By John McCurdy
So, I have a problem.
I can’t get enough Magic. There’s a reason they call the game “cardboard crack” - I firmly believe it to be the best card game (if not the best game, period) ever made, and the drive to acquire more cards and improve one’s play never ceases.
But see...I’ve got another problem.
I, well, can’t get enough Magic. Being an adult - or at least an age at which others have determined I should act like an adult - means I need to have a job, pay bills, shop for necessities, do chores, feed my cats, etc. This leaves me with less time than I really want for drafting janky three-color decks, Bolting the opponent’s Birds, curving one into two into three and the like.
So what’s a planeswalker to do? Aside from playing Magic Online, I have found that there are options to get that fix. And while they might stop short of letting me actually jam cards, I’ve found them to be pretty effective for scratching the itch. I enjoy each of the following free Magic content resources for their own reasons - which will be further illuminated below - and recommend them to pretty much anyone who finds themselves in a predicament like mine.
For a while now, Limited Resources (LR) has been the gold standard in terms of Magic podcasting. Most lists of the best Magic podcasts start with it, and for good reason: Marshall Sutcliffe and each of his co-hosts over the years do a darn good job of explaining strategy and tips for improvement across pretty much every Limited format in the reliable, weekly one-hour episodes.
Marshall’s current partner-in-crime is none other than Hall of Famer Luis Scott-Vargas (LSV), he of multiple PT Top 8s and one PT win. Obviously, Luis brings the unrivaled level of insight and skill that only a pro could bring, but he has a great sense of humor and a long history with the game that make him a fantastic counterpart to Marshall. Speaking of, Sutcliffe has really carved out a prominent role for himself in the larger Magic community, serving as a commentator for many (if not most) top live events and putting out consistently excellent podcasts, vlogs and videos across multiple channels.
I won’t lie: I’m enough of a junkie that, in addition to listening to each new episode as it comes out, I am actively going back through old episodes to hear about formats I missed and the myriad techniques for playing better that the LR crew have covered. From “the vanilla test” to quadrant theory and the CABS versus UBER balance, there is a lot to soak up for the die-hards like myself.
I don’t fault anyone for not taking things as far as I have - in fact, you’re in all likelihood a much more sane individual - but I encourage any and all Magic players interested in Limited to at least dip their toe in here, even if only for one of the world-famous set review shows that come out with each new release.
Loading, Ready, Run
The group over at Loading, Ready, Run (LRR) put out lots and lots of high-quality content, of which I have only scratched the surface. They’re a Canadian comedy troupe that specializes in gaming-related shows that includes Graham Stark (co-founder), Paul Saunders (co-founder), Kathleen De Vere, Cameron Lauder, James Turner, Alex Steacy, Adam Savidan and more. I’ll speak here to just the Magic-related shows, and of those just the ones I’ve explored the most: Tap, Tap, Concede; Friday Nights; and the Pre-Prerelease streams.
Tap, Tap, Concede is a semi-weekly vidcast that is also released in audio-only podcast form and typically clocks in around one hour. I mostly consume it as audio-only, though depending on the topic the vidcast is the better option. The show is Magic variety at its finest, all from a light-hearted angle that allows each of the various troupe members’ personalities to shine. Each episode features a fairly random selection from the cast, and topics covered could be new card previews, one of the host’s recent Standard brews, the British Columbia Canadian Highlander scene or even nicknames for cards. Basically, it’s great for both solid takes on various formats and good laughs.
Friday Nights is a weekly comedy video series featuring most - if not all - of the cast and loosely based on the premise of a Friday night spent playing various formats of Magic. Of course, hijinks always abound, and Magic-centric jokes are the bulk of the punchlines. The writing is solid, production quality is very high and the acting really quite good, which leads me to say there are far worse ways to spend 10 minutes than catching an episode.
Finally, there are the Pre-Prereleases, which are essentially what they sound like: early prereleases sponsored by Wizards, held one or two weeks before regular prereleases. Wizards also typically sends an employee to join in with four cast members plus three other guests (the likes of which have included Marshall Sutcliffe, artist Noah Bradley, coach Emma Handy and more) for an eight-person Sealed Swiss event run just like a prerelease (with official prerelease kits and all). It’s a great opportunity to see cards from a new set in action very early, plus the personalities of all involved get to shine in their games and deck-building segments. A word of warning: they’re long - like seven or eight hours - and probably best consumed over a few sessions once LRR uploads the full video to YouTube. Unless you have the time to catch the whole stream - then have at it!
