For quite some time now, I have wanted to write something about the impact Magic: the Gathering has had on my life. I haven’t done it because I haven’t had a real good place to publish it. Now I do. This blog. Because, as I write in the “About”-section, I sometimes just write about life in general. This is one of those posts.
Another reason why I have been writing other stuff, and been holding back on this topic, is because it is very difficult to write. I want to use the correct words, because I really don’t think the impact Magic has had on my life, and the direction I have chosen, can be understated. At the same time, I don’t want to sound too stupidly naïve or Happy-go-Lucky about it.
But now I have decided to give it a try – I thought it meaningful to post this on Thanksgiving; even though that’s not something we celebrate in Denmark.
Let’s see where I end. It will be rather long, so grab a cup of coffee or a mug of whiskey before you read on. I hope my story and my thoughts on Magic’s impact on my life resonate with you or, simply, that you find the read interesting. As always: let me know if you like what I write in the comments below!
I have named this post “A life of Magic”. That sounds thrilling, right? Yeah, it was to lure you in…
I haven’t had a very magical or, indeed, very interesting life. Most of all, this post is about a very deep appreciation of the game and a try to understand the ways in which it has both given me great experiences and lifelong friends. Even family! I have developed important life-skills and even some foundation to confront or counter life crisis because of my long relationship with the game.
Think of the title more as a play on words. And as a sneaky way to spike your interest enough to make you read these lines.
I am a very ordinary guy. So much so, that the best comparison of myself is probably to beige wallpaper. I am a middle-aged, non-religious, upper middle-class, heterosexual white male. My day job is as an official in the Danish Government. I live in a suburban house (with an enormous mortgage), and I own a car – a station car even! Two children: A boy and a girl. Born in that order. Me and my life is the paramountest of paramount ordinariness. And I wouldn’t want it any other way! I am happy with my life and who I have become. Luckily I have quite a big group of very close friends, and – thanks to Magic – an enormous group of people I can relate to, talk to and quite easily become friends with.
But I am getting ahead of myself. I just wanted to give some kind of backdrop as to who I am. And also tune in on the major point in this post, namely the fact that Magic: the Gathering has played an immense part of my life, to such an extent, that it is impossible for me to imagine my life without it.
Let me delve in to how…
I started playing Magic in 1996 at the age of 11. I was introduced to the game by a couple of older boys in my school. At that point, there was always some, monthly-changing, collector-rage going on; be it stickers, stamps, foreign coins or keychains… Even sometimes the odd Basketball Card.
But in 1996 it changed. At least for me. I had never really delved in to collecting small stickers or bouncy balls, but Magic struck a nerve in me. My first card was an Ice Age Island. And I was immediately intrigued.
Collecting and playing Magic: the Gathering taught me a few things early on: to save money for the cards I dreamt of (crazy expensive cards like 4th Wrath of God and the likes); strategic thinking and planning ahead (something I have since used in my professional life as a project manager and event coordinator. I was actually once hired partly because I had been lead TO on several big Magic tournaments). And not least to read, write and speak English at a higher level than many of my classmates.
It also gave me a place to fit in and I believe that it helped me realize that it doesn’t matter how the guy in front of you looks, talks, walks or smells. The important thing is how he wields his spells! (that is even a rhyme! I may use that as a headline somewhere!)
Throughout my school years, most of my friends stopped playing Magic, and sold their collections to me. I held on, even though I didn’t have many people to play with. One of the reasons why I kept collecting the cards was because I found out, that sorting, deck-building, organizing and theorizing on Magic cards was one of the best ways for me to unplug. To clear my head. To relax. It still is. Hence this blog.
I often simply take out one of my decks and Goldfish a couple of games before making dinner, tucking kids in, buying groceries, doing the dishes or one of all the other grown-up things I have to do. And again, I actually believe this has had quite the effect on my life. I have had several colleagues, friends and acquaintances who have suffered from stress, anxiety or depression. I have never been struck by any of these horrible conditions. Of course it is not only because I sometimes shuffle some cardboard. But when I feel that my workload or other chores is becoming overwhelming, fiddling with cards can often release me of any feeling of stress I might have.
Friends for life. And family!
When I was 16, I attended Efterskole, a particularly Danish kind of boarding school. It was then Magic really started having a sustained very direct impact on my life that has lasted until today.
One of the first days, I started talking to a guy named Anders. Soon we realized that we both had a history of playing Magic. And so, of course, we made a poster to hang on the public board on the school – complete with a WordArt magician pulling a rabbit out of a hat and the headline “Magic, versteht dich?”
