Seek the Wilds by Anna Steinbauer
It’s been a crazy-wicked autumn for me. I was ready to settle down and just be dragon mom to my kids for a while when, out of the blue, this e-mail hits my inbox. StarCityGames was offering to fly me out to Grand Prix Atlanta. A Commander Celebration . . . what? Bennie Smith is going to be there, too? And Sheldon Menery. I could talk about The Complete Commander . . . and be the featured cosplayer? What!?
I’ve been into cosplay for several years now, but I only recently started taking it more seriously, and helping Bennie publish his book The Complete Commander really began as a cool way to spend quality time with a friend. So to have these two aspects of my work dovetail and be publicly supported at a Grand Prix was, as you can imagine, a real head trip.
For artists and dreamers in general, it’s not so much that we don’t hope our projects attract positive attention, but more that often it’s difficult to let yourself believe that something you care deeply about is truly worthy of notice. There is a fine line to walk between art for art’s sake and putting enough energy into promotions that your art has a chance of resonating with the public, and I don’t have answers on the right way to do it. So far, though, I’ve learned that combining passion with a commitment to helping others will at least get you some knocks from opportunity.
This is my photo diary of Atlanta weekend. I met so many amazing and inspiring fans—the very least I can do is give them a shout out and share how their sparks helped light up my trip. Also, I’m hoping you’ll enjoy a peek into the behind-the-scenes of being “here on official business.” And last but not least, I can point my parents to this article and say, “Hey mom and dad, look how well I’m putting that bachelor’s degree to use!”
Let the planeswalk begin.
Thursday night around 10:00 P.M. at Portland International Airport, right after dropping off both kids with different grandmas. Yes, of course members of the guild-that-doesn’t-exist drink gin.
@moxymtg Between this & that pic of you drinking a martini, I'm 100% convinced you should star in the next Bond film. As Bond.— Ed Grabianowski (@robotviking) November 14, 2015
It was a redeye flight from PDX that got us into Atlanta at 6:30 A.M. If you haven’t been on a Delta flight recently . . . well, a giant chipmunk and some pirates will help learn you about safety.
By the time we got into Atlanta, I was nauseated, dehydrated, and wondering why the hell I thought I could pull this off.
A lot of water and a light meal of steel-cut oatmeal in the hotel restaurant (punctuated, of course, by seeing a sharply suited Pete Venters attack the breakfast buffet) had me feeling better. After a shower, I had the difficult decision of which guild tee shirt to wear to the meet-and-greet. I went with Bennie’s favorite.
"You can't think your way out of this, Jace. Thought implies life, and life requires a pulse—music to a hunter's ears."
Surreal. Should every Grand Prix have a Commander Celebration? Possibly.
The long-awaited IRL hug with good friend and notable Commander writer Bennie Smith. To the right are Mark Globus of WotC R&D and Sheldon Menery, Godfather of Commander.
Bennie and I got to catch up about kids and Magic in between greeting fans.
This kid—whom I’ve nicknamed “Little Ral”—is a diehard Izzet and serious Vorthos. He currently takes issue with the timing of certain events related to Elspeth and Daxos’s tenure in the Theran Underworld. At right is Jonathan Suarez of the Commander VS Crew. The Crew was really popular all through the meet-and-greet, and the excitement around Commander media bodes well for the format.
Signing a mat for a Commander fan. It was great to see how enthusiastic players of the format are—and how positive.
After the meet-and-greet, Bennie and I jammed some Modern with our signature decks: 8Rack vs. Doran/Zur Versus vid rematch, with me as Boss Ross and Bennie as Todd Anderson.
The Commander Seminar, from left: Jeremy Noell, SCG Media Assistant Manager; Sheldon Menery, Commander Rules Committee VIP and a founding member of the format; Bennie Smith, author of The Complete Commander and one of the longest-running Commander writers; me, editor-producer of The Complete Commander and veteran Flavor Text/Card Names Writer for WotC Creative; Mark Globus, WotC R&D member and developer on all four Commander sets.
There was some confusion about whether Sheldon is the Grandfather or the Godfather of the format, but either way, he provided great insight into the history and genesis of Commander.
Bennie spoke about what inspired him to write The Complete Commander.
The flavors of Commander: Epic, and Community. “When someone shares their spark with us, it is our responsibility to pass it on to someone else.”
Mark shared Commander product design criteria and also a great story about the last-minute redesign of Command Beacon: “The tuck rule changed, and we had about three hours to come up with new text for this card.”
Commander fans queue up for questions. Some were so enthusiastic that, right after their first question was answered, they immediately got back in line!
“What’s your favorite Commander deck?” came the inevitable question. Bennie, Sheldon, and Mark named some cool commanders and reasons that were mostly over my head while I collected my thoughts. What was my favorite deck out of the several I had built . . .
Then it hit me. There could be only one flavorful answer.
“I built a deck to represent my relationship with my mother,” I said with a sigh. “Michiko Konda, Truth Seeker. My favorite—and least favorite—deck.”
