Sitting in my large, comfy chair, feet up on the ottoman, I’m slowly trudging through a pile of paperwork to prepare my girlfriend for her interview tomorrow. The two of us are collecting a slew of documentation from all the work she’s performed in the past few years, in order to assemble it into a professional portfolio to bring into the interview with her.
As someone who hasn’t been to a job interview in the last 6 years, the idea of a non-artistic based professional portfolio was new for me. I’ve seen portfolios from artists, graphic designers, architects, etc – but she’s applying for a position in management, and it surprised me that they’d want to see some kind of compilation of her work – but as soon as we began the undertaking of the portfolio’s creation, I realized what a genius idea it really was. It’s a much better representation of what you’re like as an employee than a résumé can provide, and helps to create a more complete profile of yourself to a potential employer.
More interesting for me, perhaps, than the specifics of what was in my girlfriend’s portfolio, was the way in which creating it caused me to reflect on my own career, both in the “real world” as well as the Magic world. As I’m sure those of you who have read my column are aware, self reflection is something I’m particularly skilled with, so this reaction should come as no surprise.
A few months ago at Grand Prix Montreal, I was standing around discussing a sealed pool with David Ochoa, and the topic turned to the difference in lifestyle between a Pro Magic: the Gathering player versus the everyday Joe who attends a GP or PTQ (i.e., me). Web asked me a question that he probably didn’t even think about for more than a second afterward, but one which stuck with me, because I don’t think anyone has really posed it to me before – and I most certainly hadn’t asked it of myself. He simply inquired, “What’s your goal?”
Other writers have discussed the idea of having an “endgame.” Most recently, Gavin Verhey has told us all that he’s intended from day 1 to end up working at Wizards of the Coast – a goal he’s currently achieving, and one which he’ll hopefully continue to achieve. I think taking a long view on that kind of goal is great, but it does tend to focus on step 100, while glossing over steps 1 through 99. I’m a classic underachiever, and for me, having a goal that’s that far out in the distance makes it nearly unattainable for me, because there’s no pressure on me to arrive at the destination, other than self-proclaimed deadlines, which I’m garbage at hitting. In order to light a fire under my own ass to get things done, I need a more reasonable set of expectations, and to set up a system of checkpoints along the way. In a way, it allows the system to be more about the journey between steps 1 and 100, rather than about arriving at 101. There’s an endgame, let’s say, but the early and midgame are where I’m going to focus my attention.
Upon The Ocho asking that question, which took me off guard I admit, I thought for a second about what I really wanted out of Magic. At this point, my relationship with this card game has outlasted any other relationship in my life, save the one I have with my parents. I began playing over 15 years ago, and after having spent countless hours and dollars on the game, you’d like to think there’s something to show for it.
It was about that point in my deliberation where things got complicated.
What’s good enough? At what point do you say “yes, that’s something to show for it,” and become satisfied enough with your accomplishments to become fulfilled by your position in the game? As gamers, I doubt there will be a time (for most of us) when we completely give the game up for ever and ever, and sell every deck and card we own, never to think or speak of Magic again. Even if we do for a while – even for years – someday, someone will mention the word Magic, and you’ll go online and see what’s up with that game you used to play. That’s how it works. On the other hand, there are a multitude of players who have decided they’ve accomplished what they set out to do within the game, and have scaled back their invested time and money to a much more passive level, perhaps relegating the game to an occasional kitchen table evening or a few drafts here and there. Many of these players were former professionals, who have decided that they’ve reached a point where they’re comfortable with their accomplishments, and have actively removed themselves from competition in order to pursue other endeavors.
So how does one gauge their personal “enough?” And how do you decide what a reasonable “enough” is, for you? This is a much more difficult question to answer than just “win a Pro Tour” for most of us. I mean, yes, it would be phenomenal to be able to look at a trophy on your mantle (or many trophies), and show that off to your children when they’re old enough to appreciate it. But is that realistic? And are you capable of that level of success, if you’re being TRULY honest with yourself? Asking this kind of hard question is the only way to determine what kind of success will allow you the satisfaction to leave the competitive scene on amicable terms, rather than burning out and quitting because you have to, not because you want to.
This question is even more important for those of us who are not actively living the Magic lifestyle than it is for those of us who are. There are real costs associated with pursuing competitive Magic as a hobby, and I’m not talking dollars and cents. At some point, the time and energy you’re dedicating to the game take their toll, and you’ll have to have some idea of when enough has become enough. This is why establishing goals and expectations is so important.
