Why I Went on an Eight-Week “Fast” From Magic: The Gathering

I am one of the many players of Magic: The Gathering who first got into the game back in college, stopped playing for some reason or another, and picked it up again after a hiatus of several years. I returned just as Dark Ascension hit the streets and played, traded, and lived Magic ever since. Eight weeks ago, however, I went on a strict “fast” from anything and everything related to Magic.

I am a casual, “kitchen table” Magic player. I have a DCI number and have been to a few Friday Night Magic events, but I never intended on being a semi-professional or professional player. I was just looking to play the game.

Early in 2013 (around the time of Gatecrash), I moved a half-a-dozen states away from the place where I had lived for nearly 25 years. I left behind good friends, valued colleagues, and familiar places. Moving is never easy, and moving out of state is nothing short of a trial. It’s costly, it’s stressful, and it’s a major, major effort. At the same time, my eldest child was growing out of her toddler years and into a much different world than when she was littler and had simpler needs. About a year later, we welcomed our second child into the world. My duties as a father, husband, and head of our family’s household were evolving faster than ever.

"Swords to Plowshares," a classic Magic card with superb art from Terese Nielsen.

“Swords to Plowshares,” a classic Magic card with superb art from Terese Nielsen.

I am not a person who thrives on drastic changes. I like change, but in small, measured doses. These recent shifts in my life were intentional and the best decisions for our family, but they were still a lot to absorb. Hundreds of miles away from my friends and my former playgroups, I started delving deeper into Magic as a release.

On my bus rides to and from work, each of which last around 30-45 minutes, depending on traffic, I would dutifully listen to Magic-related podcasts: Drive to Work, Limited Resources, Brainstorm Brewery, and a few lesser-known titles. On my lunch break, I would pore over my deck builds and constantly think of how to improve their performance. Anytime I was on a computer, I would see the pings from my PageMonitor Chrome plug-in and immediately rush over to PucaTrade to grab some new trades before someone else did. In idle moments, I was checking my trading sites for new opportunities or paging through MTG blogs (Blogatog, Voice of Vorthos, Daily MTG, etc.) to soak up new tidbits of gaming lore. At home, before bedtime, I’d often go through my unsorted cards and organize them, rearrange decks, or package mail trades for sending out the next day.

Slowly but surely, I allowed Magic to occupy a significant portion of each day and consume increasing bits of my mental energy.

I started to forget things. I got flaky with facts I needed to recall or tasks I had promised to help with. I often got short or cranky with my family. I was putting myself first before others. I found myself hiding my browsing and trading habits as though I was doing something illicit. It started to become a trust issue.

I am lucky. I did not put myself and my family into financial ruin. My daytime work did not suffer. I was not late to where I needed to go or missed important events or engagements. That said, however, I had become distracted, less enthusiastic about life, grouchier, and obsessive about all things Magic: reading about cards, trading cards, learning more about cards, fussing over card values … the list goes on and on.

After going through this for months, my family and I had a lengthy conversation about the game, how Magic was distancing me from the rest of my life, and how I was using it as a coping mechanism to avoid the necessary growth within myself. I decided right then and there to commit to a full stop before things got more out of hand.

My “Magic fast,” as I started calling it, was an eight-week period of going “cold turkey.” I didn’t read any Magic blogs or listen to any MTG podcasts. I unfollowed a bunch of accounts on Twitter and Facebook to stop the flow of Magic-related posts into my feeds. I removed the PageMonitor notices and deleted the Magic-related bookmarks in my browsers. I ceased buying and trading cards altogether, and stopped the every-other-week games with my co-author Jinx over Facebook. I boxed up all my cards and put them away on a shelf.

It was a heavy challenge for the first three weeks, especially during spoiler season for Magic 2015. I unintentionally learned who the planeswalkers in the set were and the names of a few of the more hyped cards, but I blocked myself from thinking about them further. By weeks four and five, I noticed my thoughts were becoming free of Magic. I had no desire to unpack my cards or read, listen, or talk about them. During week seven, I felt myself getting “itchy” about all the speculation going around. The weekend of San Diego Comic Con was a particularly tough moment: I happened to log onto Twitter right as the Saturday Magic panel was underway and saw several spoiled cards and details for Commander 2014 and Khans of Tarkir all in the span of a few minutes. I quickly closed the app and called it a day. Thankfully, it’s been “steady as she goes” through the final week, which is where I am as I write this post.

