Kristen recently had the chance to sit down and chat with Blake Rasmussen, Senior Manager of Communications for Magic. Blake is one of the faces of Magic you might recognize but know a little less well than the likes of Gavin Verhey and Mark Rosewater, but he’s no less of an important part of the community. Join them today as they talk about what it takes to succeed in writing and communications, Blake’s (short) time in competitive Magic, and looking forward to Kaldheim.
Hey Blake, great of you to join us today. How’s your December so far? Are you all set for Christmas?
December has been pretty great for the Rasmussen family, all 2020 and COVID considerations aside. Jace, our youngest, is 2 and is just wowed by Christmas so far, so it’s incredibly joyful to see that through his eyes. We’re mostly set for the holidays — it turns out it’s much easier to do when traveling and day-of logistics aren’t part of the equation.
What do you guys at the office usually do to celebrate? What are you missing out on this year?
We have a pretty awesome holiday party every year. In the past, it’s been held in places like the Space Needle and Seattle’s Museum of Pop Culture. We’re having a virtual party this year, but it’s obviously not the same.
Now, to many people, you’re one of the outward faces of Magic, along with Mark Rosewater and Gavin Verhey. You don’t work in design, though — can you tell us a little about your role?
My official title is Senior Manager of Communications for Magic, which is a way of saying my job is to manage all of our communications related to Magic. It’s such a cool job. For a long time, back when I had in my head a career in politics, I had always wanted to be Sam Seaborn (the character from West Wing) — a spokesperson for something I believed in. I didn’t end up in politics, but I get to be something of a Sam Seaborn for Magic, which is cool.
So right now, my responsibilities are any communications related to Magic. The community managers are on my team, as is the DailyMTG content team. I run the Weekly MTG show with Steve Sunu and producer Sean, and generally have my hands in any sort of external communications about Magic.
How’d you end up at Wizards?
I ended up working at Wizards because it was the intersection of my career aspirations (communications) and something I loved (Magic and gaming!). The actual story of how it all started is that I was playing a random tournament in Iowa when I was in graduate school, and I was paired against a guy named Bill Stark. We started talking (as Bill Stark does), and found out we had a ton in common, including backgrounds in writing. He connected me to Greg Collins, who gave me a shot at doing coverage for Grand Prix and Pro Tours. I did some coverage sporadically, got my first Pro Tour coverage job at Worlds in 2011, and from there, I met a ton of future coworkers and friends. I would travel to events on the weekends and work my day jobs — I was in journalism and media relations back in those days — during the week, often taking vacation to do so. When the job running DailyMTG came up, I had already worked very closely with the previous two editors of the site, plus I already had experience as both the editor of a newspaper and running a college website, so it was the perfect intersection of my two passions!
That sounds like things really lined up for you, nice job! Now, as one of the more visible faces of Magic, you must get a lot of people vying for your time on social media. Is there anything your role doesn’t involve?
Honestly, my job involves a little of everything. Communications is one of the teams that works on basically everything Wizards does. I do get a lot of questions, but I try to be helpful whenever and however I can, even if that means saying that I don’t know or that I can’t say. Communications is all about connection, and I want fans to at least feel heard, even if I’m not always able to give them what they want.
So, what does it not involve? Absolutely nothing! It involves everything our fans care about.
Most recently, that communication has been under the spotlight with Secret Lair: The Walking Dead. Do you have any takeaways from your time launching that product? I know the community was pretty vocal.
One of the biggest takeaways from 2020 generally applies here: our fans want, need, and deserve to get clear communications ahead of time whenever we try something different, especially an experiment like this. We’ve known this for some time, but we — I, specifically — dropped the ball setting the groundwork for this one. Whether fans agree or disagree with something we do, it’s important to have a dialogue, and I didn’t facilitate that well with Secret Lair. The Walking Dead was a really cool experiment with really great partners at AMC that became the best-selling Secret Lair so far, and communications didn’t do it justice.
You can see a better version of this with our announcement about how we would be handling Magic Story, where we share our philosophy on the thing before we do it. Our goal in 2021 is to do more of that and less of just dropping things on fans.
Your background is in communications and journalism. Before joining Wizards full time, you worked as Editor of the Community Impact Newspaper. What would you say you took away from that experience?
Someone did their research!
Well, Sean Evans has a lot to answer for when it comes to inspiring better interviews. I can’t give you hot wings right now, but I’ll do my best otherwise.
Community Impact was an interesting job — it was a small company, but the papers had large circulations. The paper I was editor of when I left had a circulation of over 100,000, which a lot of newspapers would kill for these days. We covered local news, which meant I spent a lot of time in local government meetings and speaking to city representatives. In a lot of ways, that gave me a blueprint for how spokespeople should comport themselves, what real world “Sam Seaborns” did, and what exactly motivated the press. It was also another in a long string of jobs where I managed the web presence as well, which was a great experience. All of those things help in my current job.
