I did a mailbag piece a few weeks ago and in that article I noted that I had a lot of other questions that I ran out of space to answer. I've decided to write a 2nd part to that article and answer more great questions about topics that might not otherwise get talked about in a traditional Magic article.
To be entirely honest, I had a different article planned for this week. I was going to talk about why competitive Magic matters and why it's important to create structures to support competitive players, but that topic is really difficult to write about. If I'm going to tackle it I want to make sure I do it justice and do a good job of it, because you don't really get second chances with those kinds of articles. It's not worth writing if I can't invest the time and energy into perfecting it to the best of my meager abilities.
This was also the week that decklists were due for Mythic Championship III, which is a week from now. To the surprise of nobody, I registered Esper Hero. I spent nearly all day, every day, this week doing nothing but work on the deck. I'm drained, exhausted, and simply don't have the mental strength or hours left that are required to write an article on a difficult, controversial topic.
I find these mailbag articles enjoyable to write and it's been said that if you enjoy what you do, you'll never work a day in your life.
I've worked a lot of days in my life.
Anyway, enough of this pitter patter. Let's get at 'er.
"When are you going to special host Bash Bros Podcast again?"
I've never been the host of the Bash Bros Podcast, featuring Brad Nelson and Corey Baumeister, two dominant Magic brothers. However, I have been a special guest on the podcast from time to time, and without giving away too much, it's possible that I will be the special guest again, maybe even this very week! Just because I've been the special guest on all 19 episodes so far doesn't mean that you can come to expect it week in or week out. We like to mix it up.
"You find yourself in charge of professional play. What does the MPL and professional play look like with a completely clean slate?"
I actually would like to work for Organized Play in the future, when my professional career has dried up and shriveled. We may not be far off from that dystopian future. I don't know if I would be good at that job, but I think they desperately need someone who is closely tied to competitive play in a position there. They often seem to not understand the mindset of the competitive Magic player. While I don't think I'm very creative when it comes to designing systems or structures—I'm sure what I'm about to suggest will have many flaws—I do think I'm good at the kind of detail-oriented work that could avoid a lot of problems that they create for themselves.
I'm going to begin by saying this: I like MTG Arena. I like it a lot. I think it is a great program. I like playing high stakes events on MTG Arena significantly more than playing those events at a paper Magic tournament.
I was excited about the MPL in part because it represented a possible shift of more professional events to Arena which would specifically eliminate one of the huge flaws of paper magic events: cheating, angle-shooting and negative personal interactions with opponents.
I don't enjoy how every time someone with a tarnished past does well at an event speculation arises about whether they are still dirty. I don't enjoy the mudslinging associated with Hall of Fame voting and all the negative stories people have about each other. I don't enjoy how a once-respected player in the community can get caught with marked Tron lands at a tournament and plunge an entire tournament into the shadow of that controversy. It's not a good look for Magic and it's devastating for the legitimacy of pro Magic and the pro community.
Having big events on Arena eliminates all that. Players who are augmenting their Magic abilities with cheating won't thrive on a platform where they can no longer cheat.
With that being said, paper Magic is the lifeblood of the game. Magic has lasted 25 years, not simply because it is a great game, but because a community has sprung up around it. That community is responsible for the absurdly long retention rates of its players. Even players who no longer care too much about Magic still attach themselves to the Magic community. Time and time again, we see those players get dragged back into Magic when they get the itch to play. It may take months or even years, but when someone says they're going to quit, the response is always, "You'll be back." As the saying goes, "Nobody quits Magic forever."
I have a hard time imagining this dynamic existing without the social atmosphere that paper Magic creates. I don't think an impersonal program like Arena can possibly maintain that level of player retention, especially once we hit the inevitable bad Standard format.
That was an absurdly long introduction to say that I think Arena is important to the sanctity of clean, fair, competitive play, but maintaining competitive paper Magic is important to the community and long-term viability of the game. I think a good, balanced future competitive system should incorporate both Arena and paper.
Personally, I think the MPL should primarily be an Arena league. The MPL, and the subsequent push it created to make Magic an esport, arose entirely because of the success of MTG Arena. Before Arena, MTG was not an esport. Sparse viewership and the difficulty of clearly showing the cards being cast has kept paper Magic from becoming an esport in the past, and I don't see why that would change now.
Here's an extremely rough take at a proposed system:
There would be both paper and Arena Pro Tours and associated competitive play structures. The two would remain mostly separate, but some events would feature top performers from both disciplines. The MPL players would primarily be focused on MTG Arena, but they could also bridge the gap by playing in paper events.
