Meet the Pros: Kai Budde, The Juggernaut
Kai Budde (born October 28, 1979), is a former professional Magic: The Gathering player, who holds the record for Pro Tour victories, and for a long time held the records for earnings and lifetime Pro Points. His performances earned him the nicknames “The (German) Juggernaut” and “King of the Grand Prix”. Kai left the game in late 2004 to focus on his studies, and his appearances in tournaments are less frequent than in earlier years. Budde is widely considered to be one of the all-time greatest Magic: The Gathering players.Wikipedia.org
||The German Juggernaut
||October 28th, 1979
|Pro Tour debut
||Pro Tour Mainz 1997
||$383,220 (as of 2017-08-23)
|Pro Tour top 8s
||10 (7 wins)
|Grand Prix top 8s
||15 (7 wins)
|Median Pro Tour Finish
|Pro Tours Played
|Lifetime Pro Points
||562 (as of 2017-11-28)
Andreas: Browsing through your resume on Wikipedia, it is nothing short of amazing how many tournaments you actually managed to win. Even top 8’ing that amount of tournaments would cement you as an all time great, but talk about the psychological aspect of going for the trophy rather than being content with a top 8 finish.
Andreas: I want to know how you prepared for big tournaments back in your prime. Please tell us about the testing proces, the lack of information on the internet compared to today and introduce the “Phoenix Foundation” for all the newcomers.
Kai: “This sounds a bit like a fairy tale today – but when I started to play in tournaments there was no internet. Newsgroups were the first step, but most people didn’t have access to that. The network those were running on was mostly universities connected to each other and they weren’t much more than message boards. I guess a very early version of Reddit.
All I had at home was an early mac – one of these cubes. But my father is a computer scientist working for a research facility. They had a satellite connection and when I didn’t have classes, I went there quite often. That was the best source of information – and that’s absolutely nothing compared to what everyone has available on their phone. But things took off pretty quickly. The first huge website was The Magic Dojo and launched around 1995. That hosted tournament reports and decklists. That helped somewhat but it was still quite delayed. Some tournament organizers posted top 8 decklists but most of the articles were tournament reports that came up days or weeks after the event. Decklists outside of the top 8 were very rarely available.
Screenshot of the non-profit archive of the Dojo
And the huge difference was that Magic Online did not exist. While you could play on other clients like Apprentice or even draft on NetDraft, it was essential to have a local network. Most of the last few generations of top players are home schooled through Magic Online. There are a few extreme cases like Shaun McLaren who quite often chooses to not have a testing team for a Pro Tour. Someone like that was almost impossible to exist in the pre-Magic Online era. Think about it – if you were a guy living in a small city somewhere in the US and managed to win a PTQ, who would you test with? You only had your buddies from the local store, which most likely weren’t qualified for the Pro Tour and understandably not all that enthusiastic about it.
Pure nostalgia: The Apprentice Interface
In the pre-Magic Online era it was very important to have a strong pool of players in your area. Early on there was a strong group from California, Weissman, Hacker, Frayman. Don’t shoot me if I get some stuff wrong here, that was also before my time. Then Brian David-Marshall started to push the tournament scene in New York through the events he ran at Neutral Ground. Jon Finkel, Zvi, Steve & Dan OMS and many others learned their trade there.
The same thing was true for Europe. A small university city in the woods in Northern Sweden produced a lot of very strong players, Anton Jonsson, Jens Thoren, Johan Sadegphour. It is just incredibly difficult to get better if you don’t have good people around you. I got very lucky in that regard as I grew up in Cologne and back then that had a very strong magic scene, including one of the early Pro Tour winners, Frank Adler. Those guys taught me how to play and that’s also how team for team Pro Tours formed. Dirk Baberowsi moved to Cologne to do his year of civil service and Marco Blume to study. Marco went back to Hamburg around 1999, Dirk also moved back to Northern Germany and I followed suit and moved to Hamburg. The local scene there was again super strong. Multiple people had Pro Tour top 8s and were qualified for most Pro Tours.
While I was finishing school in Cologne and later during University in Hamburg, I was playing a lot of magic. A lot of it was playing both decks myself. Otherwise with Dirk, Marco and a few other guys. It’s still a lot less than what today’s Magic pros clock in – but without Magic Online available you just couldn’t play at any time of the day. I assume I played more than most other pros of that generation.
We had a few testing houses like most pro teams do today, but that only happened a handful of times. Dirk and me were hanging out a lot, both playing magic and football. Dirk had the first score on the Pro Tour, winning in Chicago in 1998, which was the first Pro Tour of that season. I finished 19th in that event. That was the first Pro Tour we prepared together for.
|Pro Player of the Year
|| Kai Budde
|Rookie of the Year
|| Dirk Baberowski
|| Kai Budde
|Start of season
||5 September 1998
|End of season
||8 August 1999
Going in we thought we need to get lucky to win some money as the American magic scene just seemed so much stronger from afar. But that tournament showed us that we could easily compete. We started to go to European Grand Prixs afterwards and that kicked off an unreal run for me, which ended in winning the World Championship and Player of the Year.
After that Dirk and me both played professionally for the next few years. When the team Pro Tour was launched, we actually played the first event with Andre Konstanczer but Andrew lived in the south and lost interest in pro magic soon after. With both Dirk and me now living in Northern Germany and being very good friends with Marco, it was a pretty easy decision who to team up with for the next team events.”