Yes, I will call you when we get to the airport, Mom. And when we’re going to board the plane. Yes, and when we land. Of course when we get to the hotel. What?—it’s in the middle of the city, Mom. No, I won’t go out alone. Yes, lots. Yes, Mom, dozens. Mom—my suitcase is literally bursting with clean underwear, okay? No, I’m not being sarcastic. Ok. Gotta go—love you.
Jet-Lagged Elf. Coming soon to a GP near you.
The next morning was me gluing bits of flesh-colored stockings over my sideburns, stuffing myself into a corset and pleather leggings, and getting strapped into a dozen . . . well, straps. I told myself it was all going to be worth it.
8:45 A.M. Saturday. Game face (and ears) on.
Over two thousand players participated in the main event at Grand Prix Atlanta.
The Lord of Innistrad kept a stern eye on the SCG nerve center while Jace went low pro in the rafters.
Meanwhile, Karn held a vigil over the feature-match area . . . and the bathrooms—you know, in case you needed to exile some permanents and then restart the game.
I felt that I saw a lot more women participating in the GP than in previous years—not necessarily in the main event, but just in general. They were at artist booths, cruising the floor, doing side events . . . old, young, of many different shades of human. There was definitely not the oh-my-god-it’s-a-GIRL vibe that still persisted five years ago, and this was very heartening to me.
My degree in English Lit led me first into bartending and now this. Hi, mom! Hi, dad—I’m on Zendikar! This is my OMG-I-have-my-own-booth face.
Well, what line could this be? Lo and behold, I found my booth next to . . .
. . . John Avon’s. Here, John takes a picture of his own line, and I next-leveled him by taking a picture of him taking a picture.
With Magic artist-legend John Avon. Both John and his agent Guy Coulson were such class acts.
Who else was around in artist alley? Well, I was excited because three out of the five artists had done illustrations on cards for which I did either the flavor or the card name. One of my current projects is getting signatures on cards I helped flavorize and buying prints of the art so I can frame the art and card together on my wall. That way, when I’m eighty, I can look at my living room and think, “Yeah. I used to be cool.” Yeah. Fudge yeah.
My booth faced Winona Nelson’s! Her line was jumpin’ the entire weekend.
I’ve done names on several cards with Winona illustrations, but this promo Angel that inspired my flavor text was what I was really jazzed about.
The only downside to being near Winona’s booth was being constantly stared down by the hated Voice of Resurgence. Look at its disgustingly imperturbable face, silently lecturing me on how I’ll never have enough removal to deal with its cuteness. You’ll pay deerly one day, my friend . . .
Winona’s fans: serious business. She had several large prints for sale, including Bruna, Light of Alabaster, Avacyn, Angel of Hope, Enthralling Victor, and Prophet of Kruphix. You’ll see which I bought at the end of the article.
“Oh, don’t mind me, just here to fight a few ’Drazi and do some sightseeing . . . ”
Making our way around Artist Alley, we find everyone’s favorite fortune hunter Clint Cearley.
A seriously enthused fan visits Clint’s booth.
Left: Cosplay and Cearley fan Matthew overheard me talking about loving the art on Temporal Trespass, and he and his friend had a foil one signed and then gave it to me. Mind blown—thank you so much! Right: Freaking awesome dark mangel by Clint. His tokens are legit.
Though I like the flavor I wrote on both of these, Mind Rot is a little intense for the kiddos. I hoped that Clint would have a Control Magic print since I thought my older son might really enjoy that art, but alas, he did not. He did offer, however, to have one made when he did a print run. I’ve found that Magic artists are very generous if you talk to them with appreciation and courtesy.
Next stop: Jason Engle.
The first flavor set I worked on was Theros, and Meletis Charlatan was one of my favorite names I wrote in that group. I was always impressed that the charlatan was so darn handsome—a very nice depiction of an attractive tan man.
Jason Engle: “When I started on Legend of the Five Rings, I couldn’t draw Asians at all. I mean, at all. They just looked weird and—alien . . . ” MJ: “It’s okay—we forgive you, Jason.”
Adept Administrator James Kerr brought me my hedron, though it pained him to do so. “It burns,” he said. “Eldrazi and I don’t get along.” Yep, SCG puts them in alignment, and . . .
Pete Venters brings ’em crashing down with a quirk of his brow.
Pete signs a Grand Prix Atlanta exclusive Zur the Enchanter play mat.
Pete had a steady flow of customers to his booth throughout the weekend.
And Nicol Bolas even stopped by, cleverly disguised as a jean jacket.
Catching up on my lore.
The Hippest Tip Jar Award—yes, that’s a leather boot—goes to Anthony Palumbo.
Even more fascinating than the boot is that an artist with a face this sweet could be the deviant mastermind behind the infamous art of Blood Baron of Vizkopa (pro tip: Don’t zoom in and don’t look in the background).
Anthony signs a print of his Angel token art.
Where to next? Why, the Command Zone, of course! Let’s celebrate some Commander.
James Kerr helps a Commander fan—who came to the GP specifically for the chance to hang with Danny West—get checked in and ready to sling cards.
She sought the wilds but found something much more intractable, though just as magnetically dangerous: Sheldon Menery.
