Off Topic: Writing on Two Cents a Day



Articles about writing Magic have surfaced lately across the Aether of the Internet. Those kinds of articles surface from time to time. Even the mother ship tosses out an article every once in a while to inspire the Magic peasants of community. It is to entice the commoners with the dashing hope that their writing will one day bring them to the promise land. Don't count on that lottery ticket. What? I'm just being honest. This doesn't mean writing will be any less enjoyable. While others have covered the technical aspects, I will offer some practical advice about the realities of writing a column.

Why?

The idea of writing Magic articles is a sultry siren. It promises praise from the community and eternal glory. Don't fall to such temptation. You need a better reason to write. Sure, a pleasant review or two may give you the sense of warm fuzzies inside. This still isn't a purpose. Before you start hacking away at that keyboard, you need to ask yourself some hard truths: why are you writing? It pretends to be a simple question. I guarantee if I asked someone to write two thousand words about their motivation for writing a Magic article; they would be hard pressed to come up with even two hundred words.

This is vitally important. Without knowing why, your articles won't have any purpose. It will lack depth and direction. I can tell which writers out there write for the sake of writing. They read like blogs or twitter feeds with a smattering of direction instilled with random thoughts with a spatter of useful information here and there. This will be you until the part of you realizes your passion. Once realized, that passion will bleed into those articles and the readers out there will appreciate it. Besides the technical aspects, it will provide a better sense of who you are. You can't tell people about yourself if you have no clue. Therefore, your first assignment is to write about why you are writing.

The Professional Black Sheep

Do you know the origins of blackballed? It has fraternal origins stemming way, way back. Simply, each fraternal member gets a white and black ball. White is good and black is bad. When a new member tries to join a fraternity, the members place one of the two into a voting apparatus such as a box or sack. A designated member pulls them out one by one. Sometimes simply getting one black ball will deny a person acceptance. The term has become ubiquitous numerous industries and in real life. My fraternity has blackballed numerous people from our house putting them on a permanent blacklist.

I bring this up to caution new writers. The Internet is a very unforgiving environment. Even if you are emotional about a subject, keep in mind that it is a permanent document that may haunt you later in life. Articles you submit for publishing can have a big impact on your writing career. A scathing or simply an experimental article submitted at the wrong time and place may bar you from further publishing or worse. Tread carefully with that first few submittals or you may find your email address sent to the spam filter. It may not occur to you now, but the people you rub the wrong way in the present may one day be in higher positions of power that will use that power to put your name on the blacklist.

The takeaway is to be professional. Treat writing Magic articles as a job. Don't call people names. Don't be an idiot unless you want to have your name next to mine. If you wouldn't do it at your job, keep it off your articles. Negative articles are only a fad that people grow tired of quickly. If used with humor or sparingly, those articles can be successful. I wouldn't make a career out of it. Also, realize your real life may be scrutinized as well. This includes premature spoilers, drug charges, and etc. It may haunt you forever. I wish the Magic world were more forgiving. People make mistakes. Everyone does at one point in time. Keep in mind if you do find yourself in a deep hole, it may take a long time dig out. The only thing you can do is keep moving forward and wait for those memories to fade.

Johnny Appleseed

My Magic fun time gets interrupted half the year as I sell apples and blueberries on my in-laws orchard. Eventually, it will be ours one day. I get flack from the locals about my ambitions to sell apples. I tell them I don't want to sell apples. I want to sell an experience. People don't pack their children up in a vehicle on an early Saturday morning to go buy apples. They do to experience something as a family. If they wanted to purchase apples, they could have gone to the grocery store. People flock to our orchard to spend time together as a family. They bring cameras to snap a picture of their child picking his or hers first apple off a tree. Baskets get placed on picnic tables and kids ride gleefully on a tractor-wagon ride. I don't sell apples. We sell an experience.

What experience are you going to sell? Please don't just sell apples. It is boring. Find a gimmick, theme or something to give the article a little flair. This doesn't mean it has to be silly or filled with dark humor. Sometimes having a clear direction and mission is all that is needed. On the mother ship, in my opinion, Doug Beyer has hands down the best week-to-week articles on the Internet. His articles are focused and have a clear direction. Doug is clearly passionate about art and it comes out in his writing. On top of it, the articles are educational and it definitely delivers on the experience scale. If a column was to be emulated, it would Doug's Savor the Flavor.

