The content of Magic articles makes a lot of sense for the most part. You tune into your favorite author’s most recent addition to the comprehensive Magic knowledge base, and you will likely find what can be broken down into one of only a few broad categories:
Deck Talk: Quite simply advocating a deck for one reason or another and explaining some things about it that might not be obvious. Some will have sideboard guides while others will detail how they went from point A to point B, but they all focus on the deck itself.
Tournament Reports: These have fallen out of favor a bit in recent years. Perhaps it is because of how much work goes into them, but these basically recount an experience. This generally includes match-by-match breakdowns and possibly extra-tournament shenanigans.
The Theory Article: These are a little more rare as they require quite a bit of confidence before going public. These try to explain an idea or set of ideas and how they apply to Magic in general and how you can use them to improve.
The Evaluation Article: These consist of everything from your typical set review prior to a new set all the way to some financial ranking. Most “list” articles are just evaluation articles using other cards as comparison points. And then there is always the “meta” or format evaluation that tries to sum up the inner workings of a particular metagame.
Beyond that, there are some oddball pieces of course, but the majority of articles you read are going to fall into one of those categories. This is mostly because Magic players want to improve and the advice and tools in these articles, if accurate, should help you to improve just fine.
However, just because people perceive there to be a lot of value in these “hard” sciences does not mean that there is a lack of substance elsewhere. Many of the other topics people can write about tend to be one-timers. You see, a metagame can evolve and all of a sudden, there is an entirely new thing to write about. A deck can change or a new matchup come into existence, and all of a sudden there is reason to discuss that deck again. But what about the personal hygiene articles or the articles that tell you how to avoid tilt? Unless that author has had a change of heart or become more informed on the subject he previously wrote about, he probably won’t have much to say about an identical topic even six months down the road, let alone a few weeks later.
This keeps the volume of these ever important, but often glossed over, articles much lower. There is a lot of value in looking at the psychology of Magic and I am not talking about bluffing or getting reads. The game brings out human emotions and tendencies. Your attitude, health, wants, and needs, those things all come with you when you sit down to play a game of Magic and knowing that those things matter can be crucial for some people to level up their game.
All right, so where am I going with this? What type of voodoo psycho babel am I going to throw your way? Well, hopefully you don’t actually think those things about it, because what I want to talk about is being happy while you play Magic.
Take a step back to think about that for a second. Magic is a game. Games are things we do by choice to engage in some amount of fun. It might sound like it isn’t possible to be anything BUT happy while playing a game of Magic then, right? Well, clearly we all know that not to be the case, but why is that true? Frustration is considered a natural part of gaming, especially in a culture as competitive as ours (the Magic culture, or even the United States and western thinking). This frustration generally boils out of one central concept:
Once a person invests into something, the product and the journey to it become some small part of you. You want to see it succeed just as you want to see yourself succeed, and failure stings you all the same. Despite the game being “just a game,” you identify with your work on it.
*Generally speaking of course. Obviously there are some casual players out there, but I would assert that most of them have even been upset at the resolution of an [card]Obliterate[/card] in their Commander games.
Magic has a way of getting so many people that touch the game to get invested. Whether you are playing the game to express yourself through trading, or deckbuilding, or just a particular play style, you are using the game as a form of self expression. This means that while the game is still just a game, it represents more than that. It represents you.
Once you arrive at the conclusion that Magic matters to you, your state of being matters to Magic. i.e. Magic matters and affects the other areas of my life, so in turn, it makes sense that other areas of my life that matter might affect my Magic playing.
So now, ask yourself this broad but ever common question: “Are you happy?”
How much better do you think you might play a match of Magic if you are happy, or in a good mental state, versus being bogged down by hassles or problems in your life that have you stressed or depressed?
For many of us, Magic is an escape. We turn to the community, to our friends, to our collections, to our expertise in something so few people are even familiar with, let alone experts at, and we channel our energy and efforts into it. Building a cool new deck or drafting some extremely powerful creation can alleviate a lot of daily stress that may have built up. However, once that game turns from a casual release of pressure and becomes about the outcome, it will often end up adding even more pressure.
Of course, there isn’t an easy solution I can give you to avoid this. If you play Magic competitively, there are going to be some days or matches where you are stressed out and not playing your best. But, if you play Magic competitively, should it also be the place you turn to as a tension release?
