Tall, Dark, Handsome… and magical (Part One)

Do you know how it feels to go from willingly living your life on the basis of the packaging of a plastic, Japanese import superhero that turns into a Volkswagen Beetle (a stretch to begin with)… and then find out that’s not even what it says?

A man is moments.

Better, maybe, to say: a man is the sum total of a bunch of different moments; days, decisions.

We either make, or fail to make, important choices on an almost constant basis. Turn left, or turn right? Vote left, or vote right? Move in with all my chips, or hide under a soggy cardboard box in a dank alleyway, while life is passing me by?

Strong traits for success in life unsurprisingly translate into strong traits for a Magic player. As I have gotten older, I have started to take a longer, essentially passionless, look at how I have spent my time, the decisions I’ve made, and tried to contextualize them in terms of not just my everyday, but my favorite hobby.

Who can you make happy?

What is it you do that makes other people unhappy?

Why do people continue to make such low EV decisions (in Magic and in life)?

How can you avoid being a loser?

How do we know who is winning (#WINNING)?

Aside on Charlie Sheen
It is superficially easy to point at Charlie Sheen and say that he is a drug-addicted lunatic. Superfically. Easy. Both easy (come on! everyone is doing it!), and superficial (I don’t think that is a particularly accurate or useful way to look at the lord of #TIGERBLOOD. I mean, I did mention (@-mention) to him that #WARLOCK means “oath-breaker” and what he really wants to be is maybe a conjurer or prestidigitator if he is too cool to be a wizard or magician… But I didn’t get any reply.

That said – and this might color your perceptions of YT for all time – I can see where Sheen is coming from, or at least where his frustrations are coming from. I mean obviously I am nowhere near the catalysts that put the President’s prince on the road he is on today (who the hell bad-mouths his employer in a public forum? And in the way he did? … Plus I have essentially no experience with drugs); but I actually think he did a brilliant job turning a mainstream media disaster into a social media opportunity.

Sheen has embraced all different kinds of social media tools with enthusiasm and furor, re-written the language of an ever-increasing base of fans, and translated that popularity into a ton of sold-out IRL shows. From that standpoint, I don’t know that a reasonable student of the game can do much but stand up and clap. He’s like a less hot, less satisfying, less pleasant Lady Gaga.

On the other hand, Charlie has opened up the kimono on a variety of things that are issues for people who have any amount of fame or influence. Trolls… haters… Jealous wannabes; crowds and crowds of lamers and losers who provide no value (or probably revenue) to anyone. The difference is that he has chosen to actually, and loudly, confront on that front… Versus a Madonna who sulks about them quietly while pretending they don’t exist, or a Gaga who obsessively controls the conversation by revealing just enough that she can keep detractors at bay (or at least distracted).

I mean I am anti-drugs, anti-anti-Semitism, and pro-giving customers what they actually want… But from a self-realization (at least to the exclusion of self-destruction) standpoint… I think Charlie has gotten a bit of a bad rap.




Generalizations are pretty much never accurate and always lazy (other than this statement, obviously… as well as any qualifying ones… I mean, oh never mind).

End Aside.

Anyway, following are seven memorable decision points from my life – the birth of a lifelong philosophy, what it means to fall off a mountain, a reinvention, a first date, a comedy of errors, how to get over a layoff… and the best day ever). Some days were flawed, some successful, all of them ultimately etched in my memory, forever. Because, more and more, I find that modeling success – and failure – can give us shortcuts to success (and avoiding failure) in everything we do, each and every one of these has taught me a little bit (or a lot-bit) about all those things that matter in life: Being taller, being darker, being more handsome… and maybe, just maybe, becoming better at Magic: The Gathering (and all that entails).

I. March 15, 1987

I turned 11.

From about age 8 to at least this point in my life, my favorite was Transformers. I was a bit disappointed, in fact, come 1999 when I was first living in New York and I bought a VHS copy of The Return of Optimus Prime at the now-defunct Virgin Megastore in Union Square and… it sucked.

Anyway, there was a new version of Bumblebee (side note – Bumblebee is my daughter Bella’s favorite Transformer) called Goldbug. Basically in the Generation One cartoon universe Bumblebee had been badly damaged but got, I dunno, a new coat of metallic paint and was re-Christened Goldbug.

So for my birthday, amongst other loot, I received a Goldbug.

