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Breaking Through – One Life

Most of the time that a Magic writer puts pen to paper, he/she is trying to convey a lesson that they have learned to the reader. This is not always accomplished of course, but the typical goal is to broaden the general knowledge about Magic in some way. Other times, a writer puts pen to paper in hopes of stirring up something inside himself. This is one of those articles.

To be blunt, I am writing this for myself. Along the way, I hope to reach out to some of you with any knowledge you may take away from here, but this is a physical reminder to myself about a change I need to make going into the new year. There is nothing special about January 1st. In fact, I tend to criticize those that use it as their metaphorical new page, but there is something symbolic behind that little 01/01 so I might as well capitalize on it.

Every article we read, tournament we attend, and game we play has lessons to teach us. We all are willing to at least hear these lessons out, despite not converting a majority of them to behaviors. But we all make a tragic mistake when we learn about Magic; we apply it to Magic. “Isn’t that the point?” you may ask. And it most certainly is a point, but it is not THE point. We may be learning in an effort to make us better at Magic, but there are no rigid barriers that restrict the application of our knowledge to just this game. In fact, I believe that applying the lessons we learn to ONLY Magic hurts us in the long run for both our Magic lives, as well as our, well, life.

Most of the things we are taught in regards to Magic actually apply to our life in general. All of the math we apply and resource management skills we develop; the morality scale we hold ourselves to in regards to cheating easily slides right across to our views on various crimes etc. Just the simple way we interact with fellow gamers impacts our social skills in other areas, or at least it should. None of us is without our issues of course. My struggle? Tilting.

Many articles have been written on how to beat tilt either before it happens, or after it has set in. Some tell tales of epic tilts that cost players tournaments. Still others look to break down all the components of tilt as a method for “knowing your enemy.” The point is that we recognize tilt as a huge problem when applying it to games of Magic, yet we rarely, if ever look at its implications outside of Magic.

I personally have always had a problem with getting frustrated by stupid things that don’t seem to go according to plan. Maybe it is the perfectionist in me, but it drastically lowers the quality of your (my) life when you are always upset about something stupid. Yet when you begin talking about Magic, I have somehow learned to channel tilt for the most part and brush it off. Occasionally, tilt is still going to creep up, but I rarely get frustrated when playing Magic anymore, and yet that couldn’t be further from the truth for my everyday life. I have upset everyone from family to friends with a hot temper and it actually disgusts me. Somehow, I have created a disassociation between Magic and life and am failing to apply concepts from one over to the other.

This showcases a few things that are obviously on the wrong side of the good/bad line. The first is the realization that I actually may not have ever learned how to control tilt and that when it comes to Magic, I am just faking it. Faking it might not seem like a bad thing, as you are not displaying the symptoms of tilt and therefore might think that it’s the same as not tilting, but beyond the physical signs of tilt being absent, faking it likely leaves all of the internal damage of tilt present. This translates into many of the subtle behaviors that tilt leads to, only attributed to something else. Obviously I cannot tell for certain if this is the case, but it is something to consider anyway.

Learning a New Talent

Tom, from Monday Night Magic on MTGCast.com, brought up an interesting phenomenon on the last cast that I think applies here. He noted that method actors, who change their actual lifestyle to fit the role they are preparing for, keep each role with them in some form going forward. That is to say that the simple act of “being” that character for whatever length of time it takes to mentally prepare for the role actually imprints the essence of that person onto their own personality going forward. Essentially, rather than being a make up of their own experiences and morals, they fit together like a puzzle where each pieces is a different part of a character that they internalized at some point.

This might seem totally unrelated, but apply this to the Magic life versus real life scenario. If you can deduce that you are behaving differently or processing information differently while you play Magic as opposed to your everyday life, can you not make the jump to view these two worlds as individual “roles.” Taking this a step further, you arrive at a time where your habits from Magic and your every day habits each mold together to form a new cohesive personality or set of behaviors. At first glance, this may seem like the same thing as simply being the same in Magic as you are in life, but there are subtle, negative differences.

