When talking about the cost of playing competitive Magic, people normally think directly of the monetary cost of the game. However, Magic has a hidden cost for competitive players that you might not expect at first sight. In this article I would like to dive into this so called hidden cost and what you can do to mitigate the impact it has on you.
Most of you know me because I was the English Captain during the 2017 World Magic Cup or because of my results and being one of the few Gold Pros in England for the last couple of years. However, people who know me personally know of my sheer love for the game and my insatiable desire to always jam more games of Magic. I differ mostly from my Axion Now teammates that I am a casual player first, competitive player second.
Recently I have been in a bit of a slump concerning my enthusiasm for playing competitive Magic. A part of this is due to the changes to competitive play that have been made in the last year, but a part is also to the grinding nature of competitive Magic. I would like to dive deeper into how it has impacted me, and what lessons I have learned from it.
For years I spent a big part of every week playing Magic. And the times I was not playing Magic I am probably thinking about it. During my early competitive years I mixed my practice up with playing at local tournaments, cube drafts or other kinds of casual play. This, for me, was a healthy mix of enjoying the hobby. However, the more success I started having in tournament Magic the more important the next tournament became for me. And after qualifying for my first Pro Tour in 2012 I decided I wanted to play another Pro Tour and that was when my life as a grinder really started.
Since 2012 I’ve spend a great amount of my time on airplanes traveling to PTQs, GPs and later PTs and with every passing season I saw an increase in the amount of Pro Points I had at the end of the season. This motivated me to work even harder and practice even more. The end of last season was the pinnacle of this as I achieved both Gold Status and captaincy of England by performing well during the 2016-2017 season. Coming into the 2017-2018 seasons things had changed for me, my mental state had changed. At first I couldn’t figure out why this had changed, but the longer I thought about it the clearer it became. The problem was the large amount of time I spend on preparation for tournaments. Let’s get things straight, I don’t hate playing magic so preparing for a tournament isn’t the worst. But it does impact the amount of time you have for other important stuff in your life. This led to me seeing Magic more and more as a second job and I would fire up MTGO during the night after work and prepare for the next GP. I tried multiple things, like playing more casual or take whole weeks off from Magic when it was not just prior to a tournament. These changes resulted in small changes in my mental state but nothing could reignite the fire that I had had previously.
Around the beginning of 2018 I decided I wanted to slow down. This meant that I would travel to fewer GPs and focus more on other things in my life. The most important thing I had to do for this was accept that I wouldn’t maximize my chance to hit Gold again unless I spiked any of the remaining PTs. It wasn’t a hard sell to myself logically that this step made sense with how they changed the system from yearly cycles to quarterly cycles (now bi-quarterly) but it was harder to sell to myself emotionally. But with my enthusiasm for Magic at a low point eventually I accepted that this was the best way forward for me.
During the last half a year slowly my enthusiasm for Magic has recovered. I have spent less time on Magic which might have resulted for more “hunger” for the game. But especially I am less strict on myself on how much time I need to prepare before a tournament. This resulted in a healthier balance between Magic and the other things that are important in my life. I ended the current season at 30 Pro Points and will not be traveling to the last GPs of the season. This means I won’t be a Gold Pro next season but that is OK with me. Even though it is great fun and an honour to play Pro Tours, to do so every 3 months really has placed a heavy burden on other things in my life. This realisation made me accept that I do not always have to play at the highest level in order to be able to enjoy Magic.
One of my favorite moments of the year is when I host my (casual) birthday tournament.
At the beginning of the article I told you that I am different from most within the team in that I am a casual player first. This manifested itself a lot more once I took a step back from the grind. I have had multiple weekends where I would meet up with friends and do nothing else but cube draft. I have showed up at local tournaments and played with my 65 lands Commander deck, and I won the Battlebond release in our local store together with my girlfriend. All of these events I enjoyed tremendously and reminded me of why I enjoyed playing Magic so much in the first place.
Magic is a game with many faces, we all got attracted to Magic in the first place since something within the game that attracted us. Sometimes over time we lose track of this and only focus on an end result that might be as trivial as fear of losing perks we might have (GP byes, Pro Player Status, etc). The best advice I can give you is to sometimes take a step back, and ask yourself are the time and resources you pour into Magic worth it? Do I really want to play this tournament or am I only playing it because “I have to”? If you would enjoy it more to play cube with friends at home than playing a PPTQ don’t feel bad about it. If you want to play one of the many fantastic tournaments hosted by Axion Now instead of playing a GP, go for it! Just make sure you play Magic because you enjoy it and not because you have to.
About Niels Molle:
Niels Molle started playing Magic as a young kid during Stronghold. After a hiatus of a couple of years Niels returned to the game during Planar Chaos, and has been playing competitive events ever since. Niels’ resume includes two Grand Prix Top 8s, more than 10 Pro Tour appearances and he was the captain of Team England during the 2017 World Magic Cup. Niels is a casual player at heart that just never can play enough Magic. So, no matter if it is Kitchen Table magic or at a Pro Tour, Niels is always ready to sling some cards.