Life is full of goals. Short term goals and long term goals. Massive goals that your life bends towards, and tiny goals which barely register like tidying up a desk or finding your keys. There are goals we create for enjoyment, goals for self-enrichment, and goals we meet for work.

Magic is no different. There are goals on the smaller side, like hemming and hawwing over our 23rd card or final sideboard slot, goals like stabilizing before dying in a game. Then there are massive goals like winning a tournament or qualifying for the MPL.

The ongoing crisis has kept me from my neverending goals of playing paper Magic with friends, supporting my LGS communities, cube drafting, and traveling to tournaments with friends. It’s gotten me to take stock of my more specific goals, those that can only be accomplished once, and I realize I’ve exhausted most of them.

I’ve found great communities to be a part of and gotten good enough at Magic to be recognized by said communities. I’ve won a Team Draft League, day twoed a Grand Prix, played and even beaten some of the best players in the world, and even played on the Players Tour. I’ve created a cube, met Mark Rosweater, had my work featured on Daily MTG, gotten jobs for Magic friends, and written articles I’m incredibly proud of.

There’s a lot that I’m proud of, but it’s been a while since I’ve added anything to the list. Frankly, the only item remaining is getting a job at Wizards, something I don’t anticipate happening at all soon given the current situation and my current exciting projects.

Then, this happened:

A good ooops or a bad ooops?

War of the Spark is back on Arena, and it’s one of the two formats that I love on the platform (alongside Dominaria). I played a ton of it for a week, starting from silver, and hit mythic for the first time ever. Apparently, if you have solid win streaks going into mythic, it places you quite high.

Now I’m in contention for something, though I haven’t paid attention to competitive Arena ever. I think top 1200 gets me into a qualifying tournament, but I’m totally checked out of the competitive scene now that there are neither Limited events nor coverage of actual human beings playing with actual paper cards.

While I was initially excited to place so well, I realized quickly that I had abruptly stopped enjoying myself. A single game loss due to a poor draw, a mistake, or just being outgunned or outplayed sent my rank spiraling downwards, while a single game win was insufficient to claw my way back. A draft that went poorly would doom my record, so I might as well dip into my gems, toss away the draft, and try again rather than enjoy the challenge of fielding a mediocre deck.

A format I adore became drudgery. I’d gone from having meaningless numbers and metallic icons steadily increase, to reaching the ceiling and only being able to go down. It’s proven miserable. And more importantly, it’s not something I’ve ever chased—being Mythic was never my goal, just something I reached unintentionally.

I’m left with the question of how to proceed this week. Do I keep jamming War of the Spark and ensure I qualify for something? Do I take a break to avoid burnout and let my record lapse? Do I create a new goal for myself? Am I in unwanted territory,  at risk of unintentionally taking someone else’s slot in the top mythic ranks?

The different meanings of success

Success in Magic is really important to me, but I usually know my limits. I want to be a local end boss, someone people know they’ll get a fun, fair, and challenging match with when we’re paired up. I want to keep honing my skills at Grand Prixs, but having played on the PT once, I don’t need to return.

Once I learned that not every goal demands maximum success, falling short became far less frustrating. Sure, losing a win-and-in is frustrating, but my major life goals and self-worth don’t hinge on game wins. During quarantine, I’ve been cooking and learning yoga with my partner, two activities I enjoy for their own sakes and am not particular good at. I do not strive to be super flexible or fit (which I’m not) nor as good a cook as my father (which I will never be). Instead, my goals are to learn, to gain experience and confidence, and to improve myself. They aren’t the specific, measurable, and achievable sort of goals with specific endpoints I’ll create at work.

Frankly, my Magic goals are now all of the same type. Being a mythic-ranked player on Arena isn’t a goal of mine, but it does create a cool, finite goal: can I finish a season in the top 1200? I’ll give it a shot, since there’s such a low cost, though I’ll be careful not to overdo it and make myself miserable.

So what’re the lessons here, if I know so much about goals? Well, sometimes I fall short of the goal of recognizing which goals are important. Sometimes life throws you curveballs which could be great or self-destructive, and you need to scrutinize them to avoid chasing goals you don’t care to achieve. And sometimes folks who feel like they know it all can forget their own lessons. It’s especially important when we’re separated from much of our Magic groups and support systems to take stock of what really matters to us and what’s just obsession.

And, as always, thanks for reading.

Zachary Barash is a New York City-based game designer and the commissioner of Team Draft League. He designs for Kingdom Death: Monster, has a Game Design MFA from the NYU Game Center, and does freelance gatame design. When the stars align, he streams Magic (but the stars align way less often than he’d like).

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