Last updated on May 6, 2021
Professor of Symbology | Illustration by Jason Rainville
The stuff we’re going to cover today is going to be both informal and personal. For those new to Draftsim, my online name is Kugane. I’m an official content creator for Wizards of the Coast and run a YouTube channel called Kugane Gaming.
I got into TCGs when I was about ten years old, first collecting Pokémon and quickly moving on to MTG and Yu-Gi-Oh! in the following years. I’ve been in the TCG world for 23 years now. For the past few years I’ve devoted my life, resources, and savings to put aside my professional career and embrace full-time TCG content creation because I have a dream of turning these cardboard rectangles into a lifestyle.
So let’s go over what it takes to be a “pro” on MTG Arena. Is it worth it? How do you do it?
My Story: How Did I Start?
Into the Story | Illustration by Jason Rainville
I started my YouTube channel about a year ago. I’m an ex-biochemist, so I used my analytical skill to put together decks that match up well against the current meta. Growing a channel to several thousands of subs, streaming, and sharing my methodology of finding the best deck in any given format was a means of helping and entertaining people. I ended up playing MTG on Arena every single day, honed my skill, and before I knew it, I was consistently hitting the top 1200 in the Mythic queue every single month.
I joined the first-ever MTG Arena Open back when it only granted cash prizes and gems, managed to go to Day 2 and win the $2,000 cash prize. Or rather $1,400 after the tax cut. This event made me realize that I had reached a point where gaming was starting to become quite profitable. I have a few people supporting me on Patreon and was winning some prizes from in-game and third-party tournaments.
Yet, there is a dark side to the whole professional gaming industry: the pay versus hours spent is abysmally low.
What Is a Professional?
Well, opinions may vary. Some would call a “pro” simply someone who was good at the game. If this is what you want to be, we’ve got plenty of content on Draftsim that can help you achieve just that.
But in my understanding, a professional is someone that turns an activity into a source of (stable) income. I’ll narrow it down further by saying that, to be a professional, these activities should be capable of sustaining a living, or at the very least, earn you equal to minimum wage.
Since we’re now all on the same page, let’s get the big question out of the way!
The Road to Becoming a Professional MTG Player
Fork in the Road | Illustration by Jung Park
Should you become a professional MTG player and aim for WotC events?
Short answer? Probably not.
After spending nearly a full year on content creation, I realized that it’s statistically nearly impossible to ever make it to the top. While Magic is a great game, the inconsistency and punishing mechanics in terms of land and resource management, primarily when you draw too many or too few of either, causes the game to be not only skill-intensive but also very luck dependent.
Even some of the world’s best players, like Crokeyz — who consistently gets in the top 10 of the Mythic queue — rarely make it to Day 2 in the Mythic Qualifiers that lead to higher events. Statistically, it’s almost impossible for anyone to make it through two days’ worth of random matchups where you’re only allowed to lose up to three games but must win 5 to 10 games depending on the event.
The odds are stacked against you. One bad mulligan into another, and your odds of making it through an event are near zero already. So if you do plan to go for the professional route by all means try, but keep your expectations low.
I’ll go into great detail some other time covering all the avenues of how WotC handles their event structure, but that’s for another time. Instead, I want to focus on actually achievable ways to become a pro that both you and I can do.
The “Safe” Roads to Pro-Hood
There are several routes to becoming an MTG pro, and not all of them require you to be a good player. One thing all routes have in common is that they require a significant time investment. After one year of working on any route full time, you’ll likely earn max $300 USD per month for quite some time.
Only after being in the field for a few years is that amount going to increase. There are some exceptions that earn in the thousands, of course, but the opposite is true as well. I was doing content full time for nearly five months and earning less than $20 a month in the very beginning.
Going into this kind of field requires a significant time and has a huge opportunity cost.
Indomitable Creativity | Illustration by Deruchenko Alexander
This is a route anyone can join without question. You create a YouTube or Twitch channel, get some editing and recording software, start either pre-recording MTG content and upload it or stream it directly to the platforms so people can interact with you live. Content creation is the most accessible form to get into, but also the hardest one to excel at. Regardless of your content’s quality, you’ll have to fight not only the algorithm and viewer bias, but you also start at the very bottom.