Soon a couple of other guys approached us, and we formed a small group of friends, based on Magic, but in reality the game only brought us together. More – without any prior experience with or interest in Magic – joined, and these people still form the basis of my circle of friends.
They are so close friends, that I consider them family more than friends, really. We have been each other’s best men; have attended each other’s weddings and kid’s baptisms; traveled together. We have been there for each other in hard times.
One of them later even agreed to become my wife! We now have two beautiful kids. It is absolutely amazing to think, that maybe these two little humans hadn’t existed, if I hadn’t started playing Magic.
Yes, I would probably have found another wife; I would probably have lived my life with other friends and so on. But it is absolutely impossible for me to imagine my life without the people and experiences that in some way or another has its origins in my Magic hobby.
Unknown friends in new places
I stumbled upon a rather precise quote the other day, on the Old School Reddit subpage:
“If you play Magic, my relationship with you is instantly a full standard deviation warmer than it would otherwise be. Strangers who play Magic are acquaintances. Acquaintances who play Magic are friends. Friends who play Magic are brothers.”https://www.patreon.com/thealphaproject
I think this quote says a lot of what I am trying to say in many more words. Playing Magic can be an accelerant in every human encounter. A complete stranger, with whom you don’t know you share anything, can very rapidly turn into a close acquaintance or even a friend – or brother.
Since my Efterskole-year I have moved to a new city 3 times. Every time, one of the first things I did was to find the local Magic players (Facebook has made that A LOT easier!). And every time I was welcomed at first glance. I already belonged to a group of like-minded people. I just didn’t know them yet!
Several times I have been invited to complete strangers’ homes to play cards. I have also invited people I have only met once, or sometimes never, to my home to play. Because of the simple fact, that the other guy plays the same game, I do, I trust him enough to invite him. I mean, in the perfect world, this shouldn’t be anything to talk about, we should all trust each other enough to do these things. The fact just is; we do not.
Trusting another person is also not caring about that person’s look, religious beliefs, sexual orientation or other irrelevant markers, we often put on each other. It is the same thing that makes most religious communities strong. They know, that they share a common belief and a common way to look at the world, and that is enough to tie them together. I think the same thing applies to Magic. At least for me.
In dire need of a pope!
The above chain of thought made me realize something, I hadn’t thought of before: Being part of a Magic community is almost like being part of a religious congregation. Especially when being part of the rather unique and very hospitable Old School community.
As I mentioned earlier I am not religious in any way. And even though I do often listen to a Demonic Tutor, I haven’t even become a Satanist because of the Alpha Unholy Strength. But there is something very much like a religious community in the Old School Community.
When I was thinking these thoughts, but couldn’t really gather them, by chance I heard a radio program where 3 of the most knowledgeable people in Denmark – Svend Brinkmann (prof. in Psychology), Sørine Gotfredsen (priest) and Hans-Jørgen Schanz (prof. in history of ideas) – discussed religion (for my Danish readers, you can find the program here). One of the points they made was that religion has to do with 2 things: A sense of belonging; and trust. These are the very two things I just went through in the last paragraph!
And even though we don’t exactly worship deities or saints, nor have clergy in robes, there are names that most members of the community simply put to high esteem and respect – often without knowing them or ever having met them.
We even have “religious” gatherings in the form of tournaments. And because our tournaments more often than not, are not really competitive, they are more of a celebration of our community. Our religion.
You often hear religious people claiming, that they have built their lives on their belief in whatever deity they are worshipping. I have always thought that to be a bit strange, as I have a very humanistic outlook, and the primary code I built my life on, is to not be a dick. But it seems I have actually in some way built my life on my religion – namely the Magic universe and the great community that is formed around it.
So, those were some random thoughts I was suddenly struck by. When I told my wife about them, she said it was a very banal comparison between a Magic community and a congregation. She found, it is something that could be said about every hobby or gathering of people with a shared interest. I begged to disagree. The Magic community is way more awesome than most!
So, in short, Magic has had a great impact on my life. I thank Magic for having helped me find my awesome friends, shaped my career, widened my outlook and guided my way of approaching other people. In short it has made a foundation on which I have built my life.
Most importantly, I thank Magic for my wife and my kids.
But what do you say? Is all of the above a rather banal take on the butterfly-effect, or can an entire path of life be decided by the decision to play a cardboard game some 20 years back? What has playing Magic meant to you?