Battle for Zendikar rapidly approaches and with it comes a lot of hype for the new set. Surely, if you go check out articles by other authors, you will find talk of spoilers and speculation, all of which is quite fun. I wanted to take a break from the norm today though to talk about Magic at a different time in our lives. Spoilers very much capture the joy of us all as we comb through our new toys, but what about those other times where Magic isn't able to provide that same excitement?
There was a point in my Magic career where I could not understand the idea of people walking away from the game. It was the greatest game on Earth and there were so many amazing things that accompanied it...why would someone want to cut that off? Over time, it became obvious that once you call yourself a "Magic player" you never really leave the game, but even extended breaks baffled me.
I was young and certainly naive, but I suppose the thought process was that this was something you loved so much and unless that thing changed drastically, I could not understand no longer loving it. And so long as I was loving the game, I expected to be playing it. Of course, if Magic changed into something else, like an online-only game, or the Pro Tour ceased to exist, I could definitely see moving on, but the game I loved and the community I loved don't seem to be going anywhere anytime soon.
What my ignorance failed to realize is that Magic is only one of the pieces involved that could change. I, myself could change, as could the world around me, my priorities, my passions. I always knew this would happen at some point, but I guess I just thought Magic would remain stationary at the top of my list while other things filled in below it. And that actually did happen for a while.
When you are on top of your game and winning, Magic can easily take that top spot because it seems to trickle down so well. A little extra money, some confidence, and that "winner's high" all make the rest of life a little more manageable and a little bit brighter. Even if you do poor for a while, you can look forward to your next successful finish or your next awesome brew because Magic constantly presents you with another opportunity for success.
But when a Drought hits and winning is no longer there to justify the time and energy you are spending on the game, things can shift around. When life happens, sometimes Magic needs to be put on the back burner or maybe your routine with it needs to change for a bit. That is perfectly natural, of course, but taking a break or a shift in priorities doesn't necessarily mean you want to be done with Magic altogether.
Today I wanted to discuss some of the things you can do to manage Magic when life hits. It makes sense that if Magic is not a life priority at the moment, you will not be able to dedicate the amount of time and energy to the game. With that said, you don't necessarily want to walk away from a game and community you love. What then are some of the best ways to balance Magic and life in times like these?
I play a lot of League of Legends at what I would call a casual-competitive level. I very much try hard and want to improve my skill at the game, but avoid things like ranked queue because I don't have the time to dedicate to it to reach my full potential, and the perfectionist in me just can't have that. But I enjoy the competitive side of the game very much. Learning high-level strategy and what influences the metagame is quite interesting to me. Unfortunately most of the games I play don't contain this behavior as I am not playing with the best of the best, but I still crave high-level approaches to the game.
One major way I quench this thirst is by watching content of high-level players, either individual streams, or broadcast tournaments. Through this I get to experience some high-level play and get to learn some about the game without actually playing it. I can watch a video on my phone in an airport or while in a cab, making the experience fit much easier into my day to day routine without asking me for a big time commitment.
It is very true that my individual mechanics are going to be rusty if this is the only source of competitive League of Legends I have, but I am still going to be much more on top of my game when I return to it than if I were to go cold turkey. I still know what characters are strong at the moment and which ways to maximize my power and I know of any new elements introduced to the game since I last played.
Magic has a similar element to it. While your mechanics are less reflex-based and are more mental, knowing tricks and shortcuts, you still lose them as you don't play for a while. You will need to reestablish good habits and start ridding yourself of bad ones, but your transition is still bound to be much smoother.
We live in an era where video and audio are so uniform that we are all a bit spoiled. I love watching a good draft video or Pro Tour Top 8 and as I just discussed, watching Magic content is a great way to stay relevant without staying active. But when it comes to Magic content, nothing gives more bang for its buck than an article.
If you sit down to watch a Pro draft, you will certainly learn some things, but you are also committing multiple hours of your life to do so and what you learn is a little random as what is experienced leads to what you learn. Maybe you learn about a cool new archetype to draft or maybe the pro just drafts the same known strategy as always, but runs into an interesting combat situation and that is the learning moment. When it comes to reading material though, the author tends to let you know what you will be reading about up front. Interested in building better mana bases? The sideboarding strategy of Caw-Blade mirrors? The newest Modern tech? You can pretty easily find entire articles dedicated to these individual topics which allows for much more specificity and depth about any particular topic you are interested in.
In addition, this specificity and depth comes in a much more lean and information packed vessel than a video will. You might watch dozens of games on video and walk away with bits of information about a particular topic and a bunch of bits of information about other topics. An article will probably take you 10 to 30 minutes to digest and will likely be loaded with information.
