Defending the Commander Social Contract

Author: Sean Patchen (Page 1 of 7)

Black Sheep – A Difference of Opinion

New Editor’s Note: This piece was originally published on October 17, 2013. We’re flashing back to some of our best from the past several years every Friday, because what’s old is new again. It feels like we’ve known and loved Sean (@SwordstoPlow) for ever, but there was a time when Cass and I (Dave) debated if he was too competitive to be a good fit. Now he’s a big, feel-good softy working at Card Kingdom and an essential spirit animal at GDC. 

(Editors’ Note-

Today, we’re officially welcoming a new writer to the GDC family.  Many of you already know Sean Patchen (@SwordsToPlow) from his time writing for, or his own Serious Tryhard Podcast on  As you’ll see, Sean has an outlook that is a bit different than what most of us here possess, but nonetheless, we’re glad to have him onboard, as he is as fiercely proud of defending the social contract as we are. 

Sean brings a perspective that will challenge us as much as we intend to challenge him, and I have no doubt that we’re looking at an exciting broadening of our horizons as a whole.  It’s good to challenge the status quo, as it can be easy to forget that no matter the perspective, we all love the format at the end of the day. 

Sean, welcome to GDC.


The problem I have with most information sources is inbreeding.  People naturally want to work with friends, and this doesn’t escape the online avenues for information.  It leads to people writing articles and posting stories where the only disagreements they see are in the comments sections.  Those disagreements often get written off as ‘trolls’.  If no one ever challenges an ideal, there is no real way to tell if the ideal is true or not.  Without challenge, someone could go their whole life believing in something that simply isn’t true. is run on the principle of upholding the social contract. Most of authors here have beliefs on what plays in Commander can be considered to be fair, and which ones tear apart the social contract.  I have a contrasting belief.  I honestly believe that there isn’t a single card by itself that ruins the social contract.  Cards don’t kill playgroups, people do.

The reason anyone plays Commander is to have fun.  The ideal of a social contract for Commander is the ideal that everyone playing has an equal right to have fun in the format.  This means while it may be important to one individual that they are having fun, disregarding how anyone else feels will break the idea of a social contract.

Denying players’ fun out of the game is just as bad as denying players’ fun in the game.  Let’s take land destruction for example.  Many people (not all, regardless of what angry internet people say) dislike mass land destruction as part of a tactic.  They advocate having no one play it, ever.  Taking that tactic away is like pissing in the cornflakes of a player who likes Armageddon.  Telling someone not to play a tactic they enjoy is really telling those people not to play at all.

What could be less fun in Commander than not playing?

If a social contract is supposed to be something where everyone is treated equally, why is it that most advice given is about stopping people from doing something they like?  When a player in your group uses a tactic you didn’t enjoy being beaten with, you need to come to a social compromise that can keep both players happy.  Maybe find a way that he can continue to use the tactic, but less often.  Or, try and figure out what it is about mass land destruction that really makes you upset.  I guarantee it’s not just the loss of mana resources by itself.

From what I have observed and heard complaints about, the situations people like the least are:

  • Games where nothing happens for a long time
  • Games where one player is playing and the other players are just watching
  • Games that are over before a player got to do anything.

In general, mass land destruction is hated because it can cause all three situations.  If someone plays it at the wrong time, the game restarts and takes a long time to pick back up.   Played at the right time, but with an only slightly advantageous board state, it can turn into watching the player who cast it slowly kill the board over many long turns.  Played early on, it can possibly end a game before it has even begun.  However, if later in the game someone casts Armageddon and then continues to win the next turn, people usually don’t mind.

Even though I will be advocating tactics that many other authors on this site may be against, I want you to know where I am coming from.  I am 100% for people having fun and keeping with a social contract in Commander.  I just don’t believe that tactics need to be thrown out for that to be possible.

I’m glad to be here as a part of GDC, where we uphold the social contract.




Black Sheep Meets – Samuel Black

sam-blackHappy New Year! Welcome back to a brand-new year and a new Black Sheep Meets. While New Year’s resolutions have fallen out of style recently, I am a major proponent of setting goals. I attribute a lot of my happiness in life to having set goals and then going after them. Even if the result isn’t exactly as intended, having those targets to aim at has helped me move forward in life.

This week I spoke to someone who has accomplished great things in his Magic career. He’s one of the top players in the world. He has played in 36 pro tours, getting into the top eight at two. He’s been in 13 GP top 8s and he won GP Louisville in 2016. He also was a member of the winning U.S. national team in 2001. Say “Hello” to renowned player, deck builder, and innovator, Samuel Black!

Sean: Sam, thank you so much for taking the time to do this interview. Some of our readers are very excited to hear from you, having asking to have you featured. You debuted on the pro tour in 2006, and have been to nearly 40 pro tours since that time. That’s an incredible journey. How did your journey begin? When did you start playing Magic and what about the game led to you playing on the professional level?
Sam: I started playing Magic around May of 1994. I’ve always loved games and took to Magic immediately. I’ve basically always tried to play as much as possible and as well as possible. From there it was just a matter of finding a good network of players, access to cards and tournaments, and time. My budget and transportation was pretty limited in high school, and I went to college in the middle of nowhere and never really left campus, so I didn’t really play in enough tournaments to have a chance until I graduated.

Sean: You play Magic in person, and you also play online under the MTGO username Vicalis. I am curious, where does that username come from? Also, how does MTGO fit into the life of a professional magic player?

Sam: As I mentioned, resources were limited in high school, so I played online in a league organized on AOL message boards where I used the screen name Vicalis (I think it might have been originally made up as the name of a Diablo character or something). I heard about Magic Online when someone from those boards messaged me and told me I should try it. I figured I should use the same name in case anyone else recognized me from those boards.

Magic Online is an important testing tool for GPs. For PTs it’s harder to test on Magic Online, so people prioritize getting together in person, but for GPs, most pros just play online and then discuss their results and conclusions with each other.

Sean: When your fans were asking me to interview you, they described you as “possibly the best deck builder of all time.” They were quick to reminisce on such successful brews as Black-Red-White Aristocrats and the Blazing Shoal Infect deck that got a card banned in modern. What do you believe has led you to be such a prolific innovator for the game?

Sam: I started play Magic before “netdecking” was even possible, and I started at the same time as my friends, so there was no one else I could copy from. Deckbuilding has always been a huge part of Magic for me, so it’s something I had a lot of practice with before playing in a lot of tournaments. Playing with my own decks has always been more fun, and I’ve probably been slightly more successful with my own decks, but it’s important now to have a good mix. Sometimes the known decks are just the best, and it’s important to be willing to play them.

Sean: This is a Commander/EDH centric website, so I wouldn’t want to skip out on our favorite format here at GDC. You’ve written at least two articles about EDH (My take on EDH and Breaking Azami). They are engaging reads that give a good insight into building in the format, and they demonstrate that you have perfect grasp on the social contract. Do you actively play EDH? If so, what are your current favorite decks, and why?

Sam: Unfortunately, not these days. I used to maintain a cube and EDH deck, but since my roommate, Justin Cohen, started playing in events regularly, we’ve been so focused on tournament prep that there just isn’t time for casual Magic. Throughout high school and college I played more multiplayer games in person than one-on-one games, and  unlike many players, I actually really like Magic as a diplomatic/political game; we always played that any deals players make can’t be broken as long as they don’t break the rules, which made games extremely diplomatic.

I’m also personally a little turned off by the Commander products. I like multiplayer Magic as an exercise in doing weird things using unintended cards, and using cards that were specifically designed for it just takes away some of the fun for me.

Sean: In the Azami article you touch on something important about understanding EDH as a format. You mention the two-relevant metrics when examining a deck, competitiveness and interactivity. While most people understand that competitiveness is how effective a deck is at winning, interactivity may be cloudier. When you are talking about interactivity in a casual format, what does that mean to you and why is it so important for casual play?

Sam: I talk about Magic as a game of competing narratives. Each deck is designed to tell a certain story. When they compete, they form one narrative, and players are fighting to control that narrative. Interactive cards prevent your opponent from telling their story. (This answer is only a rough approximation of a more complicated truth.)

Sean: You were recently featured in an interview on Wisconsin Life. This is a wonderful interview, and I recommend that all our readers watch. In the final portion of the interview, you speak briefly on generosity in the Magic community and how doing good things and being nice can be personally valuable. Would you mind going a little further into your thoughts how being friendly and generous can be beneficial to the community and to yourself?

Sam: I’m not sure what there is to add here—it’s all pretty simple—Magic is an iterated game. From a game theory perspective, this pushes it strongly toward encouraging cooperative strategies. The world of competitive Magic just isn’t that big, and when you interact with anyone, it often won’t be the last time you see them. You have no idea whether you’ll see them again or not. Also, people are connected and people talk. How people see you has a big impact on options available to you.

As an aside, this is actually why I’m pro-collusion. I get that it has to be discouraged for viewers, but I actually think collusion is healthy for the community, as it puts are really fine point on the above.

Sean: From what I understand, you have been living as a professional Magic player with Magic as your sole source of income for nearly a decade. Do you have any advice for players who dream of making Magic their career?

Sam: As with anything, it’s important to live within your means. Figure out what you can afford and how to do that. Learning not to be extremely frugal has been a challenge for me as I get used to earning a good amount of money, but when you’re starting out, it can be important to know how to save.

