Hey there. I’m Chris. You might know me from Twitter (@lansdellicious), from my articles on ManaDeprived and the WrongWayGoBack network or from the large number of podcasts on which I’ve appeared. If that’s how you know me, then you likely consider me loud, opinionated, occasionally crude, maybe obnoxious and definitely a happy-go-lucky kind of guy. Whatever your thoughts or opinion, I very much doubt that you would say I do not love this game. And about a year ago you wouldn’t have recognised me at all. That was before Magic: the Gathering saved my life.
It’s a funny thing to think of, really: a grown man of thirty-three years crediting a collectible card game with saving his life. I mean, it’s just a game right? It’s not like I have some Chapinesque story of making it to the Pro Tour and the World championships and revolutionising the term “Magic community” after being incarcerated. I didn’t secure my dream job with Wizards having slaved away at other companies designing B-list games. I didn’t go from pillar of the community to R&D intern. I’m just a random durdle who’s not even particularly GOOD at Magic. How on earth could it have saved my life?
You’d need a fair amount of back story to understand that. I’ve lived a pretty crazy life and I’ve often been told I should write a book about it. I’ve lived in 3 different countries, visited many others, hurtled head-long from crisis to crisis and seen more in my life so far than many people ever will. Or so I’m told. I don’t know about all that, but I will try and give you some idea of what got me to the point where Magic did what it did.
A Little History
I got into Magic in 1997 while working at a major video game retailer in the UK. The game introduced me to the gamer culture and gave me a social circle, something which had been lacking for me since my move from Barbados to England a couple of years earlier.
In November of 2010 I left my wife of 11.5 years. I had been unhappy in the marriage for at least 3 years prior but never had the courage or the self-confidence to leave. I was also scared of the ramifications for our son and for my finances. We got married way too young (I was 20) and she had lied to me about several things, mainly that she had been accepted to Cambridge University. At the time I was living in England and she was in Newfoundland, Canada. Through the jigs and reels we realised it would be easier for me to move to Canada than the other way around, so I did. I’m a smart guy, a gamer and a sportsman, a geek and a jock. She was (and still is) a typical teenager, all into partying and spending money and being irresponsible.
She was also incredibly insecure…and not at all intelligent. That sounds very harsh but unfortunately it is also very true, as anyone who knows her will attest. I had a hard time getting her to actually discuss anything meaningful, and she would never debate me on anything. My brain slowly atrophied. Her insecurity got to the point where I wouldn’t even go for a drink with the guys because she didn’t trust me. To be more accurate, she didn’t trust her ability to hold on to me.
About 5 years ago we relocated so I could get a better job. I thought maybe it would save us, and for a while things got better. It didn’t last long. I briefly got back into Magic through MTGO, but money once again hauled me out. I was fast becoming a beaten-down shadow of myself. I had fundamentally changed to the point that I didn’t even recognise myself. On my 30th birthday (in 2009), which we spent in England, I resolved to get my identity back. I told myself that it had been 10 years and I was not going to give up on my marriage now. I made some changes and for a while I thought it was making a difference. That lasted about a month, maybe two. Then things got worse than before.
In the summer of 2010 I met someone. I’m not proud of what happened with her but she changed my life. She made me feel wanted, she encouraged me and she basically filled all the gaps in my marriage. She was married too and also unhappy. She left her husband before I left my ex and things got even more intense as she started pressuring me to leave. Eventually I found the courage to do what I should have done years before and leave my wife…and then things started to get REALLY bad.
The more freedom I had (my ex didn’t move out until January of this year) the further this new interest pulled away. A close friend of hers, about whom she had lied to me before, left his fiancée and needed somewhere to stay. She offered her couch. She swore blue blind, up and down that nothing was happening between them…and of course it was. However it was almost 2 months until I found out. Two months of us making plans for kids, spending our lives together, moving to another province and generally planning out the rest of our lives. She made me feel like I was her soul mate, and I felt she was mine. I discarded the fake identity I painted on myself to save my marriage and then became who I thought I really was. The problem is that this new identity was also a fake, although to a lesser degree. When she told me she had been sleeping with this guy all along, I was devastated. I had just built myself back up and she tore me right back down again. Only this time I was further down.
I was a mess. I hardly got off the couch, I never went anywhere but work or to buy groceries. I hardly ate. When I did try and socialise it was blatantly obvious that I was desperate for attention and it went nowhere. My family tried their best to help, but they were in England. The timing could not have been worse because the people I considered to be close friends were all going through their own crises and could not help. That didn’t stop them from leaning on me of course, which in turn sent me further into the doldrums. If you’ve never been in this state, you can’t fully appreciate just how hard it is to escape. You find a positive and try to grasp on to it, but then something minor happens that sets you back to square one. It’s really easy to sit back now and see that I was an idiot and brought it all on myself, but that seems largely irrelevant. It happened, and I was not dealing with it at all correctly.
