The Hypnotic Specter That Saved My Life

By Christopher B.

“It’s cancer in an advanced stage,” the doctor told me on a Friday afternoon in a hospital far away from home. “Be glad that we found it now—in a few weeks it might have been too late. On Monday morning, we will start with the chemotherapy. Please sign these papers…”

BAM, that hit hard.

Actually, 2010 should have been my year. I was finally living in a new apartment—even the garden was set out. I had just started my dream job and worked for the biggest employer in my hometown. In addition to my job, I had been attending university on Saturdays for the last few years and had just finished my studies. But in a matter of seconds, I fell into a deep black hole.

Today, three years after my treatment is over, I want to share my personal Magic: The Gathering story with you.


I started playing Magic in 1995 at the age of 11. My first deck was a Fourth Edition Starter Set. The deck itself was pretty annoying and had bad cards in it, so I was looking forward to improving it. Back in the days without internet or earning money from a job, the only chance to get new cards was to trade with friends at school or check the crapbox at my LGS, where people threw in all the cards they didn’t need.


Buying booster packs was really expensive as a kid, but sometimes my friends and I would all throw in on a booster pack to split. We would roll a die to determine who got to choose a card first, then went around in a circle. I always chose the red cards, especially goblins. So it is no wonder that my first self-designed deck was a mono-red goblins list with some [card]Goblin Grenade[/card]s, [card]Lightning Bolt[/card]s, [card]Incinerate[/card]s, and [card]Blood Lust[/card]s.

Mostly, we played before and in between classes at school, or at home in the attic of my parent’s gardenhouse. Even today, you can see the name of every child that went into that attic, written down on the wooden beam. Up there, we sat cross-legged on the ground and played the game. We didn’t care much about the rules. We just played.

Sometimes we had problems with English cards (I’m German). On the one hand, our English skills improved by playing Magic (and also by playing computer games in English in general). On the other hand, there was always something we didn’t understand. I don’t know why, but our LGS didn’t have many German cards. So for example, among my group of friends, [card]Force of Will[/card] was a bad card. After all, it was a counterspell for five mana and you had to pay one life in addition—the problem was that we didn’t knew the word “instead.” The more words were written on a card, the more mistakes we could make. Maybe that’s one reason I liked goblins.

There was always one card that I wanted to have and never got: [card]Hypnotic Specter[/card]. Though I played mostly red, [card]Hypnotic Specter[/card] caught my attention at school. There was this one guy with a mono-black list I just couldn’t win against. I thought that deck, especially that particular card, was so unfair. For me, it was unreal.


Coming back to the bad card availability in the old days: it was hard to get playable rares because everyone played them in their own decks. I can’t remember someone having more than two rares of the same card in one deck. So it was impossible for me to trade for a [card]Hypnotic Specter[/card].

So we played against each other with our bad decks and only went to the LGS to trade or buy new cards. With Urza’s Legacy in 1999, my interest in Magic drifted away. One reason was that I didn’t liked artifact cards and the Urza’s block was really artifact-heavy. Also, foil cards were introduced. For me, this gave a kind of childish touch to the game and I was quickly becoming a teenager. While the people at the LGS and some friends loved the new set, I lost my interest in Magic.

Maybe if I had seen [card]Unearth[/card] from Urza’s Legacy I would have stayed in the game, especially if I could have picked up a [card]Hypnotic Specter[/card] to combo with it. But besides other card and board games, there were different things that caught my interest at the age of 15—for example, my first girlfriend. After six months of not playing, I sold my shoebox of cards for very little money to some guy and quit Magic after playing it for four years.



But after my diagnosis, I had much more time to myself. The treatments always were on the first, third, and seventh days of a cycle, followed by four days rest. And again. And again. And again… On the treatment days, I felt so bad that I can’t find words to describe it. I lost much weight, all my hair fell out, and my immune system was actually not existent anymore—not to mention my self-esteem. My parents had to visit me with masks, because even a little infection could have been life-threatening for me. I really had to take care what I was about to eat, and how it was prepared. I wasn’t allowed to go into the sun.

As you can imagine, with all these things, I was really alone. So I had to find something to get the time to pass by. But then there were further problems: the sound of the TV, even on quietly, was breaking my head. Because of the medicine, I didn’t have a feeling of satiety and my sleeping rhythm changed. I slept during the day and had my waking hours during the late evening.


Now that everything is over, I can’t really tell you where I got my power from to get all through this. I learned to be patient. I always knew that I would be healthy again. I never had a doubt. But I didn’t knew when, nor if I would suffer permanent damage. Of course, there were days where I was desperate and totally depressed—isolated from the world, sick to death, and weak. Even my best girl friend and my best friend turned their backs on me after 14 and eight years respectively. They just couldn’t handle the situation. Until today, I never hear anything from them, although they do both know that I survived. The only backing I had were my parents, my doctor and… Magic: The Gathering.