Look for opportunities to make money. Few if any people live entirely off tournament winnings, but there are a lot of side projects (writing, streaming, podcasts, etc) that are an important part of making money as a Magic player. Remember that the purpose of tournaments is to build credibility, but it’s what you create that you should expect to really pay the bills.

Sean: Thank you again for taking the time to do this interview. If any of our readers want to hear more from you or follow how you are doing in tournaments, how do you recommend they find you?

Sam: The most detailed option for Magic is to read my column on @Samuelhblack on Twitter is easiest. I don’t maintain a public figure Facebook page, but my personal page can be followed, and for those who are interested in some things I’ve written about my life, sex, gender, and a variety of topics people don’t often discuss publicly, you can ask to join the Storytime with Sam Black Facebook group.



Generals That Deserve Their Bad Reputation – Update 12/28/2016


“Ugh, Arcum? OK Fine. Every body kill him first.” Ever heard something like that?

I’ve been working on this project on and off for over a years now, all thanks to an email I received in early May of 2015, requesting an article about Commanders that have bad reputations, how those generals earned the rap, whether it is deserved, how to fight against these commanders, and ideas to play differently using them to improve their reputation.

Today, we’re updating the Azorius section.

Read More

Black Sheep Meets – Lyla Morris (of Card Kingdom’s ENGAGE)

Season’s Greetings and welcome to a special Holiday installment of Black Sheep Meets. This is the time of year for giving. That might be giving to friends and family, and it may be giving to charity. It is no secret that I work over at Card Kingdom. Their gift to me is an awesome career that allows me to support my family and be passionate about the work that I do and the company I do it for. As a company that prides itself on being part of the this lady seems really damn coolcommunity, Card Kingdom places a high value on charity and community outreach.

I was fortunate to be able to sit down and interview Lyla Morris. Lyla runs the ENGAGE ( program, the corporate giving and community outreach program for Card Kingdom, Inc. Lyla has dedicated her life to helping others. Outside her work in the community both before and during running the ENGAGE program, she is incredibly supportive to those around her. She has personally helped me in my cross-state move and feeling welcome in a new area. Lyla demonstrates that the positive effect of the Magic community extends far beyond the game and the people who enjoy playing it.


Sean: Lyla, first off I just want to say thank you for taking the time for this interview today. Many of our readers outside the greater Seattle area may not know who you are or what exactly the ENGAGE program is. Before we get into that, ENGAGE isn’t the first time you have been involved in community outreach. What experience did you bring with you when starting this program?

Lyla: Thanks for having me! My background is in clinical social work. I am a Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker in the State of Washington, and have been working in the field of juvenile justice and family therapy for over 20 years. With ENGAGE, I had a rare opportunity to combine my professional skills and community outreach experience with our family business (I am married to John Morris, founder and Co-Owner of Card Kingdom), and I jumped at the chance to connect our brick and mortar stores with our geographic community.

Sean: It sounds like you have been helping others for a long time. What originally drove you into this kind of work, and what keeps you dedicating your time helping others?

Lyla: I think my unique family makeup (we happen to be a family built around international adoption) and my parents’ commitment to expose me to different points of view, standards of living, ideas about culture, and advocating for those without an opportunity for their voice to be heard, was a big part of my upbringing and my core beliefs. Moving toward the world of social work, and more specifically, family therapy, was a natural extension of my upbringing.

Sean: Getting down to it, ENGAGE is a part of Card Kingdom so it isn’t exactly a charity. How would you describe what the ENGAGE program is?

Lyla: The ENGAGE program is the charitable giving and community outreach arm of Card Kingdom. We aren’t a non-profit, but rather, an extension of our business that focuses on ways to connect our brick and mortar stores with our geographic community. When I started developing the idea for ENGAGE, I wanted to find ways for our business to give back to our actual neighbors. By design, our program committee is comprised of individuals from all pockets of our business, and they, in turn, represent the ideas and areas of interest that our employees would like to see our business participate in within our community.

Sean: Card Kingdom previously ran its charitable contributions like most companies, by writing checks. Why create the ENGAGE program, over just donating to established charities?

That is a fantastic question. It really points back to the inception of the program. Over the years, the more Card Kingdom grew both virtually and physically (eventually adding two brick and mortar stores and the gaming café- Café Mox- in the Ballard location, and now a full restaurant in our Bellevue location- Restaurant at the Mox) the more visible we became in our geographic community. Because of my intimate connection with the business, as well as my background in social work in the Seattle area, I started getting more requests from local non-profits to donate and be involved with the community. This led me to propose our first donation drive, a Giving Tree, to a local non-profit that works with homeless youth. I knew the gaming community was full of generous folk, and I wanted to see what would happen if we provided an opportunity for them to give back to their community. True to form, our gamer community not only came through, but gave *way beyond* expectations- all items on the Giving Tree were fulfilled in 3 days! Then again, a week later, a whole second tree of donation requests was fulfilled as well! Some of our employees also pooled their money to purchase many items on the treel. It was a great experience, and a catalyst to create something more formalized within our company.

Our next idea was to do a fundraiser for a local non-profit that provides quality childcare to children all across our region. Our plan was to host a family-friendly game event, and give a portion of our sales that day to the charity. The event part of the day went spectacularly, but unfortunately, it didn’t go as well as we’d hoped in the sales department, because marketing was not our strong suit at the time, and we hadn’t yet learned how to leverage donations. In the end, we ended up donating the amount of money we wanted to give anyway, but we clearly needed to find ways to better earn donations for our selected charities.

That less-than-stellar outcome helped to generate the idea that we should raise money using our strengths. We came up with the idea to utilize the money we would have donated to a charity, to produce a tournament that would ultimately bring more exposure and (hopefully) donations to the charity. Eight weeks later, we created “The Gauntlet: A Call to ENGAGE” to benefit Child’s Play, and raised 26K for Child’s Play (our goal was 5K). After the success of this tournament, we knew we were on to something and planned to make this event an annual fundraiser. Our second year, The Gauntlet: Moxtropolis raised 93K for Hopelink, and last year, The Gauntlet: Odyssey raised 75K for YouthCare. The Gauntlet is our biggest fundraiser to date, and we feel so encouraged that we found a way to leverage (and multiply many times over) the money we would normally have just given directly to our non-profit of choice.

Sean: When you are looking at charities to support and bring awareness to, for ENGAGE, how do you make your decision on which organizations to work with?

Lyla: In order to further formalize ENGAGE, it was important for me to get a gauge from our owners about the areas of focus that were important to them. After a long discussion, we were able to narrow down to three areas of focus, and these are the program that we chose to donate to at this time; 1) Basic Needs: programs that support basic needs like food, shelter, healthcare, and mental health, 2) Education: programs such as preschools, parent/teacher associations in K-12, higher education to include technical schools, tutoring/mentoring programs, and before/after school programs such as Math and Science Club, Chess Club, etc. and 3) Neighborhoods/Community: Programs that promote positive social connection, teambuilding, and networking within our geographic community as well as our virtual community. This is not to say other areas of focus aren’t important- this was just a way to lead our committee toward where we’d like to concentrate our efforts. Giving is a very personal endeavor, and this helped us to stay focused for the business, as requests started rolling in.

Sean: ENGAGE runs all kinds of activities, in-kind giving, fundraisers, volunteerism and community engagement. What seems the most exciting is the once a year fundraiser, The Gauntlet. Could you describe the Gauntlet event in a little more detail and how that event helps the community?

Lyla: As mentioned already, The Gauntlet has become our annual board game charity tournament and biggest fundraiser of the year. It is an invitational event, although we are open to new teams reaching out to us, as interest arises. We strive to find teams of four from companies in the game industry, or gaming community, that want to play games, battle for an amazing (actual) gauntlet trophy, and do it for a fantastic cause. We choose a different beneficiary each year, and because an important value for the ENGAGE program is to help programs within our “backyard,” we chose a beneficiary from the Puget Sound Region that we feel does stellar work WITH and FOR the underserved, disadvantaged, or vulnerable folk in our region. So far, we have given to 3 different charities, and a fourth will be in 2017. One of the most amazing outcomes of our event, has been the personal stories that have been shared from participants of our tournament who may have relied on the services of the beneficiary, or another program like it at particular times in their lives. Our tournament is more than just a fundraiser with people playing games, it’s a group of people who have a shared interest to do great things with their privilege, as well as their professional outreach. They work really hard to bring in the most money they can for the beneficiary, whilst also doing something they love with their fellow gamers. It’s pretty awesome to be in that room that day.

Sean: It seems like ENGAGE is doing an incredible amount of work. As I understand it, you run this part-time and have no dedicated employees reporting to you to get everything done. How is it possible for you to achieve as much as you have?

Lyla: I have amazing committee members that are just as passionate as I am! When they say they will do something from one meeting to the next, they get it done, and then some. Our ENGAGE committee is comprised of about 8 or 9 individuals from all areas of Card Kingdom, (online fulfillment, retail, café) who work on the committee, in addition to their regular duties. It is important to me that folks decide on their own to be on the committee, so those that sit at the table each meeting, are people who really desire to be there, and are motivated to set things in motion. Card Kingdom encourages ENGAGE members to do this work during normal work hours. Since community building is a core value of the business, they are paid for any time they put into the committee meetings. ENGAGE members know that they have an awesome opportunity to be a part of the decision-making process in choosing where to engage our business with our community, and they really take that to heart. They also communicate with co-workers and customers to find out what causes mean the most to the Card Kingdom “family.”

