Whenever I read an interview article, I always enjoy myself. There is always one thing, though – it is never really “revealing” to me, because every time I pretty much know the person that is being interviewed, since I’ve played with them or against them, so I know a little bit about what they think or do already. Because of that, every time that I see an interview, I kind of wish it was with someone that I did not get a chance to talk to, someone I did not get a chance to learn from, someone who is not a “part of my life”, so to speak. After reading Antoine’s interviews with Brad and Matignon, I decided to just take matters into my own hands.
There is one person I thought of immediately, because that person is the most mysterious to me. Of all the people, this was the one that had the most to offer, the most for me to learn from, and I had never even talked to him. It kind of baffled me that I had never read an interview with him, that he would not be everyone’s first choice of interviewee. So, ladies and gentlemen, I present you the most successful player in the history of Magic, Kai Budde!
I’d like to thank Kai for taking the time to answer this – it is a somewhat long interview and I really appreciate that he went through all the trouble of doing it. I hope you enjoy this as much as I did. So, let’s get started:
– When and how did you start playing Magic? Did you already have big tournament ambitions when you started playing or was it just a hobby in the beginning?
I started playing at school. That was probably 1996. The guys who showed me the game were not interested in tournaments at all and we just played multiplayer. Another kid at school went to a local shop and played in tournaments there. I tagged along and started to become friends with the regulars.
-When do you think it became more than a hobby for you?
Those regulars happened to be pretty good. There were a few guys who went to every German nationals since it was started, when the ratings were introduced one of them topped them nationally. Some of them went to a pro tour here and there and then Frank Adler won the first (and only) Prerelease Sealed Deck Pro Tour in Atlanta. Seeing a friend do so well on that level kicked things off.
– You’ve been part of the most successful team in the Pro Tour History, Phoenix Foundation. How did this team come to be? What is the story behind the name?
Dirk moved to Cologne for his community service and we became friends pretty fast. We played the first two team PTs with Andre Konstanzer, the most successful German player back then, but when Marco moved to Cologne as well and we started to playtest a lot, there was no real discussion as to what the line up for the next team event would be.
At the tournament we had to come up with some name and as we didn’t have anything, we just took something silly, in this case the foundation of the McGyver TV series.
– Why did you stop playing Magic? Do you regret doing so?
I just lost interest. Both Marco and Dirk were done at that point which cost me a lot of motivation. All the traveling was getting to me as well and I didn’t have fun anymore.
I had a good time playing actively for over five years but I just had enough at that point. It was just about time to do something else. Going to a tournament here and there is fun now, but I wouldn’t want to go to all of them anymore.
– What is your “relationship” with Magic nowadays?
After I stopped I completely blanked Magic for a while, I had just played way too much. I think I missed the whole Lorwyn Ravnica, Lorwyn and Shadowmoor blocks. Didn’t read new cards, never logged onto Magic Online and didn’t follow any PT coverage. I played one Worlds in between, so I played some Time Spiral limited and had to read up on some cards, but in the tournament itself I was also found reading cards here and there.
These days I am playing a bit more again, drafting 1-2 times per week on Magic Online and generally following tournament coverage along with reading and watching articles.
– Do you think it is possible to be a successful Pro while also living a “normal life” (work, school, fun), or is the necessary dedication and all the traveling too much?
With school and university it’s certainly doable, although you really need to watch your priorities. It’s very easy to just fail classes when playing too much Magic. And once you get to the point where you skip exams for Magic tournament, it’s just a lost cause.
With a normal job with actual 8-to-5 office hours I don’t see it. There’s just too much traveling involved. Maybe if you do absolutely nothing else and burn your vacation for all events and your boss is an understanding guy you could pull it off. But that sounds way too stressful to me.
– Do you think it is easier or harder to be a professional Magic player nowadays?
It’s pretty tough to actually make a living playing tournaments in my opinion.
Back in the days it wasn’t all that easy going and then it was a LOT easier then. Just imagine the average level of play without Magic Online. It wasn’t nearly where it’s at these days, the average player is a lot, lot better than they used to be 10 years ago. Obviously the pros are a lot better too as Magic Online helps them as well, but Magic is not chess. You reach a level where chance outweighs skill reasonably fast and these days the difference between LSV and level 4 pro is a lot smaller than the difference between a gravy trainer and Finkel was, so chance plays a much larger part. Also the player club level stuff isn’t quite as good as masters and end of the year payout were, either
-Will you be attending GP/PT Paris? How about other Pro Tours?
I am planning to play Paris, yeah. If I can get time off work, currently my plan is to play the close events, meaning European PTs and possibly east coast stuff. Very doubtful anyone will get me on a plane to a tournament in the pacific area, without a gun at least.
