James Fazzolari used to write for Channel Fireball. He was taken off the payroll after cheating at Grand Prix: Auckland. In round four of a Limited Grand Prix, playing against a friend, Fazzolari cast a Whisperwood Elemental...from his lap. An active poster on Reddit, Fazzolari cited "pressure and ambition" as the motivators behind the cheat.

Fazzolari started writing for CFB around the same time I did, so I followed him with varying degrees of interest. When I found out that he cheated, I'd tell people at work about it. The only response I got was "who is that?" which appeared to be a pretty common sentiment in the Magic Twitterverse, so I don't totally know where the pressure was coming from. Maybe he was a bigger deal in Australia.

The Magic community isn't small. It's miniscule. That's not to beleaguer the point that maybe Fazzolari wasn't as big a deal as he thought he was; the point is that word travels, especially in the weird, spikey tournament circles. For every progressive-minded, well-adjusted Platinum pro, there are hundreds, if not thousands, of guys (and they're always guys) living on the edge of the Pro Tour, guys who seemingly live to tear down everyone around them. Guys whose default response to everything is to crap all over it. Guys who try and validate themselves through games of Wizard Squares.

Don't do that.

***

There's no anecdote, no occurrence, no single moment in time that captures the essence of Michael Egolf better than Wild Slash. To get to the bottom of why it fills so many of my coworkers with glee to yell "WILD SLASH" at Mike every day at work, it's best to start when he first got hired.

Publicity photo of Michael Egolf.

Go to enough local tournaments and you'll meet every Magician stereotype. One of the most relentlessly nonsensical character tropes is the person who prides themselves in only playing one archetype in every format. They'll invariably crack jokes like "the best card in Standard is [basic land that produces the preferred color]," a comment, even in passing, so deeply rooted in a fundamental misunderstanding of Magic: The Gathering that I can't even pretend to smile at it.

Mike Egolf strongly identifies as "the monored guy." Imagine his surprise upon learning he shared an office with a guy that shares a nickname with a groundbreaking monored deck, immortalized in gold-border. The realization that he was no longer "the monored guy" was swift and succinct.

We hold office FNMs after work on Fridays. On one of these blessed occasions, Sped and Egolf got paired.

In a tight game three, Sped's GR Devotion deck has stabilized against Egolf's Jeskai Heroic deck and is going into the tank on his turn. Yon is watching the game with mild interest, when Sped taps all but one Mountain, firing a lethal Crater's Claws at Egolf's head. Yon starts to walk away, thinking the game's over, when Egolf suddenly cries, "don't go yet!"

Egolf looks up at Sped and confirms, "you're doing it?"

"Yup. You're dead?"

Egolf's body language changes in an instant. He snaps up in his chair and confidently taps two lands.

"Deflecting Palm." He points at Sped, "you're dead."

Sped goes into the tank as Egolf smiles smugly at him. He picks up Egolf's copy of Deflecting Palm. Reads it. Puts it back down. Goes back into the tank.

Sped slowly taps his one untapped Mountain.

"Wild Slash you."

Egolf picks up Sped's copy of Wild Slash. Reads it. Looks down at the Stormbreath Dragon under Sped's control. Puts down the Wild Slash.

Scoops up his cards.

Later that night, Egolf could be heard saying, "that was supposed to be my moment. I was gonna beat Sped, and finally validate myself in the eyes of everyone here. And then he took it away." Of course, everybody just laughed at him.

Issues of identity are tricky.

***

It's round six of the Syracuse Open, and I'm walking around with Derek. We're both 5-1, piloting the same Abzan Aggro deck:

DECKID=1236444

Dan is 3-3 and Egolf is 4-2. Derek offhandedly comments, "it's funny how Egolf's like the monored guy in the office, because I was playing against monored with you and your friend last night and going like 50/50 in games, and then Egolf picked up the red deck and I won every single time."

"Yeah, that's pretty good."

Egolf would go on to make Top 4 of the tournament, while Derek and I skidded out of day two in epic fashion. I went into day two at 7-2, same as Egolf, only to start off 0-4 and win my last two matches, just to clinch the absolute minimum cash finish, 64th, on breakers.

