The Break from Magic
I got back from my vacation just this last Friday.
Spending time with my family during Christmas was a good
thing; I got to laze around for a while, eat the
ridiculous food that you can find all around New
Orleans, and see the people in my family, most
importantly my 2-year-old niece who is the most amazing
kid to play with in the worldÖ.well, at least sometimes.
Where does this go regarding Magic? Well, I spent about
two weeks refusing to have anything to do with Magic
cards. I didnít draft, didnít wrangle with rules
questions, didnít haggle with people for cards that I
need for the foil 8th edition set that Iíve nearly
managed to complete, didnít see a single person that
played Magic. Nothing.
For the weeks before this, the drafts that I had
participated in had declined considerably in quality; by
saying that, I mean I drafted like absolute poop. I
couldnít put together a single deck that was really
worthwhile. It wasnít simply a run of bad luck; I wasnít
seeing what was happening during the draft. When it
would come time to make significant choices during a
draft, I would almost make mechanical choices to the
point that they were overriding what was the better play
in favor ofÖsomething else.
Let me describe the last draft I did before I left.
While it was on Magic Online, itís the best example of
what I felt like happens when you just arenít on your
Early picks in the draft were solid black; while I am
not a huge fan of being the black drafter a lot of the
time, Iíll take it if itís looking solid. Then,
suddenly, at some point during the second pack I look at
my picks and say to myself, ďWait a minuteÖwhat are
these green cards doing here?Ē
Just by making mechanical choices, Iíd somehow managed
to draft this horrible, non-synergistic beast of a G/B
deck. While there were some decent enough cards in the
deck, I also had a pair of Nim Shreikers in the deck
that didnít have enough artifacts or equipment to really
support them. I had a severe dearth of green tricks for
the deck, no Strikes. Basically, I had a big pile of
doo-doo that wasnít going to win a game no matter what I
did with it.
It wasnít just my Magic-playing that had deteriorated.
The end of the semester had proven to be extremely
taxing for me, and I had seen some real inability to
accomplish goals that I set out for myself. Running
tournaments became a challenge, and I wasnít easily able
to communicate what I wanted to do. Rulings escaped me.
I even made mistakes in things like playing
Counterstrike and DJíing; basically, whether it was work
or fun, it took a good deal more work to do well than I
was used to.
Letís move forward to the present. In two drafts Iíve
done, Iíve won one and failed to win another, though I
felt like the deck that I played was much better than
the decks I had been drafting in the previous weeks.
Playing the decks was smoother; fewer mistakes were
made, and I did a better job of managing the game in
each situation. Iím still doing the best I can to get
some things in order (like my schedule for these
articles, Iím trying, honest!), but I feel a lot more
ready to take on these sorts of tasks.
I know, I knowÖback to Magic. The point is, Iíve taken
the approach at times that countless hours and hours of
playtesting are supposed to make you a better player,
and are supposed to help make sure that you are prepared
for whatever event it is: PTQ, FNM, even random drafts.
Some people have the theory that if you do nothing but
play Magic, then somehow you will be more in tune with
the game. Immersing yourself in the game can, in theory,
give you some sort of edgeÖand for some people, it
But the question to really ask is this: does that work
It is very likely that the answer to that is, ďNo.Ē
Simply put, playing a game like Magic is extremely
draining in its own way. Player go through a great deal
of stress while going through the motions of a major
tournament; I can tell you that when youíre in the
second day of a major event (Pro Tour or Grand Prix),
you will wear down at some point. Mental mistakes can
occur simply due to fatigue; during the second day of
PT-Houston in 2002, I made a mistake with Rebels against
Mark Ziegner in round 11, searching for the incorrect
creature with a Lin Sivvi (a Defiant Vanguard instead of
a Nightwind Glider when he had a Thrashing Wumpus out).
I canít explain the error other than being extremely
tired, but the mistake cost me the chance to finish in
the money at that event.
Just because you arenít playing in a Pro Tour doesnít
mean that you arenít going through similar things
yourself. Not only does this happen in a more
concentrated fashion during a tournament, you can also
see this over the long run in the way you play any game.
Stress brings it on; so does frustration, boredom,
whatever else you might deal with. Frankly, from my
perspective, routine is one of the worst things that
Magic can be, simply because if itís routine, you arenít
really thinking about it. If you arenít thinking about
it, you probably arenít enjoying it, nor is it likely
that you are winning much.
So what do you need to do to break this routine? In my
case, taking up judging and organizing events has been a
big help. It gave me a way to enjoy the game when I
really didnít have money to play a lot, and it helped
make me a better player by forcing me to learn the rules
much more thoroughly than I had before. Knowing the
floor rules and the way certain cards interact has
become invaluable to me, helping to smooth out a lot of
situations before they could become problems, but just
as much as it accomplished that it also distanced me
from the players and from the game, forcing me to look
at both through a different set of eyes.
Even that becomes too much at times, though, just as
anything can. Doyle Brunsonís Super System deals with
strategy for poker, with tips for games ranging from
Stud to Hold Ďem. The opening section, though, deal with
various guidelines on how to approach the game from the
beginning, such as how to manage money and time. And,
right there, in the opening pages, is a section labeled,
ďActually Schedule Vacations.Ē
The point there is just the same as here: in order to
become better at what you do, sometimes you need to get
away from it. Itís more of a guideline to life than
specifically to cards, maybe, but itís one that can
serve you well no matter how you take it. Taking time to
back off from what you enjoy will actually help you to
enjoy it more, and allow you to take more from this game
that I think we all enjoy playing.
Next time youíre thinking of going to another
tournament, and itís just going to be another day at
workÖ.do something else. Take a break, take a vacation
and do something good for yourself.
If youíre preparing for a tournament (like I know some
of you might be for Amsterdam), take the last few days
before the event and just relax. Youíve probably tested
enough, and itíll do you more good if you feel good
going into the event than if you play day and night
until you wonder why youíre seeing 5-colored spots in
front of your eyes.
Sigmundí on IRC (EFNet)
Sigmund on Modo