Still the Best

In addition to giving a restrospective on the previous “official” champions we’ve had in the Magic writing world, Mike takes a look back at the legacy and the legend of the crazy old genius who inhabits the body of one Eric “Dinosaur” Taylor.

Yay Me!

“Kind of takes the sting out of your loss to Tan, huh?” -Teddy Card Game

“Actually, I lost to Rizzo.” -me

I got that link a few weeks ago, from MT Gunn, the guy who started the forum thread. I don’t know what was more surprising to me, the fact that I had won, or the fact that Rob Hahn, who to my knowledge has not touched a Magic card in five years, made it out of the preliminary round.

I would like to thank thefonz37, who is obviously one of my StarCityGames.com afficionados, for all the good work he did in those forums.

The Failure of Democracy

Now long before this contest that targeted only the forum users of one site (even if it is the biggest site in the Magic Web), we have had at least three “official” top writers in Magic to my recollection.

The most easily recalled two are of course Oscar Tan and John Rizzo, the two CCGPrime Writer’s War champions. If you haven’t heard of these contests, they were hotly contested by a small number of people (mostly the writers involved), and actually rather ambitious. CCGPrime.com (don’t bother to go there, it doesn’t exist any more) attempted to gather every writer who had put pencil to paper (or in this case finger to keyboard) for every single Magic site and throw them into a battle royale to see who the top dawg in the world of words was.

Though I followed first Writer’s War, it bothered me a little from the outset. The contest used a sixteen pod format with two writers advancing from each pod by percentage of vote, setting up a 32 writer single elimination bracket. The first problem was that there was one joke-stacked pod (15), but in another pod that included Ped Bun and Dave Price… Rob Dougherty and Brian Kibler were also present. Rob had within the previous year written what was then the definitive anti-cheating guide, and Brian had written Dragons and Deep Dish, one of the best tournament reports of all time and arguably his best article ever. Both Rob and Brian were out of the contest before the elimination rounds began, with much less deserving writers advancing, simply due to the nature of the pod format. Another problem was that the top two writers advanced by percentage, meaning that a weak pod with no standout could advance contestants with low margin victories where other pods eliminated writers who earned more votes. Of course the worst problem in my opinion was that some people got left out. Jon Becker, for instance, had just posted The Little Village That Could but failed to be listed any pod.

Once the Top 32 was announced the real controversy began. Ironically just after the 2000 Bush-Gore election, allegations of democratic shenanigans started from the first elimination round. One of the most popular writers in the contest (let’s call him or her “Blossom”) – who had incidentally beaten his or her Top 32 opponent by a 2-1 margin in their initial pod – lost a close race to competitor “Shrub” where over 100 more votes were cast than in any other Top 32 matchup. CCGPrime’s Dan Rowland threw out the race and awarded it to Blossom, whom he perceived to be the victim of ballot stuffing. Shrub came back, saying that he or she had the combined votes of IRC, the Charm School, and a top Magic team… but Blossom was able to produce an email from one of said team’s members, wherein Shrub had solicited votes and the aftorementioned team member had responded with “Sorry, but Blossom makes me LOL.” Ultimately, Rowland did the right thing and did not buckle to intimidation.

Sol Malka was the talk of the Internet, campaigning heavily among casual players to be their representative. Sol’s relentless self-promotion (and, sure, writing skills) got him past Josh Bennett, Randy Buehler, and ironically, The Ferrett for his spot in the Top 4. While Sol’s road was among the toughest – going up against one of Magic’s best stylists and then-top reporter, a popular member of R&D, and a guy who had this very website behind him – Gary Wise probably summed Sol’s strategy up best in his (then-) Sideboard.com annual wrapup.

“Here are a few of the things I see happening over the next calendar year:

“Sol Malka will solicit votes for the 2002 CCGPrime.com War of the Internet writers claiming to be a casual gamer despite attending every Pro Tour and American Grand Prix of the year.”

On the other side of the brackets, Gary himself advanced pretty effortlessly to the Top 4, with his only sub-60% win a 55% defeat of Adrian Sullivan.

The craziest, most competitive, bracket was the bottom-right. Two of Magic’s best strategic writers, Zvi Mowshowitz and Eric Taylor, duked it out in the Top 32 elimination round. I thought that the winner of Zvi/Taylor should (if not would) win the whole thing, but it was not in the cards. John Rizzo surprised me by taking out not only Zvi, but Anthony Alongi in the Top 8. Anthony was at that time regarded very highly by even competitive players, so Rizzo’s win over the casual king was a shock.

For my part, I was very surprised to get past Dave Price, then the most popular player of all time, who had won his Top 32 match by a thundering 69% (bested in all the Top 32 by only The Ferrett defeat of Fletcher Peatross at 85%). Once I got by Dave, I didn’t think that any opponent was going to blow me out of the water, but knew it was possible that my match with Aaron Forsythe could have gone either way. Sol continued to campaign hard, but after beating Aaron, your pal michaelj took him out in the Top 4.

In the end, it was me v. Friggin’ Rizzo for all the marbles. And by “marbles” I mean I have no idea, because I don’t think that anything other than bragging rights was up for grabs. After beating Sol, Aaron, and especially Dave, I figured Rizzo was a cakewalk, but then I learned the truth: The Fix Was In.