The MPL would consist of:
Arena competitive play would consist of:
Paper competitive play would consist of:
Bridging paper and Arena play together would consist of:
This is a super barebones system. I'm sure there are many flaws to this, and I'd be happy to hear constructive criticism. I also realize that this system likely does not align with WotC's goals and is thus completely unrealistic.
Ultimately, though, I think that the MPL needs player turnover or else competitive players won't have something to aspire to. I think that people who are great Magic players but who aren't in the MPL for one reason or another—not quite good enough or not running well enough—should be rewarded for their consistent good finishes by at least being automatically invited to the big events. There needs to be a place in Magic for good, competitive players who aren't among the few in the MPL.
I strongly believe there needs to be a clear path for competitive play at all levels. If someone can't see how they can achieve their competitive goals in Magic, and if consistent good performances don't generate any advancement or long term value, then people will quit playing competitively, and I think that would eventually kill the MPL. Nobody is ever going to care about the MPL if there aren't stakes for MPL players and there is no turnover. We need competitive systems where non-MPL players can thrive too.
Eradication of competitive play structures would have a rippling effect throughout Magic. A lot of people aspire to one day be Magic pros, and without that incentive dangling in front of them, Magic will eventually lose its luster. The thrill of trying to achieve something drives people to compete. If there is nothing to achieve or no path of progress, then people are left scratching their heads and saying, "What's the point?" They'll eventually give up and quit the game.
I think the long term health of the game (and, indeed, why Magic is successful where many other TCGs have failed) is in part because of these systems. Each Gold Pro might not be worth anything to WotC on their own, but the structure they exist in helps retain customers and provides free marketing and advertising for decklists and so forth. There are plenty of people who aren't trying to go pro but who still watch high level Magic and use those decklists and ideas to succeed in their local events. Competitive play fuels the metagame. It fuels formats like Standard and Modern, and it fuels set design.
People also care about many more players in Magic than just the 32 who are part of the MPL. Having competitive structures that feature those players as they quest to advance and meet their goals is important, too. I favor a system that showcases those players as well as MPL competitors and provides them with realistic means of achieving spots in the MPL.
Lastly, I want to note two things.
The first is that competitive play has to matter and skill and performance have to mean something for Magic to be a legitimate esport. It isn't an esport if the best players aren't competing; and if someone's marketing appeal, popularity and so on matter more than one's results, then it's not fair to bill the tournament as the highest level of competition. Perhaps I have an antiquated or incorrect understanding of what an esport is, but if the only path you have to qualifying for events is hoping to be chosen based on unclear metrics, then I don't think it really qualifies as an esport. I can't imagine a competition being considered "professional" if the best players aren't the professionals who are competing in it.
Secondly, my proposed system doesn't include any kind of representation for underrepresented regions or demographics. I think representation does matter, and I think that is a flaw in my system. I'll be honest, I'm not sure exactly how to reconcile the idea that representation matters with the idea that skill, results and performance should also matter. I think that is a tough line to walk and I'm not knowledgeable enough to know where to draw that line.
You have a really excellent way of being positive and expressing when you have a different position from the conventional MTG wisdom. E X: the looting question when you have removal (if you remember that). Or more recently, your embrace of the Bo1 format.
My question is: Do you ever feel compelled to not give your opinion on something because it is far against what is considered convention? Do you ever worry about being a contrarian?
When it comes to Magic cards, decks or gameplay takes, not really. If everyone says a card sucks and I say, "I think that card is great," I'm not really risking anything by being contrarian. A recent example is the London Mulligan discussion. When it was originally proposed, people were losing their minds on social media about how it would ruin Magic, and I felt compelled by the power vested in me to offer up a contrary take. I mostly felt compelled because I get annoyed by the discourse surrounding these kinds of things where people tend to be unreasonable and think the sky is falling with every new change to Magic instead of giving things a chance.
A lot of people on social media tend to be negative for the sake of being negative or because it provides them with clout and is good for their brand. I think those people are a net drain on the Magic community. I feel compelled to be contrarian to those takes because, once again, I get incredibly frustrated by the excessive negativity and whining. I care about the Magic community—probably too much—and I want to promote positivity in it because I think it's important.
With that being said, there is a huge difference when it comes to offering a contrary take about something benign like Magic cards compared to incendiary situations like community issues or people issues. I am incredibly terrified of making a misstep in what I say about those things. One wrong move or wrong statement could easily mean the end of my career. People have lost their careers over saying one stupid thing, even without a history of offenses, and the Magic community can be occasionally bloodthirsty.
