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So You Want To Be A Pro Player And Content Producer?

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Thirst for Meaning, illustrated by Brian Valeza

Magic’s constantly changing. There’s no denying that. There are new cards, formats, bannings, Organized Play structures, marketing tactics, team dynamics – whatever it is, it’s probably changed in the last year. Even as an absurdly enfranchised person I’ve felt the burden of the ever-changing landscape, so I can only imagine how difficult and frustrating it is for the general Magic community. When everything’s in flux, what should you be doing if you want to optimize your chances of one day being in the Magic Pro League or a Magic content creator?

That’s a difficult question to unpack. First, that’s because it’s actually two separate questions. A pro Magic player and a successful content creator are two different things in the Magic sphere, but they overlap so much that it often looks like the same job from the outside looking in. 

The path most traveled in professional Magic is that a player finds success in one or more events and uses it/them to pivot into content creation opportunities. The secondary market is a thriving business in Magic, and content on those websites help drive traffic. Players often jump at the opportunity to make content for a business as it’s a fantastic creative outlet, but it also strengthens one’s brand and creates a constant revenue stream.

That’s a win-win-win!

Second, there’s no formula for success. Nothing I say today can be boiled down into a concentrate designed to turn your career around. Even attempting to write this article feels like a marketing campaign targeting the disenfranchised to give me clicks for eating up every drop of garbage I’m about to tell them.

Bo Burnham put it best…

I’m not a winner. I’m not a role model. Honestly, I’m just the guy who got lucky. I won some key matches that gave me short-term success, and immediately got picked up by what would become the first “Super Team.” There I learned from some of the best players in the game. In fact, I’m one of the only people on that team who is not in the Magic Hall of Fame. That’s how good they were! 

That turned into a content gig, and for whatever reason people seemed to like me and my content. I wasn’t a particularly strong writer, but I was still afforded the opportunity to improve. I mean, I never used that opportunity to improve, but that’s beside the point. The tl;dr here is that there’s no way to know if my “wisdom” is even applicable to today’s subject matter, but my entitlement grants me the privilege to give it the old college try. 

The hard truth is only a small portion of people “make it.” There are only so many slots in the Magic Pro League and seats at the Players’ Championship. There’s only so much money being thrown around for content creators. Whichever path a person chooses is going to be difficult with a low success rate. 

Now that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be attempted. It’s just important to understand it’s initially a lot of difficult work with very little recognition, validation, or any real certainty that you’ll get out what you put in. If you want to go for it, then by all means do so. In fact I encourage your pursuit, but only if you’re willing to try to become self-actualized. The road is dark and full of terrors if you’re not willing to put in the work of constant and never-ending self-improvement. 

You can’t rely on that big break to ever show up, but you still always need to be looking out for one. 

Convoluted, isn’t it? I know, it’s difficult to unpack, but it’s just how it works now. It’s why so many people are so loud about things all the time. You have to be to be seen, heard, read, and ultimately respected. You can do that by winning a lot, but the long-term goal is almost always diversification via content creation. Even a player as successful as Andrea Megucci understands the value of the “player-into-content creator” pivot.

Last year Andrea won roughly $300,000 in Magic tournaments, and yet he values his stream equally to his Magic Pro League contract. That right there is a perfect example of how Pro Play and content creation intersect almost seamlessly. The issue, though, is doing well in events doesn’t always translate into content creation opportunities or success. 

The word “prestige” constantly gets thrown around the Magic community. Just last week, a number of players were lamenting their disdain for the new Regional Players Tours on social media. Not that the event was structured poorly, or a distaste for the formats. No, they mostly didn’t like that Pro Tour and Players Tour had the same abbreviation.  

Prestige means a lot to the Magic community, and thus they constantly are associating values to each and every accomplishment people earn. An example of this that’s on topic is that winning a Pro Tour is more difficult than a Players Tour; thus, a Pro Tour champion accomplished something greater than a Players Tour champion did. While this is objectively obvious on the surface, the practice of rewarding prestige complicates many aspects of an aspiring pro player’s initial trajectory, and also that of a player trying to use results to catapult their content creation career.

