Scott Kirkwood Excels at Magic Tournament
Spending a weekend playing a card game with 1,000 to 2,000 strangers may not be everybody’s idea of a good time. But if for CS senior Scott Kirkwood, that sounds like an excellent way to spend the weekend—as long as the game is Magic: The Gathering. Since learning the game after arriving at the University of Illinois, Kirkwood has become more and more proficient at the game, and has been seeing himself achieve greater and greater successes at tournaments. Earlier this fall he finished tied for third in the Grand Prix tournament in Indianapolis.
“These tournaments are the biggest amateur play you can get. It’s the largest tournament where anybody can enter,” Kirkwood explained.
Magic is a card game that has been around since 1993. Players often assemble their own decks for play. The rules of the game can get complicated, but Kirkwood explained that there are two approaches to creating decks for game play. “There are decks that either try to play things very fast that are low quality and hit them a bunch and try to kill [the opponent] that way, or there are decks that try to stop people from doing whatever they are doing. Those are the decks that are called “control” decks,” he said.
Because games can last between 20 and 50 minutes, Kirkwood said, “I prefer to be aggressive, because I like to finish in 20 minutes.
The grand prix typically takes a weekend, with Saturday’s games open to anyone. On Sunday, the highest players will compete for the championship. Kirkwood explained that on Saturday, the event could start with 1,000 to 2,000 people, but by Sunday, that number has been whittled down to 60 to 100. Each match is a best of three games. Kirkwood figured that he played around 37 games and then at least 5 more on Sunday.
Kirkwood sees the game as being one of risk management. “You have to decide: what’s the optimal line of play that I can do at this time, given what I know of my opponent?” he said “And you have to think: what is [my opponent’s] line of play? What is he going to do?”
For his third-place finish at the Indianapolis, Kirkwood received $1,500, plus an opportunity to attend a pro tour event in Atlanta in February 2016. But he has no plans to play Magic as a profession. It will remain a hobby for him. “I’m just looking to have a cool experience,” he said.
Kirkwood credits part of his success to the support he’s received from the community of Magic players in the Champaign-Urbana area. As he was doing well at the Indianapolis Grand Prix, he received lots of encouraging messages, some from people he didn’t even know. “It was one of the most positive experiences in my life, so shout-out to the Champaign-Urbana community,” he said. “It was just a really cool experience overall.”
When he’s not playing Magic (or doing his CS homework), Kirkwood works with Vis-à-Vis, a student organization that places University of Illinois students in local schools (elementary through high school) to serve as tutors and mentors for students.
Kirkwood has been involved since his sophomore year. This year he is treasurer for the organization, as well as coordinator of the volunteers at Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School in Urbana. He sees it as a great way to give back to the community. “As U of I students, we’re getting a good education,” he said, “but in the local community around here, a lot of local students don’t have as much opportunity.”