(Metagame Archive) Voices from the Field: The Legacy of Bam Bam

By Ben Kalman

The legend began at PC So Cal, where a competitor on the rise with a shaved head, tattoos, a goatee, and a black shirt awash with bright orange flames was seen. Fellow Metagame.com correspondent Gary Wise immediately branded John Rich “Bam Bam,” after pro wrestler Bam Bam Bigelow. The name has stuck ever since.

Shortly thereafter, a new team was born on the Vs. Circuit—one that would immediately make waves. The team, founded by John and Matthew Meyer, was called 3BG (short for Bam Bam Bigelow’s Gigolos). At $10K New Jersey, Team 3BG proved a force to be reckoned with, showing up with the deck now known as Phantom Phone Booth. The deck, centered around Phantom Zone, was the first to thrust Superman into tier one status. For more information on that deck, check out Brian David Marshall’s interview with Meyer from $10K New Jersey.

In addition to John and Matthew, Team 3BG currently features Joseph Carey, David De Michele, Jeremy Blair, John Viola, Josh Whitman, Donald Noland, and Frank Lapore. While John is both the team’s spiritual leader its best player, 3BG made waves at the recent Orlando $10K without his having competed—they placed two members in the Top 8 (De Michele and Noland). John, who would certainly have been a hometown favorite (he’s a St. Petersburg resident, but originally from Gainesville), had made a promise to tournament organizer Jeff Williams to judge.

John is a consummate pro and a team player. The 34-year-old computer science student is filled with nothing but praise for his teammates (“we are all strong players,” he says) and respect for his fellow Vs. players. Regarding Orlando, he says, “I was asked to judge a long time ago. I agreed to judge, not play. I stood behind my word. Jeff Williams . . . told me it would be okay to play, but I felt that I would be going back on my word if I did.” This is the kind of man John is—one of an elite class of Vs. players who stands alongside fellow Floridians like Rob Leander and Rian Fike, and others such as Antonino DeRosa, J.F. Grondin, Tim Willoughby, Dave Spears, and Matthew Hoffman, who are what I call “gentleman competitors.” These are players who respect the game, the community, and each other, and who prove that one can compete with the best without sacrificing their values.

The Line on John Rich

John is currently ranked second in the world in Constructed play and eleventh in the world in Sealed Pack play. He’s had the following finishes:

17th, Origins $10K, Columbus, Ohio

133rd, PC Indy, Indianapolis, Indiana

53rd, Gen Con Indy $10K, Indianapolis, Indiana

14th, Wizard World Texas $10K, Arlington, Texas

41st, PC Los Angeles, Anaheim, California

7th, New Jersey $10K, Phillipsburg, New Jersey

9th, Las Vegas $10K, Las Vegas, Nevada

6th, Columbus $10K, Columbus, Ohio

John is a longtime TCG player, and Vs. System is not the first game in which he’s reached such heights. Like others I have interviewed, John is a fierce competitor in just about everything he plays. And he has made the rounds, competing in L5R, Lord of the Rings, Magic, and Babylon 5, a game in which he was World Champion and one that he still has a passion for. “It’s a shame that game is not played anymore.”

But Vs. is where it’s at now for John. He picked up the game when he was still in Gainesville, part of a group of players at two local shops (Mega Comics and Gamers Asylum) who tried, according to him, “any new game system that came out. After we played Vs. for a little while, I really enjoyed the game system. Being a fan of a number of comic book characters in the system, I thought that there were a number of different types of decks, so I decided to really get into the game.”

Bam Bam in the Squared Circle

John quickly established himself as a strong player with a seventeenth place performance at the second Vs. System $10K at Origins last year. After a difficult weekend in Indianapolis, he began rising in the rankings again, improving at each tournament. He more than tripled his PC Indy performance at PC So Cal, and then followed up with three consecutive Top 10 $10K performances, two of them in the Top 8. His latest finish at Columbus was his best finish ever in a big money tournament. When I asked him about his goals for 2005, he said, “To Top 20 in multiple PCs and break Top 4 in a darn $10K!” It’s surprising that he hasn’t already achieved this, as his combined Constructed/Sealed Pack rating is second only to Ryan Jones (who is currently eighth in Constructed and first in Sealed Pack). Despite such a high Sealed Pack ranking (eleventh), John doesn’t really see himself as strong in Sealed Pack play. When I called him a strong Sealed Pack player, his response was, “Strong Sealed Pack Player?”