My own goal has changed over the course of the last decade and a half. At one point in time, I wasn’t even aware that there was a possibility of doing something within Magic, let alone was I actively trying to accomplish something. As I grew older along with the game, I came to realize that I had something to offer, humble as it may be, and that maybe I could find some margin of success within this community. “This” community became more specific when I chose to focus my attention on Legacy, and although I did have a position of some respect when the Legacy community was made up of hundreds of individuals, my absence from the writing game during the explosion of popularity of the format along with the fact that I’m simply unwilling to dedicate myself to the life of an Open Series grinder, leaves me in a strange position where I’m caught between what was my paradigm and what is the new paradigm. I loved the old paradigm. I don’t hate the new one, but things are not the same. It’s not worse, but it is different. I’ve had to adapt to the realities of the new world order, and in doing so, find a place for myself within that system where I can feel like I am accomplishing something with my work, as well as set myself apart from my contemporaries who are more actively pursuing tournament results. It’s a fine line to walk, where you’re discussing strategy for a game which you’re not playing professionally – and you’re all quite willing to let me know when I’m wavering on that line.
So I ask myself, what’s enough? At what point am I going to be happy with my work and my play? And I’m still trying to discover the answer to that question, because I haven’t found a real answer for myself – and because the target keeps moving. When I answered Web, I said that playing on the Pro Tour – even just once – would make me feel like I’d actually accomplished something in Magic. Being able to say I was a Professional Magic: the Gathering player (even if it’s just a level 1 pro) would be a hook to hang my hat on as I drift off into obscurity, years down the line (I hope its years!). Even as I said it, I was questioning my answer. Why is that the benchmark? Tons of people have pro points that aren’t pro players. Tons of people have been good at this game, or relevant to this game, who’ve never been on the Pro Tour. I already have a writing gig on one of the largest Magic focused websites out there, should I thank my stars that I’ve done that much and be done with it? Should I try to win a Legacy GP, and call it a day when I do? If I want to be on the Pro Tour, why aren’t I more actively participating in the PTQ circuit? Isn’t that the goal – and if it isn’t, what is?
It’s never simple.
In order to properly assess what my goals truly are, and as a way of tracking and measuring against them, I’ve decided to take some inspiration from Sam Stoddard’s classic “Fearless Magical Inventory” article, and create something of a “Fearless Magically Professional Inventory” for myself. This is not merely meant to take stock of my weaknesses within the game itself, but to better understand the role the game plays in my life, as well as where I feel I’m going with the game as a whole. Realistically, it will incorporate aspects from both, to the extent that I feel each is necessary.
Where my list will differ from Sam’s suggestions, however, is that I refuse to be focused entirely on the “holes in my game,” which could otherwise be defined as the negative traits I possess, because I feel it paints an incomplete picture for yourself and doesn’t serve you as well as creating a more inclusive perspective – much like the difference between creating a resume and creating a professional portfolio. If recognizing your failings is good, then recognizing your failings, your successes, and establishing your goals from both of them must be triply good.
Section 1 – Fearless Magical Inventory
1) I am focused almost entirely on a largely irrelevant format. This has become something of an excuse.
2) I am often more concerned with how my deck looks than how my deck plays. Having pimped out cards is often more important than having the right cards.
3) I do not playtest anywhere near enough – with sideboarding or without.
4) I often create sideboards without consideration for what the “worst things to see” are, rather than for specific matchups.
5) I frustrate easily.
6) I can be a poor sport when losing, especially to players who I consider worse than me.
7) I play loose against players who I consider worse than me.
8 ) I play scared against players who I consider better than me.
9) I sometimes go into matches expecting to lose, rather than looking for ways to win.
10) I don’t play enough Magic to get a genuine feel for the difference between variance and poor play.
11) I allow my opponent to dictate the plays of the game, reacting to them rather than making them react to me.
12) I have difficulty determining the appropriate time to attack with creatures in complex situations.
13) I enter tournaments without expecting to win.
14) I under prepare for large events, especially for those formats which I am not intimately familiar.
15) I have strong color and archetype preferences in Legacy which inhibit my ability to assess the “best deck” in other formats.
16) Because of personal deck bias, I am over confident when playing against decks I consider bad.
17) I formulate a plan and stick to it, despite conditions changing.
18) I don’t draft enough.
19) I’m uncomfortable playing aggro because I don’t have enough experience with it to be able to succeed against a competent control player.
20) I give up additional information via body language.
21) I’m slow to learn from my mistakes (sometimes they repeat).
22) I tend to misevaluate the threat level of particular types of cards (equipment, Planeswalkers, etc).
23) I don’t care enough about winning.
24) I don’t play enough Magic (in general).
Section 2 – Fearless Magical Career Inventory
1) I am focused almost entirely on a largely irrelevant format. This has become something of an excuse.
2) I don’t attend enough high level events.
3) I don’t actively participate in the PTQ circuit.
4) I occasionally put less effort into articles than I would expect of myself.
