The Casual Writing Dilemma

Why read a casual article? I’ve been thinking about that one for a while. Mostly, I keep coming back to the core point that people want to be entertained. Amongst casual gamers, there’s the other angle: not everyone can have every good idea — so it’s nice to have someone talk about their ideas in a public forum, giving others a starting point. Being enjoyable to read is important, after all.

You know, it’s pretty hard to write casual articles.

It’s easy to make casual decks, but it’s rather tricky to produce casual articles. You notice how a lot of casual articles just get a quick “hey, I liked this,” or worse, no comment at all in the forums?

So far, my articles tend to get lauded by people who like the general content, and rightfully set afire by people who object to the presentation. It’s true – I’ve been very sloppy. When I first submitted to This Here Site Here, it was under the auspice of one Teddy Card Game, whose writing I respect a great deal, and who, to date, only ever agreed with me on one thing, ever. And I kept submitting because I felt I wasn’t going to get better as a writer without working at it.

In the tradition of the Ferrett (who did note that quantity can be effective), I simply submitted and submitted and submitted. I had a backlog of about six articles at one point, which has since dwindled down to barely being 1. Why is that?

Well, because I’m not writing as much. I’m at that annoying cusp as a writer where I can recognise how far natural talent has taken me, and now the only option from hereon in is to actually do the hard work. To avoid pat phrases I use conversationally, and to weed out the daisies, as Craig has phrased it.

I retyped that last paragraph twice, trying to avoid that very same pitfall.

Why read a casual article? I’ve been thinking about that one for a while. Mostly, I keep coming back to the core point that people want to be entertained. Amongst casual gamers, there’s the other angle: not everyone can have every good idea – so it’s nice to have someone talk about their ideas in a public forum, giving others a starting point. Being enjoyable to read is important, after all.

So, fellow casual writers, I have some advice for you, in the form of three simple rules. Above all else, though, these are rules that I am going to be doing my best to hold myself to in the future.

Casual Doesn’t Mean Crap
A lot of casual writers think they have this one down already. That is, just because a deck is casual doesn’t mean it has to be overtly bad. This isn’t an article on casual decks, though – this is about casual writing.

Just because the article you’re working on is about a casual deck doesn’t mean you get a free ticket on criticism. If there are problems with your article, and someone in the forum has the gall to point them out to you, you’d better show them the respect to at least listen. It’s not Craig’s job to keep you from sounding like an idiot*, it’s not the forum dwellers’ duty to avoid making you feel like an idiot – it is simply up to you, casual writer, to avoid being a god-damned idiot.

This means a lot of things, different things to different people. For myself, it means fewer extraneous sentences. It means I should reduce my reliance on flowery words. It means leaning less on jokes that are only situationally funny, and referencing pop culture less, as if it’s would make you pay attention to me because ohmygod, we both like Homestar Runner?! Wow, that just puts us in the same group as several million people with internet access.

Quantity is good; it gives you practice, and it makes you keep sharp. Part of why I haven’t written as much is because I stopped my regime of writing a page a day, which made it harder to take it back up again. Quantity does mean, however, that you start to pad your work with unnecessary phrases.

Ernest Hemingway, apparently, once said “You’re writing too much; cut every third word, and then you’ll have something worth keeping.” As a writer, I don’t have the courage to do that yet. I’m still padding my articles for space, trying to reach a word count, hopeful that the sum of what I do have to say won’t be lost.

It’s time to try, though.

So, sir casual writer, consider what you’re doing. Look at the work you’ve produced, and before you submit it to Craig, think hard about what you want it to say – and if you’re saying it well. I started my article submission career by saying “Just submit the damn thing already.” Ironically, I’m going back on my own advice. Time to keep re-examining.

Nobody Is Going To Play Your Deck
I came to this realisation only recently. Most of my articles come with decklists, but it never occurred to me to consider how regularly people took these lists and played them. I did some asking around, after this curiosity was piqued, and I received the same response, every time:

“Oh, I’ve played that, but…”

People will change cards. They’ll change colors. Sometimes, they’ll change the whole deck and only see a connection because there’s a similar underlying theme. Being a casual writer isn’t – and can’t – be about delivering the latest technology. There’s no “best” way to handle casual games, because there’s no defined metagame. Some even see gaming against your friends as being a form of cheating.

