He was there for Magic's biggest moments, but you won't see him in those famous stories. You won't hear from him, either, as he quietly does his job making others look good. But he is responsible for more Magic history than most of us can remember, and for more than two decades he has been known to almost everyone inside the Pro Tour and almost no one outside of it. If there is anyone in the world who can boast of attending more Pro Tours than him, it's a very short list.
In a year of shifting landscapes as Magic looks to the future, Craig Gibson is looking back at a history he is responsible for recording. He has seen it all. He was there for a young Jon Finkel making his first Top 8. He was there for Craig Jones' famous Lightning Helix, Gabriel Nassif's called Cruel Ultimatum and the LSV Settle the Wreckage heard ‘round the world.
But Gibson has done much more over the past 21 years than simply be present at the most memorable seconds in our game's history – he's brought them to us as the official photographer for the Pro Tour.
These days, Gibson has much more on his mind than Magic. Husband to Rachel and father to a pair of teens – Phoebe is 15 years old, while Levi will turn 13 this month – he works as a psychiatric nurse at a local hospital when he's not helping his children chase their own hobbies. Gibson will play Commander when he has the chance (he and Levi play in a local Commander club), but these days you're more likely to see him supporting Levi at a Rubik's Cube speed competition or bussing his kids to various school events.
As busy as life may be for the MTG dad who in 1998 applied to be a digital imaging specialist at Wizards on a whim but went on to be the most prolific photographer in the game, Gibson always finds time to fondly recall his favorite events that have gone down in Magic lore. To players, this is the stuff of legend – Kai's dominant run in the late 90s, the time the Pro Tour flooded in Valencia, the year the Japanese national team endured a 10-hour taxi ride just to make it to theWorld Magic Cup. He was witness to both Player of the Year playoffs, and he's captured every record-setting Top 8 from the game's best. To Gibson, these aren't legendary stories of celebrated Hall of Famers – they're stories involving old friends.
If one of the goals of being at the Pro Tour is to “See the World,” as it was long advertised, Gibson is the poster child. He's hiked the world's best trails. He's seen New York at night, Tokyo at its busiest and camped with kangaroos in Australia (while fending off a swarm of leeches). He's white water rafted some of the best rivers on the planet and spent time at a remote orangutan sanctuary. He once spent three days living in the rainforest.
Magic has given Gibson opportunities few in the world will ever have and he's taken advantage of every single one, a wealth of experiences he'll hold close no matter what comes next.
Gibson recently learned that Pro Tour Guilds of Ravnica was to be his last event, and his disappointment at seeing things end is matched only by his appreciation that they began in the first place more than two decades ago.
“At the time, I had just gotten out of a job in Seattle and was looking, so I applied at Wizards of the Coast because they had just bought Dungeons and Dragons and that was what I grew up with,” he explained. “That game taught me how to read and it was how I made friends in middle school. It was a huge part of my life; I bloomed because of that stuff.”
Gibson's early days with Wizards were nothing to speak of – his original job as a digital imaging specialist would look downright confusing the newest generation of Magic players – but it wouldn't take long until he got his chance.
“I remember a company-wide email going out saying there was a Pro Tour thing going on and asking if anyone knew a photographer for it,” he recalled. “I volunteered because of my background, and from there I was hired on as the staff photographer.”
Gibson distinctly remembers his first Pro Tour (Chicago, 1998) for a few reasons. One, Dirk Baberowski won the tournament, dodging Finkel in the Top 8. Two, he had to manually develop the photos for Sideboard Magazine because all photography was still done using film.
Even after he was hit by a round of layoffs a few years later, Gibson continued to freelance as the Pro Tour photographer. And while the Magic world has come a long way over the past two decades, one thing has always been constant – the man quick with a camera and quicker with a smile with whom a photoshoot meant you were probably holding an oversized check. But the reality is Gibson became a beloved part of the Pro Tour not just for his trophy shots but for his generous character and willingness to go a step above to help those around him; the number of profile pictures from your favorite Magic pros that came courtesy of Gibson stand as a testament to that, and he regularly receives messages from players and teams he's helped through the years.
As one chapter of his career ends, Gibson has one hope for the future of the game that has been such a pivotal part of his life.
“Eventually I knew someday, somewhere that this was going to end; I was a freelancer and Wizards was my client – there's no hard feelings,” he explained. “I would cross my fingers every year that it wouldn't end, and I was fortunate to get to do this for 21 years. I feel like I've left a really good history for the company. As staff and players change and new people come in, they may not know about the 25-year history of this game, and I would feel bad if that history is neglected.”
The person behind the camera will never be famous. They won't fill Twitter discussions or star in viral Twitch scenes that take the Internet by storm. But one thing is sure – the Magic world may not know Craig Gibson's name, but they'll never forget his work. For the photographer who has spent his life immortalizing others, there can be no greater praise.