Being a kid in Magic is tough. You have a big money tournament circuit that players over the age of fifteen aren't eligible for, abundant amounts of scholarship money being handed to you by Wizards of the Coast and far away trips one must take, recouping your losses with wins on the table and then some.
Spencer Russo, a fifteen year old from Los Angeles, California has been a beneficiary of the perks the Super Series for some years now. One of three returning Top 8 finishers from last year's tournament, Spencer, who came fifth in 2000, is starting to recognize just how good he's had it, now that its all slipping from his grasp. "You're allowed to play in the JSS as long as you're fifteen when you qualify, but my sixteenth birthday is in September, so I guess this is it."
Spencer won't be leaving with his pockets empty though. With his finish last year, Spencer took home four thousand dollars in scholarship money. The son of former movie producer Irwin (who produced Trading Places) and Jane (who has done publicity management for Tiger Woods among others) Russo, the ninth grader, is only now beginning to realize that with his coming of age, he'll be losing an important part of his life.
"JSS is basically all I think about when I have free time," says Spencer, who in addition to Magic is a big fan of Baseball and Survivor. I've really had fun meeting other players my age from around the country and competing with them, all while hanging out with my friends'. Spencer is here with his friends Rory Draxler, whose mother accompanied them on the trip, Matt Zborg and Scott Freeman, who won four JSS Challenges this season.
Spencer's biggest regret is the connections he'll be losing when this tournament is over. "I talk to Brian Weissman on line a lot, and he's really helpful when it comes to talking about Magic, but other than that, all of my connections are here" says Russo, whose rigorous preparatory school schedule only leaves him time to play on Saturdays at the Costa Mesa Women's Club in California.
With his JSS eligibility expired, Spencer has no choice but to try and move on to the next level. "I'm nowhere close to being as good as Jon Finkel and the other Pro Tour players, but I guess I'll have to try' Spencer's hope is that in attending Pro Tour Qualifiers, he'll meet new, more experienced players who will help him improve his game. "I think its really important to listen to those players who are better than you. If you argue with them, you're just hurting yourself." Spencer also suggests that JSS hopefuls should watch the best players play as much as possible and ask any questions that might help them get better.
In this, his final JSS tournament, Spencer is playing Fires, a deck he isn't that happy with. "It was the easiest deck to play and we didn't find anything I was happier with. At least it's really consistent." Despite last year's experience, Spencer is surprisingly nervous, a condition he's become accustomed to before major tournaments, but the nerves are worth it. "The travel, the playing . . . I'm going to miss this more than anything" Hopefully, the Pro Tour will fill that void.