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SCG Talent Search – Casual/Other Knockout Round 2

Tuesday, November 30th – We have a guest judge! Gavin Verhey provides some very strong critiques for our contestants in the Casual/Other category. Find out who has to go home this week!


John Dale Beety – Testing The Waters


Ferrett:

Marketing-wise – and don’t I always think marketing first? – this is a very clever take on “casual.” By dipping into what is, essentially, a straight-up Standard primer, you draw in both those interested in competitive Standard AND those who are just multiplayer junkies, thus expanding your range. You had roughly twice the readers that anyone else did today.

As for quality, it’s a solid article. I know you rewrote it at least twice to focus it better, and it shows; what we have here is a clear listing of the Decks You Can Play, arranged nicely by price, without a whole lot of illusions that the infect deck will destroy your Jace-heavy FNM. It’s a little dry compared to your usual stuff, but in the end this is definitely top-tier stuff. You’re expanding your focus, and I approve.


Evan:

An article that won’t get a lot of respect but deserves it. It’s tough to take a look at Standard through a casual/competitive angle and still have a readable (and not overly biased) article as a result. You did it, and I loved the soundtrack. It’s something bandied about often as a tool for writers to use. I’d suggest using music to theme your articles as well for next week.

This week was solid, and the writing was good. The early Wikipedia links were pretty bad, comedy-wise, and this is coming from a guy who can really appreciate low-hanging fruit. You can be cleverer than linking to “When in Rome.”

This is also a week where you want to be 100% different next week—this week you had us chock full of lists, next week I’d expect zero or one tops. If you must include one, make it count. Well done!


Guest Judge Gavin Verhey:

John, I feel like you had a very good concept for your article this week. Unfortunately, you failed to deliver its full potential. It’s not a bad article, and you certainly do some things right. However, it’s very middle-of-the-pack in what I felt was a weak week for Casual entries.

I think the idea is great because a Standard overview for budget players is something relevant that a lot of people will click on and read. Unsurprisingly, your article had far more hits than any other Talent Search article last week.

Where it starts to break down is in the execution.

Okay, so the theme song thing is cute. I liked that. The good news/bad news, while poorly named for what it was trying to do, was also a great lead in for casual players. The analysis is fine — but that’s it: fine. You have a lot of different categories, but, despite all of the categories and words, I didn’t really feel like you actually
said

much. I can read through any given one of your deck breakdowns and hear very little about the decks in question.

Furthermore, when you do say things, what you say seems extremely obvious. Phrases like “When single cards in Standard cost more than your entire deck you’re giving up some power” and “Other decks can try to control Boros by killing off its creatures, but success is far from guaranteed” don’t really tell me anything that most players couldn’t figure out.

Now, I understand my eyes might be more tuned than the average budget reader, and I respect that. At the same time, I think you have to give the average casual player respect, too. As has often been said, casual player does not equal bad player. Most of them can probably realize that the beatdown decks have trouble with having their creatures killed. There are a few instances where you break this trend and give gameplay advice (Elves, WW) which I appreciated, but overall I felt the lack of actual information was a major weakness.

Why did you have that problem in the first place? I felt it was mostly because you just hadn’t played the decks. Be honest here: you hadn’t tested all nine of those decks, had you? As a result, you could only say very generic things about most of them. I understand it’s unreasonable to test all nine of them extensively in the time you had, but you could have cut the number in half and tried playing a few games with each.

I also felt that your budget suggestions were lacking. While a good idea, on most of the decks you ended up saying either “this deck is already budget” or “this deck can’t be made budget. The problem is I know that’s not accurate. For example, you say Vampires can’t be played on a budget — but the only thing you point to is the fetchlands. Not only is that not very helpful, but it’s also untrue. You can definitely play Vampires without fetchlands — in fact, I did it for the Battle Royale.

To summarize in one sentence, I would take steps to expand further when it comes to deck analysis.

