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Q&A with Jon Finkel, Magic Champion, On Gizmodo Date Scandal & Alyssa Bereznak

The Internet was set ablaze on Monday when Gizmodo intern Alyssa Bereznak wrote an essay detailing her OKCupid-arranged dates with Jon Finkel. The reason for the resulting firestorm: in her post, Bereznak harshly leveled Finkel for committing the crime of being a world-renowned Magic the Gathering champion, and not posting that detail in his OKCupid profile. (Apparently, being awesome at something played by hundreds of thousands – if not millions – of people is a big turn off.) Magic and non-Magic fans came to Finkel’s defense in droves, and the story has received national coverage.

We recently corresponded with Finkel over email to get his take on the dates, the article, and the world’s reaction to both.

Flightpath: I want to start off by asking if you could tell your side of the story. What was the tone of your dates like with Alyssa? Did she seem upset or angry in person when you revealed you were a Magic champion?

Jon Finkel: They were completely uneventful. Two people being friendly and talking without much of a spark. Unless I am completely awful at reading people, which despite being a Magic playing nerd, I’m not – no one was upset or angry.

Flightpath: I’m kind of curious – for someone who would turn around and write a pretty scathing article about you because she doesn’t like one of your hobbies, how did you actually connect on OKCupid? Did you have anything in common?

Jon Finkel: She seemed bright and was in grad school for journalism, which I think is pretty awesome. When she told me to Google her, I found a heartfelt article she’d written about Ayn Rand and her dad and that sealed it for me.

Flightpath: How did you find out about Alyssa’s post, in which she really kind of eviscerated you just for being good at a game? How did you feel?

Jon Finkel: I rode home with my partner from work. He dropped me off where he usually does, a few blocks from my apartment, and after I got out I checked my iPhone. I had 40 emails from my Magic playing email list alone, laughing about it – being supportive in between brutal mockery – which was pretty much the standard. I definitely got a weird chill down my spine and was thinking, “What just happened?” I think the word I used before was “violated.” When I got home it became pretty clear the Internet had my back, but it still took a few hours for that weird, icky feeling to fade.

Flightpath: Are you surprised at how this thing has kind of caught wildfire on the Internet, and a lot of people have come to your defense?

Jon Finkel: I was very pleasantly surprised. I mean, reading the article, it seems like it would be most people’s response, but it was awesome that before it had really registered on my radar, countless people all over the world already had my back. It’s also nice to know that all the young Magic players still remember an old “retired” player like myself. I’m reading a lot of articles/posts where people seem to think I’m still the champion or the best or going to tons of tournaments, which is not the case, and hasn’t been since 2003. But it’s great to see so many people still care.

Flightpath: Have you had any interaction on the phone or over email with Alyssa after the story blew up? If not, would you talk to her?

Jon Finkel: Nope. I probably would just say, “Whoops.” Clearly this worked out positively for me and not so hot for her. People are really being brutal to her, much more than is necessary. She’s still young, she did something that wasn’t that cool, but in the grand scheme of things it’s really just not that bad, and doesn’t invalidate her as a person or anything.

Flightpath: Finally, are you done with OKCupid? Or will this just go in the “Bad Date” trash heap, and you start again?

Jon Finkel: I’m pretty good at understanding that one event doesn’t really mean that much, and not extrapolating from it to assume the whole world will be like that. I think OKCupid’s a great site. I actually think one of the founders is a PTQ player (semi-pro equivalent) who lives in New York. Maybe he’ll end up coming to play with us sometime. I think I will take a little bit of a break though.