Last weekend I was planning to play an Origins sealed PPTQ in town. Turns out it got cancelled for some reason. And it didn’t matter anyway, because some urgent projects came up at work that kept me busy on Saturday and Sunday. I also had a friend’s birthday party to fit in there, so if it weren’t for the cancellation, I’d have had some tough decisions to make. Everything worked out well, as I was able to get a ton of work done and attend the birthday party.

Work-life balance. As you get older, this becomes a major struggle in your life. Our society forces you to work, and pressures you to work as much as possible. Unless you totally opt out, say by playing cards professionally, you have to fight for as much free time as you can get. Balance is important. Unless you absolutely love your job, you want to find times to enjoy life after hours.

That is easier said than done. Efficiency is the underlying premise of our capitalist economic system. Let’s just assume that all forces in our society are pushing you as an individual, along with all individuals and all groups made up of individuals a.k.a. corporations, to be as efficient as possible.  This is economics we’re talking about, after all. Assumption is the lifeblood of economists. And while we’re at it, let’s assume that being “as efficient as possible” means “making as much money as possible” because growth and wealth and bottom lines and all that jizz.


The “spirit” flavor never quite hit me before.

As you grow into adulthood, society pushes you to make money, lots of money, and to do it through that glorious angel of American life we call work. Assuming you are a man, at least. Society tends to prefer that women mind the hive so that a ready chain of male laborers and visionaries can be more efficient at working. The feminist movement has done a lot to shift away from this mindset, which is to say feminism is a societal force pushing us away from that idealized vision of capitalist efficiency. No wonder women face an unrelenting assault from the entrenched economic patriarchy. (If only feminism could be assumed away like I did just one paragraph earlier.) But I digress. Go read Jess’s column for more along these lines!

What about that work-life balance thing? Well, if it really is a balance, the work side is loaded down. To the max. They probably don’t have physical balances in school science labs anymore, like they did when I was a student. I imagine it’s all digital now. But back in the 90s, in science lab we’d get a balance with two trays and a set of graduated masses, from one milligram up to one gram. Well, if you put the one gram mass on one side of the balance, and left the other side empty, you’d get the immediate thud on the massed side dropping as low as the mechanism would allow. Tossing a few milligrams on the other side does nothing. And that is our society’s default setting for work-life balance. If you want the “life” side to come anywhere close to balancing the work side (which how dare you want that, you communist scum!), you have to put some real mass on the “life” tray.


This is what happens if you put all your mass on the work side!

So what does this have to do with Magic? For the most part, Magic falls on the “life” side of the ledger. When your parents asks what you are going to do in the future, they are asking you about the “work” side. That’s one of those societal forces pushing you toward efficiency. Playing Magic is not the answer they want to hear. Playing Magic is not efficient. It is a dalliance. Why are you wasting time flipping cards when you could be working, improving, producing, struggling, earning? Really, why don’t you find a robot to replace your inefficient carbon sac and kill yourself? That would be more efficient!

Magic may not be work, but it sure is fun. Playing Magic also hones your critical thinking and decision making skills. I am a better lawyer for playing Magic. Developing a litigation strategy to stay ahead of your adversary requires vision and creativity. It’s not that different from figuring how you can possibly win this game in the next three turns before you lose to an unchecked [casthaven]Kothophed, Soul Hoarder[/casthaven]. The game doesn’t look very efficient, but maybe our sense of efficiency is miscalibrated. Maybe someone else chose a definition of efficiency that puts immediate growth and demonstrable productivity above a happier, healthier worker. You can bet your life that “fun” is not part of the equation. But I was a worse lawyer when I lacked the time to play Magic, and I’m a better lawyer now that I can balance the two.

A famous trio of Brooklyn sages once exhorted us to fight for our right to party. That’s what work-life balance is all about. Fight for more mass on the “life” side of the balance. Others will say that isn’t efficient or productive, but what do they know? To them, you are a number on a spreadsheet. You are the miner and the coal. They don’t have to live your life.


This was my favorite Magic card back in the day. Maybe it still is.

It’s not enough to do the work. That’s what society demands of you, but you have to demand more of yourself. Have a reason to do the work. Paychecks turn into booster packs, standard decks, tournament fees, foil [casthaven]Momir Vig, Simic Visionary[/casthaven], and those transcedent moments you share with your teammates after a big win. If you’re going to work for the weekend regardless, you might as well have a weekend to work for.

When you have to make a tough decision between work and playing Magic (or going to a friend’s birthday party), recognize that the scale is already tipped heavily in favor of work. Don’t feel bad about pushing a bit in the opposite direction. Feel righteous! Make the time. A weekend at Grand Prix Detroit (which is waiting for me in two days!) will do wonders for your life. It will also make you a better worker, both because you’ll hone intellectual and social skills and because you’ll feel like work is worth doing so you can afford to go to more tournaments. Or Wednesday night Commander parties. Or team draft league. Or your friend’s birthday party.

Carrie O’Hara is Editor-in-Chief of Hipsters of the Coast.

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