When I have kids, I am going to hand them some booster packs and let them knock themselves out. I was lucky my parents did the same with me. I recommend you do the same for your kids.
We are extremely lucky to have this game. My involvement in Magic: the Gathering has given me innumerable benefits. It’s taught me lessons well ahead of my time—lessons that some non-gamers will unfortunately never learn.
As an MTGer, you are lucky and you should be proud. I want you to be certain that what you are doing IS productive, that it IS valuable, that it IS enriching your life, that you ARE better for having this game.
Today we share. I am going to go over some of the most important lessons I have learned from MTG, and how I have applied them to my life. You may already apply some of these, and others you can now start using to improve your game. At the end I am going to ask you the most important lesson you’ve learned playing MTG and how you apply it.
“Win at Magic, Win at Life”
First: Imagine the best things that can happen to you in life
Next: Figure out how to get there
When I was 14, I was handed a Psychatog / Upheaval deck with the instruction to get to nine mana and cast Upheaval and Psychatog in the same turn. Cast Upheaval, cast Psychatog, win the game! Okay, well what do I do for the first eight turns of the game? The path appeared before me, and working backwards from finish to start, the plan unfolded.
This is how a lot of games of Magic are won—by visualizing the big finish, and working forward and backwards towards that. Working with direction guides your play. That is the importance of knowing the various ways your deck can win. Backwards, from finish to start. That is top-down design.
You probably won’t follow your feet to becoming a doctor. But, if you plan on being a doctor, work backwards from there, adjust your steps accordingly, and the path will appear.
Where’s the best place you can be in four years? What do you want to do for the next four years? Adjust each based on how much you want to sacrifice for one or the other. You might find that if you play your cards right, you won’t have to sacrifice either.
As we play Magic, we learn long-term planning.
It Doesn’t Matter If You Are Being Watched
There was a time in life when being watched made it hard for me to play. It made me nervous. What do they think of my play? Are they going to tell me I did a good job, or that I screwed it up? No. I learned that if I want to win, I have to block out the crowd.
You will be watched, whether you want it or not. You will have an audience, whether you want it or not. It doesn’t make a difference, and the more you are exposed to it, the faster you conquer it.
When the match ends, we are lucky to have had an audience—the feedback we get makes us better, faster.
Being an Efficient Human Being
I have played a lot of red decks, and I think the key to them is sequencing. A common play is turn 1 Lava Spike or Goblin Guide? If you play Lava Spike now, you will do more damage this turn. It’s tempting. No, we are better than this. Repeated thousands of times, the 1 damage we save by playing Goblin Guide adds up. Order matters.
As I leave the gym at the end of the night I am always excited to check my cell phone. It’s tempting to check it right away. However, I make sure to shower, change clothes, and do everything I need to do at the gym, so that I can check my phone as I walk out. Repeated thousands of times, the one minute adds up. Order matters.
As we play red decks, we become more efficient human beings.
Accounting and Finance
As a pre-teen, I managed an online account and an offline investment portfolio from which the growth would help subsidize my MTG tourney costs.
If you have had a Magic Online Account and a trade binder, you have done the same.
Long Term Relationships
I have been trading for years. Magic cards for Magic cards. Magic cards for prize splits. Rides to the airport now for rides to the airport later. Lunch for dinner. My goods for your services and your goods for my services.
When you trade Magic cards, you learn that you get what you want by giving someone else what they want. When a party leaves an interaction feeling as though they have been ripped off, they are less likely to re-engage in future interactions.
Reciprocity is crucial for maintaining valuable, mutually beneficial, long-term relationships. As we trade Magic cards, we improve our long-term relationship skills.
Sacrificing to Get Ahead
I fell in love with black cards as an eight-year old. I happened to get Victimize, Vampire Hounds, and Lord of the Pit, and built a deck around them. I played with it against my brother until he refused to play against it anymore. The color black taught me how to sacrifice.
Sacrifice creatures for other creatures. Sacrifice life for cards. Sacrifice cards for mana. Sacrifice a Friday night out partying for a refreshed Saturday morning, pre-tournament breakfast. Repeat thousands of times over a lifetime.
Play black—learn how to sacrifice to get ahead.
