Breaking Through – Pulling Through

Despite the fact that it may seem like otherwise at times, Magic is a part of all of our lives; it is not however our lives altogether. Forgive me if I am being a little too transparent here, but the impact Magic has on my life has never been so apparent as it has in this last month. There is no need for you to go check the premier event schedule and see what big tournament had such an impact on me, because you will be left searching for one if you attempt to do that. No, Magic isn’t all about the big moments and the memorable wins, it is about so much more.

Magic is Everywhere

Magic serves a very hostile role of catering itself to teenagers and early twenty-somethings around the world. Obviously plenty of older players play the game, but in general, most of us were introduced to the game somewhere around that time, or possibly even prior. This may not seem like a big deal in a vacuum, but if you look at the territory Magic has to compete with, it is quite staggering that so many of us stick around. Whether we are just dealing with the inner workings of high school, wooing our first girlfriend/boyfriend, or falling in love for the first time, Magic somehow manages to see us through to the other side of all of that mess and yet I think we tend to take that for granted sometimes. Obviously adult problems enter the equation at some point as well, but attempting to list out such a diverse set of circumstances would be futile, yet still, Magic tends to prevail.

Again, I apologize for the tone as it may come cross as whiny, but it is only intended to provide some comfort to those of you going through similar situations. The last month has been one of the hardest of my life in one very pinpointed area, leaving me in a sort of shambles emotionally. I have had to deal with issues any young adult might have to face at some point, so I am not claiming any special circumstances or anything, but the waters have been quite treacherous. I would say that a majority of the facets of my life have been on a complete hold as a result, but sitting in the corner, with a smirk on its face and an embrace in the holster, sits Magic (and not of the Johnson variety, although that would have been cool too, albeit a tad creepy).

I think that while most of us appreciate the fact that Magic is in our lives, few of us actually realize the impact it constantly is having. Whether we are being educated, releasing some competitive angst, having fun, relieving stress, or using it as an escape, Magic is actually just a Swiss Army knife in the toolkit of life, and yet some of us still claim to think of it as “only a game”.

As cool as it would be to just write about how much Magic improves our lives, I feel that would be lacking in any content that may help you to further your game, so instead, lets look at it from the following angle. When you begin to think of and view Magic in a different light, the rest of your mental game will have a much easier time falling into place. Allowing Magic to show its true colors, actually just makes some of the great lessons of our time that much easier to adhere to.

Focus on what Matters

Consider the idea of focusing on what matters, championed by Zac Hill in PT Honolulu and many more before him. The concept was novel, but it was simply a push to get players focusing on one game at a time and ignoring the blur of movement around, the standings, the record required for a Top 8, etc. His lesson was an important one but it did require one thing on the part of the reader that could not be directly taught: being conscious of the fact that you are not focusing. Once you realized you weren’t the tools were laid out before you to get back to the right path, but you needed to be self-aware in the first place to begin applying those lessons. So how does viewing Magic different change that?

When you begin to realize all of the wonderful benefits Magic has provided you, you learn to become at ease with the mundane situations that can occur in any given moment. Once you realize that win or lose, you have actually already won, the rest comes so much easier. Let me not get too confusing here and give the impression that appreciating all that Magic has done for you will cause you to magically lose your competitive spirit, because it won’t, but the little petty things begin to look so much more novel. Rather than sitting in the corner nervously wondering what it takes to top 8, you naturally begin to take things one step at a time. Things just seem to fall into place.

Imagine this very bad analogy. One of the awkward things about living in the 21st century is centered around sports. It is awesome that we can TiVo a program and watch it later, but doing so for sports and then getting the score spoiled to you can be one of the most frustrating things ever. Lets imagine you have done just that, and you have found out through your friend on accident, that your team, the Lakers, won against the Magic 97-84. If you had just watched the game live, you would probably be pretty nervous whenever the Lakers are down big. If you find this information out first though and then watch that game, you probably will be pretty relaxed when the Magic go up 12 points early in the first quarter. You might even not care when they are still beating your Lakers by 5 at the half. You are at ease, because you already know you have won. Now the obvious flaw in this analogy is that being a little nervous etc is part of the fun of watching sports live where as it isn’t so much fun when playing them, but hopefully the greater point remains.

