Thirst for Knowledge – Inner Calm, Outer Strength

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Wednesday, March 24th – As a college student, one eventually gets used to the ebb and flow of things, and thinks nothing of the day-to-day class sessions. Chemistry classes are about chemical reactions, writing courses are about writing, and physiology is about the human body. It’s pretty standard fare stuff on the surface. However, sometimes they are more than that, and they stay with you.

As a college student, one eventually gets used to the ebb and flow of things, and thinks nothing of the day-to-day class sessions. Chemistry classes are about chemical reactions, writing courses are about writing, and physiology is about the human body. It’s pretty standard fare stuff on the surface, and anyone who has ever attended a university will tell you that over time you just accept that the courses you take each semester will be that and only that: just classes. However, sometimes they are more than that, and they stay with you.

This semester I’m taking a course called Utopias: Ideal Worlds, which is a LIB 340 class. I decided to take the class because it fulfilled my undergraduate general education requirement, but what I’ve discovered is that I leave this particular class each day with my mind racing. In general, the course is about utopianism and forging a perfect society, but as one might imagine such a feat would involve a great deal of personal reflection in order to find just what exactly an ideal society looks like. I won’t go into any sort of detail on what my personal utopia is like (although you can bet that it would be a world where I always get a turn 2 Bitterblossom, for starters), and instead I’m going to use this opportunity to talk about forging a better Magic community rather than a general one.

Yeah, that probably sounds like a bit of a stretch, but I tend to apply a lot of my feelings and emotions with Magic in some way, and these thoughts of self-betterment and inner calm kind of has me wondering just how far this state of mind can extend. Now, explaining all of this would take me ages, and even worse it would have very little to do with Magic. Instead, I’m going to stick to the basics. Sound good? Read on.

First, ask yourself the question: what makes you happy? Chances are you can make a pretty long list, but I’m also pretty sure that Magic is somewhere on there, as otherwise spending your time reading articles about it seems rather pointless. Now, the basic philosophy is that when something makes us happy, the ego desires it, and therefore we try to satisfy it. I very much enjoy playing Magic, so much so that I tend to think about it more than I really should (did you notice?). I’m willing to bet that many of you are the same way, and I’d also wager that many of you have at one point or another desired to teach a friend how to play. When we enjoy something, one of our human instincts is to share it. After all, if you told someone who had never played a game before how good you were at a game, would it mean anything to them? No, it definitely wouldn’t. As bad as it sounds, I think most people need other people (observers, if you will) present in order to take any sort of pride or accomplishments in their feats, and this in itself is a twisted form of “sharing.” While sharing and coexisting contradicts the ego (which is why my statement about wanting to share seems sketchy), the simple fact is that without sharing experiences with other people a disconnect often forms between us and the experience, and it becomes that much harder to appreciate it. I’m not insinuating that you can’t love playing Magic if none of your friends played it, but I’d put money on the fact that at some point you’re going to wish that they did.

So, if you like to play Magic, you probably taught someone else to play and got them into it, too. That’s a good first step toward Magical Enlightenment, but it’s just a small step. The next stage is the stage where you begin to become aware of your surroundings on a much grander scale. That guy you’re sitting across from at a PTQ is not a rival, he is a fellow player — a brother, if you will. I wrote two weeks ago about respecting your opponents, and this is a big part of that. Yes, your opponent is someone who you must defeat in order to advance in the tournament, and you should try to do so. However, it is my personal belief that the best Magic players are the ones who recognize that words left unsaid at the conclusion of a match are wasted thoughts. Allow me to clarify: if you’re playing against a player who isn’t very good, pointing out and explaining his mistakes after the match is the very best thing that you can ever do for him, and for yourself. However, keep in mind that it does not matter if he is good or bad in the long run: you owe it to your opponent to do him this service, whether it be the guy with his Timbermaw Larva deck (cameo!) or LSV himself. This process sharpens your own skills, hones your understanding of the game, reinforces the positive energy between opponents, and creates more formidable competition in the future. Some may argue that making your competition better is a step backwards, but that is all explained by stage three of Magical Enlightenment: greater challenges lead to greater rewards.

In my article three weeks ago (you can read it here if you haven’t already) I spoke about the importance of playing against better players in order to improve. This goes right along with that, as playing against worse players only keeps you in a standstill. Lots of players look at competitive Magic far too narrow-mindedly: it is not about the here and now 95% of the time — it is about the personal growth each and every time you play. Yes, sometimes you’re going to sit down in round one of a PTQ and just feel like it’s your day — and it very well might be. However, other days you’re going to play against a guy that you helped out in the past. He might just be some guy that you pointed a mistake out to once, and you’ve been backed into a very similar situation as the one from before. If he makes the same mistake, you sail on to the Pro Tour. If he listened to you and learned from his mistake, though, it’s curtains. Unfortunately for you, he doesn’t fall for it twice and makes the block and you’re knocked out of the tournament. But really, was this that unfortunate? I mean, sure, this is a very specific example that will likely never come to fruition, but if this happened to you would you honestly feel bad?