The next step is to learn how to be Johnny Appleseed. Your job as a writer is not to grow trees, but to plant seeds. Ideas take time to grow and form. The audience will rarely absorb everything you've said. The brain has a limited capacity to absorb new information or ideas. When done correctly, those ideas will take root and grow. Ideas also take time to grow (yes, think Inception). Your job isn't to tend the orchard so to speak. Besides, ideas are much more tantalizing. Nothing is more boring than the obvious facts. If a magician showed how the tricks were done, those tricks would lose their mystique. A little mystery is good. Deck tech articles fall prey to this fault time and time again. Saying X is good against Y is boring. Talking about how X could be against Y or Z if this or this happens in the metagame is more exciting. Smoke and mirrors.

What makes Magic great? It is an endless game that never ends, has no ultimate answer, but for some reason: you think you can figure it out. Some think Magic is like golf and we pursue it in search of the perfect game. No, it is the idea. The sweet siren sound lures you to solve a problem that can never be solved. Oh, if you just playtest more or etc. and etc. Although, chasing rainbows is a romantic notion and should be employed in your writing. Readers will chase that pot of gold for the rest of their lives searching for the perfect game and construction formula. We are just a bunch of black and white people stuck in a world of grey. It is the reason you will keep playing Magic.

Edetors

Excited to submit that first article. Go back, spell check, and review your work. Nobody else will. Sure, editors may gloss it over, but it isn't their job to do your job. Most editors for Magic the various sites play many roles. Editors are the gatekeepers of the front page. What they aren't going to do is hold your hand. They are busy little beavers and taking time out of their schedule to deal with half-arsed isn't a top priority. It was something I had to get used to myself. I envisioned editors as people who will thoroughly go through my articles in depth, grade them, and send me a detailed list of things to correct. Well, they don't. If you get graced with such treatment, appreciate it. They took time to give you special treatment.

What are you supposed to do? It's called the rewrite. I wrote more than a few stinkers. A topic piques my interests and I chase after the car like a mindless mutt. Most of the time I realize how horrible it was in retrospect. Every once in a while, I had an editor whack me on the back of my head for being an idiot. Write that article then stop. Let it mull in the back of your mind and come back to it later. This time reread it as if though it wasn't your article. Would you enjoy such an article? Would you even click on it? Facing such questions is what is needed to write good articles. This isn't meant as a deterrent. It is called being honest with oneself.

The best editor you will ever have is you. Don't be too hard on your writing though. Articles will never be perfect. No matter how time is spent on an article, there will always be better. A spelling error will always be made. I find myself focusing so hard on my point that I miss the little things. It is embarrassing. You get over it. I'm sure most writers would agree they eventually say good enough. I guess it depends on how much time you are willing to spend on an article. Every writer will need to find the balance between time and quality. How much time are you willing to spend for perfection?

Stupid, Stupid Politics

A couple more things I feel compelled to warn you about. There exists a world underneath this one filled with more traps then Zendikar. Ancient grudges, gargantuan egos, and secret rules of conduct lay in wait to swallow you to depths of Mirrodin. Nobody talks about it because, well, it is Magic players after all. One of the first traps is quoting other authors. They don't like it. It is taboo. Many reasons exist for the megalomania that I won't divulge further in fear of the three demons returning to claim my soul from out blood-contract. Use your imagination. Quoting another author is the quickest way to the exiled lands of the multiverse. God forbid you call their phyrexian baby ugly.

Every website has politics and baggage. Therefore, you need to be comfortable with the website you pledge allegiances to. If you start writing for Starcitygames, you may get labeled an elitist whether it is deserved or not. The players on those premier sites can also be more brutal. A certain expectation exists for those sites. I remember Todd Anderson got a lot of flack when he first started writing. At the moment, I think he is one of the better writers out there for his ability to clearly explain his cards and deck choices. It didn't matter when he first started. Even mentioning another writer is a no no.

I suggest before submitting an article to consider which site is the right fit for you. My hunch is you will need to play in the minors for a while before moving up to the big leagues. Think about traffic and the general style of those sites. A more casual place can be a more comfortable site to begin a writing career. Consider the baggage each of them brings. Some sites are not considered reputable. Mtgsalvation has the stigma of being the rebel site. It has fallen to ire of Wizards numerous times and been the punching bag of more than one author. I wish I could say the jabs were in good fun, but they are in reality very malicious. I digress. This is just the tip of the iceberg and many of the fun things that await unwitting authors.

This isn't Twitter

I believe every writer should be extended the creative license. Writing is very much an art and the guidelines we have can be broken for the sake of the greater good. With that said, I do have a pet peeve when reading other articles. I hate reading articles that read like twitter feeds or blogs. It is lazy, sloppy, and basically useless. Such writing is the growing ire of professors. Students try getting away with this style of writing on research papers and other projects. The problem is twits don't evolve in a well thought idea or subject matter. Let me introduce to you the paragraph.

Quote from paragraph »
A basic unit of prose. It is usually composed of several sentences that together develop one central idea. The main sentence in a paragraph is called the topic sentence.


