Lessons in Magic and life

It’s been about a year since I last penned something here. The main reason for that just turned ten months old. Becoming a parent is by far the most rewarding and at the same time the hardest thing I have ever done. It has also seriously cut down on my free time. Thus, the little time I had left for Magic after the birth of our daughter, I’ve preferred to spend actually playing the game. The little writing I’ve done I’ve invested elsewhere. I have, however, spent a lot of time thinking about many things, and it’s difficult to disregard Magic from my thoughts. Not only because it’s the best game I’ve ever played, but it’s also, I’ve realized, a large part of my identity. For over half my life, I’ve played Magic: the Gathering, and for the most part I’ve enjoyed the game. As the game changed and my connection to it changed, so did my life. So, after lots of thought, here are four lessons I’ve learned from Magic but that’s been very useful to me as a parent.

1. Focus on what’s important.
In Magic, you can’t get anywhere without a bit of concentration. This applies to deck building, for sure, staying focused on the deck’s theme, or the deck’s path to victory, will most likely end up in a better deck. Brewing isn’t very common within most formats on the level I play, but in EDH it’s commonplace, and even though EDH lends itself to jankier builds with its inherent casual, multiplayer, fun factors – I find having a deck that’s focused and at least a bit optimized lends to a better gaming experience. Sitting down for a two-hour game where your deck consistently underperforms compared to the others around the table is not fun.

In life, this might seem banal, and this will come across as the world’s oldest cliché, but having kids will enlighten you in many ways. You will find out what is really important to you. Your free time will be severely cut down, and this will force you to recognize what you want to do with it. At the same time, general things in life will also change priorities for you as well. Unwashed dishes will line the sink. Laundry will be left on the floor. Floors will stay unvacuumed. If need be.

2. Find a good balance.
Imagine sitting down for a game of EDH. You all bring out your deck boxes, and you flip over Rafiq of the Many as your commander. The table glances at your commander, and then decide to gang up on you. You manage to bring down one opponent, and the two others quickly kill you. Did you have fun? Did the guy you took out of the game have fun? Will the two of you have fun while the two other spend forty minutes finishing up the game? Likely no. I’m not saying one shouldn’t play Rafiq of the Many as a commander, mind you. On the other side of the coin – imagine you flip over Livonya Silone and bust out your Warrior tribal deck at a cutthroat table. You’ll likely lose and quickly too. Neither of these approaches to the format is inherently wrong, but for them to be enjoyable experiences, you need to find a sort of balance in your game. In another aspect, having Magic completely taking over your life is also a bad way to live. All of us are in dire need of escapism from time to time, but staying up late at night to draft on MTGO and skipping school will have severe consequences in your near future.

The latter bit of that lesson goes for everything in your life. Working too much isn’t good either, despite the fact that you might be paid more money. Very few people lie on their death beds and say things like “I wish I’d spent more time at work”, or “I wish I’d made enough money to buy that third TV.” Overdoing any sort of interest can lead to dire consequences, some of the most noticeable are neglecting your family or other obligations, and spending too much money. Balance is key, in Magic and in life.

3. Work together.
Nobody became great all by himself or herself. Most people who achieve anything on a Magic Pro Tour do so with a team of play testers, brewers, and other people behind them. Casually, nobody ever plays a good game of EDH by themselves – we’re in this together, and sometimes we need to work together to enhance our experience or create the best sort of outcome. Probably my biggest take away from Magic not only as a game but as an experience, is the game’s fantastic community. More specifically, I’m talking about the Swedish website and community SvenskaMagic, a website I’ve spent countless of hours on. It’s been suffering from losing traffic to Facebook in later years, but it’s still a home for any Scandinavian player of the game (or anyone really). I came to the website in search of cards, and I found a community of genuinely friendly people willing to help each other out. Similarly, Magic is what brought together the group of friends I had in secondary school, and unlike most people, I’m still friends with these fellows fifteen years later. Sure, some people have come and gone, but there’s still a strong core of friends who hang out almost every week.

Outside Magic, co-operation is what has made humanity great. It’s what separate us from other animals, really – our ability to cooperate in large-scale flexible formations. Cooperation is also key to any relationship, and to surviving the first year as a parent. Realizing that you are not alone in your task of taking care of a new human being is a very important first step, and might not come to everyone as intuitively as it might sound. It’s easy to point fingers and try and correct each other, but I’ve found that most of the successes are due to strong cooperation.

4. Enjoy yourself.
The single best aspect of Magic as a game is its inherent flexibility. You want to challenge yourself at a tournament against the best players you can find? Go ahead! You want to build casual decks and keep them in a box like a board game and bust them out twice a year? Fine! You want to start an EDH league at your local store and play Commander every Friday night? Shoot! Any of these, and countless other ways, are all perfectly fine ways to play Magic, and what’s great is that it’s completely up to each and every one of us to find the way we enjoy the game most. The advent of playing online means even niche formats are perfectly fine, you will always find someone to play with you, even if that person might be half a world away. The single most important thing about playing Magic is making sure one enjoys oneself – otherwise it is all for naught. Playing the game when it’s a chore might be something pros do in preparation of a large tournament, but even then enjoyment arise from competing at the game’s highest level and hopefully winning.

Another blatant cliché: Life without enjoyment truly is life without living. Magic can be a large part of your enjoyment, and that’s perfectly fine, as long as one doesn’t over do it (as per lesson 2). This might also sound like an intuitive no-brainer, but people in general are often far too unhappy, due to many, many things. Life means often taking on tasks that might be boring or not enjoyable – the alternative would be disastrous, but I think that at least when it comes to leisure time, everyone should focus on enjoying themselves above all. Stopping for a second in your everyday life and asking yourself “Am I enjoying this?” is a simple thing to do, and if the answer too often is “No”, then something might need to be changed.

And that’s it. I can’t promise I will write more in the future, it’s all up to someone who’s not even old enough to stand up by herself yet to decide. I am still very much enjoying playing the game, and I have a bunch of new decks I would like to gush about, but time is a precious commodity these days. If I find someone will read this and like this, then of course I’ll make more of an effort, if not, I at least enjoyed writing this piece.

What lessons have Magic taught you? Are any of these useful in your life? Comment below!

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