Traveling With Friends – No Matter How Far Away

Posted in Event Coverage on May 31, 2015

By Marc Calderaro

Magic binds us together regardless of distance. The game is about connections on every level, and that fact is on display in spades here at Grand Prix Vegas. My last article was about a man who traveled a long distance by himself, the only representative of his country of Malta, making friends along the way. But there’s the flip side to that—people who travel long distances because of who they’re traveling with.  Clocking in at 7,000 miles away is the group of players from New Zealand. And at a whopping 10,000 miles, is the group from South Africa. There bonds remaining strong over country lines.

It can be a big undertaking to go this distance for a Magic event. How does it all come together? “You know, once one person committed to going, we all committed,” was how Scott Field remembered how the Grand Prix Vegas plan started. He and three other intrepid South Africans took the trip from Johannesburg all the way to Vegas. “It was 24 hours to get here,” Field said. But it’s already been well worth it for them.

Field, Theuns Prinsloo, Steve Gerson, and Marco Paravano arrived about a week ago, and have been hitting the various hot spots. And for the last few days, the hot spot is the Las Vegas Convention Center. The South African Magic scene is one of the more isolated havens for the game, so the M.O. for players to play internationally is to plan your vacations around Magic. And what better vacation destination than Las Vegas, at the biggest event of them all?

When I asked Prinsloo about his reasons for attending, he said “buddies, Vegas, and Magic”—plain and simple. It’s everything you could want. Because Prinsloo is in it for the competition, getting out of the country is a good opportunity to test his skills worldwide. “I’ve learned that the African level of play is really high.” Though he was scared they might have been behind the curve, this weekend proved otherwise. “It’s awesome; I believe we can compete with the best.”

But not all those who traveled in the pack have the competitive drive. For Steve Gerson, he says his competitive days behind him. Even though he’s played in multiples Worlds and multiple Pro Tours, he remarked “that was a long time ago.”  Now, he’s mainly a casual player, and loves developing and playing invented formats with any countryman who will have him.  He often plays Vanguard/Commander with random pre-constructed decks (often instituting a bidding process for the best Commanders), and holds Commander leagues that begin with the pre-cons, allowing players to add five new cards each week.

For Gerson, the thrill of flexing his might abroad waned, but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t going to travel with his friends to Vegas. He’s here for the camaraderie, and to help Magic history. The best part about the convention-like atmosphere is that both Prinsloo and Gerson are having the times of their lives, despite being on opposite ends of the Magic spectrum.

And Field, who runs a shop in Jo-burg called “Top Deck,” has his own interests as well. After the main event ends for him, he’ll be off the artist alley. “The artists here are great,” he said. And in particular, he wanted Kiernan Yanner to sign his Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle. “Valakut is a special card for me. I qualified for my first Worlds with in when it was back in Standard.” So he was off to unlock that achievement. The unparalleled amount of artists here gives everyone the opportunity to get sketches, a signature, or even just chat with their favorite artists.

After this week in Vegas, the four South Africans will continue their vacations in various ways. Some will head to Mexico, while Field will be heading back to collect his wife back home before the two whisk off to Southeast Asia. After playing in Grand Prix Singapore, the Field and his wife will head to Phuket. Balancing Magic travel and a family can be hard when the Grand Prix events are so far away, but when you plan it right, you get to have a “second honeymoon” with your wife—and Field is pumped about that.

Humorously, when I asked the group about remaining Vegas plans, Prinsloo said, “We might even go speed-dating tonight.” Though a unique and off-beat activity that I had not heard anyone else say when I interviewed them, Field was quick to correct Prinsloo. “When he says ‘we’ he means very specifically not me.” Field’s eyes were locked onto the upcoming trip to Phuket, and he wasn’t about to let a silly pronoun usage mess a dream vacation with his wife.

Though South Africa is cut off from much of the Magic community, that can just require better and more grandiose planning. Magic vacations are a great way to make Magic history every time you leave the country, not just on the Grand Prix Vegas weekend.

From the other side of the Southern Hemisphere were the vibrant New Zealand travelers. Unlike the tight South African pack, all coming from Johannesburg, the kiwis came from all tips of the country—Auckland, Christchurch and Dunedin were each represented.