Tilt seems to be the cornerstone of one’s mental game and the education process surrounding it, and it too can be aided by acknowledging the things Magic provides us. Think about how much harder it is to get angry or upset about an opponent top decking something when it is all put into perspective. If you can take a step back and understand that while this particular moment may in fact suck, it pales in comparison to the amount of positivity that Magic ushers into your life, getting upset just seems silly. Obviously you are allowed your moment of frustration; it is after all, an emotion and therefore would be ridiculous to assume it can’t exist altogether, but it shouldn’t have a prolonged effect on your mental psyche if you are able to come to grips with it in the big picture.

Life is difficult. We are told this from a very early age and it unsurprisingly comes true once we are cognizant of that fact, but Magic should not be a contributing burden to those hardships. Consider the fact that many Magic players take extended breaks or “retire” from the game at some point in their careers. Generally, the reasons behind doing such a thing involve a plate that is too full at the moment and that individual needs to focus on other things. While I can fully support the sentiment here, I think the application is flawed. While life can be burdening them, they generally falsely attribute the thing pushing it over the edge to Magic, when in reality Magic was one of the things keeping them grounded. As a result, almost inevitably, that individual returns to Magic and begins having the time of their life once again.

Magic only becomes a burden when you choose to look at it that way. If you instead choose to focus on furthering yourself as an individual with Magic as an aid toward doing so and on the fact that Magic provides a healthy, safe environment for you to express yourself in such a wide spectrum of ways, its impact is much more liberating than restrictive.

It is not some random chance coincidence that some of the smartest people in the World play Magic. Magic helped propel them to the position they are in today and they still turn to it for a break from time to time. People never “quit” Magic for good because they always know they have a home to turn to when that part of them feels absent.

Obviously I am making a stretch by even writing this article and trying to connect all of these dots that seem miles apart from each other, but hopefully even if I am failing to do so properly, you can form your own connections. It is a bit of a shame that it took a sequence of events leading to nearly rock bottom for me to fully grasp just what I have here at my disposal, but I am grateful to have recognized this now than never at all, which is the primary reason for my writing this; to shine some light on the amazing world we experience in some capacity each and every day.

We all take it for granted sometimes. I know I have and I may do so again in the future, but this entire experience has really forced me to see where my true home lies. It is not a physical location or in any one person, but rather in a community that, through thick and thin, bands together around what by any other account should just be some silly game. These people, these experiences, these memories, these metaphorical hands reaching for me after a fall will never be forgotten and I only hope to make that lesson felt in every game I play from here on out.

I have grown in the last few months. At times I knew it was happening, but I miss-attributed why and now that shrouded gem has been revealed. It is OK to recognize the game for what it actually is. It is more than a game to be sure, but it is not something to get frustrated with. It is something to cherish and to admire for you may never be apart of something so amazing ever again.

Take the time to appreciate the gift we have all been given and your game will flow so much smoother as a result. The petty and the mundane will no longer matter. The mistakes the and bad beats become just another thing to look back on and laugh at. Don’t let your rock bottom hit you before you capitalize on it all like I failed to do.

Again, I apologize for those looking for more strategic content, and I hope my videos etc have provided what I have not done today, but this is what I feel I can best contribute right now. It is certainly a man behind the curtain type of revelation, but it is one that I wish all of you experience at some point. Thank you for your support and your involvement in the community, trust me when I say that someone out there has been changed for the better as a result. Thanks for reading.

Conley Woods

30 thoughts on “Breaking Through – Pulling Through”

  1. i think this article is really great. i thoroughly enjoy when writers take a break from strategic content and look at the philosophy of magic, or the applications of skills built in magic outside of the game itself. there is a lot of great content here, even if it has no strategic value.

    you make for a great ambassador for the game, conley, by writing articles like these that show that magic has more to offer than what it appears on the surface. thanks.

  2. Amazing article, and so true. Magic is kind of a home for me too, when everything else seems to be imploding, its always there, my playtest group, the guys at the shop, my event buddies, always being able to go to it and have a good time and get confident and comfortable. Nice read.

  3. I really appreciate the article conley.

    Yesterday a couple of days ago I had an epic misclick that really pissed me off — I got pretty frustrated about it…took a day off, came back and won a tournament.

