Favorite Color (or Color Combo)?
Magic writer, commentator, coach, player. I write for SCG and Tolarian Community College, do casting for SCG, coach people over the internet, and grind
None, as far as I’m aware.
Most Notable Achievement (MTG related)
Winning the PAX Magic championship earlier this year is probably the biggest thing I’ve won, but that’s complicated. Landing my casting gig with SCG is probably the thing I’m the most proud of.
Tim: Emma! Thank you so much for joining me for a chat! I’m a big fan, and am excited “sit down” with you and talk Magic! You are more accomplished than a lot of magic players, as both a writer and expert commentator for StarCityGames, as well as pro tour competitor and SCG tour regular! You have come a long way, but where did it start? How did you get into magic? Take us back!
Emma: The first time I ever played Magic was with my childhood friend, Randy. We first met playing Yu-Gi-Oh! at Books-a-Million in the late 90s/early 2000s. One day he brought home a 7th edition starter set, and it taught us how to play.
Tim: 7th edition was the first set I ever laid my hands on as well! I remember my friend having a foil thorn elemental, and thinking it was OP! At what point did MTG progress from being a thing you did for fun with friends to being a competitive outlet, and in fact, your career?
Emma: That’s complicated, and happened in a lot of steps, actually.
So, I played casually from about 2003 to 2010. In Summer of 2010 I graduated high school, and I started trying to live as a “proper adult.” This meant cutting out expensive hobbies and the like, and even if I didn’t really have the money to spend a ton on Magic as a kid, I recognized that I didn’t really get much out of it, financially. When Scars of Mirrodin came out, I didn’t like the set very much, so I left.
More specifically, I left for Yu-Gi-Oh!
I spent awhile grinding Yu-Gi-Oh!, learning competitive TCG heuristics, and how to profitably trade/shark. Then, a little before New Phyrexia rolled around, the same Randy that got me into Yu-Gi-Oh! convinced me to start hanging out with some Magic people again. At that point, I met my best friend, Jake Humphries, who got me back into Magic with his own cards. Jake and I still more or less pool cards to this day.
In late 2015 I saw that all of the SCG Tour stops in the first season of 2016 were going to be within about 8 hours’ driving distance from where we lived at the time in North Carolina, and wanted to give it a go. I ended up going to all but two of SCG’s events in 2016. That year, I got my first writing gig with GatheringMagic.com, then moved to Starcitygames.com, where I’ve written ever since.
In 2017, I started getting asked about coaching online. Tolarian Community College started paying me for consultation work on his Tolarian Tutor series. I started making enough money to live off of via Magic. After leaving my “normal” job at a card store in February of that year, it ended up making more sense to just leave me side gig, waiting tables on weeknights, and committing full-time to the Pro Magic lifestyle.
I was an in-house buyer at SCG for most of 2018 for personal reasons, but couldn’t resist the allure of what I do now.
Tim: Wow, that’s an awesome story! So now that you are in a position where Magic is your job, how has your perspective on the game changed, and how do you stay excited about magic? Or do you love the game so much that it just doesn’t matter?
Emma: My perspective has changed in that less matters, I guess. I know it sounds silly, but, at the risk of sounding like some grizzled old hack with a chip on her shoulder, I’ve been in the game and seen enough that I figure I’m always going to end up continuing to play the game. Most of us, that end up as deep in Magic’s fandom as we have, are going to continue playing. This shifts my approach to a lot of conversations and happenstances within the game, because rather than thinking “The game I loved is gone,” or “I can’t enjoy Magic the same way because <card I like> got banned!” I am pretty quick to accept changes and just move on with things that are more actionable.
I think that I’m this deep in Magic because I’m still excited about it. The job gets harder when I’m not, but Wizards of the Coast has made it easy for me to stay excited about it lately. Not to be too ugly, but I wouldn’t be putting in an effective 70-80 hours/week towards what is my job if I weren’t stoked to get to do it.
Tim: Do you think that this perspective on accepting change in magic has carried over to your life outside of magic as well?
Emma: For the most part. There’s someone I look up to quite a bit that once said something to the effect of “There are two kinds of problems: Problems, and Real Problems.” And it’s stuck with me ever since.
Tim: Wow, that actually really resonates with me.
Emma: My friend Danny is a good man.
Tim: So as far as the Real Problems go, what kind of real problems have you had to face in the MTG community, as a player, content producer, etc?
and also, how have you overcome them?
