This is the story of how I wound up the owner of perhaps the rarest Magic: The Gathering shoes on planet earth. If you’d like to be notified when these shoes go up for auction, send me an email here or hit me up on Twitter here. I’m putting this part of my collection up soon, so don’t miss it!
In 2009 I had transitioned from playing Magic: The Gathering professionally and writing, to writing, editing, and working as a contractor for Wizards of the Coast. I had moved to the Seattle area for a six-month internship working for the WotC web team and it was awesome. However, that was 2008 and one month after I had arrived there was the largest layoff in company history and a massive hiring freeze across both Wizards and its parent company Hasbro. You could potentially get a hire in during that time frame, but the executives would have to give it the “ok” and a web intern wasn’t going to make the cut.
What I settled into instead was traveling on contracts doing event coverage, as well as coming into the office at Wizards as an independent contractor for several months at a time. This meant, basically, that I couldn’t really play professionally because each time I worked in the office I had to spend at least 6 months on professional playing hiatus for integrity purposes. It’s a bad look for a guy who was making cards to then be playing those cards in formats he had been testing for months at a time.
So, I was writing for StarCityGames, Wizards, and my own gaming blog TheStarkingtonPost, which is now retired. That led to a certain level of what I call “nerdlebrity:” you’re not “paparazzi try to destroy your life but Coca Cola pays you millions to drink their soda” famous, but you get recognized by name in certain contexts. This had upsides and downsides. Upside? My then girlfriend, who respected what I did but also rolled her eyes when I explained the concept of nerdlebrity to our friends, being gobsmacked when a Magic player recognized me in the subway in Amsterdam while we were vacationing and ran up saying, “Oh my gosh, are you THE BILL STARK?” Downside? The first time someone ever recognized me for my writing and got excited to meet me. It should have been an awesome moment, but we were BOTH standing at a urinal in the bathrooms of Misty Mountain Games in Minneapolis. It’s awkward to decline a handshake, but ho boy is that magnified about 1,000 times when you’re declining it for the reason “BOTH OF US ARE STANDING AT A URINAL DOING WHAT YOU DO AT URINALS.”
It was a mixed bag, but in 2009 Wizards reached out for an upside opportunity for my “nerdlebritè:” being a judge in a contest they were hosting. They had partnered with an independent shoe company, now defunct, named RYZ Footware. It was a volunteer effort, but any press is good press and the judges were rewarded with a pair of shoes from the final selection.
Here’s how the contest worked: users submitted shoe designs based on the RYZ template. Those designs where whittled down by the judges, and then designs were voted on by users. The final winners would be based on popular votes as well as a design done by one of the judges themselves. Winners from the contest got a copy of the shoes, $1,000, and an uncut sheet of Magic cards.
There wasn’t a ton of work involved on the judge side. I recall reviewing some designs and talking over which ones we liked. The other two judges included Jeremy Jarvis, who would become the art/design/creative stuff grand poobah by the time I retired from Wizards, and Todd Alan Breland who would be the designer making the judge shoes. Pardon the pun, but those are big shoes to fill on the design side as a Magic pro/writer/game designer. Still, the creativity of the Magic audience knows no bounds and we got to see SO MANY cool designs. You can see a bunch of them here, as well as the accolades about the judges.
Ultimately about 5 designs were produced in a limited run of 100 pairs each. As a judge I was awarded a pair of the “Gravestorm RYZing” shoes inspired by the Gravestorm card from Odyssey. The judge pairs came in the RYZ shoe bag, but not the box with limited edition numbering on the outside. Mine are a size 12 in men’s US sizes and have never been worn. All told, they’ve probably only been out of the bag three times total, most recently to get the below pictures!
So that’s the tale of how I wound up with one of the rarest Magic apparel pieces that exists, in absolutely perfect condition. If you’d like to be notified when these cards are put up for auction, email a request here. You can also reach out on Twitter here.