Pucker Up, Buttercup – It’s Our Anniversary

John Matthew takes a look back at the year that was through his own eyes, analyzing his successes and failures as a writer, a Magic player, and an all-around swell guy. Here’s a brief excerpt to whet your appetite:

I have been writing for this here site here for exactly one year. Although I won the weekly article contest on my first try, I have swiftly broken the record for most-flamed Feature Writer.

Dear StarCityGames.com,

I have been writing for this here web site here for exactly one year.

That is where my pen stopped. One year is a long time – I was considering a year of writing articles on a bi-weekly basis, one year of meeting cool people, one year of becoming a bigger part of the game that I love, and a bigger part of the community engulfed by it. Drifting through the memories, of my first tournament report and my first strategy article, I could almost hear the sappy concerto wafting through the room and feel my eyes tearing up. I started again:

Dear StarCityGames.com,

I have been writing for this here site here for exactly one year. Although I won the weekly article contest on my first try, I have single-handedly broken the record for most-flamed Feature Writer.

No, that’s not right. I don’t want to come off bitter because that’s the exact opposite of how I feel. It’s been a great ride, and since Magic is still a big part of my life, I don’t see the exit sign anywhere near. I couldn’t ask for a better editor or colleagues, and they actually pay me to write about Magic! I’d call them suckers, but I think they’re on to something. You see, by subsidizing people like the writers on SCG.com to play cards, they are doing an invaluable service to Magic itself. By helping players to direct their energy and personalities back into the game, it becomes a more self-sustaining, even living entity, that will not die for some time (or perhaps for all time). Maybe I’ll end up teaching cards to my kids one day – although not until they’re teenagers, because I refuse to pay a red cent for that Yu-gi-o crap.

I’ll be the first to admit that writing for SCG is not an altruistic venture. While I like the ability to shoot strategy into the void, building PTQ-caliber players from the primordial casual soup, I write mostly for myself. I’ve already said that it’s fun and that I get paid; but it’s also cool to meet people that have read my articles. I’m no KK or Brian Kibler, but when people recognize you from your picture on the main page, it makes you feel like a celebrity and I’m not above such small vanities. Holding down a paying writing gig for a year looks spectacular on my resume, and the Holy Kanoot writes letters of recommendation as well; it’s yet another way that SCG helps the community.

Dear StarCityGames.com,

I have been writing for this here site here for exactly one year, and you guys freaking ROCK! NO DUDE, I’M SERIOUS!

Whoa. Calm it down a notch or five. This article is already pretty sappy, and I don’t see it surfacing from the depths anytime soon. Know that as we walk down memory lane,

I want to do (tel-jilad) justice to the people that “raised me” as a Magic writer, but I don’t want to simultaneously barn every employee of SCG, because then I’d be stretching myself a little thin. But on the other hand, I’ve pretty much resigned myself to let the love flow, so I’m not going to worry about it.

I’m not sure what makes most people want to write that first article on the ol’ Magical cards. An idea that just bursts out of their brain, a metagame crushing deck, a serious issue, or what. In my case, however, it was my first big tournament win. I played in a Mirrodin Block Sealed tournament at the heart of it all, Star City Games itself in Roanoke, VA. Here is a link to my report:


As I read back over this report I marvel (not VS) at it for several reasons. The first is that I’m very proud of my first report; it wasn’t one of the cut-and-dry round-by-round affairs that are so common today (and yes, I am guilty of writing these myself); but rather, it took the essential elements that combined to help me win the tournament and compressed them into a well-crafted piece. This is also the first time I ever met the esteemed Kanoot. I also like it because it establishes several aspects of my style that still surface often in my writing. What are these nuggets of style that I’m referring to? I’m not going to tell you yet.

There’s a reason for that, though. Besides a blatant attempt at building suspense, I’m going to pepper these tendencies throughout the article, and then include a list of them at the end. It’s like a game, but unlike my last contest, the only prize is the knowledge that should you get them all, you’re (enviably) my biggest fan. Huzzah!

