[Editor’s Note: After much deliberation, two websites passed on this because this was more of a personal issue. In the abstract, this is clearly a community one at whole, but I respect their decisions.]
Sometimes, all you have is your identity.
It can be stolen, changed, or mistaken, but the one you have is your own. We, as humans, do everything we can to differentiate ourselves from each other. This is the reason we give our offspring names and why we sign up for forums and Magic Online accounts with a name. No one remembers 2019384. That’s just a number, a faceless being in a faceless world. People remember names.
Star City Games.
It’s with these names that others remember personalities, styles, and brands. It makes them stick in your head.
The thing I contribute most to the Magic community is my writing. No one looks at me for creating the next format-breaking deck or what cards they should invest in. My writing is something I’m passionate about as I always love to try out new and different ideas. Sometimes I’m the court jester, other times I’m the storyteller. There are times where I’m the kid at the front of the class raising my hand after every question the teacher asks. I feel like an ambassador to this game that we play because of my writing; it’s part of my responsibility to help people understand this game. There are so many doors opened and opportunities given to me because of my written word. I feel like a writer first, and a Magic player second.
I’m very comfortable with that.
As a writer, you’re told that you need to develop a brand. That’s why you see MTGColorPie as my brand everywhere I go. MTGColorPie on Twitter, MTGColorPie.com as my personal Magic blog, MTGColorPie on Magic Online. It’s more than just a name, though that’s a large part of it. Readers want to know what to expect when they click on that link to read your words. I tend to have honest and researched writing, broken up in more prose-like passages and disjointed paragraphs that I’m sure my editors (when I have them) hate. I’ve branched out to talk about several areas of Magic including design, humor, culture, and, most prominently, Commander.
We’ll get back to that in a moment.
I don’t write the controversial articles. I’m not Dr. Jeebus, Geordie Tait, or Ted Knutson. I’ve disagreed with all of them multiple times, but they’re the one getting hits because people like controversy. My brand that people have come to expect is one where I don’t rock the boat. I have tried to follow Knutson’s Open Letter to MTG Pros and Writers (an actual must read for those groups). Lately this has created a huge existential dilemma.
What happens when your brand suddenly becomes someone else’s?
A few months ago, I reloaded the Magic sites and blogs at “Magic Midnight”, 12 AM Eastern Standard Time when all the major sites update to new daily content. I noticed something on StarCityGames that made me a little sick to my stomach. There was a column from a Sean McKeown simply titled:
If you don’t get the reference, it’s a clever call back to Jay-Z’s hit song “99 Problems” (with NSFW language) and the fact that your Commander deck has 100 cards: the one Commander and rest of the 99 cards in the deck. Once you pick your commander, you have 99 other cards to fill, and that’s where your problems begin. It’s cute wordplay, and it makes sense for the format. Some of you may not be aware that I had been writing my own commander blog. Are you curious about the name of the blog that I started in October 2009?
It’s not like I just wrote one post and left the blog. I continued it for over a year, and it was one of the first Commander-only blogs out there. I then decided to call it quits on the blog in February, the 21st to be exact, to focus more on my other writings, like writing Commander for GatheringMagic. I basically admitted that I had bitten off more than I could chew in trying to contribute to the Magic community (Two blogs, writing at two separate sites, a Twitter feed; I only have so much time to give). What can I say? I’m a people pleaser.
Sean’s article went up on the all important date of February 28th. Just one week after I announce my blog is going to stop another person basically picks it up, not only using it as a title of a post (which would be better) but as the name of his new column. The title of an article I can completely understand, since titles can mean and be anything. But calling his column pretty much the same as my blog was, well, that’s a little too close for comfort.
I’m most likely not the first one to compare one of Jay-Z’s most popular songs and this highlander format, but I did start a blog with that title and kept it running for quite some time. What if I started a blog titled “StarCountyGames?” I’m sure that there would be at least a little backlash over, that and some people in high places in the Magic community would ask me to stop using that name.
