Innovations Extra - The Template
This is a vivid description and not just a few details with a punch line but genuinely invocative imagery that paints a picture. The picture doesn’t even have to be what the article is about it just has to be interesting. The memorable people in the scene the atmospheric sounds they hear the colorful things they see the sensations they feel these should add up to a story that is already taking place. The italics are optional but help to differentiate between the entertaining story you are hooking them in with and the educational material you are sharing with them come the body of your work.
This story doesn’t need any preamble you don’t need to work your way into it. Rather you just start right in the thick of things cutting to the chase. Your reader may not know where you are going with the story or they may have some idea; it is irrelevant. The important theme is that this introductory story is interesting. The scene is compelling. You only have a couple of paragraphs before the typical reader is going to start scanning for deck lists if they are bored.
A little blood-pumping adrenaline a little controversial intrigue… Give them something right away. Give them a little taste a nice little payoff to get them interested. Don’t drag it on too long in too many ways. Save the words and get to the hook the punch line the twist quickly even if what you have to say is important enough to restate. If you say the same thing three different ways you are probably being wordy rather than ironic.
Then write one sentence that ties the story into what you want to talk about today or brings people up to speed on what has happened since then or pretty much any non-committable transition point that can be ambiguously left hanging with a nice little dot dot dot…
Aside from switching back to non-italics there are several things you need to do at this point and in a hurry. First of all remind them that this is a Magic article. It is not enough to just invoke imagery of Shivan Dragons; you also need to suggest that by reading this article they are going to gain some valuable technology that will help them win at Magic more (and you will!).
If you are telling a story such as what it was like at the last tournament you were at make sure to reinforce that you have technology to offer as well as good times. It is all well and good to paint a picture by name dropping masters like Luis Scott-Vargas and Gabriel Nassif current stars like Charles Gindy and Sam Black or just an almost was like Cedric Phillips.
You can describe the walls sweating at the Discothque the babbling drunk girls wearing beads the obnoxious frat boys knocking chairs over the elevated cage the giant flat screen or even just the waterfall. A little description can go a long way but keep the focus on the people because I promise you no matter how pretty that fountain no matter how unbelievable the view no matter how awe-inspiring the sunset your readers will be far more interested in Evan Erwin ordering two steaks at a time or Tomoharu Saito’s favorite song on DDR.
See people are far more interesting than places or things. Take a picture of somewhere beautiful. Take a picture of famous artwork. Take a picture from your balcony or in front of a monument. Now try taking the same pictures with a person in it someone that whoever is looking at the picture knows. Suddenly the picture is far more interesting. In fact taking pictures of less beautiful less captivating places and things but with someone we know in them like Jon Finkel will still lead to more interesting pictures than Niagara Falls the Eiffel Tower or the Taj Mahal.
Don’t dwell too long on the bedtime story but rather set the stage and splice some Magic Lingo in after all Mise amirite? If you catch yourself drifting a bit bring the article back to center by going ahead and forcing a deck list into this spot.
Boring Aggro Deck
By Author’s Name
4 “Really Good One-Drop”
4 “Solid One-Drop”
2 “Borderline Playable One-Drop”
4 “Unbelievable Two-Drop”
4 “Techy Two-Drop that May Not be as Powerful but has Synergy or is Good in the Meta”
4 “Only Logical Three-Drop that You Would Really Play in This Deck”
3 “Four-Drop That Is Great in Your Deck and Should Probably be a Four-Of”
3 “Cheap Versatile Spell”
4 “Best Cheap Removal”
4 “Top Shelf Three-Drop that’s Versatile and Serves as Removal But Has Other Uses”
2 “Late Game Bombs”
22 “Lands That Are Actually Listed Not Just ‘22 Lands’”
4 “Combo Hate”
4 “Creature That Wins the Mirror”
4 “Anti-Artifact (Or Whatever The Linear Is That You Need Help Against”
2 “Strong Slightly Slow Cards for Tuning Deck”
1 “Miser’s Surprise”
This may not even be the deck you really want to talk about. It may not even be your real deck or interest but if you are listing three decks don’t start out with the main course. Of course if you are just talking about one deck in your article go ahead and list it here presumably the version you played in the tournament (saving the updated list for the bottom of the article).
