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An Indestructible Interview: Part 2

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Check out An Indestructible Interview: Part 1 before reading on!

The Con

Dennis: You know, SCG Con is coming.

Danny West: [laughing] Oh, is it?

D: I guess this as good of a time as any to talk about your time with SCG, in general?

DW: Sure.

D: How long were you there?

DW: Almost eight years. They let me go at the end of January.

D: And I suppose you can't say much about that?

DW: What is there to say? I did a lot of work for them over the years. Now, I do work for other people.

D: Was it amicable?

DW: The departure?

D: Yeah.

DW: No.

D: That as far as we're getting?

DW: It's the same tired thing that happens to most of us a few times in a life. You make more money for someone else than you'll ever make for yourself. I mean, I acted morally, I communicated, I was patient. I'm fine with it as an adult living in an unfair world. I obviously don't need a ton of conditioning there anymore.

D: Do you mind saying how it happened? Did anything lead up to it?

DW: I got an email. I don't know. It was shocking. It happened in February because I was forgotten about. They were supposed to get rid of me when the year started, I guess? There was no incident or anything that I could possibly imagine happening without me ever being made aware of it. I just keep thinking about if I walked in today with the same skills and knowledge on my resume', you know, they'd bend over backwards to make sure I was hired. So the only difference is, I'm not new anymore? There's not a lot of stuff getting past the most base level of critical thinking there, so honestly, there's no even guessing. It wouldn't amaze me if it was because I'm far from Roanoke, and it's just easier to fire people via email than look at them. That's how the machines win, I tell you.

March of the Machines

D: So you're not going to SCG Con this year, then?

DW: I went on my own dime last year. Paid my own hotel and stuff. It was always sort of my way of keeping solidarity with the company, to show up at these things a few times a year. Showing them that no matter how many post-cancer benefits I had cut - all of them, basically - or that no matter how much personality clash I might have had with Cedric [Phillips] that I believed in the game and the work we were doing. I knew I was within shouting distance of being there ten years. A few days before I was fired I woke up thinking about how I'd make an effort to take a trip down to talk and convince people that it was a great place to plant yourself and shit. I wish I could tell you something besides that I'm just that oblivious.

D: That event was the first time we met. I was there basically to meet and hang out with you.

DW: Sorry to disappoint.

D: It was a fun time! We were basically never at the convention center!

DW: I gave the idea for a Magic convention in 2014, I think?

D: Who, to Pete [Hoefling, SCG president]?

DW: Yeah, he wasn't into it. [laughs] I may have given it to Evan too, but I don't remember. I just know it didn't go far.

D: I remember the trip fondly if that helps. We jammed a lot of Tiny Leaders as I recall. The red deck was really good.

Chandra, Torch of Defiance
Hazoret the Fervent

DW: Yeah, but I also spent Saturday completely in bed. I didn't sleep at all Friday night. There was something about seeing a former life, you know? The pre-cancer tour of Danny's halcyon life. Roanoke was the first place my wife and I settled. We both had jobs, you know? We had this adult, married life that we wanted and we were really happy. So yeah, when you're sort of out in the rain and looking in the window at the life you used to have, knowing you can't get back in, that's painful. It was also the three-year anniversary of the diagnosis, and atmosphere is a really hard thing to get past when you're really mentally hurting.

D: What were some of the highlights?

DW: Besides whatever meals you and I ate?

D: Of course.

DW: I played audience to this kid who was Commander gunslinging against me. He was in his own world, doing his own math. I asked him questions and such, made sure his brain was tuned. So I got to be sort of an educator again for a minute. I do remember that fondly. And another guy came up and told me that Commander VS was the reason he got into Magic and that he was going through a hard time then, which I helped with. That's the ultimate. Keep your cheap trophies, keep your novelty checks. That is where the pinnacle of achievement in this game is: improving the life of another helpless human being. I know how much I need that sometimes, so to help someone else with it is really something.

D: Did you know that the weekend was going to be difficult going in?

DW: Sort of. I knew I'd be tired and be sort of emotionally volatile, but it wasn't until I started interacting with people that I really started to feel heavy alienation. I'd written a somber piece to promote my appearance - there wasn't much being done to promote it otherwise - so I opened up some and talked about the struggle. I got amazing responses. I really touched a few people. I'd had a handful of my friends put together Commander decklists around the five stages of grief. I thought it was of value.

