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Magic and Relationships

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As I mention in my Gathering Magic bio, I started playing Magic when I moved to Seattle in 2012 in order to meet people. I wasn’t a gamer, and I didn’t know much about the gaming world—I hung out with professional chess players in college and played an occasional match, but I hadn’t played a board game or held a video-game controller in over a decade. But when the only friend I had in Seattle taught me how to play Magic on a whim, something clicked. I decided I wanted to continue playing and improving at this game—partly because I had a knack for it right off the bat and partly because I saw how popular it was in my new city.

Tribal Unity
The thing that set Magic apart from other games for me was the constant stream of interaction between opponents. At the regional chess competitions I attended with friends, tournament officials were in charge of shushing the onlookers so the players could have complete silence; a Magic tournament room was always abuzz with voices, casting spells, passing turns, and responding to triggers. I value the face-to-face interactions I have with other Magic players so highly that I still actively seek them out, and as a result, most of my social circle is made up of people I’ve met at tournaments. Whether you’re slinging spells at Friday Night Magic or grinding Preliminary Pro Tour Qualifiers, you’re bound to see the same people time and again. Through playing Magic and interacting with the community through social media, I’ve encountered countless good acquaintances, forged several close friendships, and even started a relationship with a man I hope to marry someday.

My whole life seems to revolve around Magic nowadays, and I often have to take a step back and remind myself that not everyone around me plays the game or approaches it the same way I do. I compete several nights a week, in person and online, and am often out of the house for seven to ten hours on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon; that’s not the norm for my closest Magic-playing friends, who are closer to the casual end of the spectrum. After two years of trial and error, I’d like to share what I’ve learned about balancing competitive play with my obligations to friends and family.

 


Shortly after I joined the Seattle Magic scene, someone told me about a Facebook forum for local players. The group served as a community hub, where members shared spoilers, deck ideas, and predictions and organized play sessions and trades. About a week after the Gatecrash prerelease, I met a fellow named Robert at one of our local game stores to trade him some Dimir cards for the Standard mill deck he was building, and as often happens when two strangers frequent the same place, I started noticing him more and more once I had associated a name with his face. I later discovered that it was no coincidence that Robert and I were running into each other at the store so often—after we met, he started spending even more time there than usual so that he might see me again. After we conducted our second trade, involving a foil Ogre Slumlord and some Rat tokens, he asked me out for coffee; two years later, we share custody of an apartment, a puppy, and a sizable collection of Magic cards.

Ogre Slumlord
Robert and I have always had different approaches to the game: He played in all-day Commander extravaganzas while I was off at PTQs; he loved Limited, while I considered myself a Constructed specialist; he brewed up some spicy Standard decks, and I helped him edit them. Over time, we realized that our differences were complementary, not conflicting, and we ended up teaching each other quite a bit. I credit Robert for helping me improve in Sealed and go over my pools with him after every Sealed PPTQ; he still asks me to playtest Standard with him, though he’s become much more proficient at streamlining his brews and is probably even better at sideboarding than I am. Our different needs and preferences brought us together to trade in the first place, and respectfully listening to each other’s perspectives brought us closer together than we ever could have imagined.

Though Robert doesn’t experience Magic the way I do, the fact that he plays the game mitigates a lot of potential relationship stress. Having a partner who understands what you’re doing, even if he or she doesn’t share your exact goals, makes it much easier for you to relate to one another. Robert has never played in a StarCityGames Open, and he rarely attends Grand Prix, but he’s familiar with the event structures and knows how important it is for me to do well. He debriefs with me over dinner after every major tournament I attend, whether I want to celebrate a victory or need a pick-me-up after a loss. He encourages me to go out and compete, even when I feel I shouldn’t, and he has made untold sacrifices for the sake of my career. (After we brought our new puppy home last summer, he took a hiatus from Limited PPTQs and GPs so he could puppy-sit while I was out playing. I am undeservedly lucky.)

 


Relationships work best when both parties put in equal amounts of effort, and I try to support my noncompetitive, Magic-playing loved ones as much as they support me. Players on every level have personal goals, whether it’s winning a PTQ, an FNM, or a match against a more experienced friend or family member. Be respectful of your friends’ goals, even if they differ from yours, and offer help when asked, but try not to give unsolicited advice or opine excessively. When a friend asks me what she should play at our local Standard FNM, I’ll ask which macro-archetypes she prefers rather than insist she play a deck that won a recent tournament.

Teysa, Orzhov Scion
I go to FNM fairly often, though the player base tends to skew casual. I like to be visible in the community and enjoy interacting with the local player base, but the main reason I go is to spend time with a good friend whom I wouldn’t be able to see much otherwise. Most of my friends have one preferred format, store, or event type; if I want to share the game I love with a friend who only plays in prereleases, for example, it would be much easier for me to sign up for a prerelease at his store of choice than for him to drive to Vancouver with me for a GP. Over the years, I’ve built Commander decks to humor my friends, and I was recently pestered into creating a Teysa, Orzhov Scion Tiny Leaders deck. I have a lot of the same habits and mannerisms no matter where I’m playing, and I still aim to win every game I play, but I welcome the occasional opportunity to play low-pressure Magic.

 


I’ve met almost all my friends and acquaintances in Seattle through Magic—all but one that is. I met Zoe upon moving here (the same friend who taught me to play Magic introduced us), and she has since become both my closest friend in Seattle and the only friend I have here who doesn’t play this game that has taken over my life. Zoe has watched my transformation from uber-n00b to community leader, and while she enjoys hearing about my accomplishments, she prefers that I spare her the details. When discussing the game with loved ones who have no interest in learning to play, I try to keep my stories succinct. Most of my nearest and dearest muggles can tell you how many rounds are in a GP, how drafting works, and how I did in my last PPTQ, but I won’t teach them the rules of the game unless they ask me.

Mardu Shadowspear
It can be hard to keep track of your friends and family when you’re playing in four tournaments a week. I try to abide by one simple rule: Don’t cancel existing plans to play Magic. If you’re considering backing out of a social engagement because the grinders you test with decided to drive to an out-of-town PPTQ on a whim, just don’t do it. There will always be more tournaments. You won’t regain the time you could’ve spent in the company of good friends.

 


Last season, I made a list of every PPTQ within reasonable driving distance and tried to attend them all, ever intent on my first Pro Tour invite. I almost made it there—on Valentine’s Day, I wanted to spend the day with Robert, who was set on playing in Game Day and collecting a play set of Mardu Shadowspears for his W/B Warriors deck, so I reluctantly skipped a PPTQ in nearby Redmond and tagged along.

Robert was ecstatic to be running over his opponents with his latest brew, and it was bittersweet to see him finish the Swiss in second place while my poor tiebreakers relegated me to ninth. Missing Top 8 stung, as always, but I didn’t want to compete against Robert. I was there to support him, just as he supported me by traveling to Standard GPs with me last year. This was his tournament, not mine. I took charge of our dog, who had spent most of the Swiss perched in Robert’s lap, and held him while Robert advanced to the finals.

Till next time, may you find good compromises with your friends and fellow players.


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