By the time of the Pro Tour, I’d gotten back into reading articles enough to have a fairly high understanding of what was going on in the Limited format we were testing for, and further exceptions had to be made: “I quit Magic, except for forty-card decks”. We made Day Two of the Pro Tour, in at 4-2 where the year before we were out at 1-3 and played on to 3-3, then lost during the draft. And lost hard. Probably because I was on a different page than the rest of the universe for a while, and thought the seating order and flow of packs was reversed, meaning I was trying to force entirely the wrong archetype from my seat, having practiced with one thing and then played another entirely.
Further exceptions followed, because hey, I was good enough to make Day 2 of a Pro Tour. The next exception was to find the Fish deck I had refused to sell off, keeping it as a memento when all the other cards were gone, and play Extended with it, so it was 40-card decks and Merfolk decks.
Another year passed, and the LARP I ran wound down, and somewhere in there I was stuck in Boston while my girlfriend at the time was finishing her Masters essays to graduate with a degree in psychology, and so I played Regionals with an anti-Affinity deck sporting Furnace Dragons and all the mana acceleration I could squeeze into an Obliterate-based exhaustion strategy. I never played against Affinity, but I realized it was kind of dumb. In the cool way, but also in the “I remember when they emergency-banned Memory Jar” sort of way. The girlfriend broke up with me, the last in a long string of bad relationships, and along with going for counseling to break the bad patterns I’d accumulated, then learned more about psychology than I ever expected to need to know.
I learned a lot about myself, and learned to leave a lot behind me as well. There was the loser from my first Regionals, wondering why he could never get a date (might have had something to do with the wardrobe exclusively of X-Files tee shirts, or that I never asked)… and a couple other people I had been along the way, all needing to make room for something else if I was ever going to grow up and break the cycle of bad experiences I was perpetuating. I quit treating a lot of my addictive behaviors in that fashion, from a monster sugar addiction and a habit of relying on my relationship-of-the-moment for any emotional security at all… to focusing on Magic as one thing I was good at. Because I wasn’t, not especially anyway, even if I could write articles well and thoughtfully enough to have made some sort of a name for myself. Not long after, I worked another pre-release, and decided to just have fun with it and see how it felt. It was more complicated than that, to be sure, but the decision was simple: realize what isn’t working, and change it.
It felt great, because I had left so much behind that I could enjoy what I cared for again. I wasn’t being a jerk, I could be funny without being self-deprecating, and talking down to people seemed like about the stupidest thing ever conceived even though I’d been doing it for years. (An article about Magic and a psychology method called neuro-linguistic programming may eventually be pending, when I feel I am versed enough in the latter to present it in a concise manner in regards to the former.) Six months later, someone lent me cards for an Affinity deck for a PTQ I happened to be free with nothing else to do that day for, and I was 5-1 going into the last round, hanging out with Flores and Steve Sadin, and remembering the good old days when I used to be good at Magic and hang out with friends like this. And I was winning, but that’s not what drew me back; winning is what made me leave. Enjoying the game, after the things I had put it down for had passed by and I’d meanwhile accidentally become an adult, brought me back in.
Madness ensued, and if you have Premium you know the rest of the story to date. My habit of applying dull statistics to interesting topics surfaced again and apparently was ‘new’ to everyone who was reading my article series about the Philadelphia last chance qualifiers and Type Two, and my habit of over-analyzing everything I get my hands on and trying to disassemble entire formats in my head resurfaced.
The lesson learned when I quit the game has stuck with me, and is a lesson everyone can learn from: to be competitive for the right reasons, and to know what your reasons are for playing the game. A lot of people play “because they always have”, and that becomes especially difficult when other things in your life change or you just grow out of some of your former habits. Whatever you’re trying to get from the game… life, love, happiness, the answer to the question about the meaning of life, the universe and everything… is only as good for you as what you put into it. Before I stepped away, my motives were arrogant and misguided, focusing on trying to get some of the self-confidence I was at the time lacking back from seeing my effect on the world of Magic, and that was endemic of a greater problem.
The time comes to everyone eventually to look at this habit and see what it’s done for them, and what it costs them to get the enjoyment they desire from the game… or perhaps even that this enjoyment has been long gone. And to anyone in a position such as that, there’s a simple precept to remember: if you always do as you’ve always done, you’ll always get as you’ve always got. Getting better at this game brings with it a sort of loss of innocence to most, trading some of the enjoyment away for greater awareness and skill, and that leaves two roads to travel and a compromise between the two: being good, and having fun. You can have both in equal measure, but it requires work, honesty with oneself, and an awareness of your motives and motivations that most people just don’t have.
“Know thy enemy as you know thyself,” the old adage goes. In the game of Magic, and especially among the percentage of that group that reads about the game on the Internet, we’ve all gotten pretty good at the “know thy enemy” part. To match that, “know thyself” is usually interpreted as know your deck, know your sideboard, know your matchups, practice practice practice… but to continue to enjoy the game as you grow past the person who discovered it in the first place requires a much more literal interpretation and at least a little bit of introspection.
That’s the lesson I learned, that I thought I might try to bring you this week for my Dailies.