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Trade Routes – Keeping Things in Perspective

Disclaimer: This article will have no information about trading, buying, or selling. I will not be talking about speculated card values nor will you gain any insider information on the inner workings of the financial world. In fact, there is no financial content at all. This article is a personal reflection/rant about Magic and if you do not want to read any further, I will understand. Have no fear though, I will be back next week with more financial content.

I want to start this week’s column by posing a question to my readers. How many of you have found yourself frustrated with some aspect of Magic? Have any of you been to the point in which you wanted a break? Or to get out completely? For me, I was close to this point.

This past week has been pretty difficult for me Magicwise. I was finding myself a bit disenchanted with both the trading/selling aspect of the game as well as the Constructed play. I thought long and hard about the reasons that I still play Magic and whether or not I needed to change something about how I approach this game.

I started noticing this early in the week, fellow Channelfireball Writer and Level 6 Pro Conley Woods was over at my house and we were recording a draft. The night before, we did a draft together for fun and I found myself a little bit bored with the format. Now, it could have been the couple bottles of wine that found themselves empty and the contents in our tummies, or simply the hour at which we decided to draft, but I dismissed the negative feelings as nothing more than a product of the night. The next day, we recorded a draft (which should go up soon) and I realized that it wasn’t just the wine or the sleep deprivation that left me with these feelings. Now was this a Jerry Maguire moment for myself? Did I eat a couple of pieces of bad pizza, go to bed and grow doubts? Well, I had to find out.

So a few days passed, and I made it a purpose to not involve Magic in my life in any way. That meant no article reading, no MTGO, and no working on my cube. I even made it a point to not talk with my Magic Friends. Metaphorically, I felt like a morphine addict, being denied his drug. Until this point, I had not realized how important Magic had become to my life. A majority, hell the entire population of my friends in Denver, were made because of this game.

When I denied myself Magic, I realized that aside from hanging out with the wife, I didn’t have a lot else going. I know it sounds sad, but this game has created for me a social life, a circle of friends and an income. Without knowing it, I was living, eating and breathing Magic on a daily basis. Sure, I had classes to attend and classes to teach this past week, but even then, Magic crept in.

The 8:00am class that I teach on Fridays are full of Game Art and Design students. This class is definitely pretty awesome as basically everyone present is a gamer in some fashion. Early on in the term, they learned that I too was a gamer and that Magic took up a large portion of my “free time.” I then learned that these same students played Magic and every once in awhile, we would talk cards. This past week was no exception.

Not to digress, Magic has crept into almost every major aspect of my life and if I was really becoming disenchanted, what should I do? What would you do? As a community, we have lovingly nicknamed this game, “cardboard crack.” But to me, it really has become this. Do I quit the game cold turkey? Suffer the withdrawals, eventually knowing that I would get over it. I assume my friends would continue to be my friends, although the most commonly shared activity would no longer be so, which in turn could decrease the amount of time spent together and potentially damage the friendships? Or can I wean myself slowly from the game?

Identity

Let’s be honest, I don’t think I can do either of these things. As much as I wanted to not be in a slump, I knew that Magic was probably only a fraction of what was really going on. So I started to reflect on my life as a whole. What were the other important aspects of my life?

In the field of Communication Studies, we find ourselves studying how people communicate their identity/identities. Often, while teaching this subject area, I refer to an identity as “wearing a hat.” Within identity theory, we recognize that a person’s portrayal of identity will change depending on who they are surrounded by. So with a little self-reflection, I had to think about what “hats” I wear.

First and foremost, I wear the hat of “husband” and “friend,” but I also wear the hat of “teacher” and “student” and finally “Magic Guy.” What I needed to do was prioritize what was important. At this point, I knew Magic was too important to just toss that “hat” out, but I needed to respark my passion for the game and everything surrounding it (writing for CFB, trading/selling/buying, and managing formats). To do this, I needed a plan.

To begin, I started looking at what aspects of this game I liked best. For me, I will always love trading, as it’s outcome is not only mentally satisfying, but the monetary contributions it makes to my pocketbook are well worth the time. This in turn, makes writing about this subject matter equally important. But is that what this game has turned into for me? Playing this game has always been why I do everything else, but if I am not enjoying the play, how long until I stop the trading?