Many people also seem to be under the impression that YouTube earns creators a lot of money. This is hardly the case. You can only monetize your channel once you reach at least 1,000 active subscribers. On top of that, you need at least 4,000 watch hours in the past year before you can put ads on your videos.
I emphasize active subscribers because many people try to cheat the system by buying subs. Doing so will harm your channel statistics and make it so that YouTube won’t suggest your videos to people. If your subscribers aren’t even watching your videos, why would anyone else? The only way to make it on YouTube is through natural growth. On average, you’re looking at roughly one to two active subscribers per video that you upload, so to reach around 1,000 of them, you’ll be busy for about one to two years.
Once you reach 1,000 subs and your content is good enough that people are watching it, you can soon start putting ads on your videos. Ad revenue depends on various factors, but it seems that for every 40,000 views on a 10-minute video, you’ll generate roughly $7. So, if you want to earn a living off MTG and YouTube funds alone, you need to hit millions of monthly views.
Luckily, you can add channel memberships once you reach 1,000 subscribers where people can subscribe and donate to your channel. Until then, there are platforms like Patreon. I’ve been active on Patreon for about eight months now, and it’s generating roughly $35 per month from some fantastic people donating. My channel is now almost a year old and is sitting at 800 subs, so it still has healthy linear growth but isn’t generating any funds yet.
I have less experience with Twitch, but there’s also a subscription and donation model. In addition to subs, you can link something like a PayPal address to a donation box and people can opt to donate to you directly. While I don’t stream myself, I’ve asked other content creators how much they earn and it seems that once you reach about 3,000 followers (of which a portion are subscribers), they earn roughly $100 to $200 a month and need to stream daily/bi-daily for several hours. So you’ll need a good 60,000 followers before you’re starting to net enough money to survive off content creation alone.
Spike, Tournament Grinder | Illustration by Zoltan Boros
This is a tough one. To do well at tournaments, you need a lot of experience in the game, which means that you likely have to practice and train for a good two to three months for about 30 hours a week. Playing the game should become second nature. You need to see all the lines and patterns a meta has to offer. On top of that, you need to do constant meta research to figure out what the top decks are and how to beat them.
Luckily you can combine your practice time with tournament time, so you could technically practice during tournaments. For the Standard format, I practice in the BO3 ranked queue on Magic Arena. The fast-paced nature of MTGA allows you to get lots of games in with relatively little downtime to maximize your plays.
While on the topic of Arena, with the world’s state right now, many tournament organizers have opted to hold their tournaments online through Magic’s digital platform. Your goal is to end up with a win percentage of about 55% or higher. Once you reach this point, you’re going to want to sign up for as many tournaments as possible.
I’m doing 10 to 20 tournaments a week right now. Granted, I’m doing it in a different card game (Flesh and Blood TCG), but the results should transfer to MTG as well. From experience, I’m looking to get first place in roughly two tournaments a week and at least second to fourth place in half of the other ones with my 55% win rate. Doing so gives me enough access to good prize support to pay for more tournament fees and living costs.
This grinding is my exact gripe with MTG Arena at this point. To get into a Mythic Invitational, you first need to make your way into a Qualifier. To get there, you need to grind hundreds if not thousands of games and then struggle your way to stay in the top 1200 with rank decay in effect. Then, if you do end up in a Qualifier weekend, which should take you roughly two weeks of full-time work, you have to win seven times before taking the third loss.
Grind // Dust | Illustration by Josh Hass
If you’re playing against some of the best players in the world, which Mythic Qualifiers are full of, you should be winning roughly one game for every time you lose. So chances are incredibly high that you’ll hit that three-loss mark before getting anywhere close to a seven-win mark. That’s not all, though. If you do get seven wins, you advance to Day 2, you need to repeat it, except this time they only allow you two losses, and instead of seven wins, you now need ten. That’s right;
To get into the Mythic Invitational, your deck needs to win roughly 95% of the time!
Other ways to get into the Invitational are, as the name suggests, being directly invited by Wizards of the Coast. As much as I love MTG and WotC, your odds are astronomically low to make it this route.
Arena has other events that give cash prizes straight-up, though. I managed to win an Arena Open Day 2 and got myself that 2,000$ cash prize, but again, these events are also statistically stacked against you.
