This past weekend was PAX West, which I attended as hopefully some of you did as well. I attended PAX this year as an exhibitor for Dire Wolf Digital, which means that Magic was secondary. That said, I still had plenty of people come up and talk about Magic throughout the weekend and I was pretty surprised by a common question: "How can I make it in Magic?"
Of course, some variations, from wanting to make it on the Pro Tour to wanting to become a writer were all heard, but they basically all boiled down to wanting to find success in the Magic community. I figured that enough people probably share similar goals and I certainly could not give the best answer in a 60-second booth pitch, so I wanted to talk a little about this today.
This isn't going to just be some "how to" guide — I don't think such a thing exists for this — but I will discuss some general strategies for success along the way. I just want to present my point of view as someone who has experienced the various peaks and valleys of many different parts of the Magic community. Hopefully, through this, you can develop a better view of the process and then make the best decisions for yourself going forward.
I began playing Magic with very little aspiration to do anything competitive with it. For many years I never even left my local game store, happy to just occupy a Friday night with friends and cardboard. It was a lot of fun, and for many years I never considered anything else because of how much fun I was having. Eventually, I met a few players who challenged me in ways I had not been challenged before and my desires changed. I suddenly wanted to win at Magic.
This was not a progression though. It was not as though I started at the bottom of some hill and eventually reached "competitive level" and then kept climbing. Rather, my desires and focus shifted to something completely different. I made a cognitive shift, my priorities changed, and I began approaching the game differently.
If you want change to happen, you need to make changes. Maybe you get lucky and circumstances change without you influencing them, but you could wait for that forever and never see it realized. The community is not some typical job structure where showing up and clocking in and out every day is going to move you up into a "better" position. Shift your mentality. Shift your behavior. Other things will begin shifting with you.
What defines a successful life? I'm not looking for a dictionary definition here, but rather, in your opinion, when does the switch flip from "unsuccessful" to "successful" in a human's life? In your own life?
More than likely, you struggled to answer any of those questions definitively. You probably quickly acknowledged that there are so many factors likely involved, most of which you probably aren't even aware of. Maybe you questioned my implication that there even was a set point in which the switch is flipped. And you likely thought about concepts like love, happiness, and freedom, even if you could not quite quantify any of them in any meaningful way as to form a real answer.
When pondering these questions though, one rarely thinks about a lifetime money earning total or a target net worth. Those areas certainly impact our lives and that is important, but most of us don't think that a good or successful life can be measured by these rather material metrics.
Similarly, success in the Magic community is not met by reaching a certain threshold or goal. There is no way to quantify "making it" in the Magic community because ultimately, you are the one who defines what your "making it" is! When you wake up happy with your place in the community, no matter what place that may be, you have made it. The streamer getting 50 viewers every night doesn't suddenly "make it" when he reaches 51 or 52 viewers. Those are just numbers reflecting one very specific thing. Similarly, your well-thought-out comment on that article may have only been read by one person, the author, but perhaps it made all the difference in the world. The numbers just don't matter as much as the mentality.
Set goals. Strive to be better. Learn more and act accordingly. But don't let where you are be overshadowed by where you think you want to be.
The Magic community is an extremely diverse land with many areas for someone to find their place. There are content creators of all varieties from podcasting, to articles, to streamers. There is a judge community. There is a secondary market for retailers. Tournament organizers and even visible personalities all have their corner of the community. This range is what makes it so difficult to just explain how to find success in the community, as we just discussed, but there has to be some advice to give, right?
Long before you ever saw or heard of me, I was brewing. I was brewing for FNMs. I was brewing for PTQs, Grand Prixs, drafts, even brewing custom made sets in my free time. If I could express myself creatively through the deck building process, I usually was taking advantage of it. This was what I truly enjoyed. Even when I was costing myself small advantage points at times (and there were many of those times) I was ok with that because winning was only one measurement of success and if it were to exist without brewing for me, I didn't see much of a point.
