Time really does fly when you're having fun. This will be the last article I write for StarCityGames.com. While that won't mean any change in my dedication to Magic, it does mean that one chapter of my career is drawing to a close.
When I sat down at my desk a few moments ago, I had my cup of coffee, a notebook full of dubious insights about Standard U/W Control, and a much different article in mind. I intended to play the part of the hardened professional, finishing my job in the same way I've always done it. However, instead I find myself overcome by nostalgia, which I've always found to be our most powerful emotion.
The truth is that StarCityGames.com has given me a lot and the surrounding community has given me even more. Without all of you, I would not be the person that I am today. So I've closed my notebook and put U/W Control on the shelf for the time being. Instead, this will be a reflection on my three years with this website. Please consider it my long-winded way of saying thank you.
You know that expression "you have to start somewhere?" Do you know that horrible, heinous expression?
"But I'm no good at this . . . "
"Well, you have to start somewhere!"
I was a full-time resident of somewhere for the first fifteen years of my Magic career. Writing was not much better.
I wrote my first article between my first and second Pro Tours. Trust me when I say that it wasn't my PT performance that got me the job.
My oldest friend that I know through Magic is New York native Ben Hayes. In the fall of 2010, Ben was an occasional writer for StarCityGames.com, and I was a struggling Magic Online grinder. My friend put in a few good words for me with his higher ups, and I was invited to write a trial article for the Select side of the website.
Feeling that I didn't have very many special things to say, I decided that I'd write a primer on the deck I was working on at the time: Standard Valakut Ramp. I toiled away at a wage that amounted to about two dollars an hour, partly because of the—relatively speaking—low pay rate I'd been offered but mostly because of the hours upon hours I piled into the project to make sure everything was perfect, just the way I wanted it.
And I couldn't have been happier! Writing—and in fact making any tiny impression on the Magic community at all—had been a dream of mine for as long as I could remember. I'd have paid for the opportunity. I really put all I had into that first article.
My reward was a few words of encouragement from my very close friends and a bare minimum of interest in the SCG forums. However, imagine my excitement on the day I showed up for the next Pro Tour in Chiba, Japan when I met a stranger who'd read my article!
"Was it a joke?" he asked me.
Seeing the puzzled expression on my face, he clarified his question.
Well, the decklist and strategy content in that article were so awful that surely I'd written it with the intention of hurting my opponents and throwing them off the trail of a proper Valakut decklist.
For the sake of the story, I should clarify that I had not tried to create a poisonously bad article with the intention of making my readers worse at Magic.
As you might imagine, there were a handful of aspects of this question that might've bothered the young writer that I was at the time.
Finding My Niche
Contrary to one individual's opinion, it seemed that those who make the decisions liked my first couple of articles, and I was invited to join the website on a permanent basis (naturally, only as a side attraction that was not to detract from the Patrick Chapins and Brian Kiblers of the Premium side).
However, that left me with the question that would become such an important part of my life for the next three years: what should I be writing about?
Even during my humble beginnings, I had a certain amount of hubris, and I refused to be second best at anything. I didn't want to simply be covering the hot topics of the week and take a backseat to the more popular writers. I wanted people to want to hear from me—to need to hear from me, even if it was only for something obscure or relatively unimportant.
If my opinions didn't hold a tremendous amount of value, perhaps people would still listen to numbers. My column became an analysis of the previous week's Magic Online results, with the goal of keeping close tabs on changes in the metagame.
These articles were not tremendously popular, although I did begin to have a small following. I also found that my weekly research while time consuming was quite helpful to me personally as a player.
What I best remember from this period are the inevitable weekly battles in the forums against academic statisticians who took umbrage at my methods. To the best of my knowledge, these people might not have even been Magic players! Like a pack of wolves honing in on an injured forest creature, the statistics people would sink their teeth into any minor thing that they might possibly find objectionable. This was too much trouble for a guy who just wanted to talk about Magic.