I remember taking second in Mythic Championship III, and feeling great about it. I mean, I’m pretty sure I punted the final game while also getting a little unlucky, but I also beat Kai Budde two more times on the Sunday Stage and walked away from the event with $50,000 and 42 Mythic Points. All-in-all a really great weekend that I was exceptionally proud of! 

Then I got home, and saw a few conversations discussing the “value” of an Arena Mythic Invitational Top 4. You see, I’m on the cusp of making it into the Magic Hall of Fame, but I only have three Pro Tour Top 8s, which my peers have deemed one too few to earn their vote. The conversation taking place was dissecting the result by trying to put a “difficulty value” on the event in which I also was rewarded with a bye into Day 2 thanks to winning my Magic Pro League Split.

This was extremely deflating for me. I didn’t appreciate that the very first conversation to come out of the very first Arena Mythic Championship would be about the difficulty setting of the event. It felt like my second-place result had already been cataloged as a second-rate accomplishment that also now had an asterisk due to my MPL Split win.

This hasn’t just happened to me, nor am I innocent of doing it myself. We, the peanut gallery, constantly try to evaluate players based on the difficulty settings of the events they were successful in. In the grand scheme of things, this shouldn’t matter, though, right? Like, why in the hell do we do this to each other? It honestly feels like some “Mean Girls”-style shade being thrown back and forth. 

Events have built-in metrics that advance players through that specific Organized Play structure. What people think of others’ accomplishments shouldn’t matter, since the meritocracy of the structure controls everyone’s future placement. While we all know this, we still do think, and it still matters. 

Again, the only reason why this social practice exists is because professional play and content creation work so closely together. Magic is an extremely complex game, which is why it’s very important to know the content being consumed is credible. We’ve all assumed things about decks or matchups, and then come to realize how drastically wrong we were once we tested the theories. We inherently don’t want to trust the words of someone who’s wrong more than right; thus, we size them up before trusting their opinions. We do so by looking into their results, as there’s really not much else you initially can go by. 

This practice is even used when sizing up potential testing partners or teammates that might not be well-known on a personal level. One of your friends wants the two of you to team with someone you know nothing about, so the first thing you ask is if they’ve done well in anything. This is a totally fair question, by the way, and one we’ve all asked numerous times.

While it may seem like I’m presenting this information in a negative light, I don’t actually mean to, nor do I believe it should change. Honestly, it really can’t change based on the way Magic’s structured. I’m not even here today to try to “take the first step in the right direction” or whatever. It’s not possible, and thus not worth worrying about. The only reason I even brought any of this up was to better equip you for the second half of this article, which includes tips to take with you on your pursuit towards Magic glamour and glory.

It’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters.

Epictetus

Tip #1: You and you alone are in charge of your destiny.

If you’re really serious about being a professional Magic player, then you have to be brutally honest with yourself about your capabilities within the game. Each day you have to find where you’re lacking, and each day work on shoring up those holes. No more bad beat stories. No more excuses.

But that’s the easy part. Obviously we can all still improve at this wildly complex game, there’s no denying that. There’ve been millions of words written about exactly that: what to do, what not to do, what cards to play, what cards not to play. That’s been going on since the game’s inception and will continue until the last card’s printed. You didn’t need me to tell you that we can all improve at this game, and how content plays its role in that. In fact, you’re probably asking yourself right now when I’m actually going to teach you what to do to get better. 

Well, I can’t. Not at the individual level, at least. An article can give suggestions on what decks to play, certain sideboard plans, specific metagame predictions, or certain lines of plays to take more often than others, but there’s no way to correctly identify each and every one of your game’s holes. That’s on you to work on and figure out, just like it’s on me to make my own game better. Content can help out in broader ways, but getting your game to its highest possible level will always fall on your own shoulders. 

