76: Hall of Famer Darwin Kastle on Poker, Chess, Magic, 187 and Riding Avalanches!?

Darwin Kastle has an impressive Magic record, with 8 Pro Tour top 8s – including becoming the Champion of Pro Tour Washington DC in 1999, 6 Grand Prix top 8s – including 1 win, and a win at the 1998 Invitational it’s no wonder he was inducted into the Magic: The Gathering Hall of Fame with the inaugural class in 2005. Darwin Kastle is Mr. Avalanche Riders himself and lives in Massachusetts.

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First Set

RevisedRevised

Favorite Set

Any Set With Avalanche Riders

Avalanche Riders

Favorite Card

Frenetic Efreet

What makes Magic: The Gathering fun for you?

Magic taps into different levels of strategy that have kept Darwin actively engaged with the game. He was originally drawn to Magic as it combined the skill and strategy aspects of chess along with a fantasy theme.

Most of his best friends were made through playing the game, and once he discovered tournaments Darwin became permanently hooked.

Early Challenge

Darwin encountered a major hurdle when Sealed was first introduced, and did so poorly in the format that he didn’t qualify for Nationals (despite being undefeated in Constructed).

This introduced a point in his Magic career where he realized he was going to have to master new formats in order to stay competitive. He accomplished this by attending every Sealed tournament he could, and even once managed to play a different tournament for 4 days straight in 3 different states.

Level Up Moment

The period where Darwin added Limited to his skillset stands out as a major growth spurt in his career. Another stretch of development came after the first Pro Tour, where Darwin did poorly in large part to a stagnant testing group.

His performance led to him rededicating himself to advancing his skillset, and he dove headfirst into the newly announced Booster Draft format and had ample time to prepare.

Proudest Magic Moment

Darwin’s proudest moment came when he and his two friends (and future Hall of Famers), Dave Humphreys and Rob Dougherty, won the first Team Pro Tour in DC. When the Team Draft format was first announced Darwin knew he and his friends were tailored made for the tournament.

Darwin was matched up against Jon Finkel twice and was able to take him down both times. Rob was so sick that at one point a judge found him lying beneath a table while Darwin and Dave were helping with his deck. The experience stands out as it was the first Pro Tour win for all three of them.

Kastle+Avalanche Riders

Heaviest Magic Moment

At the 2001 Pro Tour in New Orleans, Darwin was matched up against Kai Budde, playing a deck focused on reanimating giant creatures from his graveyard. Kai played a deck that had Illusions of Grandeur, which required a cumulative mana upkeep in order to maintain an extra 20 life. Darwin kept Kai on his heels turn after turn, but through a miracle play Kai passed Illusions to Darwin with Donate. Darwin was one mana short of the upkeep, lost the 20 life and died instantly.

Biggest Mistake Players Make

Darwin finds that many players don’t realize how though their competition is and what it takes to be an elite Magic player. The amount of work that needs to be put in is incredible, and you have to be in the right mental state in order to advance properly.

It can be easy to attribute a loss to luck, but the reality is that thousands of other players are vying for the crown and pouring their hearts into preparing for tournaments. Testing competitively and at tournaments can help a player progress their skills, as preparation and training are aspects of the game you have direct control over.

Deepest Thing Magic Has Taught You

In terms of playing Magic, Darwin learned that he is a completely different player when the stakes are high as opposed to playtesting. While he may be more relaxed when practicing, he feels that he is able to rise to the occasion during high pressure situations.

One of his biggest takeaways from Magic was that the skills he had developed could apply to his life outside the game. His ability to build great decks in Constructed and Limited helped him greatly as a game designer. Many of the same thought processes translated well to evaluating if a card was too good or not good enough in the games he was designing professionally.

Playtest Tips

You don’t have to be a part of Channel Fireball to have a successful team. Darwin believes forming a successful team involves finding individuals who are committed to putting in the time and effort needed. Find out what format you want to prepare for and play decks that make sense for that format. See what they all have in common and find their strengths and weaknesses. From there you can begin to innovate and create new decks.

Final Wisdom

Darwin believes that if you are going to get serious about Magic, you need to do it for the right reasons. He knows it may take a while to figure out what the right reasons are, but going to Grand Prixs solely seeking Pro Tour fame isn’t a good reason.

You should go because you love the game, you love the competition, and you love being surrounded by a large community of players that feel the same way about the game as you do.

Magic Resource

White Wizard Games 

Epic Card Game

Star Realms

Connect With Darwin Kastle

Twitter: @DarwinKastle

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