Sometimes ranking things, even those that are extremely difficult to rank, helps to solidify our thoughts. This is especially true since rankings make it easier for us to argue about things, and there is nothing the Magic community likes better than a good argument. Today I will cover my current Top 5 writers. (Note: This is current, not historical. That list would look a lot different.)
I did a LOT of reading back in August of last year to figure out what writers I wanted to cut from SCG, who I wanted to keep, and who I wanted to steal from other sites. I’ve kept that up to some degree since then, but there really is too much daily content for any one human to keep track of now. This is probably a good thing, but it means there are probably writers who are great that I am unfamiliar with. I’d be happy to hear your opinions about people unnamed or disagreements about those who are. Obviously these are just my opinions. I don’t read everyone, but I do generally skim through most articles on the major sites (CFB, TCGP, SCG, and DailyMTG) unless I’ve given up on the authors entirely. Those of you who write for other sites, please do not be offended – I have finite time. In fact, don’t be offended in general. If you don’t like what I have to say you can just fall back on the standing rule of “Knutson is an idiot, he always will be” and we’ll be fine.
5) Bing Luke (StarCityGames.com Free)
Bing’s probably the least expected name on this list, but week after week I find myself loving his work. He’s clever, he’s insightful, and he has different takes on things than anyone else I’m reading. Even his grinding articles are kind of cool because they are just plain different. There aren’t many guys out there who I’m excited to read for every new article, but Bing’s managed to keep me going so far.
4) Patrick Chapin (SCG Premium)
Chapin is a must-read for basically every article. He’s wildly creative and likes to explore with his writing, occasionally to the point of being annoying (you takes the good with the bad). He’s often a tour de force and a reliable source for interesting new decks as well as tweaks for existing ones. I won’t go as far as saying I love Patrick’s writing, but it’s almost always quality. He would do better with more self-editing and a strong copy editor to get rid of the chaff, but I’m guessing timelines rarely allow this. Minor quibbles overall for someone as prolific, entertaining, and influential as Chapin.
3) LSV (ChannelFireball.com)
A top 5 current Magic player and writer. In a battle of set reviews, I probably give the edge to Chapin, but it’s close. Luis manages to teach me about both draft and constructed, and he does so with style. I dunno, there’s just something easy about reading LSV articles that makes me happy to do so. Do I wish he’d spoil new decks more often? Yes. Do I occasionally get overwhelmed by horrible puns? Okay sure, but that’s part of the charm. Luis is genuinely likeable and tremendously goofy at the same time – he deserves a top 5 slot pho sho.
2) Mark Rosewater (DailyMTG.com)
When I talked to Mark about writing last year[Part 1 and Part 2], I was excited to see how passionate he still is about what is really a secondary aspect to his job. (He might argue differently, but his primary job is still designing Magic cards.) This passion is good, because Magic needs someone like that at Wizards, someone who cares about the writing community, Magic’s amazing written past, and about pushing current and future Magic ‘writers’ to express themselves in new, amazing ways.
As for Mark’s writing, it ebbs and flows (500 articles just on DailyMTG.com!) but is almost always good or better. I really enjoyed our interview, the recent Roseanne pieces are great, and his excitement about infect and Phyrexia is really driving the design columns he’s churning out. An easy choice and one I would not have expected myself to make in 2005.
1) Geordie Tait (SCG Free)
He’s apparently on hiatus from Magic writing because he has too many other contracts to work on in an attempt to pay his bills, but his recent run at SCG was unreal. No one puts more thought, creativity, and craft into their writing than Geordie. He managed to take flavour text and make it fascinating and poignant for the masses. Hell, he created his own fucking Mirrodin flavor and titled it with a dick joke – how can you not love it? He’s even pretty good at Magic while being seriously laugh out loud funny. (So much so that LSV adopted Garvas Elscott as his own. Wouldn’t you?)
There have been a lot of great runs in Magic writing history, but Geordie’s recent run on SCG (which was essentially weekly and not just a couple of one-shots) has to go down as one of the best in history. It was that good. Hell, many of you might have even missed much of it because he had to rebuild his audience from scratch. It is a tragic loss to the community that he can’t find the right time/money equation to keep him writing.
Just Missed (Or… Nice copout to a Top 5 list, asshole!)
Paul Rietzl-He’d be third if he wrote more.
Alexander Shearer-Data, technical analysis, and deck tech. And charts and graphs!
BDM -The only column I read regularly when I was not playing the game. It’s always good.
Conley Woods– See below
Dan Barrett-My secret favourite from the SCG Search (secret because he wasn’t in my group). He’s creative across multiple media, he’s funny, and he tells great stories. He’s not a great Magic player, but in this case that is a plus because Magic doesn’t need any more of those writers right now. (Tough but fair, Dan, tough but fair.)
Michael Jacob –Just a tiny bit dry, but made up for by consistently great deck and play analysis. I get the sense he could be one of the best if he keeps writing.
People Who Have Moved Up
Conley Woods – I used to think Conley was just a deck designer who produced a lot of content (dollah, dollah bills y’all), but all that practice has done him a world of good in the writing and video departments. It’s really enjoyable stuff and almost always good value for the time spent. Geordie Tait has a man-crush on his Deck Doctor videos and I completely understand why Conley would be a favorite of the masses.
