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How to Not Sound Like a Scrub
by Spike

I usually think up ideas for my columns well in advance of Tuesday night, when I sit down to write them. At least this week, I knew by Saturday or Sunday what I was going to subject my readers to come Wednesday. Imagine my surprise, then, when I cranked up Internet Explorer this morning and found that Scott had apparently anticipated my topic. The headline that greeted me, you see, was one bemoaning the fact that a writer at Star City had apparently slammed one of Pojo's reader-submitted strategy tips (and, by extension, the site of Pojo itself.) Scott didn't sound very happy, and I must admit I wouldn't be either.

Is it really that bad, though?

Well, yes and no. No, because most of the other bad articles that were getting trashed in that particular column came from other relatively well-established sites-- sites like Brainburst and Mindripper. Nobody really escaped the axe. But it's still bad because, as Scott said, the Magic community at large has yet to take great notice of Pojo. Hopefully this will change, but for whatever notice we get to be negative is highly undesirable at this point.

At least there's a bright spot somewhere in all this-- the bright spot being that some lucky person is going to get an Undermine. I hope it isn't me. You will never see me with those two colors together in a deck, unless I'm playing my multiplayer StrongholdWalls.dec or it's some form of Limited. I have pulled two Undermines so far and have been lucky enough to find good homes for both of them. I don't want them, but somebody's going to get one-- so get writing.

<editor's note:  Okay, for those who do not need an Undermine, I will expand it to any Invasion Block rare (some exceptions might apply, as the rare will come from my personal collection). -Scott>

Where does all this fit into what I was going to write about this week?

Well, let me make it clear what bothers me about this whole incident… because there's only one thing that bothers me. What bothers me is that submissions by readers are putting Pojo in a negative light. Perhaps this is to be expected-- after all, it appears that the standards for Single Cards and strategy articles are relatively lenient. Most of what we receive gets posted, I would wager. That's good, because it means that anyone can make their voice heard. It's also bad. If you want to know what makes it bad, flip through the two aforementioned sections of Pojo for a second. You might also want to spend some time in the deck reports.


What did you see?

I'll tell you what you saw. While there are beyond a doubt some very well-written articles and excellent ideas percolating through those forums, there is also a great deal of crap that probably should never have seen the light of day in a word processor, let alone taking up bandwidth on this website.

I am going to make references to specific postings here. I will not name names, but it will be obvious to anyone who cares to look it up who posted what. I am then going to slam those postings. I do not see anything wrong with this for two reasons: 1) Scott already highlighted the infamous Cavern Harpy article on the front page; 2) this is a public forum, and by submitting your ideas you are inviting others to comment on them. Commentary comes in a wide spectrum. When you produce substandard work, the resulting commentary often tends to fall in the negative area of the spectrum. If you're wondering what I call substandard work, take a look at some of these gems:

Nomadic Elf
1 G
Creature- Elf
1G: Add one mana of any color to your mana pool.
Set: Invasion C

In my area, people don't like this Elf. It's ability isn't that great. If
it was T: add one mana of any color to your mana pool. it would be good. 
But spending two mana for one is a bad exchange in my opinion. It has uses
like when you wanna play a Phyrexian Battleflies (this is just an example)
and you only have two green mana available. Otherwise..... this creature is
good. Its efficient, a 2/2 for two. That's a 4:2 P/T ratio. Other cards do
have better ratios though... Kird Ape: 5:1.... Phyrexian Dreadnought:
24:1..... Mogg Sentry: 6:1..... and others.....

* * *

Now if you want to really use a Armadillo Cloak put it on a Serra Avatar! Think about it, Evertime Serra Avater attacks you gain 22 Life and then Serra Avatar is a 44/44 Creature and if you have four on a Serra Avatar you gain 112 life and Serra Avatar becomes a 140/140 Creature. Now I'm no Expert but I havn't lost with this sort of deck for a long time, you need to throw in a few protection card just so you don't get hit with a Deadly Black card like Terror or a Blue Counter Spell. Too Bad Serra Avatar isn't Type two any more or I might have gone to a big finals tournament ;) 

* * *

anyway the power allows you to put a +1/+1 counter on Quirion Dryad whenever
you play a spell other than green. I men come on! This card can dominate the
board if your running a multicolor/ green deck!
I know from experiance. I was playing my friend and I put down Quirion
Dryad. It went on for a while play spell, place counter, and so on. The next
time I looked at the card it was a 9/9 creature! ( I play a blue, white,
green, red deck). I easily beat his Darigaaz the igniter and avatar of might.