Now I don’t know how familiar you are with Generation One Transformers toys, but they all came with these little cutout cards on the back of their packaging that told you their job (Cliff Jumper and Sideswipe were Warriors, so-and-so was a Scout, Ravage was a Savage Miser, Rumble and Frenzy were I can only assume Court Jesters); and I read Goldbug’s.

My recollection was that Goldbug didn’t care what anyone else thought of him; he just went his own way. Especially going through what I was going through emotionally at the time (I met precious few ethnic kids my own age until high school; I had essentially no friends who were anything but Jewish or Roman Catholic until college; on the first day of first grade in a tiny Appalachian backwater my mother sent me [i.e. the only yellow and / or little brown kid] to school not with a backpack BUT A BAMBOO BRIEFCASE), this seemed like a pretty good way to live your life.

So that became – in tiny print on the back of a plastic toy I got for my 11th birthday – the template by which I have tried to live my life.

Granted, I have failed on countless individual occasions. Who doesn’t seek conformity at some point? But throughout high school, I was thought of by my teachers as “a non-conformist, but in a good way” and it was almost a point of pride the last week of high school when one of the most popular boys (who had at one point “gone out” with a girl I carried a torch for, for more than four years) asked me why we had grown distant over those four years of high school. I didn’t know, I had never meant to hurt him (if I had), but something about the situation felt if not good, satisfying.

How to Grow Taller:
Come on, I was 11. I was going to get taller.

How to Grow Darker:
Pretty clearly there is a tension here; there’s a line you don’t want to cross that might be analogous to an ethical line. For example I sometimes say that I have one regret, total, in my career; and that it is in 2008, when I broke Facebook the first time, I could have personally invested $1,000 (which I had handy) and made $750,000 (a pretty good return), or radically accelerated the same earnings with a paltry $30,000 (which I didn’t have handy). I consulted everyone I knew from Tom Martell (who was flabbergasted such returns could even exist, until verified by Josh Ravitz, who was working with me at the time) to Jon Becker (not just one of my best friends, but my son’s godfather as well as my tax attorney). “Generously” I had more than one Magic big timer stepping up and ready to back me (unsurprising). But it was ultimately Josh who stopped me. He said it might be the right thing to do from one standpoint (personal gain), but that I would be crossing an ethical line that I couldn’t un-cross, and he was right. Either you stab your employer in the eye for a few thousand dollars, or you use the skills you learned on the job to do the job, which is to arb up millions that you don’t actually get to enjoy. Josh is an amazing big picture thinker and pointed out I could eventually make a lot of money without doing something I would personally regret, but I would probably have to get out of the situation I was in, in order to do that.

So I basically boiled over inside but never ran the Facebook topdeck; and within one year left the only job I ever held where I can say I had essentially unlimited resources, and everyone did everything I asked yesterday…

So why was it a regret?


But I didn’t (thanks Josh).

Of course when I taught the next hire how to break Facebook, shady other VP immediately approached him to do the exact same kind of conflict-of-interest-side-deal (which I didn’t know about for years). Unfortunately everyone knows about the Facebook now, and traffic costs more than 4x what I was paying in 2008; plus consumers are harder to move, due to being used to being bombarded with intrusive messages. So 2008 is never going to happen again; but hopefully I can figure out a way to make my $750,000 some other way (thanks Josh). Thoughts on Magic articles?

Bringing it back to Goldbug, you don’t want to cross over the line between not caring what other people think about you, and not caring about other people at all (which makes you a sociopath). That’s tricky; you don’t want to get “darker” on this.

How to Get More Handsome:
Dude. THANK GOD I didn’t have to figure this out by myself.

After 20+ years of holding the memory espoused by a plastic toy’s likely off-canon packaging as the baseline of my life philosophy, I decided to see if I could research the actual text of Goldbug’s player rewards card (or whatever) so I could include it in the life-hacking collection of awesome sauce that is my upcoming book; luckily there were some scans on eBay:

Click to see the mis-remembered mis-read in all its glory.

“Realizes what others think of him isn’t nearly as important as what he thinks of himself.”


So… Apparently that isn’t what it says at all.

Do you know how it feels to go from willingly living your life on the basis of the packaging of a plastic, Japanese import superhero that turns into a Volkswagen Beetle (a stretch to begin with)… and then find out that’s not even what it says?


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#1 MTGBattlefield on 11.28.11 at 8:18 pm

Tall, Dark, Handsome… and magical (Part One)…

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