Mixed kNuts: Love’s Labour Found

My original desire to write came from the joy I felt in reading other people’s articles, but I’d never had a meaningful discussion with other people about their writing. All I knew was the BS that roiled about in my head until it became sentences on the screen; what other people went through was a mystery. So I asked the four best writers in the business what they did, and I compiled a Hall of Fame for the best Magic writers everm complete with today’s best writers who haven’t quite made it yet and the writers who’d make it if they wrote more often.

I’ve got a lot to cover today, but it all deals with writing. To start with, I asked a few questions of my favorite writers in order to find out what their writing habits are before giving you an in-depth look about what it takes to make a kNuts column. Next, I’ll discuss what I think it takes to be a good Magic writer. And last, I’ll deliver some well-deserved props to the current crop of writers and list my proposal for entrants into the Magic Writers Hall of Fame. If any of this interests you, read on… Otherwise, I’ll catch you when I come back from vacation.

Right about the time all the Regionals craziness started up, I got an idea for an article that I really wanted to pursue. Unfortunately, I also knew that I wouldn’t be able to write it for another two months – but I wasn’t about to let that stop me from doing the legwork on it, particularly since I knew that this article would turn into a work of love and admiration.

My original desire to write came from the joy I felt in reading other people’s articles, but I’d never had a meaningful discussion with other people about their writing. All I knew was the BS that roiled about in my head until it became sentences on the screen; what other people went through was a mystery. Eventually, talking to other writers about their process had gone from a small scratch at the back of my mind to a nagging itch, and finally to a burning rash that covered my entire cerebrum, and like any weak-willed individual; I finally felt the need to scratch it.

The question I really wanted to know the answer to was,”How does everybody else work?” I mean, I know what I do in order to crank out an article (and I’ll discuss that in detail later), but that can’t be the same (and often painful) process everybody else goes through. How do some of the other folks who do this (or have done this) on a regular basis write? How does that affect what sort of articles they turn out? And perhaps most importantly, what can I learn from them that will help me get better?

So I fired up the old e-mail account and sent off mini-questionnaires to some of my favorite authors, asking those very questions. Some people responded with brief remarks, while others were very detailed in their answers. Overall, I have to say that I’m pleased with the results. For those who are writers, if I didn’t contact you this time and you think this was an interesting endeavor that you’d like to participate in, drop me a line and I’ll try to include you next time around.

John Friggin’ Rizzo

I’m going to kick things off with the responses I got from Johnny Friggin, known to most of you as simply”Rizzo” or that bald-headed emoticon that sometimes gets used in the StarCityGames forums. He’s my favorite Magic writer of all time and one of the major reasons I got started writing Magic articles.

The”Other Johnny Magic” proved to me that you can write about a lot more than Magic and still be considered a Magic writer. He also proved that a person can have their own very distinctive style while still telling a story and occasionally doling out important tech (Rizzo was one of the first authors I saw dissect the original Braids deck that Kibler posted on The Sideboard and put it to work).

On the flip side, Rizzo was frequently awful as a player. He fell in love with horrible constructed decks, sometimes playing things he knew were bad just to make a point that it wasn’t a hated net deck. His play skills were solid, as he spent a year hanging out with the CMU crowd and learning the ins and the outs of the game, but he managed to sabotage his game in all sorts of different (and often creative) ways. Rizzo was also the leader of the”No Intentional Draws” and”Do Not Drop From Tournaments” movements, which have subsequently moved underground since his retirement. Until his digital camera died, he frequently put pictures of all of his opponents into tournament reports, for which his fans loved him and El Rodento hated him.

If you haven’t gone back and read John’s archives, I’m going to assume that you are new to the game and never heard of him while he was writing – otherwise, I’ll be forced to fight down the urge to administer severe beatings to the whole lot of you. Rizzo’s archive is a vast frickin’ expanse of fantastic lines, articles, and ideas that eventually grew to dwarf the state of Texas and moved into Ferrett’s old digs in the state of Alaska shortly after the rodent up and left. You think I write long articles? Rizzo used to break the article database.

If I had to choose just a few articles from Sandra Dee for you to read (and you don’t by any means have to read these few – you can read them all!), I’d say start with”Searching For [author name="Jamie Wakefield"]Jamie Wakefield[/author],” and then work in”Purge Mode: On” and”Bringing Out The Dead” (particularly relevant to my currently-unemployed ass), and then read”Stuck In The Middle With Bruce” and recognize that I had a second player riding shotgun in rounds 5 and 6 of Regionals. Jim left Bruce at home this year and qualified for Nationals, but in my sleep-induced haste to leave the house, I mistakenly packed him in my bookbag and it cost me.

It happens, but it doesn’t mean I have to like it. Actually, I hate it. To hell with Bruce. And to hell with me, too.

If you still don’t understand what JFR meant, read The FerrettRizzo Died For Your Sins,” where the Rodent-in-Chief tells you what Rizzo meant to everybody and why, and then challenges the community to step up to the plate and fill the void. F-Bomb has stated that he regrets how he handled the Rizzo retirement, but I’m glad he did it the way he did.

Why, you ask?

Well, take a step back and think about what this site was like before Rizzo left and what it has become since his departure. Not to make light of the massive improvements in editing, site design, and overall quality of articles here at StarCityGames that have happened since then, but I guarantee you that that diatribe had something important to do with the improvement here as well. Just look at the names listed there as unique voices and realize that blisterguy came back because of it (and then semi-retired again… the bastard) and Tait, Romeo, and yours truly switched teams shortly afterwards. Nice pickup from a single sentence inside an article, dontchathink?

Jesus Christ, meet John Rizzo.*

Anyway, here’s the correspondence between John and I, presented mostly unedited because there just isn’t enough new Rizzo in the world.

