Blog Fanatic: Making Your Garden Grow – Lessons from Chad Ellis

Ben lays it all down as he gives the reasons why he thinks Competitive American Magic is on life support – and what can be done to resusitate it. Read about what is killing the community, why it’s killing the community, and how YOU can be a part of the solution instead of part of the problem. Learn why Chad Ellis could well be the savior of the entire competitive American Magic community in today’s installment of Blog Fanatic!

The greatest problem facing competitive Magic in the United States isn’t Poker. It isn’t bad set design by Wizards, and it sure isn’t a waning interest in the game – sales and tournament attendance just keep growing across North America. Net decking doesn’t kill competitive Magic, and a lack of innovation isn’t hurting our national Magic scene. No, the single most problematic element hurting American Magic (and I use American to describe the United States of America – by no means do I wish to imply all the other Americas, such as Central and South – it’s just an easy shorthand for use in this article) is a highly destructive communitywide attitude.

What exactly does this mean? It’s best to lead with an example. Let’s say that Billy is a player who is pretty new on the tournament scene. Billy builds a U/R control deck in Standard, and posts the deck in a forum. Here are the typical responses I expect to see:

This is the worst deck I’ve ever seen. Why are you wasting our time posting this?”

“Your deck can’t beat Affinity. Just throw it out and go back to FNM, n00b.”

“Why don’t you just go quit Magic and then kill yourself. You obviously suck.”

The competitive American Magic community is lacking several basic human traits: compassion, empathy, and preservation of the greater good. If new players are the seeds of future growth, why are other players nurturing them with poison instead of water? Why are they insistent on tearing down instead of building up? In the long run, a kind word will keep a person trying, while a harsh one will chase them off.

Nobody who starts playing Magic immediately grasps all the myriad of strategies involved in winning. Everyone learns at his own pace, and I find it very disheartening when I repeatedly come across posts such as the one above. They are very common. They also discourage the newer player from learning, which in turn keeps new viewpoints and ideas from entering the collective consciousness – that which is the sum of all ideas and knowledge in the United States Magic world.

Why don’t people post constructive criticisms? Is it because of peer pressure – the feeling that if some people are trying to put other people down, then everyone should be putting everyone else down? Is it because Magic players are naturally insecure socially from being picked on in grade/high school, and have learned to express themselves by bullying others, thus playing out the victim/tormentor dynamic that shaped their formative years? Is it because it takes a little more effort to write out a thoughtful, helpful explanation then to go with the rote insult?

“Billy, you have some good ideas in your deck, but I don’t think it’ll work. Here’s some reasons why, and here’s some ideas on how you could improve your deck.”

“I think that deck would have a hard time with Affinity right now – you might want to look into playing more anti-artifact cards, and here’s some cards you might be able to take out of your deck to make room for them.”

“Billy, your deck isn’t running enough lands. Mike Flores once wrote an article about the importance of having a good mana base – you should go check it out. It might help your deck!”

These statements are all constructive (rather than destructive) criticism – Billy is being encouraged to improve in a manner that teaches him that which he needs to learn, while not being condescending or belittling to him. These types of posts are a rarity indeed, but they are the kinds of posts on message boards and in article threads that do the most good in the long term. Why wouldn’t you want to make your garden grow?

Chad Ellis has mastered the art of constructive criticism and genuine encouragement. If you do not understand the type of posts I am encouraging in the community, go check out some of the threads from his articles.

Some snippets from the forums of Chad’s latest articles:

It’s an interesting idea, and probably worth testing. In addition to Kiki you’ve got a fairly high curve of creatures overall and it’s pretty normal to have extra firepower at the end of any game against combo, so a free 3-5 to the dome might be worth something. The question is whether it’s worth running additional non-Goblin slots — a tough sell, since Goblin slots are already so scarce.”

“I agree with this, too, but I think you’re missing an important point — Aether Vial isn’t just good in decks like the Goblin deck I ran at the GP, or White Weenie, or even Ravager Affinity. It’s just as good (arguably better) in Life and Cephalid Breakfast, two combo decks that just happen to involve creatures.

The fact that these decks win by playing an en-Kor and something it wants to target over and over doesn’t make them creature decks, at least not in the way you and I mean when we say we want creature decks to be good.”

” Sorry, guys…I thought by this point that Smithers was a fairly well-known nickname for Ronin Houndmaster. I will say that I’m not the ONLY one who uses it, as I’ve seen it written on www.magicthegathering.com and heard it used at GP Chicago, but either way if I’m going to use a card nickname (and maybe I shouldn’t at all) I should identify what it means the first time so people aren’t wondering.”

Wow. Even without any context, these posts are a breath of fresh air in a smoggy land of filth-throwing and insult-belching. Notice how Chad approaches conversation – he is polite, he respects other people’s opinions (even as he is disagreeing with them), and he is willing to concede a point rather than fight it for the sake of winning an argument. This is exactly the sort of discourse that is absent from competitive American Magic on a wholesale level, and is the main reason competitive American Magic is on life support.

Chad has a huge level of constructive conversation and reader retention compared to many other writers or forum posters. People know that if they talk with Chad online, that their ideas will be welcomed (not shunned) and will be met with an open mind. This is of the utmost importance – there are so many different cards, card ideas, deck ideas, and combinations in Magic that to dismiss new ideas out of hand is to kill all creativity and innovation. All too often I see people posting new decks and deck ideas (some good, some bad) that are summarily flamed for no reason at all. This causes the poster to not want to share with the community anymore. Many good decks and ideas in Magic start out in a very rough, unpolished form. Forcing people who are taking risks out of the public eye serves to either keep the overall level of deckbuilding down, while causing the best of the idea-men to quit the game in disgust at the poor attitudes of those they would be spending their time with (either online or at a physical tournament).

People, stop hurting yourselves. By flaming people’s ideas out of hand, by keeping a closed mind to new deck ideas (such as those that were posted in the Food for Thought series here on StarCityGames.com), and by discouraging people rather than encouraging them, you are directly responsible for killing American Magic. American Magic is dying not in the Poker Room or through lack of talent, but in the forums of message boards and through lack of basic human respect for fellow players. If you are sick of this sort of attitude, you can do something about it. Be as constructive as possible in your posts. Ostracize the anti-social members of the community who draw glee from using their words to put down and hurt other people. Encourage the development of ideas (rather than demanding results from thousands of playtesting matches) with ideas of your own. Be positive rather than negative. Offer solutions rather than put-downs. If you’re someone who is part of the problem, become part of the solution. Check out Chad’s posts to see the type of post that helps the community to grow. Learn to emulate his respect for other people. It will serve you well at all steps of life. Outgrow the high school mentality of bully/victim which holds you down.

The Competitive American Magic community is horribly depressed compared to the burgeoning Magic communities in virtually every other corner of the world, and we have nobody but ourselves to blame. In the end, we can either join together in bonds of encouragement, or burn down in a inferno of insults and broken spirits.

Ben can be reached at [email protected]