Sean: Is there anything new and exciting planned for ENGAGE in 2017 and the remainder of 2016?

Lyla: Yes! Now that we feel comfortable with how we produce the Gauntlet, we have started to explore other areas to expand into. This December we had our first ENGAGE sponsored War Machine tournament. It went very well, and we were able to add an additional $400 to our Giving Tree beneficiary gifts! Also, we already had plans to produce our first ENGAGE sponsored MTG tournament sometime next year, but then a great opportunity came up in the last few weeks. The tournament slated for next summer is now happening this December.

When Cassius Marsh of the Seattle Seahawks recently had his Modern and Legacy decks stolen, it created a lot of buzz in the MTG community. Many people felt connected to him, and they could empathize with losing a prized MTG collection. The community called out to see if we could make some good out of a bad situation, and luckily, we were able to put something together in a short amount of time. One of our staff reached out to Cassius and asked him if he would be willing to attend a charity event. He agreed! This Dec 30th, we are hosting a Magic tournament, with a fantastic prize payout, and all proceeds to benefit the Big Brothers Big Sisters Program of Puget Sound. Players will have a chance to play in the tournament with Cassius, and Wizards of the Coast is going to donate 5K to the Big Brothers, Big Sisters program of Puget Sound as well! We are lucky to have the support of the MTG community and the Seattle “12s” to make this a successful fundraiser for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Puget Sound. (Registration and info:

Sean: Thank you so much for taking the time to do this interview and all the work you have been doing to help the community. Where should people go if they want to contact you to donate, participate, or just learn more about ENGAGE?

Lyla: Thank you! They can go to our webpage to learn more about the scope of our program, as well as announcements about our upcoming Gauntlet event in May.

If you have any ideas or questions, send a message to







Black Sheep Meets – Ryan Overturf

ryan-overturf-twitter-avatarGreetings and welcome to another installment of Black Sheep Meets. I was recently asked why I am doing this series. The purpose is to highlight the good that happens in and around the Magic community. My hope is that by showcasing all the great things and wonderful people who make the Magic community what it is, I can show how welcoming and positive this game can be. My motivation for doing this is straightforward. Most of my friends and now even my career have come from gaming. Gaming and MTG, in particular, is such a source of joy and inspiration in my life, and I’d like to share that feeling of fun and family with other people.

In the sense of sharing friends and bringing the community together, this week we have on Ryan Overturf. Ryan was suggested by Emma Handy, who was a suggestion from Hallie Santo. Ryan is a prolific content creator who focuses primarily on the competitive side of things. Even though he isn’t focused on Commander, he has shown through his writing that he has a great grasp on the concept of the Social Contract and the importance of friends and community.


Sean: Ryan, thank you for taking the time to do this interview. You write two article series over at Quiet Speculation, Stock Watch and Deck Overview. In “stock watch,” you generally pick one card at a time, and for “Deck Overview” you focus on a single deck in competitive formats. How do you choose what to feature in each of your articles?

Ryan: For Stock Watches, I look for cards that are currently fluctuating or that I expect to soon fluctuate in price. The idea of the piece is to help players save money by investing wisely, and to identify cards that are good buys or sells at a given time. Deck Overviews are to highlight either decks that are under the radar that are perhaps underexplored, or general metagame trends that players should be aware of. My first PTQ win came from refining an oddball 4-0 list from a Daily Event that Reid Duke posted many years ago when he wrote articles that broke down Magic Online event results, and I find that there is a lot of value in exploring fringe strategies.

Sean: If you click on that link for Quiet Speculation, it lists your name as the author for each of the articles but the author landing page is “The Good Soldier.” How did you end up getting that nickname (or author tag)?

Ryan: I needed to create an account to write articles for the site, and TheGoodSoldier is my MTGO handle. In all honesty, had I known that tag would be public facing I would have just named my account “Ryan Overturf,” though I’m not motivated enough to change it. “The Good Soldier” is a track by Nine Inch Nails off of their album Year Zero, which I have listened to hundreds, if not thousands of times. The album does a great job of building its own universe, and I particularly enjoy the lyrics of “The Good Soldier.”

Sean: In your most recent article, you discussed the value of Coalition Relic and how the printing of four-color Commander decks has pushed up the value on this card. There is no doubt that Coalition Relic is a Commander mainstay. As a Magic finance expert, how do you view Commander as a format and the impact it has on card prices? When you are evaluating the future prices of cards, how much can Commander impact your analysis?

Ryan: Commander is a huge factor for card prices when you look at out-of-print sets. It doesn’t generally matter when you’re looking at Standard-legal cards, and often won’t matter for a few years after the fact, but over time casual hits really gain a lot of value. I played Commander a good amount when I was in college. Part of the appeal of the format was that back then the majority of the staples were dirt cheap. You could get Mind’s Eye for a quarter, for example. Today it’s an $8 card. For newer cards, Commander tends to impact the prices of foils way more than non-foils, though every popular format is a source of demand.

Sean: You also write articles over at Modern Nexus, a website devoted entirely to the Modern format. You also make regular appearances on the SCG tour. What is it about Magic that has driven you to make it such a large part of your time and life?

Ryan: Growing up I was always very interested in math and science, and this interest extended to tabletop gaming in a big way. Magic is such a great game because there are achievable goals that feel amazing to accomplish, yet the game is very difficult and can be humbling at the same time. Magic both feeds my desire for competition and helps keep me grounded.

Sean: Your writing is almost exclusively on the competitive side of Magic. With that much stress and pressure placed on the game, how do you balance it out to keep yourself and happy? What other formats, games, or activities do you participate in that help you relax and stay sane?

Ryan: Without saying any names, not everybody has a great Magic/life balance. This is not to say that playing Magic isn’t part of real life. It very much is, but what I mean is that hinging your happiness on Magic specifically is unhealthy behavior. Prioritizing professional success and positive relationships over things like tournament results goes a long way in the retaining your sanity department. Again, tournament success is professional success in a way, though I know that I would lose my mind if I didn’t have a stable source of income. I play a good amount of board games, and I’m working on getting the last handful of cards to round out my second Cube. I play sanctioned Magic to win, and I mostly play other games and Cube drafts to pass the time with friends without getting too mentally or emotionally invested in the games themselves. Trophies are nice, but close friends are invaluable.

Sean: Outside of playing and writing I have also seen you casting on SCGlive. I’m always amazed by people who feel comfortable in front of a camera, especially with so many people watching. How did you get into doing event coverage? Also, how do you choose between casting for an event and playing in event?

Ryan: Coverage is something that I’ve been interested in for the better part of a decade, though there aren’t exactly a lot of job postings for Magic coverage positions. I was very fortunate to be presented with an opportunity for such a position last year. I did improv and standup in college, and the camera is a lot easier to face than a physically present audience. Performance experience is a huge boon in the field of broadcasting. As far as casting, I take any show that I’m offered, and I play when I can. I’ll cover an event that I would have played were I not covering it from time to time, but I can’t see myself going out of my way to play an event that I could be casting for.

Sean: I’ve heard you play a fair bit of MTGO in addition to the Magic you play with real cardboard. What have your experiences been playing online and what recommendations do you have for people looking to get started on MTGO?

Ryan: I’ve never really been a city person, and out in the suburbs I’ve consistently had issues getting together playtest groups. For social gaming, there is no replacement for face to face interaction, and staring at a computer screen is less beneficial than bouncing ideas off of skilled players, but Magic Online is a great way to jam a ton of games and familiarize yourself with a deck. A big part of my testing process involves learning what does and doesn’t work by trying many different configurations, and Magic Online allows you to play as much as you want at any time of day. The primary appeal of Magic Online from my perspective is tournament preparation. It’s also the best and perhaps only way to draft at 3 A.M. on a Tuesday. If you’re interested in Magic Online, the first thing I would do is establish what you hope to get out of it. If you want to play constructed, check out the price of the decks you want to play and make sure you’re comfortable with that investment. If you just want to draft at your convenience, download the client and get to it!

Sean: Ryan, thank you again for taking the time to talk today. Do you have any new articles, events, or anything you think our readers would be excited to see? For any of our readers looking to keep up with all the content you create, how would you recommend keeping up with what you are up to?

Ryan: You’re welcome- happy to do it. I have a new article going up on Modern Nexus every Wednesday, and I’ll be covering the Atlanta Invitational and the SCG Player’s Championship in December. I don’t have my schedule for next year yet, but you can expect to see more of me on SCGLive. I don’t do a ton in the way of self-promotion, but you can find me on Twitter @RyanOverdrive.




Black Sheep Meets – Jimmy Wong and Josh Lee Kwai of The Command Zone

the-command-zoneGreetings and welcome to another edition of Black Sheep Meets, where we interview people from around the Magic community who support Magic and making it a more positive and accessible game. These interviews try to highlight the good people out there in the community, whether it be at the local game store or online.

Today I am excited to have a two-for-one interview as both hosts of the very popular Command Zone Podcast and Youtube Channel have agreed to answer a few questions. Jimmy Wong and Josh Lee Kwai focus on all aspects of Commander including strategy, politics, and technology.

Despite their popularity and busy schedules, these two were incredibly friendly and responded quickly to communication. Every interaction with both Josh and Jimmy has brought a smile to my face and hopefully they have the same effect on all of you. 