Me: Anyway, I was wondering if I could impose upon you an interesting set

of questions… that you should feel free to ignore if you don’t have the time.

JFR: Questions… My lifeblood. I am an expert on asking, not so hot on answering. Johnny Posit or some s**t. Alas, I must give it my all, which may or may not be much more than Scott Panzini’s fat ass can offer you.

Me: The reason why I’m writing is that I want to know how you go about writing. Actually, I guess I want to know more than that, but the overarching idea is about how people write. What are your days like?

JFR: Interesting question there. But you might as well ask where do erections come from. (The Obligatory Cheesecake Section? – Knut) Speaking of erections, the phrase”erection ass” was edited by Thou Ferrett from the Boston report. Heh.

Me: When do you get the writing in?

JFR: At night. Late at night. Sleep is the s**t, but there’s always time for that. Sorta. As Steve Guttenberg, that fine thespian that he is, once mumbled in Police Academy (the 1st one, you know, before they started to suck… Heh?)”Sleeping’s for fags.”

If one must write, and I must as I believe you must, then it must be a solitary procedure, which leads to darkness (adds to the mood?), which begets a feeling of isolation, which ends up with being totally devoid of any human contact. Thus, write that s**t at night once real life is out of the f**king way.

Me: Where do your ideas come from?

JFR: I found other peeps articles to be very inspiring in terms of”holy s**t I can’t believe dat nigra said that s**t, now I’mma flat blast a mudhole in his ass.” Otherwise you take ideas as they come, and they come from everywhere if your eyes are open.

Me: When you were writing about Magic, how much did you play, and when you did play, what did you play?

JFR: When I played at CMU for a year or so, once a week; and once a week in a multiplayer melee. Not much, huh? The gamut was whatever format the next PT was going to be, mixed with a little of the upcoming or current PTQ season. Of course, melee was all about nutty f**king s**t, as you may or may not know. I’d say that’s the best of both worlds: being smashed by Forsythe and Turian, then finding three Black Vises aimed at your dome before you drew a goddamned card. Heh on everyone and everything.

Me: Did you test metagame matchups with established decks? Did you play mad scientist and try to break the Constructed format of the time?

JFR: Hells yes. Forsythe was the f**king man when it came to a) establishing the gauntlet and b) building most of the s**t himself. Both T8s I made were when I was playing at CMU, and directly attributed to having a well-defined gauntlet to test against.

However, many of the PTQ CMU nerds were all about nutty rogue decks, which proved to be fun until everyone realized their decks were ass.

Forsythe, Turian, and to an extent Andy Johnson and Andrew Cuneo usually tried to crush the metagame with rogue. Sometimes it worked, sometimes not, but they always had a good grasp of the metagame and would tweak a net deck if they had to.

Me: Or did you focus almost exclusively on Limited and just expect that your play skillz will carry you through when you have to play a Constructed deck?

JFR: Heh, play skills. CMU is a bastion of Limited genius, so yep, a lot of time was also devoted to breaking that s**t wide open – I think their success to this day in Limited speaks volumes to that effect. Lots of drafts, no more than lots.

Me: From you particularly, I want to know about the process. Do you work ten hours a day and then come home to bang out four more hours of writing when the mood strikes? Or do you set aside an hour every night to just make sure you get something written?

JFR: When I first broke onto the scene I would often spend twenty hours on an article, fine toothed comb and s**t. I’d neglect as much work as possible during the day (being the president had its perks) and get even wackier when I got home, i.e.: Late-night silly s**t.

However, once it was established that I could write some awful s**t and peeps would still mostly like it, I went for the stream of consciousness type s**t, which seems apparent in most of my later stuff. It became a sort of therapy – get the frustrations out, with little concern for correctly-formatted sentences and linear thought processes and whatnot.

I’m sure you’ve been writing along at a nice clip and suddenly something pops into your head… Well, I wouldn’t bother to stop, I’d just let that thought come out and right goddamned now. Weird s**t indeed it was.

(I have tried that as part of my minor tribute to your one year retirement anniversary and my one year writer’s anniversary and people freaked out in the forums. They thought it was a struggle to read what was otherwise a pretty interesting strategy article. Johnny Friggin’ I am not. – Knut)

JFR: But I still cared about what I wrote, and every once in a while I’ll check out something from back in the day and be both enamored and disgusted – whoa, that was awesome s**t, but then the article got sucky, then came back up in it like gangbusters. Or something.

Me: Anyway, this doesn’t have to be long… I’m just trying to get a handle on how some of the more notable (and interesting) writers that I know actually go about their craft. It may eventually become an article, provided I convince anyone to participate.

JFR: I hope the term”craft” doesn’t apply to me, for I believe that I spent most of my writing time denying anything that might resemble craft. Mostly on purpose. Heh.

Good luck with this dealio, sounds like an interesting road to go down. I’d also like to hear how other nigras go about it, if only just to say heh, weird.

Seth Burn

Next in line we have Seth Burn, otherwise known as the man whose style I decided to emulate when I started, at least until I could develop my own. If you don’t know who the hell Seth is at this point, then I can’t help you. He’s been writing forever (and always at competing sites to Star City! Frown.), and word on the street has it that he’s not only ridiculously smart, but a hella good player to boot. Word also has it that Seth attends about 50% of the Pro Tours and Nationals events he gets invited to.

In short, he’s a freak, but he’s a freak with other priorities besides everyone’s favorite hobby (and he makes some serious bank working for”The Man” as a high-powered accountant-type in NYC). The key here is that he’s also an outstanding writer when he wants to be. Every once in a while, you can feel that Seth is phoning in the Magic parts of his article in order to get to the other stuff he wants to say… But when Seth turns it on he has the ability to combine analysis of the game on par with Zvi Mowshowitz with a sarcastic sense of humor, a joy for words, and a love not only for the game, but the world outside the game as well.

