Magic As Medicine

Mark Nestico shares a personal conversation he had that made him look back at all the people that Magic has helped throughout his journey. How has Magic helped you?

Ah. I’m supposed to be writing about Modern this week or something. That usually goes well. I never get any bad feedback. I wrote this funny one about Modern Unbannings, and which cards might come off the list to inject new life into the format. There’s this humorous bit about Jace, the Mind Sculptor and how he can’t bounce Inkmoth Nexus. I was really proud of that one. Perhaps the holidays have me feeling strange. Bundles of joy on the way, etc.

Ho ho ho.

So anyhow, I had this really nice talk with Sara Mox a night ago. She’s the Associate Community Manager for the Magic Judge Network, and an absolute delight. Recently she was able to convince me to purchase The Wise Man’s Fear. I guess it’s a trilogy of books [Copy Editor’s Note: Eventually…], and it comes with high praise. I’m very excited to finally enjoy a new story. Our conversation got somewhat deep as we discussed how important Magic has been to both of us over the years. It wasn’t about playing the game, but moreso what it has meant symbolically.

I found myself typing a sentence that set the pace for the rest of the chat, and it was something along the lines of “Aside from my wife, I can’t think of anything that has saved me as much as Magic.” When I say saved, I don’t think I just mean my life. That’s too broad, so the implication becomes that it somehow protected me from whatever awful things were occurring in my life, most of them mental. But hey, we all have problems, right? And that’s okay.

Magic and Mental Health

It isn’t altogether uncommon to hear people talk about how Magic is one of the more important things in their lives. I’m not talking about the folks who pick up a hobby for a fortnight, leave, and then that’s it for them. What we’re referring to are players who have ingrained Magic into their DNA. It’s not something for everyone, either. The term “tourists” always struck me as appropriate. No, this is for Magic enthusiasts that feel the game, lifestyle, and grind to their core.

My story isn’t anything fancy or exciting. It may be filled with great tragedies, but most of us share that same identity. I found this game at a time in my life when I needed it very badly. But that’s where it gets tricky. You see, we make friends playing Magic, and eventually those bonds blossom into intense connections. No longer are you going to an FNM or Game Night strictly to sling cardboard, but instead you want to be around the people that you are close to. Laughter. Camaraderie. Good. All of it is good. You feel your roots in Magic deepen.

At this point you aren’t addicted to Magic.

You are addicted to the feeling Magic gives you.

Imagine. It’s 5 AM and it’s cold outside. Still dark. The seats in your car are stiff and rigid, and the leather is cool to the touch. Windows up. Defogger on. Music loud. Your co-pilot shares your burden of being awake for the four-hour trek while the other two slumber in the back seats. “Magdalena“by A Perfect Circle wakes them up. Coffee is blood. Blood is coffee. You all need transfusions. The air is permeated with talk about what decks you’ve chosen. Shore up your sideboard slots. Have you thought of this card? Time to buy it at the event site. You all arrive. These are the moments you live for. They are all so pure. So rare. Not so hard to imagine.

When days become dark and the patterns boarder on unbearable, Magic becomes the specks of light that puncture the blackness. Game Night on Wednesday. FNM on Friday. Drafts are Saturday night. Commander pods start Sunday morning, where we put on football and order pizza. Monday is Modern. I hate Tuesdays so much.

I’m not ashamed to admit that I’ve had to check out of reality for a few months, particularly late last year, to hit the reset button and get my head straight. For four months I practically lived at my LGS because I needed catharsis on a daily basis. When my wife had to leave for work, I would go there. I would feel…something. Anything different. It was a medicine that I had to feed myself.

One thing I get messaged a lot, and I hope I’m not going to embarrass anyone, is how much some people rely on Magic to help get them through the day. A knee-jerk reaction to that revelation is “Wow, that must be a sad existence,” but hear me out. It’s not. In fact, it’s one that is actually filled with purpose, and, if used properly, is a fantastic stepping-stool to getting to higher levels. It’s not just about living and breathing a card game, but instead it’s allowing it to be a tool that you integrate into your mind with the intent to help. Our natural proclivity is to shrug off crutches, but sometimes we need to use them to learn how to walk again.