Dear StarCityGames.com,

I have been writing for this here site here for exactly one year. The one thing I want to know is this: how in hell did I last this long?

Now, you must be wondering (or clicking the Back button on the browser) why I chose to write for Starcitygames.com. I mean, sure it was their tourney that I won, but there are other magic sites on the web, ones that pay money even. But in my opinion, SCG is the best. Don’t run away yet, this isn’t an infomercial, and I’m going to back it up.

I like Starcitygames first and foremost because it’s free. Brainburst may have a lot of pros that write for them, but it costs money, and that’s not what Magic literature is all about. Besides, SCG has plenty of pros as well, not to mention up-and-comers like StarWarsKid, and the twilight musings of Ken Krouner. The format of the main page, the format of the articles themselves, I like everything about SCG better than the competition.

Most importantly, though the top-level content is very even, I feel that the secondary content (of which I often contribute) is hands down better on this here site here. Occasionally there will be a bad article on either, but the bad ones on SCG make me turn a little green while the bad ones elsewhere make me want to slash my wrists. This is not to say that the other main site is not a resource as well, and I check it frequently to see not only the content and ideas but to peep what the competition is doing. However, if you’re an avid SCG fan, it looks like you’re stuck with me because I’m not leaving.

I considered another site besides the big two when I first started. However, after browsing it once, I realized that it was where bad articles go to die; or conversely, where I go when people flame me mercilessly in the forums and I need a confidence boost.

Dear StarCityGames.com,

I have been writing for this here site here for exactly one year. Now that I am more of a senior staffer, I am ready to take on higher risk assignments, like sabotaging other sites (see above).

So the nostalgia train rolls onward. The next article on the tour is my States report from last year. You see, I was blessed when I started my Magical writing career because I managed not just one but two high tournament placements in a row. Although a mistake in the final game cost me the plaque, I considered the day a smashing success since I was playing my very own rogue deck that no one thought had a chance. By way of shameless self-promotion, here is the link to the article:


The article itself, looking back, actually seems kind of annoying. What I like about it is the forum post I made smoothing out some issues people had with certain comments. I’m not going to review every article I’ve ever written here, I’m just doing the highlights. Remember that even though some of these articles are pretty old, you can still post to the forums, and after this article gets posted I’ll probably go back through and check ’em once more, for old time’s sake.

The next article I wanted to note is “Interview with a Chump.” I’ll admit that I was a little frustrated at this point because I thought that Ted was a little merciless with my titles: he’d changed my first from “The Intangibles of Winning” to “Three Lessons I Learned While Winning the PTQ.” [I didn’t change that first one, by the way… that was Ferrett. – Knut] It irked me because I liked my title better; but on the other hand, you have to lead with the big headline, and mentioning the win and the venue gets people to read the damn thing in the first place. The title of this article was originally “Interview With a Chump-Blocker” and I don’t really see that much of a difference. The one that confused me was renaming “Toolbox Theory” to “Binford Tools Presents: Toolbox Theory.” Is there something I’m missing? Is Binford a real tool manufacturer? Or did the Knut just make me look like a tool? I would never hold a grudge though (and not just because he knows kung fu). [The Binford Tools one references Tool Time, Tim Taylor’s show from Home Improvement. Pete has chided me in the past that I’m sometimes too clever with my titles, but sometimes the whimsy escapes. – Knut, an obvious tool] Here is the “Chump” article:


Anyway, this article was my first attempt at writing humor with a Magic theme. I guess it turned out okay. I had originally planned to write a three part story, focusing on elf culture in the Tangle. The theme was going to be that everyone in their little elfin community had to have metal integrated into their system or they’d be cast out (kind of like how you have to display a magical Talent or get kicked out of Xanth)* from said community. The hero doesn’t have any obvious metal growing out of his body and is about to get kicked out when … well I don’t want to ruin it, just in case I somehow return to the idea later. But it was going to have a part for each expansion in MD5 and just turned out to be way too much work. So I settled for this one and it didn’t disappoint. And maybe, just maybe, I’ll bring the three part series to bear with Kamigawa.