    The game has to be about more than winning and losing; there is no way I should have been that angry about a game of magic and I really appreciate the fact that you choose to write these kind of articles that really put things in perspective.

  4. Regrets, we all have had a few. On a different note, what happened to Deck Doctor? It was a good change from all the mindless articles on already proven netdecks and their strategies. You gave us something fresh, then took it away.

  5. that’s all well and good, but did you know you can activate glint hawk idol in response to crush and the crush will be countered?

  6. Conley,

    I’ve been around this site since I got interested in magic (admittedly not too long ago). Let me start by saying this article was the first reason I ever felt compelled to write something on these threads. You’ve given us your heart and soul in this article, and I can’t help but feel awful for whatever in your life has caused you to feel this way. I joined magic online as a means of enjoyment and have thoroughly taking advantage of your posts, mainly your drafts. You are just a fun person to listen to and you have always seemed to take magic light-heartedly, something many people involved in the game could learn a thing or two about. I guess my purpose for writing is to let you understand that while we may be the silent majority, you have a lot of fans who love everything you do here, and that we feel you personally have best exemplified the reason magic is a great game. Keep your hopes up, never forget who you are, and remember that nothing is so bad that it can’t be made better with time. Or Bomb Rares.

  7. Thanks for the feedback everyone. Deck Doc is still around, I had a new deck posted last week and due to the new player/scheduling conflicts this week, it got pushed back, but it is sent in etc and should go up with Monday’s updates

  8. I agree with everything Jason said above. Many a grey winter day has been lightened up by the knowledge then when I get home, there will probably a sweet Conley (or one of the others) draft video waiting for me to enjoy

  9. Man, you have no idea how true you are Conley.

    This game has one of the strongest communities I have had a chance to be a part of. I have played sports since I was 5 competitively, and this nerdy game has found me more friends than any other sports / schooling I have done.

    Great article! Hard times happen to us all. I work 80+ hours a week, but magic and the friends I have made are always there at the end of the day. Heads up, it only gets harder as you get older… So keep a smile on your face and chip away.

  10. @ Conley Life gains momentum and complexity the longer you participate. As a venue magic allows one to channel creativity, positivity, and proactivity which makes us feel good when times are bad. Magic the game is not life, but life is full of magic. The game teaches you to slow down and analyze the board, think before acting, and ultimatley make the best decisions based on what intormation is known. Much like life magic is a sphere of evolution. Things don’t stop being hard when you check out, rather they compound in complexity. Magic is a microcosm of life, that is why it is fun. Life should be fun! Attitude is huge, perspective is huge, actual plays perhaps not so much, what we take away from each battle is what we should keep in scope. Stay true to you and expand your understanding of existance, this is self growth. Life is a game where we all end up in the graveyard at somepoint. It is how we manage our resources, and relationships that matter. Cheers to you for delving in to the philosophy of fire. I hope your journey leads you to happier places!

  11. Hi Conley,

    I would just like to say your article was a great read and I can really relate to it. Although it may seem like we visit the site for strategy and deck lists and videos and so on. We also come here because you are Conley Woods. There is LSV, Matt Nass, PV et al. We like you guys and articles like this enhance the readers’ realationship with you guys while learning about Magic (and life). What I’m trying to say is keep up the great work!!!

  12. you’re always so miserable – do you really have that much to worry about?

    think of Japan, man!

  13. @james; please think before making a comment like that, yes what is happening in Japan is tragic but the fact is you have no idea what the issue that has effected someone who if you listen to his videos or MNM is normally quite up beat to feel like he has hit rock bottom.

    @Conley you are one of the people who make the magic community such a great place to be in. I hope that what ever has hit you so hard is able to resolve itself.

  14. In short: I was glad to see, Conley, that, however life-shattering your recent experiences have been, you don’t scoop.

  15. I know I’m entering a storm here but your article has struck a strange cord inside of me Conley. Many will probably tell me I’m an idiot or ask why I even posted but I feel it’s very important that my viewpoint gets seen, especially when the tone of your article completely invalidates some of my reasons for leaving Magic.

    First and foremost, it’s very easy to look at Magic as a benefit to life if you can make a living doing it. Considering your privilaged position, I see why you can assume such thoughts. You’re a very successful player and designer, so successful that you found sponsorship. (I would be partial to something that pays my rent as well.) And in fact I look at your videos and articles as the primary reason that I go to Channelfireball. In essence, what I’m saying is that I respect your oppinion on Magic. I hope you can take a moment to respect mine as well.