Rather than develop a single method for dealing with tilt for example, and utilizing that method for both Magic and life, you now have two distinct methods, and either one can call shotgun at any point in time. This means that while sometimes you may be fortunate enough to have your Magic method of dealing with tilt in a productive way bleed over and take charge for an everyday life situation, you will also have the negative impact of your lackluster method for dealing with tilt in everyday life bleed over into Magic. You essentially are rolling the dice every time tilt comes into the equation instead of having a unified method of dealing with it.

If instead, you were able to take the lessons you have learned from Magic and apply them to every facet of your life, you would have a healthier and more consistent set of behaviors which in this scenario, process tilt in a more positive way. Let’s look at another downside to having incongruent Magic and everyday lives.

Habits are formed by repeated similar behavior that also ends in similar results. The brain recognizes these patterns and effectively looks to save on working memory and therefore commits the action to what is essentially your subconscious so that the action may be repeated with ease and efficiency. This is why having a consistent approach to something like tilt (staying on theme for simplicity’s sake) actually translates to easier use of those techniques going forward.

What happens when you introduce confusion into the equation? Now instead of forming a consistent pattern for your brain to condense into habit, you instead approach tilt differently when playing Magic as opposed to in everyday situations. This never allows your behavior to be turned into habit, making it that much more difficult to repeat at even the times where you want to (playing Magic in this case). Essentially, due to the lack of a uniform manner to process the situation, there will be times where your settings get mixed up (similar to the previous example) and you respond to tilt in the wrong manner given the setting. If you develop consistent methods of processing tilt across all walks of life instead, you could avoid this problem by letting natural habit forming commence.

As a last example for why having this disconnect between Magic and life is bad, learning Magic is just like learning any other subject. Rarely are you able to internalize all of the information on the first go and then regurgitate it at will. Instead, it often takes practice and honing in order to develop the skill set properly. If you do happen to learn about tilt but then only practice what you have learned in the confines of Magic, you are robbing yourself of more time on topic and thus slowing your development process. If you practiced the lessons during both Magic and everyday situations, you more quickly learn to hone those skills and personalize them so that they best fit your personality and style.

We are fairly quick to apply our studies from “the real world” over to Magic without a second thought. I apply my psychology to matches all the time just as I am sure the mathematicians out there go through percentages and mana base ratios while the lawyers lie about how many times they mulligan every round (I’m looking at you Tom Martell). It really is as easy as merging the two facets of your life together in order to improve as a human being simultaneous to improving as a Magic player.

I understand there are a multitude of reasons to keep your two lives separate, but almost all of those reasons are surface level bullcrap. There are plenty of things to be ashamed of for example, but playing a game that furthers you as an individual in just about every way possible is not one of them. If you are drawing a line just to keep your Magic playing anonymous, you should heavily consider putting your deck boxes away until you can handle the few childish people who may think less of you for doing something you love because this game is too amazing to be some dark secret that you lead a double life for.

And that is the ultimate point here; to make the seam between your Magic life and everyday life nonexistent. I personally have done a good job in some areas but not others. Applying my Magic lessons to life has been a place where I need improvement, so hopefully this serves as a visual reminder to me to take things slow and not get upset when plans fall apart. That said, we all struggle in different areas when trying to blend our two “lives” together, whether that be scheduling, time management, finances, or any of the other areas we have talked about.

Every marquee player will at some point in his career tell a tale about how for X months, he lived, ate, and breathed Magic. What is stopping us from doing this all the time? Only imaginary boundaries that we self-impose. We need to drop our guards and allow our passions to consume us instead of holding them at arms length, afraid of some mythical negative repercussions.

Personally, I want to take that symbolic date of 01/01/11 and use it for the better. I don’t have a goal for my Magic career or a goal for my everyday life but instead just a goal; no identifiers are needed. I want everything I do to positively move my life forward for both fronts, which will hopefully fade into a single entity as the year progresses. No longer will there be this two-faced creature who applies what he reads about Magic to Magic and what he reads about life to life. They are both components that make me who I am and I should treat them as such. If I intend on improving, I should improve in all ways and not leave half of myself lagging behind.