– When you were at your prime, was there any player you particularly did not want to face in tournaments?
My record versus Ben Rubin is …. Not good.
– Imagine you have a Pro Tour to play in a day. You have done no testing, but you can choose any player you want and play a 75 card-copy of whatever deck this person ends up playing. Whose deck would you copy?
In 2000 the answer would be Dirk, IF he tested. Then it’s not really close. Quite often he wouldn’t test and pick up a random deck, then I’d go with Ben Ronaldson. He was a bit crazy at times but you could be sure that he played his deck a few hundred times at least.
These days it’s a bit tough. I think Gabriel/Chapin and LSV/Brad have generally good decks. But with LSV and the Gabriel/Pat corner it could easily turn out to be a trap. Like that 4-5C control they played at Worlds, ugh. I like my blue cards, but some people just go a bit too far at times. It almost feels like a race between WotC trying to make control as worse as possible with Chapin trying to prove them wrong and still playing it.
I’d go with Gabriel though, with Kibler being a close second. Those guys always test and almost always know what’s going on. The good thing about Brian is that he’s not so much fixated on a certain archetype. He likes to sleeve up Islands, but if he thinks [card]Wild Nacatl[/card] is the way to go, he’ll play that and be happy with it.
– I’ve heard it often that Finkel was the most talented player there ever was, and you were the best combination of skill plus practice, making you the best tournament player ever. Do you think that is a fair statement? Would you credit your success on mostly practice, mostly skill or an equal combination of both?
It’s always a combination of things. Jon was at his peak when the people around him were at their respective peaks (Steve OMS, Bob Maher, Jamie Parke) and I hit my peak when Dirk and Marco were doing very well and playing a lot. Jon faded out when people around him stopped playing and it was the same for me really.
He was dominating the PT for a while, I was dominating it later, then a few Japanese took over, followed by Nassif. I don’t think you can compare those players as they all played against a much different level of opponents in what is essentially a different game.
– How did you practice for a tournament back then?
Back before 2000 I was still in school and it was annoying enough to get the weekends off. There was one draft per week in the shop and Dirk and me played a lot against each other and with a few other guys, mostly Markus Bell, Thomas Esser and Tim Gloeckner.
We met at Dirk’s place a few times with a couple of German guys or just Patrick Mello, Marco and me to play for a few days but a large portion of our testing was done on Apprentice, especially when we started to play with Swedes and English people. The highlight was when my mother told me I had gotten a letter. I opened it and it was a hand written metagame assumption from Warren Marsh.
There was an IRC channel with a few pros, Jelger Wiegersma, Gary Wise, Raphel Levy, Dirk, Anton Jonson, Mattias Jorstedt and a lot I cannot think of right now. We did a lot of drafts with Netdraft back then. It wasn’t great especially as you would usually never play more than 1 match with the drafted deck, if even. But it was still better than nothing.
– Did you test a lot of sideboarded matches?
We generally didn’t test with sideboards although kept in mind how certain cards would naturally swing a match up. Once we narrowed it down to 2-3 decks, we would sideboard as well to try to figure out what we really wanted to play.
– One debatable topic about playtesting is “takebacks”. What is your stance on them?
During testing we took stuff back all the time. You aren’t as familiar with a deck there as you and your opponent will be in the actual tournament. That’s the biggest problem with testing on MTGO, that you actually cannot take stuff back. Had a few situations playing with Gabriel and Johan before Amsterdam where someone screwed something up and we just had to theorize the rest of the game what was going to happen, because such misclicks or misplays won’t happen in the actual event and it would just screw up testing results.
– How much in advance did you usually know the deck you were playing?
I think we knew what we’d play about the same time as people do today. Sometimes you are 1-2 weeks before the event set on a deck and sometimes you are torn the night before.
– You are by far the most successful Sunday player there ever was, winning 7 of your 10 Pro Tour top 8s. Was there any secret to that? How was your Saturday before top 8?
I always got enough sleep and I generally tested at least my quarterfinal a lot. Usually I would play my expected semi-final match up as well and discuss sideboarding with a few guys. Most of the time I was surely better prepared than my opponents and I wasn’t really all that nervous, but as I said above, there was certainly a lot of positive variance involved.
When you reduce a tournament to three matches, matchups especially are suddenly so big. At the worlds I won there were some guys that missed t8 on tiebreakers, including Finkel, who were nightmare matchups for my Standard deck and instead I got to play two Red land destruction decks without artifact removal in the board in the quarterfinal and final with my 42 mana sources Wildfire deck. Or in New Orleans I played the quarter and semi against the same reanimator deck that was a very good pairing for me.
