I learned how to play Magic the Gathering in 5th grade. It fascinated me then and almost 20 years later it still does today. Recently I realized the same thing that keeps me going back to Magic the Gathering is the same thing that fascinates me about Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.
For the uninitiated, Magic The Gathering is a trading card game, the first one ever produced. Yes, it’s similar to Yu Gi Oh or Pokemon (but don’t judge it based on that). Magic has been around since 1993 and as of 2015 it has 20 million players worldwide. Magic can be played different ways, but one of the most popular ways to play involves the players creating a 60-card deck that represents their resources, creatures, and spells in order to battle out.
Here is the interesting part: When you create a Magic deck, there is a lot of room for individualization. With thousands of cards, you can build a strategy and play style that is uniquely yours. In most formats, two of the same deck will rarely face off against each other, unlike a game like chess where everyone starts with the same pieces on the board. Even in ultra-competitive tournaments where a few decks dominate, the random element of shuffling two decks means that any single game is unpredictable.
The customization aspect is what gives the game longevity for me. What cards should I put into my deck, do I want to go for the quick finish, do I want to play a more controlling game, or do I want to slowly but surely impose my game? Now if we step away from lightning bolts and goblins for a moment, imagine your BJJ game as a Magic deck. What cards are going into it? Do you want to be a fast and dynamic guard passer, or are you bringing an old school pressure passing game to the table? What will you choose for your de la Riva game? Will you invert into berimbolos or will you use it to set up single leg attacks?
The more we practice BJJ the more we realize not every move will make it into our game (or deck). And that is okay. Maybe the move doesn’t jive well with our body type. Or maybe we are working around an injury. Or perhaps you admire a particular competitor and are seeking to emulate their game simply because you think it’s fun to use.
At the same time, a move you use today might not be a part of your game tomorrow.
In Magic, just like in jiu-jitsu, innovation is king. New cards come out. New combinations come into vogue. The killer strategy one year could be nerfed the next.
Jiu-jitsu follows a similar evolutionary path, which means that no matter how much you love your game, it’s likely to change. In fact, it almost has to change for you to stay relevant. You don’t have to throw everything away, but you might need to swap out a few moves and add a few new ideas to deal with that new guard or that tricky new sweep. Most of these changes are gradual, happening over a long grappling career.
Just like my favorite Commander deck, I am always messing with BJJ game, adding new things I pick up from my friends, removing old things that don’t work as well anymore, or changing it up as I work toward competing in a new ruleset or against new technique.
Use this lens to evaluate your deck. What makes the cut? What is starting to age? What new strategy should you account for? Let me know how it goes!