It is the novel concept of taking an idea and expanding upon it over the course of several sentences. A single sentence needs to be expanded upon or ripped out of the article. If this is impossible, take several sentences and group them together after finding an idea to link all of them together. I'm fine with a single sentence for story writing. However, a sentence or two is the author's failure to expand upon an idea. This epic failure by writers irritates me for personal reasons because I feel the writers are failing their audiences. I feel this way more so for pro writers. This is actually a compliment, but I feel they have much more to offer. Instead of a well thought out idea explaining the minutia to the noobs of Magic, we get one or two pathetic sentences about a subject. If I were their editor, I would scribble "expand this idea" all over their submission. Seriously, why do these writers deny us the wisdom of their minds? For reference, just go read Mark Rosewater's writing and notice how he takes and idea and expands upon it.

Not as egregious, there is the running paragraph with no point. The majority of the time there is a semblance of flow to the writing. It makes it less painful. However, there is no central idea. The structure of the paragraph is essentially constant rambling. If the paragraph were stripped apart, there would be nothing to hold it together. This error can be seen often if pre-tournament articles. It is like reading a Family Circus watching Billy run all over the yard to do a simply task like getting the mail. It eventually ends somewhere from the flow of article, but there really isn’t a well formed thought anywhere. Valuable information can be found in these articles amongst the randomness and inconsistency. In summary, it is called a paragraph. Use it.

Writing a Conclusion

None of this matters unless you love to write. You really, really, really need to love writing. It's great that you are a Magic fan. Without the passion behind them, new authors quickly phase out. I see it all the time. Someone new will start an article until they lose interest or realize writing articles actually takes considerable effort and time. You can always tell which writers are more passionate about Magic then they are about writing. The writing is sub par and their ideas aren't well thought out. Don't get excited about the pay or eternal glory. Well, the pay isn't great. The glory only goes to the victors. Even that doesn't last very long. Can you name who won the first Pro Tour five years ago or the original writers of the various Internet sites? How about six years ago? The Dojo anyone? It is the nature of the Internet. Everything fades quickly as we all seek new material to absorb. Out with the old, in with the new. Write for the right reasons. Write with passion. Write for the love of this game. Don't write for them. Write for you.

Off Topic: Painted Column Corners

One of the more important things to be decided when starting a writing career is your column heading. I think people spend an insane amount time on such a subject. What I think is important is not to paint yourself into a corner with your column name. If too narrow, you restrict your range. It is one of the reasons I chose Off Topic as my column heading. I didn't want to restrict myself to a particular subject matter since I enjoy having a wide range of topics and I occasionally enjoy brewing up new decks. Speaking of, I have been brewing up a deck for Legacy utilizing Faithless Looting.

Chocolate Marshmallow MateysMagic OnlineOCTGN2ApprenticeBuy These Cards
Creatures
4 Goblin Welder
4 Emrakul, the Aeons Torn

Artifact Creatures
4 Wurmcoil Engine
3 Sphinx of the Steelwind
3 Sharuum the Hegemon

Artifacts
4 Mox Diamond

Spells
3 Careful Study
3 Faithless Looting
4 Show and Tell
4 Daze
4 Force of Will

Lands
4 Volcanic Island
4 Scalding Tarn
3 Seat of Synod
3 Great Furnace
4 Ancient Tomb
1 Island
1 Mountain



In the older and lost tradition of Legacy, I named it after my favorite cereal. I'm usually a health conscious about my dietary choices, but I have a weak spot for sugary packed breakfast cereals.

Anyway, the deck is designed as a hybrid of Show and Tell and a Goblin Welder deck. The combination forces some sacrifice on the creature department, but the synergy between the cards is very powerful. We still have Force of Will and Daze back-up. Let's go through the cards one by one.

Mox Diamond: This is a card I think should be in more reanimator decks. The problem with doing so is the typical reanimator deck is stretched for space. It needs those slots filled by creatures or with reanimation spells. If anyone has played a lot of different versions of reanimator decks over the years with cards like Careful Study, a player will tend to find a hand getting jammed full of land. That's what reanimator does. Draw cards and toss the creatures in the graveryard. Therefore, tossing a land away here and there won't be a big deal. Mox Diamond of course can be a handy target for Goblin Welder.

Goblin Welder: I remember the days of Goblin Welder's bringing back Sundering Titans. Times have changed and Sundering Titan isn't a big deal against certain decks. Here, we are abusing the really good blue artifact creatures. Personally, I think Goblin Welder is a stronger reanimation effect than the typical reanimator spells like Exhume and etc. Repeatable utility is better than a spell any day. The ability to chain Wumcoil Engines and Sharuum the Hegemons can get overwhelming for the opponent very quickly.

