Outside the Wizards of the Coast offices, there is a faithful throng of fans consumed by a desire to compete and win at Magic. In the mid '90s, Wizards of the Coast launched the DCI, the Duelist Convocational International. The DCI is Wizards' competitive play governing body, which manages their Pro Tour featuring over $1,000,000 in prizes annually.
Of those that have competed in the DCI's Pro Tour, there is one name that everyone knows. Jon Finkel has been featured in Wired Magazine as recently as April of this year. He's been interviewed on national TV and has made a name for himself as a competitive poker player. He's also perhaps the most intelligent person you'll ever meet.
His keen mind has made him the winningest player of Magic in its 15-year history. While another name sits atop the lifetime earnings list, Finkel has become the face of Magic, earning him the nickname "Jonny Magic." He's the incarnation of a pro Magic player: calm, collected and smart as hell.
Finkel won the first Pro Tour of this year, held in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, adding another title to the trophy case. He has 13 top-eight finishes at Pro Tour events; he's been crowned World Champion; he led the U.S. team to victory at the annual Worlds event in 2000; he was among the first inducted to the game's Hall of Fame. The list goes on.
Finkel is the Tiger Woods of Magic. His mere presence in an event demoralizes his competitors, pushing them further down the prize pool. He's given amateur players someone to idolize and an example to follow. But he also stirs up the competitive field, which works in Wizards of the Coast's favor: The more competitive the game, the more product they'll sell because players will always be buying more cards.
There have always been those who questioned Magic's validity as a game of strategy. The randomness of shuffled decks leads some to believe it's a game of chance. But Finkel's dominance is undeniable proof that the game relies on skill and not luck.
If Jon Finkel is the hero of Magic, then Mike Long is its villain.
When Magic was still a nascent competitive game, Long was pushing the envelope of sportsmanship in his search for a competitive edge. His will to win led to some questionable tactics that branded him forever as a cheater, a mark which would keep him out of the inaugural class of the Magic Hall of Fame and possibly bar his induction permanently.