I met Adam Barnello at GP Toronto in 2013. It was the first (and only) time I’d made day two of a Grand Prix tournament. I was successfully dodging post Thanksgiving bliss with my family. Adam and I were sitting near each other during deck building after one of the drafts. I had a Red Fang shirt which he commented on and this lead us to shooting the shit about music and how bands we love tend to become shitty over time. I remember it being pretty heated because we feel pretty passionately about the music we like. So, yeah, we bonded and have since chatted on the net, I’ve read his Channel Fireball articles (and/or watched videos), and we’ve met up at other GPs. Despite all of this I don’t really know that MUCH about him. On the occasion of me being in Milan and Berlin (and thusly playing no magic)

Matt Jones: Where’d you grow up? 
Adam Barnello: A small town outside of Syracuse, NY. Since I know you’re from upstate (western) NY as well, I grew up in Cato, which is just off exit 40 on the Thruway.


Adam opening presents at Xmas, 1996. Note the MTG present bottom right.

MJ: How’d you get into Magic? 
AB: I saw some kids I know playing on the seats on the school bus. I was really interested in Fantasy books, and these cards looked like they had all the stuff from the books I liked on them. I asked them to teach me how to play, and it’s all been downhill from there.

Adam circa 1994.

Adam circa 2004.

MJ: How long have you played?
AB: I think I got into the game around 12 or 13, which puts me starting in 95-96 somewhere. I remember Alliances was still in print when I started, but I think my first cards were a Fourth Edition Starter deck and some Ice Age boosters.

MJ: How long do you think you’ll play?
AB: At this point Magic has become a permanent fixture in my life. I may scale back my hours eventually when I start having kids, but for the foreseeable future I don’t see Magic being put away.

MJ: How’d you start writing for Channel Fireball? 
AB: After I took a break from Magic in high school and part of college, I got brought back into the game by a friend who invited me to a tournament over summer break. When I returned to the game, it was just before they broke Legacy into its own format (around 2003), and all the guys I knew from playing in the 90s were all big in the 1.5 scene (precursor to Legacy). As a product of being around those guys, and having all these duals and stuff from being a kid that never traded, I found my way into Legacy. That led me to getting involved with www.mtgTheSource.com, where I was on the site staff for about seven years. At that time, prior to the SCG Open Series, Legacy was a small format that was pretty insular, and there was a whopping one Legacy article per week on SCG, rotating between four writers. I was asked by another Source mod Dan Spero to take his slot when he had his first child, so I started with SCG in 2007 I think. I wrote a few articles for them but lost interest. A couple years later, I decided I wanted to write again, so I contacted all the people I knew from SCG, but they were going through a restructuring and weren’t accepting new writers. Dan (who lived/lives in the Pacific NW) got me in contact with Zaiem Beg, who was Editing ChannelFireball at the time. They didn’t have anyone writing Legacy articles at that point, so I sent them a resume of my articles and they liked what they saw, so they added me to the roster.

MJ: That’s sweet. One of our Team Draft League teams is called Chanel Fireball (like the perfume). How hilarious is that? 
AB: I laughed, even though I had to read it twice to get the joke, so that’s a good sign.

MJ: What’re your top ten bands of all time?
AB: Jesus that’s a hard question. How do you even form criteria for this? Like, my favorite bands ever, or my opinion on who the best bands of all time are? Bands I think are important, or influential, or bands I can listen to indefinitely? I know I’m going to respond to this and immediately remember a band I meant to mention and forgot. So consider this a working list, because it always changes for me.

In autobiographical order, my top ten most personally important bands:

Led Zeppelin
Pink Floyd
Robin Trower
These three are my parent’s favorite bands, and they are essential in knowing who I am as a musical person. Most people are probably familiar with Zeppelin and Floyd, but probably not with Robin Trower. If you want to get a feel for why this dude is bananas good, check this video out of him playing his song “Bridge of Sighs”:
He’s been around since the 70’s, and he’s just mind-blowingly good at soul-crushing, riffy blues.

I fell in love with this band in high school, and I find them to be extremely polarizing to this day. People love them or hate them, and very rarely fall between. Personally, I celebrate their whole collection. There are only a few bands that I’ve never stopped listening to over the course of my musical explorations, and Incubus is at the top of that list.

