Cover image: Far Wanderings by Darrell Riche

People often think of the country as a quiet place, but it hardly ever is. Nearly every city sound is replaced by something out in the country. Sidewalk chatter becomes the drone of crickets in the night. The hum of highways turns into wind through the leaves. Car horns become crows in an empty field.

We were parked atop a mountain in western North Carolina, a week into our trip. The sun went down, and the lights began to slowly pop up in the valley. A few miles away, the sound of an intercom called out in the night, as the local dirt track prepared for a race. I took a deep breath, and thought about how the noise I left online turned into the noise of the woodland below. It doesn’t decrease, it just takes new forms.

For two months, I ran those thoughts through my head. They’ve meant to get me back to writing about the game I love, but they were not yet ready for the page. My time with Magic faced an abrupt change, and Commander Academy fell into a period of stasis. However, now it’s time to revive this column in a new light, to better reflect where I am in this journey. I’ll always love Magic, as long as Goblin Ringleader is playable. But now, it’s taken a new form. So begins Far Wanderings.

Travis and his dog standing by a green fence overlooking hills.

Looking out on Marshall, North Carolina.

Finding More with Less

In the beginning of May, my wife and I started a new chapter of our lives. We packed up, sold, and donated a bunch of our belongings, then moved into a converted camper van. We set out on a trip to travel the country, with an indefinite time frame in mind. We’ve had two goals: see as much of the landscape as possible, and decide where we want to settle down. We’re two grown adults and one dog, going from 1,388 square feet down to about 65. Our home may have decreased in size, but we’ll tell you that it just took a new form.

Since hitting the road, we’ve been to 12 states, and have driven over 6,000 miles. We’ve driven through the rain, slept in the heat, and met all sorts of people in between. It has easily been the most drastic change that either of us have made in our lives. There have been hard times, but the good ones make it all worthwhile.

White van parked in green field with dog and tree in front.

Staying at a winery in western New York.

So, where does Magic fit in with all this? Like a hiking trail, Magic has meandered in and out of my life over the past 22 years. This trip represented a rare but important bend in the trail. It was time to take a new direction, and have faith in where that would lead me. I had relied on Magic too much. It was time to step out into the clearing, and find my own way again.

An Unlikely Homecoming

Magic came back into my life in 2016. I discovered a fantastic Magic community in my town; one that I could ride my bike to. I grew to know and love the people at my store, and it quickly became my home away from home. Magic was a respite from a job that I grew to hate, in a career that I felt stagnant in. I wasn’t sad at the time, but I wasn’t fully happy either. I’d go through my days in a sort of hypnotic repetition, with Magic as that glimmering distraction. I went from feeling sorry for myself, to daydreaming about Pauper decks, Commander, and if I’d ever own Steve Bellidin’s M10 forest.

But even as Magic saved me in some capacity, it sent me to dark places as well. By being more present in online communities, I found myself getting sucked into various toxic corners. I couldn’t just be in one space, I often felt like I had to be in all of them. With Magic being this multiverse  that I needed to explore again, I wanted to see all of it. I didn’t just stop at the top comments, I’d scroll down to the ones that were hidden. Perhaps it was Magic that became a way of coping with the shortcomings of my life, so I kept diving further into the game. The further I fell in, the farther away my real-world troubles were.

For most of 2020, I was playing with my friends every week through a webcam. During some months, I’d double down by hopping into a Premodern monthly. There’s a chance I ended up playing more Magic at home in 2020 than I did at my LGS in 2019. When I wasn’t playing Magic, I was talking about Magic, and catching myself on Twitter more often than I’d like to admit. This game permeated most of my quarantine thoughts, and helped me keep moving through the doldrums. But when it came time to hit the road, I knew that things needed to change. I needed to stop having Magic be an overarching theme in my life, if I was to truly enjoy the sights beyond our windshield.

Getting Good At Letting Go

I started with downsizing. I buylisted stacks of unused cards, donated a box to Mike Lawton’s gaming club, and put the rest into storage. If it wasn’t going to be played in the next year or two, away it went. To maximize versatility in a small space, I built up a modular deck system, giving me the ability to carry over ten decks in the space needed for six. As I saw countless cards be packed up or shipped out, it got me thinking about the level of importance I placed on these game pieces over the past few years. Letting a lot go helped me understand their place in my life, and it made it easier to appreciate what I had left.

A narrow black Magic case slung across his back, decorated with a line of stickers.

My Magic collection for the next few years.

With letting go of cards, I wanted to let go of the discourse for a while, too. Strixhaven hype was winding down, and Modern Horizons 2 was, well, on the horizon. I decided to log off Twitter for the month, and attempt to avoid spoiler season entirely. I opened up Instagram, and saw Counterspell staring directly at me. A few unfollows later, I stopped seeing spoilers. Everything went quiet. After being in the thick of it for five years, the silence was deafening. That takes us back to a mountaintop in North Carolina.

Closeup of a van tire sunken in mud.

It can get a bit muddy when you stay at a farm.

As I heard the cicadas drone in the woods, I couldn’t help but think: “Out there, somewhere, someone is being a jerk to someone else on the internet, over a card game.” All that chatter was as close as the phone in my pocket, but it felt so far away. It was at that moment that I realized: I needed this break to save my relationship with the game. Sure, I have opinions on color pie imbalance and the price of Legacy, but none of that seemed to matter. I was as invested in Magic as I had ever been, but that passion didn’t decrease, it just took a new form.

Road winding through green hills with van parked in the distance.

Stopping for lunch in Blue Knob State Park in Ilmer, Pennsylvania.

The Return Path

I eventually reintegrated back into the Magic space, with the help of ALK Alters. He invited me to do a stream where I got Modern Horizon cards revealed to me, without any prior knowledge of them. I was sitting there, looking at things like Urza’s Saga and Chatterstorm for the first time, as if I just stepped out of The Truman Show. After avoiding Magic discourse for a month, it was the perfect way to ease back into it. It was time.

Hand holding up a Modern Horizons 2 prerelease kit.

A few hundred miles later, I was sitting in a driveway in central Connecticut. My wife was out to dinner with her best friend, and I looked at the prerelease kit I bought that week. I put on some music, cut the shrink wrap, and began looking at cards. There was no rush, no hype, no nervous energy over my rare slot. I lost myself in the art of commons and uncommons. My heartstrings were tugged by Late to Dinner, and I felt the foreboding warmth of World-Weary. It was good to be back.

Rocky lake shoreline with forests and boat in the distance.

The Michigan coast looks like you could tap it for blue or green mana.

The Trail Ahead

Fitting for the name, this column is going to meander through a variety of topics. When we pass through Oregon wine country, I may write about wine’s impact on ancient history, and how it gets depicted in Magic. When we see elk in Yellowstone National Park, I might look at their use in world building of natural environments. There are a few things left to be completed by Commander Academy, but otherwise, it’s a new step in this meandering trail. I hope you’ll join me for the trip.

Travis is a writer and photographer from the Hudson Valley in New York. He’s currently traveling the US with his wife and dog, living full-time out of a converted camper van. He has loved Magic since Starter 1999, but he champions having a healthy mental and financial relationship with the game. When not playing games, he enjoys cycling, tea, and dog parks. You can follow his exploits here on Twitter and Instagram.

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