The Beautiful Struggle – I Guess This Is Goodbye

Read Mark Young every Thursday... at StarCityGames.com!
In his final article for StaCityGames.com, Mark looks back at some of the formative experiences that led him to where he is today, in both Magic and non-Magic terms. He also shares the reasons for his departure. Thanks for all the hard work and great articles, Mark! We’ll miss you!

Let me tell you a story from when I was growing up in Topeka, Kansas.

I was sixteen years old, and I was pretty big into role-playing games and comic books, as you might expect. Most of my friends were a couple of years younger, so even though my beat-up Honda Civic was older than me and the size of a large closet, it was still the only car between us. For any and all gaming-related excursions, yours truly was the driver.

One day we were driving down 21st Street to The Gate Keeper, which at the time was the biggest and best store of its kind in the state of Kansas. That statement meant a lot more in those days: the Internet was still a pretty new concept, and buying anything online was impossible. Not only did GK have more shop space than any other comic/gaming joint in the area, but they had an in-store arcade and a huge room in the back where people could be found playing anything from Warhammer 40K to D&D to chess. Sadly, GK moved into a much smaller store space in 2007.

The car was me, Adam, Carlin, and Taiga, and I forget why I was driving them down there. As I recall, our game of choice at the time was BattleTech, so we might have been buying stuff for that. But during the in-drive chatter, Adam got my attention by asking,

“Hey Mark, have you heard about this new game, Magic?”

I’m sure you can guess what happened next.

Let me tell you a story from 2002.

I had been in the job I currently hold for about a year and a half. I had quit Magic during college because it was too expensive, but I had been making money on my new hobby: the open-air poker game in the Washington, D.C. park called Dupont Circle. I had straightened out most of my student debt (of course I would go back to grad school a year later, shooting that plan in the foot), but I was getting tired of playing poker in the park, and I wanted a new hobby

One Monday night in August, I needed new shoes and I had poker winnings I could spend. I went down to the Pentagon City mall that night after work, and wandered around looking for a shoe store. I found a Wizards of the Coast retail store first. There was an Arena league going on at that very moment. Common sense tried to intervene: Magic is a young man’s game, it said, plus it’s expensive. But I couldn’t get the gamer out of me, and I didn’t want to let the game go away.

A couple of weeks later I was Googling “magic the gathering” at work. I found this article. If you read it you will note that there’s a link to the Star City Games website therein. I followed the link and noticed that Star City accepted writing submissions from anyone.

You know the rest of the story.

Now I’m going to tell you the ending.

Let me tell you a story from a couple weeks ago.

When I signed off of this column last month, I was expecting to come back today and write about Extended and PTQs and strategy as though I had never left. The only thing that had been keeping me away was a qualifying exam for grad school that I had to study for. But on December 28th, one day before I was planning to attend a PTQ in Rockville, Maryland, I was awakened by my cell phone ringing. The called ID said, “UNKNOWN,” so I was surprised to hear,

“Hey, Mark, it’s Ted Knutson.”


How many of you out there saw the Shaft remake, with Samuel L. Jackson? That scene where Jackson talks a guy into doing him a favor by bringing up all the stuff he did for the guy, and then asking, “Who delivers, ten times out of ten?”

As far as the gaming world goes, Teddy Cardgame (a nickname he acquired while editing This Here Site Here) is that guy for me. He wrote an encouraging forum post for my very first Star City submission, he hired me as a Star City writer, I survived Star City’s shift to Premium thanks to his support, he got me a job writing for Beckett’s Magic magazine. Ted didn’t actually have my phone number, but it was easy for him to get it, because he introduced me to just about every awesome person I know in the Magic world. You simply wouldn’t be reading these words if not for Ted.

So when Ted said, “I’m going to offer you the most awesome job you’ll ever have,” I had to bite my tongue to keep from instantly saying, “yes.” I think I waited a minute or two.

