Let me preface with a brief apology for inactivity. I apologize for the length between the last article and this one, SCG readers. I teach public
school, and our end-of-the-year state tests have come up, and most of my time has been dedicated to get these kids ready to go. I’ll be sure to mention
how well I do this weekend at the PTQ with my latest tech in Standard. I wanted to put it in this article, but it doesn’t fit the theme, and I
want to prevent embarrassment by giving it a test run first.
We all play Magic for different reasons. In a previous article, I mentioned different player personalities fit different deck types. This article will
shift away from how deck types define us to more of a “why” we play. The opportunity cost of playing competitive Magic or even casual Magic
is very high. We spend countless hours playtesting, preparing, brainstorming, competing, writing, discussing, etc. all for that chance to do something
great or just have fun. Magic isn’t an easy game to master, and the more I play it, the more I realize it’s just like poker or anything
else competitive… the more time you put in, the more you’ll get out of it. I was asked a hypothetical a while back, which was:
“Would you rather get 37th at the WSOP for 250k or win a PT for 40k?”
I would take the PT win every time.
I played poker religiously for years, traveling to Atlantic City and playing in local games, and that question was posed to me while in a 1/2 NL game.
Most people would read that question and call me the biggest idiot ever. Why wouldn’t you take the big money?! Are you crazy/stupid?! Sure, I
love me some money… I mean I’ve been financially strapped at times, and it would make more sense to play it safe.
That leads me to the point of the article and why we play this card game. There has to be a reason why we playtest for hours and hours to play a
ten-round tournament that lasts from 10 am to late in the evening. This OC (Opportunity Cost) is absurd for the amount of time put in. We could work
(not very fun), drink with friends (really fun), or do anything else you can possibly think of… but we choose Magic.
Magic is fun!
Poker nets more money, and other games take less time to play, but Magic is the most fun. I played cube for the first time not too long ago, and since
then, I’ve been hooked. I had famously said Magic isn’t fun, but I play to win. In recent times, I have amended my statement to include both.
I whipped together a couple of Commander decks led by Zur the Enchanter and Rafiq of the Many. I have tons of local shops in my area that set up
Commander tournaments, and my roommate with a deep collection crafted a cube… let the fun begin! The reasons I play Commander and cube are for
fun, but of course I bought a Moat, Mana Drain, old duals, and every optimal card for my decks… and cube tends to have a bit more than pride on
the line, if you know what I mean.
You can take the competitiveness out of the format, but you can’t take it out of the wizard. I’ve found that Cube and Commander are both great
reliefs from the monotony of the Standard Caw-Blade grind and keep me from going crazy. Some people I know are completely against this type of Magic
but still have fun playing. They have fun in different ways.
Many have fun winning and destroying their opponents. I love winning. Who doesn’t love winning? We always plan to win when we prepare
for a tournament. Every time we walk up to that scorekeeper’s booth to turn in a winning match slip, we have a bit of a chip on our shoulder.
Each time we win, it adds to the momentum of that particular event. Each of us has different goals for a tournament, and that’s the beauty of Magic. I
know some people who have gone 6-4 at an Open and were ecstatic, and others who’ve lost in the first round of the Top 8 and were devastated. That
difference in expectations comes from one’s personal play history.
In 2004-2005, a PTQ Top 8 was my goal. If I Top 8ed a 60-man PTQ, that would be worth the four-hour drive, the money for gas, the cards I had to buy,
and the time spent on the event. After a few better finishes, my definition of winning has changed drastically. Nevertheless, a match win in Magic
feels great and is addictive no matter who you are. A win is so addictive that it’s the reason why thousands of us mages continue to grind it out and
play at a competitive level.
Hey… I made that deck!
Innovation in the casual realm as well the competitive realm is a driving force for many to play the game. I enjoy the innovation aspect, as you all
know, and players like Conley Woods, Mike Flores, and Brian Kibler take pride in playing a unique brew that they have created. There is an additional
satisfaction when you go to tournaments and see people playing a deck that you came up with. There is an additional kudos you give yourself when
winning an FNM or PTQ, going 4-2 at an Open, or bashing your friends casually with a creation that is your own. Does anyone really have fun playing
Caw-Blade, or is it just fun for those players to win with Caw-Blade?
