Just over a year ago, my first article went live on this site. I find that I’m no longer the same Magician I was. I’m older , for starters—I’ve reached the age where everyone I know is getting married. I’ve diversified my formats, traveled far more for tournaments, and seen Magic become a greater part of my life. Coming home from this Sunday’s PTQ, I realized something: I’ve leveled up.

Test of Endurance

Magic tournaments are not merely tests of skill; they test your mental endurance, your ability to prepare, your confidence, and even your physical fitness (which you wouldn’t expect, given that you’re sitting practically the entire time). A PTQ or Grand Prix will usually involve six to nine rounds of Magic. There won’t always be time to find food (certainly not nourishing food), to use the bathroom, or to go for a walk and clear your head. If you pick up a second loss, you’re probably out of top eight contention for a PTQ and have to win every match if you want to make day two of a GP. There’re also much bigger stakes: getting an invitation to the Pro Tour and hundreds/thousands of dollars is an entirely different animal than winning some packs at your local game store or on Magic Online.

Imagine that you’re 6-2 in round nine of Grand Prix Podunk (which is actually forty miles away from Podunk, in Hamletville). You’ve just lost game one off a frustrating mulligan to five and mana screw. You’ve just played eight hours straight. You’re on four hours of sleep because you got stuck in traffic and didn’t arrive at your hotel until after one in the morning. You’ve had nothing but granola bars, trail mix, coffee, and bananas all day long and you need to park yourself on a toilet. You need to win the next two games or your tournament ends. Can you keep your cool and play as well as you did on your first match?

I sure can’t. But I’m a lot better at it now than I was last year.


When I’m at a tournament, I don’t get exhausted anymore. Before, I’d finish round five of nine and think, “Jeez, I still have to play four more rounds? I can’t lose another match. I don’t know if I’ve got that in me. ” before sighing and making my eighth trip to the bathroom. I thought that playing three store drafts in a row (which is an awesome way to spend a Saturday) or streaming for eight hours straight would provide the stamina I needed.  It didn’t. Going to big tournaments proved my only way to prepare for going to big tournaments.

My level was gained from losing in Toronto and making day two in Richmond and before that, from my performances at Grand Prixs Philadelphia, Atlantic City, Providence, and Las Vegas. Now, I finish round five of nine and think, “Sweet! I get to play more Magic! I’ll do my best” as I make my eighth trip to the bathroom. I don’t get quite so tired any more.

Shadow of Doubt

I don’t have nearly as much self-doubt. I have excitement where before I had trepidation. I think about winning my next game rather than worry about making day two or top eight. I still want those things, I just don’t obsess over them any more. I know that I’m much better at winning this game and this match than I am at winning every match.

Once the tournament begins, I take for granted that I’m good enough to succeed; self-doubt can happen after the tournament. I’ll allow myself to make mistakes and win despite them rather than get angry at my stressed, imperfect human brain for not making perfect plays perpetually or at myself for being a “terrible player.”

Lighthouse Chronologist

It’s not a huge difference—it certainly doesn’t feel like I gained a new Limit Break this level—but I can see the results in my attitude, in my stress levels, in my level of play, and in my results. Then again, many of our achievements in life aren’t dramatic and captured within a moment, but are subtle and occur over a stretch of time. Like maturity. Or puberty.

I hope that you all enjoy the times you level up in life and that perhaps my brief account can help along the way. No matter what you want to do, if you work at it, you will make progress. What now is hard will become easier (even if it may never become) easy.

I’ll be out of the country for the next two weeks, so I’ll unfortunately be unable to comment on spoilers in real time. I’ve got plenty of content lined up for you, so fear not: Drawing Live will continue in my absence. As always, thanks for reading, and I’m eager to hear your thoughts and your stories.

—Zachary Barash

Zachary Barash has been playing Magic on and off since 1994. He loves Limited and drafts every available format (including several that aren’t entirely meant to be drafted). He’s a proud Cube owner and performer, improvising entire musicals every week with his team, Petting Zoo. Zach has an obsession with Indian food that borders on being unhealthy.

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