Hall of Fame Class of 2007: Kai Budde
Kai’s friend and teammate, Dirk Baberowski
Andreas: How much Magic does Kai Budde play on an average calendar year? Everything from a pre-release to MTGO drafts to various Pro Tours.
Kai: “To be honest, I am not playing all that much magic these days. I work in sports betting, which means during the football (feet kicking a ball, not hands throwing an egg) season it’s not easy to take weekends off. I usually play in one or two Pro Tours per year and one (team) Grand Prix. I haven’t played a physical Prerelease in quite a long time due to work constraints. After moving back to Europe this summer, I’ve played a FNM here and there. But most of my magic playing is just on MTGO – it’s just convenient. I still follow tournament magic, but I don’t think I’d want to play full time again. At least not while having a regular job. The whole traveling didn’t both me while I was playing magic full time – but now it does.
Taking a week of vacation to then spend 50 hours between airplanes and airports … I always have a lot of fun while I am at the tournaments. But whenever I am sitting in an airplane, I ask myself why exactly I’m doing this.”
Most of the readers will know that you won a tournament called the “Magic Invitational” and that you got to help design your own card after winning the event. How do you think the community would welcome a yearly Invitational tournament?
Kai: “The invitational was an invite-only (duh) round robin tournament with I think 16 players. It was something like last season’s Pro Tour winners, Player of the Year, World Champion, DCI rating and then some people got voted in through one of the bigger magic magazines. My first invite was a vote actually.
Everyone submitted a self-designed card before the event starts. Typically this was just a competition to design something outrageous. The one I turned in was:
Note: Card name “Juggernaut’s Presence” and card frame by @Peer_Rich using MTGCardsmith.com. Card design by Kai Budde. Illustration by: © Dan Frazier
Now after winning the event Wizards of the Coast unfortunately I can’t talk with you about the design because future sets have information they don’t want to reveal. For example my eventual card had the morph ability, which didn’t exist before this set. It would’ve been nice to have a slightly stronger card, but having a card in the first place is super cool.
I’ve always wondered why Wizards of the Coast stopped doing that. Seemed like both pros and casual players liked that whole thing. My guess is that they are afraid someone ‘wins’ a card that later gets banned or somehow else picks up a bad reputation and it reflects negatively on the game? I wouldn’t know really, I loved the whole thing and it’s sad that it was discontinued, but they’ll have their reasons.”
What are the top 3 formats you have ever top 8’ed a big tournament in, and what made them so great?
Kai: “I think I’ve spread out my top 8s throughout almost all formats. Standard, Extended (the old Modern, I suppose), Booster Draft, Rochester Draft, Team Limited. My favorite format by far is Team Rochester Draft. It’s always tough to say how a format like that would evolve with today’s sets and players being much better in general – but back when it was played it was the format that you could have the biggest edge in if you were well prepared. My guess is that it was played so little that people just weren’t prepared as well as for a format like Standard for example.
After that Iike Pro Tour playing various versions of Illusions/Donate in Extended tournaments and that deck does about everything I want in a magic deck. It is a 2-card-combo deck but can easily win games as a control deck and the card draw plus library manipulation was extremely strong.
Next in line would be regular eight player Rochester Draft. Although I’m again not quite sure that format would stand the test of time.
The problem with regular Rochester is that you have full information of what your neighbors are doing and if everyone is good, you just distribute the cards after a few packs because you never want to fight with someone over a color. So the best you can do is settle into colors quickly and not hate draft. Fortunately that’s not how it went down 15 years ago and the drafts were actually pretty interesting.”
Andreas: Name a few players that you either love playing with, watch play or talk to about Magic and why that is.
Kai: “The best entertainer these days is LSV. I must admit at times I am a little over-punned, but if I had to choose one twitch stream and lock that in for the next year or two – it’s Luis’. Otherwise I am frequently watching Gabriel Nassif and Joel Larsson.
For playtesting purposes I’m always having a lot of fun playing with Ben Rubin. He’s always trying to come up with new stuff and that’s refreshing. Unfortunately it’s sometimes up to a point that he doesn’t play the obviously good deck because he wants to play sometimes ‘fresh’ too desperately. But that’s a very common problem with magic players.
When it comes to tournament coverage I’m mostly interested to watch people I know. Especially limited coverage just isn’t that interesting if I am not somewhat personally invested. That’s part of the general problem magic has as a spectator event/sports. Too many games are decided by one player hitting his curve and the other guy missing a land drop. The Pro Tour coverage improved hugely, but even the best commentators can’t make a game interesting where one guy plays cards and the other doesn’t. Games like Hearthstone have a huge edge in that department.”
Andreas: Let’s round this interview off with a hot take. Who will win Player of the Year this season?
Kai: “Seth Manfield is quite a bit ahead and has to be the favorite at this point. There’s only one Pro Tour played though. I’d love to see William Huey Jensen win the whole thing. But given that Seth refuses to lose any games in any event he plays, that doesn’t seem all that likely.”
Andreas: I can’t thank you enough for taking part in this interview. You can share your Twitter and sponsors (if any) before I let you go.
My twitter is @kaibudde, but not that much magic-related stuff is happening there.