I’m a lucky guy. Not only do I get to enjoy all the conveniences inherent in life in a First World country in the twenty-first century, but I have the exquisite privilege of playing and writing about the greatest game ever made, and make money while doing it. Not only can I book a flight anywhere in the country for the price of a playset of Scalding Tarns (getting there in a matter of hours, rather than the weeks our forefathers had to spend), but I frequently exercise that privilege, playing on the Pro Tour, Grand Prix, and SCG circuits week-in and week-out. Too often, Magic professionals bemoan the variance in their results, the missed win-and-in, the vagaries of tiebreakers and the wearing travel schedule. Too infrequently, we take a step back and recognize that we are among a fortunate crust of humanity, and basically every element of our lives would be an amazing blessing for most people who have ever lived.
How appropriate, then, that this past week was Thanksgiving in the United States, and I was fortunate enough to be able to spend it with so many people I would never have met without Magic. My two roommates, Dan Jordan and Michael Segal. The first Magic player I ever felt like I really mentored, Joe Demestrio. Elite professional players, Jacob Wilson and Shuhei Nakamura. A Japanese pro I had never met before, Rei Sato. Friends and family galore. The fact that at our house in Las Vegas, people from as disparate places as Oklahoma and Tokyo got to meet and share a meal together is a testament to the things that Magic makes possible.
For many people that I have met in my long career playing competitive Magic, their relationship with the game bordered on unhealthy at times, and part of that reversal hinged on their failure to express gratitude, to remember all of their good fortune. The biggest enemies of happiness are entitlement and expectation, and Magic seems to make people vulnerable to both. For all the good it offers, obsession and a need for results commensurate with players’ opinions of themselves can poison a beautiful thing. It’s time to remember all the good Magic has brought into our lives, and consider the best way to integrate Magic into a healthy, positive overall lifestyle.
How has Magic benefitted you? Has it taught you transferable heuristics for how to evaluate decisions in your day-to-day life? Has it brought you friendships you’d otherwise never have had? Has it brought you a community of like-minded people to discuss esoteric aspects of the game with? Has it been a source of income? Has it been a source of pride in your excellence and a source of motivation to keep getting better? Has it helped you control your emotions in the rest of your life, because nothing will ever feel as good as topdecking the last Fanatic of Mogis for lethal in the finals of a PTQ, and nothing will ever feel as bad as losing to a topdecked Sphinx's Revelation in a win-and-in at the Pro Tour? Has it brought you, at the age of seventeen, to a foreign city with no money, no place to stay, and no knowledge of the local language, and forced you to sell your Revised dual lands to Craig Wescoe to pay for a hostel? (Welcome to my Pro Tour: Amsterdam experience. Thanks for letting me travel alone, Mom!) Magic has done all this for me, and more, in addition to simply giving me an entire dimension of things to think about that other humans simply aren’t fortunate enough to encounter. The fact that Ph.D’s and fast-food service workers often find themselves equally ensnared by the intricacies of Magic is unimaginable in any other field of study, and that in and of itself is awe-inspiring.
Of course, it goes without saying that the next step after examining how Magic has benefitted each and every one of us is to examine if we are helping or harming others in their attempts to realize the same benefits. Do you remember the first time you were giddy with excitement at a Magic-related achievement? It could have been a Top 8 at FNM, or the first time you beat the best player in your local store. Even making a cool play in a single game, breaking through with a new realization about what was possible in the game of Magic, is cause for celebration and pride. Please, don’t begrudge others those same opportunities, even if you think it’s silly and doesn’t mesh with how you enjoy the game. It wasn’t until I started gunslinging at local game stores with Team Metagame Gurus that I got to witness younger versions of myself going bananas because one of them beat a professional player. Their (and everyone’s) joy is important, and it matters as much as anyone’s sense of propriety about who should and should not be playing competitive Magic. Being rude or arrogant is the exact antithesis of the type of gratitude and humility that is integral to having a positive relationship with the game. It just doesn’t make sense to belittle others for their excitement with however they decide to enjoy Magic. Try to remember how excited you were when you first experienced a big “aha” moment, and help others have “aha” moments of their own. Paying it forward is the key to properly expressing gratitude.
