One of the great successes of Magic over its 25-year life span has been its ability to inspire such an enormous passion for it in those who play the game. Magic players love Magic. It’s not the kind of game where you just “kind of” like it and “kind of” play it. Throughout my time with Magic, I’ve always found that people are either really passionate about it and commit themselves to the game or they don’t have any passion for it and just play it sometimes here and there. There’s really nowhere in between.
This rings especially true for the competitive Magic player. They have a passion for the game that surpasses most players. They’re willing to commit and put forth an enormous amount of time, energy, and resources into the game. They spend a lot of time playtesting, practicing, and traveling to tournaments. They spend a lot of time consuming Magic content. They spend a lot of money on their decks, collections, and gaming supplies. For many players, Magic can become an all-consuming passion.
Having said that, it’s important to make something clear: The passion you have for Magic needs to be controlled. Otherwise, you’re in danger of reaching a point where your passion for the game becomes so intense that it causes you to neglect other areas of your life outside of the game—such as your job, your schooling, your personal relationships, your physical health, and your mental health. It can cause you to become motivated more by external achievement and recognition than internal satisfaction, which is a guaranteed recipe for long-term unhappiness.
Having an all-consuming passion for the game is also what leads players to do unethical things to win. Their passion for the game is so great that Magic becomes a tool for finding self-worth and self-validation. In order to satisfy those emotional needs, they’re willing to rig their Sealed pool or stack their Constructed decks to give them a better chance at winning and satisfying that need for self-worth and self-validation, because losing will only give them a sense of self-loathing or self-hatred.
Lastly, having an all-consuming passion for the game is almost always what causes players to quit the game. It happens for one of two reasons. The first is that they end up neglecting the other areas of their life so much that they’re eventually forced into taking a break in order to rebalance things. The second is that, just like I mentioned above, an all-consuming passion transforms winning into an emotional need, which means if bad results happen too often, that emotional need is no longer being met and they’ll end up walking away to pursue other things that will fill the void.
In scientific terms, this kind of all-consuming passion is called “obsessive passion,” and it’s something you want to stay away from.
Conley Woods once wrote a great article entitled “Exploration and Change,” where he talked about how his obsessive passion for Magic forced him to take a break from the game and get things into a more balanced state.
“Magic is an amazing game and it means a lot of things to a lot of people, but for me, it was almost too many things. It was my job, my hobby, my social network, my creative outlet, my competitive outlet, my writing material, and my media consumption. It is incredible that Magic can fill all of those roles, but I was running at max speed for a little too long and I needed a break.”
How did he accomplish that? He did that by getting into other things he never thought he would ever have any interest in—namely dancing. It started out as something outside of his comfort zone that he decided to explore, but in time, it became a life-changing aspect of his life and led to some dramatically positive changes. He lost around 160 pounds through dancing regularly. He gained a new-found confidence about himself that was missing before with things like his social skills and interactions with people. And he discovered a passion for something he had no idea he could be passionate about.
“Dancing became a catalyst for change in my life. It touched on so many areas that I had neglected in favor of Magic. I began to notice myself losing weight. While I was not dieting, simply increasing my activity level was having a real impact. I was also putting myself in a nightlife setting all of the time, so my social skills and interactions began to improve. Experience has always turned into confidence with me and now I was experiencing something totally new and different. Today, I am almost 160 pounds lighter than I was 14 months ago. I have a new passion that I once actively avoided. All of my logic and forethought would have never led me down such a path. I just needed to make some changes and try some new things to create some momentum for myself.”
This refreshed his approach to Magic, and he came back into the game with a new invigoration for brewing decks again and producing new content, especially streaming on Twitch. He still loves Magic, but his passion for the game is less obsessive and has less of a hold on him. He was back to loving the game, but that love for Magic no longer consumed him or caused him to neglect other areas of his life or burn him out.
In scientific terms, this well-balanced, healthy passion is what’s called “harmonious passion,” and it’s the ideal kind of passion for the game you want to develop. Harmonious passion is when you have a passion for Magic, but that passion is balanced properly. It’s when your reasons for playing the game are not for the sake of external validation or recognition but rather for the internal satisfaction and fulfillment of personal growth and mastery. It’s becoming engaged with the game because of the joy you experience from playing it, and not the results and rewards you can get. Research on harmonious passion has shown that it leads to far greater overall happiness, health, life satisfaction, and longevity. You’re far less likely to experience physical or mental burnout, and less likely to force yourself into a position where you have to take a break or walk away from the game entirely.
If you’re not sure whether you have an obsessive passion or a harmonious passion for the game, then there are some questions you can ask yourself to help you figure that out and find the answer more clearly:
1) Do you feel drained and burnt out from the game?
When it comes time to play in a tournament, are you excited about it, or not excited at all? When you have to playtest and learn a new format, do you look forward to it or do you dread the idea? Do you find yourself depleted by the commitment level that you’ve put into the game up to this point?
