PQB Interview: Randy Buehler

Randy Buehler is a former professional Magic: the Gathering player. His induction into Magic‘s Pro Tour Hall of Fame cemented his legacy as one of the game’s greatest players. Following his playing career, he joined Wizards of the Coast to help create and grow the game, and he eventually became Magic‘s head developer. He later served as the director of R&D at Wizards, as well as the Vice President of Digital Gaming. More recently, he has remained a leader in the Magic community as a tournament broadcaster and as the driving force behind the Vintage Super League, an online competition for the game’s top players.

Before his career in Magic, he was a successful quiz bowl player in both high school and college. During the latter of those, he started the ABC tournament at Vanderbilt, one of the longest-running tournaments in the country. Play Quiz Bowl spoke with Randy about his history with quiz bowl and how it helped pave the way for his future endeavors.

Play Quiz Bowl – How did you get involved in quiz bowl?

Randy Buehler – I started playing in 8th grade when the high school coach started trying to recruit new players for the next year’s season. I like competition and I like academics, so I jumped at the chance and played from then through grad school (which worked out to be about 12 years)

PQB – Tell us a bit about your playing career – where did you play? What were some of your career highlights?

RB – My high school team qualified for a Nationals tournament, which was pretty unheard of for a team from up in the mountains of East Tennessee. I went to Vanderbilt for undergrad, and we were decent. We were in a pretty tough CBI region, which we usually lost to Virginia, but we won Penn Bowl one year in the early 90’s and we were Top 10-ish at ACF Nationals. I went to Minnesota for grad school, which always won its CBI Regional, but I was never the best grad student so I contented myself with racking up stats for B and C teams at assorted tournaments. Plus I dragged the team to an ACF Nationals where it did well.

My real highlights, though, came from running the program at Vanderbilt. I started a high school tournament to raise money, and it quickly became quite huge. We also ran a tournament for other colleges, which pretty much everybody did, and we started up a “trash” tournament, which was just becoming a thing to do back then. Winning Penn Bowl was nice, as was flying to Stanford and placing in the top couple at their annual tournament, but the part I remember the most (and am the most proud of) was running the high school “ABC” tournament that we used to fund all those other trips.

PQB – You mentioned that you helped create Vanderbilt’s ABC tournament, which is still operating successfully today. What are your fondest memories of the early years of that event?

RB – Just how big it got, and how empowering it felt to create something like that from scratch. I especially remember checking the mail every day before ABC 1 and then especially before ABC 2. Our mailing list had like 800 high schools on it by ABC 2 and they just kept saying “yes”! I guess the year there was a blizzard during ABC was memorable too, but it’s really the discovery of how many people wanted to come (and then rising to the challenge of making it all a reality) that I look back on most often.

PQB – That’s great! What was your favorite thing about playing quiz bowl?

RB – I enjoy just about anything competitive, but I was never an athlete so this was as close to sports as I could get.

PQB – During your quiz bowl days, did you encounter any players who have gone on to make a name for themselves?

RB – I recognize names on Jeopardy from time to time (including Ken Jennings).

PQB – You’ve had remarkable success with Magic, as both a player and as a developer for the game. What skills from your quiz bowl days helped you in those endeavors?

RB – It’s a quite similar social scene: you have these friends that you mostly talk to through the internet, but then periodically you all descend upon some location for a tournament and compete against each other. In between you playtest and spend all the time you can trying to improve your chances of winning at the next big event.

It was actually my quiz bowl friends who first introduced me to Magic. We used to gather at Charlie Steinhice’s in-laws’ orchard for a tournament of sorts each summer (the Cider House Rules, of course). I saw folks playing what I now know was a multiplayer free-for-all game around the kitchen table in 1995, asked what it was, and by the end of the weekend they send me off to face the world with an all-commons deck made mostly out of Fallen Empires cards and 4th Edition cards. (The key “combo” was Pestilence plus Circle of Protection Black, and pro-black creatures.)

PQB – When working for Wizards of the Coast, did you ever find yourself making use of something you learned as a quiz bowl player – either an interesting fact, or some other aspect of the game?

RB – I definitely used the organizational skills, plus the organized play experience.

We’d like to thank Randy for his time and for his lasting effect on the game of quiz bowl. Stay tuned for our next feature in a couple of weeks!

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