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Published August 27 2010

Morast: Fargo man has ‘Magic’ lifestyle

In Fargo, Brad Nelson is just another guy carrying a common last name and living in an apartment with his girlfriend.

Pretty ordinary.

But to pockets of people around the world the 24-year-old is a rock star.

His mere presence causes people to buzz with excitement. He’s interviewed by media folks who can’t wait for his insight on unimportant things. And he’s paid thousands of dollars to make appearances at events around the globe that he’s flown to for free.

Pretty extraordinary.

It’s all because Nelson has supreme skill at a game that’s often ridiculed as “basement entertainment for nerds.”

You see, Nelson plays the fantasy-flavored strategy card game “Magic: The Gathering.” And he plays it so well that the Mandan, N.D., native is afforded a lifestyle that we cubicle zombies only dream about.

He doesn’t have a 9-to-5 job. He travels the United States and world every few weeks to play in professional “Magic” tournaments. And he makes real money doing exactly what he loves.

He’s living the dream.

“It’s a pretty magical career,” Nelson says, pun intended.

At this point it feels necessary to clarify that Nelson doesn’t pull rabbits out of hats or make coins disappear behind people’s ears. “Magic: The Gathering” has nothing to do with that kind of “magic.”

Rather, the game that was invented by a mathematician in 1993 requires players to “battle” with a set of random card characters assigned various traits. It’s just that the card characters look like something a “Dungeons & Dragons” geek would create.

Because of that motif the game has been plagued by stereotypes like it’s played by pimply virgins who never leave their homes or “Magic” tournaments come with clouds of body odor.

“That’s actually true; there are the smelly people,” Nelson says. “I call it ‘gamer funk.’ ”

But he says there’s also the full spectrum of personality profiles in his world, from jocks and husbands with families to jerks and weirdos.

And the rock stars, like Nelson.

Nelson reached the elite of “Magic” after building a reputation as a skilled online player who used the tag “FFfreak.” He eventually segued to his first “Magic” tournament outside the Internet, where his online reputation gave him instant celebrity status.

“It was really weird,” Nelson says. “I felt like I was the new kid, but I was getting the lights and cameras.”

That was last year. He’s since won the largest “Magic” tournament in U.S. history and found himself among the 30 to 40 people on the planet who can play the game without having a “real” job. Another one in that select club is his brother, Corey Baumeister of Mandan.

“I can make a living off it, but it’s a lifestyle more than a job,” Nelson says.

A tough lifestyle. In a few weeks he’ll fly to Amsterdam for a tournament. And later this year the lifestyle will take him to Chiba, Japan, for the “Magic” world championship tournaments. In Japan he’ll be at the table in a select tournament with a $25,000 prize. Even better, he’ll be guaranteed $4,000 just for being part of it.

Rock star stuff.

“It’s a crazy lifestyle,” Nelson says. “But not something I’d want to do long-term.”

Really? That sounds crazy. But maybe after living like a rock star around the globe Nelson’s “ordinary” Fargo life becomes more appealing.

It’s something most of us will never know.

Readers can reach Forum Features Editor Robert Morast at (701) 241-5518 or rmorast@forumcomm.com