When the Grind Grinds You Down

There have been times when I wake up in the morning and there is nothing I’m looking forward to more than playing cards in the evening. There have also been times when I feel obligated to play and am generally frustrated and disinterested in the game.

Tournament Magic is a grind. To describe something as a grind doesn’t exactly perpetuate the idea of a peaceful, easy feeling. Tournament Magic is difficult and requires a ton of mental, financial, physical, and emotional energy to play competitively. Because of that, I’ve been taking a long needed break from tournament Magic for roughly the past month.

The Grind and Me

As much as we like to romanticize the experience of the grind with tales of road trips with buddies, the constant travel, practice and preparation can and does take its toll. Don’t get me wrong—tournament Magic is an amazing experience and I love it, but it is also a ton of effort on a week-in-and-out basis.

I wouldn’t trade Magic as a hobby for anything, but there is a breaking point where it begins to have diminishing returns.

I tend to do things compulsively. I have an addictive personality. I tend to become deeply invested in whatever activity I do. Despite being aware of these tendencies, I’ve found these behaviors difficult to shake. It doesn’t mean that I don’t constantly try, but changing myself is a difficult and ongoing process.

I bring this up because I wonder how many other people who play competitive Magic are like me in that regard. It takes a tremendous amount of dedication to devote so much to the travel and preparation necessary to participate in the grind.

I’ll also admit that taking time off from tournaments feels like losing ground to the rest of the field. You only have so many opportunities to qualify for the Pro Tour and skipping events could be a big missed chance.

Just Not Feeling It

The last tournament I played was the RPTQ for Rivals of Ixalan almost a month ago where I made Top 8, but didn’t earn the invite. I got home from the event at two in the morning (like so many other events) and felt physically, emotionally, and mentally exhausted.

It had been nearly two months straight of traveling to a tournament almost every single weekend and I felt run down with nothing to show for my effort but a bunch of Pro Points that didn’t do anything for me. On top of that, the grueling pace of tournaments and travel had worn me down to the point that I woke up with a pretty nasty virus.

I woke up the next morning and cancelled my flights through December. I knew that it was time to take a break from the grind because I simply didn’t feel like playing or playtesting anymore.

For me, I could tell that something wasn’t right. I love Magic and playing tournaments, and to have zero desire to play signified that something was wrong with my approach. There was never a point where I felt like I was done with Magic forever—I just needed a break from tournament Magic.

Return of the Jedi

When I decided to take a break from playing tournaments, I wasn’t even sure what I’d do with all of the time that Magic preparation takes up!

On the one hand, I felt like taking a break from tournaments was giving up opportunities in Magic. I didn’t want to spend all of that time just goofing off and falling further behind the pack, so I decided that I would use my break from tournaments as an opportunity to make positive changes in my life.

The grind doesn’t facilitate healthy lifestyle choices easily (at least for me) and so I used the time to work on setting the groundwork for positive, healthy change. I again set my mind to quitting smoking (three weeks), eating healthy, and forming an exercise routine. These are all things that I have done in the past (that dramatically improve the quality of my life) but had fallen by the wayside somewhere along the way.

I arranged for quality-time with non-Magic family and friends who had gotten a little neglected over the past few months while I was immersed in the grind. I spent quality time with my extremely patient and supportive girlfriend. She had never seen any of the Star Wars movies and we’ve been watching our way through them together in anticipation of going to see The Last Jedi in theaters.

I also rediscovered my enthusiasm for Magic amid all of these changes. I didn’t take a break from Magic. I took a break from the grind of Magic. I still Battle Box and Old-School Battle Box with anybody who feels like jamming games. I’ve been jamming some Leagues on MTGO. I watch a little bit of coverage. I keep up with the writers and articles that I think are genuinely interesting. I built a Commander deck. I’ve been teaching my dad and girlfriend how to play Magic.

I needed a reminder that Magic is fun and not endless work and toil, and taking a step back has afforded me the opportunity. I think my Magic writing has improved as a result of changing my perspective. I’ve been looking forward to writing about topics that I enjoy and am passionate about every week that are outside of the typical grinder subject matters.

I found myself looking at flight information for New Jersey last night. Not because I felt like I had to go, but because I genuinely wanted to play Ixalan Sealed. I haven’t played in a Grand Prix since Phoenix and I’ve gone from dreading traveling to a tournament to enthusiasm to attend a big event. What a difference a little bit of time can make!

I don’t think the grind is inherently good or bad. I know today’s article paints it in a certain light but it is whatever you make it. I was obviously focusing too much energy on the wrong things in my life and needed to take some time to sort that out, and I’m glad that I did.

Winning at Magic is not a solution to other problems in life. But making positive changes in your life is a solution to not winning at Magic. It’s okay to take a step back. In fact, it often helps your perspective to do exactly that. Time really does heal all wounds. The lesson I learned from all of this is that I will never again grind Magic tournaments out of a sense of obligation. I will play when I want, where I want, and what I want—and most importantly, I’m going to enjoy doing what I love: playing Magic.

To all the grinders out there who get burnt out—I feel you. As a professional player who took an extended break from tournaments and spent that “grinder energy” on making other positive changes, it helped.

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