I am proud to be a Magic player, so now I just need to get my learning process in line with that thinking. Tilt is my biggest weakness right now and I know that. I even have developed the tools to fight it, yet I only apply them some of the time, and most certainly only when slinging spells. What is preventing me from furthering myself in all walks of life other than this fictional distinction I, and we as a community, have created. It is time to let go of the stigmas, the exceptions, and the identifiers and live your life in the fullest way possible. It is time to truly live one life.

Conley Woods

42 thoughts on “Breaking Through – One Life”

  1. Excellent article Conley. I create hamdmade Dragon sculptures of my own design. I do see alot of traits in life that show up in Magic quite a bit. I have always been against Netdecking, but my dislike in that comes from the fact that I hate that it shows in real life also. As I said, I create Dragon Sculptures that I sell at various Renaissance Faire’s around the United States. I used to sell them at Gen Cons and major craft shows, but the next year that I returned to the show I saw clones of my work. People always gave me the same stupid remark that copying is the way of the world right now. It is unfortunately true, too many people don’t apply their own knowledge or know how to a task these days. I find that everyone could have their own unique way of applying their talents, but choose the easy way out. That is why I am biased with my opines on Netdecking and have to apologize for alot of my statements. But if people always take shortcuts now, how do we learn anything? I personally love the feeling of accomplishment. Whether I am creating art or just coming up with a new deck idea. I guess I have never gone with the status quo. After reading Conley’s article here, I find that Magic and real life does mix quite a bit. The challenge is to always be one step ahead of the other’s. I personally don’t release my new dragon designs now until I know I have another design in mind.

  2. Wow. Just wow. Excellently written article, and one I will be recommending to many people. I’m almost ashamed to admit that for my most of my MTG career (I’ve played casually for quite a while) I was a closet gamer, and only recently have I become openly immersed in the game. I think it’s all about balance, and as you said, allowing each aspect of our lives to blend into one.

    Thanks Conley, and good luck in your new year.

    -Moe-

  3. I’m opening up more and more about the game, finding it easier in College than it was in high school. There are things that can and should transfer between Magic and life, and I’m glad that you are helping other people to realize that. Great article.

  4. Just wonderful. The most meaningful article I’ve read on a magic site, and one of the most on any site, happy new year Conley! best of luck to you this year, you deserve the best in this game, and in everything.

  5. Thank you Conley! Very inspirational article. I’ve read many of your works, and it’s amazing how you manage to put out so many high-quality pieces that aren’t necessary about strategy. All the best in 2011 (I’m pretty sure success will come naturally when you can improve your weakness)!

  6. Conley, I love watching your videos, even when you consistently fail to untap Rust Tick.

    You wrote, “Every marquee player will at some point in his career tell a tale about how for X months, he lived, ate, and breathed Magic. What is stopping us from doing this all the time? Only imaginary boundaries that we self-impose. We need to drop our guards and allow our passions to consume us instead of holding them at arms length, afraid of some mythical negative repercussions.”

    I am not a Buddhist, but my experience in life (all 40+ years…) has supported the idea that the “road to happiness” is the middle path, and one’s life should be balanced. Obsession and addiction are real. Just ask Billy Joel, who doesn’t know why he goes to extremes.

    Passion, dedication, commitment, even the German idea of “striving’ are all (probably) good things. But consider the possibility that your reservations about “living the game” may in fact not be mere myth and imagination, but rather the better angels of your nature.

  7. “I understand there are a multitude of reasons to keep your two lives separate, but almost all of those reasons are surface level bullcrap.”

    The power of that sentence could shake the very roots of Mount Everest.

  8. I’ve known you for a little while, and while I am usually the first to critique or point out areas of improvement; I must say that you are hands down the most technically gifted writer on this site. You have this magical way of captivating a reader regardless of the topic being presented. This article is quintessential Conley and I hope other readers appreciate the evolution within your work. Happy Holidays Buddy! 🙂

  9. I’m glad you wrote this. I hope that you’re able to sort this all out. Happy new year, Conley.

  10. So in order to merge your two lives into one entity, does this mean you are going to start paying to have Tarmogoyfs flown to exotic locales with you so they can sleep with other Lhurgoyfs and live with you rent free as their mtg sugar daddy?

