Inside Riley Knight's Enduring Rise to Casting Greatness
From Hiking the Alps to Casting Mythic Championships, Riley Knight Continues to be One of the Most Engaging Personalities in the Sport
An Aetherhub full featured profile
By Graham Pollard
At 11am in Bavaria one winter morning, Riley Knight embarked on an expedition to climb the Kramerspitz. On the southern end of the Bavarian Alps, the peak of the Kramerspitz reaches an imposing 6,512 feet above sea level, and climbers must tackle almost a half of mile of elevation change from the base to the summit. Seeing a sign that said the hike would take 5 hours, Riley set off. As someone who had always enjoyed hiking, Riley envisioned a pleasant afternoon with gorgeous views of the Bavarian countryside. What Riley didn’t anticipate however, was the 5-hour hike he planned for, was actually 5 hours one way. After hiking for 4 hours and seeing the peak off in the distance, he knew the sun was going to set in about 2 hours time. Although tantalizingly close to the summit, he knew he wasn’t going to make it. He only packed enough water for a shorter hike, and he didn’t have any flashlight other than his phone to navigate in the darkness. Making the decision to turn around, Riley started melting snow by putting it in his water bottle and holding it close to chest. He eventually made it back to the base around 9pm, long after darkness had settled in. Although he didn’t reach the summit, he did have to push himself harder and farther than he ever expected that morning. The results of an insatiable appetite for adventure, Riley approaches his career with the same curiosity, enthusiasm and optimism as he approached Kramerspitz that day.
The Summit of The Kramerspitz Mountain in Bavaria
You probably know Riley from his witty, enthusiastic and at points electrifying coverage of competitive Magic the Gathering. Most recently, he was in the booth with Eduardo Sajgalik during Mythic Championship VI in Richmond, and the team’s dynamic breakdown of the action made the series of Oko mirrors a little bit more palatable for the viewers. Aside from broadcasting however, Riley is also a historian, musician, podcaster, author and most recently a professional advice giver. This myriad of talents makes Riley an exceptionally unique personality within the Magic world. Not strictly focused on one field, Riley has been able to express himself in the ways he wants to, blending hobby’s and passions into one portfolio of work to call a career.
As is very obvious from the accent and sense of humor, Riley is originally from Australia. A few years ago however, he packed up and moved off to Berlin. When asked why Riley said; “I don’t know man I wish I had a better answer for it, I just wanted a change, wanted to go overseas, learn a new language…. I’ve always loved history and Berlins got a lot of history to it. Berlin was a bit arbitrary of a choice, but yea I lived in Berlin for about 4 years.” While some people might hear that and think that’s a little too spontaneous, I think the esurient sense of adventure is all part of the Riley Knight experience. Although thoroughly enjoying his time in Berlin, he ended up meeting his current girlfriend while on a hike in Scotland, prompting him to move to Glasgow where he currently resides.
It is a good thing Riley likes to travel, because one of the requirements of being a Magic broadcaster is embarking on a lot of it. I think many members of the Magic community view this differently. Some view the constant travel as a grind, stressful and an undesired part of the job. Others really enjoy it, and consider the tournaments an opportunity to take in the sights and sounds of the cool places the game takes them. Riley is definitely the latter. Benefitting from the time change when flying west, he is able to wake up early and feel refreshed when in the US. Some of his favorite trips include Vegas, where he and his girlfriend were able to spend some time checking out the Grand Canyon and other sights in the area, and Boston. As a big history buff, Riley walked the Freedom Trail, and checked out some revolutionary war landmarks like the Old North Bridge where the battle of Lexington and Concord began.
You can listen to Half Arsed History by visiting https://halfarsedhistory.net/
Its this passion for history that lead Riley to create his Podcast Half Arsed History. The intro of the podcast could not be better suited to describe it; “Many years ago, Riley Knight completed a degree in history. This proved to be a bad move, because it was absolutely useless for him… Until now!” This podcast started as a hobby, initially a way for Riley to force himself to keep reading and learning, but has started to cultivate a dedicated audience. “I could see myself starting to drift away from the interest, the love I had for History,” Riley told me. “I started making this podcast without any expectations. If nobody listened to this podcast at all, that was fine.” Riley went on to tell me he works best with structure. He knew if he set a deadline for himself to learn about certain topics for the podcast, he would be much more likely to do so. Fast forward 73 episodes, and the podcast has really taken off. He is getting more listeners than he ever anticipated, and is about to release a merchandise line attached to it. As a listener of the podcast myself, it is easy to see why it took off. Although I would not consider myself the worlds largest history buff, Riley presents the material in a much more digestible way than any History professor I ever had. Each episode strikes me as how one of my mates would describe a historical event as opposed to a professor, and of course the characteristic Riley Knight humor is part of the package.
Additionally, Riley creates short musical bits on SoundCloud for different magic scenarios. Some of the classics include “Go Down to Five,” “Train wreck” (A ballad about having a bad draft), and “Natural Tron.” These short musical bits are relatable for every Magic player, and a good way to find humor in otherwise frustrating scenarios. He also has a brand-new advice podcast where he answers important questions from listeners like who would win in a fight, a Rhino or a Hippo? The first episode just debuted, and I imagine some excellent advice will be dispersed over the coming months. Additionally, he also has a YouTube show called Arena Boys with Thoralf Severin and Jamin Kauf, which has allowed him to become good friends with professional players and helped his play and broadcasting.
