Why Do I Play?

“Why do you play Magic?”

Show me a Magic player who hasn’t been asked this question at least once during his or her time playing, and I’ll show you a Flying Pig. We’ve all heard it, be it from a parent, girlfriend, boyfriend, friend, complete stranger, whatever. Those who haven’t played before have a hard time understanding how the game can become such a huge part of our lives.

But first, let me provide a little background about myself and my Magic career.

My name is Michael Gleeson. I started playing Magic in October 2009, shortly after Zendikar was released. My friend Tom (Judge Tom to some of you Friday regulars at GG), had decided to show me how to play, and presented me with a Red/Green stompy landfall deck full of fatties and ramp spells. I learned the basics of the game with this deck, but didn’t acquire my first deck until Christmas. My parents surprised me with a stocking stuffer of five Zendikar boosters and a Blue/Black M10 Intro deck featuring Mulldrifters and Djinn of Wishes and bad counterspells like Cancel. I picked up more and more of the game before being shown EDH, and I was officially hooked. Five years later, I have a Grand Prix Day two under my belt, a handful of Top 8’s at various tournaments (FNMs, a couple GPTs, etc), a pretty successful EDH record, and tons upon tons of wonderful memories.

Don’t get me wrong, Magic isn’t all honey and rainbows. My training wheels were coming off during the days of Caw Blade, when I was playing decks like 4-color Allies, or Red/Black “Demon Fling” (Demon of Death’s Gate + Fling). Needless to say, Standard was rough, but I learned and improved my game. I’ve since moved away from Standard in favor of EDH and Modern, but I still follow the Standard meta, even if the last time I played a Standard tournament, I was using Kessig Wolf Run to attack with my Restoration Angels and Thragtusks (ahh, the good old days).

But enough of my boring life story, let’s get back to the question at hand: Why do we play?

gleeson montageMagic is an expensive game. What motivates us to spend hundreds upon hundreds of dollars to keep up with Standard, or the thousands it can cost to break into a format like Legacy? To some, it’s simply the drive to win. “I want to win this GP, or this PTQ, and win a Pro Tour. I’m going to play with the big guys.” Personally, that’s not me, and I know a lot of players who don’t think that way. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Magic doesn’t have to be about making the money, or being the best (like no one ever was).

I find Magic to be a fusion of Chess and Poker. At the end of the day, we have randomized decks of cards, and hope we hit what we need to win. Sometimes, we miss land drops, sometimes we flood, and a lot of times we’ll lose. Variance can be a bitch that way. But still, Magic is a game of skill as much as luck. You have to know how to play to your strengths or your opponent’s weaknesses, and anticipate plays they may make, while at the same time have the ability to bluff that you have that removal spell when you’re drawing dead. I think that’s what I find attractive about Magic. At its core, it’s a relatively simple game. Make a deck, play cards, drop your opponent’s life total from 20 to 0 as quickly as you can. But at the same time, there are so many thousands of cards that could be played, interactions that could occur, that the game suddenly becomes incredibly complex. A game that can be so exceedingly simple, yet so deep and complex at the same time is rare, and that’s what makes it so appealing.

Is that why I play? Partly. But not the entire reason. At the end of the day, the reason(s) I play is the people. In my five years of playing, I’ve made countless friends. I’ve met people who’ve become so important in my life, and been through the highs and lows with me, and always been there for me. Magic is a means to an end for me. I love the game, but I love the people more. It’s a way to connect with people, make new friends, and socialize. That’s what appeals most to me about this game. I’ve made lifelong friends, who have been there for me through what have recently been some of the roughest months of my life, and who’ve been there for all the great times too.

In March, I was lucky enough to travel to Richmond, Virginia, to compete in my second Modern Grand Prix (Spoiler: I scrubbed out). Our team headed out Thursday, making the long drive down to Virginia. Now, I’m not sure how many people like being stuck in a van with seven other people for 12 hours, but this trip was one of the best weekends I’ve had in a long time. The drive was rough but somehow hilarious at the same time. I got to spend four days hanging out with friends, being awful at Magic, and somehow doing a Gangam Style dance in a moving van. None of our group made Day two (although we had 2 guys who had win-and-in’s in Round 9) and yet, I doubt any of us would say they were disappointed with the weekend.

One of the best parts of the trip was, funny enough, after I’d dropped from the event. Myself, Matt Kozmor, Alex Smith, and Jake Davis found ourselves in the company of one Steve Rakovich (yes, that one), who led us to a small, hole in the wall Irish Pub near the convention center. None of us had eaten all day, and this place had some of the best food I’ve ever had. We ate, we drank, we forgot all about Magic. Because at the end of the day, the Grand Prix wasn’t the main attraction. Spending a weekend away from home, away from work, and away from the stress of every day life was all that mattered.

Why do I play, you ask? Because of friends like them.