One of my favorite Magic articles of all time is Travis Woo’s “Sixty-Card Lifestyle“. The premise of the article is that in deckbuilding and personal life, you must cut something in order to add something else. You have limited space in a deck, for constructed purposes 60 cards, and limited time in the day, 24 hours. For every time someone says, “Wouldn’t X card be good in Y deck?” The response—if that suggestion is at all reasonable—should be, “What do we cut for it?” The same is true with life; If I want to go to the gym, I have to cut time from something else to accomodate that. There are no free adds, you can cut time from a nights sleep but expect that it will effect you tomorrow.

The reason I bring this up is that sometimes I feel like I live my life like a Battle of Wits deck, a heaving 250 card tower. I just keep adding things to my schedule without making cuts and hope to get there on my wits alone. This has diminishing returns of course, I spread myself too thin and lower the probability of me drawing my win conditions. To top it off, the task of shuffling that many cards is arduous. If I’m living my life at competitive REL, the chances I can sufficiently randomize a 250 deck within the given timeframe is dubious at best. I just can’t do it.


I’m thinking about Woo’s article because of a Reddit post that occupied the top spot on r/MagicTCG for most of the past week. The verbose heading of the post was “So I’m quitting Magic because I got engaged and saving money and don’t have time, this was the response I got from the buyer on eBay.. I almost cried.” The basic gist was that the buyer of this guys cards sent him a sappy message wishing the seller the best of luck with his marraige and ensuring him that the cards were going to a good home. On one hand I was bothered that someone would give up a hobby or interest they enjoyed to appease someone else. On the other hand I was jealous that the original poster understood his time was precious and was able to act on it. I worry I won’t ever have that kind of resoluteness, the ability to say “this just isn’t worth it anymore”.

Magic takes time away from other things. While I think that the game is a positive conduit for fun, creativity, and social interaction, it’s not a sacred cow in my life, an auto-include if you will. I take time that I could be volunteering, making money, building and maintaining relationships, etc. on a card game. I spend money I don’t really have to foil out my pauper cube, to make sure I can use beta lands in my constructed decks, and to build decks in formats I don’t play very often. On bad days it feels like I sacrifice a lot of time, energy, and money on a game that I am only passably good at. Even this article comes at the expense of other things—though in this case I’m secretly typing in my office at work, so I don’t feel that bad about it.

What I’m getting at is Magic might be a game of intellect, skill, and variance but not one that really rewards fleeting interest or passive participation, at least not at the level I want to play at. I’ve let a lot of things lapse in my personal life this past year due to lack of time, partially due to my interest/obsession with this game. Yet, at the end of the day, at least on good days, it feels like what I want to be doing. Making Day two of a GP, going 4-0 at FNM, or winning a particularly long game of Commander are small victories for sure, but they feel good. The question remains then, is it worth sacrificing other stuff to actively play this game? Is there any way to achieve a balance?


My answers to those questions are yes and sort-of, respectively.

Pretty recently I was listening to a TED talk with author Nigel Marsh entitled, “How to Make Work Life Balance Work.” Marsh says a lot of smart things throughout the talk but a few thoughts stuck with me. One, Marsh says that sometimes balance just isn’t’ acheivable, “All the discussions about flexi-time or dress-down Fridays or paternity leave only serve to mask the core issue, which is that certain job and career choices are fundamentally incompatible with being meaningfully engaged on a day-to-day basis with a young family.” Marsh goes on to discuss the fact that for the time he was writing a book he found himself being a good author but a bad father, it just wasn’t possible at the time to find the elusive work-life balance. 

Now, I’m not saying Magic is a full time job for me. This past week, I played a few games of Commander, read some articles, wrote an article, and watched a draft video. Maybe 5-7 hours in total. However, if my focus was to get better at this game and play competitively, I’d be looking at playing a 2-3 hours on week nights, reading articles, still writing my articles, and then playing in longer events on the weekend. The week before I went to GP Baltimore, I wrote an article, played a four round Standard tournament, played a four round Modern tournament, and then played 15 rounds of Magic at the GP. Conservatively this is 28 hours of Magic that doesn’t include the 14 hour drive back and forth from Baltimore. Monetarily I made like $12 in store credit after doing all of this and spent five times as much on singles, sleeves, and tournament entries.

My intention here is not to bemoan the time and money commitment to a game I am not obliged to play. No, what I’m trying to say is just that playing Magic competitively doesn’t easily lend itself to a balanced life. It’s not just professional players either. Even the weekend warrior, PTQ grinder, constructed deck tester, spend an inordinate amount of time on a game that is impossible to master and difficult to make money on. The way I see it, you can realize this and cash out like the guy on Reddit or say fuck it and keep grinding. While I’ve invested a lot of time and effort into this game, time and effort I could have invested elsewhere, I feel good about it for the most part. Though Magic, I’ve met a lot of great people, spent time with my friends, and had some pretty amazing experiences. I want to keep working on balance, especially when it comes to Magic, but at the end of the day it is what it is. I spend time doing what I want to be doing and need to learn to be okay with that.

At age 15, while standing in a record store with his high school bandmates, Shawn Massak made the uncool decision to spend the last of his money on a 7th edition starter deck (the one with foil Thorn Elemental). Since that fateful day 11 years ago, Shawn has decorated rooms of his apartment with MTG posters, cosplayed as Jace, the Mindsculptor, and competes with LSV for the record of most islands played (lifetime). When he’s not playing Magic, Shawn works as a job coach for people with disabilities and plays guitar in an indie-pop band.

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