I don't adhere to time in the way that everyone else does.
While most people have their time broken down into smaller blocks -- meetings, appointments, even days -- I don't have that. Instead, I find ways to spend my time until I need to move. My appointments are fewer and farther between than most. You could say I live weekend-to-weekend instead of day-to-day.
Living weekend-to-weekend tends to make time go quickly. There was a point in this last year where it felt like I blinked and six months had passed. I had a minor panic attack when I realized I hadn't been doing anything except play Magic for six months. Where did all those plans I had vanish to?
Let's call it a flaw.
Anyway, I'm rarely planning toward the next big event or date on my calendar. Sure, Magic tournaments break up the monotony of day-to-day living, but that also feels regular to me. It feels less like an occasion and more like brushing your teeth in the morning.
This is a long-winded way of saying I rarely look at time in a way where "these are all the things that happened this year." Instead, I find myself breaking my life down into chapters. It just so happened that the most recent chapter of my life took place over a calendar year.
My “chapters” often coincide with my motivations at the time. Those tend to dictate where I'm living and what my actions are. I haven't counted how many chapters I have officially, but it's close to ten. During each one, I tried something new, was a slightly different person, and did a lot of learning along the way.
This chapter was all about pushing myself to be the best I could despite suffering from crippling self-doubt, re-discovering who I am and what my life was supposed to be post-breakup, and learning enough about myself to figure out what the next step was.
It's probably my shortest chapter, but it might be the one I have the most to say about. I suppose you could say this is my year in review.
“The Fire” Is a Stupid Term
At the beginning of last year, I moved back to Roanoke, VA to play a bunch of Magic. It was the perfect location to find like-minded people who were at similar spots in their lives. I needed to be around people who had the same drive I did.
There was some combination of wanting to vent my frustrations, needing a distraction, and having a chip on my shoulder, each of which was a result of the sudden upheaval in my life. Maybe those aren't the healthiest reasons to dive head-first into something, but whatever. It was time to get back in action.
At roughly the six month mark, I took a moment to reflect on how I had done in the last six months. I felt like I had been doing pretty well, but I wanted to know exactly. Every tournament I played in was tracked in a spreadsheet along with how much money I made, and what my records were. My numbers were surprisingly very pleasing.
In the six months I played nearly every weekend, and in over 90% of the weekends I was close to making my money back on expenses or better. The final tally was pushing $20,000, although $9,000 of that came from the MOCS. It also didn't take into consideration things like the various playmats I picked up along the way.
The six-month reflection was cool, but dangerous. After that reflection, I started to slow down. I was proud of what I had done, and even though I didn't win a bunch of tournaments (and therefore wasn't who or what everyone was talking about), it was enough for me. I was making progress in a lot of aspects of my life to the point where I lost that drive.
But I want that drive! I need a reason to keep fighting and give it my all. Finding my next source of motivation is going to be difficult, especially since you typically can't manufacture those things. If I could bottle up and sell what I was feeling during that time…
I made $20,00 in six months playing Magic. This isn't bragging because that number isn't something I'll be able to replicate unless I get that drive back. It's kind of a fluke, but kind of not, because I can't pick and choose when I actually get to make that happen. When I'm “on,” it takes some really wild stuff to stop me.
There are small things here and there that can get me fired up, like watching L3ff3n tear through the gods or thinking about how Paul Rietzl finishes one match win better than me at most events, but it's all fleeting. Nothing forces that feeling to stay unless it's something deeply troubling me.
Right now, I'm pretty happy with my life and where it's going, and that messes with my ability to compete. For me, there is probably no better motivator than needing an escape, and needing it badly.
Many logical people whose opinions I respect say “the fire” is a myth and it makes no sense. I don't think how it's described by Magic players is entirely accurate, but there's something in the “Flow” stratosphere that is very real. Wanting to win isn't enough to make it so, especially since everyone “wants” to win. But there is something about being tuned in and highly focused that tends to give you an edge.
Playing Other Games Makes Me Worse, Sort Of
When I went on that tear, I wasn't actually playing much Magic. This might surprise some people, but as a group, the Roanokians would get together very sporadically to prepare for events. When we tried to get organized, it didn't last long. More on that later.
Instead of playing games, I was writing about Magic, doing weekly videos, reading articles, watching streams, and doing research. While I didn't play many games of Magic themselves, I was fully immersed. Very little competed for my time.
Fast forward a few months and my attention is still mostly on Magic, but it's currently divided. I'll skip looking at GPT decklists from Grand Prix coverage, or a metagame breakdown, or the Legacy Magic Online decklists because they're not as pressing as finding a good tutorial for Control Warrior in Hearthstone or seeing what other people are doing to fight the Shaman mirror.
I still approach each tournament the same -- I play Spiky decks, remind myself that I'm trying to win, and tinker with a decklist until it “feels” right. Recently, I haven't been winning. Sometimes, I notice myself playing worse than normal, but my preparation has largely been the same. You could cry small sample size (and I tried doing that as a defense mechanism), but I know something is off.