Last year I tried for three months to get him to do an interview with me, but it never seemed to come together. Thankfully, Seth responded quickly to my request for info on how he writes, so I consider the interview request at least half fulfilled.

Me: What are your days like? Do you work fifty hours a week and have to deal with a commute? Are you married?

SB: I work forty hours a week during the slow season. I work many more hours a week during the busy seasons of Tax Season and Audit Season. I do both as do most people in the audit side of my firm. I don’t have a killer commute. I am not married, but not quite single either.

Me: When do you get the writing in?

SB: If it is a slow day and I have something to say, I’ll start writing after lunch. Otherwise, it’s sometimes at home after work and sometimes at work when life is particularly slow.

Me: Where do your ideas come from?

SB: As I am a bit of a special case I have to say everywhere, mostly because I write about everything. Deck ideas come out of me trying to do something, and then finding the cards to do it. Aggrowaters was me trying to play a Waters deck that could still be aggressive. SGD was designed to simply kill as many lands as possible since all the decks had become so mana tight. Right now I am trying to figure out the best way to play Necro for Nationals.

Me: When you are writing consistently about Magic, how much do you play, and when you do play, what do you play?

SB: I try to draft a few times a week. As for constructed I prefer to set up organized playtest sessions. Tuesday and Friday nights, GF permitting. I like to work with a team for constructed.

Me: Do you test metagame matchups with established decks? Do you play mad scientist and try to break the Constructed format of the time?

SB: Both. Sometimes the best move is to tune a deck to beat a metagame. Other times you can come up with something outside the metagame and hit it from an unexpected angle to produce great results. I prefer the latter, but it is a lot harder so I have gotten used to both.

Me: Or do you focus almost exclusively on Limited and just expect that your play skillz will carry you through when you have to play a Constructed deck?

SB: I love deck design – so for me, neither Limited nor Constructed is the focus. Both are fun. It is strange actually: Limited is the most fun when building your deck. Constructed is a bit more fun to play and has the added joy of the construction process. The problem with Constructed is you never get to”crack” a bomb rare. That joy is reserved for Limited.

Me: I want to know about the process. Do you work ten hours a day and then come home to bang out four more hours of writing when the mood strikes? Or do you set aside an hour every night to just make sure you get something written?

SB: If I work ten hours on a particular day, I do not go home and write; I go home and watch Hockey or Basketball or Football (if I am lucky). I write very fast. I usually finish an article either the day or the day after I start it. I hate lagging an article.

Me: What do you feel your best piece of work is?

SB: There is absolutely no question that my best work is my two-part Elephanting a deck series. I don’t even know how many people even know what it is. Do you?

My other favorite is my tournament report with Aggro Waters, where I titled it”Playing like Flores.” There were some truly awful plays that day. Lost in the finals of a PTQ, but I was in on rating anyway.

Me: I’ve actually read the Elephanting series twice, but had never read the Playing Like Flores article. Great stuff, with one set showcasing some very real contributions to the theory of proper deck construction, while the other is definitely a model for how be entertaining and informative through the course of a Tournament Report.

Thanks, Seth, not only for answering my e-mail, but for your years of useful contributions to the game and the community.

Geordie Tait

Geordie Tait and I have a history together that none of you know about. You see, both of us were mentioned by The Ferrett in”Rizzo Died For Your Sins” (Hey… where exactly did those”Rizzo Boxes” disappear to?), and we’ve corresponded behind the scenes off and on since then.

Well, actually, I’ve corresponded. He mostly answers my e-mail.

Some days.

He’s never actually written an e-mail to me that wasn’t a response, though, so I guess I don’t move him to write the way he sometimes moves me. That which does not kill me…

Since Geordie and I started on StarCityGames at around the same time, we’ve also been a bit competitive. Whenever he’s in a period of weak writing, I see fit to notify him of such, just like I deliver plenty of kudos unto his sorry ass when he writes something really stellar. I don’t know why I feel justified in doing this, exactly, but for some reason I do, so Geordie takes lumps when his writing is s**t and gets more than a fair share of praise when he lives up to his potential.

Anyway, until recently I tracked my progress as a writer against Geordie’s and generally felt we were equal. (You may feel to disagree here. It will not shatter my ego if you should choose to do so.) Then he qualified for Pro Tour: Chicago, proving he’s a better player than me. Then he wrote”The Definitive Tourney Report” and proved that he is also a better writer than me.

I was so moved by The DTR that I wrote him a long letter telling him how I felt (and sounding a bit too much like Bertrand Russell for my taste, but it’s too late to take back the zest and verve line). Here’s an excerpt:

“You captured a small slice of what makes our heroes great, while allowing the reader to recognize that these people are still approachable. You were able to make people understand that the Pros may win thousands of dollars and be recognized among the best in the world at what they do, but in their hearts, they are still gamers just like you and me.

“That understanding is not just important because you felt it and were able to tell people about it; it’s important to the success of the game. Wizards should write you a big fat f**king check based on how many people read your article, because if you bring that same sort of zest and verve to a greater portion of the Magic community, it will mean something to their bottom line.”

That’s what Geordie does so well. He takes you inside his joy for the game and makes it palpable through his writing. It’s a trait that he shares with fellow Canadian (and fellow Magic Online infomercial) Gary Wise, and it is the key component that makes their writing so compelling. Geordie is Magic’s Everyman, an author who has reached the highest of heights that most non-Pros dare dream of, while still managing to get his ass handed to him on MODO with some frequency and bitching about it all the while.

