Magic the Traveling: An Interview with Christian Calcano
I started this blog years ago as a way to bring Magic the Gathering in Japan closer to those people who can’t speak Japanese and to shed some light on comings and goings of regular Magic players playing in Japan like myself and the local communities I’m part of. I haven’t always done a good job of this due to my work schedule repeatedly getting in my way, but I will always continue to try to bring you interesting stories such as my interview with Saito Tomoharu, a discussion on the state of Commander in Japan, as well as Japan only formats like Frontier.
The other month there was a Grand Prix in Nagoya, my old hometown that I lived in for 6 years. People from all over the country, as well as overseas were converging on the location. To be honest, I was more psyched to go back to Nagoya than I was to participate in the event. The costs associated with Grand Prix have skyrocketed in the last few years, and it’s not something I will always have the money to do.
Leading up to this event, I was following Twitter and seeing who was talking about going to the event. We had quite a few Asian pros like Hong Kong native Lee Shi Tian and South Korean Sungwook Nam. Very few people North American, South American, or European players (other than Martin Juza) ever make it over to Japan to play. Well, all except for one.
It’s no secret that Christian Calcano enjoys playing in Japan. I remember him coming to GP Shizuoka a few years back for standard, GP Yokohama at one time, and most recently he attended GP Nagoya 2018. Grand Prix Nagoya was team limited, and two of the other local Yokohama players and I decided to team up due to the ease of practicing together. One of those teammates was good friends with Christian Calcano, and seeing an opportunity, I jumped at the chance to interview him. They were meeting up in the days leading up to practice some team limited at Hareruya, so I approached Mr. Calcano online and was ecstatic when he agreed to be interviewed for my blog. After the excitement of the Grand Prix weekend died down, Christian returned to the Tokyo area and had some free time before flying out the following weekend. We met up in the Ikebukuro area for a bite to eat and chatted about all things Magic, as well as Christian’s vast travel experience as a Pro Tour player.
Getting to Know Christian Calcano
The Japan Hobbyist (TJH): So Christian, you seem to have traveled a lot for Magic the Gathering. Do you try to travel to every GP each year, or are you more specific with where you go?
Christian Calcano (CC): For the first 8 years or so of my Pro Magic career on the Pro Tour I traveled all over the world for MTG, but recently I’ve slowed down due to the cost of traveling. Nowadays I try to choose locations that are either close to where I live on the east coast, or places that I would enjoy going to.
TJH: What makes a location worth going to? What kind of things do you enjoy doing when you visit a city?
CC: Friends are probably the main reason. I always enjoy meeting up with people I know and hanging out with them. The food is also a good reason to visit since most places tend to have their own local dishes, and another reason to travel overseas is to experience cultures that are unique.
TJH: The USA has more than enough events year round, so why do you like to travel a lot for MTG, especially out of the country?
CC: Recently traveling in the USA feels more like a business trip than a vacation. It isn’t as exciting as going abroad to play.
TJH: Do you travel ONLY to play MTG, or do you travel for other reasons as well? Would you say it’s bad to travel and only play in events?
CC: Sometimes I’ve traveled just for MTG, but I always felt awful about it. I went to Chile a few years back for GP Santiago, flew the 10+ hours from New York, but after the event I headed back home and missed out on all the sightseeing and local experiences that my friends got to enjoy. It’s a bad idea to travel that far and not enjoy it. But it also depends on if you’ve been there before.
TJH: What were your favorite places to travel to for Magic the Gathering? What would you recommend players do to get the most out of their experience?
CC: Japan is definitely #1, but Costa Rica is #2. There was a lot to do in both places and some great local scenes to enjoy. While they aren’t cheap, I would say that both places are rather affordable. I recommend that people get a feel for daily life in the places they visit and learn about the culture in that area. Try to experience different things that you normally couldn’t in your own country.
TJH: I noticed that you’ve come to Japan a lot over the years for Magic the Gathering. Do you have any good memories or experiences you’d like to share?
CC: I’ve traveled to many countries but Japan was where I experienced the biggest culture shock. The amount of polite people was rather surprising. People always treat you well there. Onsens/Hot Springs were another thing I found “interesting”. It was more relaxing than I thought it would be. Some people might find it strange to try a public bath in Japan, but I enjoyed it.
I also love doing Karaoke while I’m in Japan, and I enjoy going out partying at clubs and bars here more than I usually do back in the USA. Another great memory I have of Japan is seeing Mount Fuji when I was here for Grand Prix Shizuoka in 2015.
TJH: So would you said that playing MTG everywhere is the same? Were there any countries that you’ve played in that were different than what you were used to?
CC: Well in Japan everybody was super nice and respectful. I think I’ve learned a lot by playing there and I try to emulate the sportsmanship that I picked up from players there. Most of the other places I’ve visited weren’t too different from playing in the USA other than the language difference. It wouldn’t be too hard to travel to Europe or Latin America to play.
Exploring the Frontier
TJH: I’d like to change gears a little bit now and talk about something that’s near and dear to my heart: Frontier. What do you know about Frontier? What have you heard about it?