If you answered “yes” to that question, then you’re not Enlightened yet, and you probably have a way to go. It isn’t about winning, which is something that I’ve struggled with for a long while now. Whenever I went to a PTQ and didn’t perform to my potential, I would get down on myself and generate lots of negative energy. However, if you look at each loss as not a defeat but instead a learning experience you will start to see the bigger picture. It is important to make peace with the fact that you will probably not win a PTQ for a very long time, and that only through perseverance will you achieve your goal. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t playtest and prepare for a PTQ or anything absurd like that, but rather that until you’ve got the right focus and mindset that you’re probably going to be back at that venue again in a month for another PTQ. I don’t mean to be discouraging here, but unfortunately the bottom line is that 99% of the players at any given PTQ probably just aren’t good enough for the Pro Tour yet, and instead of beating themselves up about their losses they should instead count their blessings — after all, each PTQ you attend while using this mindset will take you just one step closer to the Pro Tour. Don’t pigeon-hole your ambitions into simply “winning” a PTQ. If you go 5-2 and miss Top 8 because of a mistake you made in the last round, make a note of your mistake and give yourself a pat on the back. There most certainly is a difference between 0-2 drop and 0-2 drop with a lesson learned, and the distinction makes a world of difference.

Now, I won’t pretend like the above couple paragraphs are new ground: you’ve heard that sort of thing before, and despite the fact that it’s good and useful to hear in new (or sometimes better) ways, a decent number of PTQ players have actually already reached that stage of Enlightenment, and must now focus on the next tier. However, it should be noted that the next portion of Enlightenment is much different than the last. It isn’t about PTQs, and it isn’t about the Pro Tour. It’s about self-amplification through the strengthening of others.

The new kid of the block here in Grand Rapids is a store called Alpha Players (mentioned a few weeks ago in one of my articles), and it carries with it a unique story. Alpha Players is a store that was founded on the idea that Magic can be a tool to improve people’s lifestyles, outlooks, and social skills. It is no shock that Magic is among the most social of all “nerd” games, but never has this been as obvious as it is when you attend a large event such as an SCG Open or a Grand Prix. The sheer number of different demographics that play Magic is truly astounding, and anyone — literally anyone — can learn to better themselves by reaching out and learning from people of all backgrounds. I know it’s a tad corny, but take a second to consider the number of people that you know solely because of Magic and try to tell me I’m wrong. Go ahead, I’m waiting.

To get a better understanding of what Magic can do for one socially, let’s use the classic stereotype of the “basement nerd” and give him a deck of cards. He enjoys playing Magic with his closely-knit group of friends, but he doesn’t think he wants to go to FNMs and take the game further than that. However, his friends coax him into giving FNM a try, and he quickly finds himself being forced to interact with strangers during each match. And, 95% of the time, he finds that he’s actually very much okay with that. Whether this is easy or not for a shy person like the one in questions isn’t the point. The point, friends, is that because of Magic, this person is out on a Friday night with like-minded people doing something that he enjoys. Magic has changed his life already, and he just started.

To take this idea further, let me ask this: what is the average age of the players at your local FNM? 20? 35? Maybe 16? Are there any outliers? Maybe someone in their 50s, or possibly younger kids? I know back home in Flint, there is at least one kid that players every Friday, and he’s probably not much older than 12, if not younger. Is he exceptional at the game? No, but he’s not bad. I started at 10, and I was nowhere near as good as that kid is. But his skill isn’t what we’re interested in. What is interesting to us is that he is playing at all. I don’t know if this is as significant to anyone else as it is to me, but I can say confidently that so much of what I am comes from my early exposure to Magic. I mean, kids in their teens who play regularly at FNM could be out smoking pot or drinking, but instead they’ve opted to go out and hang out with friends while not only doing something they enjoy but also building a plethora of important skills. This is Enlightenment, and perhaps the earliest and most crucial stage of it.

This bolstering of the young population is precisely what Alpha Players set out to do, and I admire them greatly for it. Grand Rapids is a very nice and moderately safe city, but like all big cities it has its share of downtrodden and bad neighborhoods. Alpha Players seeks to give the kids of those communities a safe place to go and spend their time, and all the while educating them about sportsmanship, respect, and ambition. The store also runs lots of for-charity events on weekends to help the community, and it is this kind of positive energy is precisely what Magical Enlightenment is all about: when you finally make peace with yourself and understand your focus, you can begin to think of others. And, should you desire to be the best Magic player you can be, it is important to understand that isn’t just “being on the Pro Tour,” but also about being someone who is willing to help new players and provide unwavering support and respectful competition to your peers. Do this, and Enlightenment is yours.

I’m not saying that you need to volunteer at your local game store and start running for-charity events to feed the needy, nor that you need to spend hours teaching friends how to play. You can become a good player by enhancing your skill, attitude, and dedication, and that is generally all well and good. However, should you desire more than that — should you desire to be a better person to boot — you’ll need to put more time in. For most Magic players, wining is all that matters and it isn’t important to them to seek Enlightenment. But for others, they want to be remembered as more than “that good player.” They want to be remembered as someone who was always willing to help, always up for a game, and someone who “always deserved to play on the Pro Tour.” The way I look at it, it would be impossible for me to ever be a Pro Tour mainstay if I ever forgot my roots. I was once a tabletop player, and I was once very bad at the game. But people helped me, and they taught me how to handle each new obstacle. Be that person for someone else, and see Magic the way Richard Garfield meant for it to be seen: a game between friends.

Winning is certainly the point of any game — the goal is to defeat your opponent. However, in the process, do not forget that no matter what is on the line or how hard you’ve worked for something, losing is still just a fancy way of saying that you’ll just try again next time. Learn from each and every mistake you make, and take it to heart. Be aware of the other people who play Magic, understand what it has done for you, and do all that you can to make peace with it in yourself. That’s it — Enlightenment.

And, friends, that about wraps up the third portion of my (unofficial) series about Motivational Theory (can I call it that?). This last article is pretty abstract, but I hope that you can take something away from it.

Until next time…

Chris Jobin
Team RIW
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