By Alex Shvartsman
Very few players in this game can boast winning a National championship. Let alone twice. Let alone twice in a row. Firsov has been there, and done that.
Russia's two time national champion is a quite, thoughtful young guy. At the age of twenty one, he currently works as a network administrator and resides in Russia's second most important city - St. Petersburg.
Like many of the veteran players in Russia, Firsov was introduced to Magic through a copy of Microprose' Magic The Gathering computer game. "I slowly figured out the game and then played for hours," explains Konstantin. "A few months later I learned of a shop that sold actual Magic cards, and decided to check it out. There were about five people who would regularly play there at the time and I joined them. I was instantly hooked."
Firsov describes Magic in Russia as very new and undeveloped, but growing fast. "At the moment, people in Russia play very, very casually," Firsov says. "For example, people would usually talk during a draft tournament, or a spectator would say something about what's in a player's hand and most players would not even be upset by that. People really treat it as a fun way to pass the time." Firsov himself is a lot more competitive. "I really enjoy playing seriously, a challenge. I want a game where my opponent will play sharp and force me to think, rather than an easy victory over someone who would commit a mistake."
Firsov feels that Magic has plenty of room to grow in Russia. One of its main obstacles is that few Russians have the kind of money needed to buy Magic cards. Many family have an income of $200-300 a month, making $3 boosters an overpriced luxury. Firsov describes a series of tournaments held in Moscow and St. Petersburg that allow the use of proxies to help newer players and those who cannot afford the cards.
Pro players or even PTQ level players are still rare though. "Most people see a PTQ as a tournament where they might win some money. Few actually consider traveling to USA to compete for a Pro Tour if they win a spot." Indeed, only two Russian players have competed in Pro Tours to date. One was Firsov himself, who traveled to the 1999 World Championship in Tokyo. The other was Andrey Rybalchenko from Kiev, Ukraine who competed at Pro Tour: Los Angeles last year.
Russian players have quickly warmed up to the Grand Prix circuit. Several have attended GP Madrid and GP Cannes last year. Helsinki, located within driving distance of St. Petersburg saw 30 Russians attend. The players banded together to rent a bus and drove here from Moscow through St. Petersburg. "A drive from Helsinki to St.Petersburg is about eight hours, if you do not get stuck at Customs," explained one of them.
Firsov himself did not finish "in the money," but several other players had. K. Speransky, A. Strakhov and A. Rybalchenko all finished in the top 32. In addition, several other Russian players were eligible for the 1700 rating bracket prizes.
When asked about his goals in terms of Magic in the future, Firsov is very modest. "I would like to do well on the Grand Prix circuit and perhaps qualify for a Pro Tour at some point." Modest dream for a two time National Champion, but hopefully one that he will reach easily, and soon.