His run was exciting to watch. Despite a minor snag in losing to CVM, who pulled off everything short of donning a crown and declaring himself Emperor of Standard on the weekend, Egolf seemed very peaceful between rounds. This was in stark contrast to Derek and I, who were continually trying to put together the pieces of our tournaments after every match and coming up short.

Lack of experience, be it macro or not, will trick you into thinking that the things that make up your life now will always be your life. You're in high school, so you'll always be in high school. You're winning, so you'll always be winning, because that's your life. This is not how it works. High school ends. You mulligan to four. You get outplayed. You Regress to the mean.

Winning in particular blurs your outlook, because after a while of it, you forget there are even other outcomes. You start to forget that the unsavory components of Magic - Mana Screw, mana flood, opponents with unbeatable draws - still apply to you. That sounds super obvious, but it's easy to forget when you're in the midst of a run. Egolf's stature hanging out between rounds - calm, cool, collected - flew straight in the face of my own. He calmly declined the Girl Scout cookies I offered him while I wolfed them down like it was my last day on Earth. At the time I chalked his Serenity up to the fact that he was winning, but the truth is that his demeanor was the same after getting his intentional draw request denied and subsequently losing as he was after a 4-0 run to start the day.

Tournaments are hard. It's rare for me to get knocked out of a tournament and look at the remaining players and think "every single one of them has a better understanding of this game/format than I do and that is why they're still playing and I'm not." Much more often, something outside The Game At Hand gets to me, such as mulliganing down to five cards in game three after what had previously been a tight match, that causes me to lose focus.

Magic isn't played in a void. It's played in tournaments. Knowing how to navigate matchups and having sweet sideboard tech is obviously very helpful, but if you can't mentally stomach a tournament, you might as well hand a rhesus monkey a box full of tools and tell it to Remodel your home.

***

"I don't wanna chop."

Egolf looks at me apprehensively. He's just locked up his spot in the Top 8 of the Syracuse Open. Fresh off winning his win-and-in on camera, in front of God and Patrick Sullivan, he's just said something that will at least irritate me, and the sheepish grin on his face tells me he knows it.

Prize splitting is a recurring topic around the office. I'm pretty risk-averse and have a healthy fear and respect for the RNG aspects of Wizard Squares, so I'm generally in favor of prize splits. I have a few exceptions - it makes no sense to me to split in the Top 8 of something like a PPTQ, when the only reason I'm there is to come in first place anyway, as opposed to a cash tournament, where the reason I'm playing is to make as much money as possible.

Egolf's reasoning behind not splitting is, in essence, that he knows that what he's doing; by turning down prize chops, he is essentially paying for the privilege - it's guaranteed money he's turning down - of playing games of Wizard Squares for a lot of money. It's admittedly a unique kind of thrill, and one that's only heightened when you're forced to actually purchase it for the promise of an exponential return. This is the code of the thinking man's degenerate. I may not live by it, but I'm satisfied with it.

I look Egolf square in the face, in an effort to gauge his resolve. It's immediately obvious that he's not budging an inch on this one.

"Okay. Here's what they'll do. You're going to fill out your player profile, and they'll give you a sheet saying whether or not you want to chop. If you say no, no one will even know you were the one that didn't want to chop. It's a secret ballot"

"Cool."

"Yeah. Good luck."

***

The story has a happy ending. Egolf won in the first round and ended up splitting in the Top 4 because of his poor Abzan Aggro matchup, earning him a few bucks, some notoriety, and a temporary reprieve from colleagues' yelling Wild Slash at him whenever he walks by.

Since he started working at TCGplayer and leading into the Open, Egolf had been on a substantial losing streak in the Magic tournaments he played in. In an office full of competitive players, it's easy to subconsciously stack yourself against everyone else, and I don't think Egolf had much experience not being the best player in the room. It's important to note that ranking yourself among your friends based on tournament results, no matter how subconsciously, is...problematic.

Magic has a weird knack of allowing you to put undue pressure on yourself if you let it. This makes figuring out how to cope with losing is an important skill to hone. Being incapable of making a Top 8 cut unless you X-0-2 the swiss rounds stacks the deck against you even more than it already is. Seeing Egolf's development from "self-assured local shark" to a rational being capable of handling adversity has been nice to witness, and it wouldn't have been possible without the healing power of losing.

Congratulations, Mike.

Jon Corpora
pronounced Ca-pora
@feb31st