Don’t Read This Article

Bryan Gottlieb gives thanks to all the readers in an elegy to a phase in his MTG career.

Didn’t Say Please, illustrated by Jason A. Engle

Throughout my Magic writing career, I’ve always tried to be acutely aware of who my intended audience was. If I sat down to write an article, I had a theoretical reader in mind that was most likely to benefit from the information I was sharing. That intended psychographic informed both what I would write about and how I’d write it. If I had to pick one thing that gave my work unique value in the Magic space, it would be this self-awareness.

This is also why the following article might be among my worst. Who do you write a goodbye article for? It could be for my peers, but we’ve already commiserated and shared behind the scenes, and in general I’m not trying to write for an audience of dozens.

It could be for the readers hungry for knowledge and improvement — an article loaded with every piece of Magic wisdom I’ve ever wanted to share. That well is mostly dry after five years, though. I’ve dropped the manifestos and tried to reshape the language. That stuff is draining and can’t be conjured at will.

I could take the outrage clicks and tap into my sadness and anger over how much the Magic space that I love has changed. That’s not going to be productive, though, and I’ve been doing that quite a bit over the last couple of years anyway.

No, there’s just no one who really needs to read this article. It is a final piece of self-indulgence that I’m cashing in all my built-up good will to get you to read. And with everything on the table, and no more future clicks to generate or employment to preserve, I finally get to deliver a genuine and unclouded message. It’s something that could only be said with authority at the end of a job, because the incentives for pandering are too high at all other junctures.

So here it is:

I’m so damn appreciative of anyone who has ever taken the time to read one of my articles. Like, honestly and truly, to a degree I can’t express, appreciative.

I’ve never been blind to the fact that I was the outsider in our fleet of strategic writers, in part because several people, afforded quasi-anonymity by the internet, would gleefully point out my perceived shortcomings to me. I could never bring myself to be mad at them, though. First, on paper they were right. My four Pro Tour appearances and one GP Top 8 are stats on par with the worst year many of our writers could ever imagine. Second, in my younger and much more foolish days, I could sadly see myself making the same type of statements to someone I didn’t know.

It’s comforting to believe in meritocracies. The idea that our unique talents will eventually gain the recognition they rightly deserve gives order to an extremely disorderly existence. Unfortunately, like so many other comforting ideologies, “the cream rising to the top” is an utter lie. The entropy of our lives begins at conception, and the myriad factors that soundlessly shape your path never stop exerting influence, regardless of the pain that may cause.

I do not doubt for a second that someone out there “deserved” my opportunities more than I did. I knew the right people. I clean up well for a camera. I had access to just enough financial stability to be able to even participate in the scene. I wasn’t the best choice, but I was the one that you got.

So, with all of this in the background, for you to show up week after week and listen to what I had to say about Magic is just an astounding act of belief and trust that I never took for granted. I hope I occasionally paid you back with a good deck, a card you were able to buy before the price spike, or, most importantly, a little bit of joy while reading my work. Because the joy I took out of being part of this entire ecosystem that we all helped build was truly life changing.

What percentage of the population ever gets to sign an autograph? I’m sure it’s less than 1% — probably less than .01%. When someone would come to me and ask me to destroy a Magic card that they paid hard-earned money for with my hastily scribbled name, it never stopped being weird for me. If you’re one of the kind souls who asked me to do this, I probably said as much to you. Again, humble gratitude that you allowed me to live this fantasy is all I can express.

It’s funny that at the close of this era of Magic, I finally see how much of the appeal of the game was borne of its fantasy setting. I’m not talking the Dragons, Planeswalkers, Elves, and Homarids-type fantasy. I’m talking about the roles we got to play in our participation in the community.

There were the mad Alchemists: quirky in their social presentation, able to conjure awe-inspiring deck ideas out of nothing. The thoughtful Scholars: dedicated to the study and preservation of the history of the game. The despicable Rogues: skirting the limits of fair play and eventually (in some cases) getting the comeuppance they rightly deserved. And of course, there were the Heroes of the story: us. No matter who you are, or how you approached the game of Magic, you got to write your hero’s narrative.

For me, my hero’s arc was all about getting myself to a place where I’d have a bunch of people willing to let me tell them about my thoughts on Magic. Growing up isolated, obsessed with Magic, and unwilling to put myself out there left me literally fantasizing about a world where I would have even one person willing to have a deep conversation about the game with me. Somehow, through my work here, I ended up with tens of thousands of people who wanted to have those conversations with me, week in and week out. The fantasy was complete.

It was entirely a fantasy, though. And like all fantasy, it’s got to end at some point. The idea that you can build an entire way of life around a common interest is so stunningly beautiful in its ambition, and the fact that we had even a moment of success standing up for this idea against the crushing weight of capitalism is an achievement. The dollars and cents of it all never quite added up, but we were happy and creating.

Is there such a thing as a good pyramid scheme? The swell of bodies climbing all over each other to grab the carrot of Magic celebrity and Pro Tour greatness dangling overhead formed enough of a foundation to build a cottage industry on. If this foundation had a flaw, it was that it could only exist if we believed in that carrot.

We know the decisions that eroded that belief, and there really is no point in rehashing them. I’m not big on regrets, but if I had one with regard to my Magic career, I wish I fought louder and harder the moment I saw the Pro Tour being de-emphasized. I still think it’s possible for a company, even a publicly traded one, to make decisions because they align with their vision for the world and their product, not only because they make money. Hell, maybe a company can even have a concept of loyalty to the partners that carried them through harder times.

The idea that you can support either casual or competitive Magic was always a made-up dichotomy. One does not preclude the other. The decision that ultimately doomed us was, and will always be, “Dollars vs. More Dollars.”

I again state that I think this is a very bad Magic article, intended to be read by no one. It’s just some final thoughts on the way out the door. My immensely talented editors, whose work I would have been lost without, will make it seem coherent. StarCityGames.com will publish it, because they have been unwavering in their support of me as an author — even when my articles presented ideas which were clearly not in line with those of a business predicated on selling Magic cards. And then, despite all my warnings of its inadequacy, and my own failings as an author, you will read it. Incredible.

But it’s time to wake up.