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The Struggle

It began with an innocuous statement, but it soon turned into a study. Mark Nestico’s life stability has a strange relationship with his Magic success. Does the same apply to you?

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<p>It all started with a pretty mundane, yet serious question:</p>
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Within minutes the replies on Facebook and Twitter began to pour in, from tweets to replies to private messages. Friends Seth Manfield, Brian Braun-Duin, and Chris Fennell chimed in as well. This is what it sounds like when doves cry.

As it would seem within a few hours I realized that I was not alone. More players than I could count have faced the same existential quandary, so I figured that this would be something good to talk about.

Magic is life. Life is Magic. Or something like that.

The Struggle

I’ve talked about how 2015 was one of my best years of playing Magic for quite some time. I qualified for multiple Pro Tours and played my heart out in them, was fortunate enough to team with some of the best and brightest minds in the game, won a couple of PPTQs, and went fairly deep in all the Grand Prix I was lucky enough to play in. My writing was going well, and no matter the reaction, people were talking about my content.

Everything was amazing.

Actually….everything was awful.

2015 was the single worst year of my life. As someone who not-so publicly suffers from severe depression and anxiety, I felt like my grip on real life was slipping away and that, no matter how hard I tried, I was unable to make things better. I took four months off of work to write a book and find myself, which is when I discovered mindfulness.

This realization has helped to create a very interesting dichotomy in my life, where when things have been miserable and Magic was an “escape,” I was able to do very well at it. Now that things in my life are fantastic, I can’t even win at an FNM.

How can we explain this?

How can we reconcile the struggle to do well in Magic at a high level as well as lead a completely fulfilling and productive life?

I guess we’re going to at least attempt to scratch the surface today.

Magic as an Escape Route

When things are bad, we tend to want something to take our minds off of whatever is vexing us. For some, it’s video games like World of Warcraft or Hearthstone. Others live in the gym, or bury themselves in work.

For us, and I’m assuming you since you’re reading this, Magic has long been the way that I avoid my real-life problems and, by proxy, real life in general. Escapism at its finest. The first step in solving a problem is admitting that there is one. For many players, this is the reality that both placates and bogs them down.

As a young man I blew a full-ride scholarship, not because Magic was more important to me than going to college, but because college was hard and I was completely out of my element/comfort zone. Magic was safe. I knew Magic. I could melt away playtesting four or five nights a week with friends, drive to tournaments on weekends, and crush local events without even batting an eyelash. Academic probation followed. Sooner than later I left school altogether to focus on work and, of course, Magic.

My story isn’t even remotely unique.

The catch is that when you plunge yourself deeper and deeper into Magic and pull yourself further and further away from responsibilities, family, or other things, your Magic game tends to grow stronger. After dedicating months and months to Magic, I finally saw the results I had always wanted. I used to sit at a tournament and watch all the state-wide “ringers” horse around, tell jokes, draft, and come off as sort of the “in crowd” that I wished I could be a part of.

And then I was.

That, in and of itself, became way more intoxicating than just slinging spells. Now I was someone. That was validation: not the good grades I could have been getting in school or the money I could have been making at a better job. No, it was traveling to tournaments, seeing friends, and living the grinder life.

The grinder life.

I was running from what really mattered, and that was the problem.

The Grass Is Always Greener on the Other Side

Coming out on the other side of grinding was like exiting a fugue state. When I would go back to tournaments, it felt like everything had passed me by. New groups existed, and the old cliques I played so hard to get into were gone, replaced by newer and fresher faces. It didn’t really deter me. I just battled, won, and got to where I wanted to be, which was always the Pro Tour. Always. That was the dream.

Reality perceived is reality achieved!

Once I achieved it, I immediately felt satisfied, like I was some kind of ghost of a human being that, once I was able to see my unfinished business handled, I could rest. Rest I did.

Not only was I able to enjoy that success, but other successes followed. The purchase of a home. Paying off my car. Back in school and killing it. A job better than any I had ever had before. Magic wasn’t what defined me anymore, and it wasn’t how I invested my sense of self-worth. I placed stock in other things, but the repercussion was that my playing abilities suffered.