Poison the Well
This band is more important for contextual reasons than musical. I haven’t listened to them in probably close to 10 years, but when I went off to college after growing up in a small town, it was this band that really bridged the gap for me between the stuff I listened to in High School (Mudvayne man, Mudvayne) and the community I found myself involved in during college and afterward. The first “show” I went to as a fledgling Hardcore kid was Hatebreed, Poison the Well, Unearth, The Promise, and Sworn Enemy. I remember it like it was yesterday. If I had never heard the song “Nerdy,” I may never have gone to that show, and that scene provided me with some of my closest friends to this day.

Explosions in the Sky
Another band that showed me a new side of music that I hadn’t really experienced before. I was introduced to EitS by my sophomore roommate in college. He’s really into the shoegaze/post rock scene in Connecticut, and he was in a band at the time playing guitar. I would show him all this absurd metal stuff like Bad Luck 13 Riot Extravaganza, and he’d show me actual good bands like Explosions, Maserati, Godspeed, etc. I still have a real deep appreciation for this stuff, and most of my favorite bands these days fall somewhere between Explosions and heavier post-metal bands, things like God is an Astronaut, UpCDownCLeftCRightCABC+Start, etc. This is great chill music, and I still love the shape of the music these guys create. The first time I saw EitS live was in the basement of an art gallery in Ottawa in a room that had to be like 300 square feet, with less than 100 people. It was amazing.

Screen Shot 2014-11-13 at 1.15.52 PM


This was MY band for about five years. I went to every Bane show within a five hour drive, and I knew every single word to every single song. This band is the definition of me as a Hardcore kid, and I can’t imagine that period of my life without this band being a part of it. I wore out two Bane hoodies (if you know, you know), and was pissed when I had to pay $30 for the third one. I paid $10 for the first one! Merch, man.

This band changed everything for me. I can remember the first time I popped a borrowed copy of Panopticon in my CD player and it just blew my goddamn mind. I spent about a year after hearing this album just absorbing everything this band ever touched, and trying to find out as much about the genre as I possibly could.

Matt Pike is a genius and I am glad he fell off the wagon because he makes insane music when he’s on drugs. I don’t care how bad a person that makes me. I’ve often stated that if I had to listen to one song on repeat forever it would be Dopesmoker, and I stand by that choice.

I was a total Nu-Metal kid in high school. I was the dude that was wearing Limp Bizkit shirts and enormous pants to school. I was really, really into Metallica and Pantera as well, and I thought Phil Anselmo was God’s gift to metal. And I was right, but it took me years and years before I discovered Down. I feel like you can track what drugs Phil is on at any given time based on which of his bands he’s focused on, and Down is the chilled out, weed-driven band, which is heavily influenced by the blues background of the New Orleans music scene. It’s my favorite of his bands, and Rehab might be my actual favorite song.

MJ: That’s a crazy list! INCUBUS for Christ’s sake! HA! I mostly meant your favorite bands. Sometimes I say “top something of all time” and it always means “what’re your favorite whatever we’re talking abouts”? I went to Bane’s 10th Anniversary show at the Palladium in Worcester with my then girlfriend, a big Bane fan. Reach the Sky reunited for a sec onstage with them. I’d never heard of either of these bands and thought the whole thing was strange but exciting. I didn’t understand hard core music. I now do and mostly spend my time with Minor Threat and Black Flag when I’m in that kind of mood. Are there any bands you maybe left out?

AB: Oh shit! I was at that show! Haha small world! I was really excited because Evergreen Terrace opened for them and I hadn’t seen them since they released Writer’s Block. Then suddenly Reach the Sky is playing “This Sadness Alone” and I’m freaking out like a 12 year old at a NKOTB concert, ahaha.

Yeah, as it turns out there are a few more bands I can mention, because I knew this would happen.

Rage Against the Machine
I posted a big thing on Facebook a month or two ago about how Evil Empire was the first exposure I had to music that was outside the stuff I heard on the radio or in my parents’ record collections. These guys were the band that really made me stop and take notice of music in general, and showed me that there was more to music than I had ever thought.

First band I ever saw live, I saw them in 96 right around the time that Hang Ups was released. I had no idea what I was getting myself into, but I knew that something changed that night, and it was pretty important.

As far as favorite bands go, one of my hobbies is discovering new music so my playlists are always in flux. I’ve gone through a ton of phases in my life, so my tastes are pretty eclectic. In general though I find myself mostly drawn to the stoner/doom/sludge metal genre (at this point anyway), and if it’s riffy and slow I’ll probably dig it. We could do a whole interview about music, and I think there’s probably like 4 or 5 total people who would read it. Maybe we can do a podcast or something with Pikula.

