Writing Magic: The Gathering Articles Is Good For You, Here’s Why – Wisdom Fae Under the Bridge, by Graeme McIntyre
“Time is the only critic without ambition.” – (John Steinbeck in The Paris Review)
I’ve been planning to write this article for a while, but I’ve been put off by a couple of factors. The first of these is that I didn’t start writing myself until I was a pretty experienced player, meaning that my understanding of the subject matter is limited to some degree in respect to those who are less experienced than I was, and that I was less likely to get shouted down, both by perspective websites and by people reading the content. Beyond this I have a MRes degree in a subject which is ultimately about articulating social problems and posing possible solutions to those problems, so I have a strong advantage over many in that respect too. In this sense, it’s pretty easy for me to say “oh, you ought to write articles –that will help you out in various ways!”, but might not be so easy for people to actually do.
The second factor is that there is a degree of self-reflection involved which can be quite the rabbit hole. I started writing for Manaleak.com in November 2012, and prior to that I wrote perhaps half a dozen for another UK website (this article will be my 71st for Manaleak, by my count), and a lot has happened over that period in respect to the game, my life and my writing, so it’s tricky to work out what has come about as a result of having written.
Recently Jack Copstake messaged me to tell me he was going to write his first article for Manaleak, and asked whether I would mind looking it over before he did so, which got this topic back in the front of my mind. David Inglis also starting writing for the site again recently, which we discussed to some degree.
So, here we are…
7 Reasons why you ought to write about Magic: the Gathering
7. Writing regularly will help you build stronger communication skills
This is something of a boring point upon which to start, but it is the most compelling, relevant point, and as such a strong one to lead on, at the end of the day. Writing about something in which you have a degree of expert knowledge will help you with things like interviews and presentations in respect to employment or education because the skills that you draw upon for each of these activities are the same. It made a sufficiently noticeable difference that my dissertation supervisor commented on the improvement in structure in my written work six months after I started writing. Obviously there could and would have been other factors which contributed to this improvement, but I expect that writing here was highly relevant. Getting critical feedback from editors is not something which you get in employment or at university (outside of – say – professional writing or upon completion of assessments) and it can be invaluable in improving a person’s writing style, and such their capacity to effectively communicate.
It’s a boring reason, but a good one.
6. Writing will help you focus your thoughts
Often our thoughts can be pretty impressionistic. Right now, for instance, my knowledge of the standard format looks something like this.
“There are big 3 decks – Green Black, Mardu and Jeskai. There are quite a few different ways to build the first two especially, with the Green Black deck having two builds – one faster with vehicles and some number of Blossoming Defenses, while the other is slower and plays Mindwrack Demon, Walking Ballista and (more?) Verdant Gearhulk. The Mardu deck has a pretty mixed range of 3 drop removal spells. Sometimes it has blue mana in it, for some reason. The Jeskai deck is obviously incredible, but it struggles against the Mardu deck, so it’s no real shock that Mardu did really well at the Pro Tour. Maybe the Jeskai deck could be built to be better against Mardu, now, and it would be a good choice if so.”
I’ve played about 50 games of the format against 5 different opponents, all of whom I consider to be very good players, and I’ve talked about it a bit, too. Despite this, the above is a crazy ramble full of holes – look at all the things I’m not clear on! I’m playing GP Utrecht, and one of the things I’ll do to help *me* prepare for that event is write an article about the Jeskai deck (after which I’ll maybe play a different deck, but that’s not the point…) so I will be forced to actually look at the deck lists from various events, and *know* about them.
Hopefully the article will be useful to other people too, as that is certainly the intent, but it will certainly be of use to me to write it. I think writing that stuff would help most people get better at the game, too.
5. Helps structure testing
This works on a couple of levels. First, it’s helpful for things like I discussed in the previous point – I’ll structure my testing in such a way that it will allow me to write a decent article about the Jeskai deck, meaning first that I’ll be able to write the article, but also that my testing will be purposeful rather than a series of random games without direction. Obviously this can be accomplished without writing an article, but it helps cultivate good practice.
The other level is that it helps you critically examine, and then discuss with your teammates, bad practices which have been allowed to develop. Often my articles come from things which are annoying me about how things are in my little part of Nottingham Magic. The way this goes will be that I think about the issue, and conclude it’s just annoying me (I won’t be writing an article along the lines of “ten reasons you shouldn’t chew with your mouth open” or “ten reasons why you shouldn’t use the phrase ‘irrelevant of’ out of context” any time soon, don’t worry). If I think the subject is a real issue, I’ll discuss it and then write the article, or write the article and then discuss it.
I’m pretty sure this is worth doing, but if I wasn’t going to write an article about it there would be a tendency not to think it through very deeply, which might mean it either didn’t get mentioned and continued to be a problem, or was brought up but in a half-cocked way. Writing a point out in full and putting it on a website allows for a degree of clarity which can often be missed in discussion, both from the writer’s perspective and the reader’s, largely because you can’t interrupt an article.
4. Public criticism can be very helpful
Like I said last week, the internet emboldens otherwise meek people. If you write something you’ve got a reasonable chance of catching a bunch of flack. Some of this will be petty crap, where someone disagrees with you and is critical because of this when they wouldn’t otherwise be (so all of a sudden they’re all over you for saying “should” when “ought” was correct, or taking issue with your use of semi-colons, when if they agreed with you, they wouldn’t have cared if you wrote the article in crayon, scanned it, and put it up as a Paint image…). This sort of thing I tend to dismiss as frustration as a consequence of inability to articulate adequately their dissenting opinion, and ignore it. Sometimes it’s about stuff you’re not responsible for (e.g. I don’t control how many ads are on the site, or how it works with your browser, but I won’t be shocked to see comments on my article about these issues if they’re a problem for people). Don’t take those personally; simply tell the relevant people to sort the problem.
