So, I played in a Magic: the Gathering tournament on Saturday.

This is not a thing I normally do. The last time I played in a tournament was almost two years ago. While a younger version of me had aspirations to become a professional Magic: the Gathering player, those aspirations have long been dead. (True story: when I graduated high school, my parents paid for me to go to the US National Championships that summer, as a spectator. When I came back, I promptly told my parents that I was quitting Magic.)

I think Magic is one of the greatest games created in my lifetime. It’s a game that rewards creativity, logic, reasoning, and psychology. The friends I’ve made as a player, tournament organizer, and judge have been among the finest people I’ve ever known. My involvement with Magic has provided me with unique experiences that I’ll cherish forever. How many of you have been stranded in Barcelona overnight, getting lectured by a septuagenarian British cat burglar over a pitcher (or three) of too-strong sangria?

It’s no surprise to anybody who knows me well that my enthusiasm for Magic has waned over the last few years. Ever since I became a judge in 2004, Magic has been a major part of my life. I worked as a professional tournament organizer for the better part of seven years. I ran my own business selling Magic cards on the Internet for nearly three years. I’ve been a contractor for Wizards of the Coast, the company that produces Magic, since 2015. I honestly don’t think there will be a time in my life where I won’t know how to play Magic.

Yet I’m getting older. There was definitely a time in my life where I would wake up at 4 AM to drive three hours to judge a Magic tournament for ten to twelve hours, get paid less than $100, and then drive home that night. That time has passed. I value my free time differently. The community has also changed. There are only so many times I can correct a young, white, college-aged boy on his use of “gay” or “retarded” at a Magic event. I’ve had to reprimand players for wearing shirts with slogans like “Cool story, babe, now go make me a sandwich.”

While the community has changed, it is still a community with which I identify. It still possesses many lovable characteristics, and some of my favorite people. I like to think that I can help make it better for others. Hence, getting in my car and driving to my favorite game store in the world: Atomic Empire, in Durham. (To quote my good friend Aaron “Cluze” Lacluyze: It’s a great shop. You should check it out.)

To my slight surprise, I had a really good time! The details of my play are irrelevant, other than that I dropped out of the tournament after two unsuccessful rounds, and decided I’d rather treat myself to lunch at Cook-Out than play another round or two in hopes of maybe winning a pack. There was a time where I would have focused on playing the tournament out, in hopes of getting that pack, but that time has passed.

I consider myself to be more competitive than the average person. I definitely cared about winning, but as soon as it was clear that I wasn’t going to win, I thought about what the loss was going to teach me. Playing Magic, and losing at Magic, provides me with many useful opportunities for introspection, and that appeals to the parts of me that would like me to be a better version of myself. (This is an area with many, many opportunities.)

So, yeah – I went to a Magic tournament, I lost a bunch, and then I had a cheeseburger and a milkshake. I got to be enthusiastic about Magic with other people who are enthusiastic about Magic, and that counts for something. I don’t imagine I’ll ever pick up Magic as a competitive hobby again. Still, I’m glad that I was able to engage with the game and the community in a way that felt positive and helpful to me. Maybe I’ll do that again sometime.