Michael Sigrist had a good 2015, winning the 2014–15 Player of the Year award on the Magic: The Gathering professional tour. (Admit it: You didn't know there was such a thing.) In the past decade, the card game became big business, and Sigrist is one of the 100 or so people who make a living playing the game. He talked about building a brand, building a business, and how much he spends on cards.
You had a pretty incredible season. Is Magic your only source of income?
Currently, yes. I'm studying economics at Bridgewater State. My wife works full time. Having a good year made things a lot easier.
According to the ever-reliable Wikipedia, you made $51,284. Is that close to the truth?
It's probably close to that, but that's only the Wizards stuff. Then there's some additional stuff like the StarCityGames circuit and random other stuff like Magic Online. That was probably a few extra thousand dollars. I would say that approximately $50,000 to $60,000 is what I made last season.
And what about in previous years?
The season before I probably made $15,000 to $20,000 in the Wizards stuff and then random, smaller amounts in other places.
A few years ago, I did a story on the Pro Tour and in talking to the pros, you learn that a lot of them have other revenue streams, like sponsorship, streaming their games, or writing for various sites. Is that something you have as well?
I'm sponsored by Face to Face Games. They pay me to advertise for them. I'm currently considering writing, which is the best thing to do if you want to be a professional Magic player. You start writing somewhere, and you can make a steady income. Then, your earnings per year on the Pro Tour don't matter as much. I'm considering starting to do that. I've always considered doing streaming, but I always thought, "Maybe next time I have a big finish I'l start because my name will be more recognizable." I felt that while a lot of the pros would recognize my name, the general Magic-playing public didn't know who I was until the last six months or so. It's something I'd consider now.
Once you start writing, that's when people start to know who you are, and they want to follow you. You become a brand.
Everyone's a brand.
Is the MtG ecosystem still growing?
It certainly is. The playerbase is growing larger, and the sites are getting bigger. I don't think it's hit its peak yet, but I think it's probably going to be close unless something else major happens. There are all kinds of other games like Hearthstone [the World of Warcraft card game] that are competing with it and will draw away people. Although it could have the inverse effect. Hearthstone could bring more people to card games in general and then they'll start playing Magic. It's hard to predict.
Can you make a living at this sustainably? Do you have plans to get a "real job" after graduation?
I have always been a gamer. I started playing when I was in sixth grade when Fourth Edition came out, the mid-1990s. I played my first pro tour shortly thereafter but then took a long break. I did the poker thing while that was booming. I was in Las Vegas, playing for a living. I moved back to Massachusetts and picked up Magic again when the poker thing went down. I started to take Magic more seriously. I realized how big it had gotten. I've always wanted to play games, so if this is something I can do for a living, I'm certainly going to try to do it.
What's your level compared to other pros?
I would say there are five to 10 guys in tier one. I would not put myself there. I am dazzled when I play against those guys or watch them play. After that, there are probably about 100 guys I would put on a similar level to me. Hopefully someday I'll get up to the top, but I'm not quite there yet.
Do you think there's enough money for those 110 or so guys to make a living?
It's not going to be a great living, but it's a living, yeah. You're not going to be a millionaire, but I would guess that the top five or 10 guys in terms of content are making six figures. That's decent. But you need to stay on top of your game to do that. And you need the branding, the following, and the recognition.
Do you spend money on cards?
I do. I get a little bit of credit on the side from the sponsorship deal, but it's not a lot. I mostly have to buy my main cards. But it's a negligible expense because the cards retain value. You can sell them and lose very little. Even though they do cost a lot, it's not like you buy them and then throw them away. I buy and sell stuff constantly.
How Do You Make a Living? is an ongoing Q&A series.