Sounds like a really involved role. I’ve previously worked in internal comms in a large UK charity, so I know how it can be working with people from all walks of life — it can teach you a lot. Did you have any humbling experiences?
Every single time I interviewed someone who was doing something awesome with their life. It was always a reminder that they were making the world better and I was just writing about making the world better.
In your years of freelancing, what was your most “out-of-your-comfort-zone” job?
I used to freelance a bit for a newspaper insert in Cedar Rapids called “Hoopla” that was aimed at young professionals, and I somehow ended up as their music and pop culture writer. Pop culture I can do, but for music, I’m functionally tone deaf. It was a cool experience interviewing a lot of bands I actually listened to, but man did I suck at it.
The weirdest interview, though, was Tucker Max. The movie version of “I Hope They Serve Beer In Hell” came out and was being screened in college towns around the country, and Tucker Max was doing press along with it. It was a weird interview, the weirdest part of which was that after the screening, we met him in his trailer (there were about four reporters there) and he proceeded to take a giant bowie knife out of some unseen holster in his pants in order to open some package — which means he had it with him in the movie theater while he was greeting fans.
Yeah, I’m gonna say that one sounds pretty unnerving, Blake! I once had to show Bez from the Happy Mondays around a Cinema where he was screening a film he’d produced. I had to stop him getting lost about six times and he was definitely… loosened up, shall we say. Sometimes meeting famous people can be a strange time.
Absolutely. I also had some weird ones when I interned for ABC News in Washington, D.C., but none as uncomfortable as that Tucker Max interview.
Do you have any tips for aspiring writers?
Besides working hard on your writing, you also need to network and get to know people who are in positions to hire writers. The only writing job I’ve ever gotten with absolutely zero connections to beforehand was at Community Impact. Every other job came from meeting someone, making a connection, and going from there.
How do you feel networking has changed with the current pandemic climate? Any tips for people who aren’t out and about right now?
Everyone and everything has moved online, including networking. My first Magic writing position was from a relationship moved online. Be conscious of continuing those friendships and relationships even if you can’t be around one another. There are so many relationships that dissipate when you can’t see one another, or don’t see each other at work or social gatherings, and so you have to put time and effort into it. And during a time that can feel lonely, small gestures and keeping in touch will be appreciated that much more.
Let’s circle back to the here and now. I’ve heard the office environment at Wizards is fairly relaxed when it comes to inter-departmental collaboration. Would you say that’s true?
I guess it depends what you mean by relaxed, since that can mean any number of things! If you mean that we have a highly collaborative environment where we work across departments pretty freely, then absolutely! There isn’t a department at Wizards I haven’t worked with at some point in time.
Have you ever had the opportunity to offer some ideas or criticism in the design process? I guess what I’m really asking is: have you put your mark on any Magic cards that have seen print?
Not in any noticeable way. I’ve attended some limited playtest sessions and given feedback during those sessions. I’ve been invited to be part of teams for Commander products in the past, but paternity leave prevented me from being on the Ikoria team, and other time commitments prevented me in the past. I was even out of the office when the opportunity to illustrate Form of the Mulldrifter came up! I would absolutely love to have a card I can point to as something I had a strong hand in at some point, but I’m also pretty busy as it is.
I’m sure that day will come, and I’m sure your other half will agree that the paternity leave was more important. 😉
What would you say is the most rewarding part of running DailyMTG.com?
I should clarify something first. While DailyMTG falls under my direction, I haven’t been the day-to-day editor for a few years (minus a few months this year as we transitioned some). Currently, Adam Styborski is in charge of DailyMTG, and prior to that, it was Chris Gleeson.
That said, easily the most rewarding part of my job is interacting with fans in any capacity, sharing cool things that Wizards is doing, and getting to share in their excitement and joy. It’s just the best.
Had you done much video content before joining the Weekly MTG stream? Did you find it easy to settle into?
Nope! I interned with ABC News when I was in college and quickly realized I was much better at writing than being on camera. That said, Weekly MTG is a really fun way to interact with fans, so it’s actually one of the things I look forward to doing the most each week. Especially the streams where we get to either announce something super cool or where we get to play Shandalar. So, yeah, once we got our cadence down, it was pretty easy to settle into.
I’m still deciding if I enjoy the in-studio, pre-COVID show or the at-home streamed show better. The current setup makes it easier to interact with fans via chat. The pre-COVID show was, well, pre-COVID.
If you could commission one piece of content you feel Magic is lacking right now — whether that would be in house, or in the community — what would it be?
