Tolarian Community College Professor Brian Lewis.

YouTube’s Favorite ‘Magic The Gathering’ Course Turns 10

Many 'Magic: The Gathering' players ask the question, do you know about The Professor?

Anyone who looked to the internet to learn how to play Magic: The Gathering has likely heard of Tolarian Community College (TCC). Headmastered by Brian Lewis, a.k.a. The Professor, the channel recently turned ten years old.

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Despite growing up obsessed with Yu-Gi-Oh, Pokémon, and Harry Potter (Wizards of the Coast released this and I own a large binder of them), I’ve always had an on and off again relationship with trading card games. They’re expensive and boys who were socialized to be suspicious of girls wanting to playing “their game” weren’t particularly welcoming. This made what cards I did get ahold of “just” pretty cardboard I looked at but rarely got to play with until I was well into my teens. However, my introduction to MTG has been nothing but welcoming.

I can thank three people for this. First, there’s my partner of 12+ years who played Yu-Gi-Oh and learned MTG with me. Then came our AP Physics teacher, who introduced us to the game. Lastly, there’s The Professor, who provides thoughtful commentary and explanations when we get super into it again once a year.

Tolarian Community College origins

2014 Tolarian Community College Professor Brian Lewis sharing that the channel is getting a logo for its one year anniversary.

Four days after making TCC (named after Tolarian Academy), Lewis—who I’m henceforth calling the Professor because it’s like calling a teacher their first name, which is super weird—made his first MTG video in Aug 14, 2013. It was a video reviewing popular sleeve brands that remains one of the Professor’ most watched videos to this day. In the recent anniversary video, The Professor explained the idea came after he became the “answers” guy at his local game shop, Anime Imports & CCG Center. The Professor shot many, many videos in this store over the years. Additionally, a friend he met pre-YouTube also appeared as a guest, both at the shop and in his home.

When Lewis first started YouTube, he was teaching English courses at his local community college(s) and re-entering MTG after selling his games upon graduating high school. Being a sort-of new player and working as an educator comes through in how he makes videos and approaches trading card games. The Professor values honesty and accessibility. He considers the barriers to entry and tries to remove them. Can’t afford to buy cards, especially if you don’t even know if they’ll work in your deck? Interested in MTG lore, but not sure where to start? TCC features history videos.

The Professor is not making videos to get a Wizards of the Coast sponsorship, and to my knowledge he has never had one. In fact, Wizards’ money side probably finds his criticism of their business decisions and product quality frustrating. He’s not pushing people to buy the latest sets. Instead he gives honest, thoughtful review and meets possible conflicts of interest ahead of time. Also, The Professor is not afraid to tell bigots in the space that they aren’t welcomed at TCC. He’s spoken up about antisemitism, sexism, racism, and more within the MTG space online and off.

Because of how the channel started, The Professor centered much of his early content on how-tos and product reviews. While MTG focused, he also creates explainers on other card games like Pokémon, and Flesh And Blood. The latter actually reached out to him in the process of making the game because of how respected The Professor is. Over the years, The Professor produced a MTG debate show, skits, a podcast, and more. Oftentimes, he featured collabs with MTG creators like cosplayers and writers—including with former-TMS editor Princess Weekes! No matter the type of video, his theatrical dorkiness and genuine earnestness comes through.

Giving back

When we gather together, we make magic.

Brian Lewis, The Professor

His honest, thoughtful reviews has already brought so many people together, and yet he still insists on doing more. Over the years, The Professor has hosted many charity fundraisers. One of the most memorable was him raising money for Serious Fun in October 2019. Founded in the 1980s, the organizations brings kids with various serious illnesses together for a recreational summer camp. This camp builds the kids’ confidence in a safe and fun environment. The Professor joined other content creators in raising money and offered to shave his head if they met this goal. TCC students raised over $11,000 and so his locs had to go.

Beginning in 2020, The Professor started an annual channel tradition of raising money for the Trans Lifeline. Its mission is to offer over the phone support and microgrants to trans people in need. The Professor has been really open about his struggles with depression and didn’t like feeling hopeless amid the rapid increase in transphobia. So, he dug for some valuable MTG things in his closet and launched a fundraiser. Other MTG creators donated to up the value of the prize snowballing it to a bigger and bigger event. TCC raised $120,000 for Trans Lifeline that year. Cumulatively, The Professor and all the students of TCC have raised over $739,788 in total.

(featured image: screencap, Tolarian Community College)

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Alyssa Shotwell
(she/her) Award-winning artist and writer with professional experience and education in graphic design, art history, and museum studies. She began her career in journalism in October 2017 when she joined her student newspaper as the Online Editor. This resident of the yeeHaw land spends most of her time drawing, reading and playing the same handful of video games—even as the playtime on Steam reaches the quadruple digits. Currently playing: Baldur's Gate 3 & Oxygen Not Included.