doesn’t interest me, nor anyone else as far as I can tell. Hey, maybe I’m wrong: My impressions are probably terrifically biased towards Spikes. It’s possible the Timmies of the world love the Community Cup. Regardless, Blake and I really don’t get it.

I don’t have any suggestions for improving the Community Cup. What I do have is a lot of appreciation for the community that has made Magic more enjoyable, and accessible, for me over the last 20 years.

So, I give you my nominations for the “GCB Community Stein.” Because you don’t pour beer into a cup: You pour it into a stein, and I’d love to have a glass with any of these fine persons.

Tim Shields

I was 15 when I got my first job, at a suburban card shop called DJ’s Comics & Cards. My friend Dominic and I were hired because we knew about the hot new thing: Magic. The owner was a sociopath, but the manager was a guy named Tim Shields. Tim loved games, comics, and people (and still does). He spoke with Dominic and me like our ideas mattered, and encouraged our competitive ambitions. He was delighted to tell us that we were better at Magic than he was, and to encourage us to go to other shops and win their tournaments. Tim also challenged us to get better, talked to us about non-gaming things that mattered, and listened to what we had to say. Tim gave grown-up validation to a hobby I was desperately hoping to hold on to as I grew up.*

Steve Empey & Dave Zimmerman

I met Steve and Dave because they came to Tim’s shop. They were adults, they loved competitive Magic, and they put up with a teenage GCB’s cockyness enough to call me a friend. Where Tim was moderately parental, Steve and Dave were just fun: They were ready to be friends with me even though I was young. They invited me to their place in Portland for game nights, loaned me cards I couldn’t afford, and let me ride in their car for big tournaments in Seattle. We talked Magic strategy and they made me feel like my ideas mattered. Zimm & Empey always had tons of fun playing Magic, win or lose, and that meant a lot to me. More importantly, they showed me that age didn’t matter as much as the rest of our culture tried to tell us.

Chris Buker & Danny Flanagan

I didn’t play much Magic when I was in college. When I came back to it, most of my community was gone. I stopped by an FNM at Tim Shields’ new shop one Friday and introduced myself to the FNM superstars: a couple of high school kids named Danny and Chris. They were jolly and talkative when I introduced myself, but I got the sense that they were also making fun of me. I played along.

Three weeks later I walked into a PTQ in Seattle missing about $100 worth of cards for my deck. I was unemployed at the time, so I was crossing fingers that I could borrow my way to a deck from some old faces, but the only people in the room that I knew were Danny and Chris. I asked them for help, and they went to the mat for me: They hooked me up with what they had and then went around the room borrowing from people they knew to get my deck together. I got there, and then I got there. Chris and Danny jokingly told me, “If you do well today you can be on the team!” I qualified for the Pro Tour for the first time that day, eliminating Chris in round six. They cheered me on the whole way.

Brian David Marshall

After another Magic hiatus, I had decided to move to New York City in hopes of improving my game (and making a documentary: whole different story). BDM and Michael J. Flores announced on their podcast (Top8Magic) that they were podcasting a train trip to GP New Jersey, and any listeners who wanted to crash could crash.

I booked a flight to New York and a train ticket to some useless town in New Jersey. On the train, I tracked down BDM and introduced myself. He acted as if he recognized my name, saying something ambiguous like, “You do pretty well, right?”

To this day, I have no idea if BDM actually recognized my name, but he made me feel welcome. Then he made me feel more welcome after I moved to New York, inviting me to play in the Mockvitational, introducing me to potential documentary subjects, and eventually inviting me to hero my first Finkel draft (at Jon’s apartment; Jon wasn’t there). BDM is famous as the voice of the PT, the Magic PT historian, the owner of Magic’s first great competitive destination (Neutral Ground), and as a great community builder. From my direct experience, he’s underrated.

Jon Finkel

Jon has been oft-celebrated for his extraordinary talent as a Magic player, for his humility, and for his appreciation for what the game has done for him. The Top8Magic podcast made his private draft email list famous, and when I was living in New York it was the holy grail for a PTQ grinder like myself to be invited to play at Jon’s.

After a couple of years, and making friends with every friend of Jon’s who was still on the PTQ circuit, I was lucky enough to be invited to join “the list,” even though Jon barely knew me. It is impossible to describe how casually welcoming Jon is. He has a beautiful, centrally located home in NYC which he invites everyone to come to to draft. There are basic lands and sleeves available, there are clear policies about showing up late and respecting people’s time, there is an environment that balances good competitive play with generous acceptance and fun. If you are short packs, you will be loaned packs without ceremony. There is nothing about the system of organizing a “Finkeldraft” that has not been carefully considered to optimize enjoyment, competitiveness, convenience, and fairness. Jon doesn’t organize with an iron fist: He uses a gentle, pragmatic touch. He also handles the celebrity obstacles with tremendous grace. I thought I wanted to draft with Jon for the same reasons people want to ball with Michael Jordan. It turns out, though, that the best part about drafting with Jon isn’t getting your ass kicked by Jon: It’s that Jon knows how to organize a damn fun draft.

Seamus Campbell & David Stroud

Something I missed about the Northwest when I moved to New York was the extraordinary, reliable judging staff in Portland. There are some great judges in the NE, but there are some not-great judges, too. Among the staff that spoiled me in the NW, by absolutely killing it, were Seamus and Stroud. To my great chagrin, when I came back to Portland both of them had mostly given up on judging.

However, they hadn’t left Magic. When I started my own little version of the Finkel draft list in Portland (Draft-PDX), Seamus and Stroud were both playing a lot of competitive Magic, and they joined the list. Also, they turned the list from a cute experiment into a true community: providing rides, organization, card loans, and event hosting, helping anyone qualified for the Pro Tour to test new formats, and bringing snacks. Snacks.

If I had a Community Glass Tournament, these are the folks I’d invite. Jon Metzger, Ari Lax, Jaron Heard, and Gavin Verhey would be alternates, but I have no space for those stories this week, and if I included them I’d have four more alternates to add. Magic is a helluva game, but it’s ultimately the community that has kept me engaged for twenty years.

That’s the story this week: I’m gonna go call Steve Empey and thank him for letting me crash on his couch before Regionals ‘98.

*Tim is still deeply engaged in Magic: He runs Cascade Games, which organizes most major events in the Northwest.

Gabe Carleton-Barnes has been playing Magic for over 20 years, mostly as a PTQ grinder and intermittently as a Pro Tour competitor. Currently based in Portland, Oregon, where he is an Open Source web developer by day, Gabe lived in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, for three years. While there, he failed to make a documentary about competitive Magic but succeeded in deepening his obsession with the game. Gabe is now a ringleader and community-builder for the competitive Magic scene in Portland, wielding old-timey slang and tired cliches to motivate kids half his age to drive with him to tournaments.

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