You’re Probably Playing Too Much Magic: 6 Ways To Help You Enjoy Magic: The Gathering For Longer, by Graeme McIntyre

6 Ways To Help You Enjoy Magic: The Gathering For Longer

You’re Probably Playing Too Much Magic – Wisdom Fae Under the Bridge

Mates are a waste of f*cking time. They are always ready to drag you down tae their level of social, sexual and intellectual mediocrity.” – Irvine Welsh, Trainspotting

I’ve written before about how much I’ve gained from Magic: the Gathering and gaming in general over the years. I met my fiance and virtually all my close friends through gaming. I’m lucky enough to be able to play quite a lot as well – typical weeks involving war gaming once a week and cards for about 8-14 hours, while a typical weeks such as those immediately before a big event might feature 20 hours of cards. I’m away most weekends, and I’m active on social media on these hobbies, as well as writing a regular article for this site. I’ve vague plans to do some streaming in the future.

With that said, those of you who regularly read my articles will no doubt be aware of the importance I place on good time management and the pursuit of goals. There have definitely been times in the past when I have let playing Magic get in the way of other things, and it has been detrimental to me. I’ve also let being in a bad state about Magic cloud my judgement, resulting in being difficult to be around for other players and even being in a bad mood for several days after at home.

I’ve skipped classes because I stayed up late drafting online, or because it was convenient to do so in relation to either testing or travelling to an event.

I’ve put off course work or exam preparation so frequently that I struggle to remember a time in which I wasn’t writing the final draft on the day of the hand in.

I didn’t even look for a part time job during my undergraduate degree– even though it would have made complete sense to –because I didn’t fancy playing less Magic.

I neglected loads of social opportunities outside of cards while I was at university because I already had a network of friends in cards. Needless to say, few of them can do much in terms of work opportunities for me now, while friendships made at university are often extremely advantageous in this respect.

I didn’t join any societies while I was at university, despite the fact that I’d quite like to have done chess, boxing, French and a musical instrument off the top of my head-– who knows what more obscure things I missed out on?

The list continues, but does it sound familiar to any of you? I would think it’s going to ring true to some, and the potential danger clear to others. When I first started researching this article I started with looking into Alcoholics Anonymous and the 12 Step Program having encountered some of it in respect to my last article on the Fearless Magical Inventory. Ultimately though, the 12 Step Program is aimed at addicts, while for the most part I think I would describe myself more as the equivalent of a “heavy drinker” looking to cut back. The advice in this article is mostly for people in a similar position, of which I think there will be significantly more than addicts (to whom I would suggest looking into Gamblers Anonymous, who can help you with your problem in a way I simply am not qualified to).

At the beginning of the year, I started treating certain dynamics differently with an eye to improving my experiences in Magic: the Gathering. I was in a pretty bad place in general, and a bad run in cards was definitely making it worse. So, this is what I did (some of which links up with things I’ve read more recently), enjoy!


6 Ways To Help You Enjoy Magic: The Gathering For Longer

6. Form clear goals, and write them down!

This is something which I’ve written about explicitly before and frequently make reference to, but it seems important to mention it again here as without a clear idea of what we want to change into, it’s hard to make steps towards anything. What is it that you’re concerned playing too much Magic is impacting on? I’ve mentioned some problem areas of my own, but it could also be that you’re not spending as much time with your significant other as you might like, or it’s cutting into time you might otherwise spend getting back into education or furthering your career in some way, maybe you feel you’re neglecting non-Magic related friends, or family. Maybe it’s just costing you a significant amount of money which you might otherwise be saving towards another project.

It’s obviously impossible for me to say what your goals are or should be, but I do think it’s worth carefully considering what they are, and how the time and money you spend playing Magic impacts on those goals. For me, one thing this meant was that I stopped playing much Limited because it wasn’t useful for any of the bigger events I’d like to have played. I actually really enjoy limited, but I’ve pretty much canned it recently because I wanted to reduce the amount that I was playing, and doing half as much constructed as I needed to be in decent practice and still drafting didn’t make sense.

Think about what you’re *really* bothered about with Magic, and what would need to go into that to accomplish it. Then think about the things that make up your life – e.g. seeing your partner, doing your job, social responsibilities, etc – and how much time that takes up. It might be worth writing this down on a white board or something so that it’s super clear what is going on. It’s been my experience that when it comes down to it, this sort of thing can be approached in a fairly scientific manner, and that the white board actually motivates me to do the things I *want* to do, instead of watching rubbish on Netflix. The older you get the more the second part is going to take up in most cases, but for many people it will be the case that they can do both of these things, even into their 30’s and 40’s. It’s the extra stuff that maybe needs canned, though. In my case it was regular Limited play because for my goals that wasn’t required, but for you… that’s up to you.

