In the early 2000s there were a large number of high-profile Magic: The Gathering players that transitioned into poker to take a shot at the soft fields and exploding prize pools.
Eric Froehlich was one of the those players and immediately found success becoming the youngest player, at the time, to win a gold bracelet at the 2005 World Series of Poker.
Froehlich added another bracelet at the 2006 WSOP and appeared to be on his way as one of the premier forces in the game.
Over the next 10 years Froehlich added a few more final tables and a ton of cashes but he never stopped playing Magic: The Gathering.
In recent years Froehlich has gotten more involved with Magic and was actually the game's #1 ranked player for a period and got inducted to the MTG Hall of Fame in 2015.
Magic The Gathering Hall of Famer
PokerListings caught up with Froehlich on a break from the $2,620 buy-in WSOP Marathon to get his thoughts on life as a poker/Magic professional.
PokerListings: How much poker are you playing these days?
Eric Froehlich: I’m not playing a lot of poker these days. I got my start in card games with Magic: The Gathering and then got into poker like a lot of my MTG friends.
I kind of graduated to poker but MTG, in a lot of ways, is more fun. Although, right now in my life I feel like there’s a lot I can appreciate in poker. I’m enjoying it a lot.
I actually had a realization at certain point when I was playing a lot of the bigger tournaments around the world that some of the players were just better than me.
I really felt heavily advantaged from 2005-2010 but around Black Friday, tournaments started getting a lot tougher.
I still watch a ton of poker. I study a lot. I love the game. I absorb a ton of content but I don’t get to play nearly as much as I’d like. The players have gotten a lot better.
I feel like there are a ton of events at the WSOP that I have a lot of equity — I’m playing a lot of the lower buy-in tournaments and of course the Main Event — but even just a few years ago I used to play all the $10k PLOs but those guys are just better than me.
I’m not a winning player in the late stages of those tournaments to the point that it just doesn’t make sense for me to play.
So I’ll play the lower buy-in events where there aren’t quite as many players who can outplay me.
I still think I’m good. I’m just not the best. And that’s OK. [Laughs]
PL: It almost seems like there’s been of a resurgence with Magic over the last few years. Is it accurate to say that?
Eric Froehlich winning his first bracelet in 2005.
Eric Froehlich: I don’t think that’s the right term because I really don’t think Magic has taken too many dips. It’s always been steadily increasing — although at this point it’s definitely the most popular it has ever been.
Right now the player base is in the eight figures. There are tens of millions of people who play Magic. It really is a popular game world-wide.
I think different aspects of the game are more popular now. They are going into different areas of content. [Hasbro] just announced they are doing a MTG MMORPG.
They are also doing a lot of different digital content. They are trying to get into a similar arena as some of the other eSports.
It is a little bit more mainstream than it used to be. Magic has never been doing better financially. It’s been selling extremely well.
PL: Do you think a larger number of converted pros like yourself are going back to Magic?
Eric Froehlich: It depends. A lot of players like myself started at a young age. Magic is a game that you can play as a teenager. Poker is not really a thing at that age.
Eric Froehlich at a final table.
Magic also started in the ‘90s so a lot of the players that are my age played Magic when they were really young and are taking another look at it. And the game really is fun.
I think Magic is the best game ever made and a lot of people agree.
It’s something that you can get back into. We used to have a 100+ people who would come for the WSOP that were Magic players. We’d organize massive Magic gatherings for years.
A lot of poker players still enjoyed the game.
While a lot of players don’t get into the game as brand-new players, there are tons of people [who return to it]. It’s just a similar skill set.
There’s bluffing, reading your opponent and just figuring out the best line to take. There’s just so much parallel.
Magic really was a great training ground for poker.
They put me under lights and I played for tens of thousands of dollars when I was a kid so that when I made a final table at the WSOP there was no pressure for me, which is shocking when I think back on it now.
There is a lot of crossover.
PL: A lot of people play Magic simply for fun with no money involved. How would you explain that to poker players?