This syndrome is one that I am (unfortunately) rather familiar with. It's called being a scrub.

Some will say "Yes, but we were all scrubs once." I know what you mean, and I even agree with you to that point-- but your terminology is flawed. Describing someone who has just started the game as a "scrub" is inaccurate. Such a player is, rather, a "newbie" or a "new player" or whatever you want to call him-- anything to indicate that his relative lack of skill is due to the fact that he has begun playing only a short while ago. The term "scrub", properly applied, refers to someone who has the resources and/or the experience necessary to become a player of at least passing skill, but for one reason or another falls short of the mark.

I mentioned resources. What is a resource?

If you're reading this right now, you're most likely using an Internet browser, unless a friend printed this article out and gave it to you or something. Regardless, you have some means of gaining access to the online Magic community. Couple such access with a reasonably sized library of cards-- Apprentice with a recent patch does wonders if your physical collection of cards is still small-- and that, my friend, is all the resource you need, at least for right now. Another essential resource is a place to play, but that usually is not a problem. If you have a place to buy cards, you probably have a place to play. If nothing else works, online play comes to the rescue once again.

Okay. If you've got an Internet connection and you've got the tools to work with, then, it seems like there should be no justification for producing the sort of questionable writing we see above. Right? Right. But that's in an idealistic world. In the real world, we have isolated pockets of Magic players who buy a few cards every now and then, play games against their friends with Highlander decks, arrive at conclusions based on said games ("Armadillo Cloak on Serra Avatar is good"), then dash to their computers, bang out strategy articles, and (apparently without reading any of the resource material available on the Net) ship them off to the editors of websites.

Let's assume for a moment that you're one of these scrubby players, happily writing an article to share your latest secret tech (Shriek of Dread). What are you hoping to gain from this? Well, first and foremost, you're probably hoping to see your name in print. This is what drives just about everybody at this stage of their involvement in the game, so don't bother denying it. At a certain level, you might also be happy that you've found what you consider to be an overlooked card or combo and eager to share it with the rest of us.

Here's what will really happen. The rest of us have already been over the set with a fine-tooth comb. While you might just have discovered the next Trix, or the next Rishadan Port, the odds are overwhelmingly against it. What's far more likely is that you'll either pick a good card and tell us what we already know, or you'll pick a bad card and try to explain how it combos with two or three other bad cards to produce a combo that might potentially win a casual game-- if your opponent isn't playing with blue sources, that is. As for seeing your name in print, you will be the only one glad of this. The rest of us will be either not caring or cursing your name. It's really a no-win situation.

Do you like being considered a scrub by the rest of the world? Chances are you don't. At least, you wouldn't if you knew about it.

I encounter scrubs all the time. On the Internet. At card shops. I came to Magic from Pokemon, which has more scrubs than you can shake a Charizard at. Again, I differentiate those who are new from those who are merely lazy. The Newbies will either start reading, learning, and practicing, eventually developing into Good Players, or they will start spewing out bad strategy articles and sending them to whatever site will publish them, thereby making their transformation into Scrubs.

The thing that's really sad is that nobody wants to be thought of as a Scrub. The people writing these articles are obviously not trying to drastically lower others' opinions of them. Quite the opposite, in fact: they're trying desperately to establish some sort of credibility. They just apparently haven't a real idea how to go about it.

Here, then, is Spike's Guide to Not Looking Like A Scrub. Being a player who approximately one year ago thought Scaled Wurm was a beating and who now writes a Magic column, I consider myself relatively qualified to give pointers on making the transformation to credibility.

Let's start with the points that we can take from the examples we've already seen. I'll provide more examples as I need them. Also, the early pointers will concentrate on Internet writing, seeing as we're already on that subject. Real Life is something I'll get to later.

The one that seems to me an obvious choice for first is:

1: Make sure that you're providing information that is relevant to the target audience of a Magic website such as this one.