Michael J Flores – Here’s the thing, Flores used to be the best. Seriously – for like a three or four-year period after Zvi retired, michaelj was The Man when it came to tech and theory. Once upon a time, he even used to tell funny stories and write about non-Magic stuff in his Magic articles. However, somewhere along the way he became a) an institution and b) a brand. Mike’s writing, though still solid, felt more and more like he was writing to help pay for his NYC apartment mortgage and less like he was writing to explore ideas and expand his craft.
He still doesn’t have his fastball back – I don’t know if he’ll ever have the time to write with joy like he used to – but the move to Star City seems to have rejuvenated him a bit. Hell, he had to perform better than he was just so he wouldn’t get run over by Gerry and Pat. Maybe it sounds like I’m being mean, but I don’t mean to be. I know what the best of Mike looks like and I can tell when his writing only has part of his attention (even 80%). What he’s been doing lately is good – probably even good enough – but his best is so much better.
Paulo Mpolondo Mutombo Vitor Damo Da Rosa– “WHO WANT TO SEX DA ROSA?!?*” He is the best Magic player of the current era. Additionally, if he’s not the best PT-level game analyst to ever write, he’s definitely in the Top 3. (Gadiel was amazing at this, Lil’ D currently is – there are a couple of others, but none who wrote as often.) Paulo is great at teaching you how to think about Magic through his writing and if you read him, you will learn.
He is not, however, a great storyteller. Nor is he a particularly gifted writer (though he could be awesome in Portuguese – I confess my ignorance here). Thus I found his assertion that he likes his own writing best– out of all the people he could have chosen – a bit masturbatory. (Yes, there is added context in his response about what Paulo specifically likes in Magic articles. Nevertheless, he intentionally clarifies what he said and understands his answer
may make probably makes him look like a dick.)
Look, I respect his game and his writing, but from the viewpoint that there is more to Magic writing than in-game analysis (and there is), he’s not the best writer. Magic writing is not strictly about utility, and if you believe it is, you are missing out on 80% of what the community has to offer. So, in my opinion, there is still work to be done and improvements to be made. The best Magic writer ever (ffeJ Cunningham) tackled perhaps the toughest Magic topic to tackle (teaching beginners) on a weekly basis with Magic Academy. Start to approach his felicity with words and apply your giant brain to something systematically awesome like Academy and we can talk about your best writer status.
Until then, you’ll just have to content yourself with best player and ‘must read’ status.
Valeriy Shunkov – I really like his work and often get a funky bit of tech that I didn’t expect. Apparently Russian humor agrees with me, whether I expect it to or not.
Todd Anderson – This time last year, Todd Anderson was the punch line to whatever bad Magic writer joke you wanted to tell. Now he’s a solid writer who wrote one of the more interesting articles of the past year a couple of weeks ago. Good for him.
Reid Duke’s metagame recaps – I think Reid is an outstanding MODO grinder. I also think he’s very young and should be writing about things he knows (like deck techs in various formats he’s crushing) instead of stumbling through these metagame pieces where it has thus far been painful to watch him learn to do written data analysis on the fly. (Nearly as painful as that sentence was to read.) This is more likely caused by an editorial decision I disagree with than any problem with Reid, but I guess I either hope he learns faster or someone else does the metagame reports and Reid writes about tech.
The fact that Tom Reeve and Jon Corpora are writing Drafting Withs… instead of real articles – These are two of the best writers to come out of the SCG Talent Search and instead of writing things that challenge them, they are doing Drafting Withs. Don’t get me wrong, I like these versions of Drafting With (Corpora’s was especially entertaining), but I would much prefer them to start exploring cool stuff than be locked into such a straightforward format. Don’t let your best _writers_ be lazy, SCG, make them write!
Me – I’m not writing about Magic at all, really. The viewpoint blogs that I’ve been writing don’t really fit in with SCG’s current theme, and I’m not that interested in grinding out strategy articles like the old days. Hence this blog. Oh well.
Other Random Thoughts
Am I the only one who wishes that “Julian Booher” was simply the most recent alias used by Tim Aten?
Apparently I have to pre-reg for the UK regionals I am going to this weekend because their site is too small. Coming from a time when Regionals could go 800 deep in the Ohio Valley and were regularly 400-600 elsewhere, that’s just fucking strange.
I am far less versed in the offerings of DailyMTG.com than I used to be. They have had some brilliant writers over the years both in casual (Alongi, Millar, Gottleib, The Bleiweiss, Cavotta) and the good stuff (Latest Developments practically writes itself, but Randy and Aaron both made that column sing, as mentioned earlier ffeJ’s run on Academy is awesome as is Zvi’s entire column history there.) Sooo… who’s on there now besides MaRo and BDM that deserve my attention every week? Fill me in.
Michaelj seems to think I should write for pay, but something like this doesn’t really belong anywhere. I’m currently doing research for a regular Magical History Tour through old writer archives, so there will be something from me on SCG eventually. Meanwhile, it’s nice to have the freedom to express opinions (controversial or otherwise) to all twelve of you that will read this.
Speaking of… I realize that I am exactly the asshole I talked about writing for his 100 friends on his personal blog in my open letter to Magic pros. Good beats. Not everything can or should be monetized.
*Geordie reminded me of the quote. Love Dikembe.