I could go win at poker, or chess, or basketball, or investment banking for that matter. I did not play, nor have I ever played Magic, for the ability to win at something in some sort of generic sense. I played because I enjoyed expressing myself through brews and I enjoyed the winning that came as a result of that even more. Similarly, losing with brews felt way better than losing with more traditional decks and on occasion, losing with brews even felt better than winning with traditional decks. I was certainly not optimizing solely for winning, but if I had been, I probably would just not have been playing Magic at all.
I may have differed in my approach more than most, but the takeaway here is I did the thing that kept the fire burning. That thing is going to be different for each individual but it is important to keep it in mind. That thing is your passion. That thing is your driving force; the reason you keep at it. In my opinion, if you know what you love about Magic and just pursue the hell out of it, you're going to find yourself in a good place.
When I strayed and began playing to win, that is when it began to wear on me. It felt like a grind and it wore me down. Eventually, I was playing brews, but they weren't brews with any passion behind them. They were sloppy lists wearing rogue Halloween costumes which allowed me to fool myself for a few months until I could not any longer. I shifted focus once again and found a renewed sense of happiness and worth than was unimaginable. Sometimes your passion is going to change and again, it is up to you to shift focus and go after it. Doing what you know rather than what you want, is one of the fastest ways to drain yourself.
Once your passion is isolated and you know what gives you fulfillment, you now know what you want and you should just run with it. If you want to be the best player in the world--go for it. If you want to be a great judge with a lot of connections--start that journey. If card alterations and artistic expression is where your mind returns to--order some supplies and get to work!
This is the area where you have the most potential to stand out and do so in a genuine way. Many people will give you the advice that you should find an open niche and attack it, but that completely ignores the strengths and desires of the individual being given the advice. If you are motivated and passionate about the things you are doing, people are going to notice eventually. It is in these areas where you have the most to offer and where you want to be spending your time anyway, so for the sake of your time management alone, it is probably worth exploring.
I can present you with countless examples of talented people in the Magic community who just found what they loved, ran with it, and eventually reach what most people would consider "success."
Cedric Phillips pursued commentary and content management for a very long time. He truly wanted to see improvements in those areas of Magic and he made those improvements happen himself. People noticed and now he gets to do that very thing for a living while being recognized as one of the best to do it.
Gavin Verhey did a similar thing from a game design perspective, eventually landing his dream job at Wizards.
Tom Gustafson did this for podcasting and gave rise to MTGCast which is how I got my start in content 10 years ago!
Christine Sprankle was just a passionate cosplayer who kept at it and is now hosting Planeswalker reveals in full cosplay at the Pro Tour.
There is no set path and there is no set destination. You get to define those things for yourself. The key is just loving what you do and letting others see that. We are very fortunate to be in community that is so receptive to people who put their heart and soul into their craft. Take advantage of it!
Clever readers may have paid close attention and realized that there really is not a way to "fail" when taking this approach. We are measuring only against ourselves in such a way where we constantly want to be improving, expanding our knowledge, and producing a better product (our passion) but there is never a point where we put a fork in it and proclaim a failure, or even a success for that matter.
We simply are looking to do what makes us happy and by definition, you don't need anything beyond what makes you happy to make you happy. If we ever reach a point where we are not enjoying ourselves or our candle of passion has burned out, we make a shift in mentality and behavior and then keep moving. It can be a hard shift to make at first, but you will recognize the reinvigoration that it brings and your heart will dance with joy once again.
It can be easy to lose sight of what makes you happy in favor of more well-established benchmarks of success. We all point to the number of wins one has or the amount of money one makes because those are somewhat universal "goals" across people, but rarely are those things actually what matter to any given individual, even if the results manifest themselves through those means.
If you feel you have failed, ask yourself by whose standards is that the case? In what objective way have you failed? Are you incapable of recovering, or of shifting the focus? We box ourselves into such concrete definitions of success or failure that we sometimes forget that just doing what you love to the best of your ability can feel like the most successful thing in the world. And oftentimes, others will think so to.
Get out there and love what you are doing. Love what others are doing. And don't be afraid to make changes when the time comes. It is such a liberating experience to define your own happiness and success, but then again, who else even could? Until next week, thanks for reading.