There are tons of times I've wanted to provide an opinion on something but have chosen not to do so because I felt that I was risking too much to say anything. I've felt that if I take a stance on something and I'm wrong in my stance or it doesn't match public expectations, I could experience real and serious negative repercussions to my career.
Serious question that never gets a good answer as far as I'm concerned: what can WotC and tourney organizers do to improve the food choices at large events?
Honestly, I hate that there are rarely good food options at large tournaments—and there aren't breaks built into most tournaments to give players a chance to eat. I get brutal headaches all the time at tournaments and I think it's often the result of me not having time to get a real meal during the day. Often, the only options are horrible and overpriced unhealthy convention center food. My only resort in these situations is to subsist on snacks throughout the day. Magic is incredibly taxing and I need sustenance and lots of water for my body to handle playing ten or more grueling hours. Without enough fuel, I'll get those brutal headaches. Man cannot live on almonds alone.
I've seen food trucks set up shop outside some events and that has been excellent. I think that's a really good way to give players food options that are quick enough to grab between rounds.
However, that isn't feasible for all venues, and some convention centers even forbid outside food and drink.
Ultimately, I think the only real fix is giving players ample time during the day to go somewhere, find food and eat a meal, which means something like a one-hour lunch break. They have 30 minute food breaks at Mythic Championships, which is nice, although often that is still not enough time to get food, depending on the venue.
I doubt that this will ever really happen, as it drags tournaments on far longer and incurs extra costs on the tournament organizers as they have to pay staff extra time or maybe additional venue costs. However, I do wish that Magic events didn't involve nine-round, ten-plus hour grinds—or at least that they provided breaks so people had time to find healthy food options.
Favorite flavor text on a card?
Wheel of Torture. "I'd like to buy a bowel."
Such a phenomenal pun. Whoever came up with that should have accolades heaped upon them.
I'm also a big fan of Phyrexian Arena's "A drop of humanity for a sea of power."
They used to use real-world quotes as flavor text. I really like the quote, "Kill one man, and you're a murderer. Kill millions of men, and you're a conqueror. Kill them all, and you're a god," by Jean Rostand. I think that would make excellent MTG flavor text in some form.
Is cheating amongst pros really as prevalent as it appears to be? Seems like as time goes on, more and more pro level players are being caught cheating. What do you propose can be done to end this epidemic of cheating and rebuild the integrity of this game?
People getting caught cheating doesn't really mean that cheating is becoming more prevalent. I think we see more cases of cheating now because in this connected era we see it on Reddit or Twitter immediately when someone is caught, and WotC has started to become more open about discussing it. I actually suspect that there is less cheating in Magic now than there was five or ten years ago. Judges and players seem to have gotten better at catching it.
Random aside: I think WotC should publicly release details about every single person who gets disqualified from a professional-level event like a Mythic Championship, day two of a Grand Prix, etc., instead of only doing it when it pertains to a prolific player. It's absurd that someone could be DQed for something sketchy and I could play that person the very next tournament having never heard anything about it. They could run the same move on me and there wouldn't be any judges watching them and I would never know that they were DQed for it or what to look out for. Holding information close to the chest protects cheaters.
I don't think it's that high of a percentage of people who cheat, but it would be naive to pretend that cheating doesn't exist amongst pros. Becoming a pro involves a lot of consistently good finishes over a long period of time, and cheating can significantly improve one's win rate. It's really hard to win consistently in Magic, and it's only logical to believe that a number of pros got there from cheating.
I do think that every time a high-profile player gets caught cheating it damages the integrity of competitive play in irrevocable ways. I can't tell you how many Reddit comments I've seen that basically hold the opinion that every single pro is a cheater. Yuuya getting caught with marked sleeves, for example, negatively impacts every single professional Magic player and the competitive Magic community. It tarnishes the often impressive accomplishments of actually clean players.
My two proposals are this:
1. Run more tournaments on MTG Arena. Cheating isn't possible there. People who thrive in those events are doing so legitimately.
2. Take a much heavier hand on cheating, especially cheating that involves premeditated actions. None of this six-month ban wrist-slapping. If someone is cheating, ban them for four years or five years or what have you. If it's egregious or obvious, ban them for life. Right now a lot of people get such minor punishments for infractions. I realize that the DCI is trying to avoid wrongfully banning people who weren't actually cheating, but there is a line somewhere and requiring too much burden of proof can also harbor cheaters who are good at "just making mistakes."