It was also in the above letter that I told him I could no longer be competitive with him as a writer. You see, when you’re a writer and you have to compete with all the other yahoos writing pulp science fiction, it’s not that big a deal when someone else delivers a well-received book that sells well, provided you feel that your writing is on par with that writer. But when said individual instead writes a book like 1984 or Ender’s Game, competition gets thrown out the door. You can’t compete with that sort of thing, you simply tip your hat to the achievement and hope that someday you will produce a masterwork of your own. That’s what the DTR is – and instead of denying that fact, I tipped my hat to Mr. Tait and chose to move along.

If you are looking for other Taitian highlights to check out that are slightly shorter than the above work, I suggest trying on”The Daily Shot: Behold [author name="Laura Mills"]Laura Mills[/author]‘ Deck” and the object of envy for all of us Penny Arcade-reading Magic Writers (it got linked from PA about 2 days after he wrote the article)”The Daily Shot: What You NEED To Know About Magic Online.”

Geordie’s responses to my questions were considerably shorter than our other participants, but he did take time out from his ultra-busy schedule of drafting, scraping for tickets, and more drafting to send the following:

GT: I write:

a) when I get a good idea

b) when I have something due

c) when it’s been a while and I get depressed realizing that it’s the only thing I’m really good at, and I’m not doing it

I write:

a) by getting”on a roll” and pounding out an article in a couple of hours

b) or by portioning out a block of time each day until the project is done, in the case of longer pieces, such as my PT Chicago report

I don’t know. It’s easy for me because that is where my future lies. I’m treading water in life now, man, trying to keep away from the shredding, suctioning turbine ship engine of corporate drudgery, cubicles, and Friday morning meetings.

If I don’t write, I wither away.


Bennie Smith

Our last participant (though not the last writer polled) has been around Star City since the very early days. He was recruited by Omeed Dariani (former editor of this here site here) on the basis of his UseNet posts, and while he has since gone on to bigger things than Star City (Bennie also writes for Scrye Magazine and MagicTheGathering.com), he still manages to crank out the occasional article here at SC as well.

Bennie is also a personal friend of mine, as he happens to live an hour away, and we see each other frequently when our wives decide to let us get out of the house and get our game on. He’s an opinionated bastard, but his opinions always show just how much he cares about the game and its future. While my own take on issues doesn’t always jibe with Master Smith’s, I always respect what he has to say, as he is one of the rare souls who is able to write about hard-core strategy while staying in touch with the casual player base.

Here’s what Bennie had to say about how he goes about meeting his monthly deadlines for his various writing responsibilities:

Me: What are your days like? Do you work fifty hours a week and have to deal with a commute? Are you married?

Bennie: Work fifty hours a week, twenty-minute commute, married, two children under three years of age. To sum up my days, in a word – hectic!

Me: When do you get the writing in?

Bennie: At the last minute? Ha! Usually I cram it in when I can from work. During my lunch break, thirty minutes to an hour after I clock out. Occasionally while I should be working on something really dull, just to break the monotony (or meet a deadline). I do zero writing at home, our computer is in the living room which is where the family chaos swirls around. By the time everyone is in bed and quiet I have zero energy and am usually a semi-comatose mound on the sofa barely listening to Howard Stern or

Drew Carey on the tube.

Me: Where do your ideas come from?

Bennie: Article ideas come from several different sources:

1. New deck designs that I’ve either come up with myself or inspired from the net. Since I rarely get to playtest as much as I’d like, basically my goal is to share the idea with the world in the hopes that somebody might pick it up and run with it, having fun and hopefully some success with the idea.

2. Sharing insights I may have come across in the most relevant constructed format. This comes about from scouring the net for information on the format, weighing various people’s opinions versus my own, and my own playtest experience.

3. New sets – both to share my initial thoughts on the new sets and debunking the inevitable”this set SUX!” cacophony that floats up after every release. People never give new sets a fair shake and that drives me crazy.

4. Issues! While I’m not quite as quick with the pen as I used to be, I do occasionally get worked up over an issue I think is important (for instance, changing the Regionals system of qualifying for Nats into something more fair based on attendance).

5. Tournament Success. On the rare occasion that I do well at a tournament I will write up a report of sorts to share.

Me: When you are writing consistently about Magic, how much do you play, and when you do play, what do you play?

Bennie: I generally play one night a week (either playtesting, drafts, or just pick-up games), and play in a Constructed tournament once every other week. One or two nights a week, I try to muster enough energy to tinker with decks (building them, goldfishing) after the family falls out.

Me: Do you test metagame matchups with established decks? Do you play mad scientist and try to break the Constructed format of the time?

Bennie: I used to put a lot of time into going my own way with rogue decks for Constructed tournaments, thinking of how to either break open the metagame or getting my rogue creation to be competitive. Unfortunately, time and energy constraints have made me more of a deck tinkerer – I’ll play some of the better netdecks, but I’ll typically tweak and tune it to give it a more potent flava (and hopefully not ruining the gumbo in the process).

I still make some wack group game decks though!

Me: Do you focus almost exclusively on Limited and just expect that your

play skillz will carry you through when you have to play a Constructed deck?

Bennie: My Limited skillz come from drafting every Friday night and reading what I can about the format on the net.

Me: I want to know about the process. Do you work ten hours a day and then come home to bang out four more hours of writing when the mood strikes? Or do you set aside an hour every night to just make sure you get something written?

Bennie: It’s sporadic really, based on how busy I am at work and what deadlines (Scrye, mtg.com) I got coming up, and whether I think something’s timely and needs to be sent out quick (for StarCityGames). I’ll typically write thirty minutes during my lunch break and thirty minutes a day after quitting time on average (sometimes more, sometimes less). Five to six hours a week writing is probably about right.

