STOP! Magic: The Gathering Mental Health Checkpoint

Paul Perjuns-Tart • December 9, 2022

Thought Scour | Jeff Miracola 

Magic: The Gathering is fun. A lot of fun. Enthusiasts often tout it as the "greatest game ever made". It's an argument that, while subjective, does have merit backed by measurable, objective data. Infinitely replayable and updated more than any other game in existence, Magic: The Gathering has solved the formula for keeping its fans engaged, some for decades. While all this sounds amazing (and often it is) there is also a major drawback to the encompassing nature of the TCG: burnout.

The old, often touted adage that "Magic: The Gathering players never quit, they just take breaks" is true on many levels. It's common to see players take to social media requesting help acclimating themselves to the current MTG climate after a long hiatus, sometimes spanning a decade or more. What keeps people coming back? There's a plethora of reasons but to put it simply, there's something about the way Magic: The Gathering hits. The highs and the lows. The moments of brilliance and failure. Its complexity coupled with innovative play. The ever-evolving nature issuing a variety of games and ideas to explore consistently. It's easy to see how players can adopt Magic: The Gathering not just as a game, but a lifestyle.

Though, there's also another often-touted adage that Magic: The Gathering players should also remember: too much of a good thing.

As 2022 ends we can look back on a historic year in Magic: The Gathering. Records were broken across the board. Not only in terms of revenue and profit, but in products both new and old. When you boil it down, 2022 was a year with a lot of Magic. So much so that many are feeling the inevitable fatigue that coincides. The public conversation around the game now feels like an endless feed of card previews, supplemental set announcements, and controversy--something 2022 provided in droves. It's rare these days to see conversations about anything other than the sordid state of MTG. Overload of products coupled with overwhelming negativity from the community have been applying sustained pressure on emotionally invested fans. It's vital to find a way to release that pressure.

Now more than ever, each of us should take an inventory of our mental and emotional health and wellbeing. The last thing anyone needs is their creative and recreational outlets compounding the growing number of sources of stress as the world around us slips further into madness. The aim here isn't to diagnose whether a break is needed, nor to claim that all minds work the same. Everyone is different. The goal here is to encourage even to have an internal conversation periodically so players can make the best decisions for themselves.

Am I happy?

The first, and arguably most important question may seem a little silly. But it's one we often forget to ask ourselves after having been caught up in the whirlwind of the hobby for an extended period. Obviously, this is a very generalized question asking you to define a complex subject whose answer has nearly endless external and internal factors. Answering this can be a profound task in some, so in a way the better question would be "Is Magic: The Gathering helping or hindering my mental health? Am I happier because of it, or not?" It is a question you should arm yourself with to use in conjunction with an annual checkup for your MTG career and will help you maintain the best mental health possible given your individual situation.

Am I having fun?

As strange as this question may be, it's not uncommon for players to not realize they stopped having fun at one point or another. Stepping back and asking yourself this question is important as it's so easy to get blinded by routine. Are you genuinely enjoying yourself or are you going through the motions? The ease of access of free-to-play digital clients like MTG Arena are common enablers of this. The proverbial booster pack on a stick, while providing short term enjoyment through the artificially released endorphins of perceived success, often does little to add to overall enjoyment. The architects of this software and its monetization have designed it to purposefully keep the player engaged and playing by exploiting the human psyche, making it one of the usual suspects when players find themselves playing out of habit rather than enjoyment.

Are other areas of life suffering because of Magic?

Once you're sucked in it's very easy for other aspects of your life to take a backseat. Magic: The Gathering is often described as a luxury hobby and for good reason. Depending on how you engage with it, it can be expensive. Even a $50 pauper or pauperEDH deck will still need sleeves and a deck box. Though unless you're a limited only player, or are using Moxfield via webcam, chances are your hobby is putting financial strain on you. With everything costing more (including the cards themselves) checking in with yourself every so often to see if you're leaning into the hobby a bit too hard monetarily is wise. Additionally, time spent playing, researching, and brewing can add up. Add digital clients to the mix and you can find yourself in the mix of a solitary, sedentary life. Meaningful relationships are a cornerstone of good mental health so be sure to avoid neglecting those around you too much (though ironically MTG itself can be a good source for this, the G does stand for Gathering after all).

Am I letting FOMO make my decisions for me?

Burnout is common among players. Google the term and you'll find endless threads about people taking extended breaks, but always returning at one point or another. One of the main hurdles that people reported overcoming was the fear of missing out, or FOMO. When you take a break, Magic: The Gathering moves right on without you. This is what's commonly referred to as the "sunk cost fallacy" whereby a person is reluctant to abandon something due to their investment in it, even if it would be beneficial. Yes, Magic: The Gathering will move on without you, but don't let the past dictate your future.

You're not going to disappoint anyone who matters.

The social aspect of paper Magic is one of the game's greatest strengths but can also become a hurdle for those struggling to distance themselves. With the popularity of Commander, forging bonds with other players within a tight-knit playgroup can often be a hindrance to those unaware they're needing a break. Pressure from a playgroup to play even if you're burning out can keep players going in a damaging cycle. Remember, it's okay to say no. It's okay to be honest about your state of mind. If you need a break don't let the fear of losing friends stop you. If the people you were playing with stopped being your friend because you needed a mental health break they were never your friends to begin with. The people who matter don't mind, and people who mind don't matter.

Passion about the hobby can lead to serious emotions at both ends of the spectrum. Those feelings are real, each forging new pathways in your brain that have a physical impact as well. So, remember, as easy as it is for Magic: The Gathering to become a lifestyle, it is, and will always be, just a game.

Categories: Opinion

More From Paul Perjuns-Tart

Paul Perjuns-Tart is often told he’s small for his age despite being 41, earning him the nickname “Lil’ P.P.” on the count of his size and initials. Recently trapped under an upside down glass, he was forced to write for where he’s rewarded with tortillas and spoonfuls of peanut butter so long as he doesn’t try to escape. When he’s not running across a keyboard like that scene in the movie Big, he’s printing out mean internet comments for his scrapbook. Magic: The Gathering.