Why I'm Quitting Magic (Again)

I remember very well the first time I quit Magic. It was the summer of '69, the leaves were... no, wait -- that's a song dagnabit. Ok, take two. It was the summer of '96. Yes, that sounds much more accurate. At my advanced age, things get confused sometimes. Wizards had just released Mirage (I think) and it was slowly becoming apparent that they would be releasing a new set every year. EVERY YEAR! And if you didn't want to have to buy Moxen and Loti, and Time Walk, and play "the Deck" or "Kird Ape," then you had to play this new "Type II" that was being introduced. But to do so, you had to buy a new set of cards with TWO whole extra expansions, EVERY YEAR!!! What the hell? This was their idea of a "budget" format?

At the time I was finishing up high school and earning my money running a cash register at the local grocery store. To my seventeen-year-old mind, this was exorbitant, outrageous, mean-spirited, extortionist highway robbery. Plus, none of the newer cards were as powerful or cool as the older ones had been. (Remember, back then in the prehistoric days, in addition to avoiding dinosaurs while walking five miles uphill through snow -- both ways! -- we were so starved for stuff that Serra Angel was flat out the best creature in Magic.)

Seriously, goblins? Patrol? Come on.
Now, Mirage had just come out on the heels of Homelands. Homelands. Wow, was that awful. And this is coming from someone who lived through Fallen Empires. Homelands made me wish for the Glory Days of Fallen Empires. And Mirage wasn't a bad set, but it will never be mentioned with the truly "great" sets that players love and reminisce about through the ages, sets like Alliances, Invasion, and Ravnica. Mirage was just a set. And while Ice Age was nice, it had given us such bad cards as the painlands -- seriously, how could you play with these, they were SO much worse than duals. (As an aside, I'd like to point out that duals were killed because Wizards had said "no card should be 100% for sure better than another card," and since the duals were so much obviously better than basics, they had to go. This is also why Incinerate has the "cannot be regenerated" clause, so it wouldn't be strictly worse than Lightning Bolt.) And what was with the Snow-Covered lands? Why couldn't Goblin Ski-Jumper have actually been good?

So anyway, Mirage has just come out, I'm working at a grocery store and generally mad at the world while completely full of the time-proven wisdom of my seventeen years of life experience (in other words, I was full of bull**** and bravado), and I decided I wasn't going to let the man keep me down anymore. That was it, I was through with Magic. So, I went off and sold all my cards. Just like that. Went to the store, unloaded them and never looked back. Well, at least not for a few months. Then I went off to college. For the most part forgot all about Magic. Oh, I'd remember it every so often between marathon dorm sessions of Duke Nukem 3D or Command and Conquer. Sometimes I'd think about those goofy goblins when we did things like steal the third floor lounges chairs and stuff them down the elevator shaft. But for the most part, I moved on. I had successfully kicked the habit. I progressed with my life, joined the Army, played rugby, dated a few girls, got rejected by a lot more, made friends, skipped class, experienced hangovers, learned to bartend. Basically, I just went to college.

Fast forward to 2002. I'm in law school in Florida and still in the National Guard. The talk of war is heating up. My unit gets activated, we go to Ft. Stewart, Georgia for training and I get to experience what are quite honestly the very, absolutely, definitively worst days of my life. I think its been largely forgotten now, but the conditions faced by the first NG and Reserve soldiers mobilizing out of underprepared military bases were completely insane. I could go off on a ten page rant about it, but I'll suffice it to say that when we arrived in Iraq, where we slept on the ground, got shelled daily and nightly, got one to two meals a day, and had to secure our own water, we viewed it as a marked and significant improvement. Sometime during the trainup I had developed a hernia. Not wanting to miss the war, I kept my mouth shut and ignored it. While we were in Iraq it progressed to the point that I could no longer ignore it. The turning point came during a patrol when we took a listening halt and I realized the reason I couldn't push the bulge of my intestines back into my abdomen was because they had caught on my pistol belt. (And no, I wasn't carrying a pistol. I was carrying a SAW; don't ask why it's called a pistol belt.)

Now, I didn't want to leave my unit, but I knew I was taking a very serious risk to my health by staying. It was late in May, the president had declared victory just a few weeks ago, and rumor had it we were shipping out to go home with 3ID in two weeks. And rumor was the rumors were true. So, the next day I went to the unit medic and showed him the injury. Seven hours later I was on a plane to Germany. Two days after I landed I saw a headline in Stars and Stripes exclaiming that 3ID and all attached units were staying an extra few months. I felt about as low as a dog on the Titanic in a limbo contest. After surgery I was sent on 45 days' medical leave in the US.

