I know, I know. This one isn’t exactly a pretty topic.

“Success” can mean many different things to different people. Success in Magic: The Gathering, even more so. Competitive Magic was something I truly felt that I could express myself in, putting my ideas to paper, paper to cards, cards to events. It gave me a strong outlet to push myself as hard as I could with the tools available to me, in a way that I couldn’t do otherwise: creatively. The notion that I could have nearly infinite combinations of options, and put them together to create a machine that I would come to know and understand, was so incredibly attractive to me as a means of expression, that I couldn’t help but put all of my time into it.

As I started working my way up, this would become less of a hobby and more of a lifestyle. Around 2013, things would come to a head and I would be welcomed to StarCityGames.

Now, I wouldn’t exactly call this a dream come true or anything. It was certainly a pivotal moment at the time, and I definitely wouldn’t be where I am now without it, but I think I was still trying to understand things in such a short amount of time. I had only been playing Magic for about three years at that point, and there were a ton of talented people that were (and still are!) way better than me. When Cedric Phillips pulled me aside and made me that offer, I was extremely surprised and taken aback, though very appreciative and grateful of his faith in me.

I’m not exactly the most confident person out there. I don’t believe my writing is that informative or sound. I mostly say things off the cuff and hope you understand it. I don’t try to convince anyone, really. I often struggle to put how I feel into words, and it can take me days, if not weeks, to put it all together. Back then, it was way worse, because I was both trying to fit into a competitive environment that I felt I had no place in, and keep up with a schedule that I was clearly not prepared for. My ~24 year old self was so out of their element, but I accepted that offer, and kind of pushed ahead regardless of it all.

Oh, and I did my best to hide my flaws, because that’s kind of what you had to do then.

Fast forward to the very end of 2015, and I had ended my tournament career with a whopping zero SCG Open top 8’s, a single Grand Prix day two, and a single PTQ top 8. I managed to make top 8 in points in 2014 for a couple of seasons, but I lived in NYC, which was effectively a cheat code when it came to SCG Invitational Qualifiers and the frequency of them.

I would attend, on average, about two of them every week, for well over six months. There were even ones on weekday nights, with about 20-30 people, and making top 8 in one of them was about the same as making top 64 in an Open. It was a broken system that I had the ridiculous privilege of grinding and benefiting from, and I was very easily the worst player on that points leaderboard.

But why was I the worst player? What did—or didn’t—I do to compete with everyone else?

Well, for starters, my deck choices were just not quite there.

One of my big issues was that I would gravitate towards playing something I liked, that was attempting to be innovative for the sake of being innovative, rather than just sucking it up and just playing the best deck, or at least close to the best deck. My issue was my knack for expression not fitting with a competitive environment, despite how desperately I wanted it to. I had a very huge need to do things my way, as I treated deck building and construction as more of an artform, a means to put what was on my mind to life…

…Paper? Table? I don’t know, you get what I mean.

I wanted to actualize my ideas and put them to the test, but this had two major problems: I wasn’t good enough to optimize said ideas how I saw fit, and other players simply didn’t care about anything but winning. Not to say that I didn’t want to win, but I wanted to win on my terms. It’s an issue I still struggle with to this day in fighting games, non stop. I am a creative at heart, despite not having much creative talent, deckbuilding was one of the few ways I could put my all into something. No one cares about any of that when it comes to competition though, so I just fell short a lot of the time.

Now, I don’t think I was horrible at the game or anything. I struggled with actually solving problems at a reasonable pace, I often hit a mental block when I’m overwhelmed, or make plays without thinking about them. I don’t know what that means for me as a person, but it was just something I could never shake, and it showed in my gameplay.

The infamous Gifts Ungiven for three cards is one of the most embarrassing things I’ve ever done in my years of competing in anything. To this day, I couldn’t explain to you why I did it. I thought the card worked differently than it did. I could blame people not correcting me when I mentioned it a while beforehand, but ultimately, it’s on me. I make many blunders like this, and I’d be lying if I said I wouldn’t make the same mistakes again. I often find it very weird how people are capable of never making the same mistake twice, but that’s a bit of a tangent.

Lastly, I think I just never really wanted to move on from what got me into the game in the first place. As I said before, the allure of expressing myself was the big draw, but when it came to wanting to compete, I just couldn’t find a compromise. When it became a job, I needed to treat it like a job. I simply didn’t do that, and I ended up not being able to continue.

I remember Paulo Vitor Damo Da Rosa mentioning in one of my articles a long time ago, that I was caught in this limbo of competitive and casual. I don’t quite remember what he said verbatim, but it’s almost haunting how much of it resonated, even to this day. Maybe I’ll never find that edge to be truly competitive. Maybe I’ll never find a medium I’m comfortable with. Maybe all of that is okay. I couldn’t really tell you right now. I just know that if I had another chance at it; If I were able to do it all over again, I’d do it much differently.

I’m still happy with how I came out of it. Hell, recently I got a lot of praise from Mike Flores on my deckbuilding in my tenure, calling me one of the best deckbuilders of my time. Now I wouldn’t say all of that about myself, but to hear it from one of the legends of the game is pretty flattering.

I just wish I could have done more, is all.

Anthony Lowry (they/he) is a seasoned TCG, MMORPG, and FPS veteran. They are extensively knowledgeable on the intricacies of many competitive outlets, and are always looking for a new challenge in the gaming sphere.

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