Ahoy planeswalkers! Dominaria is getting into full swing; and boy, what a flavorful, powerful treat it is! I wish I expected to have the opportunity to play with this set more. Today, though, I’d like to take a step back from minutia about the cards and the story. Instead I want to discuss some of the lessons I have learned over my time writing about Magic, as I’ve gone about the process of finding my voice and my identity as a vorthos content creator.

The Importance of Citation

Issues of citation tend to flare up in vorthos community chatter from time to time, and I very easily could have been at the center of one of these controversies in my earlier writing. When I made the jump from my (now long-abandoned) blog to writing for Hipsters, I was making the jump into having a platform that was, I think, a little too big for my familiarity with the community I was trying to write as a part of. Even well-established vorthoses like Jay Annelli  and John Dale Beety weren’t on my radar yet. Since I didn’t know the conversation in the community well, I was frequently winging it a bit more than I should have.

I took some shortcuts when I tried to navigate this learning curve, especially in the area of citation. I figured it was fine to broadly write that “I have heard” certain theories I wanted to discuss; it saved time on hunting down sources and setting up my citations. That led to this exchange with GatheringMagic’s Mike Linnemann within my first couple months:

I have a few regrets about how I handled myself both in this moment and leading up to it. I’d sent my tweet in response to criticisms Linnemann had made about another writer’s article, and it was frankly kind of lousy of me to use that as an opportunity to suck up to a top vorthos content creator. The content of his rebuke is also 100% accurate: in my previous article I had vaguely referred to a theory I had seen Cary Barkett share in a tweeted conversation with Linnemann. (I should also note that he immediately followed this with a very kind invitation to take advantage of his and other vorthoses’ willingness to read drafts and direct writers to other useful sources.)

The thing is, this shouldn’t have been alien to me; I come to my Magic writing as a Ph.D. student with scholarly ambitions. In academia, you cite everything. It lends credibility to your arguments by demonstrating the work you’ve done, it protects you from accusations of theft, and it helps a reader see how the larger community conversation fits together. These are all inherently good things.

Citation does more than this too. It demonstrates respect for other writers, acknowledging the hours of work that go into creating a piece and affirming the value of the work they do. It helps to build the community: it creates a trackable web of vorthos resources that can help interested readers, viewers, and listeners find more content and content creators, ultimately helping us all to be more connected and more aware of the broader conversation.

This would be the biggest advice I would go back and give to my past self, or that I would give to a new vorthos content creator: make sure you follow the work of other content creators, know the conversation, and cite the creators with whom you are in conversation and upon whose work yours draws. A fresh face willing to put in the work to follow the conversation and build upon it is going to but theirself in a good position to earn this community’s respect.

The Power of Positivity

I often think of a review the influential theatre critic Kenneth Tynan wrote in the 1960s. I’ve memorized it, because it’s impressively short: “Kodiak is a play about a bear. Everything about the production is grizzly.” That’s it. As entertainment, it’s inspired. This is the pithy wit that helped Tynan cultivate a reputation as one of the great theatre critics of his time and, perhaps, of the entire twentieth century. As a contribution to theatrical discourse, it’s garbage. With two sentences, he dismisses months of work by a couple dozen artists in order to show off his wit and his power.

Reasoned, constructive critiques have an important place in the discourse. Jay Annelli recently went over a key continuity error in the Dominaria story. My fellow Hipster Levi Byrne wrote a very good, even-keeled critique of Ixalan’s multiple endings. Such conversations need to be approached from a baseline of respect, however; oftentimes negative criticism becomes about the style with which a critic demolishes their target. It’s not an unpopular content genre—have you heard the rumor that Magic players like to complain?—and avoiding writing within this genre has been a major priority of mine. Any critique deserves an attempt first at understanding why the choices that resulted in what you wish to critique were made.