    Just wondering. <3 conley

  11. Heh. Interestingly I get way more upset playing Magic than anything else. I can lose a $100 pot at the poker table where my opponent hits running one outers and laugh it off, but some times I just lose it when I lose in an 8-4. I never get mad at people outside of Magic but when someone beats me after playing poorly I get furious. Not really sure how to explain it, but I guess I’m just the opposite of you.

  12. Magic is not life for most people. Maybe for a pro like Conley, but for a normal person with real life concerns? School? Work? Should these directly relate to magic? When a teacher gives a test, do I angrily complain to her, as when I get my boarded Day of Judgmented? I can complain in MTG because there’s no harm. It’s just a game. Just a hobby. NOT a life.

  13. Does screaming “OF COURSE YOU HAD IT, WHY NOT?” at the monitor when the last card of my opponent’s hand is his 4th mana leak and it’s ftw and then throwing chairs around and breaking expensive things count as tilt? Cause if not, then I don’t have a problem with tilting, so I don’t think this article was for me.

  14. @Aberosh

    I’m glad my terrible rage problems make you laugh. 🙂
    (I didn’t make that incident up, in case that makes it funnier)

  15. i knew and always said that you are the man conley. you have a great man inside you, just let it loose

  16. “I want everything I do to positively move my life forward for both fronts”

    you might want to make this more tangible to be able to reassess in 12 months whether you have or have not reached your goal. good luck to you!

  17. The nutters butters this is.

    I have to agree that I’m sick of people being scared of being a gamer. It’s that sort of crap that holds back competitive gaming and considering I’m heavily involved in E-Sports that’s not something I want to happen!

    @Twilder Dude if you can’t find a way to balance paying your way through life and doing something you love you need to prioritize better. There is always a way and there is always time, just be organized!

  18. Thanks conley for another great article. You’ve played some really great magic this year and I’m glad you continue to try and innovate and make interesting decks.

  19. @Blatlas: Life itself and elements of life are not the same. School, work, love, friendships, games etc are similar in that they are things we pursue in life. Structures and norms in society elevate some of these to a higher place in a hierarchy but nevertheless there is only the barriers between them that we create. -> Freedom of the mind when we abandon false structures that hold us down in the limiting of our thoughts and actions.

  20. Most of the time, it seems like articles on tilt are exactly the same, but this was a really good new look at a more general idea of tilt and a much more viable solution than “stay absolutely focused” or “get over it”. I know this was for you more than the reader, but I know I found it really helpful.

  21. Hey Great article. I think that applying Magic to everyday life is something that can be done and to great success. If I’m not mistaken Magic was originally designed by a math teacher to teach algorithms in his math class. Obviously he had full intentions of using Magic to be part of everyday life.

    As for those saying “Magic is just a game, not a life.” I believe that if you ever became a pro player, or had a rating over 2000 then you would change your tune completely. But thanks for pointing out that you don’t.

    Great article!

  22. @cburton : Magic was designed by a game designer named Richard Garfield as something to do between D&D games. The math used to actually play Magic kinda is very simple; what makes it complicated is when you try to make decisions based on probabilities, but Garfield had no intention to push the game to that level of competition.

  23. Wow, this was an incredibly inspirational article. I, as I’m sure many other, kept magic and my “social life” separate until last year. I’ve learned a few lessons on my own about integrating Magic and my other life, but its seems that every article you write, Conley, teaches me something new. Thank you for the article, and keep up the good work. Use this knowledge, and go win a Pro Tour or something. 😀

  24. @MadMageQc

    Hum ho, it seems after googling it instead of trusting what was told at FNM’s, that you are quite correct good sir!

    I would also have to completely disagree with you on the Math of Magic being “very simple” Particularly because I do play at a competitive level, and base a fair amount of plays on calculations. I have a few rules to magic that I was taught, and the 2nd Rule is “learn to count” mostly because a decent majority of magic is about counting, and doing math.

    Thank you for correcting me on passing on false information though!

  25. I’m one of the lucky cases that got to add magic to a social existence without much trouble, and as I educate myself in college, the game provides many complex benefits.

    Taking game ideals and applying them to life is an interesting take, and I think your self-retropsective article is dead on.

    Thanks!

  26. Extremely well written.

    Why would one seperate his two lives? Simple. Because they feel as though they excell at one and not the other.

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