The issue here is that it’s rather difficult to always be able to identify one’s own shortcomings. Even when one does figure them out, it’s still not a guarantee one will know how to fix them correctly . That’s where things like testing teams, one-on-one coaching, or watching streams/coverage come in. Most holes in a player’s game can’t be solved by simply playing more games. In fact, that can be a detriment as bad habits get reinforced.

Tip #2: Don’t just look for testing partners that are better than you. 

Really? This goes against everything pros have been saying for years. Earlier today I even said I got invited to join the first “super team,” and exclaimed how beneficial that was for me. While, yes, it is nice to work with people who are better than you, it’s not the only thing you should be looking for. 

I’ve learned over the years that it’s vital for personal growth within this game to test with players who have skill sets that you’re personally lacking. Some players are strong deckbuilders, but not great tuners. Others are good at drafting, but not as skilled in playing out the games, and vice versa. It’s amazing when you find a team that complements each other, and not just a team that revolves around their best player. 

To successfully do this, you need to be hyper-aware of your strengths and shortcomings, and the best way to do that is be honest with yourself. Don’t try to impress people under false pretenses, or worse, trick yourself into believing in a false sense of self-worth. Nobody’s perfect, so don’t try to be. Be open and honest with yourself, and those around you. In fact, it can be detrimental to you and your team’s progress if you’re not always honest with them and yourself. 

Tip #3: Don’t try to be a specialist. 

Again, what kind of advice am I giving y’all? Well, the truth is that I wasn’t always the “Standard guy.” Taking on that branding ultimately rewired me internally as much as it promoted me externally. I bought into that narrative just as much as the next person and I started to see behavioral changes. This caused me to lose focus on the other formats as I spent more and more time working on Standard. I don’t know if impostor syndrome was to blame, but I started to really worry about always having the best Standard knowledge out there. It almost became an addiction. I found myself needing to stay current in Standard even when I wasn’t playing the format professionally. 

This doesn’t happen just in the content creation realm, though. Most players gravitate to what they’re good at. While it’s arguable that they got good at that thing because they enjoyed doing it, that doesn’t mean it’s the best practice when trying to reach the heights of professional Magic. It’s important to stay well-rounded and work on the many facets of competitive Magic, even if it’s just to keep all your tools sharpened.  

I’m lucky that Standard has had so much focus on the past few years of competitive play. If it were other formats I might have found myself already out of the Magic Pro League, and without my two amazing money finishes in 2019. Some of the Limited specialists, for example, didn’t have it so easy last year. Some of them found themselves relegated to the Rivals League. 

Tip #4: Don’t feel entitled to good results. 

You’re not special. Sorry, but it’s true. Sure, maybe you did test the most for the event at hand, but that means nothing when it comes to competition. Everyone starts on the same footing and everyone put some level of effort into their preparation. Being the best or preparing the hardest can sometimes give you an edge, but that ultimately doesn’t mean it will amount to anything. Especially if you have an entitled voice in the back of your head telling you how much you deserve fortune to come your way. 

Tip #5: Don’t underestimate the level of your competition. 

You’re not the smartest person in the room either, and even if you are, you’d understand that means very little when it comes to Magic. The worst thing you can do is use the idea that you’re ahead of the curve to justify lazy decision-making. No tournament is easy, and the ones that are most likely involved some serious good variance going your way. Those who think they always win through skill and lose because of bad luck don’t get very far in this game. Trust me. 

Eventually, if enough things go your way, you’ll find yourself collecting some good results. This will usually push players to gravitate towards wanting to make content, but jumping into the content game isn’t that easy, even if you’re granted the opportunity. 

Tip #6: Find your voice for all the right reasons. 

Everyone needs to find their own voice, which isn’t the easiest thing in the world to do. One of the biggest mistakes I see players → content creators make is speaking to the wrong audience. Instead of finding their own voice and audience, they instead write pedantic articles directed towards their soon-to-be-peers.

