Mental Health and Burn out in Magic

Bradcifer goes over the struggles of mental health and how they are related to our favorite card game

Troubling times?

Magic the Gathering is, in my opinion, the greatest game to ever exist. It is a game I can say without a doubt, to be the second-most important thing to happen to me in my life, behind music. It is the way that I have made countless friends, built a relationship with the Pioneer community and other content creators, and served as an outlet for my competitive side and strategic thinking. I simply love this game and everything that has come with it. Without it I would never have met all of my wonderful friends here at PlayingPioneer.com, or Alex, my cohost on the Pioneer Perspective podcast. 

During the height of the pandemic, when everything was locked down for the most part, I had nowhere to play Magic (like everyone else). This led me to several webcam-based magic Discord servers and eventually into helping start the Play Away Discord server you can find a link to on the Content page. In doing so, I met many different people during my play, including Alex. The funny thing about meeting Alex was that when we would agree to play a game on the LFG channel in the server, the majority of the time spent on the call was not playing Magic at all. We would play our game and then spend the next few hours simply talking about this game we both loved. It was a wonderful symptom of an unfortunate circumstance of the pandemic to find someone who was passionate about a hobby just like me and would love to simply chat about it for hours on end. This is how we eventually became partners on the Pioneer Perspective and the rest is history. So, I hold Magic to one of the highest regards in my life as being an outlet that has helped me through some of the most troubling times. Even with all that being said, sometimes I need a break from it. 

A Magic Life Balance 

I have always been fairly honest about my own struggles with mental health and the toll that daily life can have on me. I’m not unique in that regard, as everyone, regardless of profession or hobbies, has their own struggles. Personally, I have ADHD, which, honestly, I don’t even like talking about if I don’t have to. Normally I feel a little weird about talking about my personal diagnosis because I don’t want to come off as romanticizing it in any way. There are plenty of mediums online that do a good enough job of that so I’d rather not add to the fire. However, I feel it’s incredibly important to create an open dialogue to freely discuss how to manage your own mental health in whatever manner possible, which is why I’m being transparent here today. A common symptom of ADHD,  however, is diving head-first into a hobby or passion and fully investing yourself in it until you burn yourself out and switch to another hobby two months later. (Note: this isn’t a blanket statement for everyone with ADHD.) I have found myself doing this a lot in my life, especially with jobs and career paths, with the only constant interests being sports, music, and Magic. My problem, personally, is that I will take up hobbies and interests that require high levels of attention and dedication to understanding and enjoying it; yet I would maintain the same level of attention and dedication to sports, Music, and Magic all at the same time. In addition to working full time, attending school full time, and trying to maintain personal relationships, I would always end up sacrificing the same thing: sleep

Sleep is so incredibly important for anyone that wants to enjoy their work or hobbies, because if you end up getting less sleep than you require, you can end up becoming more irritable, resulting in you even subconsciously placing those feelings towards something you love. It’s always important to remember: your hobby will typically still be there the next day, so sleep.

Even without the sacrifice of sleep, overbearing yourself with anything nonstop day-in and day-out can cause you to become burnt out from it. Let’s face it, Magic is a pretty intense hobby that requires countless amounts of commitment both temporally and financially. It’s incredibly easy to let both of those things take over and allow you to find yourself that your free time is consumed by this game. Magic players are passionate, just as any invested community members would be for competitive games. As such, it’s easy to become a bit emotional in regards to what is happening to the game. Whether it’s interference of a format you play via bannings or lack of bannings from Wizards or general maintenance of the game in general, we’re all bound to have an opinion. 

The Unspoken Downside of Bannings  and Early Pioneer Woes

Since playing Pioneer, I’ve had two decks banned from underneath me in both Kethis combo and 4C Reclamation. If it wasn’t for my commitment as a content creator and investment in the game from a community standpoint, there’s a fair chance I could have stopped playing then. That, or carry the frustrations of my favorite decks no longer being playable into other aspects of the game. For a lot of players, this happens, and it’s incredibly disheartening from both an enjoyment and financial perspective. Kethis combo, for example, was an incredibly unique deck that I have yet to find a suitable replacement for in terms of playstyle. It was also an incredibly expensive deck, coming in at just under $1000, which is high for Pioneer. Losing that deck really sucked and was the first time I’ve ever felt genuinely heartbroken over a competitive game. If not for that ban announcement being the kickoff episode of the Pioneer Perspective podcast, I don’t know if I’d be playing Magic today. 