We actually have some ideas about this for 2021. We’ve recently hired several new people to expand our team and do more, so 2021 is going to be the year of doing more. I think the content we need is content that creates greater connectivity — and we have some ideas about how to do this in 2021.
Personally, I’ve been impressed how people have kept in touch with webcam Magic so much this year — some weeks, I’ve ended up playing more Magic than I would have face to face! So, let’s turn to Magic as a game. I dug up this decklist from GP Madison in 2006. What’s the story behind it? Did you play much competitive Magic back then?
Oh wow! Good find. I have so, so much to say about this deck that I don’t even know where to begin.
First, yeah — back then, I played a bit competitively. I worked, went to college, and played soccer, so I never made a serious run at the Pro Tour. I did have one PTQ Top 8 (original Zendikar), and I was the Iowa State 2HG champion the one year we had that, but otherwise, I only played at that level sporadically. I’ve never played on a Pro Tour.
Back to that deck. That deck might be responsible for my entire career — and I almost didn’t play. If you go back to that coverage, you can find our team name was “Last Minute,” because my friend Tyler and I were invited last minute to head to Madison and play. That’s where I met Peter Martinez, our third, who had to borrow a deck. I was playing the deck you linked and knew it maybe better than any deck I’ve played before or since. I proceed to go 7-0 individually over the first 7 rounds. It was a team tournament, so as a team, we were actually 5-1-1 going into round 8, needing to win to make Day 2. We were paired against a team of Ben Lundquist, Kyle Goodman and Mark Loli in round 8, and I remember being very confused as to why they flew from New York. At any rate, they crushed us — I took my first loss by playing very, very poorly against Zoo.
Still, 7-1 at a GP with a Gifts Ungiven deck is one of the more impressive feats of my Magic career, especially at that point. So much so that I got a little uppity about how well I knew the deck. So when Frank Karsten posted a decklist on TCGPlayer in an article that I thought was bad (I think he posted a list with Birds of Paradise), I told him so in the forums. And kept saying so. Annoyingly and repeatedly. Keep in mind, Frank Karsten got second place with Greater Gifts at Worlds that year, so I was batting a little out of my league. At any rate, that interaction resulted in me getting to know the guy who ran the website at that point and he finally said, “Why don’t you write something for us, then?” So I did. And that was my first gig doing Magic writing, and I did that for a few years.
Wow, what a cool story. Thanks for sharing it. Magic means a lot to you, then.
It sure does.
What’s the most sentimental piece of Magic memorabilia you own? What’s the story behind it?
Hmm, I have a few. My wife was the model for Alayna Danner’s Genesis, and I have prints of that. I own a few old copies of Inquest, which I absolutely pored over when I was younger. I have a bunch of cards which elicit strong memories: my Gifts Ungivens are the same copies from that Madison deck; my Alliances Balduvian Hordes were my first cards I absolutely prized; my Legends Rubinia Soulsinger was my first Commander. I have a full set of Alliances, which is the first set to come out after I started playing.
But I’ll go with my Top 8 PTQ pin. It was original Zendikar — which, if anyone recalls, was a blazingly fast format. And in that blazingly fast format, I built a deck that played Cancel. I think I lost early and then started winning and kept winning. In the final round, I still needed to win to make the Top 8 and was paired against a friend in the same position. We had played each other a lot, and I was very much a “big fish, little pond” kind of player back then. Great at FNM, not so great anywhere else. At any rate, the player happened to be from my local store and had that reputation in mind the whole time. As a result, he was constantly convinced I had Cancel and never cast his hasty dragon that I had no answer to. Eventually, he decided to cast it — the turn after I actually drew the Cancel. “I knew it,” he said, and I barely managed to keep my game face on.
Then I got crushed in the Top 8 by someone who actually knew how to draft the set.
As we round things out, it seems like we should talk a little Kaldheim. We’re about to start the ramp up to the set release — do you have any interesting tidbits you can share with us about the set today?
Kaldheim has awesome cards, awesome stories, and really awesome art. As for how awesome they are? Well, you’ll have to stay tuned!
I can’t say I was expecting more than that, but I had to try. Let’s turn to stories for a moment then before we bring it to a close. This update was posted on the Mothership a couple of days ago.
It means a lot to a lot of people that some of the issues from last year have a chance to be resolved in the future. The big sticking point of course being the relationship Chandra and Nissa share.
While those characters may not appear on Kaldheim, can we expect to see any of this renewed commitment to diverse narrative representation mentioned in the article above, in the stories of Kaldheim?
Let’s just say the timing of this announcement right before Kaldheim isn’t coincidental.
Thanks for spending the time with us to chat today, Blake. I loved hearing the stories you had to share, particularly the tales of that Greater Gifts deck. It’s been fun getting to know one of the faces of Magic a little better.
Cheers Kristen! It’s been fun chatting.