Sean: Hi Jimmy and Josh, thank you so much for being willing to do this interview. I am a more recent subscriber to your podcast, and I must say I was floored by the production value on your YouTube channel. The first time I saw it I had to rewind after the first five minutes of watching, so that I could listen to your cast and not just stare. The “Kitchen Table Fables” are both hilarious and impressively done. My favorite is the flicker short. Who does your production and what is the secret to getting such polished content posted online?

josh-lee-kwaiJosh: Jimmy and I both have years of experience working professionally in film, television and on  YouTube. That has given us both a lot of knowledge on how to create high quality content. I’d say most of what you call “polish” is simply expecting and even demanding that outcome. Not settling for anything less.

One of the most important things we do is to make sure there’s always something about The Command Zone that we’re improving on. For a while it was improving the look of the cards when we showed them on screen. Then it was improving and animating the backgrounds for those cards. Then it was updating the graphics, working on the flow of the show, adding segments, taking the temperature of our listeners and responding to that, adding full video of us, etc. Complacency is an enemy we’re always trying to fight. Much like our Magic game, the show will always be a work in progress.

I should also mention that there are actually three episodes of Kitchen Table Fables (we call it KTF for short). There are two on our channel (“The Flicker” and “Basilisk Collar”) and one on the Tolarian Community College channel (that one is called “Permission”). This was a collaboration with Prof that we hope to someday have an opportunity to encore.

jf-wongJimmy: Josh and I have been able to combine our experiences in film, television, and the Internet to simply achieve the level of quality that we expect out of ourselves as creators. Being able to have a good “bs” indicator in our business is a very important skill – you have to always be ready to look at your own content and others and make an impartial judgment as to whether it’s objectively good or not. You have to also be happy to accept that it isn’t, and ready to do whatever it takes to make it better. I’ve always viewed content creation as something that I will be doing for the remainder of my life – there’s no shame at all in making some duds and videos that aren’t amazing, as long as the takeaway is how to improve yourself and your content.

Sean: You two both seem incredibly comfortable in front of the camera. Between the high production value and the ease with which you present yourself, it seems like you must have prior film experience of some sort. Jimmy also looks an awful lot like that guy Fred from John Dies at the End. What prior experience do the two of you have either in front of the camera or behind the scenes?

Josh: We both have a lot of film experience. I’ve been an editor in Hollywood doing movie trailers for more than 15 years. I’ve worked on everything from Pixar films to the Fast and the Furious franchise to Star Wars: The Force Awakens. I’ve also directed and produced my own short films and done work with the  YouTube channel RocketJump (where Jimmy and I met).

In addition, I have a bit of theater improv experience from high school and college. This has been the biggest thing I’ve drawn on when being in front of the mic/camera. I would highly recommend that anyone who wants to get serious about making this kind of content should look into taking at least a few improv courses

Jimmy: I AM that guy from John Dies at the End. I came to Los Angeles originally as an actor and began to broaden my horizons into  YouTube by making music videos shortly after. I’ve been on more productions than I can count and am pretty familiar with the entire filmmaking process from beginning to end. My brother, Freddie Wong, is the owner and creator of RocketJump (where Josh and I met). We were always messing around with cameras and filming stuff as kids growing up, and continue that tradition today. I also was one of the main characters in Video Game High School.

I’m also a pretty avid host. My work across the Internet spans a lot of different categories. I created my own cooking show four years ago, called “Feast of Fiction,” which now has over 700,000 subscribers. I host the community show for Riot and League of Legends called AllChat. I also wrote music and posted music videos on my original channel, most memorably a retort to a racist incident at UCLA.

Sean: The videos I have been watching from the two of you regularly mention Card Kingdom. I think a lot of content producers hope to be sponsored someday. Do you have any recommendations for other Commander-related podcast hosts and article authors on how they can get to the point where a store would consider sponsoring them?

Josh: I think going in with the idea of “we need to get a sponsor” is inherently backward. It’s a cart-before-horse type of thought process. The goal needs to be to create content that is of such a high quality level that people are drawn to it. If you do that, the sponsor thing will take care of itself. Every second you spend trying to pursue a sponsor is a second you’re not spending making your podcast or article series or YouTube channel as interesting and unique and polished as it can be. Once you’re to the point where your content is really ready for a sponsor, it will be very easy to get one.

Jimmy: Agreeing with Josh here – sponsors will come if the content is right. That being said, there requires a little bit of back and forth that you will have to potentially do some reaching out of your own. Events like Grands Prix are great places to meet local vendors, shops from out of town, and other businesses related to Magic: the Gathering and collectible card games. Meet people, get their business cards, and take it from there if you think your content merits a sponsorship.

Sean: These shows clearly take a lot of time and effort. You could be using that time and effort to be creating content outside of MTG with universal appeal or even within the Magic realm that targets a more competitive audience. Why did you decide to do a Commander podcast and what keeps you inspired to regularly post more episodes?

Josh: One thing people often say when writing to us is how much they enjoy our passion and energy. This comes from the fact that we love Commander as a format. I don’t think we could make strategic decisions and choose to do a show about a format that has more appeal but we don’t personally enjoy. We would lose our mojo; we wouldn’t still be going after 100+ episodes.

Jimmy: Even though we play less Commander these days than when we first started, Josh and I are gamers at heart and have played Magic for a large part of our lives. I think the game itself speaks a lot to us, and we’ve decided to stick with the Commander route because the focus on a specific format is good for our listeners, as well as keeping our show cohesive.

Sean: There are a lot of really passionate people who like to use social media to discuss Commander. Most of the interactions are positive ones, but occasionally the passions clash. One of the things I admire about the Command Zone is that you have stayed essentially untouched by these flare ups. You have been open to collaborations and made a lot of friends online as well as some fantastic content through those collaborations. During our short conversation leading up to the interview you said something that rang true to me about the Commander community. You said, “The Command Zone is firmly of the opinion that a rising tide lifts all boats.” Could you explain what you mean by that, and why you think working with other figures in the Commander community is so important?

Josh: The Commander Community is such a small piece of a huge pie that it’s pointless to be competitive with one another. Our goal should not be to grab the largest percentage of people that already enjoy Commander, it should be to increase the total number of people interested in the format as a whole. Right now, if someone wants to consume all the quality Commander content being created each week or month, they probably can. And that’s great for everybody. If someone find’s the Commanderin’ podcast or the Commander’s Brew show or Commander Versus or Jason Alt’s 75% articles or whatever (sorry to everyone I left out!), then there’s a really good chance they’re going to find us as well. This is obviously great for us and I’ll never understand when people feel competitive about such things because it’s just obviously much much better to be inclusive. When the Commander Community is strong, then we’re all strong.

Jimmy: I’ve been making YouTube content for the past six years and am heavily involved with that community as well, and the thought process is pretty much the same. You’re in a relatively new field with very few other people ultimately creating content for it. There’s no reason to be cut throat and competitive because as a whole you are a much stronger representative than any one podcast or show by itself. We’ve found that the other contributing members of the community often share the same ideals and views, and so it’s easy to ask each other the collaborate and plan out ideas together. The more you can have an open discussion and relationship with your fellow colleagues, the better everyone’s chances are for sustaining their business in the long run. The longer we sustain our podcast and shows, the larger we can make Magic as a whole, and so on.

Sean: With the schedule of everyday life and producing content, how do you balance your time between playing Commander, making the podcasts, and the everyday grind?

Josh: It’s honestly tough. I don’t know a single Magic content creator that hasn’t uttered the phrase “Well now that I make these videos/articles/podcasts/etc about Magic, I never actually get to play magic.” I usually explain it to people by saying, how many nights a week do you get to play Magic? Ok now take away one of them to make a podcast. Having said that, we still love the game and we make a concentrated effort to get out there and play as much as possible. Life gets busy with our jobs and such but we started doing this because we enjoyed it and that hasn’t changed.

Jimmy: It’s pretty tough. I run so many other channels and work so many other jobs every day that sometimes I find myself bleary eyed in the early morning hammering out an outline for a show, or exporting the audio for our editor. It’s been great having Josh as a cohost since we share a lot of the same tough love methods of getting the job done – hard work perseveres at the end of the day, so having each other to fall back on has been supremely helpful and necessary throughout.

Sean: This is one just for Josh. I saw on your Twitter that you describe yourself as a “flyer of drones”. On your YouTube channel you have some stunning videos taken like this one of Oregon. How did you get into the hobby of being a drone pilot and what advice would you give to anyone who is thinking of starting?

Josh: My girlfriend bought me a drone for my birthday earlier this year. I had talked about wanting one but never got around to doing it. As soon as I had it, it was pure joy. It gets me out and hiking around and I’m just a pure content creator at heart. I’m always editing something together whether I’m at home on my laptop or at the office.

Advice for new drone flyers is to just get out there and do it. Spend the first few sessions working on your flying but it’s not super hard!

Sean: Jimmy, you are involved in a project called Feast of Fiction that does some very interesting videos on YouTube and has about three-quarters of a million subscribers. This seems like just the kind of cooking show our readers would love. Could you tell us a little more about it?

Jimmy: Feast of Fiction is dedicated to take your favorite fictional foods from books, TV, movies, cartoons, and more and recreating them in real life. Does that wacky insane recipe really work? What’s the historical context behind a specific creation? We aim to answer these questions, have a fun time doing so, and make some delicious recipes for our viewers to enjoy at home.