CC: I know that Frontier started in Japan and is from M15 forward, but past that I don’t really know much. I haven’t really played any games or seen any of the decks, but it definitely feels similar to how Extended was when I used to play in the mid 2000’s. It was actually one of my favorite formats. Based on that, I think it would be cool to see more Frontier support in the future, but past that I don’t really know much.
TJH: I’d like to talk a little more about Frontier with you. Like you said, you don’t really know anything about Frontier at the moment, so let me give you a little bit of a background. Hareruya has been promoting Frontier from their store for about 2 years now, and recently it has attracted a decent number of players every few weeks. It also has a diehard following online, which we do a podcast for. The decks might be similar to past standard seasons but for the most part it has become its own thing. Like you said, you were able to play extended before, so you can kind of get a feel for the size of the card pool. So what I’m wondering is if you think Frontier could become a Grand Prix format in the future. Would you like to see a new format happen between standard and modern?
CC: I think it would be great if that happened. Pauper is another format that a lot of people have been talking about getting a GP for, and in my opinion more Magic is better I feel. I think it could serve as another alternative for people seeing as how expensive formats like Modern are. If it’s anything similar to what extended was, which was basically an extended version of standard, I think it would be great. As more sets come out over the years there’s just going to be more and more decks being built. I see no reason as to why it can’t become a good format.
TJH: What do you think some of the benefits of having a new format would be? How would it impact MTG as a whole? What kind of things would a new format change?
CC: I think that a clear benefit would be that players would want to invest more in standard. One of the things standard has suffered from recently is the fact that people really don’t want to spend money constantly on cards that are just going to be unplayable in a little over a year, which is why a lot of people play Modern and why it’s become such a popular format. It’s an eternal format, so basically your cards are going to be good forever. I think that it would be nice to have a format like that can serve as more of a cost effective format to players who really can’t get into Modern which has a high barrier of entry, cost wise. But as I said it would get people to invest more in Standard which still has a lot of support but also at the same time once those cards rotate out you’d still have use for them, like your Siege Rhinos or your Gideon, Ally of Zendikars. I think overall it would be a good thing for Magic.
TJH: If Frontier is eventually sanctioned by Wizards and becomes a real format, how do you think it should be promoted or marketed to players?
CC: I’m not much of a promoter so it’s kind of hard for me to say, so I guess I would say it’s a good chance to dust off your old standard cards and let’s play some more cool games of Magic. Grand Prix are really the best way for Wizards to market any kind of format, basically because they are these giant Magic festivals now, which is honestly even more of a reason to have Frontier in the mix because when you go to a Grand Prix now you have Commander, Old School, Vintage, drafts, chaos drafts, etc. Throwing another format into the mix would be cool.
TJH: As a pro you’re at the top of your game right now, and you know a lot of other professional players. Do you think that pros would welcome a new MTG format?
CC: Personally speaking, I don’t really see why anybody would be against having a new format. At the end of the day it’s all just Magic, and in any given format you have to figure out how to best combine the cards in a way you think is the most broken thing you can do. I really don’t see why it wouldn’t be welcomed. I guess one reason might be because it’s different, it’s new, and we don’t know what’s going on, but that’s why Magic is fun. Let’s just all play Magic.
TJH: Last question. Frontier is from M15 onwards, and I know you’ve played a lot of standard over the years, so from M15 to now, what were your favorite cards?
CC: From M15 to now? Definitely Thraben Inspector. That card is very good. Torrential Gearhulk was another good one. I really liked that card. It’s funny, I’ve always been kind of a control person at heart, but over recent years I’ve been more of an aggro leaning player. Zurgo Bellstriker is another card I like, and some people might think that Siege Rhino is one of my favorite cards but it wasn’t one of the most fun cards to play against.
TJH: Let me ask you another question then. If you were to build a Frontier deck, which cards would you like to use or which archetype would you like play?
CC: I would love to just play UW Flash again. That was one of the best decks. I had a good time playing it at Pro Tour Kaladesh. Spell Queller, Smuggler’s Copter, Thraben Inspector, Selfless Spirit, Archangel Avacyn, Walking Ballista now . . . actually now that I start to think about it . . . now you’re making me want to brew a deck! I know spirits have become more popular, and you have some nice spirits in this format. The recent phantom lord that came out, Supreme Phantom, and there’s also the pirate from M19 for 2 mana. That card is also pretty good. Now I wish they’d just make it a format, that way I can play it on Magic Online.
The Japan Hobbyist: Well thank you again for letting me interview you. I’m happy to have you on here. Hopefully next time you visit Japan we can a little bit more Frontier!
Christian Calcano: Thanks for having me. That would be great.
After spending a few hours hanging out with Christian in Tokyo, I felt like I had gotten to know him rather well. He’s a great person to chill with and great ambassador for the game of Magic the Gathering. He’s also had some interesting experiences while traveling around the globe and some funny stories to tell. I can’t thank him enough for taking the time out of his trip to Japan to let me interview him. I wish him the best of luck in the future and hope to see him again next time he visits Japan!