Thoughts on Arena being the "future of MTG?"
I think MTG Arena is the future of competitive Standard play. It's a great place to test Standard competitively, and I think competitive Standard tournaments like Pro Tours should be run on Arena, for reasons I've said multiple times already in this article. There is no cheating or angle shooting and Arena looks way better on coverage than trying to make out cards on a table through all the glare as the commentators make guesses as to what could be in the player's hands.
I don't think it is the sole future of MTG though, as formats like Modern, Limited and Legacy are important to the game, and paper Magic and local communities have been instrumental in Magic thriving for 25 years. I hope Magic doesn't go away from formats like Modern and Legacy in favor of only-Standard game play on MTG Arena. That would be fairly short-sighted and destined for failure if we get hit with a bad Standard format, which will inevitably happen again at some point.
I think the presence of a set like Modern Horizons means that WotC doesn't have any intention of removing support for popular formats that aren't on Arena, like Modern, anytime soon.
What is your most embarrassing moment on camera? What is your favorite moment on camera?
While I have punted horribly on camera numerous times, I think the most embarrassed I've ever been was when Dylan Donegan destroyed me so bad in a game that I reached over to give him a good game handshake and then pulled it back when I shamefully realized it was only game one. I was so embarrassed, and Cedric Phillips was doing commentary and it did not go unnoticed. I did win that match, though.
My favorite moment on camera was when Steve Rubin won Pro Tour Shadows over Innistrad and we were on stage with him as his teammates celebrating. Marshall Sutcliffe reached out with the microphone and asked an open ended question to anyone who wanted to answer. The question was something like "How does it feel to have a teammate win the Pro Tour." I confidently leaned into the mic and just said "Deeeeeece." Marshall looked horrified at my answer.
Most degenerate thing you have done to qualify for a Pro Tour?
I bought a last-minute plane ticket to Grand Prix Minneapolis the week before Pro Tour Journey into Nyx. The plane ticket was expensive, and I was four points short of Silver status, which meant I had to make Top 8 in order to earn the points to qualify. This was before I traveled to a lot of GPs and I didn't have a lot of money, so this felt incredibly degenerate to me.
I started 5-2 in the tournament and then won eight straight matches to make Top 8, barely. I was 8th place with horrible tiebreakers. I then lost the quarterfinals to Shawn McClaren who destroyed me with his one copy of Shadow of Doubt when I tried to Birthing Pod a Thrun, the Last Troll into a Reveillark. Iconic.
Other degenerate things I've done:
When I worked at SCG, I got off work on Friday and then drove 12+ hours with Chris VanMeter to Worcester, MA to play in the two Opens that weekend. We got there at 4am and then played two full ten-round tournaments on Saturday and Sunday. On Sunday, CVM missed Top 8 by getting extremely unlucky on tiebreakers. We immediately drove back to Roanoke right afterward. When we got back to Roanoke on Monday morning, we drove past Star City Games on our way home and saw employees already pulling into the parking lot to go to work. We both went to work on no sleep. If CVM made Top 8 we would have been late for work.
I flew to Brazil to play in a Team Sealed event with Pascal Maynard and Shaheen Soorani to try to win the Grand Prix Master qualification for Worlds. We made Top 4 of the tournament, which was not enough to break even on expenses. Only making the finals would actually earn us money on the trip, but Pascal hit Platinum, Shaheen hit Silver, and I qualified for Worlds which I eventually won. We counted it as a success.
I once drove to a PTQ in Delaware, over six hours away. I got 2nd place after getting unlucky in game 3 in the finals and then I drove back home. The next weekend I drove five hours to Virginia Beach where I got 9th on tiebreakers on Saturday after losing as the only X-1 who couldn't draw in, then drove back home right afterward. The following day I played in a local Roanoke PTQ. I did win that one.
Is there anything in your magic career that regret doing or not doing?
I regret having a chip on my shoulder. I took slights, real or perceived, against me far more personally than I should have. I had something to prove, and seeing professionals mock players for coming up through the SCG circuit, which is where I started, made me extremely bitter toward a number of pro players. In hindsight that was not healthy, and I wish I had not let it affect me as much as I did.
I regret not being more outgoing and willing to ask people for help when I need it. There is no shame in getting help from people, and I'm often too shy and awkward to ever ask for it. It's something I still struggle with to this day. I wish that wasn't the case.
That's all I got for this one. I want to once again thank everyone who sent in wonderful questions, many of which I wasn't able to get to in either of these two long articles.
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