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Even big names have humble beginnings

October 3, 2013

More story time!

Many moons ago on an early August weekend there was a Nationals Qualifier at my local watering hole in Stockholm, Dragon’s Lair. For you new kids on the block, Nationals and it’s qualifiers were basically the precursors to the current World Magic Cup. Anyhow, I was in attendance but I’m not the protagonist of this story. I was just a witness and am today just the bard telling you this story of great courage and determination…and young foolishness. The protagonist is none other than the perhaps currently brightest Swedish star on the Magic Pro Tour scene. You may know him as Guile. Others may know him as Swedish Kibler. His real name though, and what he was merely known as back then, is Joel Larsson.

The format of the qualifier was Standard, and as you might remember or have read/heard about the Standard format in mid-2008, Faeries was the clear bogeyman of the format. I however wasn’t piloting the blue-back menace at this occasion. Instead I was wielding the Demigod Red Deck originally designed by deck designer extraordinaire Tomoharu Saito. For the record, the Darkest Mage would win US Nationals the same weekend with a refined version of the deck and said deck would explode onto the Standard scene and shape it until the rotation.  Anyhow, I started off the tournament with a fairly quick and simple 2-0 start, vanquishing a Faerie deck and a (lesser) red deck. After those two rounds there was a lunch break which I enjoyed without any shenanigans. It’s after that lunch break though this story really kicks in.

So, I got back to the store from my lunch without any huzzle and with plenty of minutes to spare. The judges had by that time already posted the pairings for round 3, so I went on to check my pairing and then went off to my table and got seated. As I was shuffling up for the round and the start time for said round was drawing nearer, I noticed that the chair next to mine was empty. I also soon learned from the player sitting across from the empty chair that it was Joel that was supposed to be sitting there and playing against him. I didn’t think much about it at the time. I mean, it’s not exactly uncommon that players only manage to get to their seat in the last second. Instead I turned my focus to my match, which turned out to be a hard fought battle against a mono black deck featuring among other things Tendrils of Corruption, Corrupt and Demigod of Revenge. Ergo a lot of cards you don’t really want to be playing against when you are wielding a red deck. I did manage to win though after winning both the sideboarded games on the back of Manabarbs. After the third game I picked up my cards and could after a sigh of relief happily report the match result to the scorekeeper.

Soon after that though I learned that Joel had been given a match loss (or two game losses I suppose if I’m to be technically correct) for tardiness, i.e. he hadn’t showed up at all for the round! Joel was simply nowhere to be found. I didn’t have his phone number at the time so I couldn’t call and check on him, but I wasn’t really that worried. I thought it was more likely that he just might have got held up at lunch and/or forgot the time the upcoming round was supposed to start.

After I spent a couple of minutes birding the players that were still playing in the round, Joel had suddenly materialized in the building. After he asked the judges not to drop him from the event, I made my way over to him to inquire why he hadn’t showed up for the round. As he turned his face towards me I noticed that he was quite badly bruised around the left side of his lips. What in the world had happened to him?

“Hey, what’s up? Why were you not here for the round?”

He made a quick inhale before responding with a calm and gathered voice:

“I have been to the emergency room of Södersjukhuset (a hospital in southern parts of Stockholm City).”

One of my eyebrows were automatically raised by the unexpected response.

“What happened? Did you fall or something?”

Joel squirmed a little before continuing with the same collected voice:

“At lunch I tried to open a bottle with my teeth as I couldn’t find a bottle opener. But as I bit into the cap I lost my grip with my teeth and I ended up breaking the bottleneck with them instead, and in the process I gashed my lips and the inside of my cheeks on the broken glass. I was at the emergency room to get patched up.”

At this point both my eyebrows were elevated in utter shock by the explanation Joel just had provided. It took a second before my brain had really grasped the gravity of the turn of events that had just been spelled out right in front of me; had he broke a bottleneck with his mouth? Is this reality? All my believing but astounded mind could bring my mouth to say was:


Joel sort of shrugged and replied a bit dejectedly:


But despite the tumultuous lunch Joel rallied and managed to secure two wins in the upcoming rounds before finally being able to intentionally draw the final round and by doing so qualifying himself for Nationals (and so did I, for that matter). So despite running bad while thinking, as it’s all so common for youngsters to do every now and then, he strode through the consequences of his poor decision making and got the job done. As I hinted in the prelude, it was an act that can only be described as courageous, inspiring and completely ridiculous. So you see, even big names have humble beginnings. Even the names on the big scoreboards were certainly simple mortals at one point in their lives. Just like the rest of us.


…and oh, for goodness’s sake; DON’T TRY TO OPEN CAPS WITH YOUR TEETH. It’s just not worth it. You can call up Joel any day and he will tell you that. 😉

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