For more than half a decade Gamers Helping Gamers has been living up to its incredibly straightforward name. The non-profit organization was founded by a handful of Magic players who grew up playing games and has been awarding college scholarships to gamers since 2012. President Timothy McKenna has been poring over the recent slew of applications with his board of directors that include Eric Berger (Secretary), Jon Finkel (Treasurer), Chris Pikula, Robert Maher, Jr, Matthew Wang, and Daniel O’Mahoney-Schwartz. Also contributing to the selection process were Scholarship Committee members Worth Wollpert and Jamie Parke.

Past winners of the scholarship include:

2012: Dylan Fay, Douglas Johnson
2013: Isaac Goldstein
2014: Nathan Calvin, Brandi Mason, Kenneth Siry
2015: Lirek Kulik, Dylan Quinn
2016: Faolan Sugarman-Lash, Jacob Schliesman, Oliver Tiu
2017:… Without further ado

August Peterson

Age: 18
Hometown: Minneapolis, Minnesota
College: Grinnell College

You have to give Peterson credit for planning ahead. The Minneapolis based Magic player first became aware of the Gamers Helping Gamers scholarship program when his father read about the organization in the New York Times. Now half a decade after that article appeared he will be attending Grinnell College and hopes to graduate debt free thanks to that very scholarship.

“He had heard me talking about Jon Finkel and saw his name while reading the article and thought I might be interested,” explained Peterson who had already been playing Magic for a year or so after being introduced to it by his friend Connor.

“It really did not take much more than playing one game to get me hooked. After looking through Connor’s binder I already had ideas in my head for what types of decks I wanted to build. I had played chess and other card games before, but the higher complexity level of Magic is what made this game more interesting. There was so much that I didn’t yet understand and that made me want to play more Magic so I could continue to discover more of the interactions of the game,” recalled Peterson of his first encounter with the game.

With college looming, Peterson has taken a more fun approach to the game of late but fully embraced the competitive aspect throughout most of his teenage years. A typical day for him and his two friends, Max and Lewie, involved playtesting Modern or Standard in preparation for an upcoming event. Peterson attended at least one Grand Prix each year for the past three years but has turned his attention to playing a budget deck in Legacy and tuning his Commander deck.

“I considered my greatest accomplishment in Magic to be the Legacy Eggs deck I built and tested for over a year before playing it to a positive finish at an SCG Legacy Open,” said Peterson of his pet Legacy deck that is much more accessible than other decks in the format built around the premium staples in Legacy.

“Beyond being my favorite deck to play, it is very meaningful to me because of how much time I have put into working on it. Combo decks like Storm, High Tide, Eggs, Pros Bloom, Academy, etc. are my favorite. Building a version of Eggs for Legacy was a very fun and rewarding experience. I learned a lot about how these types of decks work in the process.”

The application process for Gamers Helping Gamers includes questions about favorite (and least favorite) cards and the innocuous Chromatic Star was Peterson’s choice for that discussion.

“I love cards that do close to nothing on their own, except for giving you a very small advantage. In a deck like Eggs you combine a bunch of these small advantages together into a large advantage that wins you the game. If you have no special interactions Chromatic Star just draws a card, but when you combine it with mechanics like Prowess, Affinity, Delve, and Delirium you get more out of it than just one card. The advantages gained from these synergies are small, but they add up over the course of the game.”

For least favorite card Peterson wrote about Banisher Priest and how the templating for the card does not allow for cool timing tricks like you can get under the old templating of similar cards like Fiend Hunter. Back in the old days of Magic you could respond to the enter the battlefield trigger of exiling a creature by sacrificing or bouncing the Fiend Hunter which would trigger the leaves the battlefield clause. Since no creature had been exiled yet that part would fizzle and then the enters the battlefield trigger would happen and the targeted creature would be exiled, never to return.

“I believe that the Fiend Hunter loophole is good for Magic. It rewards players for ingenuity and understanding of the rules. When a new player encounters this loophole and loses a game to it, there is an opportunity for discovery. This learning experience never happens with Banisher Priest,” griped Peterson (and frankly I can’t blame him!)

“It is an enormous help in making college affordable for me. I knew that paying for college would be a challenge and I am incredibly grateful for the help I am receiving from Gamers Helping Gamers. The scholarship means that I should be able to graduate without debt, greatly lessening the burden on me and my family. It is an honor to be selected to receive this scholarship by people I so greatly respect. Magic has meant a lot to me for the past six years or so and I have spent a lot of time and energy thinking about the game. To have some of the best minds from Magic consider my ideas worthy of a scholarship is very meaningful for me.”

While Peterson is much more likely to be playing his Karador deck in a weekly Commander game than chasing down PPTQs he stays on top of the game and closely follows the competitive scene — and is always ready to watch GHG’s Jon Finkel stream some Storm action.