Sadly, this is an actual picture...
I couldn't really walk for about two weeks after my double hernia operation (it turned out the first had masked the development of a second, more serious breach in my abdominal wall that was discovered just prior to surgery). So I started to play good old Diablo 2 on the Internet. I also read a lot of video game magazines and saw that Magic was now in an online form. I figured what the heck, I'll give this a try. I was immediately re-hooked and completely shocked that the good old "Red/Green little guys, pump, and burn" strategy no longer worked at all. The concept of the stack and the complete lack of interrupts were also a lot to get used to. And don't even get me started on the problems I had with the idea of "block mechanics." But I persevered, and gradually regained some modicum of mediocrity.

Well, my recuperative leave ran out, so I got healthy and went back to Iraq to finish out my tour. Much like Gilligan's Island's two-hour tour, our "four- to six-month deployment" ended up being a bit longer than advertised, in our case 15 months. (Please note that you never saw FLNG members whining to the media because we spent over a year deployed, unlike 3ID which spent most of its "over a year" in Kuwait eating at Burger King and Subway.)

When I returned home I started to play Magic again, without much skill I'm sorry to say. But slowly, through perseverance, hard work, an excess of nerdiness, and much cursing and swearing, I managed to become a slightly above average player. By slightly above average I mean that I would see and recognize my many play errors about one turn before my opponent used them to crush me. Fortunately though, my ability to design and create decks was still very solid. Not to toot my own horn (well, OK, but in a humble and unassuming way), but I, along with many other players in the pre-netdeck days when it was considered bad form to play something you didn't design yourself, independently created versions of Zoo, The Deck, Ernhamgeddon, and something remarkably similar to current builds of Red Rock.

Keeping non-affinity, non-LD decks
out of standard for two years running.
At this point, I discovered what is most likely the single thing I most enjoy about Magic: writing. I have a lot to say, and a fairly high opinion of my opinion, so sharing it with as many people as possible (thank you, Internet!) seems like a great idea. Some of my early articles were quite, quite horribly bad and atrocious. The worst thing I've ever written can be found over in the Brainburst archives, it's about a deck called Achilles. I later re-wrote the article here on MTGS where it's called "5-Color Control in Standard." In an effort to write more good articles and less bad ones, I began playing more and more. Creating, assembling, and testing new decks. Then being horribly disappointed when they would lose badly to some existing archetype. (It was at this point in my life when I developed a truly massive amount of hatred for Tooth and Nail since it singlehandedly destroyed about 70% of my beloved creations.) You see, I'm a pretty competitive person. I like to be the best. Ok, I'm very, very driven to be the best. And to have other people KNOW I'm the best. This was beginning to become a problem. I was spending so much time trying (and failing) to prove I was the best at Magic, that I let it negatively impact other areas of my life. The first place it really got out of control was in the Writer's Forum here on MTGS. I was banned as a writer for a while.

In a way, this was good, because it could have served as a wake-up call that forced me to realize my obsession with being the acknowledged "best" had cost me the single thing I most enjoyed about Magic. Unfortunately, all it did was make me work even harder on my playing skills to get recognition that way. I began to neglect my job, my health (stopped going to the gym) and my social life. Finally, I had to stop and ask myself "What the hell am I doing?" The answer was surprising, yet so simple and elegant that I knew it for truth immediately. I was looking for greatness.

Everyone wants to achieve greatness. No matter how honestly, truly humble any person is, we all want to do things that are remembered after we are gone. The simple truth is no one wants to die, but since we all know we will, we all strive to achieve enough so that someone, somewhere will always carry some small piece of who we are, and who we were, inside their consciousness. This yearning for greatness takes many different forms; some people, such as Mother Theresa, express it by taking up the cause of helping others to become great, or to simply give others a chance to do something great with their lives. Other people, such as Adolf Hitler, express this desire by attempting to shape the world into a structure that precludes their ever being forgotten.

History is a harsh judge, and realizing that, while I do greatly enjoy Magic, it is the writing and theory aspects of it that I am best at and enjoy most, so, henceforth, I will not be playing competitive Magic. I'm selling my online cards, as I did so long ago with their paper counterparts, and focusing on spending my "game time" writing and explaining thoughts and details in a depth I could never achieve with the constant need to achieve "results." What do I plan to do with this newfound freedom from slavery to "be the best?" The same things I did last time I quit. Spend more time doing everything else.

I don't know what your "Competitive Magic" debate is, but I suspect that many people face the same conundrum I did. That is, being good at something, and enjoying it, but not being skilled enough to be at the top level, and spending so much time and effort on that one thing that the rest of your life ends up suffering as a result. It is not an easy decision to make, nor should it be, to decide that other things in your life are more important and must take priority, but if you suspect that may be the case, then try taking a week off and ask yourself if you honestly enjoy the grind of the old, or the opportunity for new things, ideas and hobbies more.

Editing: Dr. Tom and Binary
Pictures: Dr. Tom and Binary


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