On top of that I won a few games on the back of misplays while I don’t think I screwed up much at all in top 8 matches, after winning my first pro tour t8 on the back of just very easy matchups, I don’t think I was nervous any more and it showed for some of my opponents.
– What traits do you look for the most in a deck, other than “wins”? What traits will make you not like a deck?
I dislike decks like all-in-red-burn kind of stuff. I don’t mind aggressive decks when they got powerful cards like [card]Cursed Scroll[/card], [card]Fireblast[/card], or the current Vampire deck. But if you play spells like R, deal three damage to an opponent, that’s nothing I ever want to play.
But in general I play what I think is the strongest deck and not what fits my personal play style the most.
– What do you think is your best characteristic in Magic?
I don’t lose concentration, I think that helps you the most at GPs. If you get 5 or less hours of sleep, then play day 2 and then the top 8 after, back in the days we had some GPs that started at 8 am and finished close to midnight or after, the organization was just a lot worse than it is today and naturally that gets to people. I think that left me largely unaffected.
– When you traveled to Pro Tours, did you usually take time to see the city and do tourist stuff or is it all business for you? What was the best location you’ve ever traveled to with Magic?
Most of the time I saw airport, hotel and site. If you do that every 3rd week, sightseeing gets boring fast. Also I don’t think that the big European (and by now also American) cities are all THAT different. Sometimes I stayed a bit longer if the tournament was in an interesting location. Tip: If you do that, plan the vacation AFTER the magic tournament.
I really liked Australia and did some sightseeing for another three weeks after a worlds in Sydney, although that’s obviously not nearly enough. But driving up the east coast with Christoph Lippert and John Ormerod was quite a good time.
Another week of vacation in places like Columbus, Philadelpha or Madrid isn’t all that appealing to me, though.
– Did you have a specific method of dealing with Jetlag before big tournaments?
Fortunately there’s no jet lag involved when traveling to the US. So I only had issues every 4th or 5th tournament when going to Japan. But flying into the US is just like staying up another 6-7 hours, so that’s not a big deal.
– Is there any player who you think should definitely be in the Hall of Fame but was not voted in?
That sounds like I could burn myself easily here. In general, I think it is more of a problem of having too many in the HoF than not enough, I kinda don’t think there’s three to four people outperforming everyone else by enough every single season. At least you don’t see four new people every season that make you thing ‘wow, that guy is absolutely awesome’ on the tour each year, do you?
Most people that are that good and dominate tournaments do so for a larger period of time and introducing that many each season is a bit of an issue in my opinion.
That being said, I think William Jensen deserves a spot.
– What do you think is the best solution for a Player of the Year tie like we’ve had this year?
A single match in a single constructed format seems bad, it’s too much matchup-based. I think there should be a tiebreaker that uses the whole last season. Not exactly sure what works best there, but there’s gotta be something. For example average finish through all PTs or (PT points earned)/(Possible PT points earned in the attended events), there’s quite a few things you could use as a tiebreaker that would make more sense than a single match.
Anyway, I think it’s somewhat pointless as it’s just for the title and trophy. If you have a match, it would be better if they were playing for more than ‘just’ the title.
– How do you feel about your [card voidmage prodigy]Invitational card[/card]?
Please, I did not make the card. Every invitational everyone turned in some ridiculously broken stuff and then they did something with it. I was at no point in time involved in the design of Voidmage Prodigy. I turned in something like:
U, Enchantment, opponent plays with hand face up, U, sac: Draw a card, UU, sac: counter target spell.
Chris Pikula turned in:
1UU, 2/3. When ‘random scrub’ comes into play, name a card. Sacrifice random scrub: Counter the named spell.
And they turned that into [card]Meddling Mage[/card]. It was really a lottery whether you ended up with something broken or something you use to start a camping fire.
But while on topic of player designed cards, I was really wondering why they stopped that the other day. Just seems like a pretty cool thing that is literally 0 effort for them as they go quite far off the suggested card and something like that can surely be worked into every set.
I was thinking that either the world champion or the player of the year should get his own card. Would up the value on those titles a lot and put them above pro tours and it’s just a pretty cool thing in general that everyone liked.
– Favorite deck? Necro/Donate
– Favorite color? Blue
– Favorite format? Team Rochester Draft
– Favorite card? Morphling
– Favorite Movie? Pulp Fiction (Yes, I am old, ok.)
– Favorite Brazilian Magic Player whose name starts with a P? Carlos Pomão
– Favorite Book? Belgariad / Mallorean, fantasy sagas by David Eddings
– Favorite Food? That changes frequently, nothing specific really
Thanks a lot Kai!
Again, I hope you’ve enjoyed it, and see you next week!