One day a friend told me that I'd been mentioned in one of the more prestigious Magic-related blogs in a post discussing the prominent writers of the time. Unfortunately, I can no longer find the link to this particular post, but I remember reading through quite a lot of material before I finally found my name at the bottom of the page. It was in a list of "worst Magic writers."
I allowed myself to experience a few moments of sting and self-pity, but there was a small bit of encouragement to be found as well. I read further to find an explanation along the lines of:
Reid Duke is a writer that shows promise but has yet to find his niche.
Writing became both easier and more rewarding once I began to have some success in the deckbuilding arena. I first won a PTQ with a homebrewed Bant deck in Extended (Modern did not yet exist at the time). Next I reached the Top 4 of a Legacy Grand Prix with Natural Order RUG, one of my all-time favorite decks. I simultaneously gained both credibility and—even more importantly—decks that I could write about better than anybody else out there.
I think of these two decks along with a couple of others as the first building blocks in my professional career. They began a love affair with midrange green creature decks that's lasted to this day. They're the reason that decks like Jund have become such a big part of my identity as a player and indeed my value as a columnist. Yup, it all started way back then with my playset of Noble Hierarchs.
By the end of 2011, things really started to happen for ol' Reiderrabbit. My content was bumped up to the Premium side; I became the Magic Online Champion; I achieved status in the Pro Player's Club; I joined one of the most successful teams in modern Magic; and finally, I won Grand Prix Nashville in Innistrad/Dark Ascension Limited. Whether you view these things as a chain of cause and effect or simply as a series of independent fortunate coincidences, my life changed quite dramatically in a period of six months.
Remember that this article is meant as a thank you. It's a thank you to all of the people who have read, supported, helped, and believed in me for the past three years. When I was first starting out, this group was substantially smaller; today my gratitude goes out more or less to the entire Magic tournament community!
It was StarCityGames.com that helped me reach out to a wide audience. It was all of you as readers that made my job successful by posting in the comments, spreading my influence by word of mouth, and simply by clicking on my articles every once in a while.
Writing can often be a frustrating and taxing job—you may have gathered as much from those couple of anecdotes from my novice days. Nonetheless, there have been a handful of moments that made me glad that I held fast through all of the challenges.
One came when I traveled to Seattle for Pro Tour Return to Ravnica and had the opportunity to meet one of my long-time heroes, Japanese Hall of Famer Kenji Tsumura. Kenji and I were paired up for the first round of day 2, and I told him what a big fan I am. Imagine my surprise when he told me that he too is familiar with my writing. One of my articles had been translated on a Japanese website, and Kenji said that he enjoyed it. What a surreal experience to learn that a player so far removed from myself—both geographically and temporally—had been reached by my writing!
The second came much more recently with what I feel to be my single most well-received article. Between the many kind words in the comments section and the compliments paid to me by complete strangers in the weeks following, in the wake of this article I really felt that my three years with SCG had counted for something.
The cherry on top of it all was a citation in Blake Rasmussen's "Year End Rewards" piece. He named "Thoughtseize You" as his 2013 article of the year and had these words of encouragement to add:
"There's little doubt that this year was Reid Duke's coming-out party as a strategy writer and Magic content producer."
True or no, it meant a lot to me.
The Past & The Future
If 2013 was my coming-out party, then I have 2011 and 2012 to thank for it. I can look back on the whole of my time with StarCityGames.com as a tremendously positive experience. I had the opportunity to meet a lot of great people and to become even closer to the game and community that I love so much. I can't say whether I was able to make any difference in the lives of my readers, but I know for sure that my readers made a difference in mine. I wouldn't be who I am today if not for my time with this website.
So thanks again to my readers and to everyone else who made it possible. Though I'll no longer be writing for StarCityGames.com, I'll still be very much around. As always, please feel free to contact me on Twitter or to come say hello in person at your next tournament. You're welcome to ask me anything about my time with SCG—I promise I won't forget it!