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Interview: Jacob Van Lunen

October 3, 2008

In lieu of his birthday celebrations yesterday, Jacob (Wizard’s “Building on a Budget” columnist and 2007 Pro Tour-San Diego winner) had some time for an interview from me – whata guy!

How long have you been playing Magic the gathering?

I started playing Magic in 1995 when I was ten years old. 

What first got you into the game?

My older brother and his friends started playing. He wanted to play when his friends weren’t around so he built me a deck. 

What is your favorite aspect of the game?

The people I meet. I’ve been playing Magic for such a percentage of my life that virtually all my friends are people I’ve met through the game. We have a bond. All of us are Magic players. Magic is the greatest friend-making tool on the planet. You show up to a tournament and every 50 minutes you’re introduced to somebody, the ice is already broken—”High roll?”—then you play Magic and talk. If you’re a grateful loser and a modest winner then you’ll have an unspoken bond with your opponent. You’ll see them in between rounds and ask, “what’s your record?” Before you know it these people become the people you call when you’re having a bad day and just need to vent. You’ve already told them bad beat stories from Magic games; it’s a natural progression.

How has playing Magic been affecting your everyday life?

I work as a game designer for small company in New York City. I probably wouldn’t have been considered for hiring if it weren’t for my experience with Magic. I use my knowledge of Magic and apply it to just about every game I work with. 

How do you usually approach deck building?

It depends. It’s easy to prey on particular weaknesses in formats that only have a few good decks. For example, if there were a format where the only good decks were a powerful red burn deck and a super consistent Brainfreeze combo deck, then you could just play one gaea’s blessing, some life gain, and card draw – and you wouldn’t ever lose. Newer formats are different though. You need to make sure your deck is a well oiled machine. When one builds a deck it needs to have a very specific focus. Every card needs to support the decks goal. Eternal Witness is an absurdly powerful card, but it would be terrible in an aggressive zoo deck because it doesn’t affect the opponent’s life total immediately. 

With the latest release of Shards of Alara, how do you see it impacting Standard?

I would like to see a white blue control deck do well again, but I think there will be a faerie resurgence by the time Worlds rolls around in December, so I’m not sure if I could get away with a deck that had Runed Halos, Story Circles, Condemns, and Cryptic Commands. I think some of the Eventide mimic cards will see play in decks that play at least sixteen cards that activate the triggers. For example, Shorecrasher Mimic will be a complete house when played in a deck with Rafiq of the Many, Bant Charm, the new life-link rhino, and Snakeform.

With all of the different shards in Alara, on which shard or shards would your personal style of play fit into?

I guess it’d have to be Grixis. The first deck I ever did well with was counterburn with undermines, Urza’s Rage, and Ghitu Fire; I have a soft spot for drafting red and black removal with blue card draw and playing against threatless boards. 

What are your thoughts on the introduction of ‘mythic’ rares?

I don’t like it, but I’m not sure if it really matters. They’re marginally more rare than normal rares and I couldn’t really see any of them be playable in standard except for Rafiq of the Many or maybe Sarkhan Vol in a deck with Nantuko Husk or something. A lot of the mythics are really good cards in alternate formats like vintage, extended, or type 4. I think a lot of magic players that primarily play constructed just order the singles from websites and Wizards needed a way to encourage that distributors open more product. 

What is your favorite block to draft?

Ravnica block was the greatest thing ever. I drafted Ravnica block four times a week for about three months when I was living in Indiana. At nationals that year there were two side limited events: a $5000 amateur draft event and a $2000 open draft event, I won both. 

Do you have any house rules that you play with?

Byob

Which format of Magic so you like playing the most?
Sealed deck.

Which game variant of Magic do you like playing the most?

Jacob (left) with Chris Lachmann and their two-headed giant winnings from San Diego

Jacob (left) with Chris Lachmann and their two-headed giant winnings from San Diego

I love me some two-headed giant. I don’t think I’ve ever thought harder in my entire life. The board positions get so complex and the plays become so calculated that I think you almost guaranteed to have a really good game of Magic. 

What do you see for the future of the Shards block?

I’m actually going to Finkel’s apartment tonight for my first Shards draft, but I love multicolor sets and have no doubt that this will be one of the best limited sets in a long time.

How does being a columnist for Wizards change your view on the atmosphere of Magic?

Magic is the most fun thing in the world for me. Sometimes people in the forums get worked up over things and try to reinforce a rift they believe exist between competitive and casual players. I didn’t realize how passionate people were about defining competitive and casual until I started writing for Wizards. I think competitive and casual players need to embrace each other a bit more. I’ve gotten e-mails where people say really disturbing and twisted things because they feel I’m spikish and I only care about winning. It’s absurd, I obviously prefer winning to losing, but I wouldn’t be playing Magic if I didn’t have a good time doing it. – We need to stick together, us Magic players. 

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