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The Culture of Magic

The Culture of Magic – July 23, 2007 8:06 PM (edited 7/23/07 4:06 PM)
Airclair (1096 posts) Doesn't Play Well with Others
Rating: /images/autobot.gif + 1
Working on Magic and writing about Magic don't always complement each other. When I began, I wanted only to be a voice that let others be heard, to be a beacon for thinkers to congregate and theorists to ruminate on all aspects of this great game. Back then - years ago it seems - I knew most of the game's great players only through the coverage on the Wizards site. Now I can get a hold of them in their forums, and discuss Magic with them at any hour of the night or day. Magic is a wonderful game, but sometimes I wonder at its community, a place where the small become mighty, but the meek inherit not much of anything.

As one becomes better at this game, one gains confidence in its many aspects. I like to think of how far my understanding has come, how theory that once would dizzy my mind with its talk of curves and timings now seems rudimentary. Where once I hoped to bring others into the discussion, to find a way to translate the works of Zvi and EDT into readable chunks, now I feel I am expected to impart my own understanding. Certainly to look at how far I've come (the dubious honor of State Champion, a legitimate "Never Was" as Pat Sullivan so ironically put it) you could assume that I had gained knowledge useful to the entire community, if I was but willing to share it. But aye, there's the rub, how to talk about Fight Club with that pesky first rule floating around.

I am in a group now. It is a large, powerful group of the greatest minds that Magic has to offer (outside of the APAC region, that is). It has all the great names that you read on the coverage, and though I can put a face to the names now, I still am not one of them. I'm not sure if I ever will be, and I find myself taking on a role most memorably termed the "Red-Shirted Ensign" from Star Trek. As I'm sure most of you are aware (CCGs and Star Trek go hand in hand if my friends and I are any model), the Red-Shirted Ensign is the weekly addition to the crew. He pops up at the beginning of any episode, is assigned some small (but noticeable) measure of import by being invited on the Away Mission, and then once there, quickly dies as a means of showing what a truly dire situation the main characters are facing. I don't think that any of my new found teammates would throw me to the wolves, not at all, but I'm reminded of the feeling of dread one feels right as the Ensign dies and they cut to commercial with a main character facing certain death.

When I hang out with TOGIT on random weekends, whether I'm lucky enough to be invited to a play test session or just to hook up with this affable band of brothers at a local PTQ or far-away PT, it always feel like I belong. My relationship with them does have certain prerequisites of course. I couldn't hang out with them until I had achieved a level of success, but I've accepted that social aspect of Magic and I have no problems with it. Well all right, I have a problem with some offshoots of our merit-based culture, but that is a topic for another time. TOGIT however, is at first a group of friends and a group of competitors second, and when I join in with that group from time to time, I am accepted first as a competitor, and then as a friend.

The new group, however, has none of those things associated with it. There is no friendship as a whole, though there is much camaraderie, and what could have felt like a group of brothers instead feels like the Away Team. There are the main characters, the main characters of just the Episode, the subplot characters, and the expendables. In the end you have feelings of entitlement intermixed with constant jockeying for position, a me-for-them-for-me environment that ultimately breeds mistrust.

Outside pressures in the form of unbeatable juggernauts can forge partners into battle-hardened veterans capable of overcoming any odds. However at first, the initial response is not to regroup and reform, but to enlarge and establish defenses against the outside world. At first, we all seek to overwhelm danger and opposition with a force whose size is insurmountable even if its parts are ultimately fallible. Foreign policy was, in centuries past, often defined in similar ways. Bigger was always better, until finally an alliance would collapse under its own weight in a historical failure of policy.

I must admit I'm obviously abusing my position. An outsider allowed in is to feel gratitude, respect to his betters, and above all appreciation for his newfound status. I'm tempted to put little quotes around so many of the words I use here. Status you say? Does he truly believe in this stuff? I've always been the type to extrapolate larger meanings from their base beginnings, and Magic culture is no different from its highfalutin cousins. So yes, to answer the question, I think it is worth discussing these topics from time to time as a method of understanding Magic from one stage of growth to another.