Earlier, I made the statement that trading was both mentally and monetarily satisfying. But I had to ask myself, why do I trade? Honestly, I rarely trade because I need the cards. More often than not, I am trading to turn a profit, or because I am bored. In fact, I trade more for other people than I do for myself. Often, I take cards that people don’t need and turn them into cards they do, which by process alone lets me keep everything extra. Also, building the relationships with people through trading is as satisfying as making money and alleviating boredom.

So let me ask you, the reader: why do you trade? So many people today refuse to trade. Whether they were majorly ripped off, or they simply find it not worth the time, those who do trade seem to do so for various reasons. My reasons are listed above, but these same reminded me that I play for the people and relationships.

Playing this game has been both frustrating and rewarding at the same time. I started playing casually before moving into the competitive world. At first I wasn’t very competitive and would often play whatever deck seemed fun. A good friend of mine at the time was an avid rogue deck builder and would often play insanely complex rogue decks that relied upon complex interactions before the killing the opponent. However, when we were hanging out and playing all the time, the decks he built were too complex for me and as a result, my results were poor.

As a player, I recognized that I have always been a Spike and losing with rogue decks to Gruul, Ghost Dad, and Solar Pox was getting old. At this point, I made the decision that I wanted to play competitively, and expend the resources necessary to do so. This meant that I would always try and play the best deck. For the following eight years, I carried a love/hate relationship with this game.

I recognized early on that when trying to become the best Magic player I could, I would have to play all the formats. Unfortunately for me, I didn’t buy that and I focused very little attention towards the limited formats. Occasionally, we would draft but for the most part, Magic consisted of Vintage, Legacy, Extended and Standard. At the time, EDH/Commander did not exist and we rarely played anything multiplayer.

Being consistently competitive in all formats is and will continue to be difficult. We all know this. As seasons rotate, Standard is still always being played. For me, during any given season, I have Vintage, EDH/Commander, and Draft to consistently think about. This takes up a lot of time and with real life events consistently unfolding, it’s easy to lose perspective.

That’s what happened to me. Somewhere in the transition between Sealed Format to Extended, while managing Vintage, EDH/Commander and Standard has been rough. To be fair, my Vintage playing has decreased significantly due to my schedule, but I have been paying attention nonetheless. Throughout all of this, I started to forget why I played this game.

As I realized where my frustration stemmed from, I was also reminded on why I love this game so much. For the past week and a half, I have been slowly building a cube. It’s a powered cube with almost 800 cards in it and creating the list took an incredible amount of time to build as I tried to ensure a variety of cards and archetypes to be present within the cube.

I decided to build this cube because I wanted something different. Unlike other casual formats, this cube has no pre-written strategies for it and keeping up simply requires playing with it regularly for the first time in awhile, I was playing Magic simply for the fun of it. There were no packs, no money and no plane tickets on the line. In fact, the only thing we played for was bragging rights.

There were five of us last night who drafted and it was a blast. Each of us was pretty excited as Cube drafting is not very popular outside of a few particular circles and so I think everyone wanted to see this succeed. As we drafted, we debated the legitimacy of particular cards within the cube. Some cards were a bit questionable and some were just not powerful enough. One aspect of building the cube also entailed not including extra copies and as we drafted we did find a couple of duplicates. In the end, we all had a great time and currently I am in the process of checking and editing the list of cards that are not worthy of staying (Icatian Javelineers, Serrated Arrows) and looking towards different cards to be added (Recurring Nightmare).

Cube

For me, the cube reminded me of why I play this game and how that is different than why I continue to. I started out because I had friends who played and it gave us an opportunity to play and drink beer during college. After that, as I was moving around the country for graduate school, it was an awesome way to meet new people. A majority of the friendships in my life revolve around this game. Now, Magic is a major aspect of my social life and it provides me a humble income. I guess I just needed to gain perspective, which all of this reflection has given me.

So in the end, I hope that my struggles and frustrations can serve as a lesson to those who find themselves become angry and bored with this game. Hopefully, if you reflect upon what you enjoy and re-prioritize those aspects, you will remember what you love about this game. I appreciate everyone who made it this far and I look forward to seeing you all next week as I return to the world of the financial.

Until next time,

Brian Grewe
MTGO: briangrewe

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