Mind Over Matter

By: Daniel D’Amato

Magic the Gathering can be very mentally straining. Having to recognize and execute hundreds of plays in each match over the course of numerous rounds can be very exhausting. Mental health is very important for maintaining tight play and personal gain. Mental health is vital outside Magic and, just how it influences everyday life, it can influence your game. So, what can be done to stay mentally healthy and at your best? I hope to cover some tips in this article to help you be the best you can be.

The best tip for staying fresh in the game is, ironically, not playing the game. Now this doesn’t mean just quitting, but instead realizing that you may be burned out and need to take a break. Grinding as much as I do between online and paper play, I try to take anywhere from one to two weeks off every couple of months to stay fresh and mentally prepared for tournaments. The hardest aspect of this ideology is realizing when it is time to step away and reset. I typically can tell when I need to take some time off if I am on a long losing streak or find myself consistently making the wrong play in my matches, but gameplay isn’t always the signal that we need to realize. If you find yourself not enjoying the game we love or just not being happy while playing, it may be time to put the game down for a little while and enjoy other hobbies and aspects of life. That way the return to the game feels fresh, enjoyable, and reminds you why you play. There is nothing wrong with taking time off from the game. This game can create stress, anxiety, and can ultimately contribute to attitude and behavior problems depending on how seriously it’s taken. At the end of the day it is important to take care of ourselves and stepping away can help maintain a positive mental attitude. While the primary goal regarding mental health can be gameplay, another aspect is how testing too much can negatively affect your mindset.

Testing is an important aspect to succeeding at professional magic but can have less than desirable effects on the mind. Testing through simulations of multiple tournaments worth of games and matches can be draining. Straining yourself trying to prepare for a tournament can lead to negative results not only in the tournament but in quality of life depending how aggressively you pursue testing. Staying up abnormally late trying to get another league in online can become the reason why the quality isn’t there when it is time to perform. I tend to test leading up to an event until about two days before, where I’ll take a break and relax. I am a believer in the idea that all the preparation will show when it is time to perform, like preparing for a race and resting the day before. Over testing is a real concern and if your head isn’t in the game or match once you’re in the event, your chances of winning drop significantly. This idea also is relevant during a tournament. Everyone comes in with the same goal and when you’re using your mind to help solve other peoples’ dilemmas you may lose the edge you need to realize that goal. I am always a fan of healthy discussion when it comes to making the right play during matches but at the end of the day it’s your tournament that you need to worry about and there is nothing wrong with throwing the headphones in and getting prepared for your next match. I always discourage playing matches between rounds because there is no reason to burn yourself out over a game that doesn’t matter with the hope that it may help you. The potential downside significantly outweighs the potential upside. Staying mentally focused always helps produce solid tournament results and we want to maximize our ability to focus.

You should always take care of yourself first and foremost when it comes to any activity in your life and Magic is no different. If you find that the game is causing stress more than reducing it or having a negative influence on your daily life, it may be a good time to consider taking a break. I know I personally try to use Magic as an outlet to relax and clear my mind. However, there have been times where playing was the last thing I wanted to do, so I would just leave tournaments, even if I was undefeated. It’s very difficult to tell yourself to step away because Magic can have that rush that keeps its players always coming back and the urge is very real to continue through it. When I step away, I tend to distance myself from anything involving the game and shift my focus elsewhere, sometimes even another game like Hearthstone. When I return, I find Magic a lot more exciting and refreshing. Part of me misses playing every day, but a part of me is also satisfied because I feel like my mind has been reset and is ready to focus again. There is absolutely nothing wrong with putting yourself first and Magic second. I see tons of grinders get burned out and it shows because their play will get sloppier as the tournament continues. Tunnel vision affects me especially since I traditionally lean towards combo decks, and without proper rest it can be hard to find lines to win the game. Ultimately this game should be a game you love and not one that pulls you down.

I think it’s vital to consider how the game affects each of us and analyze the toll that it takes. Often, admitting you could use some time away is in your best interest. Preparing for a tournament can be a lot of serious work and relaxing a couple days out can seriously improve your results. Taking care of yourself during a tournament and keeping your mind clear of other issues can also be beneficial. At the end of the day, slinging cards and seeing our friends is great, but being miserable while doing so because of burn out is, well, miserable. As always, feel free to reach out to me with questions or suggestions, I would love to write about a topic someone is passionate about, until then, storm count 3.

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