“One thing leads to another,” or, should I say: “One Tweet leads to another.”
Last week my Twitter feed was bogged down with Tweets from Magic Pros complaining about the difficulty of the grind of tournament Magic. In particular, much of the discussion revolved around various issues that essentially boiled down to: “Getting burned out attending so many Grand Prix…”
Burnout makes blue mages of us all.
Every weekend for the past month, I’ve traveled across the United States to play in a Grand Prix tournament: Minneapolis, Charlotte, New York, and Toronto. Also keep in mind that I drove to all of these locations, which equates to roughly 80 hours in cars over the past four weekends!
I get it. The time and energy that goes into that kind of commitment to playing Magic can take its toll. 80 hours of driving is a completely different animal than wandering up to the LGS and playing a Game Day tournament to kill a Sunday afternoon when there is nothing better to do!
I respect that the preparation, practice, and travel of competing at a high level wears you down. But to complain that Grand Prix are a problem to the masses on Twitter is a misdiagnosis of the key issue at play:
When you become burned out with an activity, take a break.
You’ve got to know your limitations. There was an RPTQ in Toronto last weekend and an NYSE Vintage Open in Pennsylvania. I had both events on my calendar when I was making my MTG travel schedule last month. In Minneapolis, I realized that I was burned out from riding in cars and sleeping in hotels—I needed a short break from traveling and tournament Magic.
I’ve begun to set mini-goals for myself that allow me to stay as positive and focused as possible at events. My “mini-goal” for Minneapolis was to have fun. I accomplished my goal of hitting Silver the week before so I didn’t have anything specific to grind for and I just wanted to have fun.
I didn’t make Day 2, but I didn’t take it personally. I played a bunch of Danger Room and Cube. I did have a great weekend and enjoyed the experience. I was also very excited to see two of my friends, Max Mcvety and Andrew Elenbogen, make Top 8.
Despite all of the positives and accomplishing my goal of having fun (no excuses), I was tired and felt burnt out from weeks of traveling. There was probably more I could have done to influence the outcome of my games, but if there was, I couldn’t find it. I needed a break. I hadn’t spent a weekend with my girlfriend in a month and I hadn’t gotten much chance to relax either.
As much as I love paper Vintage tournaments, I decided to skip NYSE and headed up north with my girlfriend to my parents’ cabin on the lake for some much needed R&R.
Tournament Magic is taxing. It’s important to be in the right state of mind in order to play your best. How can you concentrate and play your best if you feel burned out from the road, exhausted and stressed out? These are not feelings that lend themselves to thoughtful problem-solving skills!
Zombies are cranky for a reason. They never rest!
A few weeks ago, I wrote an article where I briefly touched on an idea that I’ve explored in more depth over the past week. The idea is the grinder mindset: “If I keep grinding, I’ll spike one.”
The reverse side of the sentiment is that if I skip an event, I am missing out on an opportunity and falling behind the rest of the pack. Logically, it makes sense to think: “If everybody else goes to every event and I only go to most events, I am giving myself a smaller chance of spiking an event than other people.”
The idea is the practical application of basic math: the more events you attend, the better your chance to qualify for the Pro Tour. Yet, playing in everything and getting burnt out and run down actually decreases your odds of performing well.
If you truly need to spike an event to get onto the Pro Tour and the margin of error is razor thin, would you rather play 1 tournament at 100% ability or 4 tournaments at 60% ability?
Imagine a Magic player who is complaining about grinding, Grand Prix, prizes, traveling, bad beats, or anything else and planning on attending a tournament the next day. What percentage chance do you give this player of playing to the absolute top of his or her ability given that they are focusing on negative things? How well can you perform at an activity you resent?
Perhaps the highest percentage play would be for this player to take a weekend off from Magic and to do something else they really enjoy and then return to the grind with a clearer, more focused mind.
The moral of the story is that if you feel burned out and need to take a break, then you should. It doesn’t mean you are not dedicated to your goal of qualifying for the Pro Tour—rather, it means you are being realistic and honest about how you feel.
When I was going through a stretch where I was playing poorly and losing a lot, I started looking for alternate strategies to improve my game and my results. I have always been the kind of person who assumes that if you want to get better at something, putting your nose to the grindstone, doubling down, and continuing to grind is the best way to get the job done.
What I’ve found is that improving at Magic isn’t some compartmentalized facet of the world set apart from everything else. You can’t become a Magic playing robot no matter how badly you might want to or how hard you try.
For me, I’ve been pleasantly surprised at the way that spending energy improving and focusing on other areas of my life comes back and is rewarded in my tournament play. If you are happy, focused, positive, and engaged with what you are doing, then those qualities will be reflected in how you prepare and play.
I can say for certain that I was resenting the idea of going to a tournament last weekend, but now, after I’ve spent some time relaxing, I’m looking forward to attending GP Columbus next weekend. I’m even looking forward to playtesting! Taking even a short time off can make a large difference when it comes to your mental state.
I’m not saying that the key to leveling up at Magic is to spend 100% of your time relaxing and never playtesting or practicing the nuts and bolts of the game. Clearly, you’ve got to practice and attend events if you want to achieve your goals. What I’ve learned is that goofing off all the time and not practicing enough is a recipe for failure, but practicing too hard to the point where it’s no longer fun is also a disaster waiting to happen.
Always remember that Magic is fun. When you cracked your first pack and saw all of the illustrated characters and monsters, and learned to play the game with your friends at camp, Magic was never an endeavor that made you think, “wow, this is really a game that I could spend hours a week grinding only to become frustrated and dejected with because I can’t go 13-2 at a GP or Top 4 an RPTQ!”
If Magic isn’t fun, the problem isn’t that Magic suddenly became tedious and stressful, but that you’re mindset makes it seem that way. In my experience, the best remedy for the situation is to work on something else for a little while and to come back to Magic with a rejuvenated perspective and mindset.
Well, that is enough talking about Magic for this morning. I’m going to take a break and go swimming, and then probably finish up reading Infinity War in a hammock. This is a kind of leveling up that I can get behind!