Sometimes after a rough tournament or two, I find myself feeling pretty down about the grind, but I’m always quick to remind myself of one important fact: “Magic is fun.”
There are a whole slew of circumstances surrounding the grind that do suck: bad beats, travel, hotels, expenses, and tiebreakers (to name a few), but the actual good old fashioned MTG is always great. The unifying factor that drives thousands of people to travel across the country week after week to compete in events is the love for the game.
Some won’t understand and think I’m being ungrateful or unappreciative. “Please, complain about getting to play a ton of MTG tournaments…” I choose to spend my weekends on the road and competing in events and I wouldn’t trade that for anything. But I do recognize that spending so much time on the road and competing in events takes its toll.
Making a commitment to chasing the tournament scene has a cost that players who are not invested won’t necessarily understand. I can’t count how many times I got home at 3 a.m. from a long drive and had to be up for work or class in the morning. Or how many relationships fell by the wayside because I just didn’t have the time or energy left.
I don’t mean to spin my perspective as negative because I don’t view the experience as bad at all. The grind has a cost but so does everything else. The better you balance the stresses and difficulty of spending lots of time on the road, the happier you’ll be in the long run. I love to play tournaments and I love to travel with friends to new places. There may be a cost, but I enjoy the experience and wouldn’t trade it for the world.
Today’s article is for the grinders, and includes some of my best tips for keeping the grind fresh, fun, and exciting. There is a reason they call it The Grind, but if you have a good attitude, and have fun, it can be rewarding.
1. Have Non-Magic Objectives
I can’t stress how important I’ve found this to be while grinding. Yes, the purpose of the trip is to play in a tournament, but it’s important to enjoy elements of life outside of Magic. One tradition that my teammates and I always come back to is to find cool places to go out to at least one night of the trip.
An-Havva Inn “Free Breakfast” cold coffee and packet oatmeal.
My early days of grinding were an endless blur of fast food, dive bars, and hotel breakfast, which if you think about it, isn’t very fun or exciting. It may be practical but it’s also pretty miserable.
A few years ago I started traveling to a lot of events with another local grinder named John Johnson who is kind of a foodie. No matter where we were traveling, John would do extensive research on where the best restaurants and breweries were and have a plan to visit them.
It is also worth noting that “great food and drink” doesn’t necessarily mean “expensive food or drink.” The key is to find places that are unique and wonderful that are different from what you experience back at home. I love finding great Tex Mex places when I’m out west or authentic New England style seafood when I’m on the east coast.
Organize an expedition to do something fun and local for yourself and other players who don’t make Day 2 on Sunday. I’ve definitely gotten a chance to take in some awesome local flavor while my friends played on in day 2. Think about checking out a local museum, sporting event, or take a tour of some place iconic.
You’d be surprised how much it improves the quality of the trip when one person takes the initiative and researches fun activities or establishments. I highly recommend incorporating these ideas into your next MTG road trip.
2. Bring Something Back to Share with Friends and Family
While being constantly on the road can be a grind, the fact that we get to constantly experience new and exciting things is a huge upside. I really enjoy bringing things back with me to share with my friends and family at home.
One of the best investments I’ve made in the past year is in a high quality insulated growler.
For those who are unfamiliar with growlers, the concept is simple: a growler is a 64 oz. to-go vessel that establishments with on-tap beverages will fill. The problem is that most growlers are just glass jugs with screw tops that don’t stay cold or travel well, which is where the high quality insulated growler comes into play…
If Bottle Gnomes gain 3 life, “Growler Gnomes” would gain roughly 12 life…
Since I get to travel across the country and try all kinds of cool craft beers and sodas, I really enjoy bringing some back home to share with friends and family.
I had a friend who had pregnancy cravings for root beer and it just so happened that I stopped at a restaurant that brewed their own root beer and it was the best I’d ever had. So, I brought her back a growler. I always bring my parents back waffles from the market in Columbus.
It is a huge upside of traveling to get to experience all of these wonderful places and I try to bring something back with me to share with my friends and family. Seriously, if you are a fan of craft beer or craft soda, the insulated growler is an amazing investment.
3. Stand-Up Comedy or Podcast Shows for the Long Drive
One of my favorite ways to pass the time on a long car ride is to listen to stand up comedy specials or podcasts.
It wouldn’t be a Magic road trip without a couple of hours devoted to discussing the metagame and those pesky last few sideboard slots, but a 6- or 7-hour ride can drag on. Listening to some new tunes is a great way to pass the time, but I’ve taken a shine to listening to stand-up comedy in the car. I like to download a few specials that I’m looking forward to.
Stand-up comedy feels a lot like watching a movie in the car except that nobody needs to watch the screen, which makes it accessible to the driver.
4. Bring Other Gates or Activities Along
Another way to ward off boredom and keep things lively and upbeat is to have other games or activities ready.
There are hundreds of fantastic fast-paced games that you can have on hand for when the moment presents itself. I highly recommend Love Letter and Star Realms. I also typically bring my Danger Room along with me as well.
Any game is fine…
I like having games that are not Magic related with me, and the little card games are great because they can easily fit into your backpack or suitcase. It’s nice to have a few games on hand for something to do at the hotel besides watch TV, and they’re a great way to pass the time in between rounds of a big event. A couple of rounds of Love Letter is not only fun but it keeps your mind sharp and clicking.
5. Don’t Overload on Junk Food
You are away from home and you can eat, drink, and do whatever you want! Freedom!
I agree freedom is great, but so is moderation. I continually try to reign in unhealthy habits. The team stops for gas, and the temptation is there to grab a bag of chips and a Mountain Dew Kickstart for the road…
While sometimes it is great to indulge in these tasty but unhealthy treats, stay conscious of what you are consuming. Traveling provides too many opportunities to make unhealthy choices lose track of what you are eating and drinking.
I’ve noticed that the majority of the tournaments where I throw caution to the wind and eat and drink too liberally are the ones I regret. You can only consume so much junk food and soda before it catches up to you. Junk food is convenient, which is nice when you’re traveling, but you should also be aware.
Don’t go too wild on junk food…
I like to make sure that at least two of every three beverages I consume is a water when on the road for a Magic tournament. Proper hydration is essential for good brain function and loading up on caffeine and sugar will always catch up to you in the end.
I also like to make sure that at least half of my meals are nutritious and somewhat healthy when I’m playing in a tournament. When I go to the brew pub that is known for amazing burgers, I want to get their specialty, but then the next night I’ll have salmon or a salad for my meal.
The trick to the grind is all about finding a sense of balance in a world of travel and new experiences. I’ve been at the grind for a while now and these are a few of the life hacks that I’ve used to make things run a little bit more smoothly—I highly encourage you to try them out!