Throughout all my time playing Magic, I’ve dealt with plenty of things that made me feel a bit sour towards the game. This was no fault of the game itself, but this happens for everyone from time to time. Fun is subjective, and when your definition of fun is taken away from you, it can be hard to push forward. During the year following the bans of all the combo decks, Pioneer was in a place of being damaged from the lack of action over those six months preceding the bans. This time was difficult as a content creator for the format, because every time there was ever any dialogue regarding the format outside of its already-existing playerbase, it would be accompanied with “dead format lol” jokes and memes. There would rarely be any genuine discussions about the format and it became the butt of a joke for much of the Magic community, including many prominent content creators. I felt disheartened, defeated, and annoyed by the community at this time. 

So, I took a break from magic for about three months. I still recorded the podcast every week and kept up with Pioneer enough to be able to talk about the format and give proper insight to our listeners, but beyond that, I had nothing to do with Magic. It was the greatest decision I ever made. Taking a step away from the game allowed me to rekindle my passion for creating music and enjoy other hobbies. I found myself feeling like a weight had been lifted off of me because I was putting so much of my energy into this game; and whenever you put time and energy into something, you hope for it to return the favor with enjoyment. I wasn’t getting that from Magic, so I stepped away. When I came back to it about 90 days later, it felt fresh and exciting again. I was eager to brew new decks and discuss the state of the format. I was happy again playing this game that I honestly owe my life to. 

Since then, any time I start to feel myself growing irritated every time I play Magic, I take some time away. I haven’t taken three months off since early 2021, but taking a week or two off every now and again has been incredibly helpful. You know yourself better than anyone, so keep an eye on how you feel when enjoying a hobby. If you find yourself getting tilted over seemingly small things within the game, it might be time for a break.

What to Learn From It

In learning when to understand when I’m getting burnt out from Magic, I’ve also started to get better at how to manage my burnout before it happens. I make a point to take a few days off from Magic completely every week, and put my energy towards something else. This can be other types of hobbies like I’ve talked about earlier, or it can just be a lazy day where I don’t do anything at all. Another thing I know many of you reading this will groan at (but it wouldn’t be a cliche if there wasn’t any truth to it) be active. Go to the gym; take a walk; go do something physical. Having a physical outlet is proven to increase energy levels, release dopamine, and result in better sleep. Seriously; it’s not only good for your mental health, but obviously your physical health as well. Finally, exercise your brain functionality through other means besides Magic. I mean this in both a puzzle sense like how Magic itself can be mentally demanding, as well as a social sense. Your brain is just like any other muscle you have, in that you want to constantly work it out in order to maintain its strength. So when you’re taking a break from Magic, don’t let that part of your brain lose consistency. Take up puzzle games, write something like a story or poem, or take up another hobby that requires problem solving or has a creative outlet to it. The other side of that is the social side – as in, don’t forget to socialize with people. Go out with friends; talk to a stranger at a bar; exercise that ability to be a person with others. Obviously, if you are incredibly introverted or struggle to meet people, these are all better said than done. Do what’s comfortable for you! I still encourage you to, every once in a while, step outside of that comfort zone.  You just might be surprised what you’re capable of. 

At the end of the day, Magic is a hobby that both requires time and money to enjoy in any capacity. How much of either you give it is completely up to you, but be wary of knowing the tell-tale signs in which the amount you give in isn’t being matched by your expectations of its output. In other words, understand when your enjoyment isn’t being matched by your investment. Along the way,  remember to take breaks, enjoy other hobbies, and to take care of yourself. Eat when you need to eat, sleep when you need to sleep, have basic hygiene, and give yourself room to breathe.

  • Author/Video Editor

    With a love for Ancient Egypt as a child, Brad’s card game of choice was always Yu-Gi-Oh! until the release of Amonkhet sparked interest in Magic. Ever since then he hasn’t looked back. Pioneer naturally became his favorite format of choice seeing that his starting point with Magic was Amonkhet. Rakdos is his favorite color combination but Kethis Combo will always have that special place in his heart as his favorite deck.

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