Sisyphean Thoughts

The picture of a man rolling a stone up a hill for eternity, only to have it keep rolling back down, is iconic. It strikes a chord with many readers, and this relatively minor Greek character has retained a place in many peoples’ minds.
And here is the Magic application: Do you feel like Sisyphus?

In Greek Mythology, the King and Founder of Corinth, named Sisyphus, had his men capture Death and chain him up. Death’s arrival signaled his demise, but he was sent back to the world from the Underworld to”punish” his wife for chaining Death, when she was innocent – and Ares, god of war, had to free Death. Upon finding out about Sisyphus’s duplicity (and after Sisyphus insulted Zeus, thus removing the god’s protection), Hades invented a special punishment for Sisyphus when he died a second time: Sisyphus was condemned for an eternity to roll a huge stone up a hill until, just before reaching the apex, the rock rolled back down…

…At which point Sisyphus’s labors began anew.

The story of Sisyphus is a story of futility, angst, and sorrow. The picture of a man rolling a stone up a hill for eternity, only to have it keep rolling back down, is iconic. It strikes a chord with many readers, and this relatively minor Greek character has retained a place in many peoples’ minds.

And here is the Magic application: Do you feel like Sisyphus? Try and try as you might, you never achieve the success for which you quest? I am going to tell a bit of my Magic story, wrapped in the warm comfortable packaging of a classical didactic Pilgrim’s Progress parable.

Everyman (who, in this case, stands for”Most Magic Players”) starts playing Magic when he is a senior in High School. A few friends come back from Summer vacation playing it, and he gets into the game through them. Everyman goes out and pick up several in print cards, including packs of Revised and The Dark. He starts playing more heavily and goes to the local card store, playing Magic there. Everybody else is new to the game as well, and decks are hardly developed. After a few months, one of the local players hosts a tournament for an Alpha Gauntlet of Might, and Everyman enters, winning it all on the strength of his straight red deck which hosted Dragon Engines for when his opponents cast Conversion.

This is the beginning of Everyman playing in tournaments. Slowly, Everyman begins to regularly play in local, card shop tourneys. As time goes on, Everyman is viewed by others as one of the best Magic players in the area. Everyman goes to college, only to find no thriving Magic community there, and so, for a year, Everyman no longer plays Magic. He has a lot of cards and really wants to play, but there is no opportunity to do so.

Then, in his sophomore year, several people come to school who also play Magic heavily. This creates a playgroup that includes multiplayer games almost nightly. Suddenly, Magic is again in the forefront of Everyman’s activities. Everyman goes to the occasional tournament in nearby Pittsburgh. After another year, several more players come to school, and Everyman hooks up with several other players to create a budding competitive team.

Around this time, Everyman discovers Limited play, which he loves. He wins his first ever sealed deck, Mirage/Visions, with a Blue/White deck that includes lots of flyers. He will play in the occasional draft, before going to his first-ever major tournament – Stronghold Prerelease.

Everyman goes to the Stronghold Prerelease and plays in the Saturday Prerelease – a midnight Sealed PTQ – and then another Prerelease on Sunday. It is a bit of heaven. Back at the card shop, the group plays more limited, more tournaments, solidifying Everyman’s desire to play in major tournaments.

Everyman goes to the Urza’s Saga Prerelease and gets in the Top 8, of around 200 players. He gets a high place at the Legacy Prerelease as well. In his first PTQ of the Urza’s Block limited season, Everyman Top 8’s his first PTQ, getting the second overall seed with an undefeated sealed deck. A later PTQ sees him scrubbing out.

This is where the rock has almost reached the top of the hill. Do you see it?

Now comes the punishment.

Masques block comes and goes, and Everyman plays in a few less major tournaments, due to grad school. After Invasion is released, Everyman really gets into constructed Magic, building decks and tearing them apart daily. He heavily playtests for States, before going with a very well tested Nether-Go deck. Fires, however, which he had not heard of, rears its head, and Everyman goes down.


Everyman is unable to go to the Planeshift Prerelease, but he makes it to a PTQ. Goes 1-2 before dropping.


At the Odyssey Prerelease, he places second in a flight… But he is unable to win the major event on Sunday, despite a lower number of players.


The Torment Prerelease rolls around, and Everyman plays in the main events on both days. Each day sees a decent deck drop in the 1-2 to 2-2 level.


He plays in a couple of sealed PTQs, only to go 2-2 and 3-2 in each, with no chance of placing in the final eight even with a win out.


He grabs a constructed deck he worked on for a while and hits a constructed PTQ. Drops after going 1-2.


Everyman hits the Judgment Prerelease and goes 2-2. Plays in a few drafts.


Hits the Amateur Championships for the first time, with a deck that he playtested for most of a day. 0-2 Drop.


Everyman grabs a spot at a Block Constructed PTQ and goes 2-2 before dropping.


Is the story of Everyman also your story? Here is a person who got immediate tournament success in Constructed and Limited, who dominates the local card shop, who Top 8’d his second Limited PTQ, and third overall. Who regularly placed in the prizes at Prereleases. And, Everyman even dominated side drafts, usually winning most of them, from Tempest through early Masques block.

Are you Everyman?

Of course, in reality, the specifics of the story are mine. I am Everyman. But the story is the same for many, with only the details changed. How do you take the next step? How do you roll the stone back up the hill? Will the story ever have a happy ending?


I suppose that there is a very simple answer to these questions – and in classic Zen fashion, it is another question: What do you want out of Magic?

I don’t think enough players ever truly answer that question… But ask it of yourselves, right now. Are you satisfied with playing with a few friends some casual games in your rec room on Thursday night? If so, great; that is what you are looking for. Do you enjoy FNM and the occasional store tournament? If so, I hope you can find a store that suits your need. Are the occasional major tournament and lots of sanctioned events more your style? Perfect, there should be several events in a few hours drive, at most, from where you reside. Are you looking to get on the Pro Tour? Great, good luck with that.

What do you want from Magic – 5 Color decks with over 250 cards, or a sleek, polished OBC deck that should get you qualified? Is your favorite deck that multiplayer one in your box which regularly sees play, or a Type Two construction you have worked on for weeks and is ready for primetime? Do you prefer a PTQ season that is Constructed or Limited?

What do you want from Magic?

I want a hobby’ something to do in my spare time. I would love to qualify for the Pro Tour someday, but it is not something I am actively working towards. I believe that qualifying for the Pro Tour takes a lot of practice, and I have neither the time, nor the inclination, to do so. Therefore, I do not expect qualification – and it is more of a dream than a goal. My favorite environments are Limited, with preference for Rochester. Man, is Rochester fun! I also enjoy other limited formats, like Anaconda Draft, Backdraft, Auction, and so forth. I try to make my limited experiences as versatile as possible. My Constructed skills have never been on a high enough level to qualify me for a Pro Tour or anything, but I believe I have the limited tools to do so. I really enjoy 250, and I play a casual deck in it.

Now, that’s me. What about you? Take a few seconds, and use my example as a template. Hobby, obsession, social event – what is Magic to you? Until you can answer that question, all that you will see is…


Once you know what you want, set goals and work towards them – and then you can defeat the hill, move the rock over it, and break the cycle.

Until later,

Abe Sargent