Next week we will be head deep in Magic content as we scour Oath of the Gatewatch for gems and sleepers. This week, I wanted to take some time while we await the newest set to talk about something more than cards. Magic, at its core, might be a game of symbols written on pieces of paper, but it has grown to become so much more than that. It is a community, a haven, a stage, an experience. Each of us contributes our own story to the collective and it is a beautiful thing. Today I would like to share a little more of my story.
As many of you may have noticed, 2015 was a bit of a strange year for me but it was also the most amazing year of my life in many ways. During 2014, I was not having a lot of success when it came to Magic. Making Day 2 at a Grand Prix was a struggle. I was not mechanically worse at the game than previously, but my heart was not into it the way I once was. I was slacking when it came to preparation for tournaments and my brewing was hardly as inspired as I wanted it to be. I have played Magic for a very long and losing is something you come to accept, as it is just part of the game, but when you begin to lose over and over, with little relief in between, it adds up.
I think that if losing were the only thing going on, I probably could have fought through it, but life has also been knocking for a while and I had neglected opening the door. Magic is an amazing game and it means a lot of things to a lot of people, but for me, it was almost too many things. It was my job, my hobby, my social network, my creative outlet, my competitive outlet, my writing material and my media consumption. It is incredible that Magic can fill all of those roles, but I was running at max speed for a little too long and I needed a break. I knew I couldn't step away from Magic altogether, as it was so intertwined with my life, but I needed to lose it in certain areas. I found myself qualified for the Pro Tour through Khans of Tarkir in Hawaii and whether I wanted to admit it at the time or not, I think I had already checked out mentally and welcomed that outcome. I certainly did not want to lose, but I was prepared to, which was a strange feeling.
After Hawaii I finally had an excuse to take a step back. When you are qualified for everything, there is enormous pressure to go to those things in order to stay qualified. With a little breathing room, I felt it was time to make some changes.
Early on in my Magic career, I remember a distinct time where I brewed everything. I didn't filter anything. Some of the worst ideas you can ever imagine were decks I would sleeve up and battle with only to be quickly shown just how poor they actually were. I tried combo decks, aggro, control, durdly do-nothing decks -- there was not a color or archetype that was safe from my madness. Looking back, this was a good period of time for me as I tested my limits and figured out what I enjoyed as a Magic player. What I did not realize then, however, was that while I was doing this in the game, I was not doing this in life. I started playing Magic when I was 17. That, and the following five or so years are probably the most exploration-filled years of your life, or at least they should be. I did a ton of exploring in those years myself, it was just all Magic or Magic-related.
With my break, I wanted to use some of my newfound time to explore a little of the world I had neglected for too long. What tipped me off most to this was the huge difference in my confidence level when it came to Magic versus basically anything else. I knew my way around Magic and my place in it, but what about everything else? I was slacking off when it came to work, personal relationships, personal health, and overall my happiness. I had relied on Magic to drive these areas and now that it was gone so I was forced to make changes or be miserable.
Being miserable is the easier of these options and I won't lie and say I didn't do my fair share of it, but eventually you need to get up and be happy again. So I began exploring, only this time I was not hiding behind a hand of seven cards. Now I was out spending Wednesday night at the Western-themed night club or Friday night out playing pool with friends. Much like my early Magic days, it didn't really matter what I was doing so long as I was doing something. I was learning about myself.
This moment in time can feel like chaos. You might feel like you are not going any particular direction and the comfort of your previous routine will come calling, but resist the urge. Change feels uncomfortable until it doesn't.
Change (Just Dance)
Fourteen months ago, I had essentially never danced in my life. You see, I have always been a very competitive person and rather than embarrass myself by losing or being bad at things, I would generally just avoid them altogether. For 28 years I assumed I was bad at dancing and had no desire to try it. I would actively avoid concerts or settings in which dance was an expected activity. You would not see me dance in the car or even with my friends. If I ever did dance, it probably barely passed for such and was likely under the influence of alcohol. 14 months ago, I would have been willing to bet I would never dance in my life and I was prepared for that. I had gone 28 years without doing it, I was 370 lbs., and I thought I was happier not doing it, so why would it even come up?
