When I asked Mark Rosewater if I could take him to lunch he laughed in my face.
I went to the Shadowmoor prerelease in the same hall I'd once seen Pedro the Lion play during Bumbershoot.* It was a drizzly Saturday in Seattle, in other words, a perfect day to spend playing Magic.
I got in at about eleven and was thrown into flight six. I tore into my packs and sorted my piles. White was my strongest color and I ended up running a white deck with a splash of blue focused on getting weenies and fliers on the board.
I played through my first round and ended up going 2-0 with a guy named Josh.
Between rounds I saw some of the WOTC folks arrive, and went over to say hi to Kelly Digges.
Kelly and I had been members of a radio sketch comedy troupe called The Voices in Your Head in college. Because of the extremely experimental nature of one of the sketches I wrote I was exiled from performing comedy for seven years by a comedy tribunal. I can be funny again in 2009.
Despite the restrictions placed upon me by the comedy tribunal, Kelly and I remained friends after The Voices. We both held onto our teenage love of Magic into our twenties. We played together as an excuse to hang out, and even designed a few Magic cards together back in the day.
Kelly was wearing a red ringer with the word "expendable" printed in the Star Trek font. I felt I trumped him with my old "Time Repair Agency" shirt. Mark Rosewater beat us both however. He was wearing a faded red blue hybrid mana symbol shirt.
I had met Mark a half a year earlier while visiting Kelly at the WOTC offices during a vacation to Seattle. I have been a big fan of Making Magic and it had been a treat to speak with him and meet his children Adam and Sarah.
I didn't expect that Mark remembered me, but given the good things that happen to the few folks who have gone to lunch with Mark Rosewater, from Sean Fletcher's lunch with MaRo which garnered him a rare game designer from outside WOTC position on the Shadowmoor team, to Kelly's lunch with MaRo which helped him secure the postion of editor of magicthegathering.com, I figured that the worst that could happen if I asked him to go to lunch with me was that he would say no.
I was wrong. Mark Rosewater laughed in my face, and that was worse than a simple no. To be fair, I phrased it like a joke. "Mark I hear good things happen to people who go to lunch with you. Want to go to lunch sometime?" His was not an evil laugh. It was good natured, just a brush off. Still, like a girl telling you, "I'm really busy at the moment," it stung in a way that simply being rejected never does.
I chitchatted with Kelly a little more and then went in for my second round. I played against a young guy named Matt. He told me that he'd been playing since Urza's Saga. I told him, "a cousin taught me to play in The Darkóbut that really hurt my eyes, so I didn't really start playing till Fallen Empires." I won the first game but he won the next two. Knowing that my playing had been distracted by hunger, I grabbed a slice of pizza determined not to let my appetite phase me in the next two rounds.
I thought about what I would talk to MaRo about had I been able to get lunch with him. I realized what I really wanted to ask him was, "How does someone who is young and smart find a career that makes him as happy as yours has made you."
I would also thank him. Magic helped me get through those awkward teenage years, helped me and my high school friend Lark relate to each other, even when he was smashing my face with Maro, and has given old friends like Kelly and I a common ground to meet on.
In the next round I played Keenan and managed to beat him two games out of three. In between rounds I touched base with Kelly, who was gunslinging, taking any and all comers as some WOTC staff aren't allowed to participate in any DCI events. In the last round I played Eric and went two-one again, winning six packs.
Now that I was done with my tourney, I was going to play some of the gunslingers. First up was Kelly. From halfway across the hall I called him out, "Kelly Digges, you're going down!"
"Oh it's on!" he responded in kind.
We stomped over to the table and shuffled our cards.
I drew up our life totals in two columns heading them 'Kelly v. Strand.' "This is going to be epic," I told him, jotting a note down. "See, I wrote it above our life totals, and it's gotta be true. I wrote it in pen." We cut each others decks and started playing. We started talking about our writing and I told him I tend to write pretty fractured stuff and I assume the audience is smart enough to put all the pieces together.
"I assume the audience is dumb as a mule and twice as ugly," Kelly told me.
"I also assume the audience is devastatingly handsome," I responded.
Somehow Kelly managed to beat me with his red green deck. I did manage to get him down to five life before he epically destroyed me. Still my epic defeat left the door open for a future rematch.
I got to play Rei Nakazawa next, and though he is a man of few words, I learned that he started making Magic part of his professional life in the late nineties when he answered a call for freelance writers for Inquest magazine posted on Usenet. Rei was running a blue black deck that looked ferocious, but never got the traction it needed to put me in mortal danger. I did manage to beat him, and he gave me a pack as my reward.
I was getting ready to pack things up and go home. I was chilling next to the gunslingers when Aaron Forsythe and Sean Fletcher sat down to play. Another scrub came by asking if he could get a game, and since Aaron and Sean were still shuffling, and all of the other gunslingers were playing someone they broke off their game. Aaron played the fresh face and I asked Sean if he wanted to play. He sat down and asked me about my work. He'd overheard me talking to Kelly, so I told him a little bit about the exciting field of data labeling.
I talked to him a little about graphic design and about getting called on to do game design for WOTC. Because he had signed a non-disclosure he was only able tell his friends he was doing design work for Wizards, and everyone assumed it was graphic design, not game design.
We started playing. I laid down a weenie. He put down a Sickle Ripper and decided that it rocked, but it did not rock quite enough. He asked if anyone had a Sharpie, and I volunteered mine. He drew an electric guitar in the hands of the reaper, complete with a Marshall stack in the background.
I put down another dude. He threw out a Farhaven Elf which he decorated with a Moog synthesizer. We both kept throwing down guys, but I managed to get a creature lead and whittle him down to three life before he played Dawnglow Infusion for twenty life. He started playing fattie after fattie throwing down Mossbridge Troll and Crabapple Cohort and Sootwalkers. Suddenly that early game tempo I'd maintained was wearing off like a kid laying down for a nap after an afternoon of running on Pixie Stix.
I was at six life and had managed to get him down to two when a corrupt switched our fates and suddenly I was in a standoff. The next turn he did me in. The whole time he was making cracks about needing more cowbell.
I didn't care about losing. The rock band he'd thrown down was cooler than any bragging rights I might have gotten by beating a game designer with a set he designed. I didn't lose anything but a game of Magic. And my Sharpie.
Sean Fletcher stole my Sharpie.
See cards customized by Sean Fletcher using B Strand's stolen Sharpie at http://www.flickr.com/photos/strand/tags/sfrmf/.
*I skipped the second half of Wilco's concert to see Pedro The Lion. These are life's hard choices.