It's a familiar scene: one player telling a friend about their latest match. The life totals, the cards in hand, the big topdeck that changed it all. It's a conversation repeated a thousand times throughout the event hall at Grand Prix Washington D.C., and one that will be repeated until Magic has spent its last life point.
This time, it was different.
As Ryan Modica shared his story with teammate Ronnie Cuartero, two longtime friends from New York, not a single word passed between the two.
Not that it needed to. They've played Magic together for years, ever since meeting while in school at the National Technical Institute for the Deaf at the Rochester Institute of Technology, the first and largest technological college in the world for students deaf or hard of hearing. Bonding over classes, homework, and Magic, they began playing together regularly, and after conquering the basics of the game, they were ready to take it to the next level.
That's exactly what they did in D.C., teaming with fellow friend and classmate Gregory Croke to play in their first-ever Grand Prix.
Ronnie Cuartero and Ryan Modica began playing Magic together in college, and along Gregory Croke they they played in their first Grand Prix as a team in Washington, D.C.
Magic is a complicated game, with complex rules, deep strategy, and no shortage of intricate decisions. All of these things are labored over by players worldwide — what hands to mulligan, what lands to play, how to build their draft deck — and they're the subject of intense and constant discussion that players spend hours thinking about.
What they don't think about is something most take for granted — the ability to speak to an opponent.
Something that seems so simple to many at the largest team event in Magic's history is anything but the trio from New York. For them, nearly every round began with the same routine: a written note to their opponents explaining, and a quiet match driven by hand signals and written notes after that.
It may seem difficult — and it certainly wasn't easy — but for Modica, Cuartero, and Croke, it was a lot less complicated than it might seem.
After all, Magic is Magic.
"It's really not that hard to play with a hearing person," Cuartero explained through an interpreter. "When two deaf people play, it's actually very talkative. They chat, get excited, use a lot of big gestures. When you play with a hearing person it's usually very quiet, you only communicate when you need to because not many people can sign.
"And some people don't want to communicate at all and never even realize you're deaf," he added with a smile.
It may not seem obvious, but for a game that regularly transcends language barriers, it shouldn't come as any surprise that it transcends the barrier of spoken language itself. Even so, it's not easy to play a Grand Prix — the first for Modica and Croke and the second for Cuartero — while communicating differently than most of your opponents. For many following along from home, it can be intimidating. Even if playing games is manageable, there are practical concerns; announcements made over the speaker system such as round pairings aren't made for people who can't hear the speaker.
"There are challenges, but you have to be proud of yourself, and be yourself," Cuartero said. "If you are, you will be okay."
That self-assurance comes through clearly in the team's play.
"We played against them in Round 5, and they wrote us a note at the beginning of the match explaining," Steve Scholten said. "The biggest thing we kept in mind during our match was respect, and there was a lot of mutual respect. What they're doing is pretty courageous in a way; they could end up playing against people who were rude or not very good at communication. It's not something I know I'd be brave enough to do.
"Even though we couldn't speak, communication was very clear — that was the part I found most surprising. Ronnie wrote down ‘good luck' on his notepad when we began the match, and I pointed back at it before we started the next game. We understood each other. I'm very glad to have had that experience, and it is one of the most memorable Magic moments of my life."
The tournament itself didn't end exactly the way Cuartero, Modica, and Croke would have liked – they dropped after going 3-3-1 on Saturday. Then again, they didn't measure their first Grand Prix as a team in terms of wins and losses.
"Most people are nice, so just be yourself and people will be nice to you," Croke said. "We feel welcome here."
As the friends turned to leave the hall, just one question remained: how would they describe their first Grand Prix experience?
Modica's answer took no words — spoken or signed — to understand.
A fast-spreading smile and a big thumbs up.
Gregory Croke, Ronnie Cuartero, and Ryan Modica.
Special thanks to Nicolette Apraez for translating.