Q: I've noticed that as cool as some theme weeks are, some authors simply don't follow them. Ever. Here's looking to you, Mike Flores, for never even trying to accommodate a theme week. While I understand that theme weeks are hard on columns that are aim at certain aspects of the game, it'd be nice to see you just once go along with it (probably stretch your creativity as well!).
–Chris, San Diego, CA, USA
A: From Kelly Digges, editor of magicthegathering.com:
That's not really a question, Chris, but I understand the question underlying it: "Why do some authors write on-theme more often than others?"
The short answer is "Because I tell some of them to be on-theme more often than others." Mike Flores, for instance, hasn't written for a theme week in a while because I haven't told him to, not because he's been shirking.
There are a lot of factors that go into whether I assign a given author to write on-theme for a given week. Some of those factors vary from theme to theme, as some themes fit some columns better than others. Some factors, however, hold constant from week to week.
The internal writers are always on-theme.
Mark Rosewater, Doug Beyer, and Devin Low are our R&D columnists, representing Design, Creative, and Development (respectively) on the site. Part of the reason we pick the themes we do is because they'll be able to write insightful, informative articles illuminating some aspect of each theme week as it relates to their respective areas of expertise.
Each day of a theme week, we have at least one article on-theme (with a few exceptions due to crossed wires and unexpected issues). Having the R&D columnists always on-theme greatly reduces the pressure on the writers opposite them (the weekly feature article, Ben Bleiweiss, and Brian David-Marshall) to write on-theme.
Theme weeks make writing easier for some and harder for others.
For some writers, approaching a blank slate every week is daunting. As Mark Rosewater is fond of saying, restrictions breed creativity, and sitting down knowing that you need to write an article about, say, Onslaught or -1/-1 counters frequently results in articles that never would have been written otherwise. In the case of more intensive theme weeks such as "What If?" Week and Evil Twin Week, sometimes it results in articles that never could have been written otherwise, as the theme frees an author to play around with concepts that wouldn't ordinarily be a good fit. So for some of our writers, theme weeks are a great boon, freeing them from option paralysis and writer's block for fully half their articles.
Other writers, however, find theme weeks constraining. If you have nothing to say about Treefolk or hybrid cards—or if there's something else on your mind you really want to write about—sitting down to write a theme week article can become a tremendous chore. That's not a recipe for good articles or happy writers. Writers of this type are much happier applying their own formula to the challenge of writing a weekly article than being told what to write about half the time.
Neither of these writer types is better or worse than the other. They're just two different ways of approaching the challenge of writing an article every week, and I try to be mindful of the individual temperaments of our writers as I assign some writers to write on-theme and not others.
Some columns are more flexible than others.
Some of our columns have a broader charter than others. Doug Beyer's Taste the Magic column, for instance, can tackle basically any topic with basically any article structure. Partly that's because Doug, like Matt Cavotta before him, is a damn good writer (turns out that's kind of his job), but partly it's because the column has a very broad mission that can accommodate anything from an interactive Book of Kith and Kin to meditations on the role of magic in storytelling to a flavorful take on the utterly mechanical Sealed Deck Week.
Other columns offer much less leeway. If Ben Bleiweiss doesn't build a budget deck and play it, or offer tools and tips for doing such, he's not really Building on a Budget. If I make Mike Flores write about a theme instead of looking at the metagame of a format right after a major tournament like Pro Tour–Hollywood or right before a major set of tournaments like Regionals, then he's not really fulfilling the desire that sends people to his column in the first place. That means that for Mike to be on-theme, it has to be a theme that's interesting for him to write about on a week when there are no major tournaments to report on or prepare for. That said, when everything lines up right, Mike does write theme week articles, and he's been on-theme as recently as hybrid week.