I created Feast of Fiction four years ago after having an impromptu discussion with my brother about shows that should exist, but didn’t. We grew up reading books like Redwall, Harry Potter, and the like and always loved reading the deep descriptions of food that the authors used. Being able to take these recipes and turn them into real life has been a joy for the past four years, and we’re deeply indebted to our fan base that always gives us great ideas for future recipes and requests.

Sean: Thank you both for participating in this interview today. I know you have a lot going on, too much to try and get covered hear today. Is there anything coming up from you two that our readers should know about. Also, what is the best way for them to keep up on all the interesting things you two are up to?

Both: It’s been our pleasure!

We have a ton of plans on the horizon. Something we did recently was a Commander 2016 gameplay video called “Out of the Box”. We’ve been asked by our listeners for years to show footage of us actually playing EDH and this is our take on the gameplay video format. The reception has been great so far and it’s definitely something we may do more of in the future.

The best way to stay up-to-date with all The Command Zone happenings is to follow us on twitter @CommandCast @jfwong @JoshLeeKwai and to subscribe to our YouTube/iTunes/Stitcher feeds etc. We’d love it if you checked out our Patreon Campaign too. We also have been working on a new website (still a work in progress) which you can find here:



P.S. Josh and Jimmy also have this sweet new website, Collected Company. You should check that out too. Thanks Ralph Vroomer aka @Nemorov on twitter for pointing this out.



Black Sheep Meets – An Interview with Emma Handy

Editor’s Note: We’ve been on a Thursday schedule for Sean’s adventures in getting to know the forces of personality who help the Magic community online function. It’s only late because of our good-for-nothing editors. Please dive into this nice chat with Emma, and then check back on Thanksgiving Day (which is this coming Thursday for those who may not know U.S. holidays) for the next edition…

emma-handy-twitter-avatarAs part of doing the Black Sheep Meets segment, I ask a follow-up question to anyone who agreed to be interviewed. That question is, “Is there anyone you would like to see interviewed in this series?”. My first guest, Hallie Santo, recommended that I reach out to Emma Handy from Star City Games. Emma is a writer, tournament grinder, and the occasional Commander player.

Emma and I had never talked before this interview. Hallie’s recommendation gave me the excuse to go through and read Hallie’s articles; they normally would have escaped my attention due to being marketed to a more competitive crowd. Her articles turned out to be universal and very well thought-out. Emma has a great perspective in showing that Commander doesn’t have to be your main hobby or even the main format in Magic. Part of keeping a positive voice is finding balance, and I think Emma has a unique perspective on how she keeps her balance.

Sean: Emma, thank you the time to do this interview. You were recommended to me by the first person I interviewed, Hallie Santo. She had nothing but wonderful things to say about you. How do you and Hallie know each other?

Emma: Hallie is a part of The Girlfriend Bracket on and I know all of the wonderful people on the ‘cast. We interact primarily on social media and became connected through another host on TGFB, Erin Campbell.

Sean: After reading a fair number of your articles, I can see why Hallie had such high praise. I found your articles on two major Magic the Gathering sites, GatheringMagic and Star City Games. How did you start writing about Magic, and what inspirations do you use to keep producing quality content?

Emma: I started writing reasonable Magic content about a year ago at They’re run by a great group of people who were kind enough to give me a shot at writing semi-competitive strategy articles.

Inspiration is difficult at times. I generally try to aim my content at people who are trying to lay a foundation for getting better at Magic. I want my content to be relevant a year from now, even if the format isn’t necessarily the same as it is. As a result, a majority of my articles try to have an overarching “Magic-fundamentals” theme. When I’m having trouble thinking of a topic, I think of people who come into the card store I work for, and what they most often need pointers on, and try to turn that into an article.

Sean: You wrote a fascinating article back in October about how to handle burning out of energy on the competitive Magic circuit and what you can do to recharge. Since your experience tiring out on the circuit and then recharging by playing more casual formats, have you changed your normal routine to mix in more casual gaming? If so, could you talk a little bit about what you do to maintain the balance between being highly competitive and staying sane?

Emma: Taking the weekend off during Grand Prix Atlanta was a great way to travel for Magic with no other motivations outside of enjoying Magic at face value. I think there isn’t enough value placed on enjoying Magic for no other reason than having fun playing a game.

Honestly I haven’t done very much to change my routine overall. Handling burnout isn’t a forte of mine. A significant portion of my burnout was related to the fact that my schedule generally involves me working, traveling, or competing every day of the week, and after several weeks of it, it can be easy to lose sight of why I’m actually putting that much effort into the grind.

Sean: I am curious about the life of a competitive Magic grinder. It seems like you would be traveling a lot, and seeing new people constantly. While that sounds fun, I get the impression that it can also come with some challenges for having a social life in your home city. How has being a grinder affected your social life and balancing your weekday life with your magical weekends?

Emma: I alluded to having a relatively busy schedule in my last answer, but being on the grind all the time really consumes all of my free time. I generally work from open to close the days that I work in order to pay bills, and when I am not working or traveling, I’m generally writing my article for or trying to spend time with my family. I still see my roommates (I live with them after all) but otherwise don’t see most of my friends from around town very often. Nobody else from Asheville, North Carolina is particularly eager (and able) to travel for Magic, so I meet Robert Wright out of Charlotte, North Carolina as soon as I get off [of work] on Thursdays to leave town.

Sean: You mention Team Nexus regularly on social media. Unfortunately, I have not heard of Team Nexus before. What is Team Nexus, and how did you get involved in being part of the team?

Emma: Next Ridge Nexus (Team Nexus for short) is a team of Magic players based out of Tampa, Florida. The team currently consists of [team captain] Brennan DeCandio, Mark Nestico, Tannon Grace, Aaron Sorrells, Brad Carpenter, and me. The team is financially backed by Next Ridge Gaming (also in Tampa, Florida).

I actually didn’t intend to become part of the team when it first started to come together; at its inception, the group was Brennan, Mark, Brad, and Aaron. Mark and I talk online a good bit and he asked me for suggestions on things to request as part of a team sponsorship. I gave some input and didn’t think anything of it. A few days later, Mark asked if I wanted to be a part of the project that he and his friends were working on making a reality (spoiler: I said yes). A couple of weeks later, Brennan brought Tannon on and the rest is history!

Sean: From what I have read about you, it sounds like you have been playing Magic for a good portion of your life, since middle school if I read correctly. It’s incredible to have not only stuck with playing for that long, but to have transformed it into a major part of your life. What got you started in playing Magic, and what drove you to pursue a competitive career in the game?

Emma: As with many Magic players, when I was younger I didn’t really fit in with other kids. In the place of a ‘normal’ friend group, I played a lot of card games. I started off with Pokemon and Yu-Gi-Oh! until my friend Randy brought a 7th Edition Starter Set that he got on discount at Wal-Mart.

Growing into competitive Magic just seemed like a step for me. I don’t know why. At this point my goal is to end up in coverage, one way or another. Coverage is a live-action way to combine both of those two things into something that I want to take a shot at someday. Traveling to competitive events, getting to know people in the business, and putting my name out there seem like logical steps to that end. Teaching is something that I think I excel at, and Magic is something I love.

Sean: In our brief conversation when I asked you if you would be up for this interview, you were very modest about your role in the Community. However, if someone were to have been following you online for even the last two months, they would see a post encouraging followers to support another player whose son was recently diagnosed with cancer, and that you have been featured on Judges for Diversity, an organization that focuses on trying to make Magic welcome, inclusive, and accessible for everyone. Where does your motivation to help others and be a positive voice in the community originate?

Emma: In as few words as possible- my life has been immutably changed by community members before me having an effect on me and my environment. If I can similarly affect someone else’s life in a positive way, I think it important to put forth that effort.

Sean: Emma, thank you for being featured in the article today. Do you have any new articles, events, or anything else you would like our readers to know about? For any of our readers looking to hear more from you, how do you recommend people follow how you are doing in tournaments or find the newest articles you have written?

Emma: I currently write for on the Select side of content, with my articles being published every Thursday at 11am EST. I’m going to be at the rest of the stops on the SCG Tour this year and am always happy to meet people who have taken a liking to my online content. For more information and internet-funnies I can be followed on Twitter at @Em_TeeGee or Facebook at my public page:



Black Sheep Meets – Interview with Wally D

Welcome back to another Community Spotlight segment here at GDC. This is where show off an amazing person, website, organization, or store who is doing great things in their community. We are all about encouraging people to get involved in making the Magical world around them a more fun and inviting place. You know, like the Social Contract.bq1zr6tr

Today we are talking with Wally D, the founder of MTG Casual Play, a website I recently discovered while scouring the Internet to see what other Commander authors were up to. As the name implies, the website is about all things casual and Magic.
Wally uses his site to encourage people to play and write about Magic. He’s got a pretty big stable of writers, and even so the website has a section dedicated to showing you other articles on different websites you may be interested in.

When I approached Wally he was immediately friendly and inviting. He’s a positive personality, running a site all about having fun. Check it out when you get some time.

Sean: Wally D, I believe you mentioned that Wally D was actually your nickname. Without compromising your anonymity more than you feel comfortable, where does Wally D originate?

