Friday, 1:15 p.m.: An Interview with Gary Campbell

Posted in Event Coverage on August 19, 2011

By David Sutcliffe

There are 184 players taking part in Great Britain Nationals this weekend. We're going to talk about someone who isn't playing. Seems perverse, I agree, but the man we're talking with is one of the most important and respected people in the GB Magic community.

Gary Campbell hails from Scotland, and is the glue that holds the community together north of the border. He has so many incredible Magic stories that we could have spent hours in his affable company, but in even a few minutes we heard some tales that were new even to us, who have been around the game for fifteen years and more.

First things first, why isn't Gary playing at Nationals?

"Because I'm a tournament organizer north of the border, I never get to play in any National Qualifiers. Every year I come along to Nationals, and have to take my chance in the Last Chance Qualifier."

"This year, I didn't make it."

Gary started playing back when Legends was the latest set. And yes, that's a long time ago.

"A friend had a deck, and wanted someone to play against. I'm a builder by trade, and let me tell you that a Scottish builder doesn't go out in the evening to play cards with Elves and Goblins. It used to be a secret, and I'd never tell any of my building friends about my hobby. "

Gary qualified at his first Pro Tour Qualifier for Pro Tour Columbus all the way back in 1996. That's the third Pro Tour ever, and it was very different then compared to the modern (and Modern) era.

"Everyone I played against was a big name player. In five of the six rounds I faced George Baxter, Henry Stern, Darwin Kastle, Matt Place, and Bertrand Lestree."

We could spend an age discussing the merits of those five, but suffice to say they were a really big deal then, and some still are.

"It was a very relaxed atmosphere. I became really good friends with Jeff Donais, who was a Level 2 judge at the time, because of an incident with Bertrand Lestree. We were both at 1-4 when we sat down to play, and Bertrand started singing the French National anthem at the top of his voice. Jeff came over to watch what was clearly the most interesting match that round, and we got chatting, and we've been friends ever since."

Over the years, Gary has played in some momentous Pro Tours. He was in New York when Jon Finkel won his first Pro Tour title. He was at Barcelona when Kai Budde lifted the trophy. He saw Carlos Romão win Worlds in Sydney in 2002, and Kai winning again in New Orleans. That Worlds trip in 2002 holds some special memories.

"In those days you could build a homebrew deck and have a chance of not being destroyed, and I built a deck around Razorfin Hunter, and went 5-1 on the opening day. Because Eddie Ross also went 5-1, Scotland led the world at the end of the first day. Although I couldn't keep that kind of pace up, I still got to the last round needing a win to make the top 64. I got there, on the last turn of extra turns."

In 2000, Gary left the building profession behind and began a new career building a Magic community. He opened the Highlander Games store in Dundee, and has been instrumental in nurturing every scrap of Scottish talent over the last eleven years. For four straight years, Highlander had the highest number of Drafts held in-store anywhere in the British Isles. Now another phenomenon is sweeping through the club: Commander.

"Commander has really taken off in the store. It's specifically because of the new Commander decks. I've always had access to all the cards I want to play with, but newer players struggle with that. Now, they can buy one of the five Commander decks, and they're on an even footing with even the best players. That's another thing that's great about the community - all the top players play Commander too, and they leave their super-powerful decks at home, and play with the new Commander decks instead, to help make sure that everybody has a good time."

Making sure that everybody has a good time is high on Campbell's list.

It's almost impossible to quantify the debt that dozens of high level Scottish Magic players owe to Campbell, who is a tireless organizer behind the scenes, providing just the right amount of motivation to get players out of bed and on the road in time to get to their nearest PTQ.

"For me, the days of driving hundreds of miles to PTQs, then driving back to Scotland all through Sunday night in time to start work on Monday morning are gone. I'm lucky if I can play in one PTQ each year."

That's exactly what he did a few weeks ago, and he made the most of it, qualifying for the Modern Pro Tour Philadelphia at the ripe old age of 46. We're not sure if that will make him the oldest Pro Tour competitor yet, but we'll do our best to find out. And what would his advice be to anyone just starting out on their journey towards the Pro Tour?

"I've always treated each and every one of my Pro Tours as my last. You never know if you're going to get the chance again, so make the most of it. I've never dropped from a single round, ever, no matter what my record. Why would you? Take the opportunity, treat it as your last chance, and have fun. It all comes down to having fun."

Campbell holds a very special place in the hearts of hundreds of Scottish players who he has helped to have fun over many years. Now, he gets another slice of fun himself in Philadelphia next month, and nobody will have more well-wishers behind them.

Gary Campbell, pride of Scotland.

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