I get a lot of questions about how to break into content creation, or how to play for a living.
I get others that focus on “what.” As in, “what’s it like to do what you do.”
Here, I’ll answer both.
“How do I grind Magic for a living?” isn’t a real question because anyone that can already knows the answer.
You need to not only be good at Magic but good enough that you can accurately estimate your EV for various events to realize what’s profitable and what isn’t, which only comes if you have the data from playing similar events. You need connections, too. Finding cards for decks, or rides to places or free couches to crash on dramatically impacts EV. Fortunately, connections build naturally by playing events.
Grinding Magic as a primary source of income is miserable. I’m not saying that as a sort of “well any job turns into a grind over time” sort of statement, either. Even if you find a profitable cash tournament every weekend, as well as smaller local tournaments on the weekdays, and find places to couch surf (good luck convincing your travel mates every week—most people play as a hobby), the margins you live on are incredibly small, and you’re usually devoting at least two days a week to travel (unpaid overtime).
When you do hit a big win, it’s hard to enjoy it because the good days need to cover for the bad, meaning you can’t stop budgeting or going to only +EV events.
Rent is a huge factor, and it becomes a lot more possible if you can find a cheap-to-free place to stay, but living at the parent’s isn’t an option for everyone.
When my standard of living was at its worst, I was living in a Magic player’s basement paying $250 a month and sleeping on a broken futon. Even then there were upsides. I had good test partners, regular travel buddies, and I was always among friends, but that can be hard to value when you run out of food.
This was all during the easiest time to be a Magic grinder in the States. The first SCG Invitational was a meager 131 players, and if you were willing to travel you could find Legacy Opens around 100 players as well (this was before they dropped the places with worse attendance). The Midwest Master’s series was still a thing, and if I could find a ride to one I could expect to make $375-$500 before trip costs. That sounds pretty good for a Saturday, and it is, but it’s less good if you don’t make anything else that week.
There are still profitable tournaments, but you need to know where to look and once again that comes down to knowledge. TOs trying to attract attention might buff their prizes, taking a hit on an event to get people into their store. This sort of tournament is rare outside of major cities with a lot of competing stores, however, and it’s very difficult to find enough to grind consistently.
Sometimes, MTGO is profitable enough and if you multi-queue at the right time with the right deck you can do better than minimum wage. The problem is that the MTGO economy will evolve along with these profitable events and pack prices will naturally adjust or the metagame will shift or a format will rotate or be taken away. People in countries with a low cost of living are more likely to be able to live off of MTGO, but a lot of those grinders fell away when they found they’d need better machines to play v4.
In general, having something interesting to say is more important than wordsmithing. That said, Magic has some complex ideas, and you want to communicate clearly.
At a basic level, you need to know how to write a sentence. If you’re writing your first MTG article, and you don’t have much writing experience, brush up on the basics. If PV can write as eloquently and clearly as he does in a second language, the least you can do is learn the elements of flow and sentence structure. Start with The Elements of Style.
Don’t reinvent the wheel. When re-reading and editing your piece, make sure it looks like a Magic article. If you’re reading this, I assume you’ve read all kinds of articles, and it should be easy to compare.
Dream big but aim low. Unless you have some serious finishes to pad your resume, you’re going to be publishing on smaller sites. Before I wrote for CFB, I wrote articles for Londes, Brainburst, and MTGSalvation. I was making pocket change—cents on the hour—but I was having a lot of fun.
The experience won’t get you a gig in and of itself, but it will give you a chance to get a feel for the job, improve at it, and interact with the community.
To get hired, you need enough draw/name recognition to be appealing to a top site, which is why most writers start only after they’ve already achieved some impressive finishes.
If you don’t see yourself putting up the real-life results, there are other ways to go about it, but every way I’ve seen takes a ton of work. Alexander Shearer was always good at parsing down complex ideas and combining them with sweet visuals. Mascioli has a great knowledge of stats and is willing to do the work to present them in a clear way. And neither of these guys is shabby at Magic or anything, either. Whatever your niche, it has to be useful content.
Write articles you’d like to read!
Videos are great. Once you get used to the extra layer of technology, there are a ton of different ways to go with it. People watch videos for a lot of different reasons, after all.
The big one is information. Most of us watch videos to get better, but if this was the only reason then I’d be recording over replays instead of live video.
Humans aren’t designed to multi-task, and the brain needs to pause between actions. A better multi-tasker is more practiced at hiding the pauses, and fast thinkers will have shorter down time. Overall, this means that I can be much more informative about matchups or a particular line or with various concerns with an opening hand if I’ve seen it all before and can control the speed of the replay.
A lot of people watch videos because they like following the story that develops, rooting for the hero and feeling the tension in the draws.
Some watch to live the tournament vicariously. Perhaps they don’t have the scratch to play, and videos are how they get their Magic fix. There’s an escapist element as well. Most people work regular 9-5s, and when they have a crappy day they just want to watch people get crushed online.
