I wanna be the very best, like no one ever was

Magic cards!

(background: I loved Magic cards (wiki) when I was a kid. In college, I stopped because I didn’t want people to think I was a big nerd. About 10 years later, a lot of my friends who were also big nerds, but less afraid than me to say so, got back into it, so eventually I did too.)

I have a love/hate relationship with it. I really like playing the game - it’s like a drug; it’s got the deepest strategy of any game I’ve ever really gotten into. I really like my friends who play the game. I don’t like the average person who plays the game, or the average situation in which you play the game - usually it’s a large, loud room with a bunch of 30 year old nerdy white guys. So like, on the one hand, ugh.

On the other hand, one thing I’ve learned growing older is that it’s okay, and even Good, to be a huge nerd. (for some definitions of the word “nerd.") Follow your bliss, and all that.

So there’s a big tournament coming up (Grand Prix Las Vegas) and I’m going there mostly to hang out with my friends, and I decided, screw it, I’m gonna actually practice this time. So I put in an embarrassing number of hours on uneventful nights and weekends playing 95 matches of Magic Cards on the computer.

(yeah I went 60-35, ending up with a rating of 1791, and didn’t even have to buy any cards - though pulling two Karns and a Teferi helped with that. anyway, yes I’m kind of proud, thanks for asking)

What did I learn?

1. I do like it. It’s very fun.
2. It gives me something to talk about with these few friends. Unfortunately, most of them live out of town. But the tournament next weekend should be fun.
3. I like winning, and I dislike losing, more than seems healthy. When I quit after a 3-0 draft, I’m just constantly replaying in my head all the great decisions and sweet cards I got. When I quit after a 1-2 (or worse: 0-1 in the comp league), I’m really frazzled and frustrated. It makes me want to get back and get that next hit.
4. Relatedly, I tilt sometimes. Hopefully this immersion has gotten me a little better at seeing that and dealing with it.
5. Magic Online’s not a great human-relationship-bang-for-buck, at least not where I am now. There’s only so much talking online about the cards you can do. I imagine if you had a lot of friends who all played, near you, and you saw them in person it might be more fun.
6. I do feel like the time’s wasted. I want to de-weight this, because 32-year-old Dan knows that your life doesn’t have to be one big college resume anymore, and doing something you love doing is kind of one of the things that life’s about.

So, would I do it again? Meh. Like a drug, I found it sapped my will to get out and do other things. That seems like a bad direction to go further. And I think if I’d been winning 40% instead of 60% (and blowing through a couple hundred dollars) I’d feel much worse about the whole thing.

EDIT, after the tournament: that was fun! I went 9-6 at the tournament; 6-3 on day 1 (sealed) and 3-3 on day 2 (draft). I was a little bummed especially about my second draft, where I drafted bad wizards and went 1-2. But overall semi-proud of my performance. One win away from a pro point, three wins away from money. More importantly, had a great time with my friends.

Does this change how I’d think about it? Yes, especially because this is exactly how well I’ve done at a previous GP where I didn’t practice at all, and because my friends who are better than me at Magic did about the same. 30 drafts in one season isn’t gonna make me better, or give me a richer experience. Given that I’m never gonna do 300 drafts, I’m just “doomed” to be a “decent” Magic player. That’s fine; enjoy the game.

Edit again: a couple extra thoughts about the tournament:
- I like the adrenaline and focus you get from doing this one very engaging thing all day - and the mental stretch. It feels like running a marathon for your mind.
- The camaraderie is cool too - you’re all fighting for something together.
- The sense that, in a million different places throughout the world, 3000 people are getting together to nerd out about the same thing, and each of these niches is so complex. We have so much shared knowledge about the cards, the rules, even just the etiquette of each game; so many people must be doing the same thing. It’s like sonder.

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