If you are talking about just one deck then this is a generally where you talk a bit about the card choices. If this is an existing archetype you don’t need to explain why you are playing Tarmogoyf or Force of Will but rather save the commentary for the non-traditional or controversial choices like Ethersworn Canonist or Incendiary Command.
While we are on the topic if you are publishing a list that is already a mainstream deck in an established format that you darn well better have a 15 card sideboard listed. We get that you are probably like the 99.3% of people that don’t test sideboarded enough but that doesn’t mean you can just list 80% of the deck rather than the whole thing. If you have not done enough work on the sideboard use the best information you have so far to suggest a sideboard.
Sure your suggested list might not have the right number of cards for each match-up and so on but to suggest some ideas for the sideboard is still far better than to suggest no sideboard at all. If your deck is an experimental concept a wild brew that is just trying to get the conversation going you can be forgiven for not always having a sideboard listed just as if you are publishing multiple lists for a new format where the meta is unknown. Still as a general habit it is far better to list a mediocre sideboard than none at all.
So you talk about your deck here but to what degree depends on if you are talking about multiple decks or just the one. If you are focused one deck you are going to have to do better than just describe that “Sakura Tribe Elder is to fix your colors.” Don’t waste the reader’s time telling them you play cards because they do what they do. I mean if your list includes cards that haven’t come out yet then by all means then us in on the joke tell us what they do. However it just isn’t worth the space on the screen to say “Counterspell is good because it can stop almost any spell.”
If you are planning on brewing multiple decks or have a variety of areas to cover then feel free to pick an opportune moment to jump to the crazy deck that you want to talk about even if it is probably not that good.
Crazy Combo Deck
By Author’s Name
4 “Combo Part A”
4 “Combo Part B”
4 “Combo Part C or Do-Nothings Needed In Deck For The Combo”
4 “One-Mana Cantrip Library Manipulation”
4 “Really Good Tutor”
3 “Awkward But Not Embarrassing Tutor That Is Slightly Expensive”
4 “Cheap Interactive Cards that Buy Time Or Force Through Combo”
4 “Spells To Directly Force Through Combo The Turn You Go Off”
1 “Spell That Deals With Creatures”
1 “Spell That Deals With Non-Creature Permanents Typically Bounce”
4 “Good Fast Mana”
4 “Bad Fast Mana”
19 “Lands Designed To Cast The Tutors And Set Up The Turn You Go Off”
4 “Cards That Beat The Hoser Card That Always Beats You”
4 “Anti-Creature Cards Cause Honestly Sometimes You Need Them”
4 “Help Against Control”
1 “Silver Bullet For The Mirror”
1 “Something For The Miser In All Of Us”
1 “Back-Up Win Condition”
Now the tough part about a crazy combo deck is that you might only be off a few cards and your build could still suck hard. A deck like this can change in power a ton with just a few small tweaks. That is the problem building a deck like this anyway and the problem with writing about it is that no matter what idea you have somebody somewhere probably had a similar idea.
Since there are not really a lot of paper-based magazines on Magic the odds are you are writing online. Since you are online there will surely be someone who is furious that you stole their idea that they discussed one time on #mtgfivewayplaywhilewatchingballet on mIRC or perhaps in the forums of a discussion they had with someone on 4815162342.com that began as a discussion on LOST.
The point is no matter how crazy of an idea you have and no matter how bad it might be someone else is going to be mad that you stole “their” idea. All you can really do is love the haters. What would you accomplish by hating them?
Besides at the end of the day no one is really coming up with anything new besides Alan Comer. Let’s be serious.
So you listed your crazy deck the brew you are sorta hot for even though you know it is a bit wild? Go nuts tell us about your combos your clever synergies or why you are playing all of those cards at the same time. You know you really just want to talk about your baby so knock yourself. This is your shot. You started with a deck that is obviously at least decent and you are closing the article with a list that is actually your “A List” deck anyway. You can be forgiven for having a little fun in the middle. Get it out of your system and who knows? Maybe you will stumble on a winner.
If you are just talking about one deck that is cool but this is where you should talk about the various match-ups. What are some key cards key plays? What is your game plan and what should we know? Save Path for Sower? Choose to draw? Discard cards rather than be the first to act?
