Note: The views expressed about drug-use in this article are solely the views of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Roxie Cards or Roxie Cards’ staff.
Two different players groggily walk into a tournament hall, mentally preparing themselves for what is bound to be an 8 or more round sealed PTQ. Each player has stayed up well past midnight reviewing, tweaking, and tuning their strategy for today’s 9AM tournament. Neither is looking forward to sleepily sitting through an hour long player meeting just to meticulously catalog cards, and tediously review other players’ pools. As they sit down one of the players pulls out a bottle of water and attempts to will themselves to be more awake. The other player grabs a bottle of 15 milligram little white Adderall pills, quickly popping one before the judges start handing out sealed product.
Player A(dderall) is awake and alert within 30 minutes of downing their pill, just in time for deck construction. Their mind and heart race as they examine the pool they were passed, excited at the prospect of sculpting this unworried block of clay into a vessel that will transport them into the top-eight. Player A’s deck building decisions flow easily; what they consider a tournament winning deck is sitting on the table in less than 15 minutes. As time is called in deck construction Player A confidently hands their deck list to a nearby judge and enthusiastically awaits round one to be announced.
Player B (land) continues to rub sleep from their eyes as they register the pool sitting in front of them. All the while trading banter with other nearby sleep deprived Magic players. As deck construction starts Player B is actually starting to feel awake and alive for the first time in the day. Along with everybody else, Player B is dissecting a semi-random pile of cards while fantasizing about potentially creating and piloting a top-eight caliber deck. Player B agonizes over their pool, putting together and taking apart dozens of possible decks before registering the final version right before time is called.
The above comparison between two players is exactly how I was convinced to take Adderall specifically to play tournament Magic. Adderall, I was told, is the performance enhancing drug of Magic, and if you weren’t going to take it then you were going to be beaten by people that were taking it. I had always been curious about the amphetamine, so I decided to try it out. I felt exactly like Player A, vigilant and ready to execute the correct plays throughout the day. Adderall heightened my situational awareness which allowed me to consider potential plays more thoroughly. It also made me more capable of following “the correct line” while planning complicated tactics over the course of a game or match. Not only did Adderall keep me awake when my eyelids would have otherwise been heavy but it also kept my mind sharp as well as eliminating my appetite completely. More than any of that, though, Adderall placed me on a completely different plane from those playing around me. Standing in the middle of a tournament hall while my mind and pulse raced, I finally understood why my friend called Adderall a ‘miracle drug’, because it made me feel like a god.
Let’s check in on Player A and Player B again, 6 rounds later.
Player B has one loss (5-1) and needs to win one more round to secure a draw into the top eight. The grogginess from early is completely gone, and besides some random hunger pangs, Player B feels great. In round 7 Player B sits down across from one of the best players at the tournament, but after a quick second to settle some nerves, Player B is ready to rock and roll.
Player A is in the same situation as Player B. It’s round 7, Player A is at 5-1 and needs to win one more round to secure a draw into top-eight. The difference is that Player A’s pills have worn off and concentration is becoming more difficult. Things are all a bit fuzzier. As Player A sits across from a well known tournament grinder, the confidence imparted by the pills dissipates. Player A suddenly feels like it is impossible to win.
Player B has 3 PTQ top eights, 1 Midwest Masters Top-Eight, flirted with the top eight of 2012 Draft Champs (a 12 round tournament that lasted 16+ hours) and has placed in the money at multiple SCG and TCG tournaments. Player A has no notable accomplishments. It might be obvious at this point, but Player A and Player B are both me. I readily took Adderall to play tournament Magic for dozens and dozens of tournaments.
On Adderall I felt like an invincible Magic-playing Juggernaught that could grind through 20 rounds in a row without tiring at all. It made me feel like I was on a higher playing level than those around me; all my decisions felt right. I felt justified about the lines I chose to pursue and, more than that, I felt happy to be taking Adderall. But that’s the rub, Adderall just made me feel those things, but it didn’t make those things so. This particular drug is great for a good number of things, such as concentrating on the tasks at hand, but it has one very well-known side-effect: It’s an anti-depressant. It’s a dopamine re-uptake inhibitor, which basically means that it keeps the feel-good drug dopamine in your system longer. Dopamine is one of the drugs responsible for your happiness, it is released into your system to give you a little jolt of positive feelings when you do something your brain is programed to reward you for. Even when I was losing games, and making incorrect decisions, the excess dopamine floating around in my brain would convince me that everything I had done was right and that my losses were due to nothing other than variance. This “miracle drug” had not given me the powers of a god, but it had given me the ego of one.
What did I learn from my short-lived relationship with Adderall? At the risk of sounding like an after-school special, I learned that there is no short-cut to the dedication and perseverance needed to do well in tournament Magic.