Beating Your Addictions

With this week off from tournament action, Mark Nestico reflects on his determination and growing professionalism in Magic. Where is the line between moderation and passion? How do you know when you’ve taken the grind too far?

They say the most honest words come from that deep place inside of us. It isn’t easy to get there, but once you do, the words tend to flow like raging water. I would see that be our theme today.


Oath of the Gatewatch stands right before us, and my excitement is palpable. This set seems incredible for Limited and the marquee cards haven’t even scratched the surface for how well they’ll be represented in multiple formats. The short of it is Oath will be a set long remembered for how it was thrust upon the masses before its time just as much as it will be regarded as one of the more fascinating sets ever released. With the entire spoiler at our disposal, it is time to do what we do best: begin finding those gems and bolstering the most promising decks.

Next week.

We’ll do that next week.

Sometimes we find spiritual awakenings in the most unlikely of places, and recently I’ve had a bit of one. Nothing religious, but more in my approach to how I live day-to-day and exactly what I want out of life in the long term. This dedication of mindfulness has allowed me a greater sense of purpose in things far greater than Magic, but in its application grants me far more clarity in playing the game. I’m playing better than I ever have and with the Pro Tour only weeks away, I find myself more prepared than ever.

One of the most difficult things to accept about ourselves is that we are creatures built on multiple forms of avarice, which eventually begets multiple forms of addiction. In Magic this is no different, as the manifestation of this addiction permeates how we view the many facets from playing, winning, losing, and everything in between.

Today, before we immerse ourselves in the fun of Oath of the Gatewatch, let us enter into a more thoughtful arena and find troubled minds set to a greater purpose.

We Are Addicted To Winning

Magic is several parts, including luck, skill, and the propensities of our opponents. This combination creates for many players the need to win. It’s no longer about playing a game of Magic, but instead becomes a measure of self-worth and how we are able to judge ourselves.

Addiction to winning stands almost as an oxymoron.

Of course we should want to win as often as possible, right?

Maybe not.

Samuel Smiles once said “We learn wisdom from failure much more than from success.” I used to be terrible at properly understanding this statement, but eventually I was able to make the statement whole.

Lose sight of the intangibles in Magic, our perspective immediately begins to unravel. Things begin to find themselves quickly coming apart. Born of this addiction are bad beat stories, self-victimization, anger towards opponents, thoughts of quitting, and further down the rabbit hole we go.

A grave misstep as a player is to equip yourself with the belief that you are entitled to win and that your opponent was not. Losses may often be traced back to a seed which eventually bloomed into your defeat, but the sheen of red that blinds many players to that fact is deeply rooted in our entitlements that winning isn’t a privilege, but instead a right endowed upon us by hours and hours of testing or deck mastery. There have been tournaments where I spent weeks preparing and didn’t reach anything resembling a desired outcome, and there have been others where I picked up a deck and did far better than expected.

Winning a match of Magic isn’t immaterial, and I wouldn’t have you think as such. If it is victory that you seek, you must take the proper steps to achieve it absent the mental barricades that would halt your advances. When we become addicted to winning, fear takes hold.

What if I lose?

What if people are watching?

I need that prize money.

What will my friends think?

When all these factors cloud your mind, the irony becomes that your intention of winning becomes ruined by them. This isn’t some fanciful notion, but rather the realization that if you want to win too much, that eventually that burning desire will immolate any chances you had to begin with.

Want to win, but don’t want it so badly that it consumes you.

We Are Addicted To Losing

For every person out there addicted to winning, there are players equally as addicted to losing.

This sounds confusing.

I’ll explain.

At length I’ve discussed the toxicity of tilt and how it adversely affects a player, but that was merely the tip of the glacier not yet revealing the full mass beneath.

When I was younger a teacher once said something that has stuck with me my entire life. He told the entire class: “Losing is a culture. It is a frame of mind.” Coincidentally, he was also a coach on our football team so his words held dual purpose.