Every once in a while the topic of cherry picking videos comes up, but the reality is that it takes more time and energy to set up and record a video set than people think. Every once in a few months I’ll delete a set, but it’s rare.
There is a sort of natural filter where if I’m playing a deck I don’t like I’m more likely to rage quit before the second round. Then I take a break, come back, and find a different idea for a video. The end result is that I have more fun, play better decks, and my content is better for it.
The technology behind streaming is more complicated than recording videos, though there are more free options. The main problem a lot of streamers have is building a fan base without already having a following. Many big streamers were involved in some kind of content creation, be it Reddit or YouTube or CFB. Others developed a following by playing on famous teams. Some people get there from zero renown, but it always takes infinite dedication and they’re the exception more than the rule.
Still, streaming is exactly as challenging and rewarding as you want it to be, which is nice. The streamers I enjoy make the effort to be informative and interact with the chat. As with articles, I try and create the content I want to see, as it makes my job way more fun.
I do think streaming is more challenging than recording videos since you can’t pause or take a break as easily, and the chat adds another element to keep track of during the playing + commentating. My difficulty ranking goes something like:
Commentary < Playing IRL < Recording Videos < Streaming
Even if you find commentary more difficult than playing (which I’ve never heard from anyone), I think most people would agree that the combination of commentating + playing is about as hard as Magic gets.
Note that I’m not saying that commentating is easy, or that all of these things take the same skill sets.
Not everyone can like everyone, and it doesn’t make sense to get bent out of shape over it. In League of Legends, coaches will often cut players off from social media so that exposure to vitriol doesn’t tilt them before an important match.
It’s a little different for content creators, as you can’t just ignore the haters or the hate will snowball. Even here on CFB, with one of the best communities in the game, a few writers have been flamed off the site, though everything has gotten much less toxic since the comments sections got connected to Facebook.
Regardless of the reason, haters gonna hate, and for the first few years I looked to my fellow writers for ideas on how to deal with flamers and trolls.
Josh Silvestri is a beast. If someone flames him for something dumb, he’ll just tear that person apart.
Rietzl and Sperling used to do this thing where any hate would get an impossibly bright and cheery response, which is funny and smart and makes the whole idea of arguing on the internet look stupid. I couldn’t figure out a way to eloquently make it my own, so I didn’t.
When I look back, a little limelight has been good for me, thickening up the skin and whatnot.
Then I see a friend post about a death threat or something similarly crazy, and it reminds me that my readers are awesome. That’s you guys. You guys rule.
Through some combination of finishes and content, you can develop a fanbase and people will start recognizing you. This has some perks and some downsides, but mostly perks. It’s way easier to network if people know your work.
The big one for me is respect. I remember all-too-vividly what it’s like to be a no-name on some forum trying to have a real conversation.
Now, there are people who aren’t even fans, people who don’t like my decks or my personality, that still read my articles and are interested in what I have to say. I’ve heard Brad Nelson talk about the rush of impacting FNMs all over the world, and I know exactly what he means. I love facing my own technology in a tournament.
I was recognized at a regular old party the other day, which was surreal. It made me realize how lucky I was to not be a real celebrity, to be able to put on my invisibility cloak and walk among the muggles.
When I say “fan” I don’t mean the sort of obsessive fandom that can occur in nerd culture, but rather anyone that likes a player’s content or just enjoys watching them play.
Interacting with people from all over the world is my favorite part of my job. At events, I’ve had fans so nervous to meet me they asked a friend to get cards signed for them. On the flip side, I’ve also had fans treat me like their own personal…well, you get the idea. Neither extreme seems ideal, and here’s a quick list of Dos and Don’ts:
Do: Come up and say “hi.” We get people saying “big fan, good luck this weekend” all the time, and there’s no reason to be shy. We may or may not have time for an in-depth conversation, but it’s not like we’re going to treat you like some kind of leper.
Do: Ask specific questions/share results about a deck/article. I wouldn’t write about a topic if it didn’t interest me, and this is the type of thing I’m most excited to talk about.
Don’t: PM me asking to look at a deck. Just ship it. Replying “No, I don’t mind looking at your deck” and then waiting for the response all adds up, and I’d rather just look at a deck list.
People are just trying to be polite, but it’s similar to asking “Can I ask you a question?” Well you’re already on about it, just cut to the chase.
Don’t: Act entitled. We interact with fans because it’s fun and we remember what it’s like to be one (I still fanboy out all the time). Every once in a while we’re tired and don’t have the time or energy to talk, which some rare few take personal offense to. I imagine these are the same people who think the world owes them a bit more than the world actually does. Or perhaps they’re just having a bad day.
If you’re messaging us, there could be a lot of reasons a response gets dropped. Maybe we were in the middle of something, made a mental note to get back to you, and then got carried away and forgot. Maybe it got lost in our “other” folder.
Just remember that we’re humans too. If we have the time and energy to give, most of us will give it, but if we don’t it’s not a personal insult.
As for this article, I know this was a bit out of the ordinary. Never fear, I’ll have a good old fashioned deck list or two for you folks next week.