At this point in my career as a submissionist for SCG, I was starting to get serious. I was turning in a lot of articles, I enjoyed the work itself, and I wanted to get paid. But I still wasn’t doing what I needed to do, namely submitting on a set timetable. I kept on plugging and came through with my Regionals report in two parts, which is one of the longest tournament reports I’ve ever written. Here it is:



Even after publishing a rack of articles on different subjects, I still managed to stay true to my roots as a rogue deckbuilder, which is obvious from the report. A rather unfortunate side effect of being a self proclaimed rogue deckbuilder, however, is that people rarely respect your ideas. I mean, granted, I have published articles about Shared Fate (if you want that one, you’ll have to search it up). But on the other hand, my States and Regionals decks were both solid metagame choices, and I still get crap for them. What’s up with that? I try to take it as a compliment either way: if I’m a bad player but I did well, it must be on the strength of my deck. If I did well despite having a crappy deck, it must mean I’m a good player! Yay! If you were too lazy to click on those links above, here are two nice quotes I found while cruising my own article:

Why, oh why, does everyone hate to lose to my decks? Losing sucks, and everyone knows that, but why does it suck to lose to mine more than to others? States, Regionals… every tournament I attend I leave a wake of incredibly bitter defeated opponents. On the other hand, I see a lot of my previously bitter opponents at other events, and they always root for me. (Paradoxical!)


To everyone that called my deck “Infinite Clerics” (that includes you, Knutson!). [You build good decks with “bad” cards. Of course your opponents hate to lose to you. – Knut, amused]

Dear StarCityGames.com,

I have been writing for this here site here for exactly one year. What’s up with never meeting any of the other writers for the site? I mean, sure, I’ve met the Knut, but the others avoid me like the plague! What’s the deal? Does my breath smell like gamer funk or what?

Here is a list of SCG people that I have met or not:

Met: The Knut, Bleweiss, Nate Heiss (although I don’t think he recognized me), Antonino De Rosa (who thinks I’m a donkey), Bennie Smith, John Davis (playtest buddy!), Jim Ferraiolo, and probably like fifty other people that I’m forgetting.

Not: Mike Flores, Osyp Lebedowicz, Jon Becker (who I’ve seen but was too scared to approach, he looks really angry!), Dan Paskins and anyone else from England, Tim Aten, Geordie Tait (who’s kind of dropped off the map), Nick Eisel… I’m going to stop now. We need to have a giant Star City Games Barbeque, with food, beer and gaming all around! Seriously though, Ted. Make it happen.

Anyway, it was soon after my Regionals report that I was promoted to Feature Writer. Now that I’d prevailed in my quest for Magical stardom, I got to do all kinds of things, like hang out with Ted behind the computers where they do official-looking stuff, call Ben Bleiweiss my colleague, and feel full of myself. I also get to make decks that I previously did not have the time and money and cards for, because I get to use store credit for them. Which is great, but it changed my writing forever: I entered the Tooth and Nail phase.

I wrote several articles about Tooth and Nail. The first was actually a two-part piece which I’m proud of; the first half is a refutation of a Nate Heiss article about U/G Tooth. The second half is a tournament report from a PTQ where I crushed two U/G Tooth decks with my Mono-G one, on route to a tenth place finish. The build I used was okay but far from perfect; I will list the build I took to a second place finish momentarily. But like the title of the article suggests, it really is testing that helps you to win: I took Tooth to four tournaments before I made the top 8.



Tournament Report:


Finally, here is what I found to be the best Block build of T&N that you will never play again. I personally am giving up on the deck since I don’t think it will be fun or good in the new Standard.

