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Finding Success in the Great Designer Search

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A couple of months ago (August 7th, but who's keeping track?) I decided that I would work for Wizards of the Coast. If you think I'm crazy or find my word choice strange check out this article before continuing. My story hasn't ended happily like Tom Lapille's yet, but I've certainly learned a lot in the past few months. (Seriously! Who gets a job with Wizards after only two months of trying?)

My first big chance came only a few short weeks after my decision was made. Making Magic – Mark Rosewater's column for those of you not in the know – announced there would be a second Great Designer Search! (GDS or GDS2 from now on) and I was ecstatic. I had just gotten back into Magic when the first one ended, and had loved reading the articles detailing each challenge and test the contestants went through. Heck, I've read all of them numerous times since then as well.

I sharpened my number 2 pencils and studied like a good student. When MaRo1 announced the new GDS structure I immediately set to work on world-building. I had never designed a single Magic card in my life, but I have played the game for almost 15 years and am an avid reader of MaRo's column since my return to the game - in addition to scouring his archives. I was confident in my design abilities, and set about proving myself to the powers-that-be in the mystical Wizards' fortress hidden in the clouds.

I wish I could say that I'm still competing, fighting for the golden prize, but I just couldn't conquer the multiple choice test. (Something I knew going in would be my Achilles heel) I read as many design articles as I could on magicthegathering.com in preparation for the test, and mined Gatherer constantly throughout the 24 hours allotted for the test. Unfortunately, it wasn't enough. I failed, but where I failed, I also succeeded.

So what did I do when I received the "Thank you for applying." letter in my inbox early Friday2 morning? I went to work because I still need to earn a living (and I enjoy my current job), but then I celebrated. I celebrated the fact that I hadn't made it among the final 101 contestants the only way I knew how, by playing Magic.

I jumped on a train immediately after work and took the 1.5 hour trip to the nearest FNM location. Unfortunately, they weren't holding a FNM that night, but I was undeterred. I was a man on a mission. Like the Blues Brothers I could not fail. I took another 1.5 hour trip to the opposite side of Tokyo, and jumped into the 32-man FNM at Tomoharu Saito's store. I met an old friend, helped out a new player with some tips and event information, and had a blast, but that was just the beginning of my celebration.

Over the next two days, I played in an annual event known as the Draft Meister tournament (a pretty awesome invitee-only event that involves two 3-round draft sets, then a top8 draft), played a few drafts with friends, tested standard with another friend, then played in the annual championships of my usual playgroup, LMC. All within 36 hours. I had a blast, and forgot the disappointment of having been cut from the GDS.

A specific moment occurred during the LMC championships that made me think again of the GDS on the long ride home Sunday night. It was round 6, I was 5-0, and had just received a game loss after forgetting my late-addition singleton Spell Pierce was maindeck and not in my sideboard. Then my opponent played a turn 1 Valakut.3

I could have gone on tilt from the unlucky deck check. (It was a PTQ-level 8-round tournament, but only had two or three deck checks the entire day.) I could have berated myself for not being more careful about my sideboard. My confidence that had been building with each round could have folded after seeing that Valakut. I could have given up, conceded, thrown the match, or countless other actions that would have been plausible to many others in my situation. But I didn't.

I took a deep breath, drew my card for the turn, and then put myself back into the mindset that had won me 5 previous rounds. I won the first match, evening the score, then braced myself for game 3, where I would be on the draw and not have a counter quick enough for his first play (other than that maindeck Spell Pierce of course). I fought hard. I thought out every move I made. I matched every play my opponent made, and succeeded in subduing him. Then came my mistake.

I wish I could say that I grew overconfident or that I didn't see the Harrow coming, but those excuses would be false. They would be mistakes of lesser men, men who hadn't grinded 5 straight wins out against some of the best Kanto has to offer, men who hadn't fought back from a game loss against one of their worst matchups to be swinging for the win – with Celestial Colonnade – on their next turn. The truth is, I had gotten tunnel-vision. It was my worst enemy when I played chess in high-school, and it remains a constant threat to my Magic abilities.

I made the simple mistake of exiling his meaningless Primeval Titan with Brittle Effigy at the end of his turn. I tapped the wrong mana – leaving a single Tectonic Edge untapped – and when he tapped out for a Harrow I was left staring at one card in my hand. What card was it? It was my singleton, maindeck Spell Pierce. Before you ask, yes, I believe in irony.

Again, I wish I could make excuses. I wish I could say I went on tilt after such a simple mistake. That I folded against the Elves decks4 I played in the final two rounds. It would be pretty convenient to leave my missing top8 to those things, but I didn't allow myself the luxury. I fought hard, and came close to grinding out a match win in both of the Elves matchups.

Flash forward to my trip home on the train. I sat for a long time, thinking about my matches that day. No whining or regret was existent, just mental review of what I could have done better and what I had done well. I prided myself on persevering, on not giving up or going on tilt after the game loss or land mistake. I thought about my success and failure, and then the GDS squeezed its way into my thoughts after a long weekend of silence.

Remember that I said I found success when I failed? I certainly found it in my Magic games, and thanks to those lessons I was able to find it in the GDS as well. True, I won't be competing for that prize of a design internship or staying awake until the wee hours of the weekend designing cards before the Sunday deadline of each challenge, but that doesn't mean I failed.

I had a lot of fun writing the essays for the first stage of the GDS, and enjoyed trying to figure out the best answers on the multiple choice test. I realized that working for Wizards of the Coast wasn't just a pipe dream or crazy idea. I would truly love playing Magic day in and day out, analyzing cards, theories, and designs in an effort to improve the game I care about.

Though I failed at the GDS I came a little closer toward my ultimate goal. I know a little bit more about what it takes to succeed at that goal, and my confidence in my decision has been reinforced. It may take me longer than Tom Lapille, but I will work for Wizards of the Coast.

Footnotes

1 - For those of you newer to the game, Mark Rosewater is often called MaRo. It's a name that originated from a shortening of his name in the original Wizards e-mail system. The Magic card Maro is a play on this nickname, and one of his favorite cards.

2 - I live in Japan, so I'm 13 hours ahead of EST.

3 - I have been playing U/W control for a month or two, and had only beaten Valakut once previously. That once had been by the skin of my teeth in round 3 of the same event.

4 - While I hadn't been successful against Valakut decks they were far from my worst match-up. Elves decks are just too fast and too resilient against my U/W list.

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