A sideboard guide is particularly helpful here but obviously the value is greatly diminished if you haven’t tested sideboarded much and are just speculating. Still a lot of people might not think it obvious to board out Lightning Bolt or might mistakenly sideboard out Broken Ambitions. A little advice on boarding can go a long way.
If you are discussed an established archetype a sideboarding guide against all the major players will be one of the more useful contributions you could make to readers who are contemplating a switch to whatever strategy you espouse.
When discussing your match-ups be realistic. Look buddy the truth is your deck doesn’t beat everything 90% with its only bad match-up being the 50-50. Saying such things only serves to hurt your credibility. No matter how good your match-up is it is usually not going to be 90% against anything. If you think your worst match-up is 50-50 you are probably confused.
I generally avoid using numbers to describe match-ups as it can fluctuate so much depending on pilots and specific builds and so on. Besides the different between 54% and 58% is just not that important and you probably didn’t actually test enough games to know that your deck is actually exactly 60-40. Finally two equally skilled PTQ-level pilots may find the match-up 60-40 one way and two equally skilled high level pros may find the match-up 60-40 the other way. Some decks and some match-ups are harder than others.
It is generally better to instead talk in terms of which match-up are harder and if you need to look for new technology to beat someone or if there is something in particular you should watch for or avoid. There is nothing wrong with saying Kithkin is a good match-up and Faeries is hard but be careful that the things you say are what you really mean and that you aren’t just saying what you wish was true.
For instance “Everyone beats Five-Color Control.” Just ask them lol. It is just like how everyone beat Faeries last year (well except Reveillark players who have been keeping it real since day one though I guess the story they tell is that they beat everything else…)
If you talking about multiple decks you should probably take this opportunity to explain what your second deck does since the truth is it is probably a little difficult to follow at first. Wait you are doing what? Why is that better than whatever it is that everyone already does?
Once you have explained to us how the second deck works you might want to take a moment for a laugh. This part is tricky since an awful lot of people are not that funny. There is hope though. Jokes usually aren’t that funny when told in joke format. These days the sure way to the funny bone of your reader is to describe something awkward. If you describe an awkward situation something comically uncomfortable then end the description with some safety valve something that make the story “okay.” Think of it as a “happily ever after.”
Another technique is to write part of a story that makes the situation seem bizarre and not include the rest of the explanation for why it was that way. Just make sure you don’t hurt people by making them look bad on account of a colorful version of events. When in doubt you can always crutch on self-deprecating humor. If you can’t laugh at yourself you need a better sense of humor. It is also useful to keep your target audience in mind when you write especially with regards to humor.
There is a time and place for me to tell a story about accidentally knocking over a hot girl at a nightclub just as there is a time and place to talk about Nate Clarke’s fifth deuce on the river (“the only good bad beat story in all of poker”) or a time to talk about bailing Kyle Sanchez out of jail. It all depends on your audience (and the medium you are writing through).
By the way if you can’t handle the hate mail from people who are offended by what you have to say then toughen up. You and I both know how wonderful that girl is and how much you want only the best for your friends and how you might have done the same thing if you were in his shoes but someone somewhere is going to read your article and take something the wrong way. Get over it.
Just come from a place of positive energy and say what you mean. You will be fine. It is a very good idea to not write when you are angry by the way. Generally when you are angry you will not be thinking clearly and may say things that you don’t mean. This is normally not that big a problem but when you write it in an article it becomes much more awkward as it is much more permanent. Remember we all love this game and are part of a community together. Let’s build each other up not tear each other down. This isn’t Oprah but the community is built up much more by positive energy than negative.
It is also a good idea to ask yourself when you write something you think may be controversial is this how you really feel? Are you still going to feel this way tomorrow? Next week? Next month? It is especially important to avoid hyperbole for this exact reason. You say that card X is awful and that no one will ever win with it? Could be awkward… You say that card Y is broken and that it is obviously the best? Could be awkward… You can always hedge your bets by saying something like “I feel like Time Sieve is the best card in the format right now.” No one can fault you for this as you are just being honest if that is how you feel. That is very different than saying it is the best card in the format.