Gaby is a professional video game streamer and visible Magic personality known for a lot of popular content she creates. While I like everything she does - which includes streams of basically every format on Magic Online, as well as other video games - I’m a big fan of her draft videos on YouTube, of which I have consumed quite a lot.
Said videos are one-and-a-half- to two-hour-long recordings of the regular MTGO drafts that Gaby streams on her Twitch channel on a daily basis. She typically selects interesting drafts featuring decks that achieve a 2-1 record or better in the event, and the screen features not only the gameplay field and Gaby herself narrating picks and plays, but also the Twitch chat as it runs live during the stream.
While she doesn’t have a lot of incredibly high finishes in big events, Gaby is an excellent player who does a great job of explaining her decisions and lines. She fosters a positive and inclusive community in chat, interacts well with her viewers and builds great Limited decks while not being afraid to try out strange or interesting cards. I’ve found it extremely worthwhile to go back and watch videos from each of the recent formats and can see myself playing and drafting better as a result of things I’ve picked up from them.
There’s also the small added bonus that she and LSV (aforementioned HOFer and co-host of Limited Resources) are in a relationship, so he frequently pops in to offer advice in chat and sometimes joins in on-camera as co-pilot. But whether you get the package deal or just Gaby herself, I’d have to say her YouTube channel is probably my favorite out there.
Drive to Work
This one comes from the man himself, Magic head designer Mark Rosewater. He literally records these half-hour shows during his drives to and from the Wizards office on workdays, and while some are turned off by the not-great audio, Mark’s voice and through-the-roof excitement or topic choices, I for one love the game design theory, Magic history, personal stories and behind-the-scenes tales he offers.
His topics are immensely varied and at times chosen randomly right before he does them, though he does have a few regular series that he’s been filling out over the five-plus years the show has existed, including card-by-card set retrospectives, year-by-year recaps (including all releases and major tournaments for the chosen year) and an episode for each of his 20 lessons from the famous “20 Years, 20 Lessons” presentation.
Anyway, as I was saying, I’m a fan of Rosewater in general and what he does with these twice-weekly shows, as he offers an entirely unique perspective on the game and company (being the unofficial “official spokesperson”) and also really dives deep on game design, which I’m personally interested in. In his show, he consistently demonstrates a real drive to understand and adapt to the audience, and that’s a good thing to have in the main man behind the game we love.
Plus, his positivity and enthusiasm is really admirable and at times infectious, and something I think we can all use a dose of in this day and age. Not to digress too greatly, but hearing the happy voice of someone extremely passionate about what he does can really make a difference and reframe a bad day.
Noticing a trend here? I’m a huge fan of the spoken audio format, be it podcasts or audiobooks, and Unspoken Realms is an interesting intersection of the two. These are, in the words of the individual behind them, “audio recordings of the official Magic: The Gathering story.” To put it another way, they’re dramatic readings of the Magic short stories appearing on wizards.com (which were previously known as Uncharted Realms, hence the podcast’s name).
Each is performed by the aforementioned anonymous individual (and that person alone), and they’ve skillfully developed solid unique voices for many of the Multiverse’s major characters, including the Gatewatch and beyond. While the quality of the story varies with the quality of the source material (which, for the record, I think is generally pretty high), their ability to pace the tale and add important inflection to the dialogue does not - they consistently put out fantastic episodes with uncompromising sound quality.
For someone who is just now beginning to explore the lore of Magic on a deeper level - I had general knowledge of the overarching plot before, but now get the full shpiel via this very cast - I’ve found this to be an entertaining and rewarding listen with pretty much every episode. For those of us who don’t have the time to sit down in front of the computer and read the story, or don’t enjoy/are uncomfortable reading off a monitor, or just don’t enjoy reading (you heathen), this is a great resource to have.
And that’s about it! There are countless other awesome Magic content producers out there, but these are some of my top picks. I absolutely welcome suggestions to this stable, though, and encourage the People’s Republic to share their favorites in the Facebook group or at the next event.