2017, what a year.

My first inclination for today was to read through all my articles and pick the best as some form of self-glorification. I read through all my work—admittedly some were easier than others. During that process I realized that categorizing them into a list only really made for a subjective view of my own content. It felt like trying way too hard to just phone it in at the end of the year. So instead, I want to focus on my creative process and how it has evolved.

In the Beginning

The story of my first few articles is one of organized chaos. When the year began I was loosely aware of Hipsters of the Coast, mostly due to Kate’s Modern/Legacy content, some off-hand comments from Mike on The Mana Pool podcast, and later the talk of Dear Azami making the move to the site. I had gotten wind in late December that the site was looking for content. and if memory serves I went for bust, pitching three different ideas. My understanding is that they got a lot more submissions than they expected and feedback on all the submissions went from “a week or so” to “hopefully next month” until suddenly it was almost March and I was getting news that one of my pitches wasn’t terrible.

Realistically, just because I could come up with a good idea didn’t mean I was set to become the regular voice before you today. First I had to write a few articles—what would become my writing on Ruhan of the Fomori and Dragonlord Kolaghan—and give a general direction for the next four to six pieces. I wrote both of those articles side-by-side in a format that made sense at the time—picking out a list of cards as talking points and writing until I felt like each article was “good.”

Once the writing got approved, they told me I would be writing weekly. After the fear of not being able to do that cold turkey subsided, I started writing my Jareth, Leonine Titan and Szadek, Lord of Secrets articles in tandem, all in hopes that I wouldn’t fall behind.

Running Out of Ideas

Part of the original projection of where I was going involved Isao, Enlightened Bushi, but the intent was much different than where I ended up. I sat down to write the article a week or so in advance, but it just wasn’t working. As luck would have it, my buddy Alex (from the now-dismantled General Damage Control) took a thought experiment and turned it into sub-format we branded as 1DH aka Dollar General. The concept of a format driven by a very specific budget was enough to give me the framework for a much better article than the one I had been trying to make work.

From this point on I was in unexplored territory, as I disregarded any former plans I had and started writing whatever seemed fun that week. That experiment only lasted two weeks, covering Dakkon Blackblade and Trostani; and I was forced to hit my fail-safe button and cover Shattergang Brothers, the idea I was keeping in my back pocket in case I ran out of ideas.

Eight articles in I learned one of my first real lessons: plan ahead. My articles are best categorized as feature content. That comes with more free space and I have been lucky enough to not have any pushback on what I have wanted to cover. But that comes at a price: without some framework of where I want to go, decision paralysis becomes a very present threat. I regrouped and plotted out the general ideas I wanted to cover for the month ahead of myself, knowing that I was not beholden to any of it, but at least it was there as a safety net keeping me looking forward.

Shifting Structure

Something that probably went completely unnoticed by my readers, but became a drastic departure for me was a shift that can be seen between my Adriana, Captain of the Guard and Zhou Yu, Chief Commander articles. Thematically, I had set up a two-installment “arc” around the Fourth of July holiday to hit on Red, White and Blue color identities. This was all done with a bit of overconfidence, as I didn’t know what I was going to do with the Blue component before committing to it. What resulted was an article I think has been a highlight of the series as I covered Zhou Yu, not only being a fun take on mono blue, but better written by discarding the “find a list of cards as talking points” structure in favor of talking about cards in thematically-linked groups.

This subtle change made for a more naturally flowing structure that had been missing when I had used the crutch to fill space at the beginning of each section, spelling out why the topic cards was “good.” This structural change also made the graphics of each article more useful, as I could now feature more cards and even Easter eggs for cards that didn’t fit well into the section but were still valid recommendations for the deck.

Illusion of Fame

If you would have told me in high school that I would one day have a piece of writing featured on the Wizards of the Coast “mothership,” I would have lost my mind or called you a liar. When that day came and my article covering the Commander 2017 generals hit the Daily Magic Update, I was elated; but I attempted to rein in my emotions as a front to look cool. To me it was the culmination of hard work—improving my writing and image quality with each piece of feedback—and being in the right place at the right time. But with that exposure also came a realization: I am not writing these articles and stuffing them into bottles, never to be seen again. Some of them might float back with a kind word attached.

This harkened back to a lesson I learned from podcasting: imagine your desired audience for every project. Maybe it won’t be the same “individual” every outing, but when you write or direct or record ask yourself, what will “Peter” get out of this? Will “Erin” get that joke? How quickly will “Brian” respond? This mindset is still something I explore months later, adding a new drive to creating content.

That feeling of legitimacy gave me the confidence to do two projects I had dreamt of doing, now with the faith that my audience could roll with a change in tone and subject matter: 1) a very different article covering Ib Halfheart, Goblin Tactician; and 2) a historical look at Commander’s metagames. Over the course of two months, I crafted these pieces in the background to the point of being pleased with what I made.

Contraption Assembled

Having now done nine months of writing, the machine is chugging along and I have reached a place where I have enough different topics I feel comfortable covering week-to-week. It seems nearly impossible that I won’t have something to ramble on about every Thursday. When I need a break from the deck skeleton articles, discussions pertaining to Commander or casual Magic in general are always churning in the back of my mind as jumping off points for the audience to do a bit of self reflection on their history with the game. There is often a new set just around the corner that I could do a Legendary Round-Up article on. And I can now take lists of cards linked only by a larger theme that I think people need to be aware of and write about them in a constructive way.

For as rough as 2017 has been in some cases, it has been amazingly transformative. I started the year as a Tumblr blogger with limited reach and no motivation to put out content on a schedule. Now I’m a weekly writer getting to express myself about a game I have loved for the last 15 years. Truthfully, I didn’t think I could do it. But here’s my last secret: I just keep trying to be better than the previous week, sometimes to varying degrees of success.

Finally, as Conan O’Brien said as he exited The Tonight Show in January of 2010, “Nobody in life gets exactly what they thought they were going to get. But if you work really hard and you’re kind, amazing things will happen.” So as we move to 2018, make some amazing things happen everyone. Thanks.

Ryan Sainio is a Graphic Designer who writes about EDH, the story of Magic and the EDH community in his down time. He has been playing Magic: The Gathering since 7th Edition in 2002 and values flavorful and fun gameplay over competitively optimized decks.
Pet Deck – Shattergang Eldrazi

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