Emma: I’ve gotten a lot of death threats, threats of assault (with ranging levels of credibility), and have been assaulted at an event.
To be a bit depressing, the only real thing I did to overcome them was to become calloused and used to the idea of receiving that kind of thing on the norm, when existing in the online spaces that I do.
Tim: So this is an extremely hard thing for anyone to deal with. Did you ever feel like you were in a place where you wanted to quit magic or stop going to events because of these things happening to you?
Emma: Yeah, I’ve wanted to quite a few times, but there didn’t seem to be much sense in it, honestly. Magic is the place that I felt the most included, in spite of these things, and I didnt really know where else I’d go.
Most of my friends and support networks were through people I met in Magic, so leaving the game felt like it would either be
1. A death sentence for a lot of those relationships
2. A temporary fix to a larger problem
Tim: The larger problem: how do we solve this? Obviously it won’t happen over night, but what steps can we all take to make Magic a safe space for everyone?
Emma: I think most of them are more societal than they are Magic-specific at this point. There isn’t anything about playing with Magic cards that makes you treat people poorly. It generally starts other places. It’s why I’ve tried to use my platform to do some work on the activism front.
Tim: Which I think is awesome! Before we shift gears to more magic related stuff, do you have anything that you want to say to people who are victims of assault or are affected by discrimination or violence in the community?
Emma: Basically that they aren’t alone. It sucks that they aren’t, but I dunno. Unfortunately, for some people, it’s just part of life. None of it is likely permanent, but if you think the game is a net-negative for you, don’t be afraid to walk away.
Tim: circling back to Magic the card game: as an accomplished player and content producer, what’s on the horizon for you? Are there any goals that you are setting for yourself? How are you working on accomplishing them?
Emma: That’s tough. I’m honestly just trying to enjoy what I have going for me right now. I was trying to qualify for Mythic Championship Richmond, and after a bunch of really close misses I’m down to basically hoping to spike a last chance qualifier to get in.
So I don’t know, it’s kind of tough.
Tim: On that topic, how do you feel about the new system? Do you think that it will be an improvement on the existing one? Do you think that the grind will be less frustrating and more rewarding for players that are trying to make it the PT/MC?
Emma: I imagine that it will be better for a lot of people, and worse for a handful of people who wanna chain stuff.
There are gonna be fewer people that are Gold/Platinum/etc adjacent than we were used to with the pre-MPL systems, but there are going to be roughly 3x the people playing PTs each year. So you’ll have more people in them, which translates to more people being happy, but fewer familiar faces at each of them.
Tim: Shifting gears a bit again: Throne of Eldraine! how do you evaluate the new cards, and start to put them into place? Walk us through a bit of your process when you are jumping into a new format/set?
Emma: Generally speaking the first thing that I try to consider is what I think the cards with the highest raw power levels are, like Fires of Invention of Dance of the Manse. That gives you an idea of what the most abusable engines in a format are going to be. Then, look at the cards that have the best rate, relative to their effects (Oko, for example) are going to help give you the best idea of what context your deck has to exist within.
Tim: As far as the individual cards are concerned, do you have any sleeper picks in Eldraine that people aren’t really talking about right now?
Emma: Not off the top of my head. I think there are some cards that are going to end up getting better when stuff like Teferi rotates, but honestly the format is so wide open at the moment that it feels like everything is being utilized somewhere.
Tim: Which is an awesome feeling in my opinion. As we come close to wrapping things up a bit is there any advice you would give to players who are looking to go on the grind for the first time and start qualifying for PTs and MCs?
Emma: Keep it a hobby, and when it isn’t fun, stop doing it. Magic is meant to be an enjoyable thing. Don’t go to PTQs or whatever because you feel obligated. You could spend that $50 on something else you enjoy, or just save it and have a relaxing weekend at home. Make sure that you’re spending your Magic time doing something you love
Tim: #truth. Last but not least, is there anything that people should know about you? Are there any plugs you want to make? You could even go on a rant about an unrelated topic if you wanted. The floor is yours.
Emma: I’ve been streaming off and on, at twitch.tv/Em_TeeGee. I’m not the most reliable person in terms of scheduling, to be honest, BUT we have a good crowd, and it’s generally a pretty good time, with good tunes as well.
Other than that, I think that mostly covers it. Most other stuff is kind of already out there at this point. I appreciate you having me on and everything.
Tim: It was absolutely my pleasure! Thanks for answering all my questions!