“Depths of despair” is such a ridiculous cliché, but it fairly accurately describes where I found myself. Something had to give: either I was going to dig myself out, or I was going to become a recluse. My son, who until this point had been the lone bright spot and the only thing to which I was grasping, then decided that he didn’t want to spend time with me any more and that everything was my fault. I discovered that I actually hadn’t hit rock bottom before, because I sunk even lower. Without him in my life, what did I have? What was the point? Why was I working, why did I get out of bed every day?
Shortly before my wife and I split up, I had bought a new BlackBerry which had a native podcast app. Just for fun I had decided to see if anyone was doing Magic podcasts. The MTGCast feed came up and I discovered that yes, yes they were. Many of them. I downloaded The Eh Team due to them being Canadian, and it was the episode with Marshall and Mike Flores on it. That led to me downloading Limited Resources and Top 8 Magic, and I was hooked on podcasts from that point on. This would become essential at this stage, as it was really the only outlet I had left for mental exercise.
Despite not having played Magic for years, I still checked dailymtg.com every now and then to see what was going on in the game. I’ve heard it said that we never truly quit Magic, we jut take a break from time to time. Those breaks vary in length but sooner or later everyone comes back. I had MTGO still installed on my laptop, though it hadn’t been updated since Alara block. One night I decided to fire it up and sit through the updates (seriously, they take forever…) and see what was going on in the online world. I had just discovered CommanderCast and The Avant Card Show and so I was curious to try this “new” EDH format. Cash was tight so I built a deck with the cards I had and ventured into a game. It was like I had never left.
Those of us who play Magic every day can often take for granted how incredible this game is. On the surface it’s a collectible card game that requires you to build your own decks and play them against other people and their own decks. The vast majority of Magic players never think about the game as anything more than that, even if it is a social outlet for them. For me, at this stage in my life, Magic was a way to express my creativity. I could use these cards to build decks that were uniquely me, and then pit them against others who were (ostensibly at least) doing the same thing. Win or lose, I was doing something that nobody else could do: playing MY deck. That was huge for me at a time where I felt completely without value or importance.
I was also doing something I hadn’t had a chance to do in many years: think. My relationship with my ex was so stifling for my intellectual side that I had forgotten everything I knew about resource management, planning ahead, threat assessment, situational evaluation and calculation of odds. Magic requires all these things, and the more you play the more they develop. As you play at more competitive levels these skills go from being an advantage to a requirement to compete. I used to be very good at all of these things, but like any other skills they atrophied as I wasn’t using them. One of my traits is a desire to learn and to think and to use my head, and having been denied the opportunity to do these things for so long I took to them like rain on a parched garden. Unfortunately that metaphor proves all too appropriate as it has taken me almost a year to get close to the level at which I found myself previously.
Through podcasts and through actually playing the game, Magic was providing me with entertainment. I am fortunate to have a job that allows me to spend vast chunks of time with headphones on, so the job I hated became much more bearable when I could work AND learn about Magic at the same time. At night when I got home, I would put the new knowledge to use and get my entertainment from the practical side. There are not many card games that allow you to get as much enjoyment from theorycrafting as you do from playing, but the nature of Magic and the sheer enormity of the card pool and the possibilities make it a very realistic proposition. People like Mike Flores have made a name and something of a living by doing just that. When you add the magic of Twitter to the list, I had non-stop contact with the Magic community and all the various aspects of it.
Magic was also a social outlet. Without ever having to leave my beige microfibre prison, I had contact with other people. I had conversations, arguments and fun times. Sure it’s a suboptimal way to interact with people, but it was a HUGE step up from messing around with Facebook games and feeling sorry for myself. Once again Twitter made this easier; putting me in direct contact with people I otherwise would never have known or even heard of. Interacting with others “in the real” stopped being something to fear and started feeling natural again. Even though I’ve never had a problem expressing emotions, there appears to be some sort of “guy gene” that makes us uncomfortable with appearing weak in front of our peers. Being able to converse with others without worrying about that made it easier for me to manage these issues and enabled me to reintegrate myself into something approaching a normal life. That was still a way off though, but at least I wasn’t spending all my time wallowing in self-pity. Just most of it. It was going to take time, but at that point I didn’t even think of it in that way. For the time being it was just something else to do.
The Long Road Back
Then the catalyst got added to the mixture. Bryan, Christian, Debbie and Marc from the Avant Card Show put on a contest for their podcast. Well, I say contest but it was really a thinly-veiled way to get some ideas for show topics. Not even considering the possibility that I would win, I put in a suggestion and…well, I did win. I got an email from the hosts, inviting me on their cast and explaining the way things worked. I think I was on the bus at the time I got the email, and I went directly to Circuit City to buy a headset which, incidentally, has died. I am on my third now. Wore them out I guess. I was a big fan of these guys and when the day finally came (it was a Monday…) I was nervous as hell. It was like meeting a celebrity for me. The cast was (alas, it is now defunct or at the very least on extended hiatus) focused on the casual player so I could afford to be a little wrong on some things and I didn’t actually need to have a clue about metagames and what was actually good. Thank God. Some would say I STILL don’t have a clue about that stuff.
