My Top 5 Magic Writers – April 2011

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.

Wah.

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.

General Disappointments
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.

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24 responses to “My Top 5 Magic Writers – April 2011

  1. I think sometimes it’s easy for new and returning players to get lost in the volume of writers looking to get their attention- a curse of abundance, as it were. This is a great (and rather necessary) piece to give some cohesion to the noise and the chatter. Thoroughly enjoyable!

  2. Cant really disagree with your top 5 writers, but i would like to see a top 5 magic video entertainers as well. IMHO Conley is simply the best at this, his Deck doctor’s and draft with videos are simply amazing (i still laugh at his “Troy Polamalu” bit). Also would like to see your take on Evan Erwins new format. 4 or 5 months ago it was a must see, then it changed. For the worse. Now he is mixing the old with the new and is somewhat more watchable, but still

  3. I was absolutely ready from the topic of this article to respond with something along the lines of ‘wow, I need to write more so I can get on Ted’s list’.

    While I probably should write more I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t make the list anyway, as I more or less am in full agreement with your points, and think I’d have trouble keeping pace with most of your top 5 on a good day.

    The only names I was surprised to not see mentioned were Sadin, who continues to put out good ‘real’ limited articles every week, Gavin Verhey, who for me is among the best in any given week at putting together a good narrative to whatever he’s talking about, and Jake Van Lunen, who somehow consistently marries interesting and entertaining over on the mothership.

    Time to start writing…

  4. I mostly just go to DailyMtg for Maro and michaelj. I always read Sadin too, but just for the strategy. His writing isn’t very compelling.

  5. Always love having more interesting things to read. Good, thought-provoking post.

    My top 5 would probably be:
    1) Chapin
    2) Gavin Verhey
    3) Flores
    4) MaRo
    5) Geordie Tait

    …going by entertainment value, education value, and re-readability, in that order.

    (Subjective things are definitely the most fun to argue over!)

  6. Top 5, in no particular order:

    Bing Luke
    Paul Rietzl
    LSV
    BDM
    Myself

    Geordie Tait would be present if he wasn’t on hiatus. AJ Sacher, Medina, Evan Erwin, and Adam Barnello get honorable mentions.

  7. Count me in as one of the lucky 12 that will read your blog.

    Now, time for something completely different that is at the same time absolutely predictable and routine.

    #1 2010 Tait – 1978 Moses Malone
    #2 MaRo – Tim Duncan (so consistently good he makes himself look bad because he has no low points to highlight his highs)
    #3 LSV – Shaquille Rashaun O’Neal… great player, great communicator, bad sense of humor.
    #4 Chapin – George Lawrence Mikan, Jr… INNOVATING
    #5 Bing – Blake Griffin (still a rookie, great promise).

  8. As usual this Ted Knutson guy is an idiot. I can see why you don’t write for anyone real anymore.

    Enjoyed it. Feels odd having such similar tastes (4 of 5 are same for me, just mix order). Tait had a sick run and it was nice to see him back after such a long time. I do enjoy PV a ton though just because his percentage of correct to incorrect skews so far one way (much like a reverse william spaniel).

  9. Enjoyed the readup. Lists like these are always subjective, and while I agree that your choices are good, I confess to not reading all of them because they don’t fit into what I want out of an article.

    I never read Geordie Tait regularly, past or present, because it rarely interested me. On the contrary, I love PVs writing. I love thinking about the deep strategy contained within the game, and PV (with a nod to Jacob), is easily the best at it. PV, Jacob, and Chapin are the only writers that I will skip if I’m not in the mood, as to not waste the content of their article when I just want some light reading.

    Gavin is the best of the storytellers, imo. While he doesnt bat 1.000, he probably puts more effort into his articles than anyone else that is gifted with writing. I know that I take forever to write my articles, simply because I know I’m not that good at it and don’t want to produce unreadable stuff. I don’t want to be the next 2010 Todd Anderson.

    I don’t read Flores. I cannot stand the references to niche 2001 decks and the intense masturbation in his articles. When Flores would write about legitimate topics, he has a talent I can only hope to have. He is the Carmelo Anthony of Magic Writers. Undeniable talent, but doesn’t really contribute to winning games.

    If I have any disagreement, it’s that Chapin is not #1. He is the best at nearly everything. He is the best, or nearly the best, at every aspect of writing. I wish I was remotely as good as Chapin at writing.

  10. In my hubris, I briefly thought I’d find my name attached to criticism. Instead, I’m ultimately forgettable. Whether this is good or bad seem irrelevant in comparison to the champions and summed decades of writing being thrown around here. (And man do we miss the same folks writing.)

    All I need now is the obligatory “CHALLENGE ACCEPTED” meme.

  11. All I’m going to say is that Magic Arcana is the most-read Magic column on the Internet.

    Wait, wait, I mean, um, “I’mma let you finish, but –” aw, forget it.

  12. I think Monty just got his proverbial dick made of hits out and bashed me with it. I’m okay with that, really. Story about you to come in the next few days.

    Stybs: Sell me. What do you write about? Why should I read you. This might be an oversight on my part.

    Prosak: I love that you care, but Gavin ain’t better than GT no way no how.

  13. I’d have my top 5 as LSV, Tait, Rietzl, Gerry and I guess PV even though I find him hit or miss (“miss” when he tries to go less grounded, more conceptual). I feel that modo’s daily decklists (and to some extent the weekly SCG 5ks) have really changed my habits as a reader; having all this information on what’s doing well kills the deck-centric or grind-focused articles that Valeriy, Todd Anderson or other people produce, because I don’t need them anymore to find some new tech. Not sure what the proper response from writers is, but I think LSV has the best handle on how to stay informative and not lose a bit of relevance. His recent series on standard decks is pretty much everything I could ever want from an article, and without any sign of getting bogged down like “Olivier vs Antoine, day 17” and other series have.

    • Oh, and I find Michael Flores and Sam Stoddard largely unreadable, and don’t like most Chapin material either. I think I’d enjoy each more if they had tighter reins. Clearly they’re each doing something right, though, to have such big followings.

  14. Pingback: Cheating for Hits (but Not Profit) | Mixed kNuts

  15. Whoa, Pedro: “Shaquille O’Neal… bad sense of humor.” Strongly disagree. There was an interview where someone asks Shaq about how people defend his low post move, and the Shaqtus answers with a response along the lines of: “I’m like the Pythagorean theory, there is no solution”. The reported replies: “Aactually Shaq, that’s a-squared plus b-squared equals c-sqaured”, and Shaqzilla zings a retort similar to: “Yeah, whatever, by the time you write that out I got a triple-double”. Maybe in the early 90s he didn’t have a sense of humor but he has come to accept that he MUST laugh at himself. I mean, I made mention of The Shaqtus. He did that commercial for ESPN where he says: “No one otuches the Shaqtus”. This kind of self-aware self deprecating style says to me that Shaq has a sense of humor.

    • LSV, like Shack, gets a mulligan on bad jokes due to who he is. Elite performers with a sense of humor are rarer than Kibler articles where no self-promotion happens, Aten articles without existential angst and hearty laughs from Tim Duncan

      Don’t get me wrong, I love that the guys crack jokes, I just don’t think they are necessarily that good at it. Kind of like the Bear Dancing phenomenon. You don’t really care that the bear did not nail the triple pirouette… you just point out joyfully “look, a freaking bear in a Tu-Tu!! How awesome!”

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