I enjoy writing fiction and nonfiction for its own sake, and I take artistic pride in many of the things I've written.
This article is the Latest Developments column I'm most proud of.
Behind the uncharacteristic tone and trippy travel nonfiction vibe, though, there's a message. Magic is about so much more than cards. Magic is about the friends you meet while playing, the amazing places that you go to play, and the peak experiences you have when you push the limits of your skill and knowledge. In short, Magic is about adventure. If that's not true for you, I invite you to see if you'd have more fun if it were. Play a deck at Friday Night Magic tonight that you've never played before. Find a new store to play at. Travel to a Pro Tour Qualifier that's two hours away. Fly to a Grand Prix. Trade with people at a Pro Tour held in a foreign country. Order from a street food menu you can't read outside the convention center. I'm pretty sure you'll learn something. I know I did.
I got several emails asking me about the image treatment in this article. Tom Jenkot, our image guy, deserves the credit for it. His work here is beautiful, and it made my work appear that much better. Thanks, Tom!
This article originally ran on March 12, 2010.
Wheels on pavement. Slowing down, fast. Loud tone. Voices. People moving.
"Bien venidos a Valencia, España." Welcome to Valencia, Spain.
My eyes creep open. The fasten seatbelt sign is off. People are digging through the overhead compartments. "Gracias para volar Air Iberia. Esperamos verte de nuevo." Everyone is leaving the plane. My eyes creep closed.
Focus. Must get traveling companions together. Next stop train station. Must meet other group of four friends at hostel in Barcelona. Wish my Pro Tour Qualifier free ticket could have gone there instead of here. Wish we hadn't been stuck in Paris for fourteen hours. Wish I could sleep.
I stand up, shoulder a bag full of Magic cards, and squeeze down the aisle.
The flight attendant fakes a smile at me as I step off the plane. "Gracias. Hasta luego. Gracias. Hasta luego." Voices chatter around me as I walk. I understand snatches.
The three other Magic players I came here with meet me at the baggage claim. There is a nearby door outside with a sign marked "taxi." Above the lights of the city, the sky is pitch black. Across the hallway, a clock on the wall changes from 23:01 to 23:02.
The last train left Valencia for Barcelona five hours ago. I don't know where we're going to sleep tonight.
The Lonely Planet travel guide lists eighteen hostels in Valencia. I circle the number for the one with the nicest picture. Between the four of us, we have exactly enough small change to use the phone booth. Four rings, then a click. "¿Hola?"
I take a deep breath. "¿Habla usted Inglés?"
The man laughs at me for a little too long. "Yes, I speak English. How many beds do you need?" There are four of us. He has space, and it's cheap. We pile into a cab.
Twenty minutes later, bags shoved underneath nine-euro-a-night metal cots, we emerge into the Spanish evening in search of food. The restaurants are all closed, so we make do with an outdoor tapas bar. I don't quite manage to communicate with the waitress, and none of my traveling companions speak a word of Spanish. Our order comes out wrong. We are too tired to care.
We go straight to the train station in the morning. Our four seats are in the same row, so it doesn't take long for a Cube Draft to start. I first-pick Ravages of War as the train crawls out of Estacio del Nord. I attack with Savannah Lions while we speed through the Spanish countryside. I clinch my team's victory with a Chain Lightning to my opponent's face when we are an hour away from Barcelona.
The train rolls into Estacio-Sants, Barcelona's central train station. We hop in another cab and hand the cabbie the address of the hostel where we were supposed to meet our friends yesterday. We hope against hope that they'll randomly still be there, or that knowing that someone named Derek reserved it will be good enough for the hostel workers to let us in.
We drag our bags up two flights of stairs and enter the hostel. I begin to stammer a question to the person working the desk, but one of my friends interrupts me—Derek is sitting at the lone computer in the lobby. He gets everything arranged for us. We spend the rest of the day getting acquainted with the hostel's surroundings, eating, and playtesting Extended before we go off to explore Barcelona after dark.
After we come back, I spend some time on the hostel's computer and discover something interesting. The number one Magic store in Barcelona is named Black Lotus. It's a busy place, with tournaments most nights of the week and plenty of people playing there even when there isn't an event. I've got a thing for foreign cards, so I decide to go on an adventure tomorrow to find the store.
I wake up early and grab breakfast from a bakery on my way to the metro. I hit the Picasso museum right when it opens and another museum in the area when I finish there, then try to find Black Lotus. It's located on Passeig Sant Joan, which I discover is a very wide street lined with posh-looking glass-windowed shops. Curiosity draws me toward one of them, which is when I discover something strange: they're all closed. I walk past the large shops, and what my guidebook said was a thriving commercial district full of shops becomes nothing more than an endless string of metal garage doors.
I start exploring some side streets and randomly find an open store with a Magic poster in the window. Inside, a man with a black goatee and black t-shirt stands behind a counter that is filled with painted miniatures, with hardly a Magic card in sight. I'm looking for the store named Black Lotus. "Busco la tienda Black Lotus." I think this is the right street. "Creo que este es la calle correcta."
"Están cerrado ahora mismo." They're closed right now. "Ahora es la siesta." It's siesta time. "A las tres, las otras tiendas estarán abierto. Debes almorzar." The other stores will open at three. You should go have lunch.
"Gracias." There's a cafe across the street. My ham sandwich is dry and doesn't quite fill me up, but there's a grocery store further down the alley. Two euros get me a banana, an apple, and a bottle of water.