Wally D: Hey there Sean. Thank you for selecting me for your interview article, as a reader of your work on General Damage Control, I am honored. Yes, Wally D. is actually a nickname that originated from my time in the military. It is derived from my last name of Wallace and the first initial of my legal first name. I go by Nick, but use Wally D. for most of my online personas (including Twitter and my Fantasy Football website) and with about every other venture I set out to do.

Sean: I read somewhere you started playing Magic back in 1997 during tempest. How did you get into the game?

Wally D: That is correct. My buddy Jared is the one responsible for getting me into playing Magic: the Gathering. He called me on the phone and said he found a game that I was going to like. I went to a local game store to buy Magic cards and showed up at his house with a starter pack of 5th Edition and three Tempest Booster packs. My other good friend, Tom, was already there along with a couple other guys that were going to show us how to play the game. Two of the first rares I ever opened were Nevinyrral’s Disk and Lord of the Pit. To this day, Nevinyrral’s Disk is one of my favorite cards, and I include it in a lot of Commander cards. I still have the original one I opened almost 20 years ago. In fact, I was lucky enough to have it altered and signed by the original artist Mark Tedin.

After learning how to play Magic, Tom, Jared and I pulled in a few more friends and played 60-card, casual multiplayer. Our kitchen table days lasted until 2001 when we shelved our cards and took a 10-year break from Magic. We had to do that adult thing for a while and our spare time and money went to our families and kids.

Sean: Talking about playing for a while, I saw on your site all the Commander articles were labeled EDH. That’s pretty beardy these days. When and how did you get into playing Commander? Was it before the name change?

Wally D: In 2011, I had two buddies at work that recently returned from Afghanistan. During conversation of their life overseas they told me they played a lot of Magic: the Gathering to pass the time. I dusted off my old 60-card Legacy decks and invited these guys over for a few games. After a while, one of them said, “60 card decks are fine and all, but you have got to try EDH.” I borrowed his mono-white EDH deck and have been hooked ever since. Within a month I had three EDH decks and just purchased the Devour for Power Commander 2011 precon. I brought in my old playgroup and mixed them with the younger kids and we started having EDH night at least one Tuesday a month…a ritual that we are still doing five years later.

In my articles I like to have a healthy 50/50 balance of using EDH vs Commander to describe our format. I look at the analytics of my website quite a bit and EDH is still quite prominent in search terms. Besides, it was introduced to me as EDH, so by default, that is usually what still rolls off the tongue in discussion and writing. On a side note, I remember the Legendary creature of the deck being called the “General”. This term feels a little awkward to me nowadays and I stick with calling it the “Commander.” I will, however, use the term “General” in some of my writing to break up repetitiveness in an article or as a healthy synonym.

Sean: Your website is like ours, in that it focuses nearly exclusively on the casual side of Magic. What motivated you to want to start writing articles online?

Wally D: I have always had a passion for writing. When I was in high school I was the Editor of our school literary magazine, inducted into Quill and Scroll for Journalism, and wrote an essay that won me a trip to Washington D.C. Unfortunately, after graduating in 1991 (before most Magic players were born) I strayed away from writing. Years later I decided to take college classes and, at the ripe old age of 39, received an Associate Degree in Web Design.

Writing blogs in college was boring but it did rekindle the passion I had for writing. In my first year of playing Commander I binge read every deck building article and primer I could find. I wanted to soak up ideas and create my own decks that were efficient and bubbled with synergy. Reading articles motivated me to want to write my own. Once I had enough experience playing Commander I installed WordPress on my GoDaddy server, set up and began my MTG writing career.

Sean: The articles of yours that I’ve seen have been Commander related. Since most of our readers our interested in Commander above all else, how much of your site is focused on the best format in Magic?

Wally D: It truly is the best format in Magic, isn’t it? Honestly, if it wasn’t for Commander I probably would not be playing the game today.

On, almost all of my articles are focused on Commander. I do admit, however, that I will throw out the occasional article about current events, limited or other casual format.

With regards to the other writers on, most of them are Commander oriented, but we do get casual looks at other formats from time-to-time. If you don’t mind, I would like to recognize Kuchisama. He is a fantastic writer that has been with our website the longest. He plays a lot of 60-card casual but his column, “Multiplayer Madness,” will occasionally bleed into Commander subjects.

Sean: On that note, who is currently your favorite legend to use as a Commander and what’s so awesome about them?

Wally D: My favorite commander? Oh my goodness. Pulling a favorite weapon out of an armory of 26 Commander decks is quite the task. 26 decks? Yep. Finally, a chance to admit that I have an addiction to deck building.

While I don’t like to play favorites, if I had to pick the deck that I have had the most fun playing with on recent game nights, I would have to say my mono-black control deck with Chainer, Dementia Master at the helm. Chainer isn’t an overpowering deck but it provides “edge of your seat” epic battles and game endings in my playgroup. Chainer is full of everything that is mono-black goodness including boardwipes, Grave Pact effects, enter the battlefield triggers and tutoring. Better yet, my playgroup tends to play with a bunch of fat creatures that Chainer can pluck out out of their graveyard. To top everything off, Chainer provides a cluster of different win conditions that include Exsanguinate, Kokusho Loops, or infinite combos with persist, undying or Nim’s Deathmantle. We can also win with good ol’ fashion creature damage too. An army of Wurmcoil Tokens or Grave Titan zombies usually does the trick.

If I were going to a Grand Prix I would probably load up my bag with Chainer (control), Prossh (aggro tokens), Surrak Dragonclaw (the anti-blue), and whatever new deck(s) that I have working on. White is actually my favorite color in Magic. However, I like to build, play and learn as many archetypes and color combinations that I can. Out of all of my decks I have only built one for competitive 1v1 play at my local game store, and that is Uril, the Miststalker.

Sean: It looks like you have over a dozen authors over on your site. How and where did you find like-minded players?

Wally D: Looks are just a bit deceiving on our author page. The current list shows all authors that have published an article within the last year or have written a significant amount of articles in the past. Currently we only have a small handful of us that are still active.

About once a year I will try to recruit new writers who want to try their hand at word slinging. Occasionally a Commander player will contact me out of the blue inquiring about how they can write articles for What we offer to a player considering to become a writer is a few things. Our website already has an audience, albeit a smaller audience, that receives about 200 visits a day. provides handy plugins that help with formatting decklists, tagging cards, and uploading images. Finally, to post articles on our website there is no need to submit examples of previous work and no experience is required. If someone contacts me wanting to try writing articles or just wants a hassle-free place to write a Primer for their deck, then I will gladly give them the paper and pencil they need to do so. My dream scenario is that one day, a future columnist for Wizards,, or (smiley face) can point back to as the website that helped them get their foot in the door as an MTG writer.

One of the few drawbacks about writing for is that we fly without a safety net, ie, we do not have an editor. As the owner I will read and review every article posted and help out with images, formatting or search engine optimization, but what you see is the raw, untampered writing of each author. By the same token, an author can publish their work right away so articles never gets caught up in red tape.

In addition to new writers I also open the door to established authors that may already write on a different blog or website. Heck, you never know. Maybe an established writer wants to try and gain a few more followers or try to pitch their work to a different audience.

Sean: One of the sections of your site I admire most is the “More Reading” section. On that tab it shows a bunch of articles from all over the web. How do you go about selecting these articles and what do I have to do to get selected one of these days?

Wally D: Great question Sean and probably the easiest answer I can divulge. You are already included in the “More Reading” section. In fact, has been included for a couple of years now. Let me explain. I installed a WordPress plugin on called RSS Multi Importer. This plugin allows me to import multiple RSS feeds from websites of my choosing and then spits them out all on the same page. With the current settings, the More Reading page will pull in the most recent ten articles from each website and display them in date order starting with the most recent.

My current list of feeds includes General Damage Control,,, The Command Zone Podcast (Jimmy and Josh from Rocketjump), and both Jason Alt and Mark Wischkaemper from It also includes a couple more undiscovered Commander bloggers I found over on The Command Zone by Thaumaturge and Eric from AyeCommander!

I would be ecstatic to add more RSS feeds to this page, but would like to keep the focus on Commander or Multiplayer Casual Play. I have tried to pull in Commander articles from websites such as SCG and TCG but have been unable to successfully parse out the Commander related articles.

Sean: While we’ve got you here, is there anything new going on with you or the site that you would like people to know about?

Wally D: You bet. I always have ideas brewing but some never come to fruition. I would still like to find a podcast that could call their home. I attempted to create my own about a year and a half ago and found out that it is a lot more difficult and time-consuming than I could have imagined. I did publish our recorded Episode 0 of 103.1 EDH Radio a few months ago and am considering giving it another go.

I am also working on creating more content for the YouTube channel. I plan on publishing Top 10 videos and few more deck techs in the near future.

In the meantime I will continue writing and publishing my Top 10 Set reviews. The Top 10 EDH Cards for Commander series seem to receive the most traffic and they are my favorite articles to write. In addition to Top 10 lists for new sets, I will still write and update primers for Commander decks along with other EDH centered content. I am also dedicated to finishing my EDH Finance article series that is geared towards obtaining reserved list cards for Commander. I’m currently a month or so behind, so I plan on catching up with that.

Once again I want to thank you for putting the spotlight on I am excited and looking forward to reading your new article series on GDC.


P.S. The current plan is to publish these pretty regularly-nearly once a week if possible. So if you want to get interviewed or know someone who would be a good fit for the focus of this series, reach out to me on Twitter. I’d love to hear from you!