    I do not, unfortunately, agree with this article. I very recently had some hardships as well. My first action was to leave Magic, not because I wanted to of course, but because it is “just a game.” When I say that phrase, I don’t say it in a derogatory way. It’s not derogatory in any way to say that, as your article seems to imply. It’s a fun diversion from life, the same way as going to the movies, drinking, playing video games, etc. Therefore when the problems arise in life, the fringe items within our lives have to be looked at and, potentially, trimmed. When we lose our jobs, we cut expenses; when relationships are failing, we find time somewhere to make it right… Or move on….

    As I said before, I did not want to leave Magic. It’s difficult to leave something that’s been in my life for fifteen years. But of all of my hobbies, it’s clearly the easiest to give up for multiple reasons. It’s overly expensive for very little actual pay-off, it’s time consuming, and it creates a stereotype (do not be offended by this; to ignore the stereotype surrounding Magic would be stupid–many of you have at least one or three people within your playgroup that fits this stereotype). My problems in life require me to think differently. Magic no longer had a place in my life. It did not enrich it anymore than popping a Blu-ray in, or going to dinner with my girlfriend. And while I enjoyed the competitive play (I used to chase PTQs on a weekly basis) I find it now to be a burden of both my time and my patience. With my current problems in life, playing in a tournament, surrounded by players who take “the game” too serious to stop having fun with it, seems idiotic to me.

    I guess what I’m saying is that I don’t see Magic the way you see Magic. In fact I see your article as a hindrance to the fun of Magic. Viewing Magic the way that you do, in such a philosophically serious manner, is what breeds the over-competitiveness that has allowed for Magic to be trimmed from my life. Magic is a game–the word game implies fun and recreation. Magic is not a person to love and for many of us it can’t make our lives easier. It’s just a fun diversion from what’s happening in our lives. For me to look at Magic in the way that your article describes is using Magic as a dark shadowy place to hide from my problems. I did not happily decide to get rid of my cards. But I think my understanding of the game of Magic was a much more practical one.

    I don’t write this to offend you. And I’m sure when you wrote the article you expected at least one person to respond this way. Again, I love Magic. Still read the articles, post on forums, and watch videos. I’m always open to a game of EDH. Perhaps your problems in life merit having Magic around; I can certainly see situations where Magic is a needed diversion (death or loss of loved one is a very difficult thing to deal with and Magic is a great place to start getting back into life after things like this hasve happened). Your article just struck me; I don’t in any way feel that I’m a quitter or disloyal in my decision to leave Magic. In fact I looked at it as a step in the proper direction. It was time I rid myself of things that weren’t contributing to moving my life back in a better direction.

    Anyways, I’m still no less a fan of yours (that’s not a backwards compliment). Love all the great deck ideas you have and I think this game needs more great minds like yours to help promote the creativeness that has left the world of competitive Magic. Maybe one day I’ll see you on MTGO where I occasionally do a draft….

  16. @tonyadpx

    I think you are confused a little bit here and are actually walking proof of my article. You have not quit Magic. You are here, reading a Magic article, you admit to playing drafts on occasion and playing EDH etc. Sure, you quit competitive Magic, but the community that you became a part of 15 years ago still plays a role in your life.

    This is the power of Magic, it is not just about the cards and the tournaments. Being a part of Magic means being a part of something so much bigger. You may not realize, but in these troubling times of yours, you have continued to be a part of the community despite not thinking so. I wish you the best on your endeavors and appreciate the feedback.

  17. Good article.

    I played magic in the 90’s. Stopped for pretty much the entire double oughts… I didn’t want to be associated with the ‘stereotype’ and at that time in my life it mattered to me. Then 2 years ago a friend of mine (41) years old, was telling me about how he played, I told him I used to play. 2 weeks later I am down at the hobby store, I bought 300 dollars worth of various packs. Alara, 2010 and zendikar. Knew I wanted a big pile to start trying to build decks out of. Our playgroup got together 2 times a week religiously. We would all bring about 5-6 decks a night. Mostly standard (reflecting my card collection) but some other casual variants.

