When I stop to think about how I was a teenager when I cracked my first pack of Magic cards, but that I also turned 40 earlier this year, I realize that not only have I been playing Magic for more than half of my life, but that Magic has been around for a very long time, too. Also that I am just straight-up old.
The world is a very big place, so despite my apparently very long-term relationship with Magic, and being fortunate enough to travel to Pro Tours to write about them now and again, there are several other long-term players I've never had the opportunity to meet in person. And so I set out to find a Juggernaut.
I found seven-time Pro Tour winner Kai Budde on the tournament floor and we shared a chuckle over the idea you can almost know someone for over a decade without ever crossing paths. I asked him about what brings him back to Magic after his sheer dominance of the tournament scene around the turn of the century.
"I never really quit!" he protested. "It was just that I ended up in a job where I had to work weekends. I like being here with everyone, but when I have to take a week's worth of vacation and then have to spend 40 hours of that on a plane, it gets quite difficult."
Kai Budde with his teammates Jan-Moritz Merkel and Luca Casadei.
Events in Europe are definitely still tempting for Budde, but it turns out adult life can cause a shift in your priorities. Speaking of adult life, I had another long time Magic luminary I wanted to track down: The Meddling Mage himself, Chris Pikula.
Pikula was hugely influential in the early Magic community as an advocate for sportsmanship and fair play, and someone many of us looked up to. While he and I have chatted on twitter for years about our overlapping musical tastes, this was again our first time talking in person. I felt like I knew him well enough that I could ask about the elephant in the room, his dwindling chances at a Pro Tour Hall of Fame induction.
Chris Pikula with his teammates Wyatt Darby and Steve Locke to the left, and fans to the back.
"I've made peace with the idea," he said. "There was a year where all I had to do to stay on the ballot was attend a Grand Prix or something and I just didn't do it, so I think it can't really happen now, so when I'm not trying to get one more finish to make my case for the Pro Tour Hall of Fame stronger, the answer to what keeps me coming back to the Pro Tour is the same as everyone else. It's to spend time with friends."
But when we talk about 25 years of Magic, it's not just the big names of the past. Magic continues to attract new and promising players every day.
While Quinn Kiefer isn't technically the youngest person to ever play on the Pro Tour, he's definitely got more years of Magic playing experience under his belt than most others his age. When Quinn was 5, his older brothers started playing Magic, and so naturally, he wanted to join in. Not content to rely on his siblings to explain what his cards did, Quinn's desire to learn to read was bolstered by his desire to keep up with his brothers in game. Eight years in and Quinn is playing at his first Pro Tour at a mere thirteen years of age alongside Pro Tour Hall of Famer Willy Edel.
"Originally we had three Brazilians on Team Cardholder qualified for this Pro Tour," Edel explained, "But then two more picked up enough points that we had five. Rather than just pick up someone random for our third, we asked our team manager if they knew anyone on the US side of Team Cardholder who was qualified, and when they suggested Quinn, we knew he'd be perfect."
"At first we thought my brother (Jack Kiefer) and I would be teaming together, but after his Top 4 finish at GP Pittsburgh he started getting offers from other teams, and it just made sense. If we were on the same team we'd probably just fight anyway," Quinn Kiefer admitted with a grin. "I think people underestimate me because of my age. They think I'm not capable of bluffing, that I wouldn't have the control over my emotions to be able to do that, so I take advantage of that."
Quinn Kiefer surrounded by his teammates Marcos Paulo de Jesus Freitas and Willy Edel.
For some people, their first time at the Pro Tour comes after a fortunate finish at a Pro Tour Qualifier, but Kiefer's been grinding out a handful of PTQ near-misses in the last few months alone, so it was only a matter of time before he would be allowed to compete on the big stage.
"If only I had been able to win one of those earlier PTQ's, I could have been the youngest competitor to play on the Pro Tour," he laughed. "I still have a couple of years to be the youngest to win a Pro Tour, though!"