D: I know, I did one of them.

DW: Did you really? I should've known.

D: Did people talk about it with you during the weekend?

DW: Yeah, lots of people came up. It was awkward most of the time because I'm in this goo-prone place of humanism. I've lived in Philadelphia for years, and of course there are a lot of places here where people struggle and they overlap and you share this big human experience where things are confusing and difficult, but they're also beautiful and valuable and educational. But anyway, most people don't live in that place or that world. So yeah, it was old friends without cancer basically coming up and trying to know what to say. They didn't understand that it was just written expression and this is how life is for me most of the time.

D: Did it get any response from co-workers or the writers?

DW: Pete and Cedric weren't into it. They didn't think it contained enough Magic content if I recall.

D: I know I've seen podcasts on SCG Select that are not very Magic-related.

DW: Different rules for different people. Moving goalposts stuff. Nothing new to industry.

D: What's your general impression of how it ended?

DW: Frustrating. Honestly, it just feels so ridiculous in hindsight. When I started, things went so well and I had these really down to earth people around me, so I just presumed it was really top down. But the longer I was there and the further I went up, I started to see firsthand that a lot of it was based more on circumstance. Most of those down to earth people now are long gone for one reason or another.

D: Would you call it a falling out?

DW: Not really, but they're not in my orbit anymore. I get some catharsis in working for their competitors or whatever, but it's not like a creepy vengeance thing. It's probably healthy for me moving on, I'd think. Reminds me that I'm still in there.

D: Did you guys ever get along?

DW: Who? Pete or Cedric?

D: Either.

DW: We got along well for a long time. I was working directly for Cedric who was working directly for Pete during the happiest times of my life. We had a great system for a while. I imagine they might think we still could get along. Rationalization of actions and such.

D: What changed?

DW: Attitudes, I guess.

D: Yours?

DW: Not at all.

D: If you could say something directly, what would it be?

DW: I don't really care to say anything directly to them, but I do think the public should question the visibility of the top of SCG versus their share and influence on Magic as a culture. They're ambivalent, indifferent, oftentimes absentee, and their history is paved with good people that were forced to move on under the most misguided circumstances you can reasonably imagine. I'm not the first to go, and the details of the progression in contrast with the things these people said to me -lectured me on - would confuse you to no end if I wasted the time to share them.

D: Do you think it's okay to be bitter?

DW: Oh, absolutely. [laughing] I'm very comfortable. More than one thing can be true; I can be pissed off I got used and tossed, and think people would agree that it's good to know where your money is going when you're buying things. It's not a crusade. I don't expect to throw my personal baggage around in a meaningful way. I of all people understand that it's small potatoes, but I also think we live in a time where people should call others out on bullsh*t more often.

Future Sights

D: What about day to day life after you left? How did it compare to before?

DW: I still enjoyed Magic; it was my skillset. That's part of what made leaving such a life event for me. I didn't have another plan. I was never under any impression I was about to be in transition. There was never a warning shot. I was a copy editor for a Magic site. I was a Magic player with an English degree. I'm not a very material person, so I was more or less content to just enable my wife's career and live off wifi.

D: People typically do a few careers before it's over.

DW: Yeah. It just never had the look of that to me. I'd had multiple conversations over the years with both Cedric and Pete that were super focused on the long term. There just wasn't a time when those conversations changed before it was over. And obviously I don't enjoy shocking news, so the experience was probably a bit more obnoxious than it would be to someone else. But it's not like that's their intent. Because like, they're kind people. The world is full of kind people messing things up. I'm one of them! You're one of them!

D: Don't implicate me!

DW: Guilty.

D: What about your other SCG connections? Are you in touch with others?

DW: I'm not making a point not to be. Even the people at the top I don't talk to anymore, like, they're still people. I would never wish harm on them beyond just the reasonable consequence of public awareness of their actions. I think it's important to think about how people experience things rather than just how you think you would experience something in their stead, painting your biases all over it. In other words, my experiences of what just happened aren't the only experiences. I try not to make it all about me, but with this interview, I've certainly failed catastrophically.

D: So you don't talk to people still there?