    I moved last year to a brand new place. Don’t know very many people and I had to leave the collection behind for a while. So I started drafting at the local card shop. My work life is pretty stressful and it’s pretty constant 6-7 days a week. But the nights I get to head to the card shop and do the draft… I value more than any other. Sure it’s just a game. But it’s more. For me it’s a welcome place where I put everything else aside. I test out new ideas. I try to draft as well as I can. I do a little bit of trading.

    I am 37 years old. Quite a bit older than the standard mtg demo. I have been through losses and love and struggles and trials like you would not believe. This community is very special to me for a lot of different reasons.

    We are all trying to come up with the best ideas. We are all trying to master the best plays and improve our games. We all want to get that playset. The game is a frame for many fellow minds. Perhaps we toil at something that ultimately means nothing. It is just a game. At the same time, true wisdom will come when you realize that all of life is really just a game in the end.

  18. I guess in an abstract way you’re correct. Thanks for responding to my post. Hope I didn’t offend….

  19. I was going to quit Magic right after nationals this year, in order to save some money and focus more on my studies. Then the scars pre-release happened. My break from Magic didn’t last long at all, so don’t feel bad about your connection with the game.

  20. I’m with you completely Conley! You put into words what I have been thinking for some time about the world of MTG. Since I got into it around the time of Guildpact, I have not been the same person. Its a mental and social escape and great network. Kudos to your imput!!!

  21. I sorry for shatter your dreams but Magic is not the solution for anything in the real life. I understand that you get some money from this game for the time being but I would rather focus in the next 10/20 years in the future. What are you going to do then? Continue playing? Think in a backup…. fast. You really do not want to go to a job interview to a non-WotC company saying that you have being “playing” the last 10/15 years.

    The truth is that you are alone out there (like anyone else; take or.. well, take it) and the truth is that this most people of this “comunity” are the most despiciable bunch of losers you will ever meet.

    BTW, I do play Magic from time to time; I love the game. Trouble maybe is that I hate most of the people that play it.

    If you can accept the counsel from “un amigo”: Get a life; a real one

  22. @un_amigo i have being a magic judge on my CV and do you know what, it causes discussion. I hate one interviewer who was a fellow player and allowed us to have a conversation. And others have asked what the game was, what it intails and what i feel it has done for me as a person. As for conley, he now has a regular coloum on to websites which talking to a potential enployeer will do he carrer the world of good.

    So please do be negative for the sake of it, it doesnt help anyone!

  23. If you make a risky movement it is up to you to assume the responsability. I mean, if your only working experience is “to play a game”, do not be surprised to be in a hard situation in the medium/long term without a backup plan. It is the same as any other decission in life: you have to consider the effect of it in the future. Regarding the backup plan, it may be whatever: A university degree, a chicken farm… e.g.: LSV: he rules now an online shop.

    The guy in HR is interested in the other 99,99% of the CV. To be MTG Judge is not a very usefull skill to show. Let’s be clear here, the majority of the people do not know the game, it maybe very possible that you have given the wrong impression to that people (or at least not the impression you thought it should give).

  24. Being a MTG judge shows i have the ability to communicate with other people who i dont know, explain complex situations to those who need it explained to them and the ability to work as a team. Last i heard most HR people look for things along those lines.

    And maybe you should understand the person before basically insulting them, Conley has a Degree which he gained in the last year. So yea think he does have some form of back up plan.

  25. @un_amigo

    Nowhere in his article does he say anything about playing magic fulltime for the sake of making a living is the purpse of playing.

    What you are saying is similiar to what I have heard about people playing professional sports… no they won’t play the game until they die, and unless they get famous they too will have to find another job when their career ends. They get to put on there resume they played ‘a game’ for the last 15 years and even if the ‘game’ is known they will still need something else besides that if they are going to get hired for anything substantial. That is why most athletes (if skipping college to go pro) ill go back and finish it when they end their pro career.

    The ‘game’ whether it is baseball, football, magic, swimming whatever teaches us more sometimes than sitting in an office 8 to 5 every day for the same 15 years…regardless of what it looks like on a resume.


    Great article on what really matters in life and how magic fills a role that others things (like watching a movie) can’t.

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  27. Great to see some perspective from a Pro Magic player. I think that’s what brings me back to your articles – you break through to talk about the nature of the game. Keep up the good work man.

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