2) Do you define yourself by the game, how much time you spend playing it, or what your achievements in the game look like?
If you were to create a pie graph of your life, how much of the space on that graph would Magic take up? Does Magic take up the overwhelming majority of that graph? Is your sense of self-worth determined by how well you do in tournaments rather than something you create for yourself?
3) Do you see yourself in a negative way?
Studies have shown that people with an obsessive passion are more susceptible to having a negative self-image. Do you have more of a negative self-image than a positive one? Are you more unhappy with the kind of person you are right now than you are happy with the kind of person you are right now?
4) Is your internal conversation about the game more negative than positive?
For example, when it comes to Magic, do you find yourself using phrases like, “excited about,” “looking forward to,” and “can’t wait to,” or do you find yourself using phrases like, “don’t really want to,” “not excited about,” or “wish I didn’t have to”? Do you find yourself constantly talking about how cruel Magic is than how fun and enjoyable it is? Do you find
yourself complaining about the game more than praising it?
5) Are you unable to prevent yourself from playing Magic or consuming Magic content when you shouldn’t?
Are you unable to resist the compulsion to play when you know there are other things you need to focus on and does your passion for the game cause you to neglect those things and involve yourself with Magic even though you know you should be focusing on other more important things?
6) Does the game feel like a burden, a job, or a monotonous task?
People who identify with having an obsessive passion tend to see the game as work or something they’re forcing themselves to do rather than something they’re happy to do. They do it because they feel like they have no other choice. As a consequence, the game feels stale, redundant, and no longer gives them a sense of personal satisfaction or fulfillment. Has Magic become boring for you? Do you play Magic because you feel like you have to more than because you voluntarily and happily want to?
If you find yourself answering yes to most or all of these questions, then you very likely have an obsessive passion for the game and you should look to make some changes in order to realign things and get your passion for the game into a balanced state. If you don’t, then the “yes” from these 6 questions will only become exacerbated and they will only get worse over time the longer they go unchecked.
To make the necessary changes and transition your obsessive passion into a more harmonious passion, there are a number of things you can do.
A) Create a schedule for when you can involve yourself with Magic.
Come up with a specific, detailed, concrete schedule as to when you are allowed to play Magic and when you’re allowed to consume Magic content each day of the week. Things involving your work, your education, your health, and/or your personal relationships should be prioritized first, with Magic being scheduled around those things. If you’re a professional Magic player, then be sure to create a schedule where playing Magic, producing Magic content, taking care
of your health, and maintaining the relationships in your personal life is properly balanced and where Magic is not an overwhelmingly lopsided portion of that schedule.
B) Leave Magic at the shop, the tournament hall, or on the computer.
Once you’re done playing or consuming content, leave Magic behind you where it belongs and move into putting your focus and energy into other areas of your life. This is especially important after things don’t go well when playing. It’s easy to take home that bad beat, bad luck, or bad loss, and let the frustration and anger from those things stay with you while at home, taking out your frustration and anger out on friends or loved ones. If things went really well
then go ahead and enjoy it, feel good about it, and celebrate it. But once you’re done, leave it behind you to go and enjoy other things in your life. Don’t become too wrapped up in it.
C) Change your language and your internal dialogue when it comes to Magic.
It’s been extensively, scientifically documented that using specific kinds of words and language can impact your mindset and your actions. If you find yourself constantly using phrases like “don’t really want to,” “not excited about,” or “wish I didn’t have to” when it comes to Magic, instead use phrases like, “want to,” “can’t wait to,” or “look forward to” when it comes to the game. Do you have to practice for an upcoming Grand Prix? Don’t say things like, “I don’t really want to playtest for this GP.” Instead, say, “I’m really looking forward to practicing for this GP.” This will help keep Magic from feeling like something you’re forcing yourself to do.
D) Explore new things and immerse yourself in different hobbies.
It took Conley Woods stepping away from Magic and immersing himself into dancing to rebalance his life and get things back on track. It’s rarely ever a good thing to completely and utterly commit yourself to only one thing in your life. Don’t be afraid to leave your comfort zone and allow yourself to discover new things and new activities. In doing so, you’ll go a long way toward preventing yourself from burning out too fast and needing to cut yourself off from the game.
It’s fine to love the game. In fact, it’s a necessary ingredient for success. Oodles of scientific studies have conclusively shown that the more you love something, the better you are at it and the better the quality you produce when doing it. So, be passionate about Magic.
But don’t let your passion for the game cause you to take things too far. Keep it balanced. Magic should never cause you to neglect or hate your work, your relationships, your physical health, your mental health, or keep you from pursuing other interests and activities in life. Harmonious passion is the best way to utilize your love for the game while also keeping it in check.
As always, thank you very much for reading, and all the best!