“Beyond being a legendary player, and a very good person, I admire him for his dedication to Storm in Modern. I too am a Storm player and I will pause videos of him playing the deck and ask myself what play I would make so I can compare it to his play,” said the avid consumer of streamed Magic content. “I also follow LSV, Conley Woods, Caleb Durward, Andrew Cuneo, Joel Larsson, and Andrea Mengucci.”

A couple of other players Peterson singled out were Sam Black and Frank Karsten.

“Building decks is my favorite part of Magic and one way I improve my skills is by watching how he builds decks. One thing that brought me into playing more competitive Magic was watching his deck The Aristocrats win Pro Tour Gatecrash in the hands of Tom Martell. I have gone back to watch that match at least five times,” said Peterson of Magic’s mad genius Sam Black.

As Peterson embarks on his college years he is already thinking about how he can make an impact on the world — and how there might be something we can take from metagaming and apply towards politics.

“The last thing I wrote about was my belief that our approach to solving problems in politics should be more like how the Magic community approaches a new Standard format. Players work together and test their ideas, recognizing other’s successes and their own failures. At the end of the season there is a general consensus on what the best deck was. There is no such recognition of success of others and failure of self in American Politics. There is generally no consensus, just ideology.”

Autumn Cook

Age: 18
Hometown: Rockville, Maryland
College: University of Maryland Baltimore County

Autumn Cook has been playing Magic for more than half her life after being introduced to it by her older brother when she was 8 years old. It all started with a stack of cards he brought home from a friend’s house.

“I thought the art on the cards was awesome and having played a few other card games very casually, I forced him to teach me to play. I was in love pretty much instantly, and continued to play even after my brother stopped,” recalled Cook who assured readers of the truism that nobody truly quits the game; even her brother. “He recently restarted again, and is having a blast.”

As she entered her teens she found her lane in Magic. Cook had begun attending tournaments on the Star City Open Series and realized she was not having as much fun as she expected playing in large tournaments.

“I realized that maybe that playing in large competitive tournaments probably wasn’t for me. However, I noticed another group of people that seemed to be absolutely loving the events they went to, and that group of people were the judges. I certified as Level One less than a year later at 14. I continued to work large events and leveled up to level two a little less than a year later at Grand Prix Baltimore 2014,” said Cook of the path that led her to judging. “The judging community is amazing, and it is one of the main reasons why I keep playing Magic and judging tournaments. They are family, and I love them.”

Watching coverage of Jon Finkel playing at a Pro Tour and the Judge community combined to inspire Cook to apply for the scholarship.

“I think I learned about GHG by following Magic coverage. Every time Jon was on camera the commentators mentioned GHG and the rest was history. People in the judge program also encouraged me to apply for the scholarship. Word of mouth is a really powerful tool!”

Her favorite card mechanic no doubt warmed Jon Finkel’s blue heart.

“My favorite Magic mechanic is the concept of drawing cards. In my opinion there isn’t another mechanic in Magic that has the ability to completely change the course of the game. The one top deck Cruel Ultimatum can completely swing the game in Gabriel Nassif’s favor, or induce the amount of emotion that comes attributed with Craig Jones’ Lightning Helix or the miracle Bonfire of the Damned against Brian Kibler’s team. This variance is what keeps the game fresh and lively, and it is what makes every game of Magic different. I talked the concepts of cantrips and how the addition of drawing cards makes a card inherently better.”

For Cook even the physical act of card-drawing offers some insight into the various personalities that make up Magic’s tapestry.

“I also believe that the way players draw a card — from a sideways deck straight to the hand, or the slow-roll drag across the table, or the “pure” way that Reid Duke draws his cards — can represent the diversity in the game. People can do even the most simple and arguably most integral part of a game of Magic so differently, even though we are all playing the same game, and performing the same game action.”

Fittingly for a Magic judge an obscure but now obsolete rules fix was singled out by Cook for least-beloved mechanic.

“I wrote about an ability called Substance. People probably don’t even know what this ability does, because it is one of the only abilities in the game to never have shown up on a card. Substance was an ability that was created to solve a problem that the 6th edition rules change caused regarding the cleanup step and how some cards functioned during the cleanup step. I’ll spare you the lengthy explanation on how it actually works, but it was pretty funky. Substance was eradicated from the oracle text of the 12 Magic cards it was on following the Magic 2010 Core Set Rules Changes. I dislike Substance because while it was a fix that worked and fixed the problem, Substance as a whole was unnecessarily confusing and complex — None of the 12 cards that had Substance actually saw play.”