When someone first creates a blog, starts writing a column, or begins recording a podcast, choosing a name is a very important part of the process to help create your identity, your brand. Once I had chosen MTGColorPie as my internet handle, I worked hard for that identity to show who I am and branded it to be my work. More players in the Magic community know me by MTGColorPie than my real name. Some people have grown out of their handle, to the point where people can call them both by their real name or their handle. MTGMetagame is Jonathan Medina, and Lauren Lee is Mulldrifting. Both have gone on to huge success at StarCityGames. I have barely begun that process.
One of the other ways people knew about me was through my Commander blog; I was the “99 EDH Problems” guy. They may not have interest in my Magic design stuff, but they liked my work there. For a blog that had no advertising, and no support other than my own and a few other’s guest work, I had about 1,000 views a day. I know it doesn’t rival the big Magic sites, but I thought that was pretty good for a little guy like me.
Now that Sean is using 99 Problems for his column name, I feel as if part of my identity has been lost. This is one of the major reasons I brought back 99EDH: I didn’t want to lose part of myself in this Magic community.
But this isn’t Sean’s first go-around as a StarCityGames writer. He used to have a column called “Magical Hack.” When I approached him on this situation he said that he wanted to create a new brand, for a new audience. Sean understands the importance of a brand, which is why he wanted to change his previous one up for a new one when he talks about Commander.
But it’s at the expense of my brand. My identity.
After all, a name change with a column seemed like a good, simple idea that would fix the problem. I didn’t have an issue with his writing, only those two little words in his title. He told me that he didn’t know that my 99 EDH Problems blog even existed; Sean only reads the large sites, where my blog wasn’t on his list.
And that makes some sense, right? Not everyone is so involved in the Magic community, so I could forgive him there. Not everyone knows about BojukaBlog.com or MuseVessel.wordpress.com. I consider myself lucky that I’ve been published at GatheringMagic.com, and at Quiet Speculation. Yet one of the questions I keep coming back to is “But is this all Sean’s fault?”
Let’s try a little experiment.
If I wanted to start a new Magic blog, or podcast, or whatever, the easiest way to discover what name has already been taken is to Google it. If, for argument’s sake, I wanted to title my new column on so-and-so site “99 Problems” and talk about Commander, let me type in “99 Problems, Magic” into Google and let me see what I find.
All that it would take would be a simple Google search and everything would be fine. But Sean didn’t do one. Sean’s editor’s didn’t do one. Now I’m the jerk for ruining all of their fun.
I know I don’t own the rights to the title, but within a community like ours doesn’t it show a little bit of respect to not name something that has already been taken? It shouldn’t matter if someone is being paid for their writing or if they’re writing for fun; if they’ve started to embrace their brand it should be “off limits” to name it for their own use.
“But, Robby” some of you cry, “you were done with your use of that name. Why not let him use it?” It’s like if I started a blog called “Magical Hack” and wrote about the same stuff Sean did. He would have no right to get mad at me with your logic even though I would be, intentionally or not, stealing his identity. I asked Sean about that very same situation but he shrugged me off. He doesn’t care if someone does that.
He may not feel that way.
I emailed him and asked him to stop using the name after his six article test run. That would be a logical stopping point. I really don’t feel comfortable with having that column title with someone else’s name attached to it. This isn’t like on DailyMTG.com, where people pass down columns and titles after they leave.
Sean suggested that I come onto his column to say that I used to have a very similar title for a blog, but he was going to continue to using it. Somehow, I think that’s a tad disingenuous. Basically, he was lining me up to give him a thumbs up on the situation and be like Fonzie with it. I’m not okay.
I’m really not okay.
Sean, whether he meant to or not, has stolen a part of my online identity and doesn’t seem to care. I can’t change the title of my blog because it’s how my readers find me; his is a column that runs on a site that publishes dozens of articles each week. The important thing is I don’t I feel like I have to. He suggested that we should keep them the same because readers have to type in two different URL’s to get to our two respective sites. Because, clearly, that’s how the internet and people work; they never use search engines.
Sean won’t change his title. Why should he? He’s writing for one of the most popular Magic sites, and has their power behind him. If he didn’t hear of my blog, why would’ve anyone else?
