(Editor's Note: Updated with an additional story on September 11.)
Sheldon Menery was a legendary figure in the Magic world. For many of us at Wizards of the Coast, he was so much more than that: he was a colleague, a leader, an advocate, a dear friend, and family.
Our lives were made better because we knew Sheldon. Here's how.
I had the privilege to meet Sheldon at Pro Tour Chicago back in 1999. He was stationed in Belgium at the time and was introduced to me as "someone you need to know." Prophetic.
Sheldon always said his superhero power was choosing friends. Best complement I ever got.
I spent the entire month of August with him. He was optimistic about his situation the whole time.
I will be eternally grateful for all the time I spent with him over the years. He was truly one of a kind. Everyone who met him was changed.
Rest well, Brother.
"Suddenly, you were gone / From all the lives you left your mark upon" (Rush, "Afterimage")
My first experience with Sheldon Menery was when I was thirteen years old. He was on stage at US Nationals, alongside Richard Garfield, hosting a game of Massive Magic where you play with oversized cards. And even then, in that moment, I felt his immense presence. His stern judge face—that would turn into a wide smile at a moment's notice. How much he cared for and felt about this game. It was all there, in one person. Even my mom, who had no frame of reference, snapped this shot and put it right into a scrapbook. You could just ... tell.
Sheldon Menery was a whole world of a man.
It's impossible to describe the immense impact Sheldon had on Magic, both the game itself and the individual people who play it, in anything short of a full novel. As a close friend, Sheldon has taught me so much. From elements of personal Commander philosophy (I'll always hear his voice in my head when deciding who to attack first: "don't roll a die to figure it out, commit to who you're attacking!"), to pioneering new ways to interact with people at events, I knew I would learn something from every encounter. When I'd travel to an event that Sheldon was at, I always looked forward to what I'd learn from the weekend. He was someone who always left an impression.
But as touching as that's been for me, it's nothing compared to the game as a whole.
Sheldon redefined what judging meant. It was a whole different world at tournaments before the Sheldon era. He sought to work with players to craft the best set of tournament rules and heuristics for judging he could—and to catch all the ne'er-do-wells he could.
In the early days of Magic, it was a bit of an unexplored frontier, and many players pushed their boundaries ... and some did things that were far less than legal. Sheldon pioneered new ways to stamp this out. I'm going to tell you one of my—and Sheldon's—favorite stories in this vein.
When you go a large competitive Sealed Magic tournament, to ensure you're actually getting a random sealed pool and not bringing your own pre-stacked one, you first open up a sealed pool, note all the cards opened on a supplied checklist, then pass the pool to somebody at random, that way someone else has verified the card pool. Except, some players figured out a loophole: if you got your hands on an extra registration sheet, you could pre-fill it out with your busted card pool.
Sheldon wanted to catch these people deviously bringing their own sheets. So, at one such large event, he made a small editing error to the checklist: instead of Birds of Paradise, they edited it to Bird of Paradise—no S. A very, very small difference. But ... it meant none of the pre-registered sheets would have this error! Round one, all the judges just had to check the lists to see who turned in a sheet with "Birds" of Paradise to catch any unscrupulous players. Absolute genius!
This is the kind of pioneering Sheldon did on a regular basis. And something he carried through his whole life, whether creating formats, decks, or simply a place to live.
I've visited Sheldon at his home in Florida on multiple occasions, most recently just a bit over a month ago—something I'm so glad for. And no matter what the situation, or his health, he always tried to make it a warm and welcoming experience, with great meals and new connections. That never strayed.
One time, I was at his house, and it was late at night. He had been telling stories on the couch of his history from experiencing Magic all the way back at its very first debut, thirty years ago, up to today. And I asked Sheldon what his secret was to everything.
I'll never forget what he told me. He said, "I'm not great at everything, but I am great at one thing: surrounding myself with excellent people. And that tends to take care of the rest."
Thank you for being an excellent person I was able to surround myself with for so long, Sheldon. This game we're all connected through has been forever improved by your presence. And so have I. Wherever you are, I hope they have Phelddagrifs for you to ride on—you've earned it.
Whenever Sheldon Menery and I would end up at the same Magic event, I'd try to find a way to spend some time with him—a game, a meal, a drink—and it was always a great use of my time. He had real "Most Interesting Man in the World" energy—well-dressed, well-spoken, a grizzled sophistication to him—and his encyclopedic recall of movies, old ballplayers, role-playing games, and restaurants might lead one to think that he was purely a man of leisure. But while he certainly lived life to its fullest, he was no slacker. Driven by some deep sense of obligation to make better the things he loved, he made the world better for the people he loved and countless others as well.
His impacts on Magic are well-documented, but the one that stands out to me are the hours, weeks, and years spent nurturing and evangelizing the Elder Dragon Highlander (later Commander) format—work that ultimately united disparate segments of the audience that we at Wizards had a hard time comprehending prior, and gave that audience a voice that grew and multiplied and is now often the loudest and most enthusiastic in the room. To say he was on to something is an understatement.
When making a game, you know you have a good one when people want to play it with no stakes, just for fun. Sheldon helped remind us all that Magic is that kind of game. My heart goes out to his wife Gretchen, the Commander Rules Committee, and all those who were close to him.