It’s ludicrous to expect to get your own way all the time, and that you might need a favour in return, so it’s worth including a bit of slack for other people in the plan.


5. Then stick to the plan– no ifs or buts

The effects of this sort of planning are definitely long term in respect to effects. Writing stuff down on a white board and expecting big changes within a week is a bit like not drinking fizzy drinks for a week and expecting to fit into the jeans you wore in high school. That said, over time the efficiency and focus you’re putting on the things you actually care about will pay off, just as the reduced calorie intake would.

Where this gets jammed up is when you deviate. Don’t get dragged into draft because someone texts you when they only have 7 and want an 8th. If you said 6 PPTQs a season, 7 is one too many. If you’re focusing on Standard, don’t build a Commander deck. If you were going to go home at 6pm, be out the door by 6pm, not 6:30pm.

No doubt there will be slips on this because there’s so much to do in Magic: the Gathering now, and its way more popular that it once was so there are always people around wanting to do stuff. It’s easy to get into a rut where you spend Monday not doing much as you recover from the weekend, then you get water treading stuff done on Tuesday, reward yourself with a Wednesday night Magic thing, then Thursday and Friday are spent testing and playing FNM respectively, and both days of the weekend are spent at events. There isn’t much room for development there, and with a job or university (which is what your days are spent doing in this hypothetical model), there are actually no free hours.

Of course, if this is what you want from life then that’s totally cool, but for many this is an unfulfilling trap. If you’re in it, make a plan, and stick to it!


4. Be in control of your emotions, don’t let them be in control of you

Just because they don’t care doesn’t mean that you’re in the wrong for doing so

It’s a difficult thing to put loads into an aspect of one’s life and not get much out of it. People say things like “it’s just a game” and “if you don’t like variance, play chess” which-– for me at least –-just pour oil over the fire. Just because they don’t care doesn’t mean that you’re in the wrong for doing so-– priorities are a subjective issue.

When the dust settles though, working hard and/or caring a lot about Magic: the Gathering will not result in a care package with a fairy godmother or lamp dwelling genie who will hook you up with a 4th land when you need it, or derail your opponent’s run-good train. You might as well come to terms with that; its reality and it’s not going to change.  Being really angry and letting that spill over onto other people– both inside and outside of Magic –-is not going to help.

What *will* help, though, is putting in more time and money, as this will allow you more chances at winning. But at what cost…? This line of thinking is how some have ended up with their rent money in on a hand of cards. In Magic: the Gathering, the costs are less calamitous of course, but never the less continuously making the choice to prioritise Magic over other things in your life will lead to meaningful differences in outcomes in those aspects. If you chronically act against the best interests of your own goals, then you are your own worst enemy, in spite of what you might tell yourself about the short comings of others.


3. Be forthright and resolute, it’s just better for you in the long run

When people think about AA, likely one of the first things that spring to mind is the phrase “Hello. I’m >Name<, and I’m an alcoholic”. In the guides to the first 90 days after recovery/rehab the importance of making it clear to people in your life that you had a problem and you were trying to affect some changes was made clear. It makes complete sense-– how will people know you’re not drinking anymore if you don’t tell them, and without that information how will they change their behaviour around you (stop offering you a drink, being the crucial one)?

As we’ve discussed earlier it’s likely that the situation in Magic isn’t quite like this, but there is still something to be learned from it. It’s hard enough to make changes in your life without the people around you making it more difficult, so if you tell them you’re looking to play less cards and focus on >the thing your focusing on<, you’ll do yourself a service as they will-– more often than not –-be accepting of this, and stop putting you under pressure.

They might not, though, and that’s when you’re going to be required to be resolute. If what you’ve said is “look I’m trying to cut back a bit, so I can only make the latter part of the week” then you can’t cave in and play earlier “in case we decide we want to play more”. If you say “listen, it’s inconvenient for me to look for cards on a Friday night as this impacts the time I spend with my girlfriend, so ask earlier in the week” don’t go looking for their cards on the Friday night when they “forget”. If you’ve chosen not to go to an event, don’t let people socially pressure you into going.

If this sort of behaviour is persistent, call them on it. To continue behaving the same way towards you after this point is not the action of a friend… but we will come back to that.


2. Do what matters to you, don’t cave in to common opinions

There is a pretty rich culture to Magic: the Gathering. This includes the obvious stuff like a shared appreciation of the game and its history, as well as the stories of each player, both local and global, but also a broad base of shared values. A general consensus is held over the overarching values of different events and accomplishments, and what ought to be sought after (for example, the vast majority would agree that winning a Pro Tour is a bigger deal than winning a draft).  In many ways this is why people play, and any descent can be perceived as an attack.

