Its always boggled my mind that a society that celebrates sports, movies, and music can look down upon games and see them as wastes of time or actively detrimental. Games are for me, an integral medium for social interaction, and intellectual stimulation. Games make me think more than any music, movie, or sport ever has. In turn I believe I’ve formed many of my problem solving skills and methods of thinking about different things from different games I’ve played, and none more than Magic the Gathering. Here is what MtG has taught me.
1. Always Stay Open
In Magic, especially in the draft format its important to keep an open mind or decision tree. If you hold your preconceived notions to be truth you miss things that become more apparent as more information is available. Your first pick doesn’t lock you into your colors, the rankings you have when the set comes out aren’t necessarily going to be representative of how good the card is in context etc.
The same can be said for life. Keeping an open mind is imperative to being a successful human being, sticking in traditional ideas as more new ideas come to the forefront will only hold you back. Your first love is probably not your last, your first impressions of someone aren’t always representative of them, and your parents values shouldn’t be the only things yours are based off of.
2. Mistakes Happen
In Magic, there is a saying that even the best players in the world make at least 1 mistake a game, and often many more. While you’d like to minimize the mistakes you make in a game, you often times give up some amount of value every game. Did you tap your mana the wrong way? Should you have attacked with a different creature there? Should you have taken a mulligan? But you can learn from these mistakes and apply them to later games you play
In life most people don’t think about it in such black and white terms. Its obvious for things that affect us directly. I dropped this Jar of Pickles, so now I have to clean it up. But we don’t often think of things on a macro level that can be mistakes. Could I have eaten something that was better for me? Could I have saved more of my last paycheck? Should I have used a different tone of voice when I last talked to my significant other to avoid that fight? The people who succeed in life have best figured out how to learn from them, and apply them later on in life.
3. Play to your outs
Magic players have a tenancy to take plays they see as “objectively good” and apply them when the context doesn’t call for it. Sometimes you have to make a realization that you can’t win making “normal” plays you have to only make plays that will let you win if everything goes perfectly, even if they seem unorthodox. Assume the exact thing you need will happen because if not, you lose anyways, so why not try?
In life this usually manifests in decisions that take us out of our comfort zone, yet in reality have a little to no impact if it doesn’t work out perfectly. Want to get to know someone new? Introduce yourself. You’ll never get to meet them otherwise, so while you might not get along with them, or they may blow you off, you’re guaranteed to never speak with them if you don’t try. Want to learn to play an instrument? Do it, find the resources out there and try learning. Maybe you musical ear isn’t that good, but you certainly can’t succeed by never trying. This is something I personally have trouble applying to life, but I’m learning to get better.
4. You can only play the cards you’re dealt
This is an easy to relate to concept for anyone who’s played any card game, but you can only use the resources your dealt. In magic, you can’t complain that you would’ve won had you drawn this, or not gotten mana screwed, or just had opened X card. If you waste mental energy on what you don’t have, you miss playing the things you do have as well as possible.
In life, people always want what they don’t have, but they’d just hope they stumble upon them rather than earn them. Why don’t I have a great job? Why do I live in a shitty apartment? You have to have the resources to succeed and if you don’t its because you aren’t actively setting yourself up to get them. Additionally, maybe things would improve if you looked to use what you do have in better ways, like getting a raise or promotion at work by working harder, or saving money to get a new car.
5. Use your life as a resource
The number 1 mistake I see amateur Magic players make is that they guard their life total and will preserve it at all costs. Better Magic players know that they should use their life as a resource, just like cards, and mana, and creatures. Its a balance, but sometimes you have to take 2 on turn 2 rather than block with your bear because you know what, you need the bear later, and 2 damage, isn’t that much when you start with 20.
I think the same is true for life. People spend so much of their life trying to preserve it that they effectively waste life trying to gain life. Enjoy people, experiences, and things in life, even if you have to “waste time” doing it. Because at the end of the day, its not who lived the longest, its about who lived life to the fullest.
6. Find the thing you want to be doing, and find the best way to do it.
Deckbuilding in Magic can pretty much be summed up by the above sentence. How do I want to win? Is my plan to kill you with a Grave Titan? Well find the best way you can to stop yourself from losing before you win with it. Is your plan to win with this 2 card combo? Find all the ways you can draw it faster, and protect it cheaply? Is your plan to throw burn at your opponents dome until you’ve dealt 20 points of damage? Find the most damage for the least mana, and put them in. Its really that simple.
In life I think people look for the best way, without really knowing what they want to do. Do you want a career that requires a degree? Then you should probably go to college. Do you want to be your own boss? You should look into opening a small business. Don’t worry about what other people think is right, just find something you want to do, and then worry about how to do it then, don’t take an arbitrary “correct” path in life if it doesn’t lead somewhere you want to be.
7. Everything has a cost, even if its not readily apparent.
People look at cards like Spellbook in Magic and assume they’re awesome. “Look at this Ornithoptor,” they say “why wouldn’t I play it, its free!”. Of course that card has a cost. Its cost is the fact that you have 1 less card in hand, 4 less impacting cards in your deck etc. The trick is evaluating these in this context, then figuring out what is truly worth it.
Man why do we even have half galleons of milk anyways? I could get 1 galleon for way less than 2 half galleons. Ah yes, but the reason this is is that you’re paying a premium on half galleons because you don’t have as much milk to consume before it goes bad, it doesn’t matter that the second half galleon of the galleon cost less than half of your second half galleon jug of milk if you just decide to throw it away after you buy it. You need to look at the relative costs of things whether it be time, effort, money and figure things out from this context.
8. Sometimes you have to make sacrifices to stabilize.
The prevailing wisdom in Magic is that you should never throw resources, especially cards away. But the truth is sometimes you need to 2 for 1 yourself in order to set yourself up to succeed later. Your best laid plans won’t matter if you’re at 0 life before you can put them into actions.
This point means a lot to me in life. I’ve had to give up many things I valued in life in order to just get my life turned around. Sometimes you have to realize that yes while it would be nice if you could go by the script, sometimes you need to take a step back and look out for yourself before you move further in this great game of life. Would I like it if I had been able to stay in the University I went to? Would I have liked to have a better job than I do now? Sure, but I had to look after my own happiness and well being first because if I didn’t I would have squandered those opportunities anyways. Its hard to do well in College if you’re in a constant state of depression, its hard to meet people, maintain existing relationships, and keep a good job if you’re in a state of mental flux. But sacrificing those things was the most important thing I’ve done in my life, even if it looks bad on paper, it was integral to me succeeding in life, and I stand by how my life has played out.
After all. Life is just a big game anyways.