Flow of Ideas - How to Become Famous
….Well famous in the Magic world at least.
Week in and week out the number one question I'm asked is “I'm an average PTQ player with no contacts and nobody to test with. How can I get to know people and network better?”
If you're one of the people asking that question you've clicked on the right article.
After my article on breakups and metagame choices got linked around a lot it seemed as though an entirely new readership was barraging me with the same question. Suddenly my average of one or two requests swelled to twenty or thirty. I'm all about writing what you guys want to know — and I have to say for such an important topic this certainly seems like one that's underdiscussed.
I was absolutely that guy once too. No not that guy the one who always does that one social thing you hate — but rather the one in the same position as many of you. No contacts no real breakthrough performances and no idea about where to go next in Magic. And somehow from there I ended up here.
You basically have two options if you're going to network. You can either fast track yourself by making 8 of a Pro Tour or Grand Prix (recommended) or slowly and surely work your way ahead. If you've done the first already great job. You have a name some people will recognize and working with the upper echelons shouldn't be too difficult if you try. But if you haven't then you're going to want to read on. No two experiences are the same but this is the general process you should aim for.
So here you are. You're a player of average to above-average skill level. Maybe you have a PTQ top 8 or two under your belt maybe you're relatively fresh. Whatever the case the two most important things you can do are these: play more Magic and find people better than you to play Magic with.
The first of those two is hopefully self-explanatory. In case it isn't clear playing more Magic will make you a better player simply by way of becoming used to card interactions intuition about the format and — assuming you have some sense of humility — understanding what mistakes you made.
Figuring out where you messed up is one of the most important things you can do after a match win or lose. A favorite tip I like to give Magic Online players is to watch your replays after a match to figure out what you did wrong. You can see how the game progressed from each decision tree and understand what each block or each play led to. If you lost you can almost always find the reason why you lost and alter your future play accordingly.
Is purely playing Magic enough? Well it certainly doesn't hurt. Charles DuPont – Aceman022 on Magic Online as he's known better – is a player who firmly believes that the best way to “playtest” is to play a lot of Magic.
When preparing for a major tournament Charles doesn't spend weeks deciphering the format. He'd much rather sit in Tempest Block Draft queues on Magic Online and go play grab bag drafts at the local store to hone his overall playing skills. Some people laugh at Charles for his unique take on playtesting – but a top 4 at Grand Prix: Seattle and a top 40 finish at Pro Tour: Austin with virtually no playtesting and a last-minute deck choice would lend some credence to this theory.
Part of the reason I feel Charles found success with his theory though is because of his opposition. He wasn't simply going to a random FNM every week – he was playing against the tough opposition found on Magic Online.
That brings us to the networking half of the equation: finding people better than you to play Magic with.
One great way to do this is Magic Online. I can honestly not stress the product enough. Every single person I have recommended playing Magic Online to who has wholeheartedly taken my advice has found their skill level increasing. If you consistently do well on Magic Online people will begin to recognize your username which can lead to building a network.
However while excellent for getting better at the game Magic Online actually isn't that great of a networking tool. It's more of a replacement for a playtesting group; you can use it to get better so you'll perform at a higher level in major tournaments which in turn will build you a network. A lot of the old camaraderie you could build on Magic Online by way of clans and specific chat rooms is harder to come by these days. As opposed to real life when you can talk to people between rounds messaging people on Magic Online is a lot more anonymous and you risk bothering people while they're trying to play.
That finally brings us to real-life local-level networking.
Working Your Way in
The first thing you have to realize is that for better or worse Magic is a game that fosters cliques. Players like hanging out with the people they know testing with the players they like being around and are less likely to seek out people who aren't in their circle between rounds. They (usually) aren't as vicious as what you might remember from high school but cliques are still a product of the environment that you have to be able to deal with.
As a result you have to slowly work your way in. You can't just try and strong-arm them by running up and asking for an invite to their next playtesting session. After all what reason do they have to playtest with someone they don't know? You have to grab their attention first.
The most important thing to do is attend every tournament you can. The idea is pretty simple: the more people see you and play against you the more people will recognize you. It doesn't even really matter if you're a good player. As long as you pass muster as merely “okay” people are going to recognize your face. From this point you can work into the circles of better players in a number of ways.
Way number one is simply talking to them. Here's a little talked about piece of information: most great Magic players are actually just nice people too.
Yeah I've heard stories about particular players disparaging people who come up to them and want to talk but for the most part these stories seem fairly unsubstantiated. You don't want to siphon away their time – they have people they're trying to seek out too – but checking in every round listening to their stories and trying to be a part of their tournament experience can go a long way. I've made a lot of friends in the Magic community simply by talking with them every now and then.
Some of you might not be outgoing enough to just go up and talk to somebody. Other times it's just hard to find an opening. Fortunately Magic has a way of forcing you to talk: being paired.
If you have the fortune of being paired against someone who has an “in” in the community that's a great chance to get to talk to them and get them to know you. You even have the freebie of asking them how they did every round after that. And once again the more tournaments you go to the more likely this will occur.
If you end up in the good graces of one player in a circle of better players then you can kind of start poking your head into their discussions without seeming out of place. From there it's only a matter of time until you start working your way into their group. Now you should be in a network of people with cards you can borrow people who want to playtest and players you can learn from. Congratulations!
One final word of caution: your reputation is everything. If you are an unfun player to play against harass other players have any kind of history of shadiness and so on that information will spread quickly. People will know who you are – but not for the reasons you want. That could hinder you in the long term.
It used to be that local networking was everything but we live in a different world now. Local networking is small game compared to what networking on the worldwide scale can do for you. Not only can it put you in touch with the best players in the world but it can escalate you to another level by becoming a name that people recognize across the Magic-playing circuit.
