Twenty Questions with Brian Kibler
There has been no hotter player in the past eighteen months than Brian Kibler. After several years away from the game he returned to the Pro Tour with quite a flourish, finishing in the top eight in Honolulu and then winning at Pro Tour Austin, both in 2009. Add another top eight at this year’s Pro Tour Amsterdam and a win at Grand Prix Sendai. Brian gets around. He has been at nearly every Grand Prix this year stacking up one great result after another; top four at GP Minneapolis, eleventh at GP Sydney, fifty-fourth at GP Portland, sixteenth at GP Manila, seventeenth at GP Washington and twenty-eighth in GP Kuala Lumpur.
After all that, the announcement came that Brian Kibler will be inducted in the Pro Tour Hall of Fame at this year’s World Championships in Japan.
I can’t ever remember seeing Brian, or any other Magic player this side of Kai Budde, string together so much Magic success in such a short period of time. It’s been very exciting to watch.
MTGFanatic caught up with a very busy Brian Kibler a few weeks ago. He was kind enough to answer some questions.
Zanman: What has changed in your approach to competitive Magic in the past year?
Brian: I play again? Heh. Aside from the obvious, I think I've matured a lot in terms of my outlook toward competitive play since my first stint on the pro tour all those years ago. Back then I would let losses get to me and I'd lose focus. If you look at my results during that time, I have ZERO top thirty-two finishes. Once the wheels started to come off I tended to just choke and keep choking. Nowadays I'm better able to keep things in perspective and put losses behind me. I doubt I could have come back from 0-3ing a draft pod after starting undefeated and win a tournament back then, and that's exactly what I did in Austin.
Zanman: It seems like you don't spend very much time home between trips, do you ever wish you were home more often?
Brian: I am certainly very busy traveling these days. That's actually a part of why I stopped playing when I did back in 2005. I'd just moved to California and didn't want to spend a lot of time traveling when I was settling in to a new place. I would like to have more time at home, but I also love that I get to go to so many cool places playing Magic. It's a difficult trade off, but it’s worth it in my mind, at least for now. Maybe someday I'll unpack all the boxes and REALLY move into my apartment...
Zanman: After winning in Austin last year, it must have been kind of cool to have the next Pro Tour in your hometown of San Diego. What happened to you at Pro Tour-San Diego?
Brian: It was definitely cool to have the Pro Tour close to home. A bunch of people stayed at Dan Burdick's place and we playtested all week leading up to the tournament and went out to a bunch of my favorite local spots. I was really hoping to do well in that tournament since I had a bunch of friends who came to check it out, but I ended up not being able to find a deck I liked and played something I didn't have enough practice with and it cost me. I did have a lot of fun taking gamers out downtown after I was out, though!
Zanman: When you were fifteen, how did you get yourself into Pro Tour I in NYC? Did you get through on the phone for a reservation or did something else happen? What was that trip like?
Brian: I grew up in New Hampshire and I was at boarding school at Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts during the first pro tour. I'd seen a flyer for the PT at a big tournament I'd traveled to in NYC and thought it sounded awesome. This was back before there was a lot of information available online about the game and I was the hotshot who won all the local tournaments, so I gave it a shot. I played in the junior division, which was open entry, and I played a B/R deck with Hymns, Specters, Bolts, The Rack, splashing white just for Balance. I had Necropotence in my deck until the week before the tournament but cut it because I took too much damage from the Cities of Brass I had in my deck for the Chronicles requirement! I ended up finishing thirtieth, which was cool. More importantly, I was exposed to a lot of other top players from the New England area, particularly Shawn "Hammer" Regnier, who ran a card shop not far from where I lived that I ended up spending a lot of time at over the next couple years.
Zanman: Do the guys at Sky High Comics (Brian’s local shop) treat you pretty normally or do they carry you from room to room in a chair up on their shoulders? You know what I mean, there is always the store hero that sort of runs the place. Is it a lot different at your home store?
Brian: It's funny - I never win FNM. Literally EVER. I started going there before Austin, and my record at FNM leading up to that tournament was something like 3-5. Kind of hard for people to give a lot of hero worship to someone they beat at the local shop all the time!
Zanman: What sort of reasons led to you getting out of competitive Magic for a while?
Brian: I'd just started a new job designing games at Upper Deck and moved out to California, as I mentioned earlier. I got sick right before a PT in Japan and skipped it, and I'd just skipped another for a conflicting committment, and I ended up falling off the gravy train. With the demands of my new job and a burgeoning World of Warcraft addiction taking up a lot of my time, I didn't really have the motivaton to go play in PTQs or anything. I followed the PT to see how my friends were doing, and kept up with Magic sets more out of appreciation for their design ideas than anything else.