MJ: I’d love to get you and Pikula in on a MTG METAL Podcast. We’re probably gonna start a podcast in 2015 (Hipsters).


MJ: What’s your favorite part of Magic?
AB: I like how I can lose myself in it. Playing Magic brings me to this whole other level of focus where everything else in my life just falls away and I see the game in front of me and nothing else. I can’t get to that plane of consciousness with any other activity; it brings out the absolute best part of my brain when I’m concentrating on a game and I love that feeling of freedom and peak performance.

MJ: What’s your favorite Magic card?
AB: I used to be really obsessed with Indestructible Aura. I have hundreds of them, because the whole card reads like a fever dream. I’m also a big fan of Paper Tiger, partially because I have a mild obsession with tigers and partially because it describes me to a T.

MJ: I posted a photo of a “Manet Painting” of mine to Twitter and you replied that you didn’t get art. Pikula said you can’t get art from an instagram photo. I think he’s right. Paintings need to be seen in person to “get” or have a chance to “get”. I’m curious as to what you mean, specifically, when you say that you don’t get art. What are your expectations when looking at a work of art? Does the historical context mean anything to you (an art or artist’s lineage, etc.)? Other than not getting it, what do you think about art? Like it, don’t like it? Think about it? Is it elitist horse shit? Etc.
AB: I haven’t studied art in any format context, but I’ve taken a few classes along the way and been to a number of museums and galleries. My fiancée has a degree in studio art, so most of my exposure has been through the lens of her interests (which were mostly in photography). I suppose when I say “I don’t get art,” I really mean I haven’t developed an appreciation for abstract painting, because it doesn’t make sense to me – though I haven’t put much effort into developing a working knowledge of it either. My personal favorite artist is Rene Magritte, I fell in love with “The Son of Man” and “The Human Condition” in high school and got really into that kind of surrealism for a long time afterward. I think that colors my perceptions, because that kind of art has a psychological effect that you can really grab hold of and say “this is what this represents to me,” which is much more difficult with abstract work. Or maybe much easier? I don’t know, man, I don’t get it. Haha

MJ: Do you look at the art on Magic cards? If so what do you think about it? Do you have favorite Magic artists?
AB: I used to be really enamored by the art on Magic cards – like I mentioned, my favorite card is based largely on the ridiculousness of the artwork (which makes sense when you hear my answer to the art question, I think). Since the new art direction has most cards looking relatively similar, I find myself paying much less attention to the artwork, and honestly I couldn’t tell you what’s in the art of 99% of cards nowadays. I think while the game gained a streamlined look and feel, it lost a lot of what made it feel like real Magic, as well.

MJ: What will you be playing at Grand Prix New Jersey? I’m probably on BUG Delver. I hate to give up Shardless but Treasure Cruise makes the point of playing Shardless largely irrelevant.
AB: I’m not 100% yet, but I’m really drawn to OmniTell at this exact moment. I know you give up some game to Delver (which will be everywhere), but the combo deck is really in my wheelhouse as a player, and while you can’t take as much advantage of Treasure Cruise, you gain Dig Through Time which is even better in this deck. It still has a lot of the issues it did before Khans, but if I can figure out how to deal with those I think I’ll be on that deck.

MJ: What’re you looking forward to more than anything in 2015?
AB: I’m getting married next year, so that’s pretty exciting. We’re getting married on the day they go forward to in Back to the Future 2. At a theater. With the movies playing. All of these are my fiancée’s ideas. She’s pretty awesome.

MJ: HOLY SHIT! That’s incredible!
AB:Thanks! I’m a lucky guy.

Thanks for reading and thanks to Adam for taking the time to crush an email interview for Hipsters. Hopefully he won GPNJ.

Much love,


Matt Jones (born 1980, Rochester, New York) is an artist living and working in Brooklyn, NY. Matt works between a variety of inter-related genres that explore mythology, archaeology, ancient history, theoretical physics, comedy, and the paranormal—all developed and inspired by research and personal experience. Together his bodies of work form a way for Matt to evaluate, negotiate, and play with the world around him. You can check out his art at www.mattjonesrules.com. Matt’s played Magic since early 1995, took a break for a decade or so, and came back to the game the weekend after the Scars of Mirrodin release. With Hugh Kramer he formed New York’s Team Draft League and is one of the original writers for Hipsters of the Coast. Matt’s been sober for seven years.

All images are courtesy Adam Barnello.

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