You know, articles very similar to this one.

This is a mistake in my opinion, because a major part of content creation is finding your own voice. Once you do that, if the content’s halfway decent, your audience will follow. If your motivations aren’t genuine, your ambition to continue making content will quickly fade and your audience will sense it. The core ambition for content creation should come from the idea that it’s a platform to express yourself, and not a way to climb the ladder. If you’re more focused on the latter, content is simply the wrong vehicle for whatever your future ambitions are. You have to love content creation even if that’s not the only reason why you’re doing it. 

Tip #7: Don’t be the next me, be the first you. 

In the movie Fighting with My Family, the main characters, who are aspiring professional wrestlers, meet Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. He tells them that they shouldn’t dream of being him, but rather aspire to be themselves, which is when he says to them, “Don’t be the next me, be the first you.” I loved this line and it’s stuck with me ever since I first watched the movie because it’s so true.

When you start making content, you shouldn’t aspire to walk in someone else’s footsteps or be someone you think people want you to be. Instead, you should work hard on finding exactly what you’re interested in doing and just do that. The content game can get old rather quickly if you’re not doing it mostly for yourself. Trust me, if you’re creating something you enjoy doing, there’s going to eventually be an audience that appreciates it. What won’t happen is you continuing to want to do something that you’re solely doing because you think the largest number of people will like it. 

Top #8: Work on honing your content creation skills before the opportunities present themselves. 

The best way to find your voice is to work on it. Write articles, make videos, and stream before anyone comes knocking on your door for business. So often do I see players get some decent results racked up and want to turn that into a content creation gig, even though they’ve never made content. Sometimes these players will go looking for a content gig before making any content as well! 

I highly suggest against this. Hone your crafts by working on them from time to time. Try to figure out the style of content you enjoy making the most and make it. Perfect it. Sometimes that will set you up well for when an opportunity does present itself, but other times you might just create your own demand by putting it out into the world.

Tip #9: Don’t be negative. 

This suggestion casts a rather wide net as it encompasses pretty much every facet of this game and our community. Even if you don’t buy into philosophical reasons why a negative mindset or attitude is detrimental to your forward progress, there are plenty of examples where being negative directly hurts your ability to network. 

The issue, however, is that negativity sells and sometimes it’s very effective. For example, Wizards of the Coast (WotC) will roll back on certain decisions if the public opinion is negative enough. It’s also true that negative comments on social media will get more engagements than their positive counterparts. The same can also be said about negative pieces of content hitting better.  

I think it’s actually easy to get sucked into trying to harness negative energy, much like the Siths use the dark side of the Force. A common trajectory for content producers is to make interesting and engaging content that stimulates growth of a fairly large audience. Eventually, though, that same content producer slowly runs out of ideas for future projects. Wanting to continue to engage their now large audience, they start making negatively based content pieces and see that they hit really well. Knowing how easy they were to make, and seeing how successful those pieces were, they continue to make content criticizing WotC, other businesses within the Magic-sphere, cards, players, whatever. 

I highly advise against ever going down this path, as there’s really no great way back. It hurts possible future relationships and even your own credibility. Sure, you’ll have your specific audience who wants that style of content, but you’ll forever alienate yourself from those who dislike it. All you’ll end up doing is putting yourself in a box that’ll be difficult to break free from whenever you decide you want to. 

Tip #10: Good luck and have fun.

Seriously, it’s important to never lose sight of the fact that we’re still just playing a game. I’ll be the first to admit that I rarely follow this very suggestion, but that’s only because it’s really difficult to do so. At the highest levels, there’s always going to be some level of performance anxiety that makes general enjoyment difficult. I don’t know how to control this aspect of the game, but I can tell you that I’m in constant battle with it, and that it’s a very important battle to win. I just don’t know how to do it. 

Let’s just say this – if you ever figure out the secret to not letting external pressures cloud one’s judgment, I’ll be the first to subscribe to your content. Deal?

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