Black Sheep Meets – Interview with Hallie Santo

Today I’m helping us kick off a new chapter for me at GDC. While we have always touted ourselves as the “defenders of the social contract,” we have focused primarily on how it applies to face-to-face interactions, in games. We want to start taking that focus and widening it to include the community as well. GDC wants to bring that fun and casual experience you have when you sit around a table to play with friends to the online forum.

On that note, I will be doing a regular community spotlight segment. The goal to bring additional attention to players, shops, organizations, and websites who influence their community in a positive way. Our inaugural piece is going to focus on a player, podcaster, writer, reporter, and community organizer by the name of Hallie Santo.haille

Hallie writes for and occasionally DailyMTG. She has a podcast, the Girlfriend Bracket. She plays competitively and works on coverage for some of the larger events on the west coast. Hallie is also an active member and mentor in the Lady Planeswalker Society. If that wasn’t enough, she is also an occasional Commander player. I’ve been fortunate to know Hallie through my work at Card Kingdom, where we are both employed. I am grateful she could take the time to do this interview.

Sean: Hallie, thank you for taking the time to do this interview. You are doing so much within the Magic community. I’m going to try and cover everything today, but I’ll apologize ahead of time if I accidentally leave something out.

I heard somewhere that you have been playing Magic since 2012, and quickly became involved in growing the community. How did you first get into Magic and what made you want to help bridge that gap between casual players (like most of us here on GDC) and the tournament environment?

Hallie: I did play my first game of Magic in 2012, a few days after I graduated from college. I was thinking of moving to Seattle at the time, so I planned a post-grad trip to check out the city. I stayed with a friend who had been playing Magic on and off since Odyssey and who had won college scholarship money playing in the Junior Super Series during Darksteel. He’d been telling me about Magic for a while, so one night, I asked him to teach me how to play. I took to the game immediately and resolved to continue learning to play Magic.

When I moved to Seattle a month or so later, another friend invited me to Café Mox to play board games. It was a Friday night, and the place was so crowded that we had to wait for over an hour to get a table. I asked if there was some sort of special event going on, and a Card Kingdom employee told me that the store was hosting its weekly Friday Night Magic tournament. I peeked into the tournament room and saw over seventy players slinging spells and having fun. I hadn’t realized that Magic was such a popular and social game, and it seemed like just the thing to get me out of my tiny apartment. I came back to the store shortly thereafter to buy cards, and by the end of the summer, I had started playing in small tournaments at various local stores.

I think my desire to introduce casual players to competitive Magic was born out of my early experiences at The Lady Planeswalkers Society. Most LPS members only played Magic at LPS or at their kitchen tables, and while some players just enjoyed the casual and social aspects of Magic, others were afraid to attend larger tournaments (even FNMs) for fear of being bullied and ostracized. I believe that any Magic tournament that purports to be open to everyone should feel like it is open to everyone, and I want to remove barriers that prevent players from feeling welcome.

Sean: I’ve heard of the Lady Planeswalkers Society, but I am a bit ashamed to admit that I don’t know much about what they do. Seattle is the first place I have seen with an active chapter. Could you describe what the LPS is and where people who are interested could find out more?

Hallie: Sure! LPS is a network of Magic: The Gathering playgroups for players of all genders and skill levels. LPS was founded in Seattle by former Wizards of the Coast Brand Manager Tifa Robles and held its first eight-player tournament at Card Kingdom in July 2011. We host tournaments every Tuesday night, and formats vary from week to week; we try to make our tournaments accessible to newer players, so we play a lot of Limited, with some Standard and Commander thrown in for good measure. We’ve also run Learn-to-Play Magic booths at several local conventions, including PAX West, Emerald City Comic Con, and GeekGirlCon.

LPS has dozens of chapters across the country and around the world. You can find a full list of chapters at our website, You can also join our Facebook group and follow us on Twitter @MTGLadySociety.

Sean: Aside from being involved in the LPS, I think you are probably best known for being the co-host of the Girlfriend Bracket (seen either on Gathering Magic or through Wizards on the Community Super League). Your group has been making quality podcasts for nearly 80 episodes. For those who haven’t listened, could you talk a little bit about what the podcast is all about and what your secret has been to keeping it going for so long?

Hallie: I often describe The Girlfriend Bracket as “Magic: the Gathering’s answer to The View.” The podcast was originally Erin Campbell’s idea – she had hosted an interview podcast called The Deck Tease for years and was looking for a fun side project. Occasionally, instead of having a pro player or other well-known community member on her show, she’d assemble a group of women to discuss current events, and she wanted to see what would happen if she pursued a show of that format full-time. At the beginning of 2015, she set out to find three co-hosts with different backgrounds – ideally, she wanted a tournament player, a judge, and a more casual player who had opinions on the tournament scene.

Erin already had me in mind for the “tournament player” seat when she put out the call for potential co-hosts. She and I had met through mutual friends a few years prior, and she invited me to fill in for her usual co-host on The Deck Tease’s special M15 preview episode. We had great on-air chemistry, and she invited me back for a few more episodes, including her second “women’s round table” feature. We already had a great working relationship, so there was no doubt in my mind that I should follow her to her next project.

By March, we had a full cast: Katie Neal, an L2 judge from Montana, got the “judge” seat, and Erin’s friend Kriz Schultz from the greater Milwaukee area became our casual player. We went into the show with a clear purpose – we were going to talk about news, current events, and issues affecting women in the community, with a healthy dose of fun and laughs – but most of us were inexperienced podcasters, so it took us a few episodes to find our groove. But as our friendship grew (and we experimented with different audio equipment), our shows steadily improved, and we started reaching wider audiences. Countless listeners have told us that they feel like they’re having a conversation with their friends whenever they listen to our show, and I think that’s what’s kept us going for so long – we’re really good friends, on the air and off.

Sean: I’ve had the fortune to both play against you and see you play limited. You are clearly a talented player, and I have also noticed that you do event coverage. How did you get involved with covering events, and how do you make the difficult decision between competing in events and providing coverage for those events?

Hallie: I started doing event coverage because it seemed like the best way to pursue two of my greatest passions: Magic and writing. I have a creative writing degree and had been working as a freelance writer when I was given the opportunity to do tournament coverage for Wizards of the Coast. I had a working interview at Grand Prix Seattle-Tacoma and officially joined the coverage team for Grand Prix Los Angeles this year.

Everything in life has an opportunity cost, and I’m certainly aware that every event I cover for Wizards is an event that I’ve chosen not to compete in. But there will always be more events to play in and alternate paths I can take to get on the Pro Tour – the local PPTQ circuit, Magic Online – so I don’t feel like I’m missing out necessarily.

Sean: I have seen articles from you on both Gathering Magic and Daily MTG. Your topics seem to have a range as broad as your experience, going between competitive advice to community issues. What is your process for deciding on a topic for an article and putting pen to paper?

Hallie: Last year, when I was a much more prolific Magic writer, I tended to choose topics that I cared about and felt qualified to comment on. I’ve always occupied an interesting space in the Magic community, in that I’m a competitive-minded but relatively inexperienced player, so I’ve tried to leverage the few important tournament experiences I’ve had. I had a bad experience with an angle-shooting opponent and didn’t see much writing about the subject at the time, so I wrote an article about it.

I read a bunch of articles about the topic of women in Magic and didn’t feel they fully encompassed my experience, so I added my voice to that conversation. My Magic writing method has always been to fill in any gaps I see in the larger community conversation – what isn’t being addressed? – and I haven’t been writing as much lately because I haven’t been noticing as many gaps. And maybe that’s a good thing – maybe it’s a sign that there are more voices, more diverse voices, being heard in our community.

Sean: I’d be remiss not to talk about the best format, Commander. Do you play? If you do, could you talk to us a bit about your current favorite deck?

Hallie: I don’t consider myself a Commander player, but I do play every now and then with friends who love the format. Back when I first started playing, one of my close friends would have regular Commander nights at his house, and I would borrow decks to play with them, but I never enjoyed playing because the decks I borrowed weren’t really my style. The inherent inconsistency of a 99-card singleton deck was a huge roadblock for me at the time, so I tried to mitigate some of that by building Momir Vig, Simic Visionary. I enjoyed playing the deck and won quite a few games with it, but once my friends had played against the deck a couple times, they figured out how to beat it. (Torpor Orb was a huge problem for me.) I built a second deck – Oona, Queen of the Fae – and milling people out with Palinchron and Caged Sun was fun for a while, but I eventually grew disinterested in the format.

Different players play Magic differently, and I’ve resolved that I enjoy building Commander decks far more than I actually enjoy the way Commander games play out. As a competitive player, I’m used to playing Magic against one person and doing everything I can do beat one person, and Commander has an entirely different dynamic – I’d start games of Commander by building up resources and board presence, and before long, I’d be fending off attacks from all three of my opponents. Diplomacy is a valuable skill, but it’s not always transferable to other formats of Magic.

Sean: Thank you again for coming on. Is there anything new coming up in that you would like to talk about? For any of our readers looking to hear more from you, how do you recommend people keep up to date on everything you are up to?

Hallie: Recently, I’ve been creating content for Card Kingdom’s weekly newsletter, including deck techs and videos. You can sign up for emails at or watch my introductory drafting videos on the Card Kingdom YouTube channel.
If you’d like to get in touch with me (or see photos of my awesome dog), I’m on Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat @halcansan. Thanks for chatting with me!

