Woo Brews – Lessons from Magic and Sports

You are reading this in the future. Or, rather, I am writing this from the past. For me, it’s Saturday night on July 27th and I am going to Kiwanis Camp Casey in the morning to volunteer for a week. My week looks like this:

Yes, every single hour is scheduled, and I don’t see “Brewing” or “MTG Writing” on there, so I am writing this now. I decided to write a mailbag article to give people a chance to ask me questions. I got two very interesting questions that seemed about the same, so I figured I would dedicate the article to them.

What is the connection between Magic and sports?

For those of you who don’t know too much about me, I am a Magic: the Gathering player, writer, and streamer. I am also a basketball player, trainer, and coach. I spend ALL of my time on these activities. I am very serious. And really, I find that I spend all of my time on training in general, as training for one is training for the other. These activities are synergistic. They are great cross training.

The benefits each has brought to the other are too numerous to include in an article. Probably too numerous to comprise a book really. It is more of a life’s work. So, this article covers a lot, but it leaves a lot out as well.

The Brain is a Physical Organ

The brain is a physical organ. It’s inside your head, made out of things you have eaten in the past.

The brain communicates with the body. If the brain is unhappy or failing to work, it is often because the body is failing to work. I am angry! This is my brain communicating that it is angry. I might believe I am angry with a person or situation, but there is a good chance my brain is angry because it is thirsty, hungry, or tired.

So, while I see Magic as a primarily intellectual sport, I see it as a physical sport as well. Because the brain is physical. So my training for physical fitness IS training for mental fitness. My training for basketball IS training for Magic. See?

It’s possible to succeed at Magic while being physically unfit, sure, but it is a handicap. I believe that making my body happy makes my physical brain organ happy, which leads to clean decision making. I train as such.

Skills Develop Through Repetition

The biggest thing I took from Magic to basketball is the idea that skills develop through repetition. It’s not a coincidence that when I invested 3 hours a night for a month to prepare with Living End, I had my best tournament performance ever.

Maybe the same is true of athletics? Up until this point, I believed that people were “good” or “bad” at sports, but I started to realize that we are the work we put in. I am not “good” or “bad” at basketball. I am the work I put in the past, and I can get better by putting in more work.

This is a radical shift from the idea that some people are born athletic and some are not (although there is a genetic component which I am not going to get into). If I want success, I work hard. Skills develop through repetition. This is the most important thing I took from Magic to basketball.

Cards are Athletes/Athletes are Cards

Think of the most dominant card in Standard right now. That card is Lebron James. It’s just one piece of the puzzle. It has its strengths and weaknesses. Sometimes it’s in play, sometimes it isn’t. Sometimes it dominates the field, sometimes it is neutralized by a card/athlete on the other side of the field.

This is big picture thinking.

As an athlete, it’s common to focus on our own performance. Did my last shot go in? Are my teammates getting me the ball? Can I take the guy defending me?

This is small picture thinking.

Playing Magic allowed me to detach myself from the athlete on the field and see the game as a 5-on-5 strategy game. Various cards are in play, and they have their strengths and weaknesses. These cards might not realize they are in play. They might not see the 5-on-5 game. But it’s there. This is a strategy game, and it has incredible depth.

This is the coaching mentality. The architect. The Magic player.

My Basketball

I could go on all day with examples, but instead I want to show you something. Here is my (main) basketball:

This basketball is sitting on my bed right now. At night it usually in the corner crack resting up against the wall. Over the past year I have handled it maybe an hour a day. It has played in pick-up games and the gym and middle school league games where I coach.

It has passed through THOUSANDS of hands and eyes. And this is what it looks like. Sometimes people ask.

The green mana was the first symbol on the ball. It represents sustainability. I acknowledge that as a human being my health will ebb, flow, and eventually decline, but I want to delay that. I train with longevity in mind. If my training is not sustainable, there isn’t much point. So this is how I practice, and this is what I prioritize in my practice.

The black mana symbol came next. It represents ambition and sacrifice. I have dreams of making waves in the basketball community—I want to save players from injury and wasted time worldwide. This is ambition. I realize I am going to have to spend my Saturday afternoons training and my Saturday nights in my room writing this in order to achieve that. This is sacrifice.

Next came the red mana symbol. Red mana represents my passion for the game. The fire burns bright in me. It represents being uninhibited and present feeling. There are times for long-term planning and there are times to be lost in the moment. Red mana is all about being lost in that moment.

Next came the blue mana symbol. The blue mana symbol represents curiosity and learning. In order to improve I must learn and practice. I can never believe that I have mastered something—I must always believe I have something to learn from anybody, even if it is the smallest, youngest, or least experienced player on the court. This is blue mana.

Finally came the white mana. To me, white mana means one thing and one thing only—discipline. There are times when I am possessed by red emotion and impulse. I might be compelled to stay on the court longer than I should, training or competing to the point of injury. I must be disciplined in knowing that sometimes I need to walk away and come back later, even if that is the last thing I want to do. This is white mana.

I rep Magic everywhere. The things it has taught me have shaped my life and will shape my life until the end. Everywhere I go, I spread this.

Magic IS Sport

Magic is an intellectual sport, basketball is a physical sport. If we look closer, Magic is a physical sport, basketball is an intellectual sport. They might be very different, but they overlap too. There is so much there.

P.S. Deck List


I wanted to build the best [card]Empty the Warrens[/card]/[card]Death Cloud[/card] deck. I know this sounds strange, but think about it. Whatever [card]Empty the Warrens[/card] is weak to, Death Cloud is strong against. Whatever [card]Death Cloud[/card] is weak to, [card]Empty the Warrens[/card] is strong against.

[card]Death Cloud[/card] may be weak to cards like [card]Remand[/card], but [card]Empty the Warrens[/card] is strong. [card]Empty the Warrens[/card] may be weak to cards like [card]Pyroclasm[/card], [card]Ethersworn Canonist[/card], and [card]Trinisphere[/card], but [card]Death Cloud[/card] is strong. The only subset of cards that is really strong against both is discard—and discard is always surmountable.

With this idea, the deck is composed of entirely cards that are good with BOTH [card]Empty the Warrens[/card] AND [card]Death Cloud[/card].

[card]Desperate Ritual[/card], [card]Pyretic Ritual[/card], and [card]Lotus Bloom[/card] are great with [card]Empty the Warrens[/card], but they also produce huge [card]Death Cloud[/card]s. [card]Greater Gargadon[/card] adds great insurance to Goblin tokens and is fantastic with [card]Death Cloud[/card]. [card]Manamorphose[/card] generates storm and turns RR into BB. [card]Young Pyromancer[/card] is great with our [card]Empty the Warrens[/card] engine and can cheaply produce enough tokens to leave us with a threat after [card]Death Cloud[/card].

[card]Lightning Bolt[/card] and [card]Inquisition of Kozilek[/card] are cheap interaction that can clear the way, buy time, up the storm count, or grind with [card]Death Cloud[/card]. [card]Faithless Looting[/card] ties it all together.

That’s it. I think the deck is really beautiful. It can take such disparate strategies as [card]Empty the Warrens[/card] and [card]Death Cloud[/card] and interweave them into one. It makes for a pretty resilient deck, actually. I mean, what can the opponent sideboard in that we really hate? They might succeed in stopping one plan of the deck, but maybe we were on the other plan this game. I think that’s great.

<3 Travis facebook.com/TravisDWoo

P.P.S. I usually only include my Magic links here, but if you are intrigued by the basketball discussion, I have a channel for that as well.

Questions!! Comments!! Think there’s something I forgot!?


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