As I said, I began my writing career with the justification that even though I had little to impart, I had much to say. Contradictory? Not really. You see, I felt I had much to say because I could say it in a way that others better versed in their own theories could not. Michael Flores is the exception not the rule, and if you've ever read (or tried to read) the Grand Unified Theory, you begin to understand what I mean. I felt I could translate some of these ideas down, to better impart their teachings (most of which were astonishing in their understanding of the game) to the general public. Now that I am beginning a different sort of journey, a journey that views theoretical understanding as a secondary and concrete results as the true objective, I find that I may be able to impart something different. So from time to time, you can listen to me wax on about topics such as Pro Level politics, the vagaries of the "Superteam" or why exactly the Japanese represent such a threat to the American Magic professional. Perhaps it is not exactly what you were hoping for when you clicked the link to the Magic Jerk's latest article, but it's what I've got for you.

Last week I struggled with how to translate what I was going through into an article. Here I am with an inside track into some of the greatest Magical minds in the world, and I am forced to stay silent, afraid of what they might think of my take on their clique. Make no mistake folks, Magic is a culture of cliques indeed, a gross High School gone wrong, with bank accounts for lockers and 35-year-old Wizards employees and website editors in place of teachers. The cool kids gather in corners and discuss secret strategies for domination, the uncool and unkempt are found gathering at 9am in the Library shunned by all except when forced, while the teachers batten down the door to the lounge and steal a little calm before school begins and discuss curricula.

I remember my best friend in High School, a guy by the name of Justin Wands, was the only person I knew who was able to flit from clique to clique, a social butterfly of the highest order, a chameleon able to match his personality to his surroundings. Around the cool kids he was the pot smoking, apathetic misanthrope, around the theater crowd he was the talented, pot smoking, misanthrope, and around us (the nerds) he was the quiet, slightly depressed, straight-edged misanthrope. Okay, so maybe it wasn't that hard to be a social chameleon back in high school, but hey, it was all about what others thought of you, not what you thought of yourself. Being accepted was the very virtue you sought in yourself, as others have said much more eloquently than I, the reward became its own virtue. Magic is the same way.

Success is its own reward. Each victory opens doors to new levels of the culture, until finally you find a limiting factor, or run out of the success necessary to continue your journey. A year ago I could never imagine that I would be sitting in a virtual room with some of the greatest minds of this Magical generation, and yet as I write this article e-mails stream into my Inbox written by some of those very individuals. I mention this not to increase my street cred or establish myself in your eyes but to conclude my point. I'm nobody in the Magic world, an expendable ensign of the basest rank who has no right to his position.

Which is how I've realized ... none of these guys do either.

Until next time,

Michael L. Clair
The Magic Jerk

Re: The Culture of Magic – July 25, 2007 6:38 PM (edited 7/25/07 2:38 PM)
Cyris (240 posts) Tapped Out
Rating: Not Rated
Just as a side, I've always hated Justin Wands. He always came off as a slimy poser/lier to me, and I've never understood what anyone saw in him. I have come to learn that people like that need to be smiled at and treated well though, cause they usually end up successful, and it's better to make them think you bought into their song and dance.

Heh heh, nice article though.

(comment deleted) – August 30, 2007 9:18 PM (edited 8/30/07 5:18 PM)
Talraen (2373 posts) Doesn't Play with Others
Rating: Not Rated
This comment was deleted by Talraen at 08/30/07 05:19 PM.

Re: The Culture of Magic – August 30, 2007 9:20 PM (edited 8/30/07 5:20 PM)
Airclair (1096 posts) Doesn't Play Well with Others
Rating: Not Rated
?? what was that dowd?

Re: The Culture of Magic – August 30, 2007 9:21 PM (edited 8/30/07 5:21 PM)
Talraen (2373 posts) Doesn't Play with Others
Rating: Not Rated
I was testing buttons and how I handle javascript (got tired of the href="#" crap), and I replied to a random post... my first test was a failure Wink

(signature removed)

Re: The Culture of Magic – August 30, 2007 9:24 PM (edited 8/30/07 5:24 PM)
Airclair (1096 posts) Doesn't Play Well with Others
Rating: Not Rated

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