The stores still aren't open. I buy a phone card from a streetside kiosk and use it to call my parents from a public phone.
I'm doing fine. You sound far away too. I'm surprised at how quickly my Spanish came back to me. It's around two o'clock here. This street is lined with shops, but nothing's open. It looks like an endless wall of metal garage doors. Siesta. Strange to see, but true. I'm by myself right now. I decided to go off on my own adventure today. I'll catch up with the rest of them later. The phone just beeped at me, I think I'm almost out of time. I love you. I'll call again in a few days.
The line of grey garage doors rises to reveal rows of shops along both sides of the street. One of the last ones to rise reveals a sign marked "Black Lotus."
I go inside. Everything inside is in Spanish, but otherwise it looks just like any game store I've ever been in, with a glass display counter and walls covered in posters. It's a small space, though, with only a few tables and chairs—hardly the expansive haven of Spanish Magic I was imagining. Maybe they have more space to use at night, or there's a wall that opens up somewhere.
A man behind the counter regards me quizzically, and I spy my quarry behind him: a line of binders full of nine-pocket sheets with set names scrawled onto the spines. I spend twenty minutes going through all of them, then spend 22 euros on a small pile of Spanish cards for my Cube. The shopkeep complains a little about having had to show me every last binder, then suggests that I come back later in the evening—there will be tons of people here. Before I leave, I look around the store and wonder where they'll all fit.
It doesn't take much for me to convince my seven traveling companions to come back to the store with me the next night. When we get there, it's just as small as it was before. Where is everyone? "Donde vamos para jugar?"
He points to my left. "¿La escalera?" The stairs? Oh. Those. Right.
We go down the spiral staircase to discover a huge subterranean hangar full of tables, chairs, Magic posters, and Magic players. Two players are poring over a Constructed deck spread out on a table. A few are trading. The rest are playing games of Magic.
A few people in one corner are playing Two-Headed Giant. I don't know what it's called in Spanish, so I ask one of them. He answers too quickly for me to catch it, then asks me if I'm from the United States. I ask him if my accent is that bad. It is, but there's a hint of Colombian underneath the American. I tell him that my first Spanish teacher was Colombian. He arches one eyebrow and goes back to his game.
I do a little trading, and encounter someone who has one of my quest items: a Spanish Meloku the Clouded Mirror, which due to a misprint makes 2/2 Illusion tokens. He knows why I want it, and drives a hard bargain. I have to give more than I had hoped, but I walk away with a completed quest.
By this point, most of the people in my group seem bored. There's an open eight-person table, so I suggest a team Cube Draft. A small crowd gathers when they figure out what we're doing, but dissipates by the time the first pack is done. It gathers and disperses again when we separate to build our decks.
I end up with another red-white attack deck, this time with white as the splash for a few 2-power one-drops. My first match is against Derek. Like me, he knows some Spanish, so we decide to forgo English while we play. "Montaña." "El trazgo ataca a Ajani." "En respuesta ...." The Spaniards milling around the store stop for a glance when they walk past our English-speaking friends, but pass the two of us without noticing that anything is amiss.
During Game 3, one of them approaches us. "¿Quieres cambiar?" Do you want to trade? He jumps at my American accent when I respond. Derek and I share a laugh when he is gone.
We spend the rest of our time in Barcelona being American tourists, but after only a few dizzying days in Barcelona, it's time to go back to Valencia for the Pro Tour. Getting all eight of us up, packed, and into cabs takes longer than I thought it would. We get to the station just before our train is about to leave. There are still tickets, but none of them are together.
I spend the first hour on the train talking with the Spanish girl in the seat next to me. She goes to college in Barcelona, and is on her way to spend a weekend in Valencia at home with her parents. She asks me questions about school in the United States and what I'm doing in Spain. I try to tell her about Magic, but I don't have the vocabulary for it. She falls asleep; I think about my Extended deck.
Our cab from the Valencia train station to the Pro Tour site drops us off just as the player party is starting. The many people we know there are a sight for sore eyes: American pros, American PTQ players, and a few internationally famous players I'm on a first-name basis with. I put together a Cube Draft with some of them, and we swap travel stories over Treacheries, Balances, and Recurring Nightmares.
I spend some time walking around the site to take in the atmosphere. I'm one of four hundred people who are going to play in a Pro Tour tomorrow. Thousands of people around the world, however, cared enough to try to qualify for it at a hundred tournaments around the world. Another thousand or so people cared enough to travel here just to play in side events. From the sound of it most of them came from Spain, but I hear plenty of other languages too.
No matter why you're here, you're on some kind of adventure. Mine took me from Columbus Ohio and through Paris, France. Others started from Madrid, Spain; Tokyo, Japan; or a thousand other places. All of us, though, decided that the journey it would take to get from wherever we were to the Ciudad De Las Artes Y Las Ciencias in Valencia, Spain on October 11, 2007 was one worth making.
I bet it's rewarding to see this for the people who made the game that we all followed here.
I bet it's fun to be one of those people the rest of the time too.
Here goes nothing.
Last Week's Poll
This is Adventure Week, so it felt appropriate for me to ask about quests. I don't have anything more meaningful to say about it. I leave you with one tidbit: in Zendikar Multiverse Outtakes, I said that we had to change a Worldwake card because Lorthos, the Tidemaker was an Octopus. Quest for Ula's Temple was that card—we had to add Octopus to it!
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