Although competitive Magic can be incredibly fun and intensive, sometimes it can negatively affect you on a physical and mental level. “Burn out” is the term used to describe a feeling of exhaustion caused by stress. When playing competitive Magic, you can find yourself getting way too wrapped up in the grind and feeling hopeless when you’re not meeting your goals or expectations for yourself. Here are three ways to help keep your head above water when faced with burn out.

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Sometimes a Break is Necessary

In my Freshman year of college as a film student, I definitely got way too wrapped up in the world of Magic, when instead I should have been focusing more time on my schoolwork. One important aspect of attending Film School is crewing weekly on upperclassmen films, meaning that as you get yourself out there and learn more about your craft, it’s important to volunteer your precious Saturday and Sundays to working twelve hour days on some Junior’s film set. Although the work can be exhausting at times, it’s crucial in finding what you might want to do later in your career and meet people who might reach out to you in the future. However, Freshman me was not interested.

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Although I did crew on some film sets, I found myself fitting in and socializing better with people in the New York Magic community who I had much more in common with than the film kids. I drafted sometimes twice a week on top of battling in weekend PPTQ’s and IQ’s. Although it was fun at first being able to play so much Magic, I realized at the end of Freshman year that I was miserable. I wasn’t putting up the results I wanted to in tournaments and in the meantime I wasn’t progressing at all in my schoolwork. I knew something had to change. So I did the inevitable. Sophomore year I cut back on Magic. In my second semester of Sophomore year, I dedicated my weekends to crewing. I worked as a student sound mixer (the guy who records all the sound on production), met a ton of amazing, gifted art students, and most importantly learned a lot about the craft I want to make my profession.

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Does this mean I gave up on Magic? Well, I wouldn’t be writing this article if I had. Magic means so much to me, it’s more than just a card game. When I found myself in New York City two and a half years ago, I knew no one. I had moved only about an hour away from my hometown but I lost contact with a lot of my High School friends. I was just another kid in a big city, and through Magic I was able to meet a bunch of amazing people who I’ve remained friends with to today. Sometimes you need to take a break though, to get your priorities straight. Sometimes you need to give up Magic as a whole. Too much Magic can be unhealthy and it’s important to have your priorities straight before contemplating whether you should try to spike this weekend’s PPTQ or fly to Oakland to play in a Standard GP.

Try to hone in on your mistakes.

I remember once taking the subway back from a weeknight tournament with my friend Yuanji. I was complaining about my poor performance and turned to him and said something that a lot of players have said or thought before:

“I feel like I should be doing a lot better, I’m good at this game.”

He replied with, “But Roman, you’re not good.” Boy did that hurt. Having your friend blatantly tell you you aren’t good at a game you’ve devoted countless hours into playing really sucked. I didn’t know how to respond at first, but I knew he was right. I could improve. I still had a lot to learn. I talked with him that subway ride about what I could’ve done better in my matches and tried to think about what plays I could have made better. If you win a match of Magic it’s easy to write off a victory due to skill, but when you lose it’s even easier to write off your losses as “bad luck.” It’s so easy to rationalize your losses in Magic, factors such as mulligans, lucky topdecks, and mana flood and screw are all ways you can put the blame on some otherworldly force, when in reality your losses could entirely be your fault. In Providence a week and a half ago, I played R/W Vehicles and found myself at an unhappy 4-3 drop at the end of Round 7. Although I wanted to blame my loss on having bad match-ups or unlucky draws, I made a bad deck choice for the weekend and should have played U/W Flash or B/G Delirium.

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For the longest time, I needed to improve on making the right attacks in Limited games of Magic. I was fortunate enough to have Andy Longo, a team-limited Grand Prix champion looming over my shoulder during our team draft matches. I would get into cluttered board states in Eldritch Moon limited where my opponent would have a Gnarlwood Dryad or an Exultant Cultist holding down the fort and I would be hesitant in making attacks in fear of trading a creature into their death touch 1/1 or having them draw a card. I should have been attacking more aggressively, how was I supposed to win those games if I was stuck doing nothing. It would have been better for me to make those unfavorable trades just to push through damage and put my opponent on the back foot.

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With time I learned how to make better attacks, but without Andy’s guidance I would have been stuck making these mistakes on a weekly basis. Honing in or your mistakes is critical if you want to become a better player, and having someone better than you over your shoulder, pointing out what you can do better is incredibly helpful.

Sometimes you can’t pinpoint these mistakes right away, but try to assume you’re making them. It’s important to always be advancing your play, and winning will go hand-in-hand with improving upon your mistakes. So next time you lose a match, think about what you could have done better first before shrugging off your loss to bad luck. It’s important to be hard on yourself, but never put yourself down – just keep in mind you’re doing this to improve your game.

Don’t Give Up

If there’s one thing I want in life, it’s for Abe Corrigan to qualify for the Pro Tour. Abe is a local NYC competitive Magic player and as close as he’s gotten to qualifying for the Pro Tour, he’s come short many times.

To recap some of his past events:

  • 2 PTQ Top 8’s
  • 9-1 start at GP Indianapolis, only to miss out on cash altogether.
  • 12-3 at GP Providence after starting out 9-1, losing to Seth Manfield, Ari Lax, and a friend.
  • 0-4’ing the last four rounds of the last StarCityGames Invitational after starting out 9-2-1
  • 9th in a recent MTGO PTQ
  • Over 15 PPTQ Top 8’s, but without a win somehow.

I’m sure at this point, Abe feels something like this:

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Whether it be to luck or skill, Abe’s always come short of a win, but comes close every single time. Although he hasn’t clinched that major tournament win or qualification, he refuses to quit and just keeps pushing on [note from the editor: bless his heart]. I’ve never come close to putting up the same results as Abe, and although his losses are definitely frustrating, he never fails to bounce back. Competitive Magic can be extremely frustrating for some, especially when you put up solid, consistent results, but fall short.

For the longest time I was convinced I’d never win a PPTQ. I began playing in PPTQs about two years ago, and while I consistently put myself in top 8, I found myself walking away without a win time after time. It was heartbreaking to look back on so many tournaments, so many losses, so many weekends spent trying to grasp that qualification for the RPTQ, but I never quit. Two months ago I finally clinched a win in a Modern PPTQ where the cards fell into my favor, and that win made everything worth it.

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Shoot for the Stars

I believe it’s crucial to set goals for yourself when playing competitive Magic. One reason I love this game so much is that there’s so much room for me to improve and so many goals I want to achieve. With my first PPTQ win this year, I’m setting my sights to the Pro Tour next, and I’ve made it my goal to qualify for a Pro Tour at least once in my life. Although above I said breaks are important (and they are), never lose sight of the goal you want to achieve.

Magic is a whirlwind of emotions. Although the grind can be frustrating at times, sometimes you have to take a step back and look at the big picture. I’m so blessed to have made so many friends in New York City in the last few years, both from film school and the Magic community. While I strive to be a competitive player, I know that I can’t devote all my time to improving my game – I have to keep my priorities in check.

Burn out is something that many Magic players deal with. So next time you walk away from a frustrating loss, take a deep breath, shrug it off, and look for ways to improve. You’ll get ‘em next time.

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