Careful Study and Faithless Looting: The numbers get tricky here. Faithless Looting is obviously better than Careful Study. However, we need as many blue cards as possible to go along with Force of Will. The numbers still need tweaking, but I think a three and three split is a good place to start. The more important matter is whether to have six or seven discard effects. Worse thing to happen with the printing of Careful Study was there were only four. Reanimator decks really, really needed two more. With the flashback on Faithless Looting, I find seven looting spells to be unnecessary.

Daze: Yes, I'm going to talk about Daze. Unfortunately, people play Daze when they really shouldn't. Returning a land is a significant drawback. If a deck is mana hungry, this is the wrong spell to be playing. Merfolk get away with it because of Aether Vial. Chocolate Marshmallow Mateys doesn't need a lot of land. Mox Diamond helps to alleviate the drawback. In certain situations, it has been handy to bring back a land to pitch to a Careful Study and digging deeper into the deck. Daze has all around been amazing by doing everything the deck wants.

Show and Tell: Everybody is afraid of Grafdigger's Cage. My argument is the card takes up a card slot. It dilutes decks and makes any deck less aggressive. Yes, it can neuter certain strategies. The metagame will eventually adapt with cards to deal with it. Show and tell is one way to avoid the cards like it and other graveyard hate. We all know by now how good Show and Tell is with Emrakul, the Aeons Torn. The card pulls double duty by playing as a pseudo reanimation spell by dropping in Sharuum the Hegemon into play to bring back other nasty artifacts. It is what makes Show and Tell amazing here. Even without Emrakul, the Aeons Torn, the card is still live.

Force of Will: It's Force of Will and we have all kinds of blue artifact creatures and spells to pitch.

Wurmcoil Engine: This is the most debatable spot. I toss back and forth between Wurmcoil Engine and Myr Battlesphere. Both artifact creatures have their pros and cons. What this deck wants is a creature it can trash with Goblin Piledriver over and over again to overrun the control decks in the environment. In the current metagame, I think the lifelink and deathtouch abilities trump the more aggressive Myr Battlesphere. Deathtouch is puts Wurmcoil Engine over the top. There are creatures Myr Battlesphere cannot contain. Deathtouch doesn't ever care how big they are. If the removal continues to increase in the Legacy metagame, I might even consider replacing this with Inkwell Leviathon.

Sphinx of the Steelwind: Is this better than Inkwell Leviathon? Depends on how many Swords to Plowshares are running around. Keep in mind, Goblin Welder cannot be used with either one because of its targeting restrictions. Both fulfill the Force of Will requirement. My preference is to keep the lifelink synergy with Wurmcoil Engine. In playtesting, I prefer my lifegain to race and to keep certain decks honest. If anyone wanted to swap Sphinx of the Steelwind for Inkwell Leviathon, I wouldn't question the decision too much.

Sharuum the Hegemon: Great card. Karmic Guide once saw play in reanimator decks. It was a great target to offset some life loss to Reanimate and it also provided an additional blocker for a turn. Sharuum the Hegemon is an upgrade. It sticks around permanently, pitches to Force of Will, blocks, and speeds up the game clock. Sharuum the Hegemon paired with Sphinx of the Steelwind kills in two turns rather than three. It has always been the problem with reanimator decks in that it took them three turns to kill rather than two. A single turn means everything.

Emrakul, the Aeons Torn: I love abusing this goliath. It's the whole reason to play Show and Tell. A turn one Eldrazi off Ancient Tomb and Mox Diamond just feels dirty and I love it. Turn two isn't far fetched with all the digging from Careful Study and [/card]Faithless Looting[/card].

Lands: The mix of lands feels right. A tweak here and there could be made. A third color could be added to make hard casting Sharuum the Hegemon more of a possibility. I don't think it is worth it. If a person is hardcasting Sharuum the Hegemon, something went terribly wrong.

Sideboard: The options are many and I won't go through any of them. It really depends on your local metagame. An option to consider in a metagame heavy on graveyard hate is to have Sneakattack in the sideboard. Cards like Wurmcoil Engine replace themselves after being sacked to the end of turn effect. A big weakness is sideboarding is limited due to the extreme linear nature of the deck. Few cards can be swapped between matches unlike decks like Zoo that are sideboard friendly.

Chocolate Marshmallow Mateys is a great alternative play. I'd give it a try if you want something new to add some pep to your Legacy diet. The deck is powerful, versatile, consistent, easy on the mulligans, and has control magic back up. It has pros and cons, but it plays much like reanimator/order/sneak attack/show and tell decks running around. Anyway, give it a try and tweak as necessary.

Later.

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