Magic takes a lot of traveling if you truly want to compete at a high level. The Open series will take you across the United States, but the Pro Tour
will take you across the world. I have been to Japan numerous times and all over Europe and none of it would have been possible without magic. Magic
allows competitive players vacations and even if you can’t get on the Pro Tour you can at least take a week off from work with all that paid
leave and travel to Barcelona for a Grand Prix. What other game as fun as magic provides the opportunities that wizards does? At this point of my life
because of my career I wish there was less traveling, but back when I was 23-24 these foreign PTs were the highlights of my life for multiple reasons.
In competitive magic, traveling is the biggest perk, but having a separate set of friends that come with the magic community is also awesome. It would
take me a separate article to include all the grinders and pros that I consider friends, but you all know who you are. I look forward to hearing your
bad beats endured over a beer while we check the old phones for Day 2 results that we couldn’t participate in. All the credit card games,
site-seeing, food and drinks, and shenanigans add another dynamic to the game that stretches outside the casual realm.
Something to do!
Magic, like any hobby, occupies a lot of time if you allow it, but a big aspect of the game is its social implications. I don’t mean you
don’t get out of the house because of it… quite the opposite! Friends of mine gather together every Wednesday night to play Commander and
random casual Magic. Many non-Magic players use this strategy with video games, bowling, drinking, and whatever else. I have to admit that for a period
of six years, I didn’t enjoy the casual realm of Magic at all, and now it has grown on me… just a little though.
At this point in my Magic career, I have a new respect for those who just play the game for fun, whereas before, I could never understand why someone
would be content while not at least trying to get that gold medal. There’s a reason that the Commander Deck product is selling so well and that casual
Legacy cards are worth exuberant amounts. It’s because Magic has gotten so big that it has mutated and created another world for a casual player to
You could get rich… okay, probably not…
My lifetime earnings in Magic, including from StarCityGames.com and what they have provided me, is around 25k. That’s over six years, and if you do the
math, that isn’t very good at all. Only the masters out there can make financial gain off Magic.
So why do we play?
Winning a Pro Tour does come with a nice bonus, worth my yearly salary in one lump sum. So the goal is to grind it out, play well, create a good
metagame deck, and get a little lucky one day to achieve that level of success… but if not then, then getting close and having fun is a good
Magic has other opportunities to make money than winning the Pro Tour. You can finish regularly in the money. StarCityGames.com Opens and the Pro Tour
are similar, in that repeated play gives you points, which result in more money, invites, and other perks that make the game profitable.
Next year with the doubling of GPs, going back and forth between the two series can make bank if you do well.
Trading is profitable for many players. There are articles on this site that advocate trading and teach you how to do it profitably. Ben Bleiweiss
assists players with the finances of new sets. With the eBay boom, you can clean up if you predict cards correctly and scoop them up. Magic cards are
almost a currency with the way they hold value, and I don’t see WotC going under anytime soon.
I recently purchased a Moat for Legacy (very painful), and the only reason I did is because I’m positive that Magic cards will not depreciate in value
for years and years.
I suggest not investing too much mental capital in making Magic your main profit machine however. The game is like any professional sport where many
try to make it big, but only a select few can get there. Treat it more like a hobby where you expect to lose some money, and you’ll gain much more
enjoyment, and if you’re lucky you might just be the next Pro Tour Champion!
The Magic community is very, very large compared to other games. Just like in sports, people who play Magic have their favorite pros, article writers,
and Magic personalities. The use of live game feed, podcasts, and countless articles released everyday creates a huge resource for us Magic gamers to
tap into for insight and entertainment.
When SCG hired me and I wrote for StarCityGames.com Premium alongside the biggest pros in Magic, my first reaction was… man, I don’t belong
here! It seems that the bosses agreed with me there, but the Select side has its perks for me as well. I get to reach a much bigger audience.