This article also comes off as extremely strange to me for another reason. Your past two articles have been as far away from this article as possible. The prompt “The Best Way to Win” has a lot of very creative answers other than “play these Standard decks!” I know The Ferrett challenged you to show us your strategy side, but I think you could have done that with a theory article that allowed you to exert your strengths as a Magic essayist instead of boxing you into a decklist corner.

I can tell you have the mind for writing and I expect you to go far in this competition. This wasn’t your best piece, but I fully expect you to rise back to the top of the charts next week if you can make sure to let whatever you write about — strategic or otherwise — show off your talent as an essayist.


Dan Barrett – Your Mum Was Wrong (About Winning)


Ferrett:

You smashed the votes, continuing a winning streak you’ve had. You have people lovin’ on ya in the forums. Clearly, you’re a solid writer…

…or are you? I worry a little about you, Dan, because while you’re clearly in the lead, you’re also the writer who’s needed the most handholding throughout the Casual portion of the Talent Search. When I’m done critiquing your articles through a rewrite or two, you really shine. But part of being a regular writer for StarCityGames.com involves not quite so much rewriting under editorial process.

Your biggest problem is that you forget to connect with the reader. You tend towards writing either in-jokes or generic stories – articles that fail to play to your strengths as a storyteller. I have to tap you on the shoulder and turn you towards the audience, at which point you go, “Oh, yeah, right. Them.” With them in mind, you write something stunning. Yet it’s about time you start reminding yourself, because SCG writers need to be largely self-guided. I don’t want to have you win the Casual segment and then disappoint everyone when you’re not being as heavily steered.

So that’s your challenge: Can you write next week without me needing to remind you to play to your strengths? Because the challenge is heating up, and there are going to be three people voted off. If you can’t start self-generating, it’s going to be you.


Evan:

You know your audience, you know what they like, and you put it together in a fine package. You took a theme and stuck with it through different ‘lenses’ (as it were), combined the wonderful English snarkiness with one of my favorite people on the planet, Tim Willoughby. No wrong committed there.

The in-jokes are a bit never-ending, and I’d suggest leaving out all but the most crucial ones. Another view is that it’s part of the charm of the article, and I think there’s merit to that. However, Ferrett mentioned something about your articles requiring heavy editorial input, and with our incredible host of writers, you’ll need to ensure you can fly solo pretty quickly. But it’s obvious that with direction you can definitely soar. A great piece.


Gavin:

Dan, I feel like you had an alright concept for this week. Nothing spectacular that isn’t out there already, but certainly nothing horrible. You wanted to talk about how you can be a winner at every tournament despite doing poorly at the actual event. However, like another contestant this week, I feel as though you considerably messed up the execution. (Albeit for entirely different reasons than he did.)

First of all, I think your article lacked focus. I think you should have solely focused on what you can do at tournaments even if you do terribly. I didn’t feel like deckbuilding, judging, or writing fit the idea you were trying to follow. Yes, those are things people can do, but I feel like people who have that spark will follow that passion already. What the average casual reader is more concerned with is why they should show up to a PTQ even though they will likely be out of the event after the first few rounds.

What does this article offer those people? Well, the trading and other formats and games section were good, if very obvious. There is a lot of gaming to be had even if you lose. Rail-birding… Okay, pretty obvious, and I don’t feel you fully explored how helpful to your play it can be to watch them, but I still think it’s a fine entry. However, it’s the other areas that I took issue with.

So let me get this straight. Two of your major recommendations to keep tournaments interesting are playing drunk and gambling?

No.

I understand that the general philosophy around drinking is very different in Europe than in the US. However, in my experience, drunk Magic just leads to messy and awkward situations. I believe many TOs have banned drinking on site outright and will kick you out if they know you’ve been drinking. (Though few actually exercise this rule.) It may be fun for you, but I think following this advice is dangerous for most players. On top of all that, how do you think it looks when someone is told not to do that, and their reply is, “Don’t worry dude, it’s okay; I was told to do it on StarCityGames.com.”