5) I procrastinate on my writing deadlines.
6) I publish unrefined decklists that are crafted more on theory than on testing.
7) I don’t write outside the scope of a weekly article. This doesn’t allow me to have more than one idea going at a time, which in turn leaves me with writers block on occasion.
8 ) I frequently get hung up on particular words, using them more than a reasonable amount in a specific article.
9) I write within my comfort zone, rather than trying to push the envelope.
10) I haven’t finished the History of Legacy series because I’m terrified it will mark the end of my use as a writer.
11) I take myself far too seriously.
12) I have delusions of grandeur based on my status as a CF staff writer.
13) I’m terrified that success within Magic will force me to choose between a life, a career, and a game I enjoy.
14) I am very, very bad at separating Magic from the other aspects of my life.
15) While I want to experience the Pro Tour, I don’t believe I’m good enough to.
16) I think I’m both too old in life, and too young in Magical skill to be on the level of many of the CF (and other) players.
17) I make excuses for why I don’t actively pursue professional Magic, because it’s easier than coming to terms with (and addressing) my own skill level.
18) I use Legacy as both a means of separating myself from the crowd as well as a place to hide.
19) I am afraid of Standard, because I don’t believe I’m good enough to compete with the best.
20) I do not invest in a Magic Online collection, despite the fact that it is ideal for me in terms of availability for play.
Section 3 – Positives
1 ) I know Legacy like the back of my hand. I am an expert in that format.
2 ) I have a unique perspective in the writing world, as both someone who has years of experience which others lack, as well as a background in a different style of writing (technical writing).
3 ) I am extremely enthusiastic about the site I work for.
4 ) I am adept at professional networking.
5 ) I have a personal brand that has been successful in separating me from the pack.
6 ) Outside of the scope of a game of Magic, I’m generally enjoyable to be around, which allows me to form strong interpersonal relationships with a wide variety of personality types.
7 ) I’m somewhere between ok and halfway decent at Magic.
8 ) Over the course of the last two years, I’ve proven to myself that while I have a way to go before considering myself “good,” I’m taking some of the right steps.
9 ) I’m very skilled at recognizing the mistakes I make within a game – after they’ve already been made.
10 ) I have a reasonable grasp of how to read body language from an opponent to pick up on signals that they don’t know they’re giving.
11 ) I am a competent limited player.
12 ) I am not afraid to lose games.
13 ) I work well in a team environment, although I tend to be the default group leader.
14 ) I am extremely good at planning for worst-case scenarios (this applies to in-game situations, but is more general).
Much like the inventories which have been completed before mine, this is not intended to be a closed list, but rather a living document that changes as I work on the weaknesses and play to the strengths. In creating this list I’ve come to understand some more about the answers to the questions I outlined above, and have established a few goals and expectations for myself, in order to find a way to be satisfied with what I have offered up to the Magic World, and taken back from it, somewhere on down the line when I hang up my deckboxes for good.
Section 4 – Goals
• Write more than a single article per week. This doesn’t necessarily mean publish more than one article per week, but it does mean I expand on the current schedule I keep for my writing.
• Write generic articles sooner, so I can be more expressive in them with media outside the written word. Chase down Alex Shearer when I can.
• Expand my Magic Online Collection, perhaps in conjunction with borrowing cards when necessary, in order to create video content for the site. This is something I’ve meant to do for some time, but have been uncomfortable with diving into headlong. Get over it, and just do it.
• Continue to attend high-level events as possible, but decide whether I’m taking them seriously or not WELL in advance. If I plan to be serious, put the required testing in to perform at my peak, rather than try to excuse myself later.
• PTQ more. This will be essential if I really want to experience the Pro Tour – I have neither the time nor the interest in farming PWP to qualify.
• Establish an actual testing group of players who are willing to put the same kind of time and effort into it as I am.
• Begin to take Standard seriously. Attend FNM – if not all the time, then at the very least on occasion. Learning new formats is an essential skill to a well-rounded player.
Again, this list will continue to be a work in progress, which I will return to occasionally to assess my progress on these goals. This is not a complete list, but I feel that publishing the entirety would both create a long and boring discussion for you, as well as spoil some of the mystery of upcoming articles for me. Let’s just say there is a complete list, and this is part of it, and leave it at that.
For those of you who haven’t taken the time to put together a Magical Inventory, I highly recommend it. The experience is oddly cathartic, and exposes you to yourself in a way you probably aren’t expecting. Honesty is something of a scarce commodity these days, even to oneself, so do yourself and your game (and maybe even your career) a favor, and take a bit of time to try this out. My list includes some points that were very difficult for me to admit - even just to me, let alone to the world at large – so don’t be afraid to do the same. Best of luck to all of you!