I began playing League of Legends about a year and a half ago. At first, I saw the potential I had in the game and wanted to be the best there was. I am realistic, though, and knew that wouldn’t happen quickly. After all, I had managed to have success at Magic and I know how long that took and how much luck I needed to go my way in addition to working hard and making the right connections. Success at other games or projects would likely require the same level of dedication, work, and luck that I found through Magic.
I began working on my game. I looked up all of the newest builds and stats. I customized my play style and began to focus in on what I thought I could do best. But at some point in time, all of that stopped. I was trying to be the best I could at League of Legends while also trying to be the best I could at Magic, and I no longer had a casual environment that I could just show up and have some fun with. I was not attending FNMs and drafting every week just for fun. I was not making custom League games with wacky rules. I wanted to win each and every game I played in both LoL and MtG. It wore me down.
I was working four separate jobs and while each was TCG related in one way or another, at the end of the day, they were still jobs. I would then come home thinking I would relax and play some League or do a draft, but as I now know looking back, those were not relaxing nights. There was a lot of stress in trying to be the best I could, especially knowing how steep the hill in front of me actually was. Every avenue of my life was a chore—a stepping stone toward an unreasonable goal to be the best at everything. The idea was sound, but in application, it was too much to maintain.
Luckily, League of Legends released a new map about six months ago for the all random, all-mid game type. For you Magic-only folk, this was essentially in line with what Magic did taking EDH and making Commander. They essentially embraced a casual format and decided to support it with its own spiffy new map and rules set. I played that map an extraordinary amount. Prior to that, you would find me playing ranked, trying to level up and end up at the top of the ladder but once ARAM became more accessible, I found that the casual release of steam was something I craved.
I began to play ranked less and less as the environment was getting to be a little too toxic for me and I could feel myself only wanting to win and getting no enjoyment otherwise. As a professional gamer, I value winning highly, but even in a game like Magic, where I am rewarded directly for winning, much of the happiness I derive from the game does not come directly from winning. Building decks and seeing crazy and cool things happen is a blast to me. Hanging out with buddies and trading war stories are some of the best times on the Pro Tour.
I had grown to care so much about winning in League that I could feel my upset states pushing friends away when we would lose. I was being too hard on them and too hard on myself, all because I wanted a fancy border around my loading screen picture. Once I changed my mentality and shifted LoL to being my release of stress, the game changed. Now, I was mostly interested in playing with friends and having fun. Winning was fun, so I still enjoyed doing that, but it was not priority number one.
Whereas before I would get mad when people would make inferior plays, I now found myself getting mad when people showed disrespect toward their team or made the game less fun for others. The toxic behavior I was demonstrating myself just a month or so back was now the thing that disgusted me the most. Winning was fun, but there was a lot of fun to be had in the journey, the experience, where the destination was not all too relevant.
In short, I had become happier. I was learning to appreciate things I had never even thought to appreciate before. Magic was allowed to bring a little stress into my life. It is my job, after all. While I derive a ton of enjoyment from Magic, if it ever weighs on me a little bit, that never comes as a surprise. If I were never stressed about Magic, I would feel like I wasn’t caring enough. Of course, being too stressed over it would be equally bad, if not worse, but there is a grey area that I fully expect to reside in. I was opting into League of Legends. I was not making money off of the game or anything even close to that, so why was I allowing it to bring such negativity into my life?
This may be relatively anecdotal, but I think a lot of people might find that they are in a similar spot in Magic as I was in League of Legends. What does the game mean to you and what space does it occupy in your life? If it is intended to be a casual distraction that lifts your spirits but it is not doing that, is there something else in your life that is? We all need our outlets. Because Magic is labeled a game, it is easy to conclude that it is one of these outlets, but that might not be the case, possibly because you are not allowing it to be.
Recently, I have been looking to embrace a few changes in my life and move some things around in order to be a happier person. I know the place that Magic occupies in my life and I know the places where it leaves some absences. I cannot expect the game to deliver on all fronts. What role does Magic play in your life? What role do you want it to play? And what steps do you need to make to bridge that gap?
Life is difficult, brohams and brohers. I wish you the best of luck in your journey. And if that journey is the fun part for you, might I wish that you never get to where you’re going. Thanks for reading!