Magic to Heal

A lot of the time, we tend to focus on the negatives. Hell, I’ve done it. I’ve done pieces about burnout and what happens when Magic becomes a detriment to a person’s life. That’s because, quite simply, instead of allowing it to be a positive influence, some out there would try to replace their real life with Magic cards, forsake people for cardboard, treat others badly because they cannot emotionally handle losing a game, or put themselves in financial ruin for just. one. more. weekend.

But that’s not what this is about today.

Magic has the ability to take a formless lump of clay and mold it into something special. It is the catalyst to break a shell that surrounds you. Probably sounds melodramatic, huh? Hear me out.

We all have that one friend — and you know exactly the one I’m talking about — that either had no social skills or very little in the way of being able to interact properly. Through years of playing with you and other people, they’ve been able to achieve something they never were before, and that’s how to talk to anyone. A game gave them confidence, and that confidence bled into other areas of their life. This is how I’ve met friends who have had various forms of autism and never knew that they could be so social without anyone judging them or looking at them as different. When we’re all playing the same game, you don’t view people for what separates them; you can embrace them for what makes them the same.

It isn’t all just about social interactions, either. Sometimes it’s just being around others that can make a world of difference. We all can agree that a certain degree of madness and passion goes into loving Magic; some people love the lore and the fantasy aspect and come as D&D transplants, while many enjoy how competitive it is. Others enjoy finance and playing cards like they’re stocks, and some just enjoy games. Whatever the reason may be, none of us is normal, and that…is a great thing.

I don’t think I’d enjoy Magic so much if everyone was the same. In fact, I know I wouldn’t. Meeting citizens from other nations, or players from different states and cities, has a wonderful way of connecting you to places you may never visit and exposing you to cultures that we’ve only heard about. Magic can make you feel small in the most wonderful ways, because there’s so much out there and all of it is connected by the thread of a card game. It’s the greatest game on Earth because of the people who enrich it, not the game itself.

This epiphany has led many, many friends of mine on the equivalent of spiritual journeys based on the desire for self-discovery. You may find out all sorts of things that you never understood about yourself by traveling the globe. Wins and losses will blur together, but the moments that you share with the people you care about? You’ll always carry those around with you. I’ve been hitting the road for Magic for around six years, and while I’m not the most successful player out there, I have about as many cool stories as one could accrue from my adventures.

You take a 23-year-old boy who suffered from a vast depression with gross amounts of anxiety all of his life and put him on the road with a bunch of people who love the same game he does, and watch as those fears and frights melt away. He eventually became a man, and he inevitably wanted to pass those lessons on to other people. If you’re afraid, scared, in pain, or suffering, it is okay. Magic can help you the way it helped me.

The Lessons

I don’t really think you need a mirror to reflect. Instead, I spend a great deal of time talking to players about what makes them happy. They’ll ask me about decks or sideboards, strategies and results, but honestly, I hate answering those questions. They don’t allow you to gain any deeper understandings of yourself as a player, and by proxy as a person. In short, they’re fleeting.

Become less focused on the immediate gratification you can get from Magic, since your longevity is better dictated by what you wish to get out of it as an overall experience. Do you want to make it to a Pro Tour? Top 8 a Grand Prix or SCG Tour event? Is the goal simpler, like being on a team of all your best friends and traveling with them? Is it just to get first at an FNM? Whatever you want, you can achieve it if you’re willing to supplement your Magic playing with the realization that your aptitudes and abilities will grow if you remain an open vessel.

The greatest lesson I can teach you is to not let tilt or negativity infiltrate and pollute your mindset when it comes to playing Magic. Fatigue will happen naturally, and you might need a break, but constantly blaming yourself and succumbing to depressions will only cause you to hate something that you’re supposed to love. You’ll stay in out of contempt, and it will make you bitter, always chasing a Dragon you’ll never catch.

Understand what you want and be mindful of each experience. Soak them in. Take a second to enjoy the place that you’re in, the company you keep, and how lucky you are to be there. At this point in my life, I love Magic because it helps to keep me mentally healthy. Feel free to share how Magic has helped you.

I hope you enjoyed your holiday season, and the ones to come in the next month.

Good talk, Sara.

Good talk.