June 01, 2015

A Long Story

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Hello, Labbies! Welcome to a very special edition of From the Lab. In honor of the upcoming set, Magic Origins, we here at DailyMTG are using this week to tell some of our own origin stories.

I spent a lot of time thinking about what kind of story I was going to tell. You see, the thing about origin stories is that it's hard to know where they begin, and harder to know where they end. In fiction, an origin story is usually about a person becoming someone or something different than they were before. Usually this change is brought about by a traumatic experience of some sort. In real life, however, change is rarely so defined. People are constantly growing and developing, and it can be difficult to pin down a singular moment that changed everything.

Rather than dig piece-by-piece through my entire time playing Magic, searching for some moment of meaning or significance, I decided to turn to an old piece of advice often told to novelists: Is this the most interesting time in your character's life? If not, why aren't you telling that story instead?

This is the story of the most interesting time in my Magic career.

Community

For the vast majority of my time playing Magic, I was not a member of the Magic community. I never knew that Magic content existed online, and I never looked for a local game store where I could find other players. I had a few cards, and I had a few friends. That was enough. The game was a nice way to spend a school lunch break when rain or snow stopped us from playing sports out on the lawn, and I never thought it would be anything more than that.

I was dead wrong.

Path to Exile (July FNM Promo) | Art by Raf Sarmento

When I went to college, I found myself in a bind. I was hundreds of miles away from the friends I knew, and no one around me seemed interested in this card game I so enjoyed. To be honest, I don't even remember how I managed to find fellow Magic players in the previous three cities I had lived in. Things had just seemed to fall into place. That wasn't happening this time.

Eventually, I turned to the Internet for help. I was surprised to find not only a game store a few miles away, but a wealth of Magic-related websites featuring articles, decklists, and more. I started reading DailyMTG every week, and then every day. I was shocked to see people like Mark Rosewater and Aaron Forsythe sharing behind-the-scenes knowledge so freely, and I created an account on Twitter just to hear what they had to say.

Coincidence

While I enjoy connecting with others through Twitter, I rarely post there myself. Therefore it was always a bit of a surprise whenever someone followed me who didn't appear to be a bot. One such real life human was Robby Rothe, AKA @MTGColorPie. A glance at Robby's bio revealed that he ran a blog about Magic, focusing on casual play. I started following his posts, and through him discovered another casual-minded website: GatheringMagic. Like MTG Color Pie, GatheringMagic periodically posted articles about different aspects of casual play. However, GatheringMagic also had something else: A forum.

I had never really participated in an Internet forum before, but at GM I found a small group of friendly casual players who came together to share ideas and talk about the game. I quickly became a part of this little community, doubling the number of Magic players I knew almost overnight.

Over time, GatheringMagic grew more popular, largely due to its constantly-updated visual preview for upcoming sets. However, the site was still managed by just two people: Reinhart and Leaf. Soon, life began to get in the way. Reinhart got engaged, and new articles grew few and far between. He turned to the forum, asking for members to submit articles for the front page.

Now, this may seem odd given where I am now, but I never really liked writing in school. I always dreaded essays in English class, especially when left to choose a topic on my own. However, I had always been told that I was a good writer, and I decided to give it a shot.

I liked it. I liked it a lot. I relished the chance to share my ideas on a subject I actually cared about, and I felt a sense of pride that Reinhart thought my work fit to publish. I submitted another article, then another. Within a few weeks I had started writing articles regularly.

Coalition

As I was devoting more and more time to GatheringMagic, Reinhart was moving in the opposite direction. The site was growing beyond anything he could have predicted, and with a new wife and a career to consider, he decided to hand the reins over to a friend: Trick Jarrett. If you recognize that name, it's probably because Trick is now the global content and community manager for Magic, and was formerly the editor-in-chief right here on Daily MTG.

However, when Trick took over at GatheringMagic, none of that had happened yet. At the time, his most prominent position in the Magic world was as the owner and operator of Mananation, a popular Magic website that was more focused on the tournament scene than GM was. Despite the changes, I continued writing articles for the site. In fact, for a brief period of time I was the only regular writer on GatheringMagic.

