Milan Bhayana, a seventh-grader, is one of the youngest to qualify for the Pro Tour.
Magic: The Gathering has been called the most complex game ever played. According to MIT’s Technology Review, when played optimally the game is so difficult that no computer algorithm can determine the winner. Magic is a two-person strategy game which is played by over 20 million people worldwide. It is the brainchild of Richard Garfield, a mathematician, who created the game in 1993. The game was successful right from launch, but its popularity has grown exponentially in the past few years, making it a pop cultural phenomenon. It is very popular in the United States, Japan, France, Brazil, and Argentina.
Last month, Milan Bhayana, 13, became one of the youngest players ever to make it to the professional circuit. To qualify, he had to beat more than 200 opponents, all adults, over a series of 27 games played in the course of a single day. As a result of this win, he has been invited to play at the championship games in Barcelona, where he will compete for total prize money of a million dollars.
Milan, a seventh-grader at the magnet program in Takoma Park Middle School in Takoma Park, MD, learned to play the game while attending a technology summer camp when he was 9 years old. He immediately fell in love with the game and as his skill level improved, he started participating in local tournaments and often winning even though most of the other players were, at the very least, double his age. Last year, he told his parents, his dream was to become a “pro Magic player before I go to high school.” Eight months later, a full year ahead of schedule, he achieved his dream.
In a recent interview with the American Bazaar, Milan — son of entrepreneur Rohit Bhayana and journalist Chandrani Ghosh — spoke about the Pro Tour and his passion for the game, among other topics. Here are the excerpts:
Tell us about the Barcelona Pro Tour event and how you qualified for that…
The Barcelona Pro Tour is from July 25th to July 27th. There are many different ways to qualify for the Pro Tour. I qualified through a PTQ (Pro Tour Qualifier), a single elimination 9-round winner takes all tournament. The PTQ I qualified at was held at Niagara Falls, NY. There were over 200 players and luckily I managed to do really well. In Barcelona, there will be 400 players, the best in the world, all there by invitation only. All the professional participate in Pro Tour events because they have the highest prizes. In Barcelona, the winner will get $250,000, and another $750,000 of prize money will be given out.
At 13, you must be one of the youngest ever to participate in the tour.
The majority of players are in the 20 to 30 age group, and most of the professionals are also in that age group. I am one of the youngest to qualify!
What are your expectations in Barcelona?
I will work hard (to be competitive), but many people have been playing the game for 10 plus years, and every single person I play against will be extraordinarily good at the game.
Are you intimidated by the thought of going against the world’s best?
Yes, I’m a little intimidated by the thought of playing against all these amazing players that I’ve watched on TV. I am looking forward to seeing some of my favorite players like Shahar Shenhar and Reid Duke. Hopefully, I can meet them and say, “Hello.”
How are you preparing for the tour? Do you get any coaching?
I am practicing every day both at local stores and online. And I have applied to a free mentoring program, if I get it I will be coached by some of the best players in the world.
In the Washington area, where do you play?
I have a couple of stores that I visit regularly. Dice City Games in Wheaton, MD, is my favorite store. They have sponsored me. I also play online.
How many hours do you play a day?
2-3 a day, sometimes more.
Are there Indian American players in the tour? Which are the countries where the game is popular?
There aren’t a lot of Indian Americans playing Magic. The game is very popular in America and Japan.
What are the skill sets needed to be good at the game?
It’s a hidden information game — in which not all of your cards are revealed. A lot of probabilities and deductive reasoning are involved and you have to think about what your opponent will be doing.
The game can be described as “chess plus poker.” It is like poker in the way that nobody knows what card you have, so bluffing is extremely useful. It is like chess in the way that each card does a completely different thing. It’s very much a game of maximizing your cards while minimizing the effects of your opponent’s cards.
What did you find attractive about Magic when you started playing?
I think it was the immense amount of strategy that is involved that attracted me. It looked extremely fun and interesting. Once I started playing it, there was just so much to learn. It is an awesome game.
Are your parents very supportive?
My parents have been really awesome and supportive because they know that it is something I am good at and love doing. They are flying me out to all these tournaments.
Do you play any other sports?
I play tennis and do Taekwondo. I also do a bunch of after-school activates.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
Right now, I’m trying to pursue it as far as I can in middle school. I have very little homework and lots of spare time. Let us see how far I can go with it.
As far as my future in the game, I have no idea. At the moment, you have to be really good to make a living off the game. They take the top 32 players every year in the professional league.
I’m really not sure what I want to do when I grow up. There’s lots of time left, luckily. Being an entrepreneur is definitely something that I am interested in.
How many tournaments do you intend to participate this year?
I hope to play in 6-7 tournaments this year. Of course, my ability to play is determined by how many I qualify for since most of the prestigious tournaments are “invite only.” I have to be consistently playing well to stay in the big league!