From Facebook: An Open Letter to MTG Pros and Writers

Note: This was originally posted on my Facebook at the end of 2010. Flores asked me to repost it and since I am moving most of my random thought writing to here (and Twitter), it made sense to just put it here.

Look, I like most of you. You’re smart, you are probably funny, and many of my best friends were once just like you. That said, some of you made monstrously stupid choices in 2010.

I figure it’s time for someone to address the problems you guys create for yourselves on a shockingly regular basis. This isn’t personal – as an entity Magic players create no additional headaches for me whatsoever (outside of someone being a bag on MODO). It just seems like somebody needs to talk to you so you can understand that when shit seems to go wrong for you, it is probably your fault.

Why should you listen to me? Because I’ve been there. I’ve been the controversial asshole writer on the rise. I’ve been the guy criticizing just about everyone at some point or another for perceived stupidity. I also managed to have a pretty good career in Magic before trading that in for a really good career doing something related to Magic.

My best year I made 75K USD from Magic alone. I’ve been on all sides of the aisle in this game, writing, editing, playing, working for WotC, and grinding out consulting paychecks from multiple different game companies at once. I have hired a ton of Magic players from all over the world in various capacities and industries over the years. Last time I bothered to count, the amount of base salary the guys I’ve hired bring home was well into the multiple millions.

And because I was bothered enough by all the stories I heard this year that I felt the need to waste my own valuable time trying to teach you important lessons that I have learned over the years, often the hard way. (Which you will obviously then ignore, but whatever.)

Let’s start with the obvious, shall we?

1) Grow the fuck up.

Seriously, some of the shit you guys are pulling is absolute clown shoes and it makes no sense whatsoever unless your explicit purpose is to cost yourselves money, reputation, and friends. You know all those rules that apply to the professional world like ‘Don’t burn your bridges,’ ‘Treat people with respect,’ and ‘Don’t act like an idiot and think there are no repercussions?’  They aren’t magically suspended because playing Magic isn’t a ‘real job.’ In fact, it’s practically the opposite. Magic is a tight-knit community that is pretty poor at keeping secrets. Wizards of the Coast pays attention to the bullshit floating around out there. If people suggest you are cheating, the judges take a nice close look at you. If you set off the asshole-o-meter on a regular basis, they never offer you a job. The same is true for websites like StarCityGames.com and companies that poach Magic players like the one I work for.

This section could go on forever, but let’s just say your childish antics aren’t charming and they aren’t unique either. There were ‘rebels without a clue’ running around five and ten years ago, and they did similar stupid shit. People like Scott Larabee, Worth Wollpert, and Andy Heckt have been around forever and seen it all, probably by people who were a lot cleverer than you are. The same goes for the businessmen running the websites you know and love/loathe. The guys at the top of SCG and TCGPlayer have been around more than a decade in an industry where lifespan is usually measured in months. They just might know something and deserve your respect.

Here are a few tips to help you along the way:

  • When you interact with people in professional roles, be nice even when criticizing. This doesn’t mean don’t criticize, just learn not to be a dick about it.
  • Learn to accept criticism. There are a lot of smart people running around in Magic, and some of them aren’t even trying to be assholes all the time. Some of my eventual good friends started out as harsh critics of my work.
  • When you leave a site, tell that site why you are actually leaving and be polite. (A lot of times they didn’t know something was quite as big a problem as you felt it was and will be very responsive to requests. Also, by not telling them first, you almost certainly cost yourself money from a counter-offer should they want to keep you around.)
  • Don’t take everything that happens personally – most of the time some dude is probably just doing their job.
  • If you want to court controversy (as part of your image or because it’s fun), learn where the lines are and don’t be surprised if someone smacks you when you cross it. Being controversial can be very good when done right or unbelievably bad when done wrong.
  • Oh, and while I’m thinking about it – Don’t go signing any long-term exclusivity contracts.

I mean, sure, if you are perfectly happy to just write stuff for 100 readers on your personal blog, do whatever the hell you want to bar getting banned. Just don’t expect anyone to think you are actually relevant to the rest of the world outside of your Facebook friends list. Because you won’t be.

2) You are your own brand. Act like it.

When you have interactions, you need to consider what impact it has on you as a person, you as a financial entity, and the perception of you from those that matter.  Doing/writing stupid shit will usually have a negative impact on your brand as a whole, thus decreasing what you can earn from the game and the community. It also decreases your chances of picking up cool jobs from game developers and people like me, who hire directly from the Magic community.

The relentless self-promotion from Chapin and particularly Flores drives me crazy sometimes, but these guys get it better than anybody. They understand that they are their own brands and work to build the value of that brand constantly. They also go out of their way to avoid damaging their brand/income. Neither one of them is someone you see Top 8’ing Pro Tours regularly but they are still two of the five most influential Magic writers on the planet and make enough from their Magic endeavours to live a decent lifestyle. You don’t need to constantly pimp yourself on Twitter and Facebook, but if you are remotely interested in staying in and around the community and making as much money off it as possible in the meantime, you might want to start thinking about how much money your inclination to do/say stupid shit will cost you. (Preferably before you actually do said stupid shit.)

