This week's column is for me, and for my most inquisitive readers.
Me, because it makes my job easier. My readers, because it allows me to cope with a growing number of emails without breaking my promise of responding to every serious reader email with a working Internet address.
If you are reading this because I responded to your email with a link that sent you here, then you are in for a real treat. The answers you are looking for are right here! All you have to do is scroll down.
If you are reading this the week of June 8, 2005, then consider it a glimpse into the future if you ask me one of several very popular questions I get, week in and week out. There will be some Magic content, and some not. (Some of you get really annoyed when I don't focus on Magic strategy. To you, I say…um, scroll down.)
The following questions are in rough descending order of how often I answer them.
1) Can you help me with my deck? (Also included in this category: can you look at my deck and tell me what you think, can you tell me what I might do with card X, can you just offer a really quick tweak on this oh-so-humble deck?)
I really, really want to help you with your deck. But I can't. Here's why.
I do not have the time it would take to do a quality job. I don't do anything half-assed. So I'd rather risk annoying you, and others like you, by saying "no" and maintaining integrity – than risk annoying you, and others like you, by saying "yes" and botching it.
I get some really polite requests from some truly amazing people with incredibly interesting decks. (I also get some real crap. See? Integrity.) I'm often tempted to provide just a little help – but I don't, because then I know the floodgates are open, and it never stops.
On a related note, I will no longer remind readers of my no-deck-help policy every week. It became a fun way to sign off creatively each week; but I've run out of enthusiasm for it. Regular readers should know the policy by now, and I've learned new readers will ask anyway. (And that's why you, new reader, have been given this link! Thanks for checking it out. Email on another topic, anytime. But, um, you probably want to read the stuff below first, just to avoid an infernal loop.)
2) Why did you [print, restrict, ban, unban, unrestrict, paint such sloppy artwork on, etc.] card X? You ruined Magic!
Despite my best efforts to ruin Magic, I can assure you I have failed. Why? Because I don't work there. I'm a contracted writer, a hired gun, a literary goon. I start hearing about the cards about two weeks before you do, and only for preview-writing purposes. I have no input into what cards get created or how they affect the tournament environment.
The only technical exception is the Champions of Kamigawa set, which before you get started did not include Umezawa's Jitte. Our playgroup was part of the development process on that set. Our impact was minor, but noticeable (and positive) from our standpoint. You can check the archives for more about the time we spent with that set.
3) Why didn't your latest article focus more on Magic strategy? I learned nothing from this article, except you're a rambling, self-centered egomaniac.
Ah, but you did learn something then, didn't you?
There is something you should know about this column – it's not really about strategy. It's a column focused on non-sanctioned Magic, and all the nifty stuff that goes with it. While we will occasionally dip into strategic waters, we will also explore other oceans. These topics include, but are not limited to:
- Formats that are so strange that strategy is irrelevant;
- Behaviors in Magic (playing, teaching, etc.) and how they impact "fun";
- The Multiplayer Card Hall of Fame and why it's so darn cool;
- Our play group and things we've learned over time, which may or may not be about strategy;
- What some cards would act like if they were people, and how they would fare on a television reality show;
- Basic concepts of popular formats like Emperor or Two-Headed Giant, which some newer readers may not know;
- Why my dog Turquoise is the coolest carrot-eating dog in the world; and
- What answers I have to frequently asked reader questions.
Get the idea? I shift from serious to silly stuff all the time, and vice versa.
Here's the cool part: every time I shift from one topic (or writing format) to another, I get about ten enthusiastic "yeah!" emails to every complaint. It doesn't matter what topic I've turned to, or what I've left behind for a while. The ratio is virtually the same.
What I've learned from this is three things. First, the audience is large and diverse. (This is true of Magic generally as well; it kills some people that they don't get to drive the entire universe. They want to control every card, every article, every game. That's not a slam; I'm in that crowd too. But suffice to say, we have growing up to do, partners.)
