9.14.2009

The trouble with training

Warning, for those of you who haven’t realized this yet, the following post will reveal how much of a geek I really am, so you may want to proceed with caution.
Throughout high school and during the first half of my freshman year in college I played a card game called Magic the Gathering. In Magic you play against one opponent and use the cards in your individual deck to either bring your opponent from 20 to 0 life points or force them to be unable to draw a card from their own deck, causing them in either circumstance to lose the game. As you may have guessed based on the name of the game, the cards that you play with have names and artwork (and sometimes even back stories) reminiscent of a Middle Earth-like universe. Because of the fantasy theme mixed with strategy the game is fun for many different kinds of players. There are people that just collect the rare cards, those who make themed decks based on certain criteria, those who play in local tournaments and even some people who play professionally.

I started out as a very casual player, I didn’t really feel the need to learn anything beyond the basic mechanics of the game. A couple of my friends also played Magic but they were much better than I was. For months I would go over to their houses and play against them with my loosely assembled deck of cards and would get destroyed match after match. At first I didn’t understand why this was happening, maybe I wasn’t buying the most powerful cards, or maybe I was using the wrong color (there are five to choose from after all). Thankfully they got tired of crushing me and took some time to explain what I was doing wrong. They taught me what it meant to design a deck of cards that had a single purpose in mind and as much redundancy to get at that purpose as the 60 cards allowed. It wasn’t long afterwards while I was playing against other casual players that I began to notice how much different my mindset about the game had become. I had built my deck of cards into a finely tuned machine while my opponents were using cards they picked because they thought the name sounded cool. As a result of my new understanding the outcomes of these kinds of match-ups were almost completely one sided. Soon I began entering tournaments and eventually went on to try my luck at Pro Tour Qualifiers (PTQs).

As I began to practice for the PTQs, Magic transformed into very precise exercise. It was about calculation, evaluation and statistical likelihoods. Following one particularly grueling practice session my friend Paul said to me, “Hey do you want to play a match for fun.” The moment he said that to me I had a realization. I was playing a different game than the game I started to like in high school. Granted I was no pro player but I had traveled far from the realm of hobbyist and there was no going back. Eventually as college took more of my time I had to step away from my card habit. There was just no way I could maintain any meaningful skill if I no longer had time to practice. Unfortunately my mindset about how to play the game had changed so playing with casual players was really no longer an enticing option so I gave it up completely.

Through this experience I started to observe a life principle. The more I practiced the more the sensitive I became to both good play and bad play. This is a good thing because a genius strategy or clever trick is all the more brilliant when you understand all of the factors involved in making it. The only problem is that you become equally aware of all the bad play as well. This is just like life as a graphic designer.

"Mother and Child" by Herb Lubalin

"Families", "Marriage" by Herb Lubalin


Designs like the examples shown above are so amazing and make the whole process of study feel worthwhile. I may run into many crummy designs in the mean time but thankfully experiencing those moments of brilliance keeps me pursuing more despite the increased sensitivity to everything that’s not.

1 comment:

GregandSarah said...

SOOO true Chris! Greg & I always joke that we can never truly enjoy live music b/c we will always nit-pick at stuff since we are musicians. Grrr...