Even if you are not actively playing, the lessons that a well-written article can instill will often carry with you until you begin playing again. I know that personally, when I wanted to get serious about Magic, reading any and everything on the web was the best thing for me. I learned a ton and critically thought about what I was learning to develop my own variations and style. I probably spent more time thinking about Magic during those years than ever and yet my play was limited to maybe once a week. Learning doesn't take long, it just takes interest.
Chances are good that you can learn something from every article you read, even if the topic was something you feel comfortable with or even if the author doesn't have a packed trophy room at home. There is far too much material published these days to actually read it all, but find some reliable and informative websites or authors and read up!
Keeping Your Knowledge Limited
While watching Constructed Magic or reading about Constructed Magic is great, when Magic is taking a back seat, playing Constructed Magic can be exhausting. Constructed Magic requires so many more man hours to stay relevant in. While you can pick up any random deck and spike on occasion, realistically you need to put a ton of time into testing, learning the metagame, and then fine-tuning or even creating your deck. Often this entire process is just too taxing to keep up with.
Instead, if you told me you got to play one night a month, I would always recommend that night is spent playing Limited. I find Limited keeps the mind fresher than Constructed as it is always a series of new and unique events. While knowledge of the environment is important, it is also easier to achieve and the prep work going into any given event is a much smaller load. Limited is about playing with your cards against your opponents. The large scale cat and mouse game of picking a deck and developing technology gets boiled down into individual choices during the draft or deckbuilding and that is just so much easier to derive meaning from when you don't have the additional time to look into all of the bigger metagame.
Staying fresh in Limited helps keep you up to date on some cards without requiring that you go look at decklists for a few hours to even begin the conversation. Obviously your Limited knowledge is not going to cover all of Constructed, but it does make the transition easier to handle.
Most importantly I think that playing Limited keeps your mind in Magic mode. You still get to encounter combat tricks and alpha attacks, Mana Screw and top decks. Limited often uses the fundamentals in a much louder and more frequent way which will translate well into any and every form of Magic you wish to play when you return to the game in full swing.
Deckbuilding can be one of the most time intensive activities that a mage can get involved with so it makes some sense that this is one of the first things to go when a player takes a step away from the game. I know that during some of my breaks I was much more willing to just show up with a "netdeck" and see how things went because I didn't have the time to actually figure out something new and strong.
But one thing I have found to be very helpful and to keep me excited about the game is to jot down deck ideas and card synergies somewhere. Unlike full on brewing, you never need to actually turn these ideas into decks, but just thinking about them at all is a big win. If I am reading the new set's spoiler or see something in an article, I just go over to my brew folder and make a little note. When I later have the passion to pursue that idea, I have a nice head start already in place.
I like to think of this exercise as a mini warm-up for the brain that keeps your creative juices flowing. I have even returned from a break because I was so excited by an idea that I had jotted down a few months earlier that I could not stand it and needed to get brewing.
Not every player is a deckbuilder, but everyone has ideas, combos, or synergies that they think up. All we are looking to do with this exercise is to turn those ideas into something more than just a thought. We want to get in the habit of writing it down because we engage ourselves and think about the idea more when we do this. We are not trying to distract ourselves from anything, but we want to make the time we think about Magic as meaningful as possible.
We all have various groups of friends in our lives that support one lifestyle choice or another. Think about the group of friends you go party with versus your group of school or work friends. There may be some overlap with certain individuals being in both groups, but as a whole, those group dynamics probably feel very different. They each have their own identity.
Your Magic crew very much has one of these unique identities and while you may be stepping away from the game, you don't need to necessarily Remove yourself from this dynamic. Being around your Magic playing buddies - whether it's for a movie or to barn a Magic Online Draft - is going to keep some Magic coursing through you even if it's just secondhand.
I find that the vibes of my gaming crew are just different than that of my other friend groups and I like to maintain that energy even when I am not playing full-time. As a side-effect, I tend to stay on top of new decks, new break-out synergies, or crazy play stories just through osmosis basically. In other words, I am gaining Magic knowledge without exerting myself. It gets to come naturally through my normal interactions with my friends, which is relatively stress-free and gets me excited about the game again.
Your Magic crew is a good crew, even without the Magic.
Taking a break from Magic can be extremely refreshing. We can't always expect Magic to be priority number one as life just has too many variables, but Magic tends to stick around, one way or another, and that is awesome. It is a wonderful thing to get excited about something that you have gotten excited about for the 10 years prior, but in a whole new way.
Life is always about balance and Magic is no exception. Take some time, gather yourself, and before you know it, you will be right back to doing what you love: getting stuck on two land against Abzan Aggro...happy shuffling!