Some stuff *is* your fault, though. It’s important to get the facts right, at the very least, for instance. Within reason, stuff like spelling mistakes, sentence structure, hyperlinks to cards and so on are the sort of thing an editor is meant to catch, but my early articles were – in retrospect – so heavy with such errors that it’s no shock that some mistakes slipped through. That was my fault, and I’ve taken steps to work on it over time, and have improved because of it.
People will also just respond to your articles with insightful remarks from which you will learn, too. If you’ve said –for instance – that a card kills all the relevant threats for 3 or less casting cost, and they say “what about card A, card B, and card C, commonly played in two tier one decks and a tier two deck?” that isn’t just a lesson in checking your facts, but a lesson about the format you’re discussing.
It’s surprising how sometimes you will take a *beating* for saying something. I’ve written some articles which were quite provocative, and for the most part I knew when I was throwing the cat among the pigeons (this is why I was first contacted about writing for the site – I’ve got a “talent” for getting people to engage – even if it’s not really what I do now). That said, I’ve written some which I thought would be a bit on the provocative side which hooked no fish, and some which I thought were pretty innocuous that lit a fire up under some people (people are pretty defensive about Modern…).
Learning to respond to criticism is a big deal, because you’ll get plenty over the course of your life. For many people it will be about becoming thicker skinned. I think many people who write find it to be a big confidence booster. My issue is overconfidence; one of the big reasons I’m always saying ego is a big problem in Magic: the Gathering is because I’m constantly dealing with my own.
3. Reflective writing
I’ve often found that I can reflect on things quite effectively by writing about Magic, because it’s a big enough part of my life that it touches on everything else to varying degrees. I’m quite big on how different fields relate to each other, so I use a lot of analogies and comparisons when I’m discussing things, and because I think like that I can do things like make the link between Overwatch and Magic: the Gathering like I did last week. In this sense, I can write an article as a result of exploring two things which were going on in my life at the time (e.g. playing loads of Overwatch and testing being a bit ropey in Nottingham at the moment). Loads of people blog for this reason, but I’m not really sure that would be my bag – I’d rather write about something which is specifically intended to help other people than purely reflective.
I often find I feel better about whatever I’m writing about after having written about it, and I expect this is something that many people would benefit from. With Magic: the Gathering relate issues you won’t always have someone you can speak to about things that are bothering you (e.g. “am I just bad at this?” or “why can’t I push past this level?” etc, etc), so being able to express it, even if there is no response, could be quite helpful. I know I found it so about 15 months ago when I was going through a terrible spell in Magic: the Gathering and was pretty stuck with my life, too.
2. Giving back to the community
One of the things I quite like about writing is that it gives me a chance to help people, on my terms. People ask me for help with stuff but I’m aware of how big a time sink this can be so I don’t often get particularly involved, but I do try to write regularly. If someone asked me to write about a particular topic, I’d try and do it. I’ve had quite a bit out of the game both in terms of accomplishment and socially, so it’s good having a way to actually do stuff for other people with an eye to helping them make their way toward the same stuff.
It’s also pretty surprising what writing does in terms of raising a person’s profile. Before I started writing for Manaleak no one knew who I was in England really, apart from the people I’d happened to speak to a bit more than average. Once you start writing your name comes up more on people’s social media, and they remember you more. Then they mention you in conversation, and word spreads… and suddenly people are aware that you’ve been on 4 Pro Tours, so maybe you can play a bit. Then people are rooting for you to win top 8s because you “deserve it”, so it’s a good thing when you get your 5th Pro Tour invite, and win a WMCQ. Where if I’d still been in Scotland and didn’t write, I’d just be “some guy from Scotland”, or if I’d moved I’d be “some Scottish guy who knows Neil Rigby”.
Perception is a weird thing, but that’s been my experience of engaging with the community in this way. I expect that if you’ve never been on the PT before, but maybe you’ve been to a few RPTQs, then you *do* make the top 4, people will be likely to say “oh, some random won it” if you don’t write, while if you write, they’ll say “oh, he’s been working hard. That’s cool.”
Ultimately, this is just a good networking opportunity, and a chance to help people down the ladder, while people up the ladder help you.
1. Tangible benefits
I’ve left this one to last, but it’s also a pretty good one. There is potential to get paid for writing, either in store credit or in cash. The better you write, the more you accomplish in the game, the more you provide for the website you write for, the more you’ll get. If you can combine this with something like a stream or a podcast, you’ll likely experience a degree of triangulation in this respect (e.g. the podcast will advertise the articles, and vice versa, so you gain some momentum). Magic: the Gathering isn’t exactly a cheap hobby so this is a good way to subsidise and perhaps even entirely pay for your hobby.
Hopefully this article will encourage some people to try their hand at writing. I’m hoping to get an article in more regularly, but I’m aware I keep saying that. I’ve got some ideas about blogging a bit of war gaming content, and David Inglis and I have been chatting about a stream (Magic: the Gathering and potentially some Overwatch) and/or podcast along with Alastair Rees, although the technical side of this seems to be something of a barrier. Nothing concrete, but I like the idea of doing a little more. More people writing and engaging is pretty much the embodiment of a national community, something which is at times lacking in England – the country is quite regionally aligned at times, which is a shame, especially on the big stage.
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That’s it for this week – next week I’ll share some thoughts on the return of Nationals!
All the best,