The cast was the best 4+ hours I had spent in many months. I laughed, genuinely laughed and felt happy doing so, for the first time in weeks. I was interacting with real people and more to the point, real people who I admired. They treated me like a friend, chatted with me for a couple of hours after we’d finished recording and just generally gave me a great evening. They also infected me with two dangerous viruses: the judging virus and the podcasting virus. So yeah, blame Bryan and Debbie in particular. All their fault.
To be honest I had been considering starting my own podcast for a while before going on Avant Card. The only skill I have that I’ve never questioned is my ability with words, both written and spoken. The problem was that I was a nobody. OK I guess I still am, but less of one than I was at this point. It wasn’t until I heard Jack and Adena on a call-in episode of Monday Night Magic, both saying they were available for new podcasts, that I really put the plan into action. Noyan was recommended by Joey Pasco, and away we went!
To summarise where we are so far and to put it in chronological order, since this is getting a little Pulp Fiction-y: Marriage on the rocks. Discovered Magic podcasts. Marriage ended. Got back into Magic through MTGO. Became addicted to podcasts. Played even more Magic online. Got engrossed in the Magic Twitterverse. Won a “contest” to get on a podcast. Went on podcast, became infected with the podcast bug and the judge bug. Started a new podcast. Relationship with new partner blew up in unpleasant fashion.
This is where Magic’s value really started paying off. The worse I felt, the more I immersed myself in this new community. Like Mike Flores and Jonathan Medina before me, I am not shy about self-promotion and I know how to get my name out there. Through Twitter I wrangled my way on to some other podcasts and built a listener base for Horde of Notions. The more success I had, the better I felt. Talking to and learning from other Magic players was deepening my already profound love for the game, which naturally made me want to do more for it.
Then it was time for Nationals qualifiers. Up until this point I had been playing exclusively online, so my paper collection was anything but Standard-legal. All I had was some leftovers from various older sets and previous aborted attempts to get back into the game. However it felt like a big and important step, getting myself socially integrated with real people again, and I really wanted to see if I could have more success in paper than online. Enter Medina. I’m fairly sure I first heard of this guy on The Eh Team, and I knew his reputation. I needed a deck, I knew he could provide one. So I emailed back and forth with him a bit and settled on Elves. Caw Blade was a little out of my price range, but I knew fast green dudes had a good shot at beating Jace. The deck arrived, fully sleeved and with full-art Zendikar basics I might add, in plenty of time for the tournament.
I missed top 8, but the infection was complete. I was now back into Magic fully and wholly. The players at my local game store are, by and large, a good group of guys and I had a blast hanging out and playing the game with them. I also noticed that the community here needed help, mainly from someone who could become a judge and bring some higher-level tournaments to the area. Becoming a judge then was my obvious next step.
Even at this point I felt a sense of debt to the Magic community as a whole. I was emerging from my depression and I knew that it was the game and the people involved with it that were to thank for that. Be it on MTGO, through the MTGCast network, on Twitter or through the numerous articles I read each week, there is a real sense of camaraderie that welcomed me, by and large, with open arms. Come home, brother. You are wanted here. Becoming a judge to enable my local community to grow seemed like the best way to give back.
The woes of the Magic community in Newfoundland have been spoken about repeatedly on my various podcast appearances, so I will not go into too much detail here. We have a level 2 judge who is banned from our only WPN store, and at the time he was the only judge in town. That makes it tough to get certified. I had chatted with Bryan about the issue and he put me in touch with Charlotte, an L2 from Ontario, who helped mentor and prepare me for my test. I flew up to Toronto for Nationals (which was far from cheap) and took my test there, under the watchful eye of Charlotte. As we know, I passed.
Becoming a judge may well have helped, but I think Nationals was the final push that opened the doors and let the light back in for me. It was at the time the biggest Magic event I had attended, and it was amazing. Thanks to the incredible kindness of The Eh Team’s Scotty Mac I was able to play a few grinders, play a ton of Commander, watch my friends crash and burn and just generally hang out and immerse myself in the geek culture. I was back.
This is not a journey I could have made alone. I have so many people to thank for their help and support in bringing me through:
With all that the game has done for me, that this list has done for me, how can I not do everything I can in return? Why wouldn’t I extol its virtues at every chance, why wouldn’t I help any and everyone I can who is getting started in the community, be it a new player or a new podcast? After everything you’ve all done for me, how can I do less in return?
You know, I’ve been part of some pretty intense arguments about Magic through digital media. There are people within the community I don’t particularly like. Sometimes it strikes me though: we are so damn lucky. We play a game that is so much more than just a game. We have almost daily meaningful interaction with the people who make the game. We’ve shown that we can influence the way the game is played, made and organised. If we’re good, we can make a living playing this game, selling this game, making this game. Our community helps its own: just in the last year we funded two trips for players, replaced stolen collections, donated large sums to charity and united to protect both our game and one of our biggest names (though some did so far too vigorously). We can make friends, find partners, get dream jobs and move on to bigger and better things because of this game. It develops our minds, our social skills, our leadership skills. Magic is so much more than “a child’s card game” or some geeky pastime. Magic saved my life.