Gambling is a similarly messy situation. It’s no secret that money drafts are common, but that doesn’t mean the casual player (your audience) should be pushed into thinking flipping coins for cards is a good idea.

I would recommend staying away from these topics in the future.

This article had some high points (the map to “win” made me laugh despite my usual hatred for beginning of article images), but I don’t feel it said anything new or held enough focus. Dan, you’re in my bottom two for this week.


Pedro Alvarado – Play the Game, See the World, Get the Girl


Ferrett:

I think this is honestly the best-disguised tourney report ever written. You start off with some great analyses of called shots, then segue into what is essential a “I WON THIS TOURNEY,” told very well. Analyzed closely, the substance of this article is ephemeral, nigh-nonexistent – but you tell it with such style and verve that it pays off.

You’re playing to your strengths naturally. I like your evolution. You’re gaining an audience with each article, just as I’d hoped. So keep going.


Evan:

Totally sweet, I loved it. A true storyteller, including pictures, building up the moments, explaining the most unreal draft, etc.

What can I say?

My favorite of the week and according to the voters, theirs too (okay you were in second place, but still).

Well done, keep it up. I can’t get enough of this stuff 🙂


Gavin:

Congratulations, Pedro. You wrote what I felt was the best overall article this week.

You did almost everything right. First of all, you answered the question. A lot of the articles danced around it or came up with overly creative answers. You state what you’re talking about and going for early on, explain it, and weave the Magic and non-Magic world together to illustrate your point.

Your writing is crisp and interesting. It felt a few times like you were yelling at me or pretending to be hyper, but that’s okay — you keep it interesting. Furthermore, you’re able to move from talking about called shots in general to your own called shot — a kind of mini-tournament report — without the reader even noticing. When I reached the end of the article, it felt like I had read everything I needed to. Instead of going on and on about called shots as many might do, you gave a good example, made it personal, and then told a story. Excellent job.

I only have three complaints.

First of all, maybe I’m old fashioned, but the ever-so-popular “irrelevant opening words plus a goofy picture” isn’t something I enjoy. I’ve noticed a couple of competitors doing this lately. It doesn’t draw me in and make me interested as I wonder, “Oh, why are the two Conans talking?” like you would hope. Instead, I just find myself skimming past all of that and going into the meat of your article. You could start this article off with “I once crushed a PTQ” (good use of foreshadowing, by the way), and I don’t think it would change what you’re saying with the article at all. It’s just unnecessary.

Second, you went a little overboard with the tiny paragraphs while drafting. I can see what you’re trying to do, but to be honest, I just found myself wanting to scroll down past it all. It’s clear what the outcome is going to be, and you only need to use it to hit on the main points. If the idea of short bursts of words is to encapsulate particular moments and emphasize certain decisions, doing it over and over reduces that effect because it becomes overused instead of special. You can do this in small sizes here and there, but overall I think you could have summed it up by doing five or six short bursts emphasizing the points that really mattered and then used a couple sentences between each one.

Third, what was with the ending? Personally, I would’ve liked to hear your time at the tournament expanded a little bit, but I didn’t mind that so much because it’s not what the article was about. What threw me for a loop was that last sentence. I can think of several great ways to cap off the article, and that’s without even having the personal experiences you did. It was totally out of nowhere and left the reader hanging on a
wrong note. It’d be like if five seconds of Taylor Swift just showed up at the end of Yellow Submarine. Even something as obvious as, “and
that’s

the best way to win at Magic” would have been better.

Really though, those complaints are mostly semantics. You took the prompt, a good story, personal experience, Magic, and masterfully rolled it into an article. This is leaps and bounds better than your previous entries. Great work! I look forward to reading your next piece.


Brandon Isleib – George Bush, Andy Dick, and Sting Walk into a Battlefield…


Ferrett:

I gotta be honest; I was worried about this article, because I thought the focus was all over the map. What I said to you was that this needed to focus on what the READER learned, not on what YOU learned, and while the final article was acceptable, it’s not the strongest.

Unfortunately, it looks like the audience agreed. You were dead last in the voting, by a large margin.