Erich Froehlich in the heads-up championship.
Eric Froehlich: Magic is a strategy game where you never see the same thing twice. You’re never going to get the same set of opening cards because there is so much variance.
In fact you’re rarely going to encounter similar situations depending on what you play because there are new cards being released all the time.
Poker has the same 52-card deck. Obviously everyone doesn’t get dealt the same hands and there are different run-outs.
The permutations are very, very large in poker but in Magic there’s a new set coming out every three months so you’re literally seeing new stuff all the time. Like, all of a sudden there’s a new king of diamonds.
Trying to craft a strategy in Magic really is a mental game where you’re trying to outplay your opponent in a lot of ways.
I mean there is some variance in Magic, though, and sometimes you get “coolered” in the game too.
PL: Which game is in a healthier place: Magic or poker?
Eric Froehlich: That’s a good question. Ultimately I'd say Magic, mostly because poker’s got to figure out a way to get legalized. Not being able to play online, not being able to have that freedom of living wherever you want and playing the game you love has hurt the poker tremendously.
"Online poker needs to be legalized."
That is a reason why I haven’t played as much. There just aren’t as many players or games online right now [in the USA].
There are a lot of good things in poker and a lot of things going in the right direction. I think people like Doug Polk are tremendous for poker.
I mean I watch all his content. I know all my friends watch his content. People who don’t really know much about poker watch his content.
If you can create entertaining stuff to bring new people into poker or just care more about it, that’s great. That goes the same for Daniel Negreanu and everyone making Vlogs. All this content is fantastic.
All the new digital stuff is good. PokerGO seems like it’s going to be a big positive. Poker keeps moving in the right direction.
Until everyone can play from the freedom of their own home, wherever they want to live… Well, that’s a huge roadblock.
I think both games are moving in the right direction but Magic is a little ahead right now.
PL: I know Magic has the Pro Tour but do you ever wish it had something like the WSOP? A massive festival with tournaments running non-stop?
Eric Froehlich: Yes. Funnily enough there is one tomorrow. There are three Magic Grand Prix events happening in Las Vegas, June 14-18.
Froehlich is a member of Magic's illustrious Team ChannelFireball.
There are going to be 10,000 people there. It’s going to be crazy. There will be tournaments happening not-stop essentially.
I’m actually going to be taking time off from the WSOP for the rest of the week to go there.
But yeah. It’s not quite the same. The WSOP is a six-week thing.
The real issue is that there is money to be made in poker and people can really chase a dream. That’s holding Magic back a lot. It’s hard to encourage your child to get into it because you can’t really make a living playing Magic.
I was the top-ranked player in the world a couple years ago and the amount of money that you pull in is effectively very, very small.
PL: Why is it so low though? Couldn’t they emulate WSOP-type prize pool structures?
Eric Froehlich: I can’t answer that. [Laughs] I think they should be dramatically higher. Magic is making a lot of money. That is the only way to take your player pool and increase it exponentially, in my opinion.
"You can't make a living playing Magic."
Now I’m not on the business side. I’m not working for the corporation. I don’t know what roadblocks they have.
It’s a big company. Magic is owned by a toy company [Hasbro] so this is not exactly their scene. But if you look at other games like Hearthstone or League of Legends and the amount of money they are putting up for these tournaments… it’s huge numbers. Magic doesn’t have that.
Magic is the best game and because it’s able to continually grow and make so much money I don’t think they’ve felt the pressure to do that.
Whether it will happen at some point I don’t know. It’s just tough.
PL: You produce content for ChannelFireball. Do you enjoy the creative element of making content instead of playing?
Eric Froehlich: I love it. I’ve written articles for tons of Magic sites since I was a kid. I’ve written articles for poker sites.
I enjoy being able to express myself and ChannelFireball is the best company in Magic and the biggest platform. They’re running all the tournament coming up and in 2018.
They have all the best players and everyone knows them. It’s great to have that partnership with such a great company.