Zanman: I've seen SO MANY good players come back to competitive play and be very disappointed. Disappointed with their relative skill level, disappointed by changes that WOTC has made with power creep or other things, disappointed with the level of civility among players. What made you excited about coming back to Magic? Before the PTQ season that got you to Honolulu did you make a big decision to hit Magic really hard again? Did it seem super easy to win that qualifier and then to SMASH your way to another top eight at Honolulu? Did you know that most people can't do that, it's not normal...
Brian: I got the fire back when I went to PT Hollywood intending just to hang out and say hi to people and ended up borrowing a deck and playing in the LCQ despite knowing none of the cards. I went 4-2 and wanted to play more. I spent the next day brewing up a deck for the Lorwyn block PTQ. I went 4-2 in that, as well, and was terribly disappointed to learn that there weren't any more PTQs in the format for a while, because I had a bunch of ideas about how to improve my deck. I knew I was hooked then. I actually played in nine PTQs before I won one, so I can't argue that it seemed super easy, but it was really exciting to come back to the PT and do so well right off the bat, and even more exciting to do even better the next time out.
Zanman: What sorts of things do you employ to get a psychological edge or to pump yourself up? I heard about you listening to "Smashing the Opponent" by Infected Mushrooms at PT Honolulu. Do you believe in psyching yourself up for matches/tournaments? What about physcially? Do you have rituals you use to get yourself physically ready for a long day of tournament Magic? I ask because you are famous for seeming so fresh and unrattled even at the end of a long day.
Brian: The music helps me focus. I pick a song for each event, often somehow linked thematically to my deck or the event itself, and play it from the moment the pairings go up until the round starts. It's just a ritual that keeps my mind from wandering and brings me back to what's going on right now. Physically I try to keep myself well hydrated and eat real nutritious food, but that can be hard at a lot of tournament venues. Tournaments are grueling affairs, and despite appearances, I'm beat by the end of them constantly.
Zanman: What format do you prefer?
Brian: I think I'm generally better at constructed, but a lot of that has to do with my preparations. A lot of players draft all the time, but I don't play that much Magic Online or have much of local crowd to play with regularly, so it's hard to get drafts in. I find constructed more interesting in general because I like identifying problems and finding solutions. Pretty much every deck I've ever played to a successful finish in a major event follows that general rule - look at what's going ton in the format and try to figure out what beats it. I'm rarely one to show up with the "deck to beat" in a format, and if I do it usually has some kind of twist.
Zanman: People may or may not know that the creation of the Pro Tour Hall of Fame played a part in your return to competitive play. What are some of your feelings about being inducted into this very exclusive group this year?
Brian: Being voted into the Hall of Fame is pretty amazing. Magic has been a huge part of my life. It's probably the single biggest influence on who my friends are, what I do for a living, what I do for fun, where I've traveled, etc. The recognition that I have made my mark on a game that has touched my life so greatly means a lot.
Zanman: Is it hard to have further goals in Magic? What are the future challenges for you in this game?
Brian: I like winning. I want to do more of that.
Zanman: Who are the up and coming players that you see making the move upwards in the game?
Brian: Brad is definitely the person to watch right now. He exemplifies the work ethic that saw Kai Budde dominate so much during his prime - just playing and learning about Magic constantly. I'm certainly excited to see what more he can accomplish.
Zanman: Some people may not know that you are a professional game designer. How is the satisfaction of game design different from winning Magic tournaments?
Brian: Making games is just that - making something. There's something remarkable about seeing someone else having fun playing something that you had a hand in making. At Gen Con this year I was walking through a hotel lobby at the end of the show and everyone I saw was playing either WoW TCG or Ascension, and it was a pretty amazing feeling.
Zanman: What else do you do outside of Magic?
Brian: These days I don't have time for much outside of Magic! I play some other games, like League of Legends. Playing Magic and designing games for a living is weird, because your job is your hobby - I'll hang out with friends just gaming, or talking about games, and some of it is work and some of it isn't and it isn't always clear which is which.
Summing it Up
The past year in Magic has been an amazing trip for Mister Kibler. Brian has truly completed the circle in a way no other Magic player since Johnny Magic. All the way from a juniors appearance in the first Pro Tour to his recent domination and a Hall of Fame ring. I'm thrilled for Brian. I don't think there has ever been a better representative of the best game in the world than he. I hope he enjoys his new Hall of Fame ring!
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