Death and mourning are never easy. Losing someone from our lives hurts.
But, with Sheldon, I find the vivaciousness of his life does soften it some. Sheldon realized that the secret to life is, shockingly, to live it. To surround yourself with good people and enjoy life. But, more than that, to work so others can enjoy life. To lift up others. To lead by example and be the positive influence as much as you're able. To work to make things better.
I'm sad I won't get to sit across from him at a Commander table again. I will miss his laugh in pleasure at some silly series of events in a game. And I will miss seeing his glee as he steals a creature on my side of the board before attacking me with it and proclaiming, "You did this to yourself."
I have lived a very lucky life in many ways, and I'll forever count one of things I was lucky about was being able to call Sheldon my friend.
Before I met Sheldon, those close to him told me that we had to meet because we would get along "like a house on fire." The promise of that exciting energy proved to be on point for how it always felt to spend time with Sheldon, whether playing board games (I once gave him a pretend slow play warning while we were playing a game, his response: "Sister, I INVENTED slow play warnings"), sharing a lovely meal together, or doing the hard work for the Magic Judge community and the Magic Commander community, where I always knew he was there to support and uplift me.
His never-ending quest for a fair and equitable Magic community is what I will always carry and emulate, along with his intense joie de vivre.
Thank you so much Sheldon. You were my godfather, you were my champion, you challenged me, but most importantly you were my dear friend. I'm going to miss you so.
As a leader and a person, Sheldon was an inspiration. As a Magic Judge I looked up to Sheldon, not as some mythological figure but as someone we could all learn from. Sheldon was a kind and compassionate leader, and part of that kindness was his ability to give the right feedback at the right time. He always looked for ways to bring new judges into the fold; sometimes that meant finding new roles for them at events where they could learn and grow, and sometimes that meant finding a seat for them in an EDH game after the day was over.
I was that new judge in 2008, and I badly needed a community that would welcome me. The reception I received from Sheldon and the rest of the community was so amazing that I promised myself I’d carry that spirit forward for as long as I possibly could, and I know that I’m far from the only person who felt that way.
The effects Sheldon had on the Magic Judge community, the Commander community, and the Magic community at large helped me, and countless others, find where we belong. It’s not an exaggeration to say I literally wouldn’t be where I am today without his hard work. Thank you, Sheldon, for all of it.
Sheldon had an amazing power to make everyone he talked to feel like they were an old friend of his. I didn't know Sheldon long, but I did work fairly closely with him during some of his time at Wizards. I recall feeling the aura of warmth and love he emanated to everyone who came to tell him hello. He was graceful, certain, charismatic, and welcoming. Among other projects, he worked on the C21 Silverquill politics deck. While some of his other designs ended up getting printed, I'm so glad we also made Inkshield, a card I designed in explicit memory of one of his favorite decks to play. I wanted to honor that style of play that he found so intriguing in a new, shiny piece of cardboard.
Months after he'd left, he messaged me out of the blue on Discord. A project of mine had just released, and I was worried he had feedback or some community concern or wanted to see how I felt it was being received. Of course, it had nothing to do with that—Sheldon was just checking in and making sure things were OK. It's a small gesture to check up on your friends, but a meaningful one. There's a lot we can learn from Sheldon, and I personally hope we've all taken something of value away from our relationships with him.
At Gen Con in 2012 I met someone that already had more than a decade of Magic writing under their belt. While most players seemed to know him as a sheriff-like figure that laid down the law in the "Wild West" days of the 2000s Pro Tours, I knew Sheldon from his tireless and enthusiastic effort sharing the Commander format—in articles, on social platforms, and everywhere else he could. The story of its humble beginnings; the philosophy of playing with others; the range and personal touch each person's deck brings; the cleverness of a favorite deck of his "You Did This To Yourself."
Sheldon was Commander to me, and seeing him unleash Reflect Damage for lethal out of nowhere carved into stone a vision for decks I built to be flavorful, splashy, and lean into the unexpected.
Everyone who was anyone seemed to already know Sheldon, each with their own memory and wearing a smile when talking to him. It was more than a honor to share a passion for Magic and Commander with him; it was a privilege to listen and learn from one of the pillars of the community over the decade that followed.
His legacy will continue shaping the next decade and beyond. You will be missed—and remembered—friend.
I first got to know Sheldon during the second act of his Magic career, when he went from judging to the coverage team. At the time, I was pretty new to the wider world of Magic, and Sheldon was well-established as the premier judge of the Pro Tour and a passionate advocate for what we still called Elder Dragon Highlander at the time. He never once let that gap in experience show, treating not only me but everyone around us with reverence and familiarity. He had a way of talking to people that made you feel like you had known each other for your entire lives. You played Magic, so you were one of his people.
I remember being awestruck by him. He was one of the few true Renaissance men in the world, knowing seemingly everything about everything. He spoke eloquently about wine, passionately about sports, and authoritatively about Magic. More than a decade later, I still always found myself somewhat awestruck whenever he was around. He was a man who lived and loved his passions and did so with panache and joy at every turn. The world would be a better place with more Sheldons in it, but he was one-of-a-kind.