The finals puzzle me to this day. Rizzo beat me by a modest margin in a finals rife with ballot stuffing and heavy campaigning (at least from my side). Though I didn’t promote myself very much at all, faithful Dragonmaster Brian Kibler was racking up dozens of votes on IRC, and I knew of at least two computer labs full of friends and devotees changing IPs and voting repeatedly in my favor… and I still lost. As popular as Rizzo was on this site, I know that he ever had an audience comparable to mine on the numbers, which means that he had to have won by running better cheats. This is not to say that John solicited help, but was probably just the beneficiary of a couple of enthusiastic IT professionals fans.

Here’s the final bracket for that year.

Mike Turian would later explain my loss to me over dinner at Plataforma. “Rizzo really is the best writer in Magic,” he said. Our table included quite a few of Magic writing’s top guys, including tournament report innovator John Shuler, ever Wise J. Gary, and eventual MagicTheGathering.com editor Scott Johns. All of us were rapt. “He writes a lot of articles. He’s like ‘tap, article,’ Mike explained. “And I’m always in them.”

The next year, Oscar Tan won the CCGPrime Writer’s War. I didn’t follow this race at all, as I failed to advance to the elimination rounds. The Pojo had asked its readers to vote on their front page and I got blown out of the water by… some guy or other. Rizzo, who had retired from Magic by this point, still managed to make it to the finals before being unseated by a non-deceased player. I don’t have much of an opinion on the 2002 champion. Literally all I know about him is rumor, speculation, some poorly thought out card advantage theory, and of course, this.

As I’ve read Miracleman, I am distrustful of democracy and would prefer some sort of alien-powered superman rule us (justly) from a fortress miles above London. In that vein, I never really cared if I won the CCGPrime Writer’s War. The one I won was the one edt got.

In the summer of 1998, I had just graduated college, was about to go to law school, had nothing really fantastic going on. But I loved Magic. I knew that I was never going to be as good at Magic as some of my friends, so I poured my efforts into writing about Magic. I knew that I wasn’t Rob Hahn, but in the summer of 1998, Rob was going off to work for Wizards and was no longer among us mere mortal Magic writers, not part of the pool. I wanted to be the best writer in Magic, but knew that it wasn’t a title like “PT Champion” that gets handed out.

But then someone did hand it out.

And it was someone with the authority to do so.

And the guy who got it… it wasn’t me.

In June of 1998, Frank Kusumoto, Sensei One of The Dojo, declared Eric Taylor the best writer in Magic. If you want to see what the body of work of the best writer in Magic looked like in 1998, look no further.

If I had to lose to anybody, I had to admit that edt was the guy. Eric was a more distinctive stylist, with great ideas and a knack for explaining difficult concepts to the average gamer. Not that it was a contest at all… Frank just chose the best writer in Magic and revealed his identitiy.

Even though Knut recently did the same thing for me, I have to say that I think Eric is probably still the best. How is that possible, you ask? Isn’t the only thing edt has written in the past several years a crappy opinion piece about poker?

No, no silly goat. Eric is as prolific as ever. You’re just not reading his current stuff.

I was going to link to the work that Eric is doing right now, but I’m not allowed. The reason is that certain editors-in-chief post in the same web of interconnected blogs, and said editors-in-chief often err on the wrong side of PG-13. This new world of online content was a refreshing one for me to discover. Miss Zvi Mowshowitz articles? He writes something interesting almost every day. Miss the Daily Shot? Geordie Tait blog was a hotly contested topic by the coverage staff at PT Columbus. On the subject of favorite writers, all three of Geordie’s favorite writers are around as well, along with Knut, Mrs. Knut, Bennie Smith, Kartin’ Ken, and the long departed John Shuler.

But this isn’t about any of them.

When he got back from a trip to “Euroland”, Eric wrote a long post about his predictions on Kai’s future in Magic, losing to manascrew, and the effect of Magic Online that had The Ferrett begging him to write the same post “but longer” for Star City. Eric declined. Why get paid to write when you can give away all that Free Tech?

Speaking of Free Tech, in the spring of 1999, Eric asked me for my Tinker deck. I thought he wanted to game on! and didn’t ask what he was going to do with it. This is what he did with it. No credit, no permission, no cost to the end user!

When I first met Eric, we pretty much hated each other. I beat him for a slot and wrote a pretty obnoxious tournament report. But Eric is a good man if ever there was one, and we’ve grown into good friends in the eight years since (it’s not my fault that he didn’t play Necropotence and I did). I’ve grown to respect this wacky old man so much that he has me believing we should abolish all cars. I find his thinking really persuasive, and am glad that he is so good at sharing his ideas, even when they’re not about Magic.

The point is, Eric is probably still the best writer in Magic: The Gathering. Too bad he doesn’t actually write about it any more.


Bonus Section: Me v. Kartin’ Ken

Ken and I are going to do the Mulligans Dilemma series. We are going to take positions on hard hands and argue whether or not someone should throw the hand back (kind of like the old Ken v. Eisel Dilemmas, which are now being taken over by TAten and BDM). So anyway, we are soliciting hands. I think that the nature of this exercise lends itself better to Constructed deck than Limited just because we can infer the rest of the deck better. But whatever: post ’em in the forums and we’ll get to brawlin’.