I haven’t had a lot of time for Magic lately. Last weekend I went to Radiolab Live with a buddy of mine and then on Saturday the fiance and I went camping with my brother and his wife and some friends. It was really fun, but we smelled like campfire for days. Then this week I tried to get a team draft game together on Wednesday night, but it fell apart.

And man, I hate playing online.

I played online on Monday night, drafting RB in an Theros 8-4. Here’s the deck:

10-28 THS RB 0-1 deck

Good, right? Maybe it is, but man, the draft was miserable. I felt like I was playing underwater. I was totally cloudy and felt like my reaction time was interminable. And then when I lost, in three games, to RW sometimes-heroic, I said, out loud (not in the chat; I wouldn’t—and never do—that), “Ah, fuck you, man,” and I angrily shut down my computer.

I dunno what it is. Playing Magic Online as opposed to IRL just riles me up so badly. Sure I don’t like to lose, whether with paper or digital cards, but there’s something about playing IRL that softens the blow. I dunno, I feel like I’ve hung out with some friends and had a nice time, win or lose. That isn’t always the case—sometimes I face douchebags or get especially tilted by a loss—but it’s far less frequent IRL. So let’s hear it for the local game stores, especially (in my case) Twenty Sided Store.

Also I checked my Theros stats the other day (I keep a record of all matches I play, both IRL and online) and I realized I’ve only played 37 matches of the format, or four sealeds and eight drafts. (Still, I’ve got a 65% win percentage for those matches, so hey, I can’t be doing that bad.) Meanwhile I was listening to Brian Wong on Limited Resources the other day and he mentioned he’d done more than 30 drafts, as of last Friday.

I just don’t have that kind of time—nor, to be honest, do I want to. I don’t want my whole life to be about Magic. There are many other things—my fiance, family, friends, work, the occasional video game, enjoying the city, traveling—that I want to fill my time with, in addition to Magic.

But I still want to be good. So how do you keep loose and limber, Magic-wise, when you can’t play so much? This is something that’s been on my mind a lot lately, as I’d really like to do well at the couple of PTQs I’m heading to in Philly, this coming Sunday and then again on Sunday, Nov. 24. (A quick note for any Northeastern readers planning to attend the PTQ this Sunday, at the Pennsylvania Convention Center: The player meeting is at 9am, and Sunday is also the day that Daylight Savings Time ends; so you “fall back” one hour. Don’t be late!)

Here’s what I do:

1. Try to play once a week

Preferably IRL; but, if I can’t, online will do. Just make it quality time. If you are drafting IRL—which usually, at least for me, happens directly after work—eat something before you play, and try to have fun with it. Remember that it’s a night out playing games, win or lose. If you’re playing online, don’t do it if you are going to be distracted. Turn off the TV, preferably do it when the girlfriend or roommates or what have you are not home, and really try to focus. (I find it particularly hard to focus when drafting online, at home with all my distractions.) I’ve heard it said that some people find it really focusing to stream—or, more accurately, to narrate their drafts and matches. Maybe try to narrate your drafts and games, even if you’re not streaming? And if you can’t do that, get Duels of the Planeswalkers on your iPad and play that intermittently; I’m not sure the value of this, but it keeps your mind in the game somewhat slightly more than not playing at all.

2. Read about Magic

Each morning I get up, grab a cup of coffee, and hop back in bed to read “the news” (broadly defined) on my iPad Mini. I always hit Daily MTG (more for news than strategy, of course), StarCity, Channel Fireball, and, of course, Hipsters of the Coast. I save articles I want to dig into more, on the train or etc., and I make it a point to read them when I have some downtime. I also have a good group of friends, Hipsters and not, with whom I periodically discuss Magic strategy over email; it’s nothing formal, we just talk about the game, send each other decks, scrutinize them, and discuss. I would highly encourage you to start your own email chain (or Google Group) of this kind if you don’t have it already.

3. Watch Magic

These of course demand a little more attention than reading articles, but I’ll often watch drafts while I’m washing the dishes, or cooking dinner, or in the half-hour or so before I go to bed. MTGO Academy’s are formatted best, and their draft guys are Simon Goetzen, a Pro Tour winner who I feel is super smart and skilled, and Marshall from Limited Resources, who isn’t of course on Simon’s level, but is very entertaining and actually sometimes even more helpful, in that sometimes he makes technical mistakes that you can spot, which I actually think helps develop your own in-game mistake-spotting skills. (Simon never makes mistakes, and I’m only half-kidding.)

Other sites do videos of course, too, but StarCity has a bad video player and very infrequent videos, while Channel Fireball’s videos are absolutely maddening with their ads and inability to pick up where you left off, if you come back to a draft later. Streaming is cool, too, and I watch when I can, but the non-on-demand nature of streaming sort of limits when I’m able to watch. If you can, I highly recommend watching the stream of Kenji Egashira, aka Numot the Nummy; he’s doing this thing where he streams drafts (or sealeds) every single day of this year, and he’s funny and talented and his music is generally pretty decent, too. Oh, and when it’s on—the odd GP or Pro Tour—watch coverage on Twitch! I watch it on my XBox on the TV and, while the fiance “hates this show,” I find it pretty awesome. “At least it’s not football,” a friend of Hipsters commented recently. True that.

4. Listen to Magic podcasts

Or, should I say, podcast: Limited Resources. There are a few other Magic podcasts I enjoy and listen to regularly, but for sheer (Limited) strategy and theory, Limited Resources is in a league of its own. Seriously, go back an listen to the “back issues,” the set reviews, and everything else—it’s probably the single most valuable thing I do, besides playing, in terms of making my game better.

5. Last but not least—chill out and be realistic

I’m not ever going to be Jon Finkel or LSV or, hell, probably anybody. To be honest—at least for myself—the parabola of my Magic career has probably peaked and started to head back toward Earth (not that it was all that stratospheric to begin with, but you get my point). I’m getting married next May, and then a year after that my wife and I will probably start thinking about kids. I’m going to travel to some GPs and PTQs this year and next and maybe the next, but after that … who knows?

So I really have to remember: It’s a game, and I love the game. That (and Planeswalker Points) is why I don’t often quit from a tournament even when I’m “dead.” And you know—I’ve been playing Magic again for 7.5 years now, and my experience with it has changed over those years. It was pretty casual for a while, and I loved that; then I started going to GPs and getting more competitive; and just this week I was reading Jess’ Command of Etiquette review of Commander 2013, which is really excellent and everyone should read, and I was thinking (keeping in mind that Commander has never really been my thing), “Man, these cards look like a hell of a lot of fun—I wonder if I should pick up a deck or two?” I don’t really enjoy the very spiky Commander games, but I’ve had fun when it’s just, like, jamming 100 likely-looking cards against another hundred or two, and seeing what shakes out. (I do also think that some of the most interesting and creative design that’s being done these days is in Commander, so it’s no surprise that the cards have got me excited.)

That’s all I’ve got for now, kids. I’m going to PTQ on Sunday and am going to have a great time, win or lose. Hopefully I can rely on my fundamentals—which do not, I think, need a high degree of constant practice to maintain—and make a run at top eight. If not, hell—maybe I’ll snap up a Commander deck from a dealer table and jam some games. Good luck and, most importantly, have fun!

23/17 is a Hipsters of the Coast column focused on Limited play—primarily draft and sealed, but also cubing, 2HG, and anything else we can come up with. The name refers to the “Golden Ratio” of a Limited deck: 23 spells and 17 lands. Follow Hunter at @hrslaton.

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