Using Every Part of the Buffalo
Let’s all say hello to our friend the Squire. Hi Squire! He works for us in many Magic games. His main use is the chump block. He is not very useful outside of the chump block, but he is a tiny bit useful.
It’s tempting to throw the Squire under the bus (Beast) to preserve our life total. We must preserve our life total. But the Squire must realize his destiny in the right way. What if he attacks for 1 damage first? What if he attacks for 1 damage and it turns out you win before he has to chump block?
Prolonging chump blocking is an exercise in long-term planning. It is not new players, but children that struggle with this strategy the most. As we grow and play the game, we learn how to make long-term plans. As we treat the Squire right, we learn to use every part of the buffalo.
How many times would you have won if you had drawn spell, but instead drew a land that you already had way too many of?
How many times have you complained about it? How many times have you been corrected by an onlooker that you actually messed up that turn and lost yourself the game? How many times have you been told that you actually messed up on the first turn and lost yourself the game then?
It’s intuitive to focus on what happened at the end of the game. It’s intuitive to be frustrated by the thing we can’t control. The reality is, there are lots of things we can control, and lots of things we could have controlled differently over the course of the game, leading up to the end.
As we play Magic, we learn to take responsibility, complain less, learn to accept feedback, get better, and to improve as human beings.
Practice > Talent
The weird part of my then-historic success with the Living End deck is that I expended more time practicing for tournaments with Living End than ever before. A flip switched in my head. The more I practice, the better my results. My skills were no longer bounded.
There are two approaches to “I wish I were good at X.” There is, “I will never be good at X”, and there is, “I better practice a lot at X.” A lot of us are taught early on that we are either good at something or we aren’t good at something. That isn’t the case.
Talent is real, but the more we pursue our hobby, the more we learn that hard work really pays off. Practice makes improvement and there is no substitute for it. If you want to be good at something, go ahead and do it.
Focusing On What You Can Control
You can’t control that your opponent just miracled Bonfire of the Damned. You can’t control that you had a life total and creatures, and now you don’t. You can’t control that Wizards of the Coast printed Bonfire of the Damned. You are going to play against it until it rotates.
You can control how you play around Bonfire of the Damned. You can control how your deck reacts when they play it. You can control a lot of things. You can’t control the situation you were born into, but you can control how you play out that situation.
Embrace the variance. As we get sacked out, we learn to focus on the things we can control.
Everything Has a Cost
I get a lot of questions like this:
I asked questions like this many, many times before I learned the answer: “What do you cut?” You can’t add cards to a (winning) 60-card deck without taking out cards. Everything has an opportunity cost. You can’t build something without destroying something else.
You can’t add things to a 24-hour day without taking things out. Watching an hour of TV comes at the cost of an hour of basketball, an hour of MTG, an hour of whatever. If you want an extra hour of exercise, you are going to first have to figure out how to cut an hour.
As we build decks, we learn that EVERYTHING has a cost. Things must be cut.
Life Is a Ticking Clock
See that game clock on the right side? It ticks down to 0. When it hits 0, I have a question for you: How many seconds of those 25 minutes were spent on unproductive, negative thoughts? If the answer is 0, you gave yourself the best chance of winning. To add a negative thought, opportunity cost states that you subtracted a negative thought.
See your clock in the top right corner of your screen? It ticks down to 0. When it hits 0, I have a question for you. How many seconds of those 24 hours were spent on unproductive, negative thoughts? I hope it was 0. To add a negative thought, opportunity cost states that you subtracted a negative thought.
Much of life is managing time, and playing Magic: the Gathering teaches us how to do that.
Embracing Your Identity
Once upon a time I was embarrassed by my hobby. I was embarrassed by the thing I was most passionate about. Eff that. It’s not worth going to even the tiniest lengths to cover it up. I embrace it.
Some people will judge you. You can follow the crowd, or you can do your own thing and the crowd will one day follow you. A lot of people don’t have passion—being passionate about something is rare, and you are lucky to have passion, regardless of what about.
Whatever your thing is, whatever your identity is, it’s cool to you. And if it’s cool to you, you don’t have to care what anyone else thinks. It’s yours.
Magic: the Gathering is an incredible game. Being a part of it has made me a better human being. It has made you a better human being. It has improved our lives in innumerable ways. We are lucky to have it.
What is the most important lesson you have learned from MTG? How has it improved your life?