Ask The Other Editor, 11/16/2004

Elske Van Der Vaart asks:
“StarCityGames.com is basically a competitive player’s place now. As a casual player, I come for the Issues articles and the occassional Abe Sargent gems, but that’s basically it. My question: Why has this happened? Is the problem that all Casual writers have disappeared or that most Casual articles don’t meet your new quality standards?”

Elske Van der Vaart asks a fine question:

“Yesterday, you answered two questions about changes in the site’s make-up; the lack of linking and the stringent article selection. My question ties into that. StarCityGames.com is basically a competitive player’s place now. As a casual player, I come for the Issues articles and the occassional Abe Sargent gems, but that’s basically it. My question: Why has this happened? Is the problem that all Casual writers have disappeared or that most Casual articles don’t meet your new quality standards? (Then again, you can’t really playtest a coinflipping monstrosity, or somesuch.)

“Or is StarCityGames consciously moving away from articles with a multiplayer bent because they’re just not good business? Has MagicTheGathering.com stolen the Casual market? Has the change in editorship affected what type of articles you will publish? I’m at my wit’s end here. MagicTheGathering has a lot of relatively casual deckbuilding exercises, but very little general strategy or ‘goodtimes’ multiplayer reports, reviews, whatever. I miss it. I can’t figure out where it went, or why. I’d much appreciate any enlightenment you have to offer on this topic.”

The answer to this is pretty simple: There aren’t enough good multiplayer writers out there to keep our selection going strong. And I wish there were more of ’em.

The problem with multiplayer writers is that they tend to write a burst of articles, and then drift off. The only person who’s ever been able to write about multiplayer consistently – and I mean ever – is Anthony “The Politician” Alongi, who writes about his group once a week, come rain or shine. Though I’ve personally had some pretty fabled disagreements with the Big A on the nature of multiplayer politics, Anthony always manages to come through with a really good multiplayer topic.

But where the hell did The Ferrett go? I get plaintive emails from time to time, asking, “You used to write some damned fine multiplayer articles. Why did you stop?”

The answer’s simple: I stopped because I lost my group when I moved to Cleveland. And I’m a good example of why casual writers tend to drift off, because if I can’t find a multiplayer group that’s just right, I won’t play.

Tournament groups are pretty iron-clad; yeah, maybe you don’t like everyone you play against at Friday Night Magic, but there’s a prize on the line. Every time you play against Joe Idiot, there’s the chance that your rating will improve. Endure enough of these smelly morons, and maybe you’ll win the PTQ and make some money. Nobody hates everyone at their local store, of course – but on the other hand, if there’s a boorish idiot who infests your corner-store hangout, you don’t have to play him all night.

Multiplayer groups, on the other hand, are as fragile as soap bubbles. Unlike tournaments, if you can’t stand someone’s constant crowing over his great deck, guess what? You’re gonna hear it every game for the rest of the evening.

In other words, you have to genuinely like pretty much everyone you play.

And there’s no prize at stake for tolerating an irritant, except for pride. And even that pride can go away if there is some manly he-man at the multiplayer table, the guy who always wins because he has a suitcase full of rares and a PTQ Top 8 or two to his name. If your multiplayer group isn’t just so, its gonna break apart and leave you gameless.

Getting a good multiplayer group is like forming a ska band. Really. That’s the whole metaphor, but you’ll only get it if you’ve tried to put a ska band together.

So what happens is that multiplayer writers scrape together a couple of damn fine articles, discussing the nature of their group and analyzing how to beat it. Maybe they can keep it up for a few weeks or maybe a month… But eventually, their group either stagnates into non-competitive slapjack or pulls itself apart thanks to a war of attrition. And then the writer sort of fades away, left without a group to chronicle.

That’s what happened to me. That’s what happens to a lot of writers.

What’s left are the really underpowered guys. I’m not trying to pick on anyone, but I got a casual article the other day from a guy who was showing off his B/R multiplayer deck, which featured thirteen swamps and eleven mountains. Now, the idea of the deck was interesting – but can I really seriously espouse a deck with such an awful land base when there are uncommons that will serve as mana-fixers?

No. Even when you’re playing just for fun, I feel it’s a betrayal to pass off clearly substandard decks as “multiplayer!” when the base guidelines for good decks are pretty easy to meet. I’m not asking for rare-powered monstrosities, but is it too much to ask that a) you play a couple of games with the deck first and b) you shell out for some Urborg Volcanoes?

In short, if you want more multiplayer articles, I want them. We need more. But we can’t scrimp on quality, and stable multiplayer writers are awfully thin on the ground. If you want more multiplayer articles, please – write some.

Me? I think Anthony Alongi is a schizophrenic. Every Tuesday, he gets together with all of his other personalities and they babble away at the table, bouncing from seat to seat as Creature-Anthony mutters darkly about how he’ll get back at Blue-Anthony, while Passive-Aggressive Anthony giggles insanely.

Justin Gilmartin asks:

“What should I buy my Magic playing friend for Christmas? He loves playing games on the internet. I know he’s mentioned he would love to host a party where all his friends could play together, do you have any ideas?”

Well, if he loves Magic, I think you should buy him the poker girl in the ad in the lower right-hand corner of the page. He’d appreciate it.

Failing that, Halo 2. Why not? Or perhaps you could buy him an excellent book on holding LAN parties at his house.

Seriously. I got nothin’.

Old-time SCG fan Karl Kovaciny asks:

“Do you have a role model for editing? I’m thinking of the way the Wall Street Journal’s editors make all the stories and editorials have a different flavor from a different paper.”

Last week, someone asked Ted where the idea of interjecting comments into articles came from. His answer was, roughly, that Ferrett did it and he kept it up.

Me? I got it from Terry Pratchett.

Terry’s a British fantasy author, and he is one of the best and funniest writers currently alive. His Discworld series handles very serious topics with a light touch, and I envy his gift for characterization. In fact, he’s written so many Discworld novels that fans have actually subcategorized the novels – books on the Witches, books on Death, books on The Watch. Better yet, people have favorites. (Me, I’m a Death man myself, though I’ll never turn down an opportunity to watch Vimes and Carrot go at it.)

Anyway, Terry is known for footnoting his novels whenever he had something interesting to say that didn’t quite fit in the main body of the text. Many of the footnotes are far more interesting than the actual writings themselves. I started footnoting my own writings on StarCityGames.com – and then, when I became editor, it just felt natural to add in little footnotes in the text of other articles.

Eventually, the interjections became a style, and so I guess Terry Pratchett is my editorial hero.

Mykie Noble asks:

“You mentioned in your article I’m Gonna Suck – The Ignant Rodent at the Fifth Dawn Prerelease that you went to the Fifth Dawn prerelease completely unaware of what cards were in the set. How did that pan out for you, and was it as much fun as you hoped it would be?”

You know, secretly I was hoping I could get through the entire week without anybody bringing this up.

The truth is that Neil and I went to the Fifth Dawn prerelease and discovered that there was going to be a three-hour wait to get into the first available flight. Since we arrived at 11:00 and I had a three-hour drive home, this really sucked.

The lady at the counter was very nice and offered to give us some cards if we signed up and dropped out right away, which we did. Then we went to Burger King and played against each other’s decks for two hours. I learned that Neil’s deck could kick my ass, and not much else.

After that, I didn’t feel qualified to say anything about Fifth Dawn, so I slunk away and hoped that nobody would care. Unfortunately, someone did. Damn you! Damn you all to heeeeeellllllll!

The Ferrett asks:

Got another question? Go ahead; ask me.

Signing off,

The Ferrett

The Here Edits This Here Site For This Here Week Guy

[email protected]