Me: What do you feel your best piece of work is?

Bennie: Hands-down, my fake Nationals report. I put a lot of thought into that one before I even started writing, and once I was done Ferrett really worked me over before he’d post it, so I think it came out really darn good.

The feedback I got from the Magic community was fantastic, especially notables like Rizzo, Chris Senhouse, Seth Burn, Paul Leitch, Daniel Crane and John Shuler (who’s fake Regionals report was my initial inspiration). And the fact that I pissed off one notable PT player – Andy Johnson – was icing on the cake, and inspired what I thought was a pretty good retalitory strike (Wasabi and Graham Crackers, one of my favorite titles), though it didn’t compare to the color-coded torpedo Shuler launched at Andy J over on the defunct Mindripper. *That* was hysterical!

How Do I Write?

I figure I may as well subject myself to the same questions I gave everyone else, particularly since I know what my process is, and it seems to differ a bit from those polled above. Besides, it will let me talk about me, and what arrogant bastard could turn that down?

Q: What are your days like? Do you work fifty hours a week and have to deal with a commute? Are you married?

Up until three weeks ago, I spent 42.5 hours a week at work and another 2.5 a day commuting back and forth – and believe it or not, it wasn’t that bad. I liked my job, got along well with my co-workers, and the drive certainly gave me time to listen to enough NPR so that I would always be the most informed person in the room. The nature of my job also gave me enough time to write articles about every other week while on the clock, so that was a nice bonus. Unfortunately, I could no longer deal with my boss on a level approaching anything that could be equated to”civil” and chose to leave without another job to hop into and preserve my sanity.

Q: When do you get the writing in?

I actually started writing articles on Brainburst a little over a year ago because I was so bored that I needed to find something to occupy my time, so for a while I did all my writing at work. As things picked up I started having to bring the Magic writing home with me, which was okay because I really began to enjoy it. Eventually though, work got busy enough so that about 60% of my writing was done from home, and it cut into the time I was spending keeping my draft skills sharp on MODO. It’s worth it, but my Limited play suffered a bit.

Now that I’m unemployed, I write whenever the hell I feel like it, provided the wife doesn’t have anything for me to do and I don’t have an interview. At this moment it’s about 2:30 a.m. Eastern time and I feel like I’m on a roll.

Q: Where do your ideas come from?

Everywhere. Literally. I see license plates and get ideas for The Kitchen Sink. TV Shows and Music I catch on the radio inevitably end up getting mentioned. Every internet page I read has the potential to be linked into an article. Conversations with my friends are probably the biggest instigator of good topics though, so I guess I have really smart friends or something.

Obviously, other people’s Magic writing is the strongest influence on what I write about the game, but I still manage to come up with original ideas every once in a while.

Q: When you are writing consistently about Magic, how much do you play, and when you do play, what do you play?

I play Type 2 every week on Sundays, and try to get in one draft a week. MODO helps a lot, since Friday nights (the usual draft night at the local store) are reserved for my wife.

Q: Do you test metagame matchups with established decks? Do you play mad scientist and try to break the Constructed format of the time?

I do both. My natural inclination is to be like BASF and not make the decks you play, but make the decks you play better. However, when a concept grabs me and I get into it, I really enjoy walking through the full development cycle. It doesn’t happen as much anymore due to time constraints, but I did a lot of work on the Windborn Opposition deck before we threw it out as being too vulnerable to mana screw.

I also help Jim Ferraiolo with his decks, and he definitely wears the mad scientist hat in our partnership. What usually happens when we’re working together is he tests a deck into a playable form, and then I help him weed out the garbage and tune it into a tight machine. We bounce cards off one another until things stick, and before big tournaments we spend a lot of time playtesting the deck to make certain it performs as expected. I also try to keep him sane the week or two before a big tournament, as he frequently gets harebrained ideas about what is suddenly”good” in a format and should be added to a deck. No amount of convincing will ever make me say that Thieving Magpie is good in Psychatog decks, but sometimes the kid just won’t listen.

Q: Do you focus almost exclusively on Limited and just expect that your play skillz will carry you through when you have to play a Constructed deck?

Up until last November, I had no Limited skills. Then I got jacked into MODO and took some lumps as part of the learning process. When Scourge is released, I’ll be back on there in force, as I think drafting a full block helps you play better in Block Constructed. I never would have come to that conclusion until I made a conscious effort to improve my skills in Limited, and now I just need to prove it.

Q: Do you work ten hours a day and then come home to bang out four more hours of writing when the mood strikes? Or do you set aside an hour every night to just make sure you get something written?

I can’t write an hour at a time. I have to be able to sit down and devote large blocks of time to an article so that I can really get a flow going. When I’m writing well, I don’t notice the passage of time, and tend to concentrate so deeply that people can stand next to me and I won’t even notice until they say something. This is a decidedly bad trait to have if you are writing at work and don’t want your boss to catch you…

An average article takes me seven to eight hours to write (five to six for the analysis/strategy and another two hours for the fun stuff), which isn’t exactly an economical way to earn store credit. Articles where I do a lot of statistical analysis (like the ones for Grand Prix: Boston and part of Pro Tour: Chicago, and the one I would be doing for Pro Tour: Yokohama, if the farking Sideboard actually posts the decklists again!) tend to take more like ten to twelve hours to prepare the numbers and do the analysis, but I think it’s worth it. Sometimes I’m able to slip what I want to say into a shorter article, but every time that happens I feel a little guilty about it and have to write something really long the next week as penance.

I work harder on every weekly Magic article than I did on 95% of the papers I got”A”s on in college.