One friend put it pretty plainly: when we have nothing but Magic, Magic is all that matters. When we have a life in front of us, we’d rather live it than play Magic.

Can’t argue with that.

My problem with that logic, however, is that Magic is one of my favorite things on the planet to partake in. I can’t imagine my life without it, but it’s a hobby and passion that demands a certain amount of attention. Recently, like Brian or Seth or Chris agreed with, sometimes it feels like you can’t have a real life to be proud of and emotionally invested in while simultaneously being at the top of your game with Magic.

But Magic isn’t a parasite that siphons your real life, especially if you don’t let it, and real life and responsibilities don’t mean the death of something you love doing at a high level.

We’ve figured that much out.

So where do we go from there?

Reconciliation

Full dedication to Magic and a life you can be proud of are not two mutually exclusive ideas. I don’t believe that for a second.

I finally started talking to people and it kind of felt like I was taking off my spirit cuffs with the realization that you can have both without making sacrifices or feeling like you are neglecting one or the other.

While the start is rudimentary, I’m sure we’re onto something. Of course I want your input, too.

1. We must no longer feel obligated to Magic. Magic is a hobby, and for some of us a living and way of life, but binding ourselves to it creates burnout. That burnout eventually causes our fun to suffer along with how well we play.

2. Do not relegate Magic to escapism. It may seem counter-intuitive, since Magic is, for many of us, a way to relax after a hard day, but the day will only become harder if your important responsibilities are neglected so you can play it.

3. Maintain your outside relationships to preserve normalcy. For years while chasing my “dreams” of achievement in Magic, I missed dinners, weekend getaways, goodbye parties, and just about anything you can think of with friends and family because I was on the grind. Hold tight to those moments, because while there is a tournament every other weekend, those memories you will only ever get one shot at.

4. Never stop achieving. Always look forward and continue upward mobility. The thing about life is that it becomes easier the better you do. Each person and player has it in them to do better at some aspect of their life, whether it is work, parenthood, or Magic. If you have a goal, reach it with all of your power. Once you obtain that, set a new, even harder one. Rinse and repeat.

5. Be proud of every accomplishment, no matter how small or simple it may seem to others. I love hearing people talking about winning their Game Nights or FNM. Maybe you just started working out. Perhaps it’s taking an art class, or finishing your first Legacy deck. Celebrate when you do something that you’re personally proud of. Everything you conquer is a stepping stone to greater things.

6. Ask the people around you what they think. It might seem silly, but ask your playtesting partners, “Do you think I spend too much time playing Magic?” and “What can I do to get better?” These are honest questions that may make you vulnerable, but they will also help you separate pretenders from real friends. A pretender is going to say, “Is there such a thing as too much Magic?” A real friend is going to ask, “Is Magic interfering with real life?”

7. Figure out exactly what is going wrong with one or the other. If real life is fantastic and you have the time to dedicate your energies to Magic but aren’t getting the desired results, be completely honest with yourself as to where your failings are. Create a personal inventory of what you think you do well and what you think you can do better at. If real life is suffering because of Magic, take the time to repair. If that means missing a few weeks’ worth of events, so be it. The best part about this game is that it will always be there when you get your life on track.

8. Resist the urge to be stagnant. We all know too many people who are comfortable with their station in life, yet they constantly complain about it. They want to be great Magic players, but they don’t want to put in the work for it. That kind of attitude is infectious and can easily spread. Design your own terms of engagement for what you want out of Magic and real life.

I don’t have all the answers and I don’t pretend to, but the last few days have been pretty interesting when it comes to approaching things with this new way of thinking. Of course, I don’t expect everyone to identify with these theories, but for those of you who do, I hope this gives you insight into the eventuality of equilibrium between success in Magic and success in our out-of-Magic endeavors.

Oh. And I just turned 30.

There’s nothing quite like that to give you an entirely new perspective.

Although I did wear an “I’m the Birthday Boy!” shirt to Disney last week. It had a dancing Mickey Mouse on it.

That’s adulthood, boys and girls. New age. New way of thinking.