This is critical. People want strategy, and strategy as such is largely related to the context of the format in which one is playing. Type 1, Type 1.x (Extended), and Type 2 are all very much different. You can write within the context of any one format or type of play, but spanning two or more of them tends to become difficult. And of course, here is another critical point: "This is what I use for casual play against my friends" probably doesn't cut it. While it is true that experienced players and established writers often discuss casual play, their situation is very much different and they can get away with a lot more than you can. As a beginner new to writing on the subject of Magic, this guideline provides a good barometer to help you determine whether your article is something that the rest of us might want to read. This doesn't mean you can play what you want-- but we're discussing the writing of articles for publication, remember?

2: Refrain from regurgitating the blatantly obvious.

"Armadillo Cloak is good." Was this any mystery to the rest of us? No. Is it good enough to be Constructed playable? Depends on your situation, but in any case the writer of this article didn't offer any huge insights to breaking the Cloak. And I think just about everybody has figured out that Cavern Harpy + Ravenous Rats = Combo, thank you very much. That doesn't mean that a good article can't discuss the use of Cloak in a G/W deck or talk about Harpy + Rats as a method for recurring hand destruction, but it does mean you have to work a little bit harder than that. Tell us something we didn't know before, please.

3: Avoid the opposite extreme; that of struggling to find a good card where none exists.

Take the article about Tidal Visionary as an example (again, my apologies if I offend anyone, but I feel it necessary to cite specific examples to substantiate my case.) I will say this about Tidal Visionary: It has the potential to be a severe beating in Limited. I have been wrecked by it. I would gladly take them if I were going blue for whatever reason. But like so many other Limited cards, you are only asking for trouble if you try to use it in Constructed. The person writing this article cites examples of combos and interactions that simply don't work well in tournament play (refer to rule #1 if you feel your mouth opening to protest that this person probably doesn't play in tournaments.) By the time you can apply either of them, the person across the table will almost certainly be beating you down or showing you a lock. 

These first three rules are the ones I have taken from an examination of the Single Cards section on Pojo. None of them are hard and fast-- you can write about pretty much anything, as long as you can back up whatever you say-- but as a beginner, they provide an excellent guide to keep you from looking like an idiot. I think we all agree that this is a laudable goal. Creativity is laudable as well, but it can (and will) come later. You are still learning.

4. Consider reporting on things that have actually happened-- for example, writing a tourney report, or describing the results of playtesting.

This is another way to avoid the pitfalls that await a beginning writer. Too often, I think, people write articles either not having actually tried the cards or strategies in question, or basing their statements on only a few games. Another problem is that of ambiguity-- you mention a card or cards, but don't tell us what the deck is supposed to look like or how to play the damn thing. Tidal Visionary is good, okay, and it combos with these cards, okay. So we know a few cards of this deck. But how many of each? How do you find those cards? How do you make sure that your opponent doesn't trample you into the ground while you're setting up, or simply tap Islands in response to anything you try to do? How do you kill? Tidal Visionary is not the greatest clock ever printed. Serendib Efreet? Morphling? Air Elemental? Millstone? You haven't told us these things. You've told us the deck has Tidal Visionaries, possibly Phyrexian Bloodstock, a few other cards mentioned in passing… You've told us nothing, really.

Reporting on your experiences avoids these problems to a great degree. It's customary to provide a decklist, so we get to see what the hell you're talking about. We get hard information on what you did against each of the decks you faced and what the results of the matchups were. In short, we have useful data. And it makes for a vastly more entertaining read.

5. Spelling, grammar and all those other things count. A lot.

Let me provide the decklist from an otherwise well-written tournament report by a player who seems to be quite good. I think you'll see what I mean.

