“Why don’t you switch to Magic?”
“You could make a lot of money.”
I get asked this all the time. It’s a perfectly legitimate question. Magic has tournaments every weekend in cities around the world, prizes that reflect an entire middle class family’s total income, and various other admirable qualities such as a Pro Tour and a Hall of Fame. When you consider we’re playing for an oversized mouse pad, a bus fare home, and a pat on the back, the decision seems more than obvious if you were to compare the two. Despite the inherent differences, I have no desire to switch games and I want to spend this week letting you know why.
Honestly, they’re probably right. That is at least in regard to their second statement, something that’s almost always the follow up to the former. It seems like the skillset of one game could easily translate over to the other. As a testament to that, I’d attribute the vast majority of my success to the concepts I learned while reading a book on Magic (I know you’re going to ask, Next Level Magic). More specifically, a testament that the two games have an interchangeable skill set is that I don’t know most of the rules, though I figured some out while reading, I might have read a couple of the card images printed on the page, but I wasn’t sure what a lot of it meant, and I’ve certainly never actually played a single game of Magic.
Yet the things I learned in a book that was specifically written for an entirely separate game are also the biggest reasons I was able to break that barrier I just could not seem to overcome before I read it. Before I ever won anything, I spent two years traveling to every single event with only a single YCS top 8 to show for it. These two years of soul crushing bubble loss after bubble loss came only after close to a decade of growing up playing the game; regularly attending local and regional-level events, following Metagame, keeping up with the latest decks and strategies, and growing to idolize the pros of the day, all without any significant break from the game.
Saturday mornings weren’t filled with the newest Scooby Doo! episodes or the Jetson reruns for me like they undoubtedly were for so many other kids my age. My Saturday mornings primarily consisted of excitedly waking up to check Metagame to follow coverage from that weekend’s SJC, something that occurred every two or three weeks, unlike YCSes now that only happen every other month or so. I loved reading about all of my favorite pro players; Paul Levitin, Shane Scurry, Emon Ghaneian, the Bellidos, Adam Corn, Ryan Hayakawa, and the list goes on.
As much as I enjoyed this time, I improved at a very slow rate and still had very little to show for it by 2012. Then all of a sudden, it clicked. One-day things just seemed easier. I understood more, began challenging long-standing beliefs, and explored new options. The successes started rolling in with this new found enlightenment and by the end of 2013 I was a National Champion, the first Circuit Series Champion, and had more tops that year than anyone else in the world.
How do you go from not being able to top a single event in 2012, despite attending all of them, to having a year like that in 2013? I fully believe it was applying the concepts I learned while reading Next Level Magic (No this article’s purpose isn’t to build a shrine worshiping Patrick Chapin’s genius, though he is pretty great and I’ll come back to him soon).
I’d like to think that this is a pretty good argument that the skillset required to be successful in Magic is much the same skillset required to be successful in Yu-Gi-Oh. If all someone who already had this skillset had to do to switch to a seemingly better game (better in terms of prizes at least) was learn a few rules that probably weren’t all that different to begin with and the card pool for the format, why wouldn’t they?
No top player is motivated by money.
None. Zero. If you were looking to balance the books, a minimum wage job would likely serve you better. Time is certainly a valuable commodity and the time required to get to the level of a top player isn’t going to give you back the monetary compensation you’d otherwise receive if you spent your time doing quite literally anything else that pays.
I say that wanting you to know that boy I could sure use it too! I’ve been on my own without help from back home since I was 18 and am currently a college senior juggling tuition, books, rent, food, fraternity dues, and so on. Being able to travel to all these wonderful cities and participate in so many tournaments that would certainly not be possible without the Leverett family and Alter Reality Games. I am eternally grateful for these opportunities and wouldn’t trade those experiences for the world. I say all this to let you know that the money sure wouldn’t hurt if the game did pay. Despite my situation or the various other situations those of you reading this find yourself in, know that whether you are hoping to make top cut to pay this month’s rent or are set and have a trust fund waiting for you when you graduate, no top player is motivated by money.
This inherently raises the question, what are top players motivated by?
The best answer I can give you is derived from the writings of John Stuart Mill, a British philosopher, and his work on Utilitarianism. While I don’t agree with everything Mill writes, I think the answer to our question is poised in his distinction between higher and lower pleasures.
Mill claims that lower pleasures are things that give you pleasure only while you are doing them and leave you without anything to show for your time spent. These are things like scrolling through Facebook, playing a casual game of Duelingnetwork, listening to pop music, and most high school relationships.
He also asserts that there is a distinction to be made in the form of higher pleasures, pleasures that stimulate more advanced faculty such as imagination, culture, and intellect. Examples of higher pleasures are things such as developing meaningful relationships, studying art, or reading a classic.
He makes the argument that people only seek lower pleasures because they have not experienced higher pleasures. Once someone experiences a higher pleasure, they will continue to choose to seek that higher pleasure over a similar lower pleasure, even if that higher pleasure is more difficult to obtain or comes at a higher cost.
The Hangover v. The Shawshank Redemption, going on a first date v. building a successful marriage, a sketch artist v. Van Gogh, Lil B v. Kendrick Lamar, visiting the Eiffel Tower v. immersing yourself in French culture, spending money v. making money, and so on.
The latter of the two choices is more enriching in each category. Mill’s distinction between these higher and lower pleasures is the basis we need to answer our question.
Competition is human nature. It’s built empires, pushed us further, allowed for us to fly higher, see more, drives the economy, and has decided wars and is the reason for others. Competition is among the highest pleasures.
Note the difference between a young girl splashing around in the pool for the first time and Michael Phelps, the difference between playing a pick up game with friends and Michael Jordan, the difference between playing the back nine with your dad and Tiger Woods.
Competition is synonymous with a fiery passion for self-improvement. To stop learning or to stop improving is to stop competing. It gives us drive and it motivates us to succeed regardless of what area we are competing in. We seek to be the masters of our own destiny through self-discipline, unrelenting determination, and an unquenchable need to improve. Being the best is relative to everyone else in competition and therefore won’t fulfill our need. Our need is a need so great that we will seek nothing short of perfection.
The answer to the question “why don’t you switch to Magic?” is simple: Magic can’t offer me anything Yu-Gi-Oh doesn’t already offer.
In 2007 Patrick Chapin lost in the finals of the Magic World Championship. After that tournament he vowed never to stop until he was crowed World Champion. This year Patrick Chapin won his first Pro Tour, a career-long goal for most. When asked what did it mean to the Hall of Famer to finally win a Pro Tour after all these years, all those hours of playtesting, and all the narrow misses, Chapin responded, “It means that I have a chance to play in the World Championships.”
I’m coming for you, Sehabi. Play hard or go home!