The thing is, I knew as soon as Ted made the offer that it would likely lead to the end of “real world” Magic for me. The schedule, the location, everything else: it all added up to say that I wouldn’t be playing PTQs or Grand Prix any more. Since my column is aimed at the PTQ player, writing would be ending as well. I figured I could still play a few PTQs, maybe Grand Prix: Philadelphia, and then I would be done.

Let me tell you a story from a few years ago.

I was 26 or 27 at the time, I guess; my Magic revival had been going on for a year or two. My friend Rick Rust and I were playing in regular tournaments at a store in the Maryland suburbs called Alliance Comics, and we worked together on decks and stuff all the time. After one such tournament I went drinking with Rick and his then-girlfriend, now-fiancee, Maria.

We had recently learned that Alliance Comics would be removing its Magic tournament space, so that they could sell more comics. I can’t remember if Wizards of the Coast had closed its retail stores by then, but if not they were clearly preparing to do so. Thus, Rick and I were wondering if maybe we would be quitting the game, simply because we weren’t sure where to go for tournaments. Maria asked me something along the lines of, even if we found another store, how much longer did I think I would keep playing Magic. I said,

“Hey, I like playing Magic. When I stop liking it, I’ll stop playing it.”

When I woke up with my alarm on the morning of the Decemeber 29th, just one day after Ted’s call, that’s how I knew I was done.

I just didn’t want to play the PTQ. Understand that this is a strong statement, because that December qualifier was one of the last Lorwyn Sealed PTQs in the world, and I love playing Lorwyn Limited. I also liked seeing my friends and hanging around the store before the tournament started. However, actually playing in the tournament… I couldn’t see myself doing it. You can only squeeze into the back room at Dream Wizards alongside 160 other people so often, and then it starts to wear on you.

Mike Flores talks about “the fire,” and how he might have lost “the fire” after the birth of his son, or how Jon Finkel regained “the fire” for Pro Tour: Charleston last year. It wasn’t until I had Ted’s offer out there that I could see I had lost “the fire.” What’s more, I realized that even if Ted called me up right freakin’ now and rescinded the offer, I still wouldn’t have “the fire.” It was just gone. If I wanted to hang out with gamers, I could go to the drafts at Dream Wizards on Friday night. If I wanted to just play Magic, I had Magic Online.

So I didn’t go to the PTQ on the 29th. I didn’t go to Neutral Ground the following week, or to Rockville last weekend, to play Extended. I won’t be attending the Morningtide prerelease. I plan to sell my collection down to the last common. On each of those PTQ mornings, my plan consisted of sleeping in, waking up slowly, and thinking about how my life is about to change. It was a good feeling.

There’s not much Magic strategy in this article, but if there is one thing I would want to impress upon the aspiring PTQ players out there, it’s this: if you don’t like playing Magic, you probably shouldn’t be playing. I’ve received forum responses from time to time, implying (or just straight-up accusing) that I am a hyper-competitive jerk; this article and this article are examples. And yes, I am very competitive. It’s just the way I’m wired.

However, at no point during the entire time since I walked into that store in Pentagon City did I not love playing Magic. Loving the game is not required for playing well, but I would say that it is imperative if you want to play your best. It’s that way with any game, really. Now that I realize how much less I am loving the PTQ scene these days, it seems only right to move on.

This is a little too short to be a story, so call it a true fact:

When Craig Stevenson was starting the weekly schedule he currently uses, and he emailed me to ask if I wanted to be a weekly columnist, I wanted to say no.

Back before I was made a weekly columnist, my content was pretty sporadic. I actually stopped going into #mtgwacky because Teddy Cardgame would either (a) mock me for being there instead of writing, or (b) mock me for not writing often enough. The reason was simple: if I couldn’t come up with something really useful for the readers, I wouldn’t write. And I was always obsessing about what y’all out there would find “really useful.” My hard drive was loaded with failed articles where I had a good idea, but it petered out as I began to question whether or not it was worth readers’ time to read it.

