Where Did The Magic Go?

SCG Invitational winner Brad Nelson returns to writing with the story of how recent events in his life caused him to reevaluate and change his relationship with Magic.

“We should break up.”

Four words that had never been spoken to me. I had muttered them a couple times myself, but this was the first time I had ever heard them. When you tell someone this, you understand why you are saying it. You go in with a game plan and generally know how it’s going to conclude. You understand how this chapter in your life is going to end. This is not the case when it’s suggested to you. That sudden burst of confusion and anxiousness is hard to articulate. What are you supposed to do, tell the person that their opinion is wrong because it isn’t in your best interests? I didn’t understand why I was being told these four simple words, but more importantly, I didn’t want to.

I was in shock.

Within hours, the life I had been creating with another person for the last year was wiped away. My heart and apartment both left a mess from the abrupt hollowing. Lost, alone, confused, I went to the only safe place I knew. Magic has always been my first love. Sure, we’ve had a rocky past, but it has always been there for me when times get tough.

I couldn’t play.

I hated the idea of playing Magic. I couldn’t understand why my gut cringed at the very idea of playing, so I just sat staring through the log in page. Head in hands, I stayed motionless for hours. My mind constantly tried to answer all of the why, what if, and better than questions. I was lost.

“I should go to the casino!”

There is a casino about three hours from Roanoke that I had always wanted to go to but just never found the time with so many other things going on in my life. This was the perfect time to take a trip to do some gambling! “It will clear your head and give you a place to escape for a couple of days,” I told myself as I packed my suitcase around midnight.

“I am an idiot!”

As I turned onto the interstate, a voice popped into my head. It was Todd telling me something about calling him before I did something stupid. I didn’t really remember because I had Imagine Dragons blasting out of the speakers and was ready to go radioactive. The car ride wasn’t much better. The only solace found was when I got too distracted from weaving in and out of traffic to think about anything else.

“This is a bad idea, this is a bad idea, this is a bad idea. Where are your table games?”

Even though I made the trip for poker, I knew that I was far too tired to play well, so the only thing to do was to hit the blackjack table. I just needed to stay up until seven so I could check into my hotel room without having to get it for an extra night.

Next level grinder maneuver!

I’m not going to go into too much detail here. But long story short, I won five thousand dollars, and it wasn’t because of skill. It was actually a side game at the blackjack table that just so happened to be called “Lady Luck.”

You win this round, irony!

I decided to call Todd since I was happy. I mean, I just won five thousand dollars! How could you not be happy? Physically holding that much cash is really sweet! It’s not life-changing money or anything, but that’s already happened anyway!

“What happened?”

He answered in a panic since it was so early in the morning and quickly realized two things. The first was that even when I run bad and play worse I still run hotter than the sun. The second was that he better get on the road because I was not in control of myself at all! We had a good time at the casino and even won a little bit more money. We got some sleep and then started our journey back to Roanoke.

He was going back to his life, and I was going back to reality.

The first thing I did when I got home was slam a wad of cash that was rolled in a rubber band onto my desk. “Not a bad trip at all,” I told myself. To my surprise, I looked around my room and quickly realized that nothing had changed. Her abandoned things were littered all around me. Memories from days ago came rushing back, and once again I was frozen in thought. I quickly regressed into the emotional state that caused my escape in the first place. But why? I just returned home with over five thousand dollars. How on earth didn’t that help?

I was once again staring into the distance, but this time my focus was on the money instead of Magic. I started to hate it. I hated the fact that I hated it. I couldn’t understand the feelings I had, but more importantly, I couldn’t stop feeling them. I spent countless hours frozen in silence as my brain uncontrollably raced through various scenarios trying to find the answers why.

“Why did she leave me?”

“What did I do wrong?”

“Why wasn’t I enough?”

These three questions rattled around in my brain for two excruciatingly long days. I didn’t know how to deal with my emotions because I always chose not to. For some reason, I wasn’t able to handle difficult feelings the same way I always had in the past. I wasn’t able to bottle them up and ignore them.

Then the phone rang.

It was my father telling me that my Uncle Jason had passed away. He had been fighting cancer since they discovered it in February this past year. It was sad, but we knew that it was inevitable given the circumstances. I packed my suitcase once again and booked a last-minute flight back to North Dakota.

The flights were long and confusing. I didn’t really know what to think about. On one hand, my own life was in turmoil from the most recent separation, but on the other, my uncle had passed away so I had to be strong for my family. I had to be there for them, but how?

I again tried to bottle it all up, and again it didn’t go anywhere.

As I headed to my father’s house, I had no clue what to expect. I didn’t know what state he was going to be in. No clue what he was going to want to talk about. I didn’t even know if I was strong enough to have an intense conversation. I especially didn’t know that this conversation was going to change the way I see myself forever.

There was no ice to break. We both understood the severity of the situation and quickly dived into a very deep conversation about life, loss, and family. I hadn’t experienced much death yet in my life. I lost both of my grandfathers when I was younger but hadn’t been to a funeral since I understood my own mortality. It is a much different experience. I expressed this to my father, and he in turn shared a story about my uncle.

A few months ago, my father was in the hospital with my uncle during a conversation with a therapist. The doctor asked my uncle,” How are you embracing your suffering?” An odd question indeed, and one my uncle had never put any thought into. I mean, who would? How could you embrace the fact that cancer is taking your life away from you? It took him some time to fully digest the question, but he found his answer.

My father did his best to paraphrase my uncle’s profound answer.

“Before the cancer, Jason lived in Denver, Colorado. He enjoyed mountain climbing, motorcycling, and other “high risk” hobbies. Any one of these could have resulted in an accident that may have taken his life. Along with his life, he would have also lost the chance to reconnect and find closure with his entire family and loved ones.

He moved back to North Dakota to be with family during these troubling times. From this, he was able to reconnect with his daughter; rekindle his relationship with the love of his life; and get closer to his mother, brothers, and the rest of his family. He was able to get closure in the purest way. To have face-to-face conversations with everyone and spend pure time with the people he loved. When the quantity of life becomes constricted, the quality becomes that much more important.

There are two options whenever something bad happens in your life—you can either become bitter or better.”

My mind was blown. I never dreamed that a person could look at tragedy in this light. With death staring him in the face, my uncle could still see the good that it brought.

I ended up staying in North Dakota for a while since Thanksgiving was right around the corner. Most of my time was spent with family and friends, and the rest was spent reflecting on the most recent events. Even though I had a ton to process, my mind kept coming back to why I couldn’t get myself to play Magic.

I didn’t even keep up with Magic while I was away. I knew that Todd qualified for the Pro Tour and Owen Turtenwald finally began to run average, but other than that I was in the dark. I tried a triple Innistrad draft while I had some downtime but dropped in the middle of game 1 of the Top 4. Magic just wasn’t fun.

I was scared that I might just be done with the game. That possibly I no longer enjoyed playing Magic. That I may have only thought I liked the game because of how tied it was to my financial security. I was lost.

“But you love Magic,” my family members said to me when I expressed these feelings to them. I also hated it, and I didn’t understand why. Deep down my gut told me I loved this game, but here I was questioning it.

“How am I embracing my suffering?”

I thought back to the question my uncle was asked when he was months away from his deathbed. He found the most optimistic approach to his situation and figured out how much of a gift it was. He had cancer that took his life but still found acceptance before his last days. I had a broken heart over the loss of two loved ones yet could only selfishly find pain.

Things had to change.

I decided to start writing. I wrote down my feelings, and those emotional thoughts turned into this article. Just like when I build a deck, I went through multiple versions and iterations. Each time I sat down to write, I would realize something new about myself and my relationships. In turn, I had to change something in the article since that wasn’t what I believed anymore. It constantly evolved because I constantly evolved. Being able to see my thoughts allowed me to organize them, think about them one at a time, and finally digest them. I didn’t even know if anyone was ever going to see the article, but I wanted to write it.

After countless hours, I finally hit a breakthrough. I found the hole in the way I looked at life. Many of you have probably already figured this out, but I never said I was a fast learner. Until this moment, I always thought I would get a chance to finish each chapter in my life. That I would always have an opportunity to fix any problem I had in my life. If there was a problem in a relationship, I would be informed and be able to make the repairs. I wouldn’t lose any of my family members. Even though it’s a fact of life, I was able to ignore it since it hadn’t really happened yet. I would be able to lose the weight before diabetes set in or stop smoking before I got lung cancer. I always thought that all wrongs could eventually be made right. No significant punishment would ever come from my actions.

This level of procrastination was the reason why I spent so much of my free time playing Magic over the last decade. It was all I wanted to do, and the other stuff could be put on the backburner since I would always have enough time to deal with them. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve said,” Can I call you back, Dad? I’m in a Daily Event.” It pains me to even think about it now.

This is why I couldn’t get myself to play Magic and why I hated the money. For the first time in my life, I wasn’t able to fix the things that matter most to me. Instead of blaming the true culprit, I shamefully accused the things I have always used as a crutch for short-term happiness. The quest to find instant gratification has always been my way of life. When things got rocky, I could easily find ways to make myself happy.

The thing is that anything can be abused in life. For me, that thing was Magic. I never really had a healthy relationship with it. The game quickly turned into my only hobby, then became an outlet for competition, and finally became an obsession. Luckily Magic was my addiction and not something much more harmful like drugs. Honestly, I think I have to thank Magic for that. Without it, my life could have ended up poorly.

You see, Magic is actually the greatest thing that has ever happened to me. It gave me the chance to travel the world and meet the most amazing people and taught me that I was capable of anything. Before Magic, I was prepared for a life of mediocrity. I was content skating through life and never being challenged. Magic makes me happy, but for the first time in my life, I realized it doesn’t dictate my happiness.

I do.

To find this happiness, I now know my life needs balance. This is something I have been living without for a very long time. I have to give up seeking instant gratification and start creating a life that can be filled with long-term happiness. I can safely say that Magic will always be a major part of my life, and that makes me happy. It just will no longer be my only source of happiness. There are enough hours in the day to continue to put as much effort into the game as I always have and still accomplish other things that will make me a better person. I just have to start doing instead of just saying. Right now those things are eating right, working out, and living a healthy lifestyle. After that, who knows, maybe I will go after Cedric’s job. [Editor’s Note: Wait . . . what?!]

Uncle Jason

This article is dedicated to my Uncle Jason, a fan to the end.

He lived his life to the fullest every day and was never afraid to redefine himself. I didn’t get to spend much time with him in his last months. I did however stay with him in Colorado for over a week right after Pro Tour Paris in 2011. During this time, our relationship transcended from just being uncle and nephew. For the first time ever, we talked as men sharing stories of debauchery, relationships, hardships, and victories.

Looking back, that is my favorite memory of him. Sure, we have many other stories, but that is the one I will cherish the most. You don’t really know what moments in your life are going to be the ones you hold on to the most. Some seem so important today but are gone tomorrow. Others seem so meaningless in the abstract but have the biggest impacts on our lives down the road. It really makes you think about how important it truly is to experience everything that happens in your life in present time.

To cherish this exact moment. Because you never know when it all will change.