I'm currently in Denver for the Grand Prix, staying with friend, teammate, and life coach Josh Utter-Leyton. We compared stories and his was interesting. He told me that when he won Player of the Year, he didn't actually play much Magic, but his attention was fully on Magic. I'm not sure why that surprised me, but I guess it's because I didn't think other people approached Magic like I did.
There is no proven formula for how to succeed in Magic, and I imagine different people need different levels of engagement to stay fresh. So far, I've established the two ends of the spectrum, one of which works but sacrifices other aspects of my life, the other of which makes going to the tournaments a bad idea. Hopefully I can find a happy medium.
It's clear to me that Magic Online is part of the problem. While my disinterest in playing MTGO waned long ago, after playing Hearthstone and other polished games, it's difficult to go back. I fondly remember the days where there was nothing else I wanted to do more than fire up an eight-player queue with Mystical Teachings, but now the thought doesn't even cross my mind.
It is almost 2017.
Make. A. Respectable. And. Functional. Magic Online.
Life on Suspend
If you're an up-and-coming Magic player or simply looking to make more content, there are worse ideas than moving to Roanoke, VA. For me, it mostly felt like putting my life on suspend.
Where am I going? What am I doing? If I continued on the same path, how much time would pass before I noticed again?
There are worse ways to live your life. There are also few things I enjoy more than heading into battle each week with some of my favorite people. Nothing brings out the nostalgia more.
But it's time to move forward, and Roanoke isn't the place for that, at least for me.
Teams Don't Exist
My ideal team is a group of people with the same goals who complement each other. “Team” is an important word to stress because it signifies camaraderie and the ability to sacrifice a piece of yourself for the sake of the team. I want each person to focus on making the team better as a whole.
Magic has none of this.
I've worked with several “teams” in the past, and nothing has ever felt remotely close to what I wanted. A true team doesn't exist, but people assume that's what they're going to get. Well, Magic has a lot of ego. Magic players join teams to help themselves do better at tournaments, not in order to see how they can help others. They mean well, but their actions speak much louder than words.
Maybe my idealist notions are crazy, but it didn't seem so at the time. It always seemed doable. Regardless, my opinion on the subject has changed. You should treat a team like a job, and your teammates as co-workers. Very few people (and I'm tempted to say zero here) are going to sacrifice their own equity to help you succeed. At the end of the day, how you do is entirely dependent on you.
With that said, I'm happy to announce that I've joined a team for the upcoming Pro Tours. There are still several things I'd like to learn, and I don't think I can do that with working by myself.
For now, those goals are on suspend while I attempt to eschew learning for winning.
Play the deck that's bulletproof.
Mike Sigrist and I were chatting about the Flash/Delirium matchup, which I thought was naturally in Flash's favor. After our conversation, I think he may be right, but that's because he plays the matchup differently from everybody else.
Since Flash doesn't have any card drawing, he plays around their counterspells as much as possible. There is no reason to jam threats in an open battlefield, especially when you have more mana sources in your deck than they do. Eventually they'll start missing land drops and be forced to play something.
This doesn't apply to every game, since sometimes you'll be light on removal or whatever, but eventually a couple of things will slip through the cracks and they won't be able to catch up.
Kudos to him.
I feel mostly lost in Modern, yet Modern was actually the format where my win percentage was the highest. Color me surprised.
The format feels like one where you should pick a good deck and master it, but even that has specific rules. Ideally, you're playing one of the decks that has cards that people would consider banning. Some slow, dopey midrange deck isn't going to yield the best results. Sure, you can win some, but it won't give you the best chance of winning.
Another option is switching decks week-to-week, anticipating what people are going to do with their sideboards, and picking a deck that people will be weak too. That plan is way more difficult, and I'd only advise doing so if people refer to you as “The Boss.”
I don't find myself enjoying the games of Modern very much. Winning is always fun, but it's not everything. There were flashes of me enjoying Modern when I got to play Jeskai and Grixis Control, but those aren't sustainable.
For the Players' Championship, I find myself waffling between the idea of playing fun decks, trying to link a theme between all three decks, or actually showing these kids what's up.
At Grand Prix Columbus, I blew it; otherwise I would have very easily been in the Top 8 with my pile of Grixis cards. Oddly enough, I think the pile I put together is still pretty good. I've also been working on similar outlines in different colors.
Alas, most of my Legacy cards were sold some time ago. I loved what the format used to be, don't love what it is now, and won't have many opportunities to play it in the future. It makes me sad. It sucks when things like this need to happen.
Sorry if this article makes it sound like I'm quitting Magic or something, because I'm definitely not. I may sit out the rest of Kaladesh (not that there's much left anyway), but between now and Aether Revolt, I'm going to do my damnedest to try to get that full motivation back.
I'm not going anywhere; I just need some moderation. I need it, I lost it, and I'm kind of upset about it. C'mon brain, can't we be productive while also winning a bunch of matches?
Creating balance in my life is going to be difficult. I'm enjoying a bunch of different games, Final Fantasy XV just came out, and there is no shortage of things I could be doing to improve myself. It's just a matter of time, heh.
The Pro Tour is my main target. It's always been my major failing, but hey, I've got some people to help me now, so that's cool. Hopefully I can do the same for them.