What will I do now that my “fast” has come to a close?

First and foremost, I’ve decided to stop trading cards online. Communities like PucaTrade and Deckbox are splendid for getting cards you want or need by trading off what you don’t, but, for me, it’s far too much temptation and time investment for how little I play. The cost of stamps, envelopes, and mailers, as well as the occasional booster pack for trade fodder, adds up over time. As a family man, I don’t have a huge war chest of “fun money” to spend on Magic-related activities, nor do I have abundant amounts of free time. If I do ever want to trade or buy cards, I’ll do so in person, at my local game stores, or through online merchants like Amazon. My family comes first.

Second, I’ve lifted the veil of the “information blackout,” but only a little. I do enjoy seeing what’s intriguing about the new rules, new cards, and new worlds Magic has in store, but I want the hype muted to a faint whisper. No more constant chatter of blogs and podcasts. Let the pundits and finance wizards get giddy and agitated over speculation.

Third, I’ll be keeping my card collection. I’ve recently been introduced to a fellow family man who’s collected Magic in times past and is interested in getting together to play cards at the kitchen table. He, like Jinx, is not into obsessing about rules or formats; he just wants to play. It will be good to put the investment I’ve made over the past two years to use in building new friendships and bolstering old ones.

I’m exceptionally glad I decided to fast from Magic. It’s been immensely beneficial in recalibrating my priorities, my actions, and my thoughts. I’ll be keeping tight reins on my re-entry to make sure I stay on point and don’t retreat into my previously poor habits. I owe it to my family and to myself.

Next week, I’ll guide this journey in a bit of a different direction and share what I feel were some “mechanical” mistakes in how I played, collected, and traded Magic, and how I intend to game moving forward.

About brightmatrix

brightmatrix is a long-time casual gamer. His gaming journey has included Magic: the Gathering, the first, second, and fourth edition Dungeons & Dragons, and the first wave White Wolf games from the late 90s. If you are a denizen of the Twitterverse, you can read his posts on Magic, web development, puns, and other shenanigans at @brightmatrix.

  • HikingStick

    Well, now that you are ceasing your online trading, I don’t feel as bad for leaving that unfinished trade out there on Deckbox.org. I was thinking about cancelling it with my apologies last night. I guess a “Thank you!” is in order–now I don’t need to worry about extending an apology when I do cancel it. 😉

    • brightmatrix

      Andrew, I never had any lack of faith about that trade! I actually went into Deckbox today and cancelled it when I cleared out my tradelist and updated my profile. 😛 It was always a pleasure trading with folks like you, and I hope we can keep in touch.

  • Jinx_the_Bard

    Mike, this was a very insightful read.

    Sometimes I feel my hobbies “take over” too and like you, I try to find a way to recalibrate. As you aptly mentioned, for the amount of time both you and I actually get to PLAY Magic: The Gathering, the online trading just doesn’t make sense. While I’m glad I took the time to trade a large # of cards I didn’t want or need, for some cards that I did, I ended up following your lead and stopped all online trading, because it just wasn’t feasible. I have more than enough cards to satisfy my tinkering of decks and builds and there are at least a 100 key cards that I haven’t even had the time or inclination to incorporate into decks.

    While I miss our late night gaming sessions, it did give me time that I could put back into other hobbies or my family as well, strengthening them. I look forward to hearing some of the “mechanical” mistakes you made and seeing if I can improve myself even further.

    I do however blame my obsession with Magic: The Gathering entirely on you and the energy you presented initially when we restarted the game back, what, a couple years or so now? 🙂

  • Andrew Rogers

    Mike – Thanks so much for sharing this. I have gone through seasons like the one you described in which Magic (or in my teenage years, Comic Books) consumed all of the idle minutes in my thought life. While it’s been hard for me to say that idle thoughts on Magic are “wrong,” per se’, I have often thought: What am I missing out on? What am I not noticing about my son, or nature, or my wife, or life in the real world because my thoughts are focused on collecting, trading, and playing? I too have felt a huge imbalance between how much I actually play Magic, and how much I think about it. I’ve come to think that imbalance in any part of life, even ‘harmless’ hobbies, is a negative thing.

    I encourage you to keep writing on this. I’d like to read your thoughts. And your decisions to put family first are, of course, the best decisions you can make!

    -Andy

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