Magic is in a weird place right now.

For some, it's an escape from the daunting reality that lies waiting for us outside our front doors.

For me, it's also been a constant reminder of my personal failures. 

It's so much easier to write about decks, cards, and how they are relevant to the current iteration of the metagame than to talk about mental strain and pressure people feel while playing the game. For weeks I've been churning out articles so far removed from the reality of how I currently experience Magic. It feels deceptive to share the good parts without sharing what the rest of my time is like.

Magic in the Time of COVID

It's just plain hard to find the fun in Magic right now. And based on the posts I regularly see on my social media feeds, I know I'm not the only one feeling this way. People are "retiring," taking breaks, or not playing games for weeks.

If you are primarily a competitive paper Magic player, you've had your tournament series' and weekend gatherings taken away from you.

If you are primarily a Magic Online player, the Super Qualifiers no longer exist. And even when they were around, you were qualifying for a diluted version of the tournament you expected to be playing in.

There's so much going on in the world right now that it feels awful for me to be complaining about enjoying Magic less. But I know I'm not the only one that feels this way, so here I am, blubbering to anyone who's lovely enough to still be reading this article.

It's been a few months of feeling like I'm falling out of love with something a past version of me wanted so badly. There's this constant question of "what now?" on my mind. What's next? What do I need to prepare for? What do I need to be doing to make myself feel relevant and still care about this game? But almost none of my "what now's" were about what would make me happy.

I forced myself to play games. I was miserable. I felt like if I wasn't doing something Magic-related for a few hours every day, I was failing. 

It made me put a lot of thought into my goals and wants for Magic, but I also started to pay attention to what would make me happy in Magic. 

I don't know that I'm able to answer this question for you, but here's the answer to my version of "what now":

#1 Playing More Casual Magic 

This has been a big one in improving my mood toward Magic.

My favorite format is Cube draft, and while it was available on MTG Arena, I drafted often. When the next cube drops on Magic Online, I'll probably put time into it as well. I've loved this so much that I'm in the process of designing a couple of cubes for myself, and I'm looking forward to sharing them.

Additionally, I've started working on a Commander deck. Most of my friends have built one over the past couple of months, and I'd love to be able to play with them, whether it's via Spell Table or from a few meters apart. 

The decks I'm working on are Atraxa, Praetors' Voice (I know, I know!) and Tinybones, Trinket Thief. I am definitely a fun person.

#2 Finding Ways to Gather

The social aspect of Magic isn't necessarily one I focus on when I'm in competition mode (i.e testing). But hanging out with friends and playing any form of non-serious Magic is hands down the best game-related feeling in the world. 

If it's an option for you, I encourage you to explore it. It doesn't have to be EDH—even dusting off the Pioneer decks we all built at the end of last year and playing some games online seems great. Those Legacy decks deserve to see the light of day. 

If you're interested in learning how to set up your computer space for online-webcam games, check out this article

I've even considered starting a podcast and not releasing it, just so I have a scheduled hour a week where I can have some fun with friends while talking about Magic.

What this boils down to is that I'm having the most fun when I'm able to engage with others. It's called Magic: The Gathering for a reason, and finding modified versions of "the gathering" has made me happier. 

#3: Recalibrating Goals

I've stopped forcing myself to play for hours in the name of it being my job. I don't play Magic unless I want to. I have to want to be playing or else it's just a miserable experience. 

The end result of a couple of weeks of this was that I actually wanted to go hard for the Players Tour I registered for. I prepared well. I registered a good deck. I played reasonably well. I recorded my games so I could go back and review them.*

I ultimately went 1-5-drop in that tournament. I'm not upset; it happens. I did what I could and there's no shame in scrubbing tournaments. Of course, I do wish I could've done better. But going back and approaching my "failure" from a constructive position of reviewing games, instead of just berating myself about being a bad player has been a level-up that took a while to pull off. 

Part of this process was acknowledging and accepting that I cared less about this event, mostly because of the reduced prize pool and no points being on the line. And that it was perfectly okay to care less when less was on the line. 

*I've taken to recording all of my matches during any match where there are stakes involved. It means I have the receipts when they're necessary, and can review my games. I also take them more seriously since there's the potential for other people to watch them at some point.

#4: Playing More Small Tournaments

I can't help it, I love competing. Even though we're still in the dark about what's happening with Organized Play and what the "official" future looks like, there are still avenues of competition. Thanks to sites like MTGMelee, tournament organizers from around the world are posting events for us to play.

I recently played in an Axion Now £3k cash event, which was run well by awesome staff. Star City Games have announced a series that people can qualify for. Not every organizer is holding cash tournaments, but the ability to win store credit in tournaments every day is available to us. 

If Magic Online is your thing, ManaTraders is running an awesome series for all to enter, and it gets much better if you're a subscriber. 

These are low-pressure situations, and it's up to you how invested you get, or whether you get invested at all. 

The Magic Arena ladder has never been able to hold my attention since I'm not eligible to play in the Mythic Invitational Qualifiers and there's no real rewards for doing well on the ladder. These tournaments are a nice way for me to be involved without the usual stress. 

#5: Forging Real Friendships

Magic really has a way of making you feel like you have to be constantly involved in it—both as a game and as a social event. 

I've spent a lot of time wondering how many friends I'd have or keep if I retired from the game. I used to be so sad thinking about how many friends I'd lose if I stopped playing. "How can I maintain a friendship based on a game, when I don't play the game?" I'd ask myself. 

The answer I came to eventually is a difficult one. 

If they're really your friend, and not just an acquaintance, you'll keep the friendship. If you don't, you weren't really that good of friends. You were just people that enjoyed hanging out together when it was convenient for you both. 

If you find yourself knowing that you'll lose someone (or a group of someones) by leaving the game and you'd like to prevent that, try building friendships with these people outside of Magic. Learn about their lives and get to know them as a person. 

The hardest thing I hear and have experienced is people being afraid to take breaks or step away because they don't want to lose their significant other. I hate to be the person to tell you this, but any relationship needs more than just a mutual hobby to survive. And if Magic is more than a hobby to you, then think of it like a job. You should be able to talk about more than just your job with your friends and partner.

* * *

My takeaway from all of this is that it's okay to want to take time away from Magic. It's okay to take that time and figure out the best and most enjoyable ways for you to enjoy the game. Whatever works for you is what you should be doing. 

Tomorrow, I'm fortunate enough to be attending a real-life pre-release. I don't know what distancing measures will be involved, but my state has been doing a good job managing the virus so it's a low-risk venture. It will be my first paper event since February, and I'm so excited to see people and actually open a booster pack.