Magic: The Gathering and the Importance of Good Hobby Keeping

In his latest monthly column, Russell Grant takes a look at the importance of having healthy hobbies.

 

 

“I’d like to take a few minutes to talk to you about our Lord and Saviour, Magic: The Gathering, if that’s OK?”

 

This is how I often feel when I start talking to my friends about Magic: The Gathering (or MTG, for short): a bit like a Jehovah’s Witness at the door of an Atheist. I’m not talking about my friends who are avid players. More so the ones who have no idea what it is, or the ones who do but simply don’t care. A lot of the time I’m met with blank stares when I start getting excited about the release of a new set, or about the sick play I made in the late stages of game 3 of round 4 at Standard Showdown to take me to a 4 – 0 record (lol this has actually never happened but one can dream). I can already feel the eyes glazing at this point, and if you’re not at the point of outright hostility towards my incoherent rambling, I’d like to change tack and explain why MTG is so great in a more general way. It has to do with it being a fucking excellent hobby, and the fact that I believe everyone should have at least one fucking excellent hobby. I’ll get more into hobbies and why they’re important a little bit later, but for now, I’d like to talk about how having this hobby has been such a great boon for me this year.

 

Our passions inhabit us, whereas we inhabit our hobbies.

 

2017 was one hell of a year for me. In many ways, it was a refreshing follow up to the dismal showing of 2016. In some ways, it was nothing more than a bad sequel. I like to think, though, that, all in all, it was a banger. I managed to move out of home on my own dime and have actually sustained it. For some, this is no biggie, but for someone with a VERY bad case of Attention Deficit Disorder (remember, for some people, this isn’t just an issue of concentration. ADD in adults can affect everything from your attention span to the management of your finances and even basic organisational skills), like myself, being independent and sustaining that independence is GOALS (allow me a quick moment to pat myself on the back). I also recently quit drinking (I’m somewhere around the 40-day mark. Pat pat). This is something I will deal with further in a future column, but for now, suffice it to say that it has been one of the best decisions of my life. Not only am I healthier (marginally. I still gwaai like a mid-nineteenth century locomotive), but I’m saving a whole bunch of money. Money I can funnel into, you guessed it: Magic: The Gathering.

 

Yes folks, on top of moving out of home and freeing myself from a destructive habit, the only other thing on par with those awesome achievements has been the discovery of (or let’s rather call it an “indulgence in”. I’ve known about Magic for a long time but never before paid it much mind) a silly trading card game. And yes before I go any further I must acknowledge and stress to all of you that Magic: The Gathering is really, at its core, just a silly game. But so is football, and people have literally died for that game. Rugby is just a game too, but I’ve worked long enough in a bar to have seen forlorn Springbok fans turn swiftly and unrelentingly to hard spirits in times of defeat. I imagine only a fall in Bitcoin prices or the running over of one of their dogs could mould the faces of those fans into comparably contorted expressions of inner darkness. So, it being a game then doesn’t necessarily mean that it lacks significance, and for me, MTG is significant for a whole lot of reasons.

 

Some of you may be wondering at this point, what the fuck is Magic: The Gathering? Good question. Magic: The Gathering (or MTG from here on out), is a fantasy based trading card game invented by a guy named Richard Garfield back in 1993. It draws on elements of luck and strategy, a bit like a combination of chess and poker. Each of your cards has a specific ability, just like the pieces in chess, but the difference is you aren’t ever entirely sure which of your pieces is gonna pop up in your or your opponent’s hand next. I that way it’s a bit like poker. Usually how it works is you build up a deck of 60 cards at home and then you meet up with a friend or attend a tournament and play that deck and try and knock your opponent’s life total down to 0 from 20. Pretty straightforward, right? Yes and no. As of around 2013, there were 12000 unique Magic cards in print. That number is obviously a bit higher now. Wizards of the Coast (the company that owns the rights to MTG) release a new set of cards every 6 months or so. That means, unlike chess, where the number of unique pieces is small (6) and never changing, MTG has many thousands of unique pieces which are always changing.

 

What I’m getting at here is that Magic is IMMENSELY complex, and given the vast range of different formats one can play in (certain cards are limited in certain formats and allowed in others. Some formats use 60 card decks, others use 40 or 100), it would be impossible for a single human being to experience the full spectrum of what is possible in Magic in a single lifetime.

 

What does all this complexity have to do with Magic’s significance in my life? Not much. I just think it’s fucking cool. Now, you may or may not find that as cool as I do, and that’s fine. The beauty of Magic is that it has so many dimensions outside of just the gameplay that draws people to it. Some people love the competitive aspect of the game, and dream of competing at the top level (the Pro Tour). Others live for the casual tabletop experience with friends. Still, others are enthralled with the artwork or the lore. Magic, aside from being a game, is a community; a space for people of all backgrounds, races, genders, orientations and abilities to express themselves and find a home, no matter what aspect of it gets your dice jiggling.

 

 

What gets my dice jiggling is a combination of these things. I love the competitive play. There are few things more satisfying to me than working on an idea at home, then bringing it to a tournament and having it pull me out of a bad situation, or even win me a round. I enjoy the artwork and the lore (sadly a lot of the associated fiction isn’t particularly well penned). I also thoroughly dig hanging out with a few friends around a table, or just me and my girlfriend sitting on the floor at home, slinging spells and talking smack.