It all began with a [card]Hypnotic Specter[/card]. After enduring many sessions of chemotherapy, I wanted to do something good for myself. Something that I would be happy about. Something to enjoy and that would be personally meaningful. One thing I did was buy a Super Nintendo with Zelda, Mario Kart, and so on. On the internet, I was searching for that one Magic card—the one I couldn’t get when I was a kid. I ordered a [card]Hypnotic Specter[/card] and couldn’t stop smiling that day. Then I saw that Magic was still alive and so many new cards had been printed since I quit the game. And that changed everything.

So after all these years, Magic was back in my life. Imagine you quit the game in 1999 and came back in 2010. Can you even comprehend how many new cards were printed since then? I had magical Christmas land 24/7. Every day, I explored new cards that blew my mind.

How had the game changed? Black has a counterspell? What are planeswalkers? Hey this new card frame is…. pretty ugly. But hey, this cool card is only available in the new card frame, so let’s buy it. I bought every card that I was excited about. It was great to be able to buy inexpensive cards that were too pricey or hard to come by in the ’90s.



Almost every day in the first weeks after buying my Specter, I bought new cards. I was happy to have a growing collection, thinking that my cards were so powerful. It was nice to see how the game had developed in all these years. But my gaming skills were 11 years old—exactly the age I started playing Magic for the first time. So I watched games on the internet and started to learn to play again. With every new card I was excited about, I was brewing new decks. Hours… Nights… Days…

I would stay awake for long periods thinking of new brews I could build. Magic was a way to busy myself and to push all the bad things in my head away. Plus, I really had concentration problems at the time. I was very forgetful. Even if my only plan for the day was to take my medicine, I forgot it sometimes. That’s a side effect of the chemo. But with all the reading about Magic and the brewing in my head, I trained myself to be better able to concentrate.


When I finished my chemo and radiation, I went to rehab. After rehab, I finally wanted to play with my new cards. Over at the Mothership, I searched for where to play Magic in my hometown. The first deck I took to my LGS was a UB discard deck playing four [card]Hypnotic Specter[/card]s, four [card]Shadowage Infiltrator[/card]s, four [card]Hymn to Tourach[/card]s, four [card]Duress[/card]es, and so on.

Down in the cellar of the store, I finally had my first match. One random guy, now a friend of mine, immediately wanted to play against me. He noticed that I was kind of new to the game and helped me playing with game phases and steps for the first time.

“Why don’t you play some [card]Nyxathid[/card]s?” he asked. Then to the group: “Hey, does somebody have [card]Nyxathid[/card]s?”

“Yes, I have one. Here, you can keep it,” said a nice guy.

Wow, that was even faster then buying a card on the internet, I thought. 

It felt like the old times—it was just on another level. It wasn’t so easy to get fitting cards for your deck so quickly back in the ’90s. The next week, Scars of Mirrodin was spoiled. When Evan Erwin’s Magic Show #205 showed my future Standard Goblin deck, I decided to get into competitive Magic for the first time. I even got some deck tips from Patrick Chapin. He checked my decklist on Facebook and suggested adding some [card]Teetering Peak[/card]s.

In the next weeks, I attended my first FNM, and even though I didn’t made first place, I was happy for every match I was playing. Now that I was back on the Goblins deck from my childhood, I traded my draft cards into Legacy-playable goblins like [card]Goblin Lackey[/card] and [card]Goblin Ringleader[/card], intending to play Legacy someday.


I had some long-term goals in mind after my recovery: to travel to Mexico as often as possible, to learn Spanish and Salsa, to play the guitar, and to attend a Grand Prix.

As of today, I have attended GP Amsterdam in 2011, GP Strasbourg in 2013, and GP Paris in 2014. Of course, all three were Legacy GPs, and I brought with me my little red guys. I know that I’m not the best player and sometimes make disastrous mistakes, because now and then I still have those concentration problems. But for me, it’s all about having a good time.

I remember my third round at my first GP. There was this old man playing against me with a big hat on. On the front side of his hat there was a goblin token. I looked at it while shuffling for the first game and he said “spoiler alert” and made a crazy face. The whole table was laughing.

It’s for these moments that I go to GPs. You get to travel, speak other languages, and meet people from all over the world. I spoke to Rich Hagon, Nathan Holt, and Gerry Thompson. I watched Tomoharu Saito, Joel Larrsson, Jacob Wilson, Raphael Levy, Thomas Enevoldsen, and Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa play—guys I normally watch playing on the screen at home. Looked through binders for hours to finally find a new-old card for my collection. At GP Paris, I didn’t want to play in day two and instead went to the opening of the Star Wars Museum. For me, it’s not about winning. It’s just spending some time with a thing that you love and bringing back good memories.


For me, Magic is more than just a game. With this article I want to give the game something back to the game that has given so much to me. Thank you all for making this game what it is. If you ever find yourself in a similar situation to where I found myself, this article is for you. Besides your close friends and family, find something that you can hold onto—something that was there all the time but that maybe you forgot about. Something out there can be your own personal [card]Hypnotic Specter[/card].

About the Author
This is Brainstorm Brewery's catch-all account for guest writers.

5 comments on The Hypnotic Specter That Saved My Life