Think to yourself about the last time you went on a losing streak in anything. It doesn’t have to be Magic. What was the culture like? What was your team’s morale level? What was yours?

It is far easier to resign yourself to how unlucky you are or how you no longer have “the fire” needed to compete. I have seen players hit rough patches and blame everyone but themselves. They’d be quick to say the format was terrible, their draws were awful, they couldn’t find a deck they liked, or that no matter what they did they always failed. I’d watch their games and see a multitude of mistakes and comment on what they could have done better, but their response would always be along the lines of “it doesn’t matter.”

This is the essence of an addiction to losing.

One’s quickness to deny the gaps in one’s game means that player is incapable of becoming better. Their inclinations against progress perpetuates failures of past, present, and future. The inability to pry yourself away from such harmful practices locks the player into a cycle where they will lose, blame, victimize, complete the circle, and then see it continued. Fear keeps them within this world and drives them further to the depths of failure.

To break this addiction a person must do many things that they are incapable of: hardest among them is to change. Their anger waters the ground and only helps reap a bitter harvest. When confronted with their inadequacies they are quicker to write it off than they are able to work towards fixing it. Thus, they become hopeless addicts in their refusal to become more than what they are.

The only road to recovery for this is acceptance and willingness to break from what clearly has not worked.

We Are Addicted To The Lifestyle

As it usually is with any hobby, eventually parts of it begin to infiltrate other portions of our lives.

Magic, as a subculture, can be as potent an intoxicant as any out there. Everything is treated as a game and expected value takes a loftier position over reason.

“Let’s game for who pays for dinner.”

“Who wants to game for the Uber?”

“Get this on the menu. It’s the most EV of anything else on it.”

I have often found myself trapped within these contests. For those not familiar, “gaming” for a check is usually some amalgamation of the credit card game, where everyone places their card in a hat and the last person standing pays the bill, or guessing the total of the table where the farthest from correct gets stuck with the check. All of these are fun in moderation, but there are people I know who actively live this life towards everything.




People know your name.

What is not to love?

More than you might think.

Nowadays I travel for leisure, entertainment, and fun, but for years I felt that if I missed an event or couldn’t attend something a clutch of my friends were at, that the stars were crashing from the skies. I was addicted to the lifestyle of hotels, eating out every night, flying, road trips, and all the things that came with them. My heart would swell at the idea of a never-ending vacation where I could play all the Magic I wanted. It was a wonderful time, but all good things eventually have to come to an end.

The hours in the car or time spent away from my wife began to take their toll on me, and I was constantly finding myself homesick. Trips began to blend into each other, and my heart started to cease wanting what, for years prior, it had yearned for so much. I was losing too frequently because I didn’t have the desire I used to and would often play absent full or even moderate potential.

I was playing because I felt like I had to rather than because I wanted to. I believed that if I stopped living that lifestyle I would lose everything about Magic that I loved, when in reality. all I had been doing was releasing myself from what I enjoyed the most about it.

For some, the grind is what they live for. I respect them for their choices, but I see far too many try to emulate the habits of their favorite players in order to mimic their success when, in reality, it is a very harsh lifestyle, one with very little thanks.

To those out there who find themselves at a crossroads, not having as much fun as they could or weary from years on the road seeking out glories that seem to elude the touch, I would advise they take a step back. Rewards are slim, and personally, I wouldn’t trade my time spent for anything, but I also tell you this as a cautionary tale. This lifestyle will drain you of your love of Magic if you’re not properly equipped to deal with it.

We face many demons on the path to whatever our measure of greatness is, and I would see them vanquished in order to obtain greater victories, whether they be of self or in Magic.

It is never easy identifying what behaviors we partake in that must be changed, but it is the first step in not just becoming better Magic players, but people.

Next week.

Next week we’ll talk about Oath of the Gatewatch. Enjoy your Prereleases and have the best time you can. Enjoy Magic for what it is.