With 2022 in the rear view mirror and 2023 upon us, it’s a perfect opportunity for one to take stock of things. 2022 was a major year of transition. We saw the return of Organized Play (albeit in a smaller form than what we see prior to the pandemic), some wide swings in Limited format quality, and so many products that it got too easy to ignore them. On the more personal side, I got married while many of my Magic-playing friends had their first children. The game is different, and so are the priorities of myself and those I love playing Magic with. With all that said, I’d like to set some goals for how to enjoy Magic this year and avoid pitfalls like binging, pointless purchasing, and attending events I don’t sufficiently enjoy.

Play More Competitive Tabletop Magic.

Since about 2012, much of my enjoyment of Magic has been through competition. Almost all of this has been through Limited events. Events like Twenty Sided Store’s championship (which preceded Wizards’ official store championships by half a decade), Team Draft League, and Grand Prix challenged me. Through them I became better at Magic, better at analytical reasoning, and better at game design while simultaneously building friendships and having fun. The pandemic denied me most of that.

Now I finally have a chance to rekindle the feeling of growth and achievement. I also learned that digital competition doesn’t thrill me the same way that playing in-person does. There’s less communication, less camaraderie, and so many more distractions. So, before too many life priorities get in the way of traveling to events, I’m making competition a major priority for me in 2023.

Find Balance with Competitive Magic

Just before the pandemic, I accidentally qualified for the first (and only) round of Regional Pro Tours. I was elated to cross “playing a PT” off my goal list, but I left the experience with no desire to play at the professional level again. I haven’t had the opportunity to adjust the way I used to play, since the entire Organized Play system was thrown into disarray a couple weeks after I returned from Phoenix. I can’t go back to playing the way I used to, where qualifying for the Pro Tour was a major motivator and Grand Prixs were readily available sources of competition. I need to adapt to this new world.

A few weeks ago, I had an important realization. I was slated to attend a Regional Championship Qualifier. Winning it would have sent me to a Standard Regional Championship in San Diego. I didn’t want to play Standard, fly to San Diego, or play in a DreamHack event (the tournament organizer for US Regional Championships). I didn’t want to play a tournament where I’d have to concede in the finals, assuming I even made it that far, so I stayed home and played the Arena Qualifier Weekend instead.

The Arena Qualifier was a much harder tournament, but the prize on the line was an invitation to Pro Tour Philadelphia—an event in a location I’d be happy to go to. This event happens to feature draft. It was odd for me to choose Arena Magic over tabletop, but the fact is the Regional Championships aren’t allowed to have any Limited events. This means I’m not particularly interested in vying for them.

This state of affairs presents a conundrum: I want to play competitive Limited, but the opportunities vary wildly. Some are small-scale tournaments at local game stores, which qualify for RCQs I’m not eager to attend. The others are Pro Tour Qualifiers, which qualify for an event at a higher level than I want to play, but an event that will have Limited! I don’t know how to solve for this. Either Wizards changes its Organized Play system soon, or I miraculously get excited about Constructed again.

This year feels like a make-or-break one. Since 2012, I have scheduled several trips each year to Limited Grands Prix. I have mostly only touched Constructed when I had to. GPs haven’t existed in three years (for good reason), but unless they come back soon, I either need to start playing Constructed again or, more likely, stop wanting to play competitive Magic events. It’s simply disingenuous to try to win a Limited RCQ which will qualify me for an event I won’t want to attend. Limited is too good of a format not to be played at a high level. But, I also accept its financial and logistical realities make Constructed smoother to run and easier to build compelling coverage for. Hopefully this year, I can find a better course.

Make Sets Less Disposable

The pandemic eliminated LGS play, but enabled binging on Magic Arena. But as 2022 came to a close, I played far less Arena and more at local game stores than I did during lockdown. I’m still finding sets to be incredibly disposable. The sheer volume of play leads to formats becoming understood and stale within a matter of weeks. Content I used to enjoy creating and following, like Limited guides, common reviews, and format debates now take so long to come out relative to a format’s lifespan. A few days in, and they’re mostly invalid by the time they’re published. A week or two in and most opinions are already formed, shared, calcified, and resigned as old news.

I’d love to find ways to enjoy sets for more time. Part of which involves my own behavior, such as focusing on tabletop play and avoiding content. Tabletop has hard limits on availability, unlike Arena. But this may also be a fact of life nowadays—Arena isn’t going anywhere (which is great, despite its enabling binge behavior). There are so many products that nothing gets to hold the spotlight for long. There have been large drop-offs in participation at LGSes once formats are a couple weeks old.

Cube a Lot More

I’d like to end things on an unambiguously positive note. 2022 was phenomenal for cube thanks to events like CubeCon. I created my second-ever cube and almost immediately moved on to my third. I’m excited to share it with you all soon. I’m aiming for 2023 to have many more cube draft weekends with friends, and to see the revitalization and growth of New York City’s cube community. Cube is the intersection of two of my greatest passion, Magic and game design, and I fully intend to have Cube be a definitional Magic pillar for me in 2023.

I have high expectations for this year. I hope to be able to do a lot more traveling, to make a lot more friends through Magic, to grow as a cube designer, and to hopefully play a bunch of games that challenge me to play my absolute best. Hopefully my perspective can help you create for yourself achievable, worthwhile, and healthy goals for 2023. And, as always, thanks for reading!

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

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