“I am incredibly competitive,” said Cook who still tries to find time to play her favorite Magic format. “My absolute favorite is Legacy where my main deck is Enchantress — a couple of different builds, but I am currently running Bant-chantress. I love the deck so much that I have foiled/white bordered the majority of the deck. Even though I’m super competitive, I still play bad decks — I did get a Top 16 in a recent SCG Legacy Classic though!”

When asked about which Magic players or personalities she admires Cook rattled off a list of judges that she works with including Eric Dustin Brown, Brogan King, Liz Richardson, Nicholas Sabin, and Riki Hayashi.

“My absolute favorite streamers and Magic personalities are Emma Handy (@em_teegee) and Jadine Klomparens (@thequietfish). I am a mod in Emma’s channel, and try to tune into every stream that I possibly can. She is an amazing person and an amazing pillar in the community.”

Applicants were asked to talk about how the experience of Magic could be applied in a broader way to “real life” and Cook chose a topic most Magic players know all too well — the concept of “tilt”.

“Bad things happen to good people in real life, just as terrible draws happen to amazing players in Magic. But I believe that it is important to learn from your previous mistakes and to carry on. If someone allows themselves to be tilted by things that don’t go their way, they will never continue to grow and mature. Competitive Magic players have to learn how to deal with tilt in a tournament environment. I believe that that same lesson can be applied to literally every aspect of “real life.””

With real life beckoning for Cook the Gamers Helping Gamers scholarship has Cook looking past her immediate college experience.

“This scholarship is going to help me continue on to graduate school. My intended major is Chemistry, and I hope to go on to earn a MD/Ph.D after I graduate from UMBC. This scholarship will help me achieve those goals. But this scholarship is a lot more than money. This organization is a huge deal within the Magic the Gathering community and being picked as one of the recipients is a huge, huge honor. I won’t let you guys down. Thank you so much to all of the people who support GHG and to the amazing leadership team at GHG.”

You can expect to see Cook playing over the summer at SCG Richmond and just maybe Grand Prix DC in September but if you see an Enchantress deck going 5-0 in an Legacy League on MTGO there is a good chance it will be Autumn Cook.

If you want to find out more about Gamers Helping Gamers, whether it is to donate, find out information about upcoming application windows, or to find out about upcoming fundraising tournament events just go to their website.

“Help us turn Ardent Recruits into Civilized Scholars!”

That’s what it says in the fine print on the Gamers Helping Gamers webpage. Also on that page are the names of more than a half dozen veteran Magic players — Hall of Famers, Grand Prix, Pro Tour and World Champions with a smattering of Player of the Year — who formed the non-profit organization to award need-based scholarships to a new generation of Magic players. Timothy McKenna (President), Eric Berger (Secretary), Jon Finkel (Treasurer), Chris Pikula, Robert Maher, Jr., Matthew Wang, and Daniel O’Mahoney-Schwartz make up the board that reviews the submissions each year and decides upon the recipients.

For the past several years I have had the pleasure to introduce the recipients and this year is no exception. This year’s recipients include two four-year scholarships of $5,000 annually and one one-year scholarship for $5,000. They have been waiting all week to share the good news with others so without further ado let me introduce you to this year’s crop of gamers.

Faolan Sugarman-Lash
Age: 18
Hometown: Richmond, Massachusetts
Destination: Santa Clara University
Scholarship: 4 years/$5,000 per year

Faolan Sugarman-Lash

Faolan is an avid consumer of Magic content and actually discovered the existence of the scholarship by watching Jon Finkel’s stream one night and last year, his best friend Dylan Quinn (photobombing above) also won a scholarship award from Gamers Helping Gamers. The Massachusetts-based player, who will be heading to Santa Clara after this summer, describes himself as a competitive player who does not get to play nearly enough.

His Magic playing career began when handed a large box of cards from a family friend. It was not long before he was getting booster packs and questing to get better and better at the game. In addition to Jon Finkel he lists LSV, Kenji Egashira, Alex Hayne, Shahar Shenhar, Reid Duke, HAUMPH, and Jacob Wilson as players who inspire him to be both “a better Magic player and a better person.”

“This scholarship is really important to me,” said Faolan who was looking forward to celebrating his good news with an Eternal Masters draft. “It’s a physical manifestation of the idea that following one’s passions can benefit them! It makes me really appreciate the game that I’ve played for more than half of my life — almost 11 years!! — and the people who make this happen. It’s humbling as well as inspiring to me to be a recipient of this award.”

Jacob Schliesman
Age: 22
Hometown: Kenosha, WI
Destination: University of Wisconsin – Whitewater (Majoring in Media Arts and Game Development)
Scholarship: 1 year/$5,000 per year

Jacob Schliesman

Jacob is already attending the University of Wisconsin — Whitewater and has been applying for the scholarship for the past four years since reading about the first class or recipients. Interestingly that was not too long after picking up Magic roughly a half decade ago when his local homeschooling organization handed out Mirrodin Besieged Intro Packs to all the kids. He was instantly hooked — and hooked beyond just the game play. The story was just as important and engaging to him which worked out well for him while filling out the application for the past handful of years.

