Covering the Coverage Reporters in Prague

Posted in GRAND PRIX PRAGUE 2015 on August 29, 2015

By Olle Rade

You see them every other weekend in the booth, doing commentary at tournaments all over Europe. This weekend they showed up at the tables as players. To walk among us as mortals, so to speak. As several members of the European coverage team set their hands on Standard this weekend.

Both Hall of Famers Frank Karsten and Raphaël Lévy were in attendance. Along with Pro Tour winner Simon Görtzen, and perhaps the funniest guy in the booth – Marijn Lybaert of Belgium. The Belgian also was first to reply when asked if they preferred playing over doing coverage.

Marijn Lybaert

"I will almost always rather be playing, even though I really enjoy coverage as well. It's fun to get to watch Magic, but you aren't only watching, but thinking and going through plays and trying to predict what will happen. You also get to see some weird stuff from time to time. And people seem to like what I'm doing and come up and say that they enjoy it. So the appreciation is great," he said.

Raphaël Lévy might be seen at the tables at every Grand Prix he isn't doing coverage at. But it's a rare sight to see Simon Görtzen, winner of Pro Tour San Diego 2010 (Where he beat Luis Scott-Vargas in the semifinals) at the tables. In fact he plays so rarely that he entered the competition in Prague with zero byes.

Simon Görtzen

"I very rarely play GPs, but I'm a big fan of the changes they've done, like the fixed number of rounds and less tie-breaker relevance. Although it's tough to play with zero byes. But I still think a Grand Prix is the best way to try to qualify for the Pro Tour," he said.

Frank Karsten is the current player who has been working with coverage the longest. Already in the early 2000s he started to seek a career in writing from Magic events. He explained:

"Around 2001 when I hadn't really been playing Grand Prix for a while I noticed I missed the weekends of seeing everyone and the community that surrounds the game. At the time I wasn't playing all the Pro Tours and wasn't chasing Pro Points so I didn't really have an incentive to travel that much. So I talked to Rich Hagon and said that I was interesting in doing coverage. It turned out Rich needed some additional people. This was way before video coverage was a thing, but I eventually also became a part of that too when it started."

And coverage duties hasn't kept Karsten from succeeding at the game. Just a few weeks ago he took 17th place at Pro Tour Origins. The Dutchman explains that he is as passionate for playing the game at the highest level as doing coverage from the same events.

"What I enjoy is a combination of watching good games of Magic and seeing the latest tech unfold. It's also rewarding to create content, which is similar to why I enjoy writing. The joy of expressing your thoughts, analyzing decks and games and trying to create some good content. I'm also very much into numbers, so doing statistics on the metagame or certain match-ups is always fun. It's also nice to be able to share your findings with others."

Raphaël Lévy might have played over 100 Pro Tours, but it turns out he's the freshman of the class when it comes to coverage. He has written Magic-related articles for a long time, but didn't made his debut as an expert commentator until Grand Prix Paris in 2014.

Lévy explained that he sees commentary as a welcome break from playing Magic, while still being able to stay in touch with the game. A short break perhaps, as the Gold level Pro player still plays every Pro Tour and enjoys traveling to the maximum.

"The best part about coverage is that you get to watch Magic, analyze situations, and still be able to joke around when talking about it. When we're testing for a Pro Tour nobody wants to talk about the matches until when you are analyzing them afterwards. And depending on the format that is rarely as much fun as goofing around in the commentary booth."

Outside of Magic, Lévy is also the editor and published of a French martial-arts magazine. But he says his tasks there are quite different from working with Magic.

"You might think they are similar, but since my role on coverage is more of a consultant then as a journalistic approach they are really quite different. With Magic I won't be the one looking for news or interesting stories. It's more about watching games and analyzing the plays and what's going on in them," he said.

And the results on Day One for the coverage staff differed more than their shared enthusiasm for providing coverage. Simon Görtzen, without byes, gave up after a 1-3 start. But both Frank Karsten and Raphaël Lévy were off to fine starts with 4-1. They both chose quite extraordinary decks for the weekend as well. Karsten opting for Mono White Devotion and Lévy for a very Lévy-ish Green-White morph deck featuring Obscuring Aether and Trail of Mystery.

The coverage team ponders what they like most, to play or to do commentary.

So whether you are watching them on Twitch at an upcoming Grand Prix or find yourself sitting across from one of them on the table for a game. Hopefully you know a little bit more about the European coverage team. Lastly Simon Görtzen summarized his approach to Magic and coverage in a way that I think goes for all of us.

"What drives me is that watching Magic can be just as exciting as playing yourself. As a part of the coverage team we have a great opportunity to bring that excitement to the fans at home."