Cathartic Magic

Fourth walls are made to be broken, and Pro Tour Champion Shaun McLaren invites you into his mind as he prepares for the World Championships this weekend. Mind your feet, there’s plenty to trip on in here!

I’ve been diligently preparing for the World Championships. Unfortunately that means I’m in lockdown for sharing specifics of the current formats, which means today I’ll be delving into a grab bag of ideas while focusing on some meta aspects about writing and playing Magic. Be warned, it may get weird.

Chances are I’m not currently writing one of the best articles you’ve ever read, and that’s not even a realistic or probably useful goal to be shooting for. Instead I’m going to try and aim to make this one of the best articles I’ve ever written. I mean that in the sense of the actual writing process, I’m going to try and make it the best article for me to be writing as I write it.

Writing A Magic Article

“Well, isn’t that a little selfish, shouldn’t you be writing for your audience?”

First of all, great question, thanks for calling me selfish. Second, that is like Writing Advice 101: “Write For Yourself.” Or maybe it actually is “Write For Your Audience?” Whatever, who even cares.

Besides, I can write for myself while still taking you into account. Magic articles are often about transferring useful information in your head about decks and cards. Most authors are just able to accomplish that task without breaking the Fourth Wall quite so much.

I can’t write a good article for me unless I write a good article for you, which means confidently saying smart-sounding things about pieces of cardboard.

The truth is that it can be hard coming up with a topic to write about every week. There can be plenty of ways to get Magic Writers Block or even Magic Playing Block.

Levels of motivation can shift based on outside life factors, how many results you’ve been putting up, format relevance, or in this case, with Worlds approaching for me, inability to discuss formats.

Yet I still want to write you something great. I’m motivated, I want to… but as we all know, sometimes that isn’t enough.

And yet here I am, writing. Look at that, often just breaking things down into the smallest chunks, writing whatever happens to be on your mind, is the way to destroy writers block. Even if what’s on your mind is “What’s the deal with Black Sheep?” (They have a recessive gene that occasionally manifests and their wool is commercially undesirable. Thanks, Wikipedia. Thikipedia.)

So now we have a goal: write something that is cathartic for me and make it good for you. Hopefully make that Magic related moreso than we have so far.

Usually when I write articles, I bounce around all over the place, writing snippets of whatever comes to mind leaving me with half-finished ideas and a rough draft that looks like a chew toy. I’ll have an idea or a joke that I have to write down or I risk losing it, but it completely interrupts the flow of the sentence I was working on. This makes my editing process a lot like trying to string together a bunch of half-finished thoughts, malformed ideas, and incoherent jokes.

I’m trying now to write stream-of-consciousness style and it’s hard. Already I’ve had three ideas pop up that would’ve disrupted my flow and now I’ve forgotten them completely. But who cares? I’ll have more thoughts. More important that things aren’t messy.

Go slow. Take your time. There is no rush to write the article, just like there is no rush to finish a game of Magic. Ahh, now we’re getting to Magic stuff. It’s all one massive web of interconnections and flat circles.

Slowing Down

Have you played while needing to go to the bathroom, or while you’re hungry, or distracted by something “more important,” some pressure looming over you? We all have. It makes you play too fast because you want to get the game over, not only literally faster, but also making impatient plays you know you shouldn’t make with excuses like “they probably have nothing anyway” when you’d be better served waiting to play around a trick or bait out a removal spell.

I’m not an especially fast typist and it doesn’t help that my wrist is actually sore from playing so much Magic Online. I’m actually wearing one of those support braces and trying to rest it. I want to do well at the World Championships, but is practicing to the point of wrist exhaustion really a good way to be the best I can?

I need to slow down. Take it easy. Focus on making the correct plays, not the thoughtless ones.

Feeling Relaxed

Are you relaxed when you play Magic? Are you relaxed right now?

Can you feel tension in your body?

Breathing. That’s what releases tension.

Take three deep breathes with me. Here we go.







AHAHAHA! Feel the power of breathing flow through you!

Did you actually follow the breathing exercise? Don’t think you can fool me.

That feels better though. I feel relaxed now and so do you.


Okay. Magic Cards.

I am going to pull an excellent insight of how to be a better Magic player, right here, right now.

Oh, Rick and Morty is on. I’ll be right back.


Okay, and we’re back.

Okay, one amazing insight coming up.