That all changed when the decision was made to merge Mananation and GatheringMagic into a single site, using the GatheringMagic name. Suddenly I was not a lone writer on a small website, but part of a large team of writers on a site with a huge audience. I quickly realized that the kind of writing I had been doing just wasn't going to cut it anymore.

Mirrodin's Core | Art by Greg Staples

You see, at the old GM I pretty much wrote about whatever I wanted. I outlined a new way to think about building a Commander deck, debated the story implications of New Phyrexia and Mirrodin Pure, and even created my own multiplayer format. For the most part, I focused on casual play, with many articles talking about Commander. The problem was, Mananation already had a casual writer, and a Commander writer as well. Ostensibly this was still GatheringMagic, but that didn't stop me from feeling like the new kid on the block. I decided that if I was going to continue writing, I needed to find my own niche.

I started looking for a hole I could fill, something Mananation didn't already have a writer for. It didn't take me long to latch onto the idea of budget decks. At the time, there was a column here on DailyMTG called "Building on a Budget," which focused on designing Standard decks that avoided the most sought-after cards in the format. I read it every week. In the beginning, I often put together decks from the column with my own cards, but as time went on I started creating my own budget decks from scratch. I loved experimenting with new ideas, and sometimes designed three or four new decks in a single day.

Columns

I decided that this would be my niche, and created a new column called "Price of Glory." For a long time I built and playtested a new budget deck every week, but eventually the process began to take its toll. I was getting burned out. I decided to try something new. Returning to my roots as a casual player, I created a second column called "Enter the Dungeon." I spent each article building two casual decks, then played them against each other. Since I'm a Johnny at heart, many of these decks featured odd cards and crazy combos. I decided to alternate weekly between the two columns, posting a budget deck one week and two casual decks the next. I figured it was the best of both worlds, but unfortunately it didn't last.

After about eight months, it was clear that Enter the Dungeon wasn't performing very well. Casual Magic players don't have the online presence that tournament players do, and therefore the audience for Enter the Dungeon was far smaller than I anticipated. The column was cut, and I went back to writing Price of Glory weekly. I never would have thought that this short-lived column would be one of the most important things I ever did.

Consequence

While I continued writing my weekly articles, a few things changed in the world of Magic writing. Trick took a job managing DailyMTG, enlisting Adam Styborski to take over at GatheringMagic. Noel deCordova, the latest in a line of From the Lab writers spanning over a decade, left the site to pursue other opportunities. Trick needed a new writer, and when he drew up a list of potential candidates, my name was on it.

I had been writing about Magic for two years, and many of the decks I created for Enter the Dungeon would have been right at home in From the Lab. After a series of emails and an interview, I was offered the job. Now, you might guess that I was excited about this. I was not. I was excited when Mark Rosewater answered two of my questions in a mailbag edition of Making Magic. I was excited when Gavin Verhey, and later Conley Woods, decided to feature one of my creations as the Daily Deck. When I was offered a position as the writer of From the Lab, I was ecstatic. I was overwhelmed. I was silently fist pumping and trying to hold back a yell of joy as I finished the phone conversation with Trick, hoping to avoid giving my new/old boss the impression that I was a complete lunatic. It was this moment that would forever change the course of my life.

Conclusion

I've now been writing From the Lab for two and a half years. Writing this column every week has made me a better writer and, more importantly, it made me realize that I could be a writer at all. A few months after I started writing From the Lab, I quit my job and decided to pursue freelance writing full time. It was quite possibly the best decision I've ever made. When I started writing this column, I realized that this was the sort of thing I could see myself doing for the rest of my life. I realized that I could be a writer, not just someone who writes.

I think all writers dream that their work will change someone's life. Sitting here, I realize that From the Lab has changed someone's life: Mine. Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end, and I'm sorry to say that this is the last edition of From the Lab. The last two and a half years have been a privilege. I've had the opportunity to share my ideas with thousands of people around the world, and many of you have shared your ideas with me as well. I've had people struggle through writing an email in English just to say "Thank you," and I've had people send me decks that absolutely blew my mind. I find it difficult to say goodbye, so instead I'll just end this article the same way I've ended so many before it.

See ya!



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