Either way, John is up for anything as long as it’s Vs. System. When I asked him his opinion on the new Sealed $10K format premiering soon, he said, “The thought of a Sealed $10K . . . it’s fine with me. I know others will disagree with my opinion, but if the $10K is Constructed or Sealed, it doesn’t matter to me.”

Tough on himself, John expects always to be on top of his game no matter the format, and he pushes himself to do better at every tournament. The only player currently better than him in the Constructed rankings is fellow Floridian Rob Leander, who checks in at number one. I asked if there was a friendly rivalry between them, and John said, “Rob and I have played many times against one another. I respect Rob Leander as a player, and I know he respects me as a player. I would say that out of ten games, Rob would win six, maybe seven times. Every time we play one another, I learn more about Titans. There will always be a friendly rivalry between us. As everyone saw in the $10K in Ohio . . . Rob was beating me without any question. I asked for him to concede so I could Top 8, and he did. I know one day that if I could do the same for him, I would do it without hesitation.”

Judge Not, Lest Ye Be Judged Yourself

John was quick to point out that “there are a lot of other players that are high quality, as well,” and I doubt he would ever let his success blind him to the strength of those competing around him. He agrees that there appears to be a higher number of respectful players in competitive Vs. than in other games, and he feels that respect and courtesy towards fellow competitors are important attributes to uphold as a player (or as a judge, which John is, as well). He recently passed his Level 2 judging test, and has been judging PCQs for quite a while in addition to judging at the Orlando $10K. He tells me that he separates John the player from John the judge, and when he is judging at an event with friends or teammates in it, he will never allow that to become a conflict of interests. “When I am judging, I am that—a judge. In past PCQs that I have Head Judged, I have given game losses to teammates. When they are playing and I am judging, it is very simple—they are a player and I am a judge. If they make a mistake, they will receive the correct penalty.”

Bam Bam’s Take on Marvel Knights

Marvel Modern Age caught John by surprise. “I think that it not only caught me by surprise, but that it caught everybody by surprise.” Surprised or not, John found Marvel Modern Age to be a refreshing and exciting format. “I love it! The reason why is simple—the top tier decks are always the same now. With Modern Age, new decks will come out and bring out the best deck building skills and make the game more fun. You will start to see unexpected cards now. That, to me, makes a better all-around game. It also evens the field for new players to compete at the same level.” He, along with Team 3BG, has started testing the Marvel Knights set in preparation for when the Modern Age format hits the PCQ season (post-Amsterdam). John hopes to make it to the Amsterdam PC. “I am trying to get sponsorship to go . . . but with school, it’s going to be difficult to accomplish. I would enjoy nothing more than to compete at PC number three. At the present moment, [Team 3BG] is trying to finish two really good possibilities. With primary deck builder Matt Meyer and the rest of the team, we feel very confident that we can bring a new deck into this environment and place well, especially since we brought Superman into a tier 1 deck.”

While he wouldn’t tell me what those two possibilities were, or what he thinks is the best team in the new expansion, he did say that “on a personal level, I love Marvel Knights, since I am a fan of the characters. As a player, I like some of the other teams for play value.” He also put Midnight Sons as his current favorite card in the set.

A comic fan with a small comic collection and what he terms a “modest” collection of fifteen thousand Vs. cards, he certainly does like the comic connection. “It seems really small to me. I never have all the cards that I need to playtest multiple decks with the rest of the team. A large collection, to me, would be about double that or more.”

The Final Word(s)

John is very happy with what Upper Deck has in store for Vs. in 2005. “The best aspect of the game is that they are coming out with new things all the time. Evasion, concealment, Modern Marvel, et cetera.” If he has one criticism, it’s that qualified players can still play in PCQs. “I do not believe that people with a lot of PC credits, for example myself, Rob Leander, Ryan Jones, Brian Kibler, Dave Spears, et cetera, should be allowed to play in these events. It prevents the newer players [from having] the opportunity to qualify for the PC.”

Those are fair words from one of the best and brightest on the Pro Circuit. His final words, which he asked me to include: “Number one: I want to thank the Upper Deck guys for this weekend [at Orlando]—[particularly] Andy and Ben Drago—for everything that they have done. Number two: Go FSU!”

And go John Rich! Surely, the day is coming for him to be crowned a PC Champ, so keep your eyes peeled!

Also known by his screen name Kergillian, Ben Kalman has been involved in the Vs. community since day one. He started the first major player in the online community, the Vs. Listserv, through Yahoo! Groups, and it now boasts well over 1,300 members! For more on the Yahoo! group, go to http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Marvel_DC_TCG

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