Kyle Sanchez had an article a few years back that gave out awards to a few Magic pros, and I found my name on it. The award description had the line
“his accomplishments are few and far between… BUT,” and that summarized me perfectly! In Magic, you don’t have to win all the
tournaments to have fame; you just have to get your name out there. The ways to do that are to innovate, submit an article, blog, “pride”
draft at tournaments, introduce yourself to big names, become the best at one aspect of the game, etc. There are so many ways to get out there that if
you put a little time and effort into it, I am positive you will succeed. And don’t let the few pretentious professionals out there lie to
you… they love having their name known, being interviewed, and receiving any other PR that they get.
So how do I win?
Winning at Magic is difficult at the higher levels because of variance as well as the skill needed to do so. Here’s how you win.
Figure out the metagame. Once you identify the top decks, you must be sure that you can beat those decks. This means either you must innovate something
new to combat Tier 1 or tech out an existing deck to make it more resilient to hate or the mirror. Just picking up a deck and playing it card for card
is a mistake. You probably will play against players who have played that particular deck for a longer time and are more aware of plays, strategies,
and intricate match situations. The biggest reason to play something different and the reason why I always do is because I’m not confident that I
can win the mirror match consistently against players who are on my skill level or a higher one. Especially when each player is proficient with the
deck and know it in and out; that leaves too much to variance. I prefer to have the game in my hands, rather than rely on the heart of the cards.
Playtesting. This is one of the focal points of the article… is winning at Magic worth hours and hours of practice? Before a tournament, how many
hours do you take to prepare? This includes getting the cards, goldfishing your mana base to perfection, and of course playtesting. Few will argue that
practicing against the best decks hurts your chances of winning… and most will agree that it is necessary to win these big tournaments. If enough
time is put into this aspect of competitive Magic, then it will pay off in dividends in the future. Enough playtesting will allow you to see nearly
every scenario with nearly every combination of cards and allow you an edge over opponents who have not done the same.
I have lacked the time and patience on multiple occasions, and I am telling you all now that it has cost me a good amount of wins. In the last three
Opens, I have finished in the top 32 (22nd, 17th, 18th), and I lost Top 8 to a Red deck in one of those scenarios because of a lack of understanding.
If I’d tested a bit more, I would have known to lower my curve, and I would’ve known that Baneslayer was not the answer I thought it to be.
So how much playtesting are you willing to do to go for that tournament win? Or is the opportunity cost of Magic getting a bit too high?
Set yourself a goal and fight for it. Some of us look forward all week to FNM, to take it down with our sweet Standard deck. If that is your goal, then
put time and effort into figuring out the local metagame and becoming the champion of your area.
I started casually in 2000, and my goals were limited to Top 8ing a PTQ. Man… that was the dream! Get a pin, make all your friends envious, and
get your name on the internet with your amazing finish. If that is your goal, then keep fighting until you achieve it. Once you reach that pinnacle,
then raise the bar and keep going. That’s how you progress in Magic because a lot of the game is mental. Ten-round tournaments can wear on you, and you
have to have the resolve to finish and do well. If you are content with mediocrity, then that is what you will bathe in, but if you really want that
PTQ win, qualification for Nats, or to be leader of your Commander league, then shoot for the stars, my friend.
I am neither a preacher nor a motivational speaker, but I did enjoy trying to understand the “why” for playing this game. This goes for me
and the readers who tune in to my articles and who know that I am not in the game for the paycheck—but just to be heard. My first article on
StarCityGames.com was about Coldsnap drafting in a Top 8 of a PTQ, and I submitted the article for free. I was ecstatic when they posted it up there on
the free side, and I didn’t even care to ask for any compensation. That was a highlight for me years back, but maybe I’m just
I want to pose a few questions for the readers to verify that I am not just living in a fantasy world and that people still play the game for the
reasons I stated previously.
Do any of you play primarily for the glory of winning?
Do any of you innovate and/or alter top tier decks for the chance to be recognized for originality?
These questions are not just for the PTQ grinders, but also for the people at their local shops. These also apply for any format, not just the very
exciting Caw-Blade Standard. Thanks for reading guys and see you all next time!
@shaheenmtg – Twitter