DW: Oh no, I do. I decided I still wanted to work in Magic and find other Magic businesses to make money with. It's rewarding in that way. I've been lucky to have some pretty incredible conversations recently that would not have been allowed to take place otherwise. Play the hand you're dealt, yada yada. I'm sure I've made myself out to be a grouch in text like I always do, but this is an honest act of Magic activism.

Paradigm Shift

D: Do things change when you're outside or inside talking? Does your perspective of people change?

DW: [laughs] I used to think Wes [Wise, formerly of Commander VS] was a total sycophant. But like, from what I heard, one day they put something on the table he thought was really uncool, and he was like, no. I'm done. And at the time I thought that was so "unprofessional" or whatever, but like, who looks smarter now? So I try to keep myself in check on those judgments. He has a heroic ending. I'm just another clown who had to walk the plank.

D: Do people address you differently now that you're no longer there? The people that know you through your work there?

DW: Dude, the things people are conditioned to say to keep their worldview in check is really alarming. I've had people still inside insist that I was lucky because I got to work there for so long versus others, or that they were doing me a favor shipping me checks all these years, and it's just like, at what point does someone's bank account take them from a human being to a god that gets to decide the fates of everyone else? Like, give me a break. I got those checks because I worked for them. I was at the company because I was working, traveling, buying, editing, whatever. Those hours on the road? I did that grind, I assure you. People who spend days away from their friends and families, that is their money. You think I wouldn't like to have some of those hours with my wife back now? SCG paid for a dozen or so meals for me over the years. Everything else? I did that work.

D: How did your wife react?

DW: Initially it just exhausted her. She's had too much life already for our age. Then it was sort of this cross between sympathy and vindication. She only sees it through the lens I do except to a greater extent. Her only exposure is me working with an IV in or staying up all night only to find out it was for nothing all the time. And she's brilliant, she knows how reality works, so she knows you can't just type LLC on a treehouse and join the stock market - like this is a field people study their entire lives, it's not playtime or whatever - and she knows what it's like to watch me try to keep it together working with, like, variant growth models for a day and a half and then getting emails about copying WWE or whatever a week later. [laughing] But anyway, she was livid, but she had a more keen eye for figuring it was coming based on things I didn't really want to see, I guess.

D: WWE, though! You like wrestling!

DW: So close, yet so very sadly far. What could've been.

D: Do you think there are better places to go for you? What about outside of Magic?

DW: I don't want to go down this road because I think there's too much bias. Everything is shiny when it's new. Like I said, Pete, Cedric, everyone there, they're all kind people. There's no one going around being hyper-malicious, at least not in a recognizable way. People mean well. And there are so many people there still working jobs and providing, and they're still a part of this ecosystem that I'm invested in, even if I'm not there anymore. As long as I feel like I'm doing something honest and I'm still enjoying working with Magic or writing about it, it honestly doesn't bother me where it is. It's about feeling valued by other people, and right now, I'm getting to feel that a lot more than I got to before.

Obligatory Commander VS Stuff

D: How did Commander VS start?

DW: David McDarby deserves all the credit. He was gung ho. Later Cedric got gung ho, but McDarby was really the genesis and he dragged me into it. I think he got hosed from top to bottom when it comes to his impact on Magic content in general. They really downplayed how well that series was doing, and I don't know why. Maybe it wasn't enough like UFC or something. But McDarby deserves the credit for all the knockoffs too, I'm sure. I wish I hadn't been so oblivious to how well it was doing; I probably could've gotten him more there than I was able to. He's super creative, and he deserves a ton of credit for that stuff.

D: Do you watch the series?

DW: I didn't really watch it when I was on it, so uh, no.

Facts and Frictions

D: Who has meant the most to you in terms of Magic?

DW: I think Cedric, as a broadcaster, is quite excellent. His stardom on the marketing side of SCG was linked to me in a symbiotic way for a while, even if the dynamic changed or was forced into changing later, so he would be one of the most influential. His contributions to the presentation of Magic from a credibility perspective onscreen is more or less unsurpassed. Matt Gargiulo hired me initially, and his attitude in more or less everything is how I try to conduct myself, including in business. So he's more or less my mentor by default in a strange involuntary way. You're probably close to my optimal Magic opponent.

D: Thank you. That's a good compliment.

DW: But you're a lousy interviewer.

Punish Ignorance