If you are a long time writer with a regular readership you are often going to be able to get away with more in terms of straying from your forte but even so it is still good to return to what you are good at regularly. If you are just starting out as a writer then give the people what they want. Whatever you are best at or known for or an expert on or whatever well go back to that and often.
You may not want to talk about a particular deck or card because of an upcoming tournament but for most player’s that is really not that big an issue. If you are really in a situation where you feel that you need to not talk about something then do yourself a favor and be honest. If you are not going to say something fine but don’t lie. Don’t say that the fastest combo deck kills turn 3 if you are playing Hypergenesis. It just isn’t worth it.
First of all aside from the ethical issues of lying there is the purely utilitarian standpoint of “if you lie people won’t trust you.” No matter how much edge you think you gain by trying to convince people the format is slow it is almost surely nowhere near the lost EV from people not trusting you. Besides at the end of the day you surely overestimate your ability to impact your metagame.
There is nothing wrong with branching out but a little bit of your specialty in regular doses is particularly useful for building your brand and your readership. Want to write about a crazy deck? Write about three decks and stick the crazy deck between a fairly mainstream quality deck at the start and your specialty your trademark deck (updated) at the end.
Rough Draft Control Deck That’s A Few Key Changes Away From Greatness
By Author’s Name (Though Let’s Be Honest You Should Just Put “Wafo-Tapa”)
4 “Two Mana Counterspells”
4 “More Expensive Counterspell But Hopefully It Is a Hard Counter”
3 “Cheap Removal”
4 “Sweepers or Control Magics”
4 “Good Card Draw Spell”
4 “Library Manipulation You Gotta Find the Answers”
3 “Powerful Late Game Spell or Card Advantage Engine”
2 “Slightly Overpriced Versatile Removal That Deals With Non-Creature Permanents”
1 “Silver Bullet for Agro in General”
1 “Silver Bullet for Popular Combo Deck”
1 “Silver Bullet for Control Mirror”
1 “Dedicated Victory Condition”
1 “Alternative Road to Victory”
27 “Mana Mostly Non-Basics If Ramping Play More Than This Less if Cantripping”
4 “Of This”
2 “Of That”
2 “Hopefully These Numbers Are Well Thought Out”
2 “Everything Is Everything”
1 “To Thy Own Self Be True”
1 “I’m Addicted To Yes And Allergic To No”
1 “Focus On What Is Useful”
1 “Go On And Brush Your Shoulders Off”
1 “The Universe Is Just One Of Those Things That Happens From Time To Time”
The final deck may be what you really wanted to talk about all along (though you and I both know that it is just your best deck whereas the second deck was what you really wanted to spend time on).
In fact the final list you have included might be so synonymous with your name at least among your friends or readers that you might not have to say much about it. Just the “latest list” is valuable enough since this is presumably your area of expertise.
Even if you are not a well known writer there is surely some strategy that you are traditionally known for or best at. You don’t have to tell us much about your Faerie Kithkin Tron or Dredge deck if you don’t want to but if this is your primary area of knowledge a few words about your most recent list or an experimental version would be nice.
Why are you playing Broodmates instead of Baneslayers? Why are you playing only 3 Urza’s Mines? Why are you playing Elspeths instead of Ajanis? Why do you have no graveyard hate in the sideboard?
These are the types of questions that are going to occur to your reader about your primary deck. Don’t get me wrong if you want to give a full on primer for Faeries go for it but remember the standard your reader expects is going to different if you are breaking down the nuances of the Faeries deck versus if you are talking about Into The Breach.
When you are near the end of your article a quick recap is fine but don’t rewrite the article twice. Also go back and read your article and ask yourself if you actually shared things that are useful to the reader. Generally it is good to aim to have at least three truly useful tidbits for the reader minimum since not everything you say is going to be new to everyone or for everyone. Focus on what is useful not just what is going on with you.
Finally you can end your article with an amusing anecdote and a little info about what is going on next. This can be current events your next tournament or a plug for your brother’s band. Whatever you say keep it short and sweet then end your article either as if you were ending a conversation or with a statement that you want to emphasize.
(Though I recommend you replace these lines with your name)