What goes on in the Command Zone? Early-morning Commander! Bennie Smith (foreground), Mark Globus (left), and Sheldon (right) face off. I’ll just pretend Mark’s laughing at my previous caption.
Danny West (blue hoodie) holds court at his Commander table.
At one point during the weekend, Sheldon beckoned me over and then made me take his place while he ran off to somewhere ridiculous like the boys’ room.
“Dear god, what pile did Sheldon leave me with here . . . ”
I got back at Sheldon by bringing him a coffee . . .
. . . and a small avalanche of Splenda. “You didn’t say how many, Sheldon.”
Bennie sporting the 3-Day Commander Badge and a Vorthos-approved Golgari pin.
I have no idea what Bennie was doing here, but it looks like Commander spirit to me!
This game ended in a showdown between Sheldon and Bennie. Here, Bennie casts an actual dark cantrip asking his deck for some winning mojo . . . But in the end, Sheldon’s You Did it To Yourself deck emerged victorious over Bennie’s Jalira.
Mark Globus—by his own admission “a lover of durdling”—shows his community pride in fashionable Conclave attire.
Out of the Zone and back to “work”!
It was this player’s first GP, and he said I was the first cosplayer he’d met. Several people I spoke to were first-time Magic players, and all of them said they’d had a great time.
This attendee was eager to take a picture with me—and after he stood up, I could see why! It’s not often you meet a Giant Ally, but in the battle to save Zendikar, what help could be better?
I also saw a lot of sweet play mats over the weekend. Most people I talked to cared about the art and lore of Magic—music to my elf ears!
Another bold ally was made in this traveler from Innistrad, who’d somehow been ripped across the Blind Eternities and found herself in the Zendikar neck of the woods.
Had the pleasure of answering some interview questions from the Mothership’s Corbin Hosler. I explained to him that I was probably going to have to fight my five-year-old for the Commander (2015 Edition) deck I wanted.
Jen (left) and MTGBreakfast’s finance contributor Jim Casale were on a Magic mini-tour together, hitting Atlanta and then Pittsburgh.
I tried to stay in character, but every time a conversation would turn to Modern, I’d lose it. Here, I am in a very un-elf-like moment, going off (again) about my favorite format.
When you let cosplayers know you enjoy their work, you have no idea how it makes their whole day. I tried to let the fans know that their feedback means the world.
One person I was really excited to meet was Joni Bailey, whom I’ve been friends with for years on Twitter. Joni and I talked a little Legacy—she’d gone 10–5 and made Day 2 at GP SeaTac, slinging Sneak and Show.
Yukio and I finally got our picture together, seconds before this round of features started. I don’t think that guy in the background was looking at us, but his expression still cracks me up.
@moxymtg Fortunate that the camera angle hides that I wasn't wearing shoes at this point.— Patrick Sullivan (@BasicMountain) November 14, 2015
The next day, I tried to snag a picture of PSully’s feet, but he was well prepared with shoe game.
These two were inspiring Commander fiends! They'd brought extra decks to share with anyone who needed one. Rosemary (right) uses Trostani, Selesnya's Voice as her Commander, and we laughed about making a live Trostani cosplay installation (complete with tree trunk and foliage) at a future GP.
Cari Ruthenberg (right), SCG Assistant Brand Manager, helped me get everything I needed for the trip out to Atlanta, and she worked tirelessly all weekend at John Avon’s booth. It always amazes me how much everyone gives at these events—all motivated by a love of Magic.
And speaking of giving, gotta give a shout out to Jason Reedy, my contact on the floor who solved all of my “glamorous” problems. I don’t think I saw Jason sit down all weekend!
Here, I must insert an apology to the event staff—I accidentally kept a lot of your Sharpies.
But now I have something to remember you by.
I was anticipating the weekend being tiring, but I didn’t think it’d be that exhausting. Not to dwell on Cosplayer Problems—but if you’ve never spent eight hours wearing five-inch heels, well . . . let’s just say you can’t do this job without a superior pain threshold. Yeah, I know she’s wearing flat boots in the art, but I have human thighs that look much more elvish in stilettos. Besides, “Pain is the spice of life,” as any good Rakdos will tell you.
Left: Think I got enough art? Right: The view from my window on the way home to Portland.
Every second of bipedal discomfort, steel-boned sucking it in, and even being away from my kids was worth it. The chance to see old friends, make new ones, represent the game I love, and celebrate its art and flavor . . . to hear stories from first-time players about how welcoming the community has been, to help commemorate the release of yet another great Commander product and be there to celebrate that format, to meet so many kind, diverse players and hear about their passion for the game . . .
I think of my life as a book of adventures, and this was exactly the kind of adventure I hope to fill the pages of my life with.
“Success is not finding, but the act of seeking itself.”
It just came to mind that, a long time ago, I took one of those personality-job compatibility tests, and my test result was . . . Seeker.
Well whaddya know . . . I guess that explains why I used to paint the vistas in my downtime, but now the vistas disappear faster than my downtime . . .
Life is uncannily strange.
Till next time, may Magic be your quest
for truth. For the true gods. For true happiness. For Ula’s Temple. For Ula’s tempura.