Taking Skills Beyond the Classroom

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Computer Science Major Wins Big on Game Circut

Greg Orange faces down MTG pro Ivan Floch
Greg Orange faces Slovakian M:TG pro Ivan Floch at Pro Tour Khans of Tarkir in Honolulu, Hawaii

Some may not consider a card game to be serious business. Odds are, those people haven’t met computer science major Greg Orange, who returned from an October trip to Hawaii $5,000 wealthier thanks to his skill at Magic: The Gathering — and a good bit of luck. Overall, the hobby has been profitable for Orange, whose years of playing have netted him two trips overseas, thousands in cash prizes, and the chance to meet pro players from across the globe.

Champion of a World-Famous Game

Magic: the Gathering (Magic) is a 21-year-old strategy card game that has attained popularity on a global scale. The game can be played in multiple ways, with tournament-legal formats allowing cards from different ages of the game to be played side-by-side. Typically, Magic is played between two people with 60-card decks. Each player has a 20-point ‘life total,’. This is damaged through the abilities of cards played by their opponents, and when your opponent reaches zero life, you win the game.

Practical Skills

Orange has been playing Magic for over 10 years. The game employs many of the same skills he uses as a student; knowledge of statistics, planning logic, strategy, and patience. "Patience gained during hours of trial and error while working on computer science projects comes in handy while testing and brewing (creating) new decks," Orange said. "It is similar in a way — changing small elements here and there to see what it does to the whole."

The Road to the Top

At the end of the 2013-2014 school year, Orange attended Grand Prix Minneapolis. Grand Prix tournaments are the largest in the game, with typical participant turnouts in the hundreds or sometimes thousands. Orange’s win-loss record placed him within the top eight players of the tournament, which netted him a cash prize and an invitation to join the Pro Tour (PT) in Portland later that year.

Greg Orange ponders his moves during a match at Grand Prix Minneapolis  
Greg Orange considers his options  

Orange put up a strong showing at Pro Tour Portland, placing 18th against a field of seasoned professionals. His performance earned him another PT invitation. Orange, still in pursuit of a Pro Tour top eight and a professional magic career, was headed to the next tournament. It was held this October in Honolulu, Hawaii.

Preparation Makes Perfect

Orange went into the biggest tournament of his career with low expectations. “All I was hoping for was to do well enough for another invite to the next PT event,” Orange said. "This was the first to make use of a new set of cards, which would change how the game was played. I would have to make an entirely new deck, and I couldn't be sure that the direction I was taking was the right one."

As the event grew closer, Orange trained intensely, spending evenings at a local card and game store training against the decks likely to make up the new metagame. To win in Honolulu, Orange had to think ahead of the curve. “It seemed likely that there were going to be a lot of midrange decks, so I needed to build something that worked well against them,” Orange said. "It was a bit of a gamble, as super-fast decks had the potential to just push me over."

In Honolulu, Orange’s diligence and foresight in testing paid off. His judgement of the new metagame proved to be correct, and his deck was perfectly suited to stave off a field of aggressive midrange decks. He finished the tournament in ninth place, one round-win short of the top eight he’d worked for. “I’m just happy to keep it rolling, being invited to the next PT,” Orange said. “I’ll get one eventually; I just have to keep running it back.”

While not the triumphant display he'd hoped for, Orange still came out ahead, winning $5,000 and a ticket to the next Pro Tour event, February 6-8, 2015 in Washington D.C. “This time, if I do well enough, I will gain an automatic invite to all Pro Tour events for a year," he said. "It’d be nice; I wouldn’t have to worry earning my way back into another PT for a while." Despite the recent hot streak, Orange isn't quitting his day job; he will continue as a UMD student pursuing a computer science degree.

Written by Zach Lunderberg. November, 2014.

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Cheryl Reitan, creitan@d.umn.edu

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