Everyday I’m Shufflin’ – A Magic Midlife Crisis

Reuben Bresler comes to some important realizations about his life, Magic, and his life in Magic. Is it time to put down the cards?

Today’s story is a bit personal, and writing this article was very cathartic for me, so just stick with me. Thanks.

Incremental Growth

I first started playing competitive Magic when I was only twelve years old. Back then, I was the youngest person in whatever tournament I was playing in by far and regularly beating people twice my size. I was the cute kid whose mom sat in the corner of the convention hall doing embroidery because she was afraid that if she left me there that I might get kidnapped or something. In those days, I thought I was a prodigy, and nothing could stop me on my way to the Hall of Fame.

I’m not a kid any more. Nowadays, there are only a few of the same players from back in those days that I see regularly at PTQs and bigger tournaments. Now, I’m the one who is twice the size of some of my opponents… and some of them are beating me. It’s a very strange feeling.


Earlier this month I turned twenty-five. That may sound like a bit of a young age to be having a ‘midlife’ crisis, but I think in terms of my Magic career and my realizations that came about as a result of becoming a quarter-centurion, it’s a pretty accurate description. Many, if not most, players play in far fewer events once they become real adults with real jobs and real responsibilities outside of trying to qualify for Pro Tours and winning States. Instead of spending their money to buy a box of the latest set, they are paying for groceries and a mortgage. Most of the people my age that used to frequent tournaments have long since moved on from their high school hobby, getting a wife and a job and a house with a nice hardwood floor. And they’re never to be heard from again.

But for some reason, that isn’t me. I love Magic too much. Sure, I pay taxes and all that good expensive grown-up stuff too, but I can’t let twelve-year-old Reuben go. It’s one of my passions, and I see myself playing competitively for the foreseeable future.

But sometime in the last few weeks I realized something about myself that I had never really looked at before. It’s been a long time coming, but I think I’m finally ready to admit it to myself and to the world:

I will never reach the highest level of competitive Magic as a player.

It took me a long time to come to that conclusion, but finally I have arrived there. I am by no means a bad player. In fact, by most of my peers’ estimations, I’m pretty darn good. I win most of my matches; I have several very good finishes at Grand Prix and JSS events, my fair share of States and PTQ top 8s, and a few minor wins at things like GPTs and the like. It isn’t a matter of my faith in my tangible ability to do it either. I don’t by any means doubt that I have the intelligence, the skill, and the connections to become a professional on some level if I put my mind to it.

But it’s the intangibles that separate good ones from great ones, and I just don’t have it in me. I simply don’t have the drive to practice 30-plus hours a week and build my life around which city I have to be in on any given weekend and sacrifice my personal relationships with friends and family in order to reach the mountaintop. And I have insurmountable respect for those who do put in the hours and make the sacrifices to become the best, but when it comes to Magic that isn’t me.

Personally, it became obvious to me recently that Magic will never be my number one priority. I enjoy writing and stand-up comedy too much for that to ever happen. That was the first step on my road to this conclusion. Second was a fact that I knew about myself: I am a very competitive person, even to a fault. Every game I lose is a tragedy, and even my friends will tell you I’m not a very good loser. If I don’t win a tournament, even when I do well, it’s not where I want to be because I could have been first. That disappointment is only compounded when I really bomb out.

I played high-level competitive soccer until I blew out my knee in high school, and I was never really the same after that. I still loved playing soccer, but I was watching myself do the same things I had done before, and while I was good, I was not at the same level I was accustomed to. If I can’t be the best I can be, then it isn’t fun. And so, if I can’t put my full effort into it, then I know I won’t be the best I can possibly be, and it just won’t be the same.

Don’t mistake what I am saying here. I still love the game, and I will continue to play in as many events as I reasonably can, but my goals are not as high as they used to be. And I’m okay with that.

So now my crisis has passed. I’ve faced down my Magic mortality and come out on the other side with a fresh new outlook on my future Magic career. Sure, I might not be the next Patrick Chapin or Randy Buehler, parlaying a stellar Hall of Fame level career in competitive Magic into a successful career in a different facet of Magic’s extensive network. But that doesn’t mean that I can’t parlay my less-than-Hall of Fame level career in a different way as well. Many of my friends have found outlets of varying types while staying involved with the game, from becoming vendors to doing commentary and blogs to starting websites. And with my newfound knowledge about myself, I knew where my future would take me.

So a few weeks ago, I decided that I was going to become a judge.

Day of Judgment

This has been a long time coming for me. Remember earlier when I said that I blew out my knee playing soccer and I wasn’t the same after that? Well, I was already a licensed referee, and around that time I decided to get serious about it. Now, I regularly referee high school games, and I will be going for even higher certification in the spring.

Now that I’ve had my Magic equivalent of that career refocusing experience, why not come to the same conclusion: there can be a future for me in helping others reach those lofty goals as the one who helps arbitrate the matches!