Whatever the case, this should help to explain why I sometimes have to post additional elements of articles in our forums here. I’m often running perilously close to imposed submission deadlines by Ferrett, and it’s easier to make a few final points on the forum than it is to beg him to wait for me to finish an article.

I’ll be honest with you… The reason why I put in so much time on my articles is two-fold:

The first reason is because I love doing it. I love the analytical elements of the game and I love writing about them. I also love having an outlet to say pretty much whatever the hell I want to and getting feedback about it. Feedback is a dangerously addictive thing, and it is one of the true benefits of being a Magic pseudo-celebrity.

The second reason I devote the time that I do to each article is that somewhere along the way my goal changed from”producing solid work” to”being the best Magic Writer.” I don’t know when it happened or how it came about, but I know that the goal these days is a lot different than when I started. I may never have the skills to be a Pro Tour Champion, but I might have the skills to make the Writer’s Hall of Fame.

Will it ever happen?

I’m realistic about it, so my answer is”No, probably not.” I be a well writer, but I don’t fool myself by thinking there ain’t being chilluns out there with betterer writing skills then I gots (my editor being one of them, my playtest partner being another, the perennial Canadian slacker being a third, and the lead reporter for The Sideboard being yet another).

Nor am I the pinnacle of Magic strategy, as Zvi, Seth, Kai, and Flores stand firmly on those pedestals and have been nobly ensconced there for some time. I simply have a useful set of skills, a nugget that likes to look for trends, and a penchant for running off at the mouth while discussing hot chicks.

If I had to define myself in the shoes of those who have gone before me, I’d probably say I’ve taken Sean McKeown place as a writer who really knows what’s going on, but never translates that knowledge into a place on the Pro Tour. Because of that, I manage to stay in contact with the average player – a position that proves particularly useful every year when States and Regionals roll around.

I would like to take a moment and state for the record that I am considerably sexier, slightly less arrogant, and get more play with the ladies than Sean McKeown. Just wanted to make certain we’re clear on that.

I don’t really think of myself as a McKeown clone, either. While I’m doing the confessional thing, I may as well admit that I’m really a thief of everyone on the internet that writes. No one’s material is safe. If you write it, I might swipe it! Because of this, I choose to define myself as no one in particular. Nobody wants to be pigeonholed into a particular style, least of all me, so expect me to continue stealing the best and worst parts of your articles and calling them my own.

Maybe Thieving Magpie is some good after all…

Q: What do you feel your best piece of work is?

Oh God, it’s been such a long journey. I was awful when I started. If you want to see an enormous juxtaposition of where a Magic writer can start and where they can get to, read this article from before last year’s Regionals that I won fifty dollars for and then go back and re-read either”How To ‘Role Deep’ In Standard” or”Warrior Needs Food Badly.” It shows how an author can go from”completely awful” to”does not suck” in the course of a year.

Looking chronologically at my articles, things started to come together when I wrote”The Scatological Tourney Report,” but I still wasn’t doing any significant analysis of the game at that point, and the analysis I was doing wasn’t well integrated into the flow of my writing (SpongeJohn SquareNash is probably a good example of this). The solid analysis began in”Get Yer States On,” which is probably the first time I really put everything together into a coherent article that features both analysis and fun.

The Doubleheader article was the first time I did a numbers analysis of PT drafts, a feature that I think is useful, but also one that no one else has chosen to replicate yet. Doing the”research” for the tournament report was also a ridiculous amount of fun and something that I would like to replicate for this year’s trip to New Orleans.

If I had to choose the article that I really feel is my best though, I’d pick Warrior Needs Food… The matchup numbers are a little off, but it’s not often that you can actually come up with a”new” method for determining the best deck in a field. There’s further discussion to be had on how the actual deck should be chosen, but if other people choose to use the methodology in the future, I’ll be really proud.

The Magic Writer’s Hall Of Fame

Yeah, okay… this is just a conceptual thing for the time being, but there deserves to be one, don’t you think? Maybe just a little annex off the Wizards corporate headquarters, perhaps? Whatever the case, I think it’s high time someone kicked in the door and started a discussion about one, so here we go…

The game of Magic attracts smart people, and there are a lot of genius-caliber folks who have written articles about the game. Unfortunately, writing is a lonely business and the people who write great articles often get too little credit for too much work. That’s why I decided to include this section… To recognize the folks that have made glowing contributions to the game and the community in the past and to also recognize those people who are doing so now.

This is by no means a comprehensive list… I’m just one man here, and there have been gigabytes worth of material written on the game over the last ten years. If you feel I’ve missed somebody that deserves attention, let me know about it and we will correct the situation.

I am also, by no means, the keeper of this hallowed (conceptual) institution. Take it. Use it for your own and keep it updated and relevant for future players of the game. It’s your game, therefore you have an important contribution to make in choosing the members of The Hall as well.

One more thing here… Don’t forget to argue about it. People argue about Hall of Famers in sports all the time, and these arguments are a vital contributor to the energy that fans feel when they think of their game. Without these arguments, the best players/writers of yesteryear will be forgotten, and their contributions will be made irrelevant.

You only want people who are truly worthy of the label to be in the Hall, so it behooves you to make certain that this is the case, and argue otherwise if it is not.

What follows is a listing of how I see things. However, I also see The Hall as a community project and one that should probably be taken out of my hands as soon as this article is published. Therefore, you can consider this to be what my ballot would look like if I had to choose the composition of The Hall as it stands today.

