Alejo Zagalsky placed some tokens on the coverage table and motioned for me to check them out. This former Argentine National Champion is a member of the old guard of Magic players in Argentina. He runs a web site (since 1999), along with two Argentine judge cohorts, Alejandro Raggio and Adrian Estoup, TMT (themagictutor.com) and most of the Argentine players today have been sporting these cute little guys made to promote the website, illustrated by Azul Piñeiro.
Though Zagalsky admits getting the idea from ChannelFireball and StarCityGames, we both agreed that his tokens were far cuter. Just look at that Satyr! After looking over tokens, we bega discussing Argentine Magic—where it’s come from and where it’s going. “I’m just one of the old guys still having fun,” Zagalsky laughed. He said for the most part the tournaments his group runs are casual—Commander and Cube. But he still comes out to all the Grand Prixes and he remembers fondly his two trips to Worlds. As most good South American players have discovered, unlike Grand Prix trips for the weekend that Europeans and Americans can take, it’s best for South Americans to parlay all Magic flights into a vacation. “Me and my girlfriend at the time to a holiday in Rome; it was amazing.”
He remembers getting a TMT bus together in 2008 to travel to the Grand Prix with a whole bunch of people. These are the sort of decisions that can grow a scene, creating ridiculously fun times, even if you get your face smashed in at the actual tournament. Zagalsky talks fondly about the old days, and it’s clear he’s been impacting Argentine Magic for a long time. The Tournament Organizer, judges, and various players all come up to him to say hello. Some have gone so far as to call him a “legend” in Argentine Magic. He was even given the nickname, Goleador (“scorer” in soccer) by the community because of his consistent winning results. He is quick to downplay that honor, however. He thinks the better the players get, the less they will think of his results. Zagalsky, though just an “old guy having fun” is still looking to improve and what his countrymen to do the same. No matter how “old” you get, that urge to compete never really dies, does it?
He sees the opportunity for growth and improvement in the scene thanks to the MTGmulligan.net open series. Another major Argentine Magic site, MTGmulligan.net has been offering consistent tournaments with good prize support, garnering more and more followers and getting more and more players to play the game competitively.
Caption: Alejo Zagalsky
But Zagalsky still has his worries. “Players can’t be getting better,” he explained, “because I can still catch up to them and beat them.” He says he doesn’t play often enough to be able to beat them. “I am not good. You should beat me,” he insists.
When I tell him that being two-time competitor at Worlds doesn’t exactly prove he’s not good, he admits at least a little skill. “Yes, but these people who play a lot, they can be like robots, always making decisions without thinking. I have to think about every one. It’s work.” This sort of practice can help lead to more consistent results, which are important if Argentines want to show up more often on the world stage. Because it takes that more effort to go to the large-dollar events, Zagalsky wants Argentines to be up in the top rankings each time, ensuring that they can appear at the next.
The Argentines are sending some groups of players to compete in North American Grand Prixes that happen back-to-back, so they can save on costs and also have an excuse to vacation. Zagalsky wants to see some results.
Even though Argentina has three different major teams, when it comes to competing abroad, they all band together strongly. “Yes we like Chile to do well; we like Brazil to do well; but we really root for Argentina.” Zagalsky smiled.
With many of his cohorts doing well today (while sporting the TMT sleeves no less), I don’t think Zagalsky has too much to worry about. It’s clear that Argentine Magic is improving, despite his subjective moving-goalpost idea of “if I can beat you, we’re not good yet.” It’s people like Zagalsky and national tournaments like MTGmulligan.net’s open series that get more people becoming players, more players becoming competitors, and more competitors becoming better.
Zagalsky let me keep the tokens, which will be used to great effect, and will remind me of the benchmark he set for Argentina. Once Zagalsky starts losing, then his country is getting better.