It sure doesn't seem like it, but this January marks four years of writing for TCGplayer. It certainly doesn't seem like four years, but the math doesn't lie!

Over the course of the years, I've mostly talked about judging topics like catching slow play, administering penalties, running locals, how to prepare for Regional Qualifiers and so on. And half of the time, I've answered rules, policy and card-related questions sent to All the while, I've also juggled a full-time job and a personal life. And in these last four years, it comes to mind that this juggling is something I've always struggled with but never put to words.

Because who cares, right?

But as I was looking for a topic for this week's Black and White and wondering how much time could I fit into just pondering topics of discussion instead of typing an actual Word document, I realized that I'm not the only one that goes through this, and I'm not just referring to my writing colleagues. All of us involved in the trading card game hobby have to balance game time with everything else, whether we're consciously thinking about it or not. But now that it's at the front of my mind, now's a good time to address it!

Card Games As A Whole
On its face, whether it be Yu-Gi-Oh, Magic: The Gathering, Pokemon, Hearthstone or anything else, a card game is a game. For the most part, players make purchases to participate in it and there's no real material return on investment. What you get out of your time spent and your monetary expenditures is supposed to be the experience of playing the game; the social interaction, the high-level competition and the chance at prizes that can't normally be acquired elsewhere.

A positive financial return on investment from a trading card game is atypical, and it's important to keep that in mind because when you start sinking more and more time into a TCG, you're taking time away from something else. Sure, TCG's are fun, but for the most part it's a hobby. It's not income-generating for a large portion of any game's playerbase and should always be viewed as such.

Even the ones whose livelihoods are centered around the games industry don't make their livings on tournament winnings alone. Outlier cases exist, of course, but again, it's not the standard.

Time Management And Other Boring Economic Terms
Time is a static resource. You only get 24 hours in a day, and 6 to 8 hours of those are spent sleeping. If you work or go to school full time, that's 7 or 8 hours a day during the week, and then the rest of that is, in theory, yours to do as you please.

In actuality, those eight-or-so "free" hours aren't actually free since Real Life requires some attention no matter what your situation is. If you're living at home and still going to school, you have homework, studies and some amount of extracurricular activities to contend with, on top of housework, chores and other family obligations. If you're in college your time's a little more flexible since you're an adult capable of making adult decisions about your own time management – but let's be real; you can choose to have ice cream and waffles for dinner and because you're over 18, that's technically an adult decision. So somewhere in those extra spaces of time left over, if you want to indulge in trading card game shenaniganry, that's a valid option.

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I mentioned all of that because at the end of the day, it still adds up to 24 hours. A concept of economics that I'm a real fan of applies in a lot of ways to decision making: it's called "opportunity cost." There's a specific definition in the finance world for opportunity cost, but speaking in a very general sense, when you're making a decision, you have to give up taking one option to go for another one.

Giving up the option you didn't go for is considered an opportunity cost. So for instance, if you're doing family or school-related tasks, that's less time to dedicate for the extra things like card games. Likewise, devoting more time to the hobby means less time for everything else: other social activities, studies, movies and television and such.

If you got this far, you may be wondering "how does this all relate to me playing Yu-Gi-Oh?"

Plan Everything Out Accordingly, Then Make Difficult Choices
This last part is something I just neglected to do in my own life until very recently. If you have a goal, you need to determine what's needed to make it happen. Any goal you set for yourself takes time to accomplish and anything worth doing doesn't happen overnight. Accomplishing your goals means making incremental progress over time, and that means dedicating small bits of time to it over an extended period.

But as I mentioned before, taking time to do one thing means not doing something else. And this is where we get down to brass tacks: how much time can one actually dedicate to a TCG? Or, how much time should one dedicate? The answer is "it depends on what you're giving up to do so."

For a long while, I had a goal of qualifying for the WCQ as a player. I took pride in brewing my own decks, taking them to locals to refine, and trying them at Regionals. Even if they were strategies that had already proven themselves, I had the process of looking at my set binders, grabbing the sorted piles of commons and putting preliminary lists together as a starting point, doing the refining process myself before taking the pile to a local and seeing it in action. It took time, but it was something I really enjoyed and wanted to do.

