Pro Tour-San Diego winner, Simon Gortzen.
Competitive Magic is a game that is played largely on weekends. Most married Magic players I know—myself included—have to go through complex negotiations to secure precious weekend playing time against trips to the see the in-laws, to-do lists, and general quality time with the significant other. Marriage usually implies some sort of fiscal responsibility and stability, and while everyone would like to win a Magic Pro Tour, it is not a financial windfall that can be counted on. Full-time jobs—the bane of the professional Magic career—often precede marriage. And let's not even factor children into the equation.
Simon Görtzen is something of a unique case in that his wife Claudia is a Level 2 judge who is just as likely to be at a Pro Tour as he is. While we always hear from players who do well in tournaments, we rarely hear from their significant others (this article by Anne Forsythe being a notable exception). I interviewed the 26-year-old math student from Aachen, NRW, Germany about how she got into the game, judging, and what it was like watching from home as her husband won $40,000.
Claudia Gortzen.BDM: Did Magic play a role in you and Simon meeting each other?
Claudia: No, we met at university. But I liked how passionately he could talk about it with me still understanding what he was talking about.
BDM: How long have you been involved in Magic, and how did you get started?
Claudia: I didn't know Magic before I met Simon. After having watched him play it online and having heard him talk about it for about a year I asked him to teach me how to play that game. He did so by building two tutorial decks he gave me for Christmas. That was about 4 years ago.
BDM: How long was it before you made the leap to becoming a judge?
Claudia: I think it took me about 1.5 years. Two people who then became really good friends of mine, Ute and Daniel, asked me if I was interested in judging and bit by bit got me into it. But it took me about a year and a lot of encouragement to finally take the test.
BDM: What was it about judging that attracted you to it?
Claudia: I realized that is something that came easy to me. I had learned the rules quite thoroughly by what Simon had taught me. He made me write down the different phases and steps of a turn and what I had to do when and what cards could be played at which point before he ever let me play my first game. I passed the L1 test mostly on what I had learned from him. Also to a math student a lot of it is logic. And after managing groups of teenagers that you're supposed to train in lifeguard swimming, dealing with players isn't much of a challenge anymore. But I think the most important part about it was the other judges. I loved and still love to become part of that family.
BDM: I think a lot of people see judges and players as being somewhat adversarial. What is it like being married to a player?
Claudia: I wish that feeling wouldn't exist. For me a judge's responsibility is to ensure a fair and smooth tournament for everyone involved and this should be in everybody's interest. For me being married to a player has only advantages. It helps me to look at tournaments from a different perspective and thus makes me a better judge.
BDM: Have you ever had a conflict of interest where you were judging a tournament that Simon was playing in or the other way around? How do you resolve that?
Claudia: Luckily we've never had any problems like that at tournaments. At tournaments like PTQs, GPs, and PTs there are enough other judges that can answer his calls and solve problems with his games. I mostly choose to let others deal with him and his opponent so as not to get into a difficult situation. At small tournaments like Prereleases it doesn't really matter.
BDM: Did you know that Simon had the potential to be a PT Champion?
Claudia: I knew that he is good at playing Magic and he's had more success than most of his friends. But I'm also aware of the fact that though he's passionate about the game he would never let it come in the way of getting excellent grades at university and preparing for a non-gaming future. And getting to the Top 8 still requires some luck as you can see, because it's not always the top players who achieve this. But I knew that if he could make it to the Top 8 he could beat (almost) everyone because of his compeditive attitude.
BDM: I assume you were following along the whole time from home. When did you start to realize he might make Top 8?
Claudia: I must confess I only realized that when I woke up from a text message he sent me about making Top 8. I had a really hectic and tiring day and fell asleep on the couch in the evening. After that, there was of course no thinking about going back to sleep for a while.
BDM: How did you watch the Top 8? Did you have company over to cheer him on?
Claudia: I watched it from home. For the Quarterfinals I still had the company of friends of mine that had come over for an afternoon of board games. The three girls probably had never watched a game of Magic before but chose to stay on because they wanted to see Simon on camera. Later I had only digital company and was talking about the game to friends and family on Facebook, skype, IRC, ICQ, etc. Thanks for all your support.Luis Scott-Vargas and Simon Gortzen face off in the semifinals.
