This handsome man is Sir Frederick Banting, co-discoverer of insulin.
Banting was decorated for bravery during WWI when, as a medic in the Canadian Army, he was injured but refused to be evacuated & instead continued taking care of wounded soldiers.
After the war, he was a pharmacology professor at the University of Toronto, and in 1923 he & his assistant, Charles Best discovered that insulin could control diabetes. Banting was awarded the Nobel Prize for medicine. He split the prize money with Best, who was not even nominated for the award.
During WWII he worked with the Royal Canadian Air Force, looking at the medical issues of pilots at high altitude. He was killed in a plane crash in Newfoundland in 1941, on his way to England to begin tests on a new type of flight suit.
Banting was a total Renaissance Man - he hung with the Group of Seven & enjoyed painting & sketching in his spare time.
Plus, I dare you not to get lost in those eyes. Sigh.
I’ll be rolling out these Magic stories over the next few days. This morning, it’s time for Slave of Bolas!
I’ve had fun relating the cards I’ve been given to stories, so let’s see here… Well, Slave of Bolas is from Shards of Alara block - and boy, do I have a story that ties into that format.
The year is 2009. (Five years ago - which is kind of crazy to say!) My trusty Spellstutter Sprites - the same set which would eventually qualify me for 4 different Pro Tours is 4 different formats - had just led me to a top 16 finish at Grand Prix Los Angeles. And just like that, I was off to the Pro Tour!
And where better to go to the Pro Tour than HAWAII?
This was the second Pro Tour Hawaii, and after hearing all of the awesome stories from the first I couldn’t wait to head there.
After skipping the first Pro Tour I qualified for, the first Pro Tour I actually played in, Pro Tour Berlin, hadn’t gone so well - I was one win out of making day 2. But this time was going to be different. I spent every day for weeks testing for this Pro Tour, determined to crack the format.
The problem was that the format was Shards of Alara Block Constructed, which was, in the opinion of me and many of the players, one of the worst Block Constructed formats of all time. It very quickly became apparent that it was defined by the cascade cards in Alara Reborn, and a huge majority of the decks were just Jund variants.
Did you want to play Jund? Well, welcome to a million mirror matches. Of course, you could try and get an advantage by splashing white for Enlisted Wurm and trying to cast “Enlisted Ultimatum” - the ‘ol Enlisted Wurm cascading into Bituminous Blast, cascading into Bloodbraid Elf, cascading into Blightning. If you were really going rogue, you could try playing more white sources and Elspeth.
I tried to make several different non-Jund centric decks work - Naya, Bant, control - but it was pretty clear by the end of it that Jund was just the best. (The one deck I didn’t get to, but wished I would have, was the Esper deck that Kibler and his team played - but I digress.)
I wasn’t able to fly into Hawaii early to test because of college - though fortunately, my teachers are very cool about me missing a couple days in the middle of finals for me to head to Hawaii. I even have the following conversation with one of my teachers:
“So, uh, Brandon, I’m not going to be here Wednesday, Thursday or Friday. Can I make up the test and class somehow?”
“Hmm… What are you doing anyway?”
“Well, I qualified for a Magic: the Gathering Pro Tour in Hawaii, and so I’m going to go play for $40,000 and it’s really important that I go an -”
“No way! You play professional Magic? That’s awesome! Go play, man. We’ll figure out your test when you get back. I’ll be watching the coverage at home!”
Yeah, some of my teachers were basically the best.
After weeks of testing to no avail, I finally fly into Hawaii. I have a Jund with white deck that’s okay - but I have a “plan” to use the tried and true method of “talk to people at the player meeting and see if anybody has a better deck to switch into.”
There’s only one problem. I get to the player meeting, and at first everything is going okay. But then, about a quarter of the way through, I start getting a sore throat. And then, that turns into coughing.
It quickly escalates to me standing over a garbage can, holding my chest.
To quote my testing partner Max McCall: “I have bad news. It looks like you’re going to die.”
I tell all of my teammates through raspy breaths that there’s just no way I can stay at the player meeting. I have to go back to my hotel and rest, or I have no chance of playing in the morning. I’ll just play whatever deck they tell me to - have a sleeved copy ready in the morning and I’ll play.
I think about what I might have, and I’m convinced I have mono. I had just started dating my then-girlfriend (we would end up dating for 4 years) a few weeks before I left, and all of the symptoms lined up. Mono is one thing I had never wanted to pick up because of all the horror stories I had heard and here I was.
The night before a Pro tour.
It was nightmare situation.
I go back to my hotel room and have one of the worst, least restful nights of my life. I barely sleep at all, I feel horrible the whole night, and I’m constantly up to use the bathroom.
Finally, the morning hits. And while I’m feeling at about 15% of my normal self, I am NOT missing this Pro Tour.
So I get up, practically drug myself into a haze on medicine, and head to the site.
I get there, and as my teammates promised, they have a deck ready for me. (I appreciate my Magic friends so much! You guys are awesome.) Barely conscious and unable to talk, I started playing.
I’ll spare you all the gory details, but the short version is that, predictably, I make a ton of play errors, do horribly, don’t make day 2, and leave the site to rest up.
I remain pretty much feeling horrible for the rest of the trip. After a day of rest Sunday is a little better, so I go back to the site and interact with some people, but I’m still feeling pretty awful.
Eventually, everything settles and I head back to Seattle.
I’m still feeling bad, once I get back, and so I go into the doctor’s office to get the inevitable mono diagnosis.
They take all the requisite samples. I wait for a while. And eventually I hear back:
“I’m sorry sir but… we’ve diagnosed you with swine flu. Please, take care to quarantine yourself.”
I didn’t have mono. I had the then-brand new swine flu. The “only a handful of cases in America” horrible thing the news had been talking so much about.
That would explain a lot.
I go home, continue to rest up, and eventually feel better. I don’t think much about it.
About three weeks later, I receive an e-mail that went out to everybody at the Pro Tour from Scott Larabee. It said something akin to this:
“In the weeks after Pro Tour Honolulu, several of our players have reported picking up Swine Flu. It only takes one person for an outbreak to occur, and we’d like to remind all participants of Magic tournaments to be careful to not play while they may have conditions, lest they affect other players.”
I had inadvertently (at least in part) caused an outbreak of swine flu among pros.
Oops. My bad.
What better way to spread an illness than to give it to a group of people who travel all over the world and handle cards?