The real deckbuilding geniuses of the world, the Tsuyoshi Fujitas and the Frank Karstens, these guys can hand over their decklists and say, in essence “Use this, learn how to use it, and for the love of god, do not change anything.” These are Hattori Hanzo blades; you do not tell the masters how to do their job, after all.

But we’re just casual writers. We. I include myself in this. I was so tizzied up by the idea of people changing cards in my decks, initially – they weren’t playing what I suggested! Why would they change success?

They change success because they’re not idiots, for a start. I can’t propose a perfect decklist, and it’s the height of arrogance for me to think that I can. For that matter, there is no perfect decklist for a casual deck! There is just what’s right for you, and what’s fun to play.

You can go to a logical conclusion with this; consider that Anthony Alongi rarely, if ever posts deck lists with his articles. You don’t, necessarily, have to write about a Casual Deck to write a Casual Article. You can write about common strategies you deal with, and good, solid ways to foil them. You can write about ideas stimulated by the new cards in the environment, or foils for an existent deck that’s been making itself known lately.

To a casual writer, your audience is defined by wanting to do its own thing. So you have to be prepared to accept them doing it. Do not use this as an excuse to post impartial, or incomplete decks, though! If you’re going to do that, have a reason – don’t use an excuse.

You Own Nothing
Finally, it’s so very important to remember that at the end of the day, all you’re doing is scattering ideas on the wind. You’re suggesting to a dozen or more friends some suggestions for decks. You’re spitballing ideas, but you’re doing it in such a way that people are going to want to read what you have to say. You can lurk in the forums and toss ideas around all you want, but if you’re going to stand up and be counted in the article section of the site, you are going to have to be willing to know what you’re talking about. Provide reasons, provide analysis – provide jokes like they’re going to carry you through.

Nothing that you post, in a casual article, is really yours. It belongs to the audiences, and the community. The very nature of parallel evolution means that most decks are already invented, by someone, somewhere, and you can’t claim originality as something unto itself. Nor should you want to – your reward is to be heard.

Let me make that clear; simply “being original” and “having your own deck,” casual writer, is not a good enough reason. Magic is a game; and part of that game is a contest, a struggle for victory. If your game is all about deck design, then that struggle should still be important. Losing is rarely, if ever, going to be important.

What This Means For Me
I “help” my friends with their decks at times. I’ve tried, since I realise what an annoying git I am, to keep my offers of this “help” to when it is asked of me. And in the end, I’ve seen many people take my advice, nod, listen, and then move on to do something else entirely.

That, my friends and casual writers, is a good thing. I write casual articles because I want to entertain and amuse, and help. I want new players to hit that point where they realise that seven-mana 6/6s aren’t good enough, in and of themselves, to support a deck. Because the more people we have who are having fun playing this game, instead of being angry and bitter about this game, the better, in my mind.

Casual gamers, for the better part, seem to get ignored by the pros. But casual writers… well, “Pro” Writers rightly malign us for our writing. And we deserve it. We especially deserve it because we haven’t been taking any of the criticism on board. We’ve been ignoring it and masking our lack of skill by claiming, “It’s casual.”

I don’t know how close I’ve gotten with this one article. But damned if I’m not going to try.

Hugs and Kisses
Talen Lee
Talen at dodo dot com dot au

Bonus Quiz Section
1. Can anyone give me a way to get regular updates to my MTGO client, without having to deal with the ever-annoying Bink Video player that constantly asks for updates, when I always skip the freaking movie anyway?

2. The TOS you agree to when you open MTGO opens by saying you should click on “I accept” to indicate your acceptance of the terms, when the button that starts the programme instead states “I agree.” Does this invalidate the TOS?

2.1. Does this even matter a damn, given that the adepts will still booth you in the rear for violating an agreement you technically never agreed to follow?

2.2. Yes, “booth.” As in, they will take a small building and cram it up there.

3. Can anyone else on the beta server verify how buggy Dissension was when the beta closed? The number of bugs with this set have been pretty dense, which has me suspicious that the beta server was overwhelmed with people testing for Regionals, instead of actually testing the cards themselves.

3.1. Provided there’s not an NDA to worry about, of course.

4. Essay question. Momir Vig; basics-only or no? Provide at least three sample game anecdotes and one reference.

*‘On its Own In Multiples’ indeed.