“Magic is a reflection of life.”

Bam! That sounds insightful, doesn’t it? I don’t think it means anything by itself though…

Maybe the insights aren’t a good idea, but let’s get back to Magic stuff. Back on track.

Analysis of cards is hard. It takes a deep look, pages and pages, to truly see what a card is in relation to the metagame and the big picture of Magic. Most analysis is shallow and yet still gets 90% of the information you’d want anyways since the rest actually only comes from experience with cards in your hand as you battle in glorious combat.

The Best Around

Trying to desperately be the best at Magic, or write the best article, can actually lead to blocks in being able to do anything. If your standards are so high that only being the best is acceptable, you’re going to seize up. You’re actually more likely to make mistakes the more desperate you are. You have to just accept that making mistakes is part of the game, part of the learning and improving process.

Do you get blocked in your life sometimes, find yourself avoiding something you should be doing? Of course, we all do from time to time. How do you avoid something like losing at Magic? Well the best way is to play less Magic, or only play against weak opponents for low stakes, or only play the absolute best netdeck without even exploring rogue strategies. This is actually conflicting with your ability to win at Magic and hurts your growth as player. You have to be willing to put yourself out there and risk the embarrassment of misplaying, looking like a doofus, or just plain losing. Losing a lot while still keeping a positive attitude while testing can actually be better than winning.


Afraid and locked up? Ask yourself “what’s the worst thing that could happen?”

Sure, you could miss on-board lethal while on camera. So what? Is it really so bad when that happens? You will almost always find that bad outcomes are completely manageable, sometimes laughable, if they actually happen.

Write out your fears and worries as a list and look through them. It feels like a weight is lifted out of your head.

When it’s all there, right in front you, it isn’t so bad. It’s manageable on paper.

Do you buckle under adversity or use it as a marching anthem to rise up and overcome?

The Best Magic Article

What does the best Magic article look like?

It’s going to be different for everyone, but it’s got to be inspirational. It’s got to elevate you Magically and as a person. It’s got to be personal and yet universal. It’ll inspire you to be the best you can be.

It will also have:

1. The best deck of all time, revealed and dissected. The deck will be so beautiful it blinds you just to look at it. The synergies held within it will inspire someone reading it to find a simple solution to global warming. Two hours after the deck is posted, there is an emergency Banned and Restricted announcement banning every card in the deck in every format, even the basic lands.

2. The article will cause world peace. The sheer beauty of the article causes a feeling of love to spread out from your core and radiate a sense of bliss towards your fellow humans. All military budgets are thereafter to be devoted towards developing a Virtual Reality for playing Magic.


What does the process of tuning and building a deck feel like?

1. Conception. This can be an idea for a deck, a new spin on an archetype, or just trying out a netdeck.

2. Adding something unique. Decks aren’t unique for the sake of being unique, if a deck is built with the intention to win, it honestly doesn’t matter if it’s a carbon copy from last week’s winning deck or a completely new deck that’s your favorite archetype. What matters is whether the deck has the best chance of giving you wins.

3. Refining the deck and aiming it at the metagame. This is where you start shaving away bumps and unnecessary cards to build a well-oiled machine.

Making Mistakes

Magic can be rejuvenating or draining. It can require intense laser-like focus and left-brain thinking or be a jovial multiplayer romp that relaxes you. FNM or Pro Tour. Two different aspects to the same game.

It is always important to remember not to take Magic (or yourself) too seriously though. It’s just a game at the end of the day. Sure, it’s a game you can devote yourself to, but winning or losing isn’t the end of the world and should be taken with an air of lightness. Don’t become too attached to the results, tuning, and playing. Let it flow and maintain your enjoyment of the process.


Channel who you are into what you do. Why do people create art, write, or play Magic? To share and express themselves. This was the article I needed to write.

A Pro Player is expected to put up strong results. Motivation to win that was once intrinsic and driven by curiosity and desire to prove oneself can become an obligation. A game becomes a job. Keep it fun.

Now, after writing this and putting the thoughts in my head onto the page I have an empty brain. (Hold your jokes until the very end!) I am ready to fill it back up with thoughts of Magic.

I want to help you get better. I want to entertain you. I want to play a good match of Magic.

I want to accomplish things that make others and myself proud.

I hope you enjoyed this strange romp, if I’m lucky it even made you smile or helped inspire an idea. Maybe both.