This might sound difficult or grandiose. Fortunately for you it's actually easier than ever to reach these goals if you just try.
Let me list off four names you might recognize:
All of these people have something in common. Have they all made top 8 of a Pro Tour? Unfortunately not. Have they broken multiple formats? Nope. What all of these players share is they rose through the ranks from scratch to write for StarCityGames.com from essentially scratch.
If I had shown this list to you a year ago how many of these people would you have known existed? In very little time using just the tools that were at their disposal these awesome individuals decided to put in a little extra effort – and it paid off.
You could be next.
So how did they do it? Well there are multiple things they did right.
First of all they used the power of social media. Facebook is a clear one but the real winner here is another outlet:
A couple years ago I might have even told you forums were the way to go if you wanted to build a name. However the world has changed. Signing up for a Twitter is the number one thing I feel you can do to make a name for yourself currently.
Why? Because it actively creates the same kind of situations you used to your favor at tournaments during local networking – except those situations occur over and over every day.
People get to know who you are through sheer repetition of talking with you. If you send a tweet at Gerry Thompson or Patrick Chapin they're probably going to send one back and they're definitely going to see it. Not only is this very cool and useful for improving yourself but it shows other people who you are.
My favorite example of this is Jonathan Richmond.
Who's Jonathan Richmond you may ask? Why Norbert88 of course!
Who's Norbert88? Just some dude. He doesn't write anywhere he doesn't have a blog he isn't a professional player. However he just so happens to be “some dude” who a vast majority of Magic players on Twitter have talked to or heard of at some point. Why? Because he's active!
With over 13000 tweets Jonathan talks to everyone. He follows popular Magic figures is active in their discussions and has even amassed a healthy 400+ followers simply from talking to people.
If Jonathan wants advice he can ask the best minds in the game. There's no reason why you can't do the same.
Another great example: Justin Treadway a.k.a. GriffnValentine. Granted he's an artistic master of Magic spinoffs who has his own blog (which certainly gives him an angle) — but even then he's someone who has really taken advantage of Twitter.
I know there's a stigma around Twitter. A lot of people feel it's stupid. A lot of people feel it's just for people who would climb to mountaintops and shout “HEY LOOK AT ME SEE HOW AWESOME I AM?” to everyone below. However regardless of your feelings you're really missing out on a great opportunity to network if you don't use Twitter. It costs absolutely nothing but a little bit of time to use and the upside is tremendous. Plus some really interesting discussions go on there that you won't ever see if you don't have an account.
If you're intimidated by Twitter and don't know where to start check out Dan Barrett's awesome Twitter primer .
Of course not only does Twitter give you a way to talk to people but it gives you away to promote your own endeavors too.
Those four names from earlier – Sam Thea Lauren and Jonathan – all have another thing in common: they all started from blogs.
There are so many Magic blogs out there that you need a good reason to push any one over another. Without a major name like say Mike Flores attached to your blog it's going to be a hard sell. Being able to connect with an audience – over say Twitter or forums – and create a platform for yourself gives people a reason to go read what you have to say.
I'm sure you guys all know of Tom LaPille now a staple of Magic R&D. It wasn't that long ago that he too was just some PTQ grinder without a name for himself. Then he created a blog found ways to promote it and make people care and suddenly found him with tons of visitors to his site and a column on StarCityGames.com not long after.
In some sense he was one of the trailblazers for people like Sam Thea Lauren and Jonathan. However Tom didn't have the power of Twitter aiding him like the new wave of writers has. He had to advertise his blog the hard way where Twitter gave this generation of writers a much more accessible platform.
If blogging isn't your thing there are tons of sites out there that are looking for up-and-coming writers. Many StarCityGames.com writers formerly wrote somewhere else to build up their craft and then once they were established were able to find a spot here at StarCityGames.com. It gives you a platform without having to push your blog so hard and it's definitely an avenue worth keeping in mind. Similarly podcasts can serve the same purpose.
I recognize not all of you want to be writers – you just want to be shipped tech. Fortunately there is one last thing you can do that plays into that perfectly.
If you can afford to do so I highly recommend travelling to major events. You don't need to be as extreme as going outside of the country but attending domestic Grand Prix is a great way to meet people that can be crucial in networking you further.
Sure obviously doing well at a Grand Prix is great — but even if you do poorly there's a lot to be gained. When you fly out to a Grand Prix and people see you there it builds the same kind of image as when you were local networking and people saw you at PTQs. You can socialize with people meet some of the best players and become someone people know. (And ask to borrow cards from.) You'll be invited to dinners with people and broaden your circle even further.
I know not everybody can do it but if you can afford to it's definitely worth it. I know I've certainly gained a lot from flying out to Grand Prix and even Pro Tours I'm not qualified for because of the people I meet not to mention the fun times I have. It's certainly something for you to consider. All of the same strategies as local networking applies while at major events so you can just transpose all my advice from those events onto the larger circuit.
Show up to events be active on Twitter and people are going to know who you are enough to trust that sharing their information with you is worthwhile. If you have the inclination to write it's a big help – but I recognize it isn't for everybody.
It's a phenomenal world where an entire age of Magic players can all communicate and recognize each other. With some effort and a little bit of luck you could easily be the next person writing for StarCityGames.com or being shipped a sweet deck by Gerry the night before the event. If you want to network with the best go out there and pave your own path – it's all yours to make happen.
If you have any questions let me know and I'd be happy to help however I can! This is a topic I get asked a lot and I tried to cover all of the areas people typically want to know about but I'd be happy to field any of your thoughts in the forums on Twitter @ GavinVerhey or via e-mail at Gavintriesagain at gmail dot com.
I'll be in Denver this weekend. If you're there feel free to do a little bit of networking and come up and say hi! I'd be happy to talk with you. Otherwise I'll see you next week!