4 Tooth and Nail

4 Wayfarer’s Bauble

4 Solemn Simulacrum

4 Electrostatic Bolt

4 Sylvan Scrying

4 Eternal Witness

3 Oxidize

3 Reap and Sow

1 Leonin Abunas

1 Darksteel Colossus

1 Duplicant

1 Sundering Titan

2 Platinum Angel

4 Cloudpost

5 Mountain

15 Forest


4 Tel-Jilad Justice

4 Mindslaver

1 Bringer of the White Dawn

1 Oxidize

1 Triskelion

1 Mephidross Vampire

3 Creeping Mold

The only real difference between this build and any other Block build of Tooth are the Baubles, running 24 lands because I mulliganed too frequently with 23, and the second main-decked Platinum Angel, which was a wrecking ball against Affinity. I can’t tell how many times raw-dogging the Angel on my fourth turn gave me time to set up a Tooth and drop the other Angel + Abunas.

The last article I want to talk about is “The Magic Player’s Guide to Dating.” I had been planning this one out in my mind for quite some time, as well as stretching the actual writing of it over the course of a couple of weeks, and I think that really showed through in the final product. The best articles are ones that you don’t write, but rather, they write themselves; if you’re enjoying doing the work it flows so much easier than if you try to force it. Anyway, this article met with the most critical success I’ve had in the forums; I was glad that my second attempt at humor was well-received (and if you haven’t read it, of all the links posted in this article, this is the one to click on!).


This where I’m going to start to wrap it up. If you’ve liked reading my articles for the past year, then this one was for you; if not, you probably considered it a waste of time (here’s to you, Jedit!). But even if no one out there has stuck with me this far, I’m not sweating it, because this is a present for myself and for the people that actually publish me. I am including, as the finale of this little to-do, the letter that I actually would write to the people at Star City Games – I say would write because I think it’ll be better posted here on the site where readers can enjoy it as well as those it’s addressed to. Remember, if you ever want to experience the joys of writing about Magic, hammer out an article! I promise it will be worth it.

Before I get to my tearful ending though, here is a list of the “style bits” that I scattered throughout the article in case you didn’t catch them:

(tel-jilad) justice – I’m not sure when I started doing this (putting stuff in quotes to form a card name randomly in the middle of a sentence) but sometimes I do it.

Besides a blatant attempt at building suspense – I often hold off on things to stoke the reader up a little bit before they get to it. Is it a cheap trick? Yes. Am I going to continue doing it? I’ll tell you in the next article!!

By way of shameless self-promotion – I do this all the time. Linking to you own articles may seem narcissistic, but, uh, ok, it is. But check this out!

(Paradoxical!) – I’m not sure when I started doing this either, but I noticed after I used it three or four times.

Props and Slops – I do these on almost every tournament report, except for one that I forgot. Whoops.

Mentioning other SCG writers and or “biting their style” – It’s not so bad to promote yourself when you promote other people as well. Like sometimes I poke fun at Tim Aten and his top X song lists – it’s all good-natured.

That’s it for those, and it’s time for me to finish. Special props to all the people that read my stuff (and give positive responses in the forums!), and here is my last shout-out.

Dear StarCityGames.com,

I have been writing for this here site here for exactly one year. I can’t thank you enough for giving me an opportunity not just to write about something I love, but to do so with the support of a wide community, a strong staff, and good editors. I value not only the chance you’ve given me to prove myself as a player, and as a writer, but the service you do to the game of Magic; without the resource you sacrifice your time and energy to provide, there would be a gaping void that no other site could fill. Here’s to another year; pucker up, Ted. It’s our anniversary.

John Matthew Upton

I like back, feed me!

Jmumoo AT yahoo DOT comer

* Xanth novels are written by Piers Anthony. There are tons of them, probably about two dozen or more, and they are what got me into reading in the first place. If you like Fantasy novels, check ’em out…