Once Fearless Leader Craig took over, I was really freaked out the first couple of weeks of the new schedule. I didn’t know if I was going to be able to do it. I put pretty high demands upon myself to turn out material that readers would want, and I was paranoid about coming up short. I wanted to readers to trust that I gave myself a very large burden of giving them high-quality content. Now, as my column ends, I can only hope that’s what you got out of it.

When a random person messages me on Magic Online and says that he likes my articles, my response is always the same: “Thanks for reading.” It’s a rote response, and sometimes I think it sounds fake and corny, but it’s the only thing I can think to say. There were times — especially after Star City went premium, and I received more than a few forum comments complaining that people did not deserve to pay for my work since I had never played on the Pro Tour — when I really felt like I wasn’t worthy of your eyeballs.

So, every person who read a column, I was thankful for. Every piece of feedback and every forum response, even the negative ones, I was thankful for. I never did this for the money (which is a good thing, considering how much I got paid). I just wanted people to read and learn something. It always gave me a great feeling whenever somebody said that they did.

I wouldn’t have been hired as a writer without Ted. I wouldn’t have stayed a writer without you. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Let me tell you some stories about the stories I’ve written:

On Discipline — If an aspiring PTQ player asked me which of my articles offered them the most important advice, I would say this one. I voted this article for Article of the Year in the SCG Awards in 2006, with no trace of irony or self-promotion.

SCG Daily: Week of Lists, Part 5 — I list my own favorite Magic articles here. When I realized that this list was top-heavy with tournament reports, I made another list, that contained zero tournament reports, which is here.

Grow a Pair — I wrote an article about the Wild Pair Slivers deck in Time Spiral Block Constructed, and then two months later I was ousted from Regionals by a completely unexpected Wild Pair Slivers deck. The irony never fails to make me chuckle.

The Limits of Math — This article was controversial. It began with a poker story that no one cared about; in fact, I got a warning from Craig asking me never to do that again. Also, it ended with a game example in which I said “one of the following definitely happened” and then listed two scenarios in which I lost the game and one scenario in which I won it. Not revealing whether or not I won the game seemed to get some people riled up, including Evan Erwin. So, in case you were still curious: I did win the game.

A Chilling Look Into the Future — A couple of days after this article went up, Patrick Sullivan messaged me on Magic Online, completely out of the blue, and told me that he liked it. I was flattered; frankly, I thought PSulli was too good a player to bother with reading me. Even more flattering was a week or so later, when Pat told me about a Red/Green deck he was working on for Regionals. Working with PSulli on a Red deck is like working with Guillaume Wafo-Tapa on a Blue deck, or working with Mike Long on cheating.

The Daffinitive Affinity Guide — Newcomers to the site might not know this, but Star City used to award $50 in store credit to the non-paid writer who submitted the best article each week. This article marked the first time that I won the contest. I think it holds up pretty well, considering that Affinity is a very relevant deck in the current Extended. Also, this is the only article I’ve written where I didn’t come up with the title (The Ferrett did, as I recall), but all my other article titles are mine. Another also: I was listening to the Talib Kweli album “The Beautiful Struggle” almost non-stop while writing this article, which is where my column’s name came from.

The Art of the Save — My favorite article of everything I’ve written. I submitted it right after the previous one. It ran at the top of the site (which I cannot recall ever happening for a contest submission) and I won the article contest for the second consecutive week. Afterward, Teddy Cardgame emailed me about being a paid writer.

I had a section where I was going to thank all of the awesome people I’ve met since I started writing here, but I cut it out. It sounded too much like some kind of lame-ass farewell address. Hey, I’ll still be around. I’ll still be on Magic Online, I’ll still read my favorite Magic writers, and I’ll still post in their forums.

Who knows? I might get “the fire” back. You know what they say: no one ever really quits. You can’t get the gamer out of me, and I don’t want to let him go away.

For now, though, no more stories. I’m all out.

mmyoungster at aim dot com
mm_young dot livejournal dot com
mm_young on MTGO