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The Magic Introvert

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Deranged Hermit
I am an introvert—not the Deranged Hermit kind of introvert who lives alone and never ever interacts with other humans, but I can relate to him in some ways. The way I typically define whether someone is an introvert or an extrovert is whether the person recharges his or her internal batteries by spending time with large groups of people—clubs, bars, parties, social gatherings, and so on—or by spending time alone or with just a single close friend. If you feel energized by socializing with a group, you’re probably an extrovert, and if going out with a group tires you out, you’re probably an introvert.

I can definitely have a great time at a party or a social gathering, but I usually find it exhausting, and I would much rather go to a movie with a close friend than interact with a bunch of strangers at a social gathering. I am enough of an introvert that it often has a negative impact on my life. Like most people’s careers, mine would benefit from a lot of networking, especially with people I don’t already know well. Yet, when faced with the choice of walking up to someone I don’t know well and talking to that person (even knowing that he or she would like to talk to me) or doing something by myself, I will usually choose the latter. Not only does this fail to help me, but it creates an image of me as someone who’s aloof and unfriendly, which is basically oppo-networking.

This isn’t to say I don’t have social skills. People are often surprised how well I handle myself in large social gatherings. I’m actually good at talking with strangers and large groups of people, and I don’t have any phobias about public speaking either. I’m good at socializing in groups; I just have an inner compulsion to avoid it most of the time. Strangely enough, when I do socialize with a group, I frequently really enjoy it and wonder why I don’t do it more often.

Magic is a big reason I’m not a Deranged Hermit raising squirrels. I love Magic, and I have for many years. When I started playing, there was no such thing as Magic Online. If I wanted to play my beloved game, I needed to interact with others face to face. At first, I just played with my close friends. Unfortunately, they weren’t really Magic players. I taught them how to play, and they played with me, but it quickly became clear they were losing interest—in part because I was constantly winning. I wanted more of a challenge, too. I was going to have to find some new opponents.

Coalition Victory
When I discovered tournaments, it was a glorious new world opening up to me. Now either I was playing against new, tougher opponents, or if they weren’t tough, I was at least being rewarded for crushing them. In order to be a part of this glorious new world, however, I needed to be constantly interacting with new people I hadn’t met before.

This is usually where things would come to a screeching halt for me. Not this time. This time, several things came together just right. The crucial one was motivation. I was completely addicted to Magic, and I was determined to pursue it and to play in tournaments, even if—gasp!—that meant interacting with strangers. It’s much like why I can usually talk to a woman whom I barely know whom I’m attracted to: If the motivation is strong enough, one can overcome almost anything. Also important is the fact that a shared love of Magic means we’re not really strangers. We speak the same strange language: “You didn’t tap the right mana,” “Nice top-deck,” or, “ I’m ready to resolve first strike damage.” We’re there for the same reason: to play Magic. I don’t need to make small talk, find any additional common ground, or even remember the person’s name. I just need to play. I can do that.

Over time, it has become so much more than that. I would trade cards with people, I would buy and sell cards with people, and I would even make friends with people. From day one, Magic set fire to my passion for strategy and competition. I didn’t just want to collect Magic cards; I didn’t just want to play Magic; I wanted to win. I immediately realized that I couldn’t do it on my own.

I needed people to practice with—people to play against and share ideas with. I needed collaborators. My existing friends weren’t the answer. For my friends, Magic was just another game. They gave it a try for a while and moved on. Unthinkable!

Nearheath Pilgrim
This meant I needed to acquire new friends—specifically, ones who were good at Magic. The first time proved surprisingly easy. I was lamenting to my local cardboard crack dealer about my lack of good opponents, and she mentioned she had another customer in the same situation. It ended up being the Magic equivalent of a blind date. She set us up, and we turned out to be exactly what the other person was looking for. He had a bigger collection and the skill to be a tough practice partner, and I had the deck-design skills to ensure we always showed up at tournaments with the best decks there. As we won one local event after another, we encountered other outstanding players.

It actually reminded me of when I was a ballroom dancer in college. When I was dancing with a woman, what mattered was her skill at dancing and following my lead. On more than one occasion, I found myself turned off by a clumsy partner whom—had I met under other circumstances—I would have found captivating. I found myself boldly approaching tournament winners and breaking out my social skills in an attempt to make new friends and acquire more top-notch practice partners.

This led me to befriend future Hall of Famer Dave Humpherys. His practice buddies when I met him were fellow MIT students with more Magic skill than social skill. I was immediately drawn to Dave’s obvious competence at both. I choose to believe Dave felt the same way, but I’m sure my owning a car and my willingness to drive anywhere in the northeastern United States where there was a Magic tournament helped.

Through Dave, I met Rob Dougherty, my best friend and the owner of Your Move Games. At my suggestion, the three of us proceeded to found Team Your Moves Games, which led to many years of Pro Tour domination, including winning the first team Pro Tour and accumulating enough accolades to put all three of us into the Hall.

Venerated Teacher
Making new friends through Magic was a never-ending process. I was based in Boston during the height of my career, and most of the players I worked with were in Boston for school. Thus, there was a steady turnover of teammates and local Magic friends as some stopped playing and others graduated and left town. As I quickly ran out of local players who were obviously as good as I was, I had to try a new approach. I started befriending Magic players more for their social skills and their Magic potentials than for their current Magic skill levels. That began an informal mentoring program. When the opportunity arose, I would befriend a likely candidate, and if he or she proved able and interested, I took the player under my wing. They had my friendship and my help improving their games and making it onto the Pro Tour, and I had their friendships and their help preparing for Pro Tours.

As I look back at my life, I realize that every man I would consider having in a potential wedding party is someone I met through Magic, and a surprising number of female friends—and even some terrific former girlfriends—are all people I met thanks to my beloved game.

I don’t play as much Magic as I used to. Given the level my addiction reached, this is not a high bar, of course, but the difference has been enough for me to gain a new perspective. Now when I get together with my friends, it’s rarely to play Magic (I do much of that online now). The foundations for our relationships were laid in the fertile soil of a game we all loved, but the roots continue to flourish even without being watered with mana and spells.

I haven’t changed. I’m still a big-time introvert. Even with people I really like, I usually prefer to hang out one-on-one still. And if there’s going to be a lot of people, including people I’m not close to, there better be cards being played and prizes given to the winners. Yet, I can only imagine what my life would be like if it hadn’t been for Magic periodically coaxing me out of the cocoon that I typically choose to conduct my life in. It’s just another reason I’m thankful for Magic and all that it means to me.