The Pantheon

This is the area where there can be no argument about as member’s inclusion into the Hall. The writers in this section have had long careers during which they have produced some of the best works of the game. The only question is who’s the best of all time…

1) Zvi Mowshowitz – Nobody has been as prolific as Zvi, and certainly not for such a long period of time. His body of work is greater than that of any other writer, and the majority of it has been outstanding. It sounds strange, but my favorite Zvi piece is probably the set review he did of Judgment, where the flavor text was worth the price of admission alone. Covering the important works of Zvi would take a twenty-page article, but over that time you come to realize that no one else has been such a dynamic force in the community and the game. To me, he’s the most important writer in Magic’s ten-year history.

2) Mike Flores – The only writer whose body of work and longevity even comes close to Zvi, Flores has been an important writer since the earliest days of The Dojo in spite of his”Bad Player” moniker. I’ll confess that I miss the days when Michael J. used to show a bit more of himself in his articles, but since he primarily writes for The Sideboard these days, personal quirks have been removed and replaced with hardcore analysis. The amount of material Mike has produced has diminished over the years, but he’s still right on time with the rhyme when he does decide to write.

3) Seth Burn – As I stated earlier, Seth’s a freak in the community because he’s skipped more Pro Tours than he’s attended. However, that has nothing to do with his writing skills, which are pure gold. There have been a couple of times where it looked like the old man might retire from writing to a life as an accountant and sports fan, but thankfully it hasn’t happened yet.

4) J. Gary Wise – A better writer than player, the fact that he’s a longtime PT regular that has won a Pro Tour says a lot about his skills in the former. Some months Gary looks like the (very large) corporate mouthpiece for Wizards of the Coast (which is not necessarily a bad thing for Wizards), no matter what he’s writing, it’s always interesting. Gary is the first introduction that most players have to high-level Limited analysis, and he’s often the best they will get for a particular set. There’s no doubt he belongs in The Pantheon, the only question is whether he belongs higher…

5) John Rizzo – No other writer will ever match his style, which combined pop culture references, stream of consciousness, and some of the funniest articles you’ve ever seen. While he was writing, Rizzo probably cared more about the game than anyone else on this list, and he was extremely vocal about standing up for his principles. Rizzo’s greatest gift was that he caused his readers to actually think about and question their actions inside and outside the game, thus improving the environment and community in the process.

6) Jamie Wakefield – While some say he was the original Rizzo, actual readers of Wakefield know that he was different from The Other Johnny Magic in both style and substance. Wakefield was one of the first writers to draw a rabid fan base – and he did it by writing about qualifying for the Pro Tour on his own terms. He was Timmy in a power gamer’s body, causing the world to gain newfound respect”fatties” as he proved they were something more than little kid’s toys.

Hell, you might even say Onslaught was”his” set.

The Lifers

The writers in this wing have made significant contributions to the game over the course of many years. Their contributions don’t quite merit inclusion into the Pantheon (usually because they haven’t written enough), they are still first-ballot Hall of Famers whose inclusion merits little debate.

In no particular order:

Adrian Sullivan – A contender for the”Sexiest Man in Magic” award, his looks and style have nothing to do with his inclusion in the Hall. Sulli has been a longtime proponent of going against the grain, creating fantastic rogue creations seemingly out of garbage for his entire career and then writing about his success playing them. Adrian is currently an assistant editor for Brainburst, which works out well for the community because it forces him to keep his hand in the game.

Chad Ellis – Chad is a great strategy writer who floats in and out of the Magic scene. His style is concise and to the point, giving him the ability to break down difficult concepts into something simple to understand. You can probably learn more about the game from reading his body of work than reading three months worth of content from any notable website.

Anthony Alongi – The best writer casual gamers and multiplayer fans could hope for. While he writes for what most of the strategy players consider a niche market, Wizards recognizes that Tony’s audience is, in actuality, the majority of people who play the game. It doesn’t hurt that Alongi’s skills as a writer are unquestioned. I don’t even play multiplayer, but he’s such a joy to read that I find myself consistently clicking on his articles just to see what he has to say.

Rob Hahn – The founder of modern Magic writing, his Schools of Magic articles provided the introduction for most players to key strategic concepts like”sideboarding” and”tempo.” The only thing that keeps Rob out of The Pantheon is the fact that he stopped writing about six years ago.

Kai Budde – The”best player in the world” suffers slightly because he doesn’t produce enough articles, but those he does produce change the metagame like no other. I get the feeling that, aside from being a genius, Kai is actually a really funny guy who would be a lot more productive and enjoyable to read if the rest of the world understood German. Unfortunately, the language barrier seems to leech most of the humor from his articles, but it doesn’t matter, as every word Kai says is strategic gold; a fact that Magic players the world over are well aware of. When Kai talks, we listen. We just wish he’d talk a little bit more.

Brian Kibler – Another pro who doesn’t write enough, when he does write it’s either a tournament report where he tells entertaining tales regardless of whether he won or not, or it’s a mindblowing strategy article that sets the tone for the season to come. Brian apparently graduates from college this week, and it will be interesting to see if his release from scholastic duties coincides with an increase of writing activity for the game.

Frank Kusumoto – The Sensei is here because he was the guiding force behind the development of The Dojo, the website which changed the face of the game. If Frank hadn’t been around, it’s possible that StarCityGames, Brainburst, TOGIT, and all the other sites out there wouldn’t exist either. (Possible? No, it’s a certain fact – The Ferrett, acknowledging some mad history)

The Ferrett – The Editor that guided Star City Games from the casual scene into primetime, that Ferrett boy is also an outstanding writer as well. Being a fulltime editor and webmaster for the biggest Magic dealer on the web has leeched away his time to play the game, thus decreasing his actual writing output about Magic, but you can’t argue with the results that StarCityGames has achieved with him at the helm. The only question is: What will he think of next?