But, let’s see what Sean has to say, in an email he sent to me:
“…not being aware of every blog in existence on the Internet is very reasonable for the editorial staff of a major daily newspaper with an editorial staff of fifty working full-time to catch such possibilities, and unfortunately for Robbie [sic] that is all his blog is: a blog on the Internet, not a competitor website which presumably the editorial staff should have been aware of.”
Excuse me, Sean, that’s exactly what an editor is supposed to do. If StarCityGames wants to acquire new talent and find out what people are thinking, I’m sure someone out there might be searching the other Magic sites besides DailyMTG, ChannelFireball, QuietSpeculation, BlackBorder, and GatheringMagic. We live and work in a world based on the Internet. If there was only a way to quickly and easily search to see if someone did happen to have a similar title, and a neologism had been created to describe such an action.
“99 Problems, Commander”
“99 Problems, EDH”
“99 Problems, MTG”
It’s a fun game that anyone can play at home on their own computer. I would highly suggest you try it.
What if Sean were to meet someone at one of the StarCityGames Open series and share that he writes a column called 99 Problems. After a long tournament, that person may have forgot his name, or where he said the articles were, but somehow remembered the title. I hate to admit it, but it’s so damn catchy. He goes home and Googles it, finding my blog.
Not that I’m complaining that Sean’s audience would become my audience, but the point is he’s not getting the hits that he should get. I know for a fact the reverse is true: I’ve had my friends come up and ask me when I started writing for StarCityGames.
Brand name make and break everything. Sometimes they’re so engaging, you want to know what it’s about. One of the best Magic examples is the podcast “Yo, MTG Taps!“, a very clever parody of the MTV show from the 90’s. I was the one that suggest “The Eh! Team” podcast name (and even made their original intro parody The A-Team theme). Brand can be everything, and it makes no sense for two people to be sharing that.
I don’t want to boil this argument down to “I was here first, please respect that.” Even if I did stop my blog for a while, you can’t say that’s ok to take the name; after all, no one knew it existed in the first place, right? It would be like me taking the title UGMadness after the webcomic has now officially gone defunct. “Well, he’s not using it anymore.” You just respect names and brands like that.
That’s all I’m looking for: respect as a fellow writer.
I wish that I could tell you that this has a happy ending and that all I had to do was to email the author or their editor and get things ironed out. It shouldn’t really be all that hard. There would be some awkwardness, as would be expected, and a new name could be chosen and everyone moves on from there. I’ve been trying to keep this out of the public eye to be respectful to everyone involved. I could’ve brought this up every single time that he had a new article published, left comments on his articles, and tweet every other Tuesday about what has happened.
But I didn’t.
This situation is now not unique anymore. One of my favorite Magic humor sites has now fallen under the same problem: MagicLampoon.com now has been joined by very similar MTGLampoon.com. But they have different URLs, so it’s all good, right? I don’t know how their situation is going, but you can imagine who I’m supporting on this one.
As the Magic content-creating community grows larger there will be more people wanting to publish their thoughts. They will have an awesome idea for a title.
Only it will be your title.
Sure, this may sound a little like scare propaganda, or a slippery slope argument, but it’s real; you to keep an eye out for situations like this. If you’re serious about establishing yourself in the Magic community, this is something you have to know. You picked your brand in order to stick out, and now you’re not. Google is your best friend.
As for StarCityGames? Well, this is now in the open. The editors have passed me on to Sean and this is just two writers hashing this out but I’ve just been getting the run around. No one cares about the little guy, and you’ve got the StarCityGames brand to protect. In the mean time, I won’t be attending StarCityGames Open Seattle this weekend (a local event in my home town), won’t be ordering anything from them, and won’t be going to their site anymore.
It’s a shame; I really like some of their writers.
Writing this whole thing, seeing that title on a different site… none of this has been easy. I feel like I’m a tattle-tale or a whistle blower. Believe me, I’m not enjoying one minute of this.
But maybe I’m over reacting. I’m the last person in the world who can be completely objective about this. After all, it’s just a name. A series of letters combined to make a few words to trigger a memory response in the reader. I could be acting too petty and overstepping my bounds.
After all, no one’s heard of me.
If that’s the case, join me next time on The MTG Show.
Untapping your cards, so you don’t have to do it yourself.