“Well, I don’t want to keep you. It’s great to see you again.” I say to Gabe as I begin up the stairs to the gaming tables. It’s been over two years since I last played Magic at my old game store in Connecticut. I’ve been looking forward to this day, to set foot inside Battlegrounds Gaming of Norwalk, Connecticut. It’s the place where I rediscovered Dungeons and Dragons, and by extension, Magic: The Gathering.

Battlegrounds was a refuge from the job that allowed me to move out from home, a job I eventually grew to hate. In a directionless part of my life, it was a guiding light that moved me through the darkness. I built a family there, one that I was looking forward to returning to. As 2020 and 2021 rolled on, I thought of my return as something of a homecoming. Visions flashed through my head of embracing friends, with light coming through the door frame. I’d think of Howard Lyon’s depiction of Kytheon in Heartwarming Redemption. As I walked into the store, cards in hand, those thoughts swelled up.

I make it to the top of the stairs, drawn by the hum of Commander night. The place is packed; it’s great to be back.

I hardly recognize anyone in the crowd. No one looks up from their games.

My lack of success at prerelease wasn’t my fault, but that of my pool.

The ending of a chapter sneaks up on you. One day you’re in “the good old days,” and the next day you’re not. But this isn’t the ending credits of a John Hughes film. Rarely, if ever, do our endings get to feel like John Bender of “The Breakfast Club,” walking across the football field to “Simple Minds.” We head home at the end of the night, quietly turning the page as orange street lights flicker on the windshield.

Things change, and we keep moving.

I stood quietly in a corner, waiting for a Commander pod to open up. I got to thinking about change, and how we process it as people. It sure can sneak up on you. But when it comes, only by embracing it do we get to move forward.

My first ever 4-0, 8-0, playing Goblins at our Sunday Modern tournaments.

I last played Magic at Battlegrounds on a crisp February night in 2020. I was moving to Virginia for a new job, wondering when I’d return to the small community I grew to love. The pandemic began a month later. Life became a hazy tunnel of Netflix and boxed wine from Costco. I discovered Premodern, webcam Commander, and realized that I never wanted to work in an office again. There was much to think about as I stared at my four walls. All the while, Battlegrounds was changing, evolving, just outside my view.

The place I returned to was not the same that I left, but that’s okay. Battlegrounds is now something much more than what I knew.

For years, I told my friends that “Bob” was my favorite card that I didn’t own. When I left for Virginia, they presented me with this judge promo Dark Confidant, signing the inner sleeve.

That gets us back to the concept of change. Change is movement. Change is the energy that gets us from one state of being to the next. That movement can be disorienting, but how we handle it makes all the difference.

I could’ve mourned the place that no longer was. I could’ve wished for just one more night, to feel what I used to feel, among the people I love as I knew them. But nothing I could do would turn back time to that era.

Sometimes, you make a deep commitment to your game of Unstable Two-Headed Giant.

Instead, as I stood in a room of strangers, I realized it was time to embrace a new chapter that I could play a brief part in. With all these new faces, they were creating something new that didn’t exist before. Before my eyes, the good old days of others were playing out. Core memories were being created, from table to table. Friendships grew, laughter erupted after a topdeck, smiles carried through a combat step. Their experiences weren’t much different than mine, and they too would someday shimmer in the golden light of memory. This space was no longer mine to savor, but one that belongs to many others that have arrived after me.

I never asked who won more, but it didn’t matter. The fire burned each time the old TV came out.

The people of my era have been moving on. Whether that be across the country for a job, bringing a child into the world, or moving on from Magic itself, they’ve all taken a path of their own. Like the branches of a tree, we’ve all spread skyward towards something new. But our stories all converge on a few years in Connecticut.

We all shared the nights of laughter, spicy card choices, and stories to tell with others. TJ kept his head on the table for Skull Saucer. Melissa tried to convey to Ethan that she wasn’t hungry, but she’d probably pick off of what he brought back from McDonald’s. Jon and Nick battled into the wee hours with Super Smash Brothers, long after the store was supposed to close, but well before they were ready to hang it up for the night. The light wasn’t golden with nostalgia, but rather the daylight punch of fluorescent bulbs. I left on a cold night in February, without knowing it would never be the same. Here one day, gone tomorrow.

Change sneaks up on you.

On certain nights, after a few glasses of wine, I wonder what will happen to me and this game I’ve grown to love. There might be a point where I depart this game that I’ve loved for 23 years, since I opened a Devastation in my first booster pack of Starter 1999. I don’t foresee it happening any time soon, but there’s always a chance that life will take a different turn.

What I’d look at before pedaling off into the evening, thinking about what I’d bring next week.

Departure isn’t necessarily a bad thing, rather a chance for something new. It gives a chance for moments to breathe, to crystalize in memory, right alongside long division and opening up the Nintendo 64 on Christmas morning. I’d still be the same person, wandering the paths between the trees, with memories of Weatherseed Treefolk and Goblin Piledriver living on a bedroom floor in my brain. Change is one of the few constants we can rely on, even if it comes around when we least expect it. I don’t think I’d be ready for it, but I know that I’d have things to do on the other side.

If asked about those years with dragons and wizards, the thousands of dollars I’ve spent, thousands of hours of discussion I’ve had, I’ll always say that it was worth it. These things might not carry with me into the future, but they’re great for the times they’ve created. That’s enough.

Travis is a writer and photographer from the wooded foothills of New York, currently living in South Carolina. He plays nearly every Magic format, but has a special love for Legacy, Premodern, and Canadian Highlander. 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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