What this means on a local level is that if you don’t share the values of your group, you might well be met with some degree of aggression, as they’re nettled by this deviation from the collectively held “truth”. It’s understandable that people might react badly to this, so I’d be inclined to explain myself and put up with a bit of dissonance in this respect, but only to some extent. I certainly wouldn’t entertain the same conversations over and over if I could avoid it with any but the most important of my friends, and even there I would push hard for progress within the discussion.

Ultimately, you’re the one who decides what matters to you, so don’t cave in to common opinion; if they can’t collectively explain *why* they value/think what they do, then they’ve probably had too much Koolaid. Magic: the Gathering is successful in no small part because of people buying into the hype, but that doesn’t stop it being hype. Do what *you* want to do.


1. Put your oxygen mask on first; you’re not much use to others if you’re not any use to yourself

This is another one I took from reading about AA. The idea is that if you don’t put yourself first, you might well falter, and if you do, you’re not of much use to anyone, including the person you put before you. The consequences are smaller in respect to Magic: the Gathering, but never the less my priorities are something like this in terms of importance:

(Most) Me & Kirsty (my fiancé) >>> close friends & family >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> other friends >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> strangers (Least) 

If you let loads of people get too high in terms of importance, you’re going to start making loads of concessions to them. If that’s what you want, by all means, crack on, but the reality is that if you don’t do someone a favour in Magic: the Gathering then the consequence for them is likely trivial, so it seems like there is little moral basis for prioritizing differently.

The 90 day recovery guides I’ve read all say to avoid friends who still use in this period, and long term to change the activities you engage do with them, or if required cut them out entirely. This matches with what behaviourist psychology suggests on the matter (see operant conditioning). This seems pretty intuitive to me, as does the idea that it would be unwise to find new users to spend time with. It would be strange if someone was to say this was unfair or judgemental; in severing these ties, you’re looking after yourself, not making a personal attack on those people.

Why should it be any different in Magic: the Gathering? The big differences are application (how might they influence your behaviour) and consequence (what would happen if they did influence your behaviour). To the former, I’ve mentioned some above in respect to borrowing cards, placing excessive demands on your time, and pressuring you to attend events. Some others might include badgering you to drive, pressuring you to be in the company of other people from whom you have chosen to distance yourself, or consistently exacerbating difficulties with which you’re struggling. To the latter, these would all be largely a matter of irritation, and small time sinks (which, of course, add up).

If you find yourself at odds with a significant number of people, then perhaps you ought to examine why that is, but it’s perfectly reasonable to create some distance, or be less welcoming in friendship than you might otherwise be. You’re not owe it to people to be fair; it’s generally good practice, and a nice thing to do, but if you think someone might be bad for you to have around, it’s ok to keep them at a distance even if they haven’t done much, in the interests of putting yourself first.


If that came across as a little harsh, well that’s OK

Some of this might come across as pretty harsh, and I suppose that’s because it is a little. With that said, I’ve got to say that since I started acting more this way at the turn of the year I have felt better about cards, but also involved in way less conflict, so the while it might seem harsh, from what I can see it’s been almost entirely upside. In practical terms it’s not like you’re pushing someone under a bus when you create a bit of distance-– in reality it’s likely going to consist of keeping conversations with them short, and maybe giving the odd social occasion a miss if you know they’re going to be there, not branding them and banishing them from the kingdom.

Community Question: What is making Magic: the Gathering unsustainable for you, and what do you think you can do about it?

Thanks for reading,


You're Probably Playing Too Much Magic: 6 Ways To Help You Enjoy Magic: The Gathering For Longer, by Graeme McIntyre
Some of this might come across as pretty harsh, and I suppose that’s because it is a little. With that said, I’ve got to say that since I started acting more this way at the turn of the year I have felt better about cards, but also involved in way less conflict, so the while it might seem harsh, from what I can see it’s been almost entirely upside.

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Graeme McIntyre
I've been playing magic since the end of Rath Block, and I've been a tournament regular since Invasion Block. I started studying for a PhD in Sociology at University of Leicester in 2017. I was born In Scotland, but moved to Nottingham three years ago, seeking new oppertunities both academic and magical. I play regularly with David Inglis, Alastair Rees and Neil Rigby. I've been on 5 Pro Tours the 2016 English World Cup Team, and Scottish 2003 European Championship Team, but what I really bring to the table is experience. I've played 136 Pro Tour Qualifiers, 18 Grand Prixs, 11 National Championships, 13 World Magic Cup Qualifers, 51 Preliminary Pro Tour Qualifiers and more little tournaments than I can remember. More than anything else, my articles are intended to convey the lessons of this lived experience. Likes - robust decks, be they control, midrange, beatdown or combo. Cryptic Commands, Kird Apes and Abzan Charms. Dislikes - decks that draw hot and cold. Urza's Tower, Life From the Loam and Taigam's Scheming.