“It’s certainly the most enjoyable application process I’ve ever encountered; writing about Magic is something I love to do, and it really makes you think a lot more about the game itself. And it never ceases to amuse me that there is a place for your DCI number right next to your SAT score,” laughed Jacob. His essay for the application included a discussion about how Magic spurred him to study game design and journalism.

“I worked as a writer for my campus’s student-run gaming website,, and actually ran the writing team for about a year. During this time, I had the opportunity to interview a few Magic pros for the website; namely Patrick Chapin, Jon Finkel, and LSV. My goal is to eventually work on the story team in R&D itself, a dream which I’m happy to say I have taken some steps towards since my initial application. I now have a freelance position writing creative text for Magic, and I can’t wait to get started.”

Jacob also wrote about Narset, Transcendent in his essay. Early on in his education Jacob was labeled as “intellectually gifted” and struggled to fit in with his peers as some things came easily to him while others were more elusive.

“This all changed when I read the story accompanying the preview of Narset Transcendent, The Great Teacher’s Student by Kimberly Krienes. Never before had I seen a character whose mind so closely resembled mine. Narset quickly became one of my favorite characters of any medium, as I finally had a character I could relate to. This also taught me the importance of diversity and inclusion in pop culture, because everyone deserves to have a character, be it Alesha, Ashiok, or whoever, that they can point to and say “that one is like me.””

Community is a recurring theme for Jacob and this scholarship was very meaningful for him in multiple ways.

“Not only have I been working towards it for a few years, but I have been trying to be more involved in the Magic community for many years. Currently, those efforts include a semi-collaborative parody Twitter project with A.E. Marling and a portrait of the Magic community through signed Unyielding Krumars. I’ve always wanted to make or write or do things that other Magic fans would enjoy, and to me this scholarship means that I can do that. I can get there.

Not shockingly the world of Innistrad is one of Jacob’s very favorites and he plans to celebrate his scholarship beneath the Eldritch Moon.

Oliver Tiu
Age: 18
Hometown: Cambridge, MA
Destination: Boston College
Scholarship: 4 years/$5,000 per year

Oliver Tiu
If you follow competitive Magic you have probably heard Oliver’s name mentioned often, and with increasing frequency, over the course of this season. He currently leads the Rookie of the Year race, has crossed the threshold to become Platinum through the remainder of this year and next, and could very well be competing at the World Championship if he can maintain his pace in the Constructed Master category at the last Pro Tour this season.

Oliver has been playing the game since the 5th Grade when he saw some fellow campers playing the game. He was drawn into Magic by the artwork rather than the gameplay itself which is somewhat unexpected for someone who describes himself as “extremely competitive”.

I had the opportunity to interview Oliver after the second Pro Tour of the season when he finished in the Top 16 in Spain. It was obvious that the young New England player had attracted the attention of the best and the brightest from the Northeast as both William Jensen and Mike Sigrist went out of their way to make sure I knew that Oliver was the real deal. During that interview he stated that Owen Turtenwald was the player he attempted to template himself after.

“He is simply the most consistent and flawless player I’ve had the pleasure of watching in the current Magic era,” said Oliver who voraciously consumes Magic content (which is how he found out about the scholarship in the first place). “I also admire Luis Scott-Vargas for his mastery of creating Magic content, he has the most entertaining articles and videos out of any player. In addition to that, he is a great player across every format and always is able to see weird plays that would not be seen by a vast majority of players.”

One of the amazing things about the success Oliver has had on the Pro Tour has been his ability to succeed without working with one of the major playtesting teams (which changes for the upcoming Pro Tour when he joins Team Face to Face Games) and that was one of the topics he wrote about his Magic essays.

“I found the questions very thought-provoking, especially the question about what I would change in the Magic community,” said Oliver. “I discussed my favorite Magic card: Deathmist Raptor, my least favorite: Monastery Swiftspear, and what I would change about the Magic scene: decreasing the necessity of teams in order to be successful on the Pro Tour.”

Oliver has a lot on his plate for the coming year between his freshman year of college and following up on a Platinum Pro Tour season.

“This scholarship means so much to me, especially in regards to continuing to play competitive Magic while pursuing a college education,” said Oliver who will be playing at Grand Prix Pittsburgh this weekend. “This scholarship will be a big help in making college affordable for me, and using what I’ve learned in Magic to aid my education. The scholarship is a great idea to reward those who have a skillset that isn’t typically rewarded by the college application process. I hope I’ll be able to contribute to the scholarship when I graduate.”