Back Table MVP or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love MtG

When I first encountered Magic: the Gathering on the floor at my grandmother’s house, wedged between my two cousins, I didn’t realize what an impact this card game was going to have on my life. Over the years, I dated men that played and frequently bought starter decks to reacquaint myself with the game, but would fall out of it due to other interests. Four years ago I decided to pursue Magic again because it always felt like that game that got away. After playing with friends at home, I slowly evolved to going to FNM weekly after the Gatecrash pre-release. Attending FNM on a weekly basis introduced me to an offshoot of my current social circle and offered me a variety of interesting people to hang out with. My Friday nights were filled with learning and fun and I started to absorb all I could about this amazing game. I also began to play against players that were more skilled than I was and asked for advice whenever possible. Magic welcomed me back with open arms and I have never looked back.

After SCG Milwaukee in April 2014, I felt an urge to play at a more competitive level. Around this time, I was winning at my local FNM on a regular basis with variations of U/W Control while the Return to Ravnica block was in Standard. I knew the contents of my deck and my matchups inside out and felt like I could pilot my deck in my sleep.

Rotation happened and everything fell apart –  I felt like I could no longer find a deck I loved, that I understood on an awesome level, and appealed to my play style. Piloting new decks could be amusing and interesting, but ultimately they didn’t deliver the same satisfaction that my old U/W Control lists did and I was losing constantly. I understand that some of my losses can be attributed to a new meta, new cards, new power curve, etc, I couldn’t help but let the losses tear at me. I doubted my ability as a player and began gauging my self-worth on how well I performed at tournaments. FNM began to feel less like a entertaining time with my friends and more like my weekly beat down. Grand Prix events and PTTQs left me angry and disappointed at myself. Why was I spending all this time and money to lose?

While participating in ‘The Girlfriend Bracket,’ there have been many episodes where we have addressed listener questions regarding tilting and losing. I am very thankful to have received those questions because they gave me a new sense of direction. With my new perspective I decided to let down my Magical guard and jump into a new role. I began channeling my frustrations with losing into brewing on a regular basis instead of net-decking. Some experiments worked and some failed miserably, but the majority of the time it felt personally satisfying knowing that I created something on my own and put a lot of myself into it. Brewing decks became my getaway from stress and my anxiety and allowed me to take notice of cards I had never considered playing with before. As the weeks went on, people at my LGS started to take notice of my ideas and rallied behind me. Having encouragement from my peers filled me with a strong burst of confidence whenever I would start to doubt myself again and I feel like it helped my plays become tighter and my composure with my decks showed.

My next step to dealing with the ebb and flow of winning was to figure out exactly what my Magic goals were and reevaluate my Magic attitude. For many people in competitive Magic, the chase of fame, monetary rewards and a future on the Pro Tour drive them to continue down a grinder’s path. I began to realize deep down inside I did not really want any of those. Magic was an escape for me from my personal and professional life and I didn’t want that to change. There are events when I have done super poorly and events where I have broken even or better. Variance is a part of this game and in some ways, I am thankful for it. Hanging out at the back tables has been a very rewarding experience and oddly has helped my Magic self-esteem more than I thought it could. Would I love to win it big someday? Of course, but it is not my goal when I go to events now. Instead, I have implemented a small list I hope to accomplish at every event, regardless of how I ultimately perform:

  1. Learn something new
  2. Make new friends and acquaintances
  3. Encourage people
  4. Play to the best of my ability
  5. Promote ‘The Girlfriend Bracket’ and other content creators in a positive effort to help others

Since I have adopted these changes, my attitude at events and my perception of them has changed dramatically. At each event, I now feel like I have gained something by attending; even if I didn’t win. When I am at those back tables, I am surrounded by so many talented and awesome people. Maybe that day wasn’t their day, but it doesn’t mean it never will be. Perhaps they don’t care if it ever comes as long as they get to play a game that they love. I am glad that I took the time to look inward about how I was feeling about a game that is supposed to be for enjoyment. The pressure I put on myself was far too much and I lost a lot of time and energy being angry and disappointed. There were a few times that I displaced my frustrations and took them out on my opponents, which I feel terrible about. Instead of living in the past, I will focus on the future and all of the sweet times that lay ahead. Someone on Twitter recently called me a grinder because of the amount of events I attend. At the time, I laughed and was like, ‘Yeah, right. That’ll never be me’. However, the more I think about it, it is true. My individual goals may be different than traditional grinders, but we are on the grind together; even if they are sitting many tables ahead of me.