Just to drive the point home, here are some examples from this year alone you might want to avoid:

  • Getting banned from the PT. (Very bad for business, both short-term and long-term.)
  • Getting arrested while at a PT. (We’ll call this the Zadjner corollary, but it applies to plenty of others.)
  • Destroying hotel rooms. (What is with the idiots getting so drunk they can’t tell the difference between a bed and a toilet? Is this a common alcohol-related birth defect no one has discovered yet? I’ve been hearing stories about it for 15 years and am still at a loss to explain it.)
  • Taking pot-shots at your current employer/editor/sponsor in your personal blog/forum.
  • Taking pot-shots at specific WotC employees anywhere.
  • Proving you are clinically insane via forum posts and tweets. (You will eventually make your employer look bad via association and no matter how good your work might have been, cutting you loose will come down to simple financial calculus.)
  • Being a general douchebag.

3) Learn to communicate.

I know that most of you suffer in this area for a number of reasons. First of all, you’re almost all guys. Strike one. Second of all, many of you fit the geek/introverted profile. This is strike two. Beyond that, we now live in the tweet/text/IM era where communication is done in as few letters as possible, making misunderstandings commonplace. This is bad for business. Ironically, many of those I am addressing  are professional writers and will spend hour after hour cranking out analysis, but can’t be bothered to write real emails explaining issues you have, asking questions, clarifying misunderstandings – whatever.  Regardless of your shortcomings, failing to communicate effectively is your own fault and you need to go out of your way to start fixing it.

Also, learn to pick up a fucking phone and have a conversation. It’s faster for everyone and it usually conveys a lot more nuance than plain text will.

Finally, while we are on the subject, never send an email/make a blog or forum post angry.Trust me on this one, it rarely works out how you want it to and almost always creates more problems than it solves.

4) Even though they seem competitive, you guys should really want all the paying websites to be successful.

You know that adage ‘a rising tide floats all boats?’ It’s true in Magic too. As the game has grown, there’s a lot more money getting thrown around to pay writer salaries, sponsorship deals, and basic perks than ever existed before. In fact, the only people that are spending LESS money on Pros these days are Wizards of the Coast. All three major independent sites are even offering their own tournament series, meaning more chances for you guys to make money by being good at Magic. You even have some freedom of movement and get better deals for your own writing because the sites compete for your work. This last part is a very good thing, because the more competition there is for good writers, the better you get paid.

In short, outside of Wizards of the Coast (who have stated with both their actions and their pocket books that PT-level players are becoming less and less important to their business model and you can all go fuck yourselves if you don’t like it) things are better for ‘Magic pros’ than they have ever been. This is mostly the result of the independent sites and TOs, and something you guys should generally be ecstatic about. When it comes to opportunities to make money via Magic (and gaming in general), you seem to have no idea how good you actually have it.

That said, these websites are all businesses. They have limited resources with which to keep you all happy. They need to make money to pay money and more than anything, they need to continuously do what is best for their company – even when that means irritating you with a decision. In the end, no matter how much you might wish it were otherwise or how abusive they have allowed you to be during your time there, you work for them and not the other way around.

If that last item bothers you, you should definitely consider setting out on your own in pursuit of freedom.  Might I also suggest you figure out a profitable business model that will eventually help you make up for the regular paychecks you lose in the process? It’s not impossible, but going this route does seem to include a metric fuckton of extra work.

As the Team America documentary taught us, freedom isn’t really free.

Conclusion

What a lot of this boils down to is that Magic is an industry where your popularity and image directly affect your earning power. As a result, being professional and acting like an adult is simply good business.

Even if all you think you are doing is writing about a silly little game.

Teddy CardGame

P.S. If you want advice on your career, market position, how to become a better/more popular writer, help with asking for raises, yadda yadda you can find me here on Facebook, on AIM as cryos23 or via email at mixedknuts@gmail.com

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4 responses to “From Facebook: An Open Letter to MTG Pros and Writers

  1. This isn’t really something I can comment on in an intelligent fashion, lacking as I do any sort of brand or interest in having one. It sounds great, though

    I would like to ask you this, however: What reasons exist for a Magic pro to pick up the metaphorical pen? The only two that come to mind are compensation for writing (I have no reference point for how much Magic writers make, so it’s unclear to me to what degree that’s a strong motivation) and networking (which is obviously good, but seems much more powerful for the writer-trying-to-break-into-the-Tour than the writer-recruited-from-the-Tour).

  2. There’s also self-expression and the challenge of interacting with an audience and learning to write well. It doesn’t take much cash to make this interesting for the majority of Magic players. There’s also a strong desire, even if you are a great Magic player to get your ideas out there, get credit for them, and have people know a little more about who you are. A very niche Fame Monster.

  3. Ted, it was good to re-read this letter. I like the new Blog, just added to my favorites. Is it too late to tie in an “Opening Day” baseball reference to an analogous story about the hypothetical “Opening Day” of a NEW Standard format where Jace tmS is no more?… Here in Rochester, we just had the home opener last Saturday, so IMO well withing the statute of limitations.

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