I also haven’t always been as considerate of how things came to pass as I ought to have been. On my old blog, one of the hottest pieces I wrote was an analysis of why I found the story spotlight cards from Aether Revolt disappointing. It was just about the only piece from my blog to get a little bit of traction on vorthos Twitter (and, for all I know, it might have helped convince Hipsters to pluck me from obscurity). I’m not terribly proud of the piece, however, because I think it comes up a little bit short of the baseline of respect that Magic’s creators deserve. Specifically, I didn’t engage with the challenges that the story team faces in navigating the relationship between the story and the card-making. I complain about Nissa’s absence from the on-card storytelling, but was Nissa’s critical role in the story pinned down when art was being commissioned, when cards were being finalized? There are a lot of moving parts at Wizards, and I should have given more respect to the way that the timelines of different departments affected the creation of the story both on the actual cards and in the published Magic Story.

Knowing Your Limits

When I launched my column, I knew from the start that I wanted Scry Five to be biweekly. I had experimented with running my own blog, and I had a good idea of my writing capabilities. I knew I wouldn’t see fifty articles worth of vorthos things I wanted to write about every year, and I knew how long it takes me to write and to edit my articles.

Jump forward to last August, when I missed an update for the first time. I was in the early phases of a job hunt which I was just starting to discover was going to be a lot harder than I first thought—it ended up taking 150 job applications over the course of seven months to secure employment—and I was heading into a busy stretch of family travel. Then I got a crazy idea in my head: I would do a series of retrospectives on the blocks of the Gatewatch era, publishing weekly instead of biweekly in the lead-up to Ixalan. I thought these would be easier, shorter pieces, maybe like 600-800 words, and would help reestablish my credibility after missing an update.

They turned out to be 2000-word monstrosities, so I was just writing about four times as much as usual every two weeks. The date by which I had hoped to start a job sailed by and the grim reality of my job hunt began to sink in. I felt like the pieces I was pumping out were among the weakest I’d written, with little new insight into the past stories; but since I’d started the project I felt compelled to finish it. Then, once I’d finished that series, I went back to my previous timetable, writing biweekly about whatever I was interested in. That plus the highly-flavorful world-building of Ixalan gave me a very good fall run, where I wrote several articles that I remain really proud of.

Knowing my limits is on my mind right now because I’ve discovered one of my current limits is that, well, I need to stop playing Magic. I have a new job and, due to my work schedule, I’ve gone from spending a lot of time with my family to missing my son’s bedtime twice a week and missing dinner with my family two further nights each week. I like organized, competitive Magic, but going to FNM means missing putting my son to bed another time. So, to fill the hobby gap that Magic has filled in my life, I’ve returned to a different hobby: Dungeons and Dragons. What can I say; Wizards of the Coast has a death-grip on my wallet.

Don’t worry, this isn’t my resignation. Vorthos is, for better or worse, the easiest part of Magic to enjoy when you don’t have time to play the game, and I expect I’m going to dive in hard when Arena finally comes to Mac. But, for the time being, I don’t have the time or the energy for Magic that I did a year ago or even three months ago. I plan to keep writing, but I’m also not going to force it if I feel like I have nothing to say from time to time. And, hopefully, my editors aren’t going to get too cross with me when that’s the case.

A Parting Thought on Magic Story

Did you see all the New Phyrexia stuff in this week’s story? Karn is seeking a tool he can use to blow up New Phyrexia, and Jhoira encouraged him to put New Phyrexia on the backburner and help the Gatewatch defeat Bolas first. But, while Teferi takes the oath, Karn does not. That seems to me like a sign that he sees the business on New Phyrexia as a duty he must attend to before anything else. Which makes me feel even better about my New Phyrexia prediction for the 2018-2019 Magic year.

Beck is a financial aid counselor and theatre history Ph.D. student who lives in the greater Boston area. He believes in playing standard like a Johnny, drafting like a Spike, and only playing modern decks that involve the number eight.

Don't Miss Out!

Sign up for the Hipsters Newsletter for weekly updates.