The player known by most as the godfather of New Zealand Magic, Chris Williams, took the long trek out, even though he had little intention of competing in many of the events. “I’m here to be here,” he said with a big grin on his face. Running tournaments since the beginning of 1994, Williams remembers the days when he taught Magic to every single player he met. Williams remembers clearly the days when a town would have one Lord of the Pit, and the player with it burning the second copy that came to town so he could have the only one.

Those days are long gone. Magic has thoroughly penetrated New Zealand, and this event for Williams serves as a look to the next generation of players. He always saw himself as a community builder, so this is nothing new. “I remember the days of the tournaments where someone couldn’t play because someone had to run the event. That someone was always me.” Williams always put the community first.

He told me, “It’s not about where you travel; it’s who you meet along the way.” Rather than talk about himself, he was quick to point out all the other players who made the trek and represent his corner of the world. There’s Sarah Crisp who was able to join this Grand Prix together with a business trip; AJ Cross, who traveled here for the benefit of podcasting; and Tony Matthews, who despite not having traveled outside Oceania before for Magic, was 7-0.

The country-wide community feeling was in full force with New Zealand, and no one exuded that stronger than Jason Chung and Simon Harnden. Even though Harnden has been living in Melbourne for the last four years, it’s Magic that keeps these two friends together. They still see each other at least five times a year traveling to Magic events, and Grand Prix Vegas is no different. They have a whole month planned in America, and it all happened organically.

It started months ago when Harnden decided to make a vacation out of Grand Prix Vegas. He would spend a week in Vegas, then visit family on the east coast of America. Though originally Chung was not going to join, his recent Pro Tour successes made Platinum Pro status a real possibility. This is a feat that no one has yet accomplished in New Zealand, and could be game-changing.

As Chung has already been receiving strong support from the community in various ways since his success (including via his Twitter account, @Sqlut), locking up the highest level in Magic for a year could be the next-generation push to bring New Zealand Magic even higher—following in Williams’ footsteps.

Chung needs four more Pro points (counting the points from Pro Tour Magic Origins) to complete this historic feat, so he changed his mind and joined Harnden in Vegas. Looking to chain as many Grand Prix as he could, it was Chung’s turn to convince Harnden to extend his vacation to include stops at Grand Prix Providence and Grand Prix Charlotte—crisscrossing the American countryside.

“Staying with people you know, makes everything so much better,” Chung said. And that was surely a big factor in getting Harnden to tell his work his vacation had just doubled.

What are the non-Magic activities of this vacation anyway? They’ve already been to an amusement park in LA—“even though I don’t like roller coasters” Chung chided—but Harnden has a unique want on this trip. “I’m here for burgers and more burgers,” he said. “My friend back in New Zealand and I love burgers, so I’ve been teasing him by posting pictures at every burger joint we go to and adding #burgerswithoutbrendan.”

“You should tell people to join in on that hashtag every time they eat a burger,” Chung added. So I say do it people, and we can only hope that the trend catches on.

For these two, it’s their friendship and the kinship with other players that encourages them to make such extensive plans, and for Chung to even chase Platinum at all.  “If it weren’t for the players, I wouldn’t be willing do all this.”

Chung hit on the most important point of all, one that Chris Williams said before him: “It’s not about the cardboard; it’s about the people.” It’s the same reason that friends like Theuns Prinsloo and Steve Gerson, with wildly different goals for Magic, can travel 10,000 miles together and enjoy every minute. It’s the people along the way that make our Magic histories.

Here at Grand Prix Vegas, friends from all over are converging to do what they want to do, and to be with the people and community they want to be with as they do it. Sure Grand Prix Vegas is about the foil Tarmogoyf, about casting Profane Command on Precursor Golem, and about some serious beatdowns; but it’s about the people we smash face with.

Whether you travel 10,000 miles, or 1,000 feet, as Williams said: “It’s not where you travel; it’s who you meet along the way.”

My discussions with all these wonderful people have made my own journey brighter, more vibrant, and better. Which just proved to me, that even when working at Grand Prix Vegas, you can still make your own Magic history.

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