Matthew Johnson may have just lost his Feature Match against Mark Aylett, but Matthew is winning in a lot of other ways, not least by being one half of a Magic couple, as he's dating the fledgling UK pro player Carrie Oliver, who surprised the world when she turned a random trip to her first ever Extended tournament into a Pro Tour slot in Nagoya, and then her first ever Pro Tour appearance into a Top 32 finish and a bunch of Pro Points!
(You can read more about Carrie's exploits in Nagoya here.)
I pulled the two together to ask them about life as a Magic couple (the best sort of couple).
Which came first, Magic or relationship?
"Well I met Carrie through university," Matthew told me, "then I taught her to play Bridge. I'm a big Bridge player, and I also judge a lot of events for Bridge, so that's my background. One of Carrie's housemates played Magic and got her started on Duels of the Planeswalkers on the Xbox, and then from there Carrie jumped into cardboard Magic, before finally she taught me how to play."
"Matthew had to learn," Carrie laughed, "or he wouldn't get to see me! I used to disappear for draft nights and didn't tell him where I was going."
"I started going along to the shop with Carrie, watched a few drafts, figured out what was going on and how to play, and yeah I've been playing ever since. I'm still really involved in Bridge while Carrie is pretty much all Magic now, but my regular Bridge partner has become a consultant and is travelling a lot so I rarely get to play."
Carrie Oliver and Matthew Johnson.
So how have you been preparing? Obviously Carrie is preparing for Pro Tour Philadelphia as well as Nationals. Did you ignore Nationals?
"Carrie has been working really hard on both," said Matthew, "in order to qualify for Worlds at the end of the year she really needs to either make Top 50 in Philly, or the Top 4 here. There's not really a realistic route to the Pro Points that doesn't involve one of those, so we couldn't ignore Nationals. The change to the format of the Pro Tour was really hard, though, she'd just spent months playtesting Extended and suddenly had to throw it all out and learn Modern in just three weeks. Two weeks, really, because we're leaving early to play in GP Pittsburgh."
"This was also my first Nationals," Carrie added, "and I want to do well in it. I wasn't really playing this time last year, and I'd really like to do well. So we've been practising Standard for Nationals and Pittsburgh, but then as soon as the Grand Prix ends, that's it – it's all Modern. We've been probably been playing four or five times a week for a while now, to prepare."
"We've had great support from people, as well," Matthew was keen to add, "we're lucky that the Cambridge group we play with is pretty strong, and they've been great in coming together to get cards for Carrie at short notice."
Magic must have changed really quickly for you – from Duels of the Planeswalkers, to the Pro Tour, to writing a regular column for gatheringMagic.com?
"Yeah it has," Matthew agreed. "We went out to Japan together as basically a holiday that had been half paid for, because Carrie's flights were free. I went as a tourist – I tried to LCQ, and played a bunch of side events at the Pro Tour, but basically it was just a holiday. But now we're both going out to Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, and trying to qualify Carrie for Worlds. It's become more serious, definitely."
"I keep having people asking me for advice now, which is weird. I'm still perfectly capable of sucking!" Carrie smiles, and she doesn't seem to take her sudden celebrity too seriously, "when I got back from the Pro Tour I did notice a change in myself though. I'd sit down against somebody new and within a few turns I would just know that I wasn't going to lose. That was just down to having the confidence in myself from doing well. Once I had that feeling of knowing I wouldn't lose it meant that I could take a step back from trying to win and spend time helping my opponent learn to play at the same time."
"And we've definitely noticed more people coming to draft in the shop since Carrie did well in Nagoya," said Matthew, "I don't think it's that people are coming along just because Carrie is there, but because she proved that it's possible to make that step up. I think it has inspired people and made them think they can do it too."
And finally... do you fall out over Magic? Do you duel to see who will do the washing up?
"No, Carrie has a dishwasher!" Matthew answered, "and we don't really fall out. Whenever we get drawn against each other in a tournament we've been able to just play, and see who wins."
"We should definitely duel for things more often though," Carrie says, her eyes twinkling, "that way I would never have to do anything!"