BDM: What were you thinking as he headed into that Semifinal match with Luis Scott-Vargas, who was 17-0 at the time?
Claudia: I knew that playing against LSV wouldn't make him play worse and probably would make him play better. He is sure of his own abilities and doesn't get scared by playing against a big name as a lot of others are. And if he wouldn't be able to beat the 17-0 guy that's nothing to be ashamed of. I was still thrilled that he had made it to the Top 8.
BDM: Both players in the Semifinal—Simon and Luis Scott-Vargas—were judges. What does that mean for the judge community to see two judges playing at such high levels?
Claudia: I think what judges like about this is that it proves that judges can and do play at a high level. It's like having a family member competing in the Top 8 because you either know the person or know someone related to him.
BDM: Who do you think was more nervous, you or Simon?
Claudia: Definitely me. There is no doubt about it. I had to keep myself occupied with baking cupcakes so as not to go mad. It's a good thing I didn't have to watch him in San Diego—I think I would have died of nerves. He is always calm when he has some control over the situation.Kyle Boggemes congratulating Simon Gortzen.
BDM: What was your reaction when Kyle Boggemes extended his hand and you realized that Simon was the champion?
Claudia: I kept staring at the screen and couldn't believe that Simon had finally achieved what he has been working for for a long time. It took a lot of people telling me that it had indeed happened before I could process it.
The Star City Games $5K Standard Open in Indianapolis this past weekend featured record breaking attendance for an independently operated tournament series. There were 668 players battling with their Standard decks for their share of the $5,000 prize pool. The number of players in Indy even surpassed that of the the Grand Prix in Kuala Lumpur—although to be fair, 518 players is the a high-water attendance mark at a Malaysian Grand Prix—and another 286 players came in on Sunday to take part in the Legacy $5K. Indianapolis has always been a town with a strong Magic community, and as part of our ongoing Wizards Play Network Spotlight feature we wanted to look at one of the stores that is the backbone of that community: Gamerz in Greenwood, Indiana.
I spoke with Tim Ewick, who, along with his wife Pat, took ownership of the store about a year and a half ago. Since they came in the store's tournaments have flourished, and they regularly enjoy Friday Night Magic attendance between 50 and 60 players.
"We focus on having an excellent player atmosphere to hang out and mentor players. We feel that if we serve the game community, we will thrive with them," said Tim. "We have had six different players from our store place Top 8 in major events this year. We are very proud of our players."
The store, which runs tournaments seven days a week, has drawn in excess of 200 unique players for Prerelease weekends, which is more than some PTQs in the area. With over 2000 square feet of play space, they can easily accommodate large turnouts and strive to keep growing their community. The Gamerz staff focuses on the experience of the new player and making sure that its more established players provide a helping hand for newer players.
"Gamers—like our name—have to be the most important aspect of running our business. Otherwise you are just a retailer pushing some product," he continued. "We want to be a place where people can hang out and we can mentor new players. We want the Indiana metagame to be more competitive so our players can do better at big events around the country like PTQs, $5Ks, and other things."
Part of drawing in those new players includes providing a low barrier to entry into competitive play.
"We do a lot of free events with prize support to attract players," said Tim. "Making sure that new players feel welcome and can ask questions. I have a number of people in the store who not only build decks for people but teach people how to build decks."
Specialized customer service is part of what Tim feels makes his store that draw in new players and keep them coming back as older players.
"Especially if they are brand-new to Magic," Tim emphasized. "We will sit down, look at the cards they already have, and help them build their first one or two decks around those cards. We have been known to donate cards—commons and uncommons—to help make the deck competitive.
Tim has even been known to loan out a deck to help players practice against the top decks in the field: "Its almost like a Magic academy."
Chris Anderson and Nick Becvar are a pair of Gamerz regulars who have had some success at events outside of the store and who promise great things for the future of Indianapolis Magic.
"It keeps coming back to mentoring," said Tim. "I can't wait to see what some of these players are accomplishing a year from now."
Another player to keep an eye on is Patrick Tidrow. Patrick was the Gamerz Game Day Champion, playing Ter-Rafiq in a Standard field that was about 30% Jund. Here's his deck, for those who might be heading into similar fields tonight at Friday Night Magic: