2020 has been the longest year in the entirety of my life. Each day drags and I feel like Artax from The NeverEnding Story just slogging through the Swamp of Sadness.
Haha ruined your childhood.
One of the hardest things about 2020 has been the lack of in-person tournaments and events. For decades, my life revolved around traveling for Magic tournaments and then all of a sudden—poof. Sure, local game stores are starting to reopen, and that facet of normalcy is returning slowly, but without all the prereleases and midnight launch events, things have felt off.
With so much free time I think I accidentally burned myself out on Commander. Whoops! When I wasn't working or watching my son, I was building decks. My video watched history was filled with tons of pod matches both live, over webcam, or online. Finally, when things started to calm down, I sat back a few nights ago with the intent to build something new.
And I did not want to.
I tried! I scoured various websites looking for commanders that were just released to see what tickled my fancy, but nothing did. Everything felt like something I've done already, and I had no drive to brew or build. My night devolved into Netflix and no chill. I realized I had burned myself out on Commander without even playing it every week like I used to.
I sourced a few friends and asked their opinions. What do you do when you're burnt out? Do you just step away for a few months, or are there other avenues you can take?
Turns out you can avoid burnout while still playing Magic. Go figure.
Probably my biggest mental hurdle to fight through was "I've done this before." I checked out Kinnan, Bonder Prodigy.
There were things I liked, but I felt like I've already done Elf-themed decks before. Looking at it further felt pointless.
Without a doubt one of my biggest weaknesses as a Magic player is being able to leave my comfort zones and venture into unknown waters. Why did my mind go to one place instantly instead of figuring out what else something like Kinnan, Bonder Prodigy would be good as? Our instincts, like baby turtles returning to sea, send us in one direction every time. What if instead of Elves I built a Simic Ramp deck that made the most of big and flashy creatures and noncreature permanents to get to their activated abilities quickly. I can imagine a world slamming Hornet Queen into play off Kinnan, Bonder Prodigy's ability on turn four and then riding Kinnan to victory.
Kinnan, Bonder Prodigy is my example of what happens when you decide to stop thinking one way and go another, completely different one.
This turns into an exercise in creativity. It takes your mind off of the burnout because you're no longer focusing on your failures, but instead your possibilities as a deck builder. Getting out of that comfort zone and into a new way of thinking can make the Commander experience that much more enjoyable.
Catharsis is the mother of all invention. When I'm riding the burnout train, I turn to my play group to help me. Sometimes outside perspectives can change your view and help you ease yourself out of what can be an overwhelming state of mind. Your friends aren't just people you play Magic with: they're a support system.
Addressing your concerns with your friends makes for another exercise in your limits as a Magic player. Often we feel embarrassed to open up about our emotional states to our groups—it feels like showing a weakness, not only as a player but as a person. I struggled with my burnout because I hid it for a while. I whittled myself down from seven decks to one because I couldn't stand playing the other ones anymore. They reminded me of the things I thought I wanted, but in the end were representative of the kind of Magic I'm so used to playing that they showcased my failures rather than fun.
I built two different kinds of artifact ramp decks. Mill was fun, but you can only do so much with it and the limited card pool it presents before boredom sets in. Omnath, Locus of the Roil was a Field of the Dead deck that ramped, played Field, and then won off the back of dozens of Zombies and card draw. It did the same thing every game. Sometimes you'd play Avenger of Zendikar and make big plants, but that was easy to see coming and play around. If it didn't win with Field of the Dead, it didn't win. That got boring very quickly. Kroxa, Titan of Death's Hunger made sure hands were empty, and that everyone hated you because they were living off the top of their deck or punished for tapping lands. It was too many angles that made for unfun games.
You have to talk to your locals about the kinds of fun they're having, too. If playing against Kroxa, Titan of Death's Hunger feels like more of a chore than a fun game, eventually you put it away and it sits in your bag for weeks before being another victim of the binder. In my case, this conversation brought us to talk about the newly spoiled Tinybones, Trinket Thief.
This belongs in a dedicated discard deck like Kroxa, Titan of Death's Hunger, sure, but instead of playing cards that made everyone discard their hands what if it played targeted hand disruption so you could spread the love? Everyone can still play, you keep the table in check, and as a mono-black deck you have multiple avenues of victory to explore. Slide in The Haunt of Hightower as your splashy win condition instead of recurring Kroxa, Titan of Death's Hunger over again and slowly bleeding the table to death. No more Citadel of Pain. You are constraining yourself to a singular strategy that you can customize with a huge pool of cards. Play whacky cards like Greel, Mind Raker. You get to play what you want, but with a table that is surely less angry at you.
When I started to realize I was burning out I was instantly down on myself. Like I said, Magic is such a huge part of my life that by proxy Commander is, too. When I don't have that release of playing with decks that interest me, it's so easy to think "wow, I really must suck if I can't even enjoy this hobby that's supposed to be my joy." This can then bleed into my personal and actual life. Maybe I'm unique in that way, but then again, maybe I'm not and this is what you need to hear.
Being kind to yourself is more than just saying "it's ok to feel this way," it's also realizing that you're not a bad person for feeling a lack of happiness with what is supposed to bring you happiness. You're not finicky or choosey or hot and cold. Magic, like all things, is something that can cause you to doubt yourself.
When I sat there and looked over the internet for something that could spark joy and yet found nothing, I wasn't kind to myself. It impacted my actual mood and how I interacted with others. My escapism was affected and thus, my frame of mind shifted.
When I finally reached out to my friends and explained this they were very supportive and offered me multiple ideas to quell what was bugging me. Being kind means utilizing your resources. I even talked to my wife about it, because burnout is also symptomatic of bigger problems in your life.
Don't let yourself down.
Just writing this has been extremely cathartic and reenergized me into making something new and incredibly out of what I usually would. It's time to start putting Tinybones, Trinket Thief together. It's time to look back at Kinnan, Bonder Prodigy and build a deck that I usually wouldn't. It's time to honestly tell myself that it's okay to be burnt out, while at the same time, using creativity to try and beat it.
I hope you needed to hear this. I know I did.