I think for your next article, you need to concentrate on connection. You’re fun to read, but what you do doesn’t always illuminate the reader – people read to find out about themselves, not you. Your next article will need to be a colossal hit to make the next cut. So focus.


Evan:

Ouch, dead last in the votes 🙁 Such a sweet and crazy title.

Unfortunately, a pretty disjointed article. Trying to tie that wacky title to a piece was hard enough, but it jumped from a fun theme piece about chess and Magic to sort of a Top 10 list back to a theme piece to a summation of the entire multiplayer dynamic… then to president Bush? Whoooa, cowboy.

I think less is more with your work. If you use less thematic ideas, you focus on the jokes in that theme. I’d have stuck with chess the whole way through for each name/personality brought up, dropped the Top 10 list and the bit about Carmen Sandiego (as neat as it was), and gotten as many jokes in as possible.

Your humor is awesome. Your ADD is shining through. Stifle that 🙂


Gavin:

Despite the lack of readers for this article, I actually felt it was the second best article for this week. I can tell you were even trying to pick up readers with your odd name, so it’s a shame this article didn’t garner more viewers.

This article does something I love: mesh Magic theories with real life. I’ll admit, I became giddy at the Douglas McArthur versus Harry Truman line. It’s excellent on so many levels. The chess comparisons were great as well. Unfortunately, in addition to your hits, you had some misses.

First of all, I really felt like the references to people/bands were forced. Some of them worked better than others (Collective Soul, Andy Dick), but some of them felt like a real stretch. I would’ve tried to make the connections clearer.

On that note, I also think your article could have been really helped by a better lead in. True, you spent your first three paragraphs talking about what you were about to do. The problem is that those paragraphs had a lot of work to do: they had to explain what you felt the best way to win was, your form, and your initial thesis. Some more explanation could have been used.

Furthermore, I’m not sure this form was really appropriate for this article. In writing, there always has to be a purpose for your form. You can’t just go goofing with a form for no real reason if it doesn’t match the function of the article. I felt like you could have just written a normal article and weaved the stories in amongst them instead of creating weird paragraphs for each person.

This problem is compounded by the fact that sometimes when you introduce a person there’s an awkward paragraph break in the middle of a sentence, making it seem like you’re a little confused. You should either be boxing each person in its own container and telling them as individual stories, or weaving them together without breaking the reader’s train of thought.

Another thing that bugged me was the string of Magic cards in the middle of the article. Did you really need to have pictures of ten cards in a row next to two or three sentences? I just wanted to skim the whole list. If you had just used some of the cards as examples naturally in a paragraph, this problem wouldn’t be here.

Finally, my last complaint is I don’t feel like you answered the question very well. You were asked to write about “The Best Way to Win.” Your answer was…?

I know you
claimed

an answer in your paragraph starting with “The best way to win, at least in multiplayer,” and I give you points for that. However, that doesn’t mean I really feel it was wholehearted. It didn’t feel like I was following that thread along the entire article; it seemed like you just kind of tied it on at the end.

Despite my laundry list of critiques, I really enjoyed this article and want to remind you that I feel it was the second best article this week. However, even so, it felt like you wanted to write another article and then just superimposed the task on top of it. I don’t think that’s how you conceptualized this article, but that’s how it felt — which it absolutely shouldn’t have. It could have been an even better article if it was less forced.

My two tips for you in future weeks:

1.    Make sure you’re answering the question both when you sit down to write your article
and

after you’ve finished it.

2.    Mesh your content together better. Your last two articles did a better job at that than this one, so I know you have it in you.


Bruce Richard – Lost: One Tournament. Gained: One Son.


Ferrett:

You’re in a strange position, Bruce. You write damn fine articles that your audience loves… But you’re Jean-Claude Van Damme to everyone else’s Arnie.

Which is to say that, really, Arnie’s no better an actor than Van Damme. The difference between Arnie and Van Damme is that Arnie had an eye for picking good scripts for movies to be in, whereas Van Damme chose second-rate action flicks that never panned out. As a result of his ability to choose quality projects, Arnie wound up being a world-wide star and Van Damme became, well, straight-to-video.

