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Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Being Johnny Carson and the Tyrannax Painting

Last night, the SCG crew took me out to dinner. At the conclusion of eating portion of the evening, Sam Straus clinked him glass, stood up, and made a speech about farewells and art.

You see, I love original Magic art. I now own over 20 paintings ranging from historically significant (Breeding Pool) to I-love-the-card (Grand Architect) to Raaaarrrggh (Carnage Wurm). As a collector, I love giving Magic art to people as gifts, especially if the card carries some amount of significance for the person. The story of Chris Pikula being re-united with the art for Meddling Mage is one of my favorites. I personally helped my friend John Suarez get the original for Delraich by Todd Lockwood, one of his two favorite pieces of all time (the other is Nether Spirit and I am also on the hunt for it).

When Nicholas Sabin left the SCG office last month, I helped secure the original painting for Gorilla Titan by Heather Hudson. It wasn't a high priority want like Suarez's Delraich, but it was something that I felt was... well, Nicholas Sabin. If he were to have a totem animal, I imagine it would be a giant gorilla looking for a banana. So it wasn't a big surprise to me when Sam presented me with a wrapped painting and print.

In fact, it was so not a surprise that I handed Jared Sylva a card sleeve that I had personally sealed in front of his eyes one month prior. As he unsealed the sleeve, people started to whisper. "What's going on?" "Did he really?" Tasha just shrugged as if to say "What did you guys expect? He's Riki Hayashi."

Jared opened the sleeve and pulled out the card inside. He read it aloud, "Carl Critchlow, Fifth Dawn, Tyrannax." Someone to my left gasped, "How is he so good at this?" because when I revealed the print, it was indeed Tyrannax signed by everyone at SCG and the judges from the Baltimore Open I had just HJed.

How did I know? Well, in true Monk fashion... here's what happened:

Some time ago, I went to Margo's desk (Sam's wife) to talk about some travel things I was training her to do after I left. To the side of her desk, I saw a flat cardboard package that looked suspiciously like something I would transport an unframed painting in. I looked at it perhaps a little too long because Margo caught my stare and put it aside. Of course, that was when I knew it was for me. You could say that I've learned a thing or two about human behavior and investigations during my time as a judge. Most importantly, I've learned never to let the other person know what you know, or what you care about. So when she put it aside, I turned back to the work we were discussing and didn't press the issue.

Later that day, I talked to Tasha about what I had seen, and I got the "I am hiding something" vibe from her. I cut the conversation short because I realized that they had enlisted her aid in figuring out the best painting to get me. Obviously we talk a lot about want lists and what to prioritize for our purchases. I had also recently shared a Google doc with her that tracked various paintings (that I own, that I want, that other people own, that other people want).

I started to poke around and look at the current status of some of my wants and very quickly hit on the fact that Carl's Tyrannax had sold recently. Now Carl Critchlow hasn't really been in the Magic art limelight recently, and Tyrannax is not a high demand card or piece of art, so I found it suspicious that it was now unavailable. That's when I asked Jared to be a witness for the sealing of my guess.

At the Baltimore Open, the suspicious flat cardboard turned up yet again under Sam's chair. As it turns out, he had brought the print for all the judges to sign, but again I did not press the issue, look inside the container, or otherwise acknowledge its existence. Never let them know that you know.

Despite having an accurate guess about what the painting was, it was still an amazingly heartwarming gift, and only reinforces my love for these guys, despite their less-than-sneaky ways (Sam, please turn in your Dimir pin now). It also makes me want to work even harder to get more pieces of original art into the right hands. If you've got a piece that you love, let your friends know. You never know what might happen.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Why Portland?

Portland. Where the dream of the 90s is still alive.

I'm going to put that adage to the test because for me Portland is where the dream of my future is on the line. I've been asked more than once "Why Portland?" and I'm going to try to answer that right now.


I first fell in love with Portland because of a view from I-5, the major North-South Interstate on the Pacific Coast. My friends and I were driving up to play in GP Seattle 2005 and I had decided that the best way to do this was to leave Thursday evening and "red-eye" the 11-hour drive. We hit Portland sometime before dawn. There was a massive freeway interchange in the middle of the city that happened over a river, so bridges and interchanges were crossing all over and around each other and on both sides you could see a beautiful skyline. I remember thinking how pretty it was and that it looked like a nice place to live.

I guess my next encounter, so to speak, with Portland was with Seamus Campbell, the resident Level 3 Judge from the city. We met at GP San Jose 2007, my first as a judge. Our friendship grew over the next year; we were roommates for PT Hollywood the following spring, my first PT and where he was promoted to L4, so memorable for both of us! He was inspirational and influential in my journey, including providing some of the best advice and feedback I got on my final push to become an L3.

Seamus and I would talk occasionally online and one thing that came up was bicycles. My hometown of Davis, California at the time was known as a very bike-friendly city, and by some metrics was the #1 in that category in the country. (It doesn't make some lists due to its relatively small size ~60,000 people.) Anyway, Seamus would rib me about Portland overtaking Davis on this list or that from time to time, and I suppose that when I started to like the idea of Portland as a destination. Ever since living in LA, I've had an aversion to big city life, especially the infinite traffic, and it appealed to me that here is this bigger city that can still offer the charm of good biking.

As I got more and more involved in Magic: the Gathering as a judge, I entertained the notion of someday working for the parent company in Renton, Washington (suburb of Seattle), and the idea of living in the Pacific NW started to take supremacy in my mind. The weather was nice--sure it rained a lot--the food and culture were diverse like California, and I avidly followed the exploits of the Japanese baseball players on the Seattle Mariners led by Ichiro Suzuki.

As the months went by, so did my aspirations for working for Wizards of the Coast, and things shifted back towards old PDX (btw, as a frequent flier, it is clearly another feather in the city's cap that it identifies so strongly with its quirkly airport code). It also helped that the older I got, the more hipster I became, sweater vests and all. Portland was where I needed to end up.

Everything changed for me when I met my fiance, Tasha Jamison. Suddenly I had a real future to think about, and it became important to balance both of our dreams and desires. Luckily, like so many other things in our lives together, those matched up perfectly. After GP Seattle 2012, I convinced Tasha to spend a week in Portland at Seamus's to explore the city and see if it was the place we wanted to live after she finished her Masters degree at Virginia Tech. It was. The bike-friendliness, the diversity of world cultures and food (especially the huge Japanese grocery store Uwajimaya), the focus on green, and especially important the number of companies there that specialized in her desired field of humanitarian logistics. At the end of the week there, Tasha agreed that we should move to Portland. We have just over a week until we arrive for good. Almost there.