 

 

Now, these things are all well and good, but the real reason Magic is so important to me is, as I mentioned at the beginning, that it is a fucking good hobby. Absolutely none of what I have just described to you may sound appealing. Fuck that Magic bullshit, I can hear some of you say. Again, totally fine. But I can’t stress enough to you the importance of finding something that you can pour your energy into that isn’t your job or your passion. Notice that I make a distinction between hobbies and passions. A hobby can be a passion, and vice versa, and some people’s hobbies become their passions, but I still think it necessary to keep the two at a safe distance. I have a number of passions. Writing and photography are the two primary ones, and music follows up very close behind. So why, do you ask, do I not just pour more of my energy into those things? Here is where the distinction is important.

 

Passions, at least for me, are things which are extremely important (nay, even precious) to us. They are things which we simply cannot live without. They are also things that, in most cases, we strive to be really good at, or to at least make some sort of meaningful contribution to. For this reason, passions can be extremely anxiety-inducing. As a writer I am committed to writing good sentences, but should I fail at that, the torment can become almost unbearable. We become almost enslaved to our passions. I don’t always enjoy writing or taking photos or making music. In fact, there are often times when I fucking hate these things. But there is no way I could ever contrive to give any one of them up. These things are a fundamental part of who I am. They are central to my identity and losing any one of them would be tantamount to losing a part of myself. For this reason, having passions is a bit like having Stockholm Syndrome.

 

Hobbies, on the other hand, are things about which we can be deeply enthusiastic, even passionate, but which total success at doesn’t come at the cost of our mental or physical health. Our passions inhabit us, whereas we inhabit our hobbies. Losing a Magic game doesn’t give me anything like the torment writing a bad sentence or taking a bad photograph does, and although I would be heartbroken to ever have to turn my back on Magic, I could do so without losing a fundamental part of myself.

 

I’m convinced that hobbies are things everyone should have. I think it’s vital that we all have a place where we can constructively turn our energies that doesn’t come at the cost of our health. That last bit is important. Always be sure to pick a good hobby. My hobby prior to Magic was drinking. If I wasn’t working my menial bar job or writing or taking photos, I’d be getting fucked up. Drinking (as a hobby) is a bad hobby because, although it works in the same way as other hobbies (i.e. providing a distraction from the mundane or from the torment of your passions), it has a super low barrier to entry and not too many places to go within it other than to hospital or rehab. Good hobbies, on the other hand, should offer a vast amount of exploration room, at a cost which is not so high as to be prohibitive, but also not so low as to require no investment from ourselves. Magic is great because the learning curve in the beginning is steep enough to be challenging, but not so steep as to scare you away completely. And once you’re in, as I mentioned before, the possibilities are just about limitless.

 

Here I’ve advocated for one specific hobby which has changed my life, and like I said, none of what I have described about it may be appealing to you. There are a ton of dope hobbies out there though. Hiking is a great one (just ask Ryan van Rooyen). Collecting shit (vinyls, stamps, books) is another. Sometimes it’s cool to have a hobby that complements your passion(s). Magic exercises my capacity for strategic and critical thinking, which are super important aspects of writing. This isn’t vital though. The important part is that you have something that you enjoy on a meaningful level, that doesn’t kill you emotionally or physically, but that can distract you from the often difficult job of tending to your passions.

 

If games sound cool to you, but Magic not so much, then there is an entire universe of cool shit to get into, like Warhammer, Pathfinder, Dungeons and Dragons, and more board games than you can wave a wand at. Find that silly thing that stirs some kind of childlike enthusiasm in you and run with it. Magic is that thing for me, and allowed me to re-discover the geek in me that almost died in high school. For that, I am eternally grateful. Thank you, Richard Garfield, thank you, Bob, for introducing me to it, and thank you to the Magic community. Praise be to Hazoret.

 

  

 

(For those interested in Magic or other games, we have two dedicated stores in eThekweni: The Unseen Shoppe in Westville and The Bat Cave in Hillcrest. The Unseen Shoppe also run a beginner’s Magic and assorted board games demo event at First Thursday at Ike’s Books)

Comments
4 Responses to “Magic: The Gathering and the Importance of Good Hobby Keeping”
  1. Billy Pineapples says:

    Really cool article! I love the turn Magic the Gathering has taken into popular culture, no longer a ‘nerd’ pursuit, but a hobby that (in my opinion) actually makes you a heckuva lot cooler for playing…
    Now you need get into D&D, dude… :-)

  2. Bob says:

    As someone who was into it when it was a nerd pursuit, I’m also stoked to see it gain acceptance.
    Weird how the things we knew were cool when we were young, are becoming “cool” now.
    From superhero movies to gaming, nerd culture has never been so mainstream.

  3. Tim says:

    eThekwini* and not “eThekweni”. eThekwini means in the/at the bay/harbour, eThekweni means at the event/party. Also saying “in eThekwini” is redundant, since it is already the locative form of iTheku, as if saying “In in Durban”.

    Other than that, nice article. MtG rules.

  4. Radmin says:

    Thanks Tim, will edit accordingly.

Leave A Comment