You are Van Damme. You write well, but your ability to choose good topics to write on is your biggest weakness. The people who read you think you’re fine… but in terms of overall hits, you’re almost consistently at the bottom of the barrel.

Which brings me to the point here: When you started this article, you ran the idea past me and asked me what I thought of the idea. And I said, warily, “You can try it. Magic sappy articles tend to run either nut-high or nut-low. It’s the big-risk thing; either you tug heartstrings or get voted off.”

You went for the big risk. And unfortunately, it didn’t pay off. You were THE least read article this week among ALL of them. I think in part that’s because you focused on losing the tourney (which I did warn you about – SCG’s readers don’t like losers – compare to Pedro’s victory), and in part because heartwarming is overrated.

In the end, I’m glad you connected with your stepson. (You also connected thoroughly with the people who bothered to tune in, which is good.) But in terms of understanding what people at SCG want to read, you swung big and you whiffed… So it’s hard to justify keeping you in this contest. You put it all on the line, betting the farm on your ability to choose a topic that you thought would generate heat – and it was ice-cold.

As such, I must regretfully make the vote for you to return home, where I hope you will play many wondrous games with your stepson and family and friends. You’re a good man, Bruce Richard. I just don’t think you’re quite in the headspace yet to understand what people want in a Casual article yet.


Evan:

Man, it sucks so bad this got such little attention. Honestly? I think part of it was simply the title. That type of heady title means you’re in for an Emotional Experience, and not everyone wants those or reads those for fun, particularly from a casual article.

I thought the article was solid. That said, not every player can relate (I can! But I’ve also got five kids including a stepson, so…), and that disconnect is sometimes the downfall.

I think you could’ve put in your 2HG Sealed pool if you wanted to, along with decklists, but even in hindsight I don’t think it would’ve mattered or helped, the way the article is currently structured. If you’d billed it as casual 2HG Sealed and wove this tale of your son into it, I think that could work.

Starting Super Emotional┢ and ending Super Emotional┢ when not talking about the nostalgia-glazed exploits of the game’s greatest players is often the end of many a writer. I love your passion Bruce, but if the audience isn’t there and the votes are putting you in the bottom consistently, I must cast my vote for you.


Gavin:

Bruce, you have a really touching story here. It was great to hear about you and Spencer playing together. The pictures were a nice addition. Overall, I thought the article was extremely touching, and I appreciated that. Unfortunately, while a good scrapbook article on father-son connections, it made for an extremely weak Magic article.

Plain and simple, your article doesn’t tell the reader anything useful to them. We appreciate the connection between Spencer and you… But there’s no takeaway. Even then, stories alone can be okay — in fact, my article this week was just a bunch of stories! The problem is that this story isn’t really about Magic.

Magic is the vehicle that brought you two together, true, but it could have just as easily been a movie shoot or a trip to the San Diego Zoo. Magic is just the background. While that works sometimes — see Geordie Tait — it doesn’t work here and was a big risk for an article like this. The call to our emotions is strong but not strong enough to overcome everything else

Furthermore, in a question about winning, you really talked a lot about how you lost. I realize your idea is how to still be a winner despite losing, but very few Magic players have a twelve-year-old stepson to go play Magic with. While you connected with the people who read your article on an emotional level, you failed to connect with them on a Magic level.

I’ll never forget your story. It was a touching article. However, while emotionally satiated, I was Magically hungry after reading it.

While I really felt like Dan’s article had a lot of issues, I can’t ignore that Bruce’s article was a one-trick pony whose allure ultimately failed to work. I can see a world where Twitter and Facebook light up with people showing off this link if the article had taken a different tact — but unfortunately you didn’t hit the right note and fell flat. Thank you for sharing your story, and best of luck in the future.

 

With that, Bruce Richard has been eliminated from the Talent Search. Good luck in your future endeavors, Bruce!