Well while I was exploring and testing the waters, an opportunity came up to attend a show at Red Rocks. It was a musical style I had developed a dislike for, mostly due to ignorance, but it was an experience, so I decided to give it a shot. Everything kind of came together as I saw thousands of people dancing, doing whatever they wanted, under this umbrella of music. I am not sure why, but something just clicked in me and I felt no need to hold on to whatever burden I had been carrying, whatever fear that was holding me back from being me. So I danced. Not particularly well, but I enjoyed myself for the first time at a concert and that was a big step for me. I let go of worrying about how I looked or that I might fail and instead embraced that this was something I actually could not fail at.
The parallel to Magic just seemed to continue. You see, while you can always lose a game of Magic, if you find what you love about the game, not about winning, but about the game, you can never fail at that thing. I discovered long ago that I loved building decks. I loved channeling my creativity and my intelligence into a product. Winning with that product was an amazing bonus, but losing with that product didn't mean failure. Sometimes I regretted my deck choice or my play decisions, but I never regretted the time I put into the process. I enjoyed that time and that was the driving force for me. I kept coming back because that was what I wanted to be doing. When you play Magic, you don't have a ton of time to do other things, but that doesn't mean you don't have the capacity to love other things.
Music, and subsequently dance, became more commonplace in my life. I found myself going to one or two shows a month. That eventually turned into a show a week, which eventually turned into multiple shows a week. Over time I got more and more into dance. I began watching dance content online and reading about various styles. For months I had just been doing whatever my body wanted to do, but now I began to focus my efforts a little more and work on specific areas that I felt weak in.
The process was the same process I had done for Magic and it felt just as fun and exciting to experience. Passion is such an unpredictable thing. Just a few months earlier I would have sold you my ability to dance for 100 bucks and now I was paying other people just for the chance to dance again.
Dancing became a catalyst for change in my life. It touched on so many areas that I had neglected in favor of Magic. I began to notice myself losing weight. While I was not dieting, simply increasing my activity level was having a real impact. I was also putting myself in a nightlife setting all of the time, so my social skills and interactions began to improve. Experience has always turned into confidence with me and now I was experiencing something totally new and different.
Today, I am almost 160 pounds lighter than I was 14 months ago. I have a new passion that I once actively avoided. All of my logic and forethought would have never lead me down such a path. I just needed to make some changes and try some new things to create some momentum for myself.
I honestly had no reason to explore dancing in the first place. By all accounts it was something I could easily avoid. I just so happened to stumble out of my comfort zone and into something I loved. But how else do we ever arrive at something we love? We do not get bred for a specific task. We are not assigned a passion at a certain age and told to make it work. We are creatures that discover things and with each new discovery comes an opportunity for passion to be born. If you never discover anything new, what is sparking that fire? What about routine allows you to feel any different than you do right now? If you are happy, then routine might be perfect, but if you are unhappy, a routine can be your worst enemy.
Magic very much encourages routine. The game is incredibly complex with all sorts of moving pieces, so finding something that works for you and sticking to it comes with many benefits. Deviating from that might seem risky or unnecessary, but ask yourself what you gain by not changing. If you are unhappy and you recognize that, what about that is worth protecting?
Change is scary. I understand that better than most. It took me 28 years to leave the comfort of my no-dance bubble and now I am honestly having the best time of my life. For years I read about how awesome dance was. I watched professionals do amazing things with their body. I read about how dancers make for better lovers and all of the clichés. None of that made me want to dance more. The only thing that made me want to dance more was dancing. Change is scary, but once you discover what you might be missing without it, the idea of not changing is terrifying.
Magic, Life, Happiness
Some of you reading probably feel stuck in Magic. Maybe you consider yourself bad at Constructed, or bad at combo. Maybe you are worried about playing budget decks in Modern because they can't win. Or maybe you avoid Sealed deck because it's "too luck based." Whatever assumptions you hold about the game, or about life, I ask you to question them. You might very well return with the same answer you already assumed, but at least that assumption becomes something more reliable. And in the chance that your assumption proves wrong, you might just discover the thing that changes your Magic career, or your life, forever.
Buy that paint set and alter that card art you have been thinking about for months. Finally download Magic Online and begin testing nightly for that PTQ at the end of the month. Pack your bags and travel to your first Grand Prix. Sometimes the life you want to live is as easy as letting yourself live it.
To all of you going through your own journey: stay strong and stay true to yourself. It gets so much better. Thanks for reading!
PS: I recently began recording some of my dance practice sessions. I had many questions about my style of dance and whatnot, so I wanted to get something up. I need to get a new camera and some editing software for the next set of videos, but for anyone curious about my dancing, you can check out videos on my Facebook here.