We're going to get serious this week, and by serious I mean hilarious, because it's a gas how ridiculous me having to write this article is. But here we are.
This week in Magic Twitter Drama™ we saw a bevy of authors coming forward to discuss how various Magic writers are treated by their respective companies. If you are reading this, that means this is seeing print. Wild, right? The proof is in the pudding that TCGplayer is great and they let me write just about anything. Next week I'll write about how I've been playing EDH with myself and using my arms as sock puppets to mimic other players, so I don't feel like I'm so alone during this time of social distancing. "Mark vs. The World" we'll bill it, only the world is his hands covered in socks with googly eyes.
But seriously, one of the questions I'm asked quite a bit is, "how do I start writing Magic articles," and since I'm an elder statesman of this—going on almost 11 years—I feel like I'm qualified to write a guide on How to Write Magic Articles, only I'll do it like someone should have told me back in 2009 and not how I imagined it would be. It was so easy to get caught up in the trappings of niche hobby fame that no one actually tells you how it is going to be.
So that is what we're going to do today.
Eventually you win enough FNMs or Commander pods to make you think your opinions on the respective format you love are valid, and I am here to tell you that they are almost entirely not. It is not what your opinion is; it's more how you present it. Author A writes an article about how Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath is format-warping. Author B does the same thing. Author C is me and writes an entire piece on why Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath sucks done completely in extremisms and hyperbole. Which one gets more noticed? Unfortunately, according to the number of death threats I have received in my years, it is me!
This is a roundabout way of saying, discover your voice very quickly. What makes most authors flashes in the pan are that they sound like everyone else. I can read five articles in one week that are all on the same topic, and by the third one I'll be incredibly bored of the concept because none of the writers are doing anything unique or special to distinguish themselves. Their voices become homogenized, and they have resigned to try to sound like the smartest person in the room instead of the most entertaining and simultaneously informative. Analytics can only get you so far. Being great at the game but a boring writer will not make you popular or increase your viewership.
You need to be yourself.
Write the way you talk.
Do not be afraid to take chances.
Have fun with it.
Distinguishing yourself gives you value, so if you're like me and you've had some good finishes, played in some Pro Tours and had a pretty solid career as far as being a grinder goes, you have to be different. Very few of us are Hall of Fame-level players whose content must be taken seriously because we speak from a place of absolute knowledge and skill. Others, like you or me, need to separate ourselves from the pack.
For about ten years I wrote about Standard—cards, testing, tournaments, and more. This was because Standard was my passion. It was easy to talk about because I was so in love with the format, and it gave me the ability to write hundreds of articles on the subject because it was always evolving and changing. If I had tried to write about Limited, something at which I am good but definitely not great at, it would have been very noticeable that I was BS'ing my way through it.
If you love Commander, that is the format you should write about. But not just deck techs and "play X because Y;" those are done to death. Figure out what makes your perspective on Commander deck building different. Do you have a super interesting playgroup, so that you could chronicle the tales of battle with a huge cast of characters that let their personalities shine? Are you super into the mathematics of EDH like spell ratios, land counts, or the proper allocation of ramp spells to maximize your deck's chances of landing an early commander? Whatever. If you're doing something no one else is doing, you're already doing it right.
I love Commander. After my son was born, I found I could play it all night and day when I had the chance. This means if I wanted to write I could talk about my own perspectives on the format.
Write what makes you excited. Have you ever seen how giddy someone gets when they're describing their favorite movie or television show? BE THAT PERSON. Share your joy of Magic with everyone. You'll see yourself having a blast writing articles and that type of happiness is infectious—people will buy in to what you're selling.
Do: Love what you write about.
Don't: Write about what you think other people will want to read.
From there, put together a portfolio of some sample articles and begin the process of finding a website to write for!
Wow, that was easy.
You've submitted some samples, shopped around, and found a home. Congratulations! Today is your bat mitzvah!
Your new website tells you they're so excited to have you on board and that you'll operate on a trial basis for the first few months, after which they'll discuss a weekly rate with you and—
Uh oh! Did they just say you'll do a few months of free work for them and THEN they'll discuss paying you? Sound the alarm! We're in trouble, folks.
As the Joker said in The Dark Knight when he made a pencil disappear, "If you're good at something, never do it for free." Anyone, and I mean anyone, asking for your labor and time for free is not your friend. When I first started I valued community standing over money. I wanted people to know who I was, so I wrote several free articles for a NOW DEFUNCT company and was told if they did well I'd be paid. This should have been a red flag, because if they were willing to publish it that meant the piece itself was "good enough" in the first place, and they basically wanted to use my labor for their gain.
Writing Magic articles is, in fact, a labor of love, but not one that you shouldn't monetize. Being new doesn't exclude you from receiving compensation. This is the quandary of the "unpaid intern." Scumbags will have you believe that experience should be gained at your discretion and done so at the company's benefit. You must pay your dues first before you get paid! Unfortunately, this is totally ridiculous.
Your work is exactly that: work. If a website shows interest in hiring you, it should be done at the benefit of both the contracted and the contractor. Donating your time and sweat for a "maybe" is about the worst thing you can do. I've had friends fall into this trap—work for months for websites writing pieces being told that "someday" they'll be brought on full-time as authors, and then once they got uppity and asked for their fair share they were unceremoniously let go. Guess how many of them still write?
They want you? Tell them to put a number behind it. You'll write for someone eventually that will appreciate you.
Don't do it for exposure. Exposure is bull and it doesn't pay the bills. Anyone that says differently is selling something.
The biggest point I will drive home to you is to develop thick skin. Your articles are never going to please everyone. People don't care about how much heart, soul and emotion go into a piece you're so proud of. There will be a sect of folks that tell you how much they hate it, and they will be brutally honest and vicious. You'll read "why does this person have a job," "who hired them" and "this is trash" more than you can possibly understand.
Don't take it personally. I know that's hard to understand, and it's an even harder thing to say. Remember when you were in elementary school and kids would tease you for seemingly no reason you could understand? Being an MTG writer is a lot like that. You'll put together something you're genuinely proud of, and players will deconstruct it and throw the pieces in your face.
A friend of mine from years ago started playing Pauper, and she loved the format so much that she wanted to share that love with everyone! After two articles she quit because the comments were so cutting and mean that she decided writing wasn't for her. It even impacted the way she enjoyed Pauper. That's the dark side of this no one is going to tell you about. It's not easy to face a faceless crowd of jackals waiting to tear into you like a wounded animal.
You can be the change by winning readers over, and it's likely that 99% of the people that read it in the first place will love it, but that 1% will be very vocal and they will try to bury you.
Be strong. Let your words be stronger.
Be proud of what you are creating, and don't let anyone tear you down. Own your writing.
When you bring it all together—your passion, your voice, your strength and your fortitude—you can be a writer, too. It's not easy. It's not glamorous. But one day someone will wait behind you while you finish a match, and they'll shake your hand and thank you for your content because it brings them joy. That's what makes it worth it.
That and the paycheck.
Never let them screw you out of the paycheck.