He sat at the back of the class. A muffled whisper could be heard from his direction every once in a while, but the teacher could never count on his attention. He would turn to a different girl every day and attempt some overused pick up line, content to treat the class as some sort of social exhibition. Eventually, the teacher would get sick of his lack of respect and would turn to the individual, frantic, angered: “Excuse me, you do realize this is Algebra and not Speech? We have an exam in 3 days.” The unwitting individual would smirk back and answer with the same old cliché, “When are we ever going to use this stuff in the real world anyway?”
We all knew that kid, or possibly were that kid. Too big for our own britches (I never thought the first time I would ever use that phrase would be publicly, but so be it), and too smart for the grown man standing in front of him, 20 years his senior and a degree in tow. He was not looking at the bigger picture. He never realized the impact that Algebra would have on his life because he was too busy staring at the surface and never decided to open it up and take a look around.
Algebra probably won’t do all that much for you later in life, but the implications it has, and the subtle forms of it that happen every single day, most certainly do. You may never balance an equation again for the rest of your life, but as you grow older you very clearly see the impact that math, algebra, or science have. There was a ripple effect starting the day you walked into that algebra class, even if you were too tunnel visioned to see it back then.
It turns out we can learn a lot from our old algebra classes beyond just the numbers. We don’t pick up on that until much later. That interaction with other individuals who were just as clueless as you were. Making sense of building block level material and converting that into useful information. Learning the discipline that it took to show up to class and do well. I would even argue that MOST of what we learned in our algebra class had nothing to do with any numbers and yet, people still asked.
Lessons can be right under our noses and it takes each individual to learn them at their own pace, and in their own way, but it takes guidance and friendship to show that individual they should be looking for something at all.
So now let us go back to that question. When are we going to use it in the real world anyway? Algebra may be the cliché, but what about the game we all love? Is it really just there to have some fun and win a few booster packs along the way? Or are we growing as people every time we sleeve up a deck or register a Sealed pool?
The Hard Facts
So the first category of things you learn is all of the unfun but important things that are pretty obvious when you think about them. One of the first times I came to realize the impact Magic was having on me was during some board game we were playing my freshman year of college. There was a question about what the name of a spirit trapped in a tree was called and I originally had no clue. As they ran through the multiple choices, everything sounded completely made up, but then D came up: Caryatid. While I was a little unsure, I remembered Carven Caryatid from Ravnica and how its art depicted a tree. We locked in our answer and sure enough I got it right.
I took a step back to look at all the things Magic had taught me. Not obscure life lesson type stuff, but actual school taught lessons that I had not learned elsewhere. While the game clearly has a different impact on everyone, some of the things I came up with were:
Complex and Simple Puzzle Solving
I could probably think of dozens more if I had, but this is all stuff I am sure you’re familiar with. The point is, Magic is not just a game. It is a tool, a learning device, and a ton of fun at the same time. Parents can take all of that for granted at times, but this game teaches us a lot. I didn’t want to devote too much time to this section, but it is still important. If you are having trouble convincing your parents or whatever authority figure that you are doing more than just playing a game, this is the first place I would reference.
So, this is the meat of my message as it pertains to Magic, but I can’t mold it into a more general situation than my own. I could summarize, but that would be robbing the experiences that each and every one of us have had, or will have, as a result of this game.
When I first moved out to Colorado, I was a bit lonely. I was in the middle of my sophomore year of high school and developing as a person. I quickly made the transition from Yu-Gi-Oh to Magic once I discovered the game, but it remained only a hobby that I played casually here and there. I really didn’t know how to define myself. I was a kid, lost in the world just like everyone at that age.
I eventually fell for a girl. But being so young, I really didn’t know any better. So as time passed and I grew closer to this girl, I began to define myself by her. My life needed direction and it seemed such an obvious choice at the time. Perhaps it was, but as the years continued to turn, I continued to keep this definition of myself.
Now, this isn’t something I feel bad about, or guilty of, but knowing what I know now, I know that was an unhealthy thing to do. My life had so little rigidity to it, as it was hanging on the shoulders of this other individual. She was an individual I love deeply, and my fault was not in doing so, but no matter the person, I needed to develop into my own.
Eventually I would begin traveling to Grand Prixs and I had quite a bit of success right away. I believe I moneyed my first 8 or so Grand Prix and even though that was a fairly trivial feat to keep track of, it let me feel like I had found another place I belonged. Eventually, I would become involved in a little rundown podcast called the Magic School Bus, which would eventually transition to me writing for MTGCast.
It was now that I truly felt myself emerging. My writing would grow in number and in quality, moving to newer sites and eventually landing me here. Through it, I was able to express a part of me that I had never been able to before. I was sharing a part of me that I had so closely guarded prior. All of the creativity I put in designing decks was able to spill over onto the words of a digital page and it felt liberating.
Through Magic, I began to learn confidence and what it meant to stand on my own two feet. And yes, none of this is exclusive to Magic. Maybe I could have done so through sports, or music. Magic was the device that made me into who I am today by allowing me to embrace myself. Magic did not define me, but it taught me how to define myself.
There are a lot of paths in this life that we will never take, and plenty more that we will. We can paint out all of these situations, day after day, if we so choose, or we can live in the here and now. In my here and now, Magic quite possibly saved my life. Maybe that is hyperbole, I will never know, but I do know that I have developed so much of what I am today through the lessons, experiences, and situations that Magic has allowed me to experience.
Meanwhile, Back in Our Time…
I know it is very easy to look at all of this as some sappy story about some underachieving kid “making it,” but in reality, how much different is my story from your own? Sure, things probably didn’t go down to the same detail, but everyone struggles with finding their way at some point in life. Once you realize that the card game you have been playing all this time has actually been one of your closest friends, providing a shoulder to lean on and a hand to hold, things just get so much clearer.
I have been able to come into my own with Magic being a central part of that development and I have seen the same in others. I have seen shy individuals become social standouts as a result of developing a group of friends and a comfort zone every Friday night. One might think that that individual would remain shy outside of the confines of that local game store, but that is not usually the case. Sure, at first the individual is just going to be comfortable in that setting, but after you continue to exhibit the same behavior over and over, it begins to spill over into other areas of your life.
As a nice little side effect (and I have written on this before, but it seems relevant for this discussion), viewing Magic in a different light will also impact the way you view situations in Magic. It is much harder to complain about getting mana screwed when you know that for the last 45 minutes you were able to play a game that you were passionate about, a game that has done so much for you.
All of those games of mana screw or unfortunate top decks by the opponent playing for the Top 8 of your local PTQ, they all help to shape you just as much as the moments of triumph. You get to learn how to deal with struggle or adversity, even if it is on a micro scale compared to other troubles you could be facing. Not every individual is going to be able to test their resolve in some terrible real-world conditions, but Magic gives us the chance to stand tall on a near daily basis. Perhaps this is only a gateway into learning those lessons, but one cannot deny that it still has value.
And Queue Curtain…
Everyone has a story. I realize that my own involved writing, and some tournament success, but in no way are those prerequisites for self-exploration through Magic. Those happen to be the places where I found solace and comfort, but you may very well find it in an MtGO casual room, or just discussing spoilers on some forum you belong too. We are a part of a culture that is famous for being reclusive and hidden, but there is nothing about Magic that has to translate to that, even if the labels are wrong. We control our own paths and get to define what we get out of Magic, out of life, and out of the act of looking within. You never know what might lie beneath the cobblestone, so why not turn it up and have a look? Find your own voice my friends, it is quite the liberating experience. Thanks for reading!