And this went on for years.

Remember, I started playing in 2006. In 2008, I started judging and my priorities shifted. The time I spent on deck crafting and testing went down, not because I consciously stopped it; that time was simply taken up by something else. Judging events took priority in 2009, and even though I eventually did earn my invite at a Regional in 2010, I opted to judge in the 2011 WCQ as that was my priority.

Fast forward to 2015. I Head Judged the WCQ, a great honor for any judge, but once again, playing and testing was on the back burner. And now it's 2017, and looking back at 2016 I can once again see where my priorities were. My judging resume was not especially padded last year. I showed up at YCS Las Vegas and the WCQ for livestream Feature Match duties. I was at Worlds for livestream, but not as a judge, and the other three YCS's I was present for - Atlanta, Providence and Minneapolis - were as a coverage writer.

Again, those are choices I made. I prioritized experience as a writer more than I did the experience as a judge. I played in both UDS Invitationals in 2016 – Los Angeles and Chicago – but only made Day 2 in the Winter Invitational. As the Winter 2017 Invitational approaches, my UDS Points are nowhere near the requisite 100 and there aren't enough local events to grind up.

For me, the opportunity cost of being a coverage writer was missing out on the UDS Winter Invitational 2017 and a chance at the Big Gold Belt. Had I judged in those three additional YCS's, that would've been another 60 points in total, and I'd be playing in Las Vegas in March, but again, these are the choices I made. I decided to go after one thing, and something else slipped away.

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And now, here comes the difficult choices. I never consciously decided to give up playing, nor did I consciously decide to give up judging. But I'm suddenly looking at playing, judging, writing both here and on my personal blog, and streaming in addition to The Rest Of Real Life that I'm afforded from the extra 8-or-so hours per day I'm not spending working or sleeping. And quite frankly, I can immediately say that doing all of it just isn't feasible.

I've spent the last 10 years playing this game. I have a slew of decks I've made, and almost all of them are out of format and can't be played with the current Advanced List. It's safe to say that updating those decks can be a fun endeavor, but from a competitive mindset, setting Evoltile Westlo isn't going to be winning me matches anytime soon. The last Regional I played in, I was one win away from earning my WCQ invite, but I came up short. The very next week, I lost in the finals of a Regional flight at a Public Event at the UDS Summer Invitational, once again falling one win short of the invite.

The time I've spent playing this game didn't return the satisfaction that I was seeking, even with a deck I was confident in. So from my perspective, playing this game on a competitive level is the first thing I can cut. What about judging? I'm still an asset here on TCGplayer, and I can still pass along knowledge to the current roster of judges in Black and White and in-person at Regionals, but my self-admitted selfish reason for judging Regionals was to get packs necessary to complete a set collection which facilitated my progress as a player. If I'm not competitively playing, the incentive for judging goes away too.

So, what does that mean for me? Well, you'll still see me at events… for now. But as I've just laid bare the priorities I've given myself over the last few years, maybe you'll see something you've wanted to do, but just haven't gotten around to. Perhaps there's a goal you're putting off, or you're chasing after something with no real solid plan for how to attain it. Maybe you're thinking "if I just keep doing what I'm doing, I'll get there."

Well, let my lesson from the last 10 years be yours; what are you doing with your eight hours?

-Joe Frankino

Have a question about card interactions, game mechanics or tournament policy? Send an e-mail (one question per e-mail please!) to and your question could be answered in a future edition of Court of Appeals!

Joe is a Yu-Gi-Oh! judge and player from Long Island, New York. You can read his non-TCG writings at and you can follow his gaming-related streams at He sometimes plays Yu-Gi-Oh! Legacy of the Duelist and plays the single player campaign using the decks provided by the game. Sometimes it's great. Other times, he makes his opponent discard two copies of Ojamagic.