Scott Johns – The third consecutive editor on this list, Scott is also included on the basis of both his editorial guidance and his writing skills. His”You Suck” article remains an influential piece for Magic players looking to take their skills to the next level, and he has had long editorial reigns over two of the biggest strategy sites on the net, helping to develop Mindripper and Brainburst from concepts into strategic juggernauts.

Sean McKeown – Sean was actually more prolific than Zvi while he was writing; the only thing that really separated them was the small fact that Zvi was a World Class player and Pro Tour winner, while Sean was a skilled player that couldn’t quite make the leap to the Tour (though he did qualify for PT: Boston with Seth Burn and Kevin An last fall).

Sean’s writing had the ability to change the course of metagames (which Scott Johns credits him for doing at PT: Tokyo), and he did a ton of legwork in breaking down the best decks for each Constructed qualifier season. His writing was arrogant, brash, and sometimes painful to read, but it was always quality, always informative, and even had a bit of humor in it from time to time. He has since retired from the scene, but his long run of written achievements have not gone unrecognized.

Josh Bennett – Possibly the best Magic writer ever in terms of pure skill. Reading through Bennett’s archive is like reading classic after classic in your local library and having every single one of them be fun to read. The self-styled”One Man Crowd” has since moved on to high-profile slacking, producing the occasional piece for magicthegathering.com and acting as the lead reporter for event coverage by The Sideboard. I miss the old Josh Bennett who used to write twenty times a year, but I guess event coverage on The Sideboard would be a lot worse without him.

The Regulars

This wing of the Hall is reserved for excellent writers that have consistently produced highly informative and entertaining material. Their achievements aren’t as great as those in the two wings listed above, but they still belong in the Hall on the basis of their outstanding writing careers.

In no particular order:


Do these people belong in the hall? Remember, we don’t give a damn about what these folks have done as players; it’s their writing achievements that matter. I can’t decide and I want to know your opinion on it.

Residents of the Pete Rose Wing across the street from The Hall and not an official part of The Hall itself:

Writers that would be in the Hall, if only they would write more frequently:

  • Jon Becker – The best writer not in The Hall, I could easily be swayed if the rest of you feel he’s written enough articles to merit inclusion. I love Jon’s work, I just don’t know if there’s enough of it to get him in.

Writers that will make the Hall if they continue on at the same pace for another year or two:

Writers With Potential:

  • John Magaritasnacks from mtgplanet.com (and yes, I know that’s not his name, but it’s so much easier to remember).

  • Chris Romeo

  • Pale Mage

  • Iain Telfer

  • Charles Mousseau (The MOOSE!)

  • Chris Leather

  • Tony Patronick

  • Brett Shears

  • Jun-Wei Hew

  • Pugg Fuggly

Writers That I Always Read:

Becker, Zvi, Ferraiolo, Ferrett, Cunningham, Osyp, Walamies, Tait, Wise, Johns, Aten, Mousseau, Vienneau, Burn, Budde, Bennett, Kibler, Flores

If there are writers I missed that you feel should be included, please let me know. I didn’t do it as a personal slight to anyone, I probably just overlooked them or have a different opinion as to the quality of their work. I’m always looking for new writers that I should be reading, and StarCityGames is always looking for excellent writers to recruit. (Going off to revisit John Margarita’s body of work now – The Ferrett)

This is simply a first cut on an important idea, and it can’t be completed without input from you. I’m fully willing to blather on about the merits of this writer or that writer as long as you want to, provided you give me a link to their archives.

How do you get here?

What are the qualities that you should be developing in order to someday make your way into the Hall?

1) You have to know your s**t. If you go around telling people that Firebolt is an Instant and saying that your U/W Mobilization deck has a 90% win percent against the field, you will throw your credibility right out the window and people will stop reading you. If you make mistakes, don’t be afraid to admit them and make fun of yourself in the process.

Building a fanbase is a long, involved process, which means that week after week you have to come correct with the goods, or your readers may choose to start reading someone else with their limited time. Keep their trust and you will keep them coming back as well.

2) Have something to say. You have no idea how frustrated I get when I see Pro Tour players write an article where they simply phone in the information and collect their check. Readers can tell when you don’t care about what you’re writing, and it turns them off. If you have energy, then I’m three times more likely to keep reading your stuff than if you’re writing just to get something published. Sometimes it doesn’t even matter what you’re writing about… If you have something to say and say it in an interesting way people will see your writing as worthwhile.

3) Write a lot. You cannot write ten articles in your career and expect to make The Hall. You need to write a lot and write consistently for at least a year or two before you start to merit consideration. Writing frequently will also help you practice your craft and improve your skills. Since I’ve been writing, I not only feel like my writing skills have improved by leaps and bounds, but my play skills have improved as well. It took me about five months of writing every other week before I found a groove I wanted to keep, so don’t expect that yours will come overnight (but be thankful if it does).

4) Whatever you have to say, say it with style. Readers want to see your personality shine through in your writing. It gives them a sense of your character and it makes your article more memorable. This doesn’t mean that they want to be inundated with the inane daily details of your life, but it does mean that you should look for your own style when you write and stick with it. Writing (and Magic writing in particular) is one of the few areas where having a lot of style will carry you through if your substance is somewhat lacking.

I’m closing in on ten thousand words, so I’m going to wrap things up here, but if you have something to say on this subject matter, feel free to contribute.

Write a forum post.

Write a response article.

Drop me an e-mail.

This is your game and it’s your Hall of Fame, so do the work to make it matter.

Knut out,

[email protected]

P.S. Thanks to the four writers who answered my questions and gave some insight into their every day writing lives. This article would have gone precisely nowhere without your feedback.

* – Those of you who are offended by this line, accept my not-so-humble apologies and note that I was simply playing along with the metaphor that Ferrett already had in place.