I made it into the Mythic Qualifier many times, but like most MTG Arena events, I tend to get to about four or five wins before taking my third loss. I stopped grinding to Mythic because the last three Qualifiers I attended I got massively mana screwed or flooded several games, thus invalidating a month of work with no reward other than the videos I recorded and the content on Draftsim.
So practice on Arena, but do your events elsewhere. If you’re earning roughly $10 on average for every hour you spend grinding events, you’re doing good.
Become an MTG Writer
Write into Being | Illustration by Yeong Hao Han
YouTube and Twitch aren’t the only means of creating content. I actively write for Draftsim, but there are many websites out there that are constantly on the look for more writers. I’ve approached many websites for both Flesh and Blood TCG and MTG, but it seems the payment varies from $10 to $45 per article.
On average, including research time on the topic you plan to write, you should be earning roughly $3 to $5 an hour. It may be on the low side but can be a nice income to supplement your other sources.
Go the Creative Route
Not everything is about tournaments and becoming the best MTG player in the world. Sometimes it starts by simply picking up a paintbrush and altering some cards or using your creativity and artistic skills to create all sorts of MTG accessories and sell them online. I think this is the least efficient route to take. Artists are heavily undervalued in modern society, and most people aren’t ready to pay at least minimum wage for their artistic skills.
There are other ways in the MTG world, of course, like opening a game shop and selling products or even selling singles directly to consumers to supplement your income. Currently, my monthly income is supplemented by roughly $200 a month from selling singles.
Get Into Coaching
Getting to Mythic is one thing, teaching others to get to Mythic is a whole different story. Coaching is a very viable way to earn an income, though. It’s quite difficult to find customers, but there are plenty of sites out there where you can offer your services. Keep in mind that you need to be extremely good at the game before getting into coaching.
Getting to Mythic may not be enough. You might also need to take up some leadership and teaching courses, which can be found both paid and unpaid online.
Becoming an Official WotC Content Creator
Wizard’s Retort | Illustration by Grzegorz Rutkowski
I managed to get into Wizards’ content creator program, but I believe they’re not currently taking any more applications. As for benefits, I was granted about 2,000 gems a month in return for producing at least three high-quality YouTube videos.
WotC will send you promotional items, like packs and booster boxes or apparel. The only thing I’ve ever received since joining the program a good eight months ago was a holiday card with the Holiday Promo in December.
Many of the more significant content creators will get tons more promotional products they can keep, give to viewers, or sell on the secondary market.
Becoming an official content creator isn’t profitable, though. At the very best, it helps to grow your channel if you’re already a content creator. There used to be other perks, like getting early access to new sets on Arena.
In short: WotC does very little to sustain its creators, even when it wouldn’t cost them anything to do it.
Leave in the Dust | Illustration by Vincent Proce
I know I’ve been pretty negative. However, I feel far too many people emphasize the “follow your dreams, work hard, anything is possible” mantra. It’s echoed way too much. The effort you put in is unfortunately not equal to the result. A well-planned effort does bring good results, though. Focusing on card games as a living is not a walk in the park. It’s great as a supplemental source of income alongside your day job, be it by grinding tournaments or creating content on the side. That being said, I strongly advise anyone to stay far away from pursuing it as a primary source of income. “Let MTG be a hobby until it doesn’t have to be anymore.”
What I mean to say by this is it’s good to follow the above paths alongside other paying work. If you do end up winning that Mythic Qualifier Day 2 event by chance or hit it big by having a viral video take off on YouTube, you’re best off focusing your attention elsewhere.
You may sit there and ask yourself: then why do you do it, Kugane? Simple: for you, the reader. The people viewing my channel, the people I talk with on a day-to-day basis.
The long answer? I survived cancer, and while I’m super happy I did, it has changed my life drastically. Regular work life is no longer an option for me, but card gaming is because I can set the pace myself and don’t need to follow anyone’s orders. It’s not great financially, and there are months I only barely make ends meet, but then I get a message from a viewer telling me they watched my tournament and would love to know my deck, and I’m happy that my actions created some value in their life.
I don’t believe that hard work always pays off. Many times it doesn’t. I do believe that doing what you love is a good thing, though. Becoming a pro is tough, but if you want to do it, it’s a lot of work. Many never make it, but perhaps you’re the next world champion and reel in that 250k reward!
Whatever your motivation may be, good luck!
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