There and Back Again, a Drafter's Tale

Posted in Limited Information on June 3, 2015

By Marshall Sutcliffe

Marshall came back to Magic after discovering Limited and never looked back. He hosts the Limited Resources podcast and does Grand Prix and Pro Tour video commentary.


I played Magic back in 1997.

I often have to remind myself of this fact, as my go-to answer when asked "When did you start playing Magic?" is usually "2008-ish." But the truth is that I did play back in the day. I just didn't play in the same way I do now. Back then I owned some cards, had a best friend who also played, but wasn't aware or interested in tournament Magic. Additionally, Limited wasn't nearly at the place it is now, so that particular hook wasn't quite ready to be set either.

Snake Basket | Art by Roger Raupp

I did enjoy the game immensely, but in a purely casual way. I had a bunch of decks. They featured names like "Ach! Hans, Run!" (this was my Lhurgoyf deck) and cards like Snake Basket, Liege of the Hollows, and Ashnod's Altar. It seems I was more of a Constructed Johnny back then somehow. It's strange to look back on.

I don't share much in common with the former me. Even stranger is that there wasn't a slow evolution from Constructed Johnny to Limited Spike. I veered away from Magic not long after that time, and it took me a long time to find my way back.

My best friend back in 1997 was Jeh. He's still my best friend. He doesn't get to play much Magic these days as he has a beautiful young family to attend to, but ever since I've known Jeh, I've known of his older cousin, Ryan.

Ryan Spain is like a distant older brother to me. (Yes, the Ryan Spain that works in R&D now at Wizards) When Jeh and I met in seventh grade, Ryan was away at college in Minnesota. He would send Jeh mix tapes on cassette of cool music we'd never heard before. He had an air of mystery since it took me a few years to actually meet him in person. Ryan was our hero and we looked up to him.

Ryan moved back to Seattle (where Jeh and I were both born and raised) after college and this gave me a chance to know him a lot better. Being a few years older, he was always one life-step ahead of Jeh and me. When we were in high school, he was in college. After we graduated, he was doing the post-college hang-around thing. He taught Jeh and me a lot of things over that time. Sometimes passively, often directly.

I didn't think I had a lot to teach Ryan, but one day an opportunity casually presented itself and I took it.

I taught Ryan how to play Magic.

It was in the downstairs of Jeh's parents' house that we sat on the floor and played some cards. We didn't go too deep—he was a new player, and frankly my knowledge of the game wasn't as deep as it is today. But I showed him how the game worked and he seemed interested. The card that really pulled him in was Mijae Djinn of all things. It stood out to him as an interesting design and he was quickly engulfed in the best game ever made.


I frequented a weekly game night at a video game studio that Ryan worked at. By now, I had settled into a career as a software tester at a major telecommunications company. Ryan had bounced around to a few different jobs, but ultimately stuck in the field of game design.

Incandescent Soulstoke | Art by Todd Lockwood

By pure luck and a loose fantasy-baseball-related connection to Aaron Forsythe, Ryan happened upon a bunch of booster packs of Lorwyn and Morningtide and was organizing some drafts. I hadn't been exposed much to Magic since my foray into it over ten years prior. My focus had shifted strongly to other games (as well as school and my career) and I was completely out of touch with what was going on in the Magic world.

Ryan knew that I had loved the game before, and urged me to try something called a Booster Draft. I was skeptical. I knew I could be a bit overly enthusiastic about things like this and I figured that my time with Magic had passed. Ryan isn't the type to push something unless he really feels strongly about it, and he kept pestering me about trying out this whole Limited thing.

Eventually, I acquiesced and participated in my first Draft.

I had no clue what I was doing. I remember feeling overwhelmed. I first-picked a Shriekmaw though, showing that I had some potential at the very least.

After that night, I remember feeling interested in reading up on some of the new cards. Planeswalkers were now a thing. In that first draft I did, my opponent played a Jace Beleren on me and I was kind of mind-blown. I started asking Ryan questions about Magic via instant messenger and email every day.

He would write these massive, elaborate e-mails to me explaining how the format worked, what the important cards were, and how to draft properly. We'd have long conversations on game night and even after about strategy and cards. It became a daily occurrence for me to check in with him about some burning Magic-related question I had.

The real game-changer for me was Magic Online. Ryan got me up to speed enough on the current Draft format of the day (Shadowmoor) that I could start drafting on my own. After some introductory sessions, I took my laptop down to the pool at the condominium complex I lived in.

I sat by the pool on a beautiful summer evening and drafted. This was a big moment for me. With this new tool, I could draft whenever I wanted. I was only drafting about once a week back then (boy has that changed!), but I loved it. I knew this was going to be something I'd want to do for a long time.

Pay It Backwards

It's a lovely little story, isn't it? I teach my mentor and friend Ryan to play Magic way back in the day. Years later, through the course of luck and Ryan's persistence, he shows me a world I'd never want to leave. Taking the time to teach him this game we all love changed his life forever. He changed mine by doing the same favor for me, just years later.

And while the whole Magic thing has taken a much bigger role in both of our lives than either of us could have anticipated, I think there's a lesson to be learned here.

Teaching a friend our game can be a life-changer. I realize that sounds a little hyperbolic. For many, Magic is a fun getaway on a Friday night. Or something to keep up on when new sets are released. But for others, Magic is a passion. And you have the chance to share that passion with the people around you.

I can't imagine what I would be doing today if it weren't for Ryan stopping by Jeh's house that day when we were playing Magic. I wouldn't have taught him the game, and he wouldn't have re-introduced it to me years later.

I'm not one to force the things I like on other people, but taking the time to teach someone else about our game can be a life-changing gift as both Ryan and I can attest to.

Thanks for listening to my origin story. It was fun to look back on.


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