3x nether spirit

4x countetspell
4x absorb
4x fact or fiction
4x ackumulated knowledge
2x probe
1x recall
2x millstone
4x wrath of god
3x dismantling blow
2x storycircle
1x dominate
1x teferis moat
1x tsabos web
1x misdirecion

4x coastal tower
4x adakar watses
7x plains
8x island

3x bliding angel
2x mageeta the lion
2x rout
2x cursed totum
1x teferis moat
2x millstone
2x disenchant
1x tsabos web

Now. No offense to anybody, of course. Even many well-known players have had their reports and articles bogged down by lack of attention to proper use of the English language. I'm not perfect in that regard, either, but I try. The operative word is "try." I am quite certain that some people are not even trying. Take the decklist above, for example. "Counterspell," "Accumulated Knowledge," "Adarkar Wastes"-- all these card names and more are misspelled. What do you think this tells people who read your article? It lowers their impression of you, I will tell you that much. You could be Jon Finkel for all I care, but if you misspelled "Counterspell" on your decklist, it will probably cause people to view you as a lousy writer, regardless of their opinion of you as a Magic player. What makes it bad is that there's no excuse for not being able to spell the names of these cards. If you absolutely could not hold the information in your head, you have only to take out the actual cards in your deck and consult them. When you still make such dramatic spelling errors, you can no longer attribute them to ignorance, but only to laziness. The message you are sending is that you do not care enough to do a good job on this deck report and you are only attempting to rush through it as quickly as possible. I can tell you that if this is the case, you might as well not bother-- such grievous spelling and language errors as were found throughout this report made it much less enjoyable to read than it otherwise would have been.

6. Don't be arrogant.

I have heard it put in these terms, and I can think of none better: Putting yourself on a pedastal is only inviting someone else to knock you down. As a player, I try to avoid being cocky. I try never to assume that a matchup in a tournament is an "easy" one for me, or to treat new ideas and strategies too lightly. While there are some cards that I feel reasonably confident in dismissing out of hand-- such as recently, when one gentleman attempted to convince me that both Crimson Hellkite and Plague Wind were playable-- I am always open to the possibility of being proven wrong. The bottom line is that being an arrogant, self-righteous jerk isn't likely to win you a lot of friends in the Magic community. Every one of us has something to learn from our peers and from those who are better than us. 

This last point begins to make the transition from cyberspace to Real Life, being more-or-less equally applicable on both sides of the border. The last one is almost exclusive to real-world relations with your fellow players, having almost nothing to do with the theme of Internet writing that we started this column with.

7. Be willing to keep learning, and don't give up.

My experience has been that most beginning players, having begun in a purely casual environment, reach a point in the game where they encounter organized play for the first time. There are many different reactions that they may have, but for my purposes I find I can divide them into four major groups. There are those who embrace the competitive spirit, and with it, tournament play. There are those who view organization as a good thing and enjoy testing their skill in tournaments, but do not have the same competitive drive. There are those who part from organized play on good terms, preferring to remain purely casual players but harboring no animosity towards tournaments. Lastly, there are those who have a negative attitude toward the tournament system. Often, these people criticize those who favor organization, making claims to the effect that tournaments and formats take the fun out of the game. Usually, such an attitude is only a blind for bitterness on the part of these people. Their bitterness springs from the blow to their ego that results when they encounter the world of Tier 1 decks. They used to think they were good, but now they know they're not, and dammit, if these good players hadn't come along with their newfangled decks, then their Island Fish Jasconius deck would still be mopping the floor with everyone else on Friday nights. 

This idea of being willing to learn and adapt loops right back to the very beginning of this article, in a way. To say that the tried-and-true decks are the only viable ones is just not true. There are actually a huge number of solid strategies (note: solid strategies, not Tier 1 strategies) that a new player can work around. But first, you've got to get around the whole "Armadillo Cloak on Serra Avatar" mentality. You're not going anywhere with that. Trust me. If, however, you stopped thinking for a moment about how cool it would be to have that Cloaked Avatar beating down your opponents, and realized just how hard that combination is to achieve against a good player with a good deck, you'd see the inherent flaws in your original plan and start thinking of ways to make a better plan. You might think of ways to help you get that expensive Avatar into play-- cards like Sneak Attack, for example, or Oath of Druids. When that happens, you've traded an unworkable idea for a workable one. 

Which is better? 

Which earns you more respect in the eyes of others?

It's pointless to say you don't care about what others think of you as long as you know you're right. While that is occasionally an excellent attitude to have, it is more often self-defeating… not to mention the fact that you threw away any such pretense when you decided to write an article for publication. You're here because you want to be noticed by others. Whether that notice is positive or negative is up to you.

I think these points will help you. Give them a try. You'll earn the respect of others, you'll become a better player… and you might just get a nice new Undermine in the mail.

-Spike (Former Newbie)