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…
As 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 GatheringMagic.com 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 CardConfidants.com. 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 Starcitygames.com 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 Starcitygames.com 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: Facebook.com/EmmaHandyMTG