Thanks – Let me know if you have any feedback or ideas, and join me in thanking Hallie for her time and contributions to GDC and the Magic community!

Black Sheep (Featuring Dave and Cass) – Advice for Finding New Playgroups and Building New Friendships



Roughly one year ago, everyone here at General Damage Control was busy writing about the amazing time they had at GenCon 2015. As it turns out, GenCon was a truly life changing experience for our crew – out of the core team, the three of us (Sean, David, and Cass) are no longer living in the same state we were when we packed our bags, grabbed our EDH decks, and headed out to meet up in Indianapolis for The Best Four Days In Gaming.

Not only have we all moved and changed jobs, but we’ve also made significant decisions about how we wanted our futures to look. Changes like this aren’t small, and they aren’t easy – either to orchestrate or to manage emotionally.


Without fail, the decisions we all made were based on fulfilling dreams, spending time with our families, and (critically) being kind to our future selves by laying the foundation for better lives. While this is hopefully great down the road when things have settled in, the current process to make it all happen is a lot of hard work. One of the hardest things we all have to do is set up new connections and friendships in our new communities. This is hard for normal circumstances, but for dedicated gamers, it is both very important and very stressful to accomplish. We’ve all spent years developing playgroups and connections around the games we love and – if we’re honest – rely on to keep us engaged, entertained, and happy when we’re not working or enjoying time with our families. There’s no question that these connections and experiences go a long way towards happiness and mental/emotional well-being, and while it may sound a little trivial to the non-gamer, anyone who identifies as one knows how important this is.

Between the three of us, we’ve learned quite a bit about forging new friendships and finding playgroups in a new area.

How to Make Friends and Impress People (with your Magical prowess)

More than anything, patience is the key to success. Our friendships from our previous homes took years to get to where they were when we left. While the need for connections and friendships is immediately apparent and very important, those kinds of amazing relationships just don’t happen overnight for many reasons. Being happy at home and successful at work obviously take priority over making friends and finding a new place to play cards; to be successful after a large move, you need all the support your family and current friends will provide, so that takes priority. Fully immersing yourself in a new group of friends will cut into the time you have to foster the connections with your spouses and children, and those are the most important- as hard as it is to create a new connection with a group, it’s much harder to find that person you love and can live with.

So take your time. Understand what you want to find, but respect the time and the process it will take to get there.

However – and this is important – don’t confuse patience with reluctance. When an opportunity comes along to meet new people and it doesn’t interfere with your professional and personal life…take it. It’s easy to let yourself retreat to the safety of solitude, fearing the change and lamenting the loss of what was a good thing, but this is the path to new and potentially great friendships and connections. Don’t limit yourself, either – while we all play Commander, true friendships are multifaceted. If someone invites you to listen to live music, try out a new restaurant, watch them do Parkour in a public park, or drink smoothies where you have to pedal on a bike to run the mixer (it’s a thing), try it. Hanging out and making friendships is about the ‘campfire experience’. It’s about having something to sit around, talk and connect over. Commander is a ‘campfire’, but there are many others – and the connections are always more important than specific activities.

Let’s face it – fun is a lot more about the attitudes of those involved, rather than just the specific activities and actions.


[Dave] As your life gets more complicated, this doesn’t get less important – just less simple. You have to be creative and flexible and understand that you can only really have about three priorities; everything else is a ‘nice-to-have’. So if you want to prioritize, for example:

  • Family
  • Job
  • New Friends

…Then you’re going to have to give up some sleep or whatever to go pedal that smoothie or sling cards, knowing full well you’re waking up at 5:45 the next morning to watch the kids.

That’s what prioritizing is. [/Dave]


Reaching Out

One of the hardest things for most people to get through is that you need to put yourself out there and be outgoing. I know a lot of people are introverted, but understanding what that means is really important. While the common perception of introverted and extroverted means you are either shy or outgoing. Recently a popular theory about explaining the personalities has less to do with actions and more to do with what drives us. Introverts get their energy and drive from the time they spend alone, being in crowds can be enjoyable will drain them. In contrast extroverts get their energy from hanging out with others and the time they spend working alone can drain them. Introverts are largely seen as shy because when they are already tired, spending time with others feels exhausting. The secret to being an introvert and being outgoing is to make sure you give yourself your alone time before heading out to meet with a new group. You want to be full of energy before your meet-up.


[Cass] I’m the absolute king of introversion. One of the reasons my move was so terrifying to me was that it was the first time I ever left my comfort zone – my closest friends are ones I’ve had for decades, and my LGS was only mine because Mr. P introduced me to it years ago. I’ve only recently felt truly at home there – which by personal definition is “I don’t feel a twinge of nervousness when I go there alone.”

I absolutely gain power from being alone with my thoughts. Frequently, I’ll arrive somewhere way early just so that I can sit in my car, relax, collect my thoughts, and prepare myself for whatever it is I’m about to do.

Long story short – this “finding a new group of friends” thing is NOT in my wheelhouse.

But Sean is right – you push through, and you overcome your hang-ups, because it leads to better things and new connections. Since I am still away from my family (I’m renting a house in Cape Cod while my wife and children are still at the home we own in New Hampshire), I found that I had the time to get out there and look around…I just needed to make myself actually do it. As a result, I’ve found a shop that I really like, and I’ve spent several nights there so far – playing games, talking shop, and just hanging out. It feels like a great place to be. [/Cass]


Aside from being shy, people tend to also be afraid to be outgoing because they are afraid of failing to make new friends or start new relationships. This is primarily a maturity issue; each person takes a unique amount of time to come to grips with the reality that they will inevitably fail to start and maintain some relationships in their lives. Not every person we meet can be someone we will be connected too for the rest of our lives, so the best thing you can do is to just let the failures happen and accept it’s not anyone’s fault. Not everyone connects in a meaningful way. You can still be a friendly acquaintance without being soul-mates.


[Cass] This is also a good point. My first experience down here on the Cape involved dropping into the first shop that I found. I read a bunch of promising Facebook posts and reviews, and actually found myself writing off some of the alternate options that I came across; I was so anxious to find ‘my new place’ that I was preemptively writing off other options in favor of ‘The One’ – and ‘The One’ was somewhere I hadn’t actually set foot in yet!

As it turns out, getting out there and trying these places out made a huge difference. I found that I couldn’t connect at all in the first shop – the people weren’t inviting or inclusive, the area it was in was not so great, and as a result, the atmosphere just wasn’t comfortable. (Not to mention – no Commander players!)

I failed to connect there, and that was a little upsetting at first; eventually, though I realized that it wasn’t in the cards (pardon the pun!), and that forcing something that wasn’t a good fit was not going to help my goal of finding new players, playgroups, and (most importantly) friends at all. [/Cass]


Bringing Yourself to the Table

There are things you can do to help increase the odds of forging a meaningful connection; the most important part is making a good first impression. Making a first impression isn’t about putting on a false sense of yourself in order to sneak into a situation where you spend time together with others; it’s about removing reasons for people not to give you a chance. Think of it as a job interview. During an interview, you are trying to show people exactly who you are. You want them to listen to all you have to offer. You stay positive, you make sure you look sharp, and you make sure you are shower-fresh because you want them to focus on you and what you are saying. You embrace the quirkiness that makes you unique so that you stand out based off exactly who you are without your appearance being a distraction.

The other crucial part of getting a ‘campfire conversation’ rolling is to listen. It’s really tempting to talk about yourself, because let’s face it – you are an expert on the subject. However, people are more likely to learn about you if you extend the hand of friendship first by listening to them. A new area gives you a perfect opportunity to listen to others; after all, you need advice on things to do, places to eat, and areas to explore – they don’t. The best listeners do something that is very difficult; they shut off that portion of the brain that compels them to think about the next thing they are going to say while someone else is talking – the “chess effect.” Here’s the thing…you are trying to find friends. That means when you do, you will have all the time in the world to tell them about yourself later. For now, don’t worry about telling them about yourself, unless you get prompted to do so.

You also need to understand the source of all of this advice. If you can learn how close your likes and interests are, you can gauge how likely a new acquaintances’ advice will help you. When you are just starting out in a new area and you find a kindred spirit, follow all of their advice that you can. The best way to show you value someone’s opinion is to actually take their suggestions.

When they inevitably ask about you, let go of your secrets. We all have secrets; unless they will get you put in prison or fired, stop holding them back. People connect faster and open up more when they really know who you are. We’ve all done terribly embarrassing things, and it’s usually hilarious to share this stuff – these are the things that make you human and break down walls. Like, “Sean once danced on stage in a white spandex sailor suit cut for a teenage girl…If you look hard enough, there may actually be video on it.” There could also be some dark times; things you don’t usually bring up, but there may be no reason to hide them. Life is tough, and we’ve all been through hard times; sharing that little piece of potential personal misery really does make you connect on more emotional levels with others. Now, I’m not saying you should just blurt out every terrible and embarrassing thing in your life…but just don’t bottle it inside. Let it out and use it to connect.

Closing Time

The last year has been miserable and memorable, exhausting and fulfilling, heart breaking and life changing, and it’s been life. We’ve all grown and we hope that what we have learned can help all of you in your journeys through life. Please let us know what advice you have for moving to a new area and starting over. This is just some advice, and we want to hear everything you’ve learned from your experiences.

-Sean (and Dave and Cass)

Page 1 of 7

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén