How To Cope With Magic Burnout

In this excellent column, Mark Nestico tackles an issue that’s fairly common, especially among hardcore Magic grinders! What do you do when you don’t get that same feeling anymore?

I took a poll a few nights ago on what I should write about. Here are some of the topics I received, and my reasoning for why I won’t be talking about them today.

1. “Why Your Format Sucks: Legacy.” First and foremost I don’t want to be set on fire. I mean like…literal fire. As in being immolated. Plus the “Why Your Whatever Sucks” feels stale, and I don’t get the same thrill out of doing them as I used to. Last week was probably the last one for a while.

2. How to handle rage and negativity throughout a tournament. I’ve done a dozen or so pieces on game psychology and removing toxicity from your gaming repertoire. I like the concept. Maybe someday.

3. “What to do with yourself when you don’t enjoy Magic anymore” by my longtime friend Rada. Alright. Ding. We have a winner!

The sheer amount of times I’ve whispered “I hate this game” under my breath is staggering. Somewhere in the quadruple digits, I’m sure, and I’m guessing you probably have a similar story. Yet here we are- continuously coming back because there’s something about Magic that draws you and I back in…over and over again. And over. And over. Etc. You may quit or sell your collection. Doesn’t matter. You’ll be back.

But something gets you to that point where you don’t feel like your relationship with Magic can continue to be healthy. There are a number of reasons: burnout, friends quitting, dislike for the direction of the game. Today we’re going to talk about all of them and what you can do about it. You may believe that you don’t enjoy Magic anymore and that you require a leave of absence. Hopefully, I can help you with what to do when your passion wanes.

So You’ve Decided You Want to be Single

Walking away from Magic is not easy by any stretch. Players struggle with the addiction of loving a card game, the social bonds they construct that come along with it, a sense of belonging, and to some degree, their very identity. Magic has a way of weaving itself through your very fiber for all the right reasons; but for some folks, those reasons can become very wrong over the course of many years of playing.

Burnout is one of the realest phenomenons that occurs for Magic players who indulge over several years of intense battling. This means travel, hotel rooms, convention food, airports–everything that can make you homesick. Is it worth it? For a select few, absolutely. For those of you out there who are finding yourselves playing for the sake of playing but cannot stand the thought of continuing, a prolonged break may be exactly what the doctor ordered. It’s not something that gets written about often. In fact, I can’t think of a single instance where someone actually sat down and tried to actively help people wean themselves off Magic because it was becoming a detriment to their lives. We’re breaking ground here! For some of you out there, this will also serve as reaffirmation that you love Magic, and that’s also a good thing.

Before continuing, we need to understand a dimension of Magic burnout that is at the core of why most players do not enjoy playing anymore.

What is Burnout?

There are multiple levels of burnout that occur for entirely different reasons, and it takes its toll on entirely different groups of people. Burnout is when you, after participating in a certain activity or pastime for a prolonged amount of time, begin to experience a mental disconnect from that hobby. You begin to resent it and start convincing yourself of other activities to partake in rather than what you’ve developed an aversion to.

In short, you’re sick and tired of it.

When you experience burnout, it’s usually because you’ve been going too hard at Magic. This can come from several different places.

Grinder Burnouttraveling to SCG Tour locations all over the country, Grand Prix, PPTQs, or whatever else you indulge in can be immensely taxing both physically and mentally.

Time Burnout I know several players with whom I have been playing Magic with for about fifteen years. Recently they’ve called it quits. Why? They have played so long that it has become a character trait. Magic is a part of their personality. After so long, they became lost in it, and when they finally began to emerge from their cocoon, they wondered why they even played Magic in the first place. For them it was simply a zero-sum situation where eventually they knew, deep down, that they’d have to walk away.

Format Burnout– Over the last year and a half the format has revolved around Collected Company-based decks, whether it be Bant or Rally the Ancestors. It quelled the bulk of strategies that attempted to rise up against it, and even though the format had other decks, Company was omnipresent in design and consideration when you played anything that wasn’t the marquee four-mana instant. Players burn out on a format because it is stale, boring, or doesn’t lend itself to the kind of Magic they enjoy. This extends to Limited as well, when the current Draft format isn’t healthy or capable of sustaining the kind of fun they want.

So what do you do?

As someone who has experienced burnout multiple times, I’ve learned volumes worth of information on what not to do.

1. Selling your collection is almost never the answer. My collections have gone through various epochs, all of which involved me selling them. This mistake is actually cataclysmic. Unless you believe, honestly and truly, that you will never play Magic again, selling your collection is only going to put you deeper in the hole financially if and when you decide to return. Trust me. You’ll be back. When you do, you’ll be shelling out hundreds, sometimes thousands of dollars to make yourself whole again. That’s miserable. Do yourself a favor and place those cards and binders in a box, then hold off for a while.

