It's tough being a mage when you live a million miles from everything. Now, by factual measurements the island of Newfoundland is not nearly so distant, but it remains dauntingly far from the highest levels of Magic competition. This weekend a cadre of players from St. John's made the trek to Montreal to test their mettle against the best.
"It's a twelve-hour drive just to get off the island."
(Left-to-Right) Matthew Burke, Stephen Whelan, and Matthew "Smurf" Murphy.
Matthew Burke, Stephen Whelan, David Bishop, and Matthew "Smurf" Murphy have been gaming together for years. They've made a yearly tradition out of hitting Canada's eastern Grand Prix. This year, Burke's trip to the Toronto RPTQ last weekend dovetailed nicely with a Grand Prix Montreal follow-up. "The PPTQ I won awarded airfare to Toronto so I was pretty excited to play in that. Came thirteenth... not too bad."
I asked if it was tough being a competitive-minded player out on the island. The answer was yes and no. Despite its distance from Canada's tournament hotspots, St. John's boasts a surprisingly active Magic scene. "For our local FNM's we regularly get thirty to forty people," said Murphy. "More competitive events though we regularly get close to a hundred." So the desire is there, there just aren't the same opportunities to face the best. "I look at the northeast US and get just green with envy. If I lived there I'd have a big tournament within a three-hour drive every weekend."
There's definitely a strong community sentiment among Newfoundland's players. "We run a facebook group for Newfoundland Magic, and have a ton of players posting. It lights up on these GP weekends though, everyone wants to know how the boys are doing. And when we get someone at the Pro Tour it just goes crazy." And the foursome are welcoming of anyone who wants to make the trip out with them. This weekend they've got two more out for the ride.
Now, does the once-a-year chance for a GP mean it's all business? Whelan assures me that, while obviously they want to do well (and have started strong here, Whelan at 6-0, Murphy 5-1) it's also about the experience. Murphy agreed, saying "It doubles as a vacation. We come out early, see the city, really make the most of it." Their absent fourth, Bishop, was doing just that, having scrubbed out of the tournament. Whatever happens, there'll be celebrations come Sunday.