Second, the readers of this column enjoy change, either consciously or subconsciously. They like that I shift gears, they like that I don’t stay too long on one thing, and they also probably like that I'll eventually come back to Topic A before too much time goes by.
Third, some people are going to whine no matter what you do. Be yourself.
So, I like what I'm writing, and most readers seem to like it too. If you don't…well, as with the weather in New England, you only have to wait a little while.
4) Why did you write an article on that preview card? It sucks! And you pretended you liked it, because it's all about the money with you, isn't it? ISN'T IT? Man, you're just a cog in the corporate machine, aren't you? It used to be about the music, man! The music!
Point of interest: Nobody who has actually graduated from school and tried to support a family has ever sent me this question.
I write on assignment, at least 26 out of every 52 weeks. If Wizards tells me to preview a card, I preview it. If I have reservations about the card, I mention them. Will I ever write a preview on a card where I say it has little or no redeeming value, and refuse to write further on it? Unlikely, because I don't think it would make a very interesting article.
Wizards has no problem with my honesty. I'll demonstrate: my least favorite preview card was Rushing-Tide Zubera – I didn't have a lot of interesting narrative space with that one. (Ditto Spelljack, a card I love. Even Pernicious Deed would be hard from a writing standpoint. Reactive cards are like that.)
My favorite preview card, on the other hand, was Exalted Angel. I titled it with the exact word/s I was thinking when I read it. I'm still floored that I got that one. You can bet that if I did work at Wizards, I'd continually taint the water supply with whatever Aaron Forsythe was on when he slid that my way. My second favorite preview was much more recent: Fumiko the Lowblood, who is still fascinating to me.
5) How can I get a job at Wizards?
Research openings. Then apply. Dude, I got nothing else. My gun is empty.
6) Okay, then. How can I at least get a sweet writing gig like yours?
Bear in mind that while I am perfectly happy with my contract with Wizards of the Coast and its parent company Hasbro, this is not exactly a full-time job. As a result, it doesn't pay like one. So part of getting a gig like this is finding something else to do, and then doing this in your spare time.
My bio has some info on what I do beyond this column; but of course there's more. I've accumulated tons of life experiences by going to two prestigious colleges, working in the non-profit and public sector, marrying an amazing woman, having two phenomenal kids, and owning that sweet carrot-eating dog I spoke of earlier. This is the kind of stuff you need, to get a decent writing gig. And you've still gotta want to write on top of it all. That's motivation – the desire to do it.
Then you need ability. Some of you have it, no doubt. (I'm still a work in progress. My wife and I agree that I'm actually a better editor than writer, which means I suppose I'm after Scott Johns' job….now there's a fabulous gig, working with writers like me every day!) Some may have ability, but do not show it in your emails. May I make a suggestion, while I have the floor? Write every email like a composition. Use correct grammar and spelling. Break your 2,000-word email into distinct paragraphs, so the reader doesn't gag on it. Every word you write is practice for your career – and it's a reflection of how seriously you take the idea that you could do this.
Once you have those two things – ability and motivation – then you spend four years writing every week for any Magic-related Internet site, get paid anything from zero to some decent trade in cards to a few bucks…and then, if there's a slot, they'll call you. Easy as pie.
7) Will you read my article (linked, attached) and then tell me what you think?
While I've done some of this in the past, I'm probably going to stop doing it.
First, I never read unsolicited attachments, and I'm not crazy about clicking on unsolicited links.
Second, I'm going to be reviewing other writing soon in a contest. (The link in the bio below has more detail.) I need to focus there.
Third, like deck help, allowing myself to provide this sort of help creates a time issue for me.
Fourth, what I think is not nearly as important as what an actual editor thinks – or more importantly, what you think. The more time you spend contacting folks who can't publish your work, the less time you're spending with folks who can.
Get the article to a site editor. (Note: magicthegathering.com is not currently accepting unsolicited articles; but most other Magic-related sites are.) Follow their guidelines carefully. Believe whatever feedback they give you, as long as it's professional.
Beyond that, my only word of advice: add value with what you write. Do something fairly unique, which no one else can say they're doing completely.
8) Do you really hate the other magicthegathering.com writers? (Most recently, Mark Gottlieb.)
I need to apologize for how unevenly I apply my sense of irony when I write. Sometimes, I feel like I've made it incredibly clear that I'm not seriously slamming another writer – and readers still take my jokes very personally. Mark G. in particular has some rabid fans. I love it, because so many folks panned him when he took over for Jay Moldenhauer-Salazar…you know, the first time Jay got fired for incompetence. (Okay, right there. The incompetence bit. That was irony. How'd I do?)
Rest assured I have excellent relations with all other magicthegathering.com writers. They are all wonderful people who thrill in the delight of serving you, the reader, with informative and entertaining articles in a convenient, cheap media. We have seaside picnics every weekend, just for the pure joy of each other's company. Never finer human beings have I ever met.
Except for Rosewater. He's a jerk.
9) When will you write about (Topic X)?
First, be sure to check the Serious Fun archives. Often, I've written about it recently and you won't have to wait for me to revisit it.
Second, check my featured writer archive at starcitygames.com. They maintain my old Casual Fridays articles, and often readers can find what they're looking for there.
If those don't work, then I've emailed you this link in the hope that you'll be patient and wait for me to get around to it. Sometimes I'm looking for article ideas, and sometimes I'm not. Sometimes the idea a reader presents is incomplete – it needs "more" before I can make an article out of it – and I'll just wait until another reader writes something similar and helps me out.
One thing I am unlikely to do is post your deck list, no matter how creative.
10) Why don't you post deck lists?
I never do reader deck lists, and I rarely post my own full deck lists, because I don't believe Serious Fun is a column for deck lists. That simple.
There are other columns on this site that give deck lists. Much of what Adrian or Jay or anyone else suggests for various cards or decks…well, they'll work just fine in most multiplayer and other casual environments, with minimal tweaking. So there's little room for me to explore.
And frankly, I find deck lists boring. When I read them myself, I barely take any of the cards in. And I don't like writing what I don't like to read.
11) So why do you post deck "fragments"? Can I see the rest of the deck?
When I do a deck list, you'll often see it as a "fragment" – maybe four or five cards that serve as the "center" of the deck. Then I leave the rest to your imagination.
I generally don't give the rest of the deck out, for two reasons. First, sometimes I haven't built it. I just used the fragment as an illustration of a strategic direction I wanted to point out.
Second, where I have built the deck, I would rather you did the work of thinking through the possibilities. It's not that I'm trying to "hoard tech" – I'm just trusting that you'll probably do a better job than I did, and get more out of the experience in the process.
12) Is your play group really as fun and amazing as you make them seem?
13) Is "crawler" (often my partner for two-headed giant on Magic Online) one of your play group?
14) Is he as fun and amazing has he seems?
15) Why do you play timed games (60 minutes for two-headed giant, the strictest setting) on Magic Online?
Because when I played untimed games, they go on for too long and I don't get to play with as many people in a given night.
Besides, it's a real blast when the timer gets down under two minutes for a given player, and the life totals are low. (I generally have the least time left in most games, because I chat too much.) Timed games create focus, and they're fun for me. My online time is voluntary and I play the way I like. That's what I like. Be ready for it, if you sign up for a game.
15) I didn't like this article. Should I send you an email using an anonymous, untraceable address to tell you so?
No. I've gotten into the habit of deleting any email from email@example.com or similar mechanisms. Part of my anti-spam routine. I'll never read it.
16) Okay, but really. I didn't like this article. Are you likely to inflict another FAQ-style article on us again soon?
See #3. And thanks for your patience. You're almost as terrific as my carrot-eating dog.
Anthony has been playing multiple Magic formats for over seven years, and has been writing far longer than that. His new fantasy young adult novel, Jennifer Scales and the Ancient Furnace, was co-written with his wife MaryJanice Davidson, and comes out August 2005 from Berkley Books.