In the spirit of gratitude and humility that we need more of in Magic, this seems like the appropriate time and place to share with you all that this will be my final article with Gathering Magic, and I have nothing but thanks for their willingness to take me on as a writer and video creator for the last fifteen months. It’s been a year of great personal growth for me, hitting Gold after two years of the Silver slog and moving out of my folks’ home to experience life in Las Vegas. Part of that change is attributable to Gathering Magic, and the income from this writing job which allowed me to focus wholly on competitive Magic while forcing me to stay abreast of the metagame in order to provide accurate, pointed commentary on all the relevant formats. If it weren’t for the fine folks at the helm of Gathering Magic, as well as my teammates, colleagues, and students on East-West Bowl, Metagame Gurus, and the Magic Mastermind, I would likely not be a Gold-level pro, and my Magic career would be moribund. There are simply so many people to thank for their support and willingness to work with me, and it pains me to think of how often I have disregarded them and wallowed in self-pity when even a single tournament result doesn’t break my way.
Time for a bit of a personal confession, though I have discussed this phenomenon before. Many times in my Magic career, I have been on the brink of quitting. I’ve been pulled back in so many times, I’ve almost lost count. It started when I lost in the Top 8 of four different PTQs for PT Nagoya, and I was distraught. I was ready to pack it in and focus on starting college, but I decided to play in some SCG Opens that summer and racked up some solid finishes with a Caw-Blade derivative. Then I qualified on rating for PT Philadelphia by a single point, sweating the updated ratings page all that week after school. In Philly, I beat Martin Juza to make day two of that event despite my own poor play. Ari Lax was willing to ID with me in the final round, and I even hit Top 32 on tiebreakers! This qualified me for Worlds and for PT Honolulu. After losing in the Top 8 of a Grand Prix back when you had to Top 4 for the invite, I was on the outside looking in for the next Pro Tour, and I thought that was the end of my short Magic career. Then, I got a special invite for PT Avacyn Restored, which locked me for Gold, and another year on the train. I performed poorly, culminating in going from 9-2 to 9-7 at PT Theros, and that was when I really thought I was going to give it up. All it took was one topdecked Fanatic of Mogis at a PTQ at 2am in Connecticut, and I was back at it, with back-to-back Top 16 finishes at the next Pro Tours to bring me within a hair of Platinum.
The next year I performed poorly, and wasn’t even able to compete in the final Pro Tour, and I thought that that was the end. I ended up with an RPTQ invite and a Silver invite to play in a few more Pro Tours, but I punted my win-and-in at a Grand Prix and ended up missing on qualifying for Eldritch Moon. I was focused on other parts of my life, and seriously entertained calling it quits that year. I wanted to get involved in entrepreneurial ventures, something Silicon Valley-esque. I was reading a lot of self-help books, thinking about the next steps and how I wasn’t enjoying my 9-to-5 desk job. I was writing a lot of non-Magic-related stuff, philosophy and politics (which you can read at www.modernmanifesto.com if you’re so inclined!) I thought that it was essentially the end of my Magic career, but I reached out to many friends (almost all of whom I met through Magic), and sought their advice. One thing rang true above all else: Magic was where I had my disproportionate experience. Magic was the place where I could stand out. Magic was my vehicle for helping others and making money while doing it. If I wanted to try a stint of “funemployment”, Magic content and tournament play could be the way to pay bills and build a personal brand. So, I emailed Gathering Magic, and explained that I was going to give it one more try, and document my thoughts through the trials of grinding up to Gold through RPTQs and GPs. They decided to take me on, and I dove back into competitive Magic with a vengeance. In fact, one of my first articles on this website was about how I qualified for PT Kaladesh, way back in August of 2016. Here it is, if you are inclined to take a trip down memory lane: http://www.gatheringmagic.com/benfriedman-08262016-bankrupting-bant-company-at-the-rptq/
Of course, I could never write an article looking back on my reasons for gratitude without thanking the editorial staff here at Gathering Magic for allowing me to go a little bit wild with the virtual pen, in possibly my most preposterous article ever. If the vast majority of my pieces have been fairly staid looks at new archetypes and emerging changes in the major Constructed formats, “Conspiracy Theories” is at the complete opposite end of the spectrum, and I am still proud of it. Believe me, this is not something I anticipate being able to top in the near future: http://www.gatheringmagic.com/benfriedman-09232016-conspiracy-theories/
Now, I’ve thanked my teammates, friends, family, publisher, and Magic itself for the experiences I’ve had playing the game, but there is one group that I have yet to acknowledge. You, my readers. If it weren’t for you reading the words I put down, they would be meaningless, and I’d have been wasting my time. Thanks to folks like you, Magic has grown over years of varying difficulties, with a robust customer base that stands ready to support the greatest game no matter what. Always feel free to reach out, and I will try to respond to any and all messages that come my way. It’s truly been an honor and a pleasure writing for you all, and I hope it’s been as enjoyable reading my work as it was creating it. Good luck in all your future tournaments, but maybe even more important than tournament success, heed the words of Bill S. Preston, Esq., and “Be excellent to each other!”