Friday night, Magic lost a legend when Jeff Zandi passed away from a heart attack at the age of 54. He was on his way to date night with his wife of 25 years, Willa. They were on their way to see a movie. I’m certain that Jeff knew the exact number of times they had been to the movies together before that time. Jeff kept impeccable records. His team, the Texas Guildmages, has met nearly every Tuesday since 1996, and Jeff kept detailed records of every single meeting. I wish he was here to excitedly geek out about the details of his record keeping. Corbin Hosler did a great job of summarizing the history of the Guildmages just before Guildmage meeting #1000 here so I’m not going to go into all that.
I’m not sure I’ve ever said this publicly before, but there is no accomplishment in Magic that I desired more than becoming a Texas Guildmage. Winning the Pro Tour (Mythic Championship… I’ll never get used to calling it that) is a huge accomplishment that wins you the respect of the entire MTG community. But to become a Texas Guildmage means you are woven into the fabric of Texas Magic history. Most importantly to me, though, it meant that Jeff was proud of you and deemed you worthy enough to be included among their ranks. It was a huge honor to me in and of itself to be welcomed into the Guildhall on Tuesdays to draft with those folks. Jeff would pick me up from the train station and then give me a ride home after everyone left. It was never an issue. Jeff said he liked getting out for the drive, and I always loved the late night conversations, just Jeff and I, talking about who knows what.
While in the Guildhall, I loved to look around that room and see all of the history. George Baxter’s books laying around on endtables. Planeswalker Jones colas. Pro Tour lanyards. The history of Benalia and beyond in one loft. Most important to me though, more important than all of the physical memorabilia of the game, was that printout on the wall of every single person who had ever entered the Guildhall and how many times they had attended. I always used to check and see where I stood. I wanted to move up that list. If I couldn’t be a Guildmage, I at least wanted to show my dedication by getting my name up that list. I could just go on and on about this. My heart breaks knowing that I’ll most likely never get that chance. Let me move on.
I can’t think of Jeff without thinking about love. Friday night, so much love left the world. Love for the game of Magic, yes. Jeff loved Magic. Sometimes I wondered if Willa got jealous of how much Jeff loved Magic, but Jeff loved Willa so much. Whenever he talked about her you could see the glimmer in his eye. His cadence changed. You just knew their love was deep and everlasting. He was so lucky to have a wife as patient and supportive as her.
For all the things Jeff accomplished in life, his greatest success was his son Lawson. “Lawdog” is not only a good person, but a damn fine Magic player as well. Jeff was so proud of his son. I just wish he were still around to see him make the Pro Tour one day. I know he always dreamed of playing in one together with his son. Has there been another father and son that have both played on the tour? Even at different times? Well, if not, that’s just another piece of history Jeff will get to write, even in his absence.
I asked Lawson if he wanted to say anything in this article and he had this to say:
Lawson: “I’m not a gamer, I play Magic,” was always his response when people asked about new, hot card games. Short and sweet. There are no words to fully describe him so I must let his words live for him.
With all that love, you would think that he didn’t have any left to spare, but Jeff loved you. Yes, you. Whoever you are, whether you knew him or not, Jeff loved you and wanted to help you. Whether it was helping you win more packs at your prerelease, making you care about the game a little bit more either through his strategy articles or his tournament reports, or through his work organizing the Hunter Burton Memorial Open to raise awareness about suicide prevention, Jeff loved you and only asked that you love Magic in return.
I don’t care what you believe. I’m not even sure what I believe most days, but I know that Jeff is in heaven, because I’ve been to hell with Jeff and I know he would never go back because he told me so. Hell, by the way, is the Amarillo, TX Greyhound station, where we were stranded for 8 hours on the way home from Grand Prix Albuquerque 3 years ago. We had some crazy adventures, though not as many as I would have liked. The last time Jeff dropped me off at my apartment I told him I was down to do more road tripping with him, and looked forward to our next journey. Unfortunately, there are some journeys we must all take alone.
I miss you, Jeff, and I love you, too.
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