He qualified for the Australian World Magic Cup team in 2013, and met Rich Hagan during that tournament. He told Rich he wanted to do Magic coverage then, but it took a lot of initiative to actually get on a magic broadcast. During the GP Melbourne in 2014, Riley organized the coverage himself. He then got in touch with Wizards to show them the setup he had done, and as a result they sent over Marshal, Randy and a few other casters to make it a proper broadcast. After moving to Berlin shortly after, he was able to cover some other events in June and July of that year, and after impressing the right people earned a spot on the team doing GP’s and eventually PT’s starting in 2017. I asked Riley if he was nervous at all to cast his first event and he gave me an immediate no. “All I ever wanted was an audience.” Riley told me. “When I was a kid in the school orchestra for our first ever performance I was 8 years old, all the other kids were absolutely terrified to death. They were worried about making a mistake in front of their parents and I was like ‘guys, they have to watch us. They’re not allowed to go, they’re not allowed to leave. Lets just go out there and play.’” Ever since then Riley has always loved entertaining. He was a pub trivia host, and also a primary school teacher before casting, which he says were both very performative. He never practices in front of a mirror for his casting, and although he rigorously prepares in terms of learning the formats and strategies, he never has to prepare lines or quotes.
I asked Riley if he was in full control of a broadcast and we got the whole Riley Knight experience, what it would look like, and his answer perfectly matches the direction I would like the broadcast to go. The big problem with a Magic broadcast is that the game is just fundamentally boring to watch Riley told me. Although he noted that Arena vastly improves the viewing experience, he said that it is up to the broadcaster to make the game exciting. “I think trying to sell the game on what really makes it the best game is something the coverage should have as one of its primary goals. Talking about the depth, the customizability, the modular nature of Magic is important… How that happens, I’m not totally sure. I think excitement, I think hype, I think bigging up the moment to sell them to people... We should be treating it like an exciting game of basketball. Like it’s tied up 80 a piece with 15 seconds on the clock. We get those moments in Magic, and I think selling them is much better then keeping things solemn and structured.” As I have talked about in previous podcasts and articles, this should be of vital importance. I think the game should embrace the pompous and flair of other competitive sporting events, not shy away from it. I was very encouraged to hear a member of the broadcast team is on the same wavelength!
If Riley can get so excited about casting Magic, I asked him if he ever had the urge to get back to playing competitively. Here Riley admitted something that many of us can empathize with, and that’s that the real top tier players are just on a whole other level than the rest of us. Although he plays Magic every single day, which is something many people heavily invested in the game do, there comes a point where you have to know your limits. Instead, he plays to either have fun or to test some out of the box situations. He likes seeing what will happen if he takes unorthodox plays that may or may not be completely incorrect. For example, maybe he has a counter spell but will let a big threat resolve just to determine how important counters really are in that matchup. Or he could play a combat trick into removal, just to see how badly a deck will get wrecked if it doesn’t do its thing. These experiences help shape his overall understanding of the game, leading to more knowledge for casting, but there is more to it. “I think that experience has come about from surrounding myself with the best players in the world. Since I am now mates with a lot of pro players, I realize that I ‘never’ am going to be on their level so why even try?” There was obviously a bit of self-deprecating humility in that statement, however it serves a larger point. You could spend all your energy grinding to a PTQ, but there comes a point where you have to realize what you enjoy with the game and focus on that purpose.
While I was chatting with Riley, the Banned and Restricted announcement was released. As everybody expected, Oko got the boot, but Riley and I were both very surprised by Veil of Summer and Once Upon a Time getting the can as well. It was fascinating to hear Riley’s live reaction to the banning’s. He was initially a little disappointed in the announcement, but after talking through the Standard banning’s he came around a little. Oko and Veil of Summer we both thought were good bans, but he was less sure about Once Upon a Time. “I really like that card and I didn’t think it was that bad,” Riley proclaimed. As a big fan and player of Golgari Adventure strategies (He has been playing the Lucky Clover, Smitten Swordmaster variant), that banning is a huge blow for the deck. After thinking about it for a second though, he admitted the ban probably makes sense. “This is probably how a Tron player would feel if Ancient Stirrings got banned,” he opines.
Although this article was written just a few short days after the ban, at least initially I am a fan of it. The new format seams significantly more balance, and meta diversity is incredibly important to the health of the game. Although bold for Wizards to ban two cards that are currently in boosters, you have to appreciate how the boldness looks to be paying off.
With the Magic E-Sports scene on the cusp of really taking off to the next level, it is time to get used to seeing much more of Riley Knight. When the lights shine the brightest, on the grandest stages, expect Riley to bring it full on with an insatiable energy and unparallel level of excitement that will keep the viewer on the edge of their seat. Its time for Mythic Championships to become one of the premier events in the E-Sports world, and I feel confident that with Riley Knight behind the mic we can get there.
You can hear more about my interview with Riley Knight on the official Aetherhub Podcast: @MythicRarePod, as well as all other Magic related news and excitement.
You can also follow Riley on twitter: @Rileyquarytower, where there are links to all his other endeavors!