Oh, the turmoil of the on again/off again relationship—such has been my relationship status with competitive tournament Magic over the past several months. Today’s article is about how I worked around the burnout of the ball and chain of “the grind,” and how a little bit of perspective, space, and time has rekindled my love affair with MTG.
Magic has been my primary hobby ever since I first encountered it more than 20 years ago. I’ve played on and off, at various levels of competitiveness, for most of my life. No matter how a person chooses to play the game—at the kitchen table, at the LGS, or at the Pro Tour—it truly is a fantastic game.
With that being said, competitive tournament Magic is also a challenging endeavor. Obviously, Magic is fun but the amount of preparation, travel, and expense it takes to consistently qualify for Pro Tours is a massive commitment of time, money, and travel. It might be a little difficult to understand if you haven’t done the grind, but I think most players can relate to the amount of blood, sweat, and tears that goes into chasing those Magic dreams.
Over the last few years I decided to invest a lot of energy into playing competitive tournaments. Basically, the end result was that I qualified for a bunch of Pro Tours but distributed my good finishes perfectly to miss Gold level twice. If you want to know how thin the margins in competitive Magic are, think about this: there were single games of Magic that, if I had won, would have locked me for Gold.
I don’t think there is anything particularly special or unique about my situation. 99.99% of players who love and compete at this game have been so very close so very many times only to blow a tire in sight of the finish line.
After two years of sniffing the mountaintop but falling short of the prize, I again found myself back at square one. I needed a break. It was never an issue of not liking or enjoying Magic, but an issue of how I wanted to spend my time playing Magic. I decided that it was time to take a break from competing and repurpose that time to change how I approached my hobby.
Another big motivator behind this decision was that I wasn’t enjoying the competitive formats, Standard and Modern, at the time. I’ve been pretty vocal about not enjoying the fact that Standard formats consistently, season after season, are brought low by nonsense cards that need to be banned. I like the idea of Modern a lot, but when the metagame shifted even harder toward “goldfishing” decks like Humans, Hollow One, and KCI, I suddenly found myself less interested in shuffling up. I wouldn’t fly across the country to participate in a coin-flipping contest.
Keep in mind that this is from the perspective of a grinder who was traveling to these events week in and week out. I’ve actually found these formats more palatable in small doses at the LGS when there isn’t a ton of pressure to win every match and I’m not grinding hundreds of games in preparation.
I never intended to quit Magic—it was more like redefining how and why I was playing in the first place. It’s good to have goals and to work toward them. “Pro Tour or bust” is a reasonable goal. Really, any goal that gets a person excited to wake up in the morning is positive.
My new goal was to reconnect with what I loved about Magic in the first place. To be honest, at the time I wasn’t really even sure what that was. It was more a feeling that whatever it was I loved most about Magic, I had somehow lost it somewhere along the way.
If you follow my content, you may have noticed that I’ve been writing more about formats like Pauper, Legacy, and Vintage lately… it’s not by coincidence. After spending so many years focused on competitive formats it has been a blast immersing myself in these more niche formats. I’m obviously biased about what I enjoy (everyone is) but I simply find that these formats provide more interesting, engaging, and exciting game play—at least to me.
I reconnected with my Battle Box and Old School Battle Box, did more Cube Drafts, and even built some wacky Commander decks. It reconnected me with what I actually loved about the game rather than trying to force myself to embrace things I thought were not fun in order to grind out Pro Points week after week.
In general, I love gaming. It doesn’t matter what the game as long as it is fun. I’m always down for a game, as long as it’s interesting and I’ve got somebody (or an app!) to play with. I used the time that I wasn’t spending on MTGO grinding Standard Leagues to reconnect with other games and activities that I hadn’t visited in a long time: shooting hoops with friends, painting and building a Warhammer 40K army, and doing bi-weekly board game nights.
There is certainly truth to the statement “too much of a good thing…” Happiness requires balance.
Chasing those tournament Magic dreams and goals is hard. It requires serious commitment to honing your craft and being prepared. I think, at least for me, finding a way to balance that commitment and still keep things fresh and fun is critical to sustaining and working toward those goals.
Tournament Magic is an amazing experience that allows players to pit their skills against the best in the world. For that alone, I would never want to give it up.
My team was exactly one game win away from qualifying for the Pro Tour on Sunday. It was exhilarating, and a real push to get back onto that horse, and get a little bit more serious back into the game. I bought a gaming computer last week and am excited to get back on MTGO and play the upcoming Core Set 2019 Limited and new Standard formats from day one.
There is something to learn from every tournament, from every game, and from every experience. Even taking a step back from tournaments and using that time and energy to refocus my attention on just having fun, brewing decks, and just playing well has helped to strengthen my overall game.
The takeaway (and I think this applies to many, many areas of life that transcends playing Magic), is that if you feel burned out, unenthusiastic, or unhappy with what you are doing and the results that you are getting that taking a step back can make a huge difference. I’ve had more fun playing Magic during my break from Magic than I’ve had in several years, and I’m looking forward to applying this new approach and frame of mind to playing more competitive tournaments in the coming months.
It turns out that loving what you are doing is more important than winning. I also think that enjoying what you do gives you a much greater chance of having success at it. Magic is the kind of game that an individual can play in different ways, with different people, for their entire life if they choose to. It makes a lot of sense that at different points in one’s life a person would want to play the game in different ways. I also think that to ignore that facet of the game is to overlook perhaps the most important attribute the game has to offer: its customizability and versatility.
The reason Magic can live forever is that it isn’t just one thing. It’s a million different things.
It’s a triple-sleeved Vintage deck at Eternal Weekend.
It’s a finely tuned Modern killing machine at a Grand Prix.
It’s an unsleeved, beat-to-hell burn deck at a kitchen table.
It’s a ten-player Commander game.
It’s a Tuesday night Draft at the game store.
It’s a Cube Draft on MTGO.
It’s whatever you want it to be, and it’s whatever you make it.