And this will help with my competitive aspect too. After soccer, Magic became my new arena for gladiatorial combat. But as I said, I’m not a very good loser. And when you judge, you leave every tournament undefeated, and you get prize! How cool is that?

This opinion was further galvanized by my friend Mark Walker, another regular in the Columbus, Ohio, Magic community. He decided that, instead of playing on Sunday at SCG Indianapolis, he would instead prefer to shadow a judge for the day. He did, loved the experience, and showed me a blueprint for how to do it myself.

After the Legacy tournament that Sunday, I talked to Jared Sylva about possibly becoming a judge at a future event. Sitting nearby was fellow judge and my former editor Riki Hayashi, who commented, “Reuben Bresler is going to become a judge? It’s about time.” Looking back, it seems like I was always going to become a judge. Now I’m just living out the prophecy.

So this past weekend, I played in States like any other year. I finished 6-3, which was good enough for 37th place out of 260, with Todd Anderson Illusions list with minor tweaks. I had a great time and felt like the deck was a great choice for the tournament, but some things just didn’t fall into place, and I didn’t get there. That’s just another normal day in the life of a Magic player.

But on Sunday, instead of playing in the Sealed PTQ for Pro Tour Honolulu held at the same location like so many of my peers, I was part of the judge crew for the event instead.

The head judge for the event was Detroit resident and Level 3 judge Steven Briggs and was also staffed by William Colley, James Hooker, Dave Rappaport, and a few others whose full names I don’t recall. The PTQ was run by Mike Guptil of Professional Events Services, and it was a wonderful experience. They threw me right into the action, let me get my hands dirty with real-life judge calls, deck checks, and all the other stuff that you have to do as a judge at a Magic tournament. And at the end of the day, they thanked me for the job I did, and I thanked them for the experience. Very soon I hope to take my Level 1 judge test and become an official judge really soon.

My experience Sunday has shown a few others the option to becoming a judge as well, and it has shown a hole in the market. My hometown of Columbus only has two judges registered in the city (Sam Stoddard and newly minted Mark Walker), both of whom typically prefer to play in events rather than judge them. And there isn’t a Level 3 in the whole state of Ohio! Add to that the fact that the events in Columbus this weekend were understaffed because of unforeseen circumstances, and you can see there’s certainly room for more in judging in the area, and it looks like it may be about to be filled. My friends Harrison Laws and Jacob Branstetter, among others, have expressed their interest to me about possibly becoming judges in the near future as well. It’s possible I’m not the only one who’s had a change of heart about their future in competitive Magic, and that’s a good thing.


I’m very happy with where I am now with my Magic career. I can still enjoy it as much as I normally do and use it as my competitive outlet, but now it has another facet that will allow me to step back when the pressure and the frustration get the better of me. It will certainly make me less likely to take an extended hiatus (as I have done before) and definitely keep me in touch with all of my friends that I see at these wonderful events.

This article has been very personal and autobiographical in nature, so I am unsure of what you readers will do with this information, but maybe my story is something to keep in mind. I suggest that as you advance in years, you remember that someday you too might have a ‘midlife’ crisis like I did, and that there are worse things than realizing that you’ll most likely never make it to the Hall of Fame.

I still have that competitive twelve-year-old Reuben inside me. It’s just grown up a little and focused on different things. And that’s just how life goes.

Tales from the Internet

Several people have shared links with me over the past couple of weeks in response to the videos that I posted in my last article, and I thought I’d share a few with you now.

One of the themes that popped up in the clips that have been shared with me is about the title of my article “Everyday I’m Shufflin’.” Here’s one of Brian Kibler doing crazy things with his cards on camera at the Pro Tour set to LMFAO’s ‘Party Rock Anthem’:

While we’re on the topic of distinct shuffling habits, this one’s a classic from a while ago, but I just had to share it in case anyone hadn’t had the pleasure of watching Tomoharu Saito’s manic shuffling habits:

Back to my column’s theme song, as many of you know, I went to Ohio University for my undergraduate degree, and we are known for a few things. Yes, our drinking prowess is one of those things, but just as impressive as our ability to hold our alcohol is our marching band, The Marching 110. And as luck would have it, they played my song at a recent halftime show! Here’s a little taste of their skill and flare:

Lastly this week, several people have asked me to link them to my YouTube videos of my stand-up comedy performances and where I will be performing in the future. For any information on upcoming performances, please visit my fan page on Facebook. Also, my first stand-up album, which was recorded at a 90-minute performance this past spring, entitled ‘Suggested Friend’ will be released very soon. If anyone wants to buy a copy, I should have physical copies by the end of the year at the latest. In the mean time, here’s a short clip of a recent performance at an event called Comedy in the Round in Athens, Ohio:

And to round up this feature, here’s a video I just like. What’s not to like about The Swedish Chef from the Muppets?

Bork bork bork!

Questions of the Fortnight

Folks, once again thanks for reading, and I’ll see you all back on the grind.


Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @badcorehardass, #incontention