2. See rule number one.

On a more positive note, however, burnout and non-enjoyment of Magic is actually a good thing. Seems silly, right? It isn’t. Allow yourself to experience it and don’t fight the urge to take a sabbatical. One of the worst things you can do to your psyche is deny it an impulse. Sometimes your mind will tell you that it doesn’t want to play Magic, and that’s okay. Eventually you’ll get that old urge, and you can revisit your favorite hobby with renewed vigor.

This is particularly important in the case of the grinder magician. For years I traveled every weekend until I finally needed several months away from writing, playing, or pretty much anything that had to do with Magic. My return was more like a rebirth, and I rediscovered why I love this game.

When it comes to burnout, it’s a natural response. Accept it, have fun during your time away, and it will be waiting for you when you come back.

Remove Fear from the Equation

A common fear I often hear expressed is that of “falling behind.” I’ve spoken to several players recently who told me that they stick around simply because if they don’t, they’re afraid that when they come back they’ll have to accrue too many different cards, it’ll be too expensive, they’ll miss too much. Taking breaks from Magic when you’re not enjoying it doesn’t have to mean removing yourself completely from it.

The last break I took saw me completely out of the competitive scene for about four months. I didn’t draft, FNM, play Commander, or anything of the like. What I did do, however, was continue to read articles and watch videos. This gave me a lifeline to something I knew I still enjoyed on a mental level (Magic), while allowing me to stay away from something that I thought was a major distraction (also Magic) to working on a degree. I was able to stay up-to-speed and current without harming my scholastic achievements.

Worrying about what will change if you do decide to take a break from Magic is essentially manufacturing a worry that will, in turn, cause you to resent Magic even more in the long term. You’ve created your own prison. It’s time to escape.

Explore Things in Magic You May Never Have Done

One way to rid yourself of the burnout you feel with competitive Magic or lethargy is to explore other facets of the game that you haven’t. It may seem like an oxymoron–leaving one part of Magic to get into another–but sometimes a completely fresh perspective can remind you about what you enjoy the most about Magic. Thankfully, there are numerous ways to achieve this.

1. Commander- My favorite format is one that allows you to play any kind of style; be it combo, control, group-hug, aggressive, or whatever your heart desires. One of the best aspects of Commander is that it lets you customize your play group to find what works. Some groups are cutthroat, while others prefer long games filled with tons of interaction. The pressure is off of you, and you’re able to focus on the fun, rather than the results. It’s all about comradery and friendship.

2. Judging- Some of my very good friends that I’ve been lucky enough to make in Magic have been judges, and along with that has come many people I’ve grinded with over the years who have decided to try their hand at judging. Magic is so amazingly complex, and when the wear of battle takes too much out of you, discovering the technical side can be extremely rewarding. Good, intelligent, and understanding judges are among the most crucial pieces of what makes Magic so great, and stepping away from playing to facilitate the experiences of everyone partaking is immensely rewarding. I’ve seen so many people refer to the judge program as a fountain of youth that brought them right back into the heart of why they love Magic.

3. Writing– Go ahead. Roll your eyes. Not everyone is a great writer. I mean hell, look at me. But talking about Magic and sharing your ideas, decks, or community contributions is more fun than you can imagine. People get interested and they’ll engage with you about them, and it doesn’t matter if they agree or not. Take a shot and publish something that gets you excited about Magic, even if it’s on your own Facebook page or a personal blog. You’d be so surprised what kind of positive feedback you’ll get and how much that can help you remember why you loved playing in the first place.

If you try a few different things out and can say to yourself “I’m still not happy,” then you’ve explored with the intent of discovery, and at that point it’s okay to walk away for a while, or even forever. It’s your choice, and that’s what matters. Do what makes you feel complete.

We all eventually get to a point where things pile up and Magic may be the catalyst for a stressor. That’s simply not okay. Magic should be a safe haven or a temporary escape from the realities of work, school, depression, or anything else. If Magic is having a negative influence on your life and you want to hang up your wizard cap for a bit, that’s okay. You aren’t letting anyone down.

Admitting when you need to move on is difficult, but hopefully today you gained a deeper understanding of your love for Magic, or possibly you confirmed a few things that will lead you to needing a vacation. We’re privileged to play the best game on Earth, and you can rest assured that if you do leave for a little while, Magic will be waiting for you when you get back.

Unless it’s a bad breakup. Then…you know…file a restraining order. Hopefully Magic doesn’t throw your clothes out on the lawn and set them on fire. I promise I’m not speaking from personal experience.