I wake. An overgrown sepia township and wind through grain fields fades to Brooklyn dawn and silence. My eyes break open to sunlight. There is nothing like the sun warming you as you lay in bed, still dusty and worming around the bedsheets. I pull the laptop computer open and set it over my lap.

An hour later I am making tea in bare feet. The kettle stirs over the fire with the bubbling up of strangely visceral moments playing magic. In that rumbling silence punctuated by birds and the ocean sounds of cars passing through the street below, I see a sequence of faces on paper, like a flip book being thumbed. Playmats, players, faces smiling smugly, confidently, lucid and sublime in their advantageous position.

My ego, the bastard, keeps them all tucked away in that flip book, probably in the left chest pocket of his jacket, and thrusts them in front of me. Teasing me. A big slice of the humble, without any of the whipped cream. The board states are ugly. Cards aflush in their hands, overwhelming creatures, beautifully sequenced draw steps, are you fucking kidding me plays. Weak players, making mistakes. Bad players. Yeah. Worse than me, thats for sure. I’ve put work into this game. I should be the one who is advantaged, who wins. Lucky bastards. Lucky fucking bastards.


And then I stop. The kettle is shrieking and I haven’t heard. Standing right there, the stove at my hip, it took hold of me. I breathe.

Tilt is poison. It muddles our minds, making us unable to think clearly, and can often stay with us after the game, or even the tournament, has long passed. To allow ourselves to prioritize raw feelings over sound logic in relationship to the game has zero benefit. What’s worse: it’s quite natural for us to react in an emotional way to competition. We pour our hearts and minds into the game — yes, hearts. We don’t ‘agree’ with Magic; we love it — and believe ourselves worthy and capable of beating our opponents. So when we forget that Magic has an amazing capacity for supporting luck and variance as well as skill, it’s easy to see how the ego can cloud a player’s expectations.

I don’t get to play nearly as much magic as I’d like to. In a given week I probably get to play seven to ten matches of competitive Magic, which really isn’t much at all when compared to the average grinder. I try to supplement my play with articles, videos, theorycrafting, deckbuilding, etc. This time is well spent, but much of it feels like spinning wheels. As such, my commitment to the game has taken time to produce a sample size from which I can begin to draw conclusions. It’s been almost two years since I began playing again, and one year from when I began to write for you, my reader. It’s taken a while for me to get to this moment in my play level.

‘This?’ Yes, this moment. I have played enough now to know what my weaknesses are, and can see where my inexperience hinders me. These self-reflections have not made me a better player. Instead, they have allowed me to focus on aspects of the game I had given little to no attention to these past years. My mind, becoming aware of what it wants to learn, is tuning itself towards how it wants to invest it’s time when playing. And this awareness is profound.

I exist in limbo. A mysteriously unfamiliar place where I can see my shortcomings against better players I sit across from, but also see where I was before now, and can hear that place grate against me when someone else exposes that darkness. It’s the place I was… the unfocused, ego driven wizard I now feel fade from me with each passing day. When someone barks about losing to a bad deck, to being unlucky, to ‘bullshit’ or whatever else they want to say, I don’t feed off it, or allow myself to agree with it.


What is the meaning of each game we play? How do we go about extracting data from each shuffle and draw? When we focus on what we need to improve on, and what is important in every game, the individual result becomes less important than the intention to expand your sample size and acquire experience points. And guess what? When I focus on playing my best, on understanding the risks at hand and how best to navigate through them, I play better Magic. When I am merely trying to win, I get upset when I don’t. I tilt. I endarken the game through a faulty lens through which I am the person who deserves the win. A feeling which, when I allow it to bubble up, makes me sick.


When the meaning of each game is diluted with higher purpose, the games we play are naturally more enjoyable and the wins will come along with the invested experience. It’s a calm place, a serene place from which I play. Where I go from here, how my game develops, can only improve. My only short resource is time. I don’t have time to play enough games and get better at an accelerated rate. An unfortunate reality I am perfectly fine with. After all, I am no Professional magic player. I am nobody.

So, advice? Sure. I can give you something provided  you need it. Don’t tilt, ever, not if you want to become better at this game. It might actually be the first step to long term growth. Know that your energies are better spent by focusing on what is important, focusing on what you can change. Because luck and variance are things you cannot control. You must accept them and move on. You must lose, and you will lose. If we are serious about getting better, then the pangs of losing will fade with the proper investment of the mind.

When we sit down to play, we want to win, and we will play out the game with that intention. Be frustrated when you lose, but take something away from it. Question your lines when you lose, and question them when you win. Each game is just a game, and when we take them one at a time and really play magic, we start to win. Sometimes. Maybe. Eventually. Ha. The horizon is endless for anyone who bothers to look ahead.

Derek Gallen lives and writes in Brooklyn, New York. 



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