I’ve only been diagnosed with ADHD as an adult, but looking back it was obvious I’ve had it all my life. Anyone who grew up with this condition would be all too familiar with the years of teachers saying “they’re such a smart student, if only they would listen,” the lost items of importance, the missed appointments, the panic that sets in when you realize you’ve forgotten something, all that fun stuff.
I manage this condition now with medication and lifestyle adjustments. But I also know it still affects every part of my life. I got to wondering how ADHD affects how I interact with one of my favorite games, Magic: the Gathering.
1) I Play Quickly
This one’s probably going to be obvious, but I wanted to go over it in some detail.
I’ve been going to my LGS since I was 16, for about eight years now. I’m familiar with both the owner and the person who runs the MTG events. The event runner used to play at a somewhat competitive level and is always happy to give out tips to people in the shop. The one thing he always says to me is that I play fast, which is both a positive and negative.
Every moment when I play, I’m already running mentally through every potential reaction I’m going to have next. This isn’t unusual for people who have played for a long time, but for me these thoughts are flying so quickly through my head I’m often not thinking through specific details. I can get so focused on my next line of play that I forget about my opponent.
Especially early on, I tapped lands without considering if I should leave up specific ones, played spells without noticing if my opponent has mana untapped to deal with it, or knee-jerk reacted to threats without stopping to think if I should hold back. I used to be absolutely horrible about letting opponents know when I was going to combat, or getting jumpy assuming their turn was over.
I have gotten better over time with all of these things, especially with the last one. I make a point to always say “going to combat” or clarify if they’re passing (though I admit it’s hard when I’m dealing with an opponent who thinks sitting silently and staring intently at their hand counts as asking me to wait). I’ve used the jumpy nature of my own mind to my advantage by redirecting my mental energies to darting around my opponent’s board.
One of the best things that really helped improve my gameplay was changing my mindset from just wanting to play out the cards in my deck to using my deck as a tool to dismantle my opponent.
2) I Gravitate Towards Straightforward, Non-interactive Decks
This plays into #1 a lot. When I saw straightforward lines of play, the first thing you’d probably think of is aggro decks, and you wouldn’t be entirely wrong. I do enjoy aggro decks. I was known as “The Pirate Queen/King” at my LGS during Ixalan block because I would draft these ridiculously fast pirate decks.
However, I love control/tempo strategies, and in fact that’s typically what my drafted pirate decks would do more than just purely be aggressive. I actually find 100% aggressive decks to be difficult to pilot because, contrary to what some people might say, there’s a lot of strategy you have to do with both pure aggro and pure control decks.
Most of my favorite decks, whether drafted or constructed, fall around that nebulous “tempo” or “aggro-control” category. Yes, I like countering spells and controlling the board, but I don’t really like to think too long about what I’m controlling. I don’t want to deny my opponent the resource of specific cards. I just want to deny them the general resources of “time” and “value” because these are things that are much easier for me to evaluate quickly.
People with ADHD seem to perform better under pressure, or generally when working quickly. When I’m playing against a deck that’s forcing me to slow down and take into consideration numerous factors, I get brain static. Trying to thoughtfully consider everything I know and don’t know and might possibly know about my opponent’s resources is overwhelming. My inner mental processing tends to do something I visualize as throwing a bunch of papers in the air and yelling “fuck it”, leading to me playing right into so many obvious traps.
3) I Can Have a Hard Time With Emotions
Not a lot of people realize ADHD can affect your emotional processing and control. ADHD folks often feel stronger reactions to things, especially perceptions of rejection. We can be incredibly angry about something one second, then the next we’ll be acting like nothing even happened. Even for those of us who don’t express these emotions outwardly, inwardly there’s often a turmoil of emotions raging that over time can lead to anxiety and depression. I would argue this is one of the most directly damaging aspects of untreated ADHD.
Almost everyone has a story of someone flying off the handle during a game. I’ve read stories on everything from cussing out opponents to taking cards out of sleeves and eating them. While I think it’s completely wrong to do any of that, I can still relate to those feelings.
Even before my diagnosis I didn’t like the idea of being like that to someone else, so I tended to push those emotions inward or go have a tantrum in my car. Is it silly to get worked up like this over a game? Yes, yes it is. But I, like many people with ADHD, frequently dealt with feelings of inadequacy and failure, and failing at a hobby I loved would set off these feelings.
Occasionally I would have entirely drained any self control I had throughout the day before sitting down to play and I would have an outburst. And heck, even if I didn’t think I was outwardly expressing my salt, I was still just not fun to play against.
This was one of many issues in my life that prompted me to seek help. Now, I find it a lot easier to recognize when my emotions are starting to bubble up and take that moment to walk away and talk myself down.
4) I Love Building Decks (Oh God Help Me)
My favorite format is EDH. I love the idea of taking a cool legendary creature and building an entire deck around it, whether it’s around a theme or mechanic. I love this format so much I have, let’s see, hang on…I believe it’s 26 decks now? 27? And I’m currently working on two more. Note: Since initially publishing this, I have made a concerted effort to organize all of my EDH decks to save space, and have discovered I in-fact now have exactly 32 functional decks
My TappedOut account has several pages of dumb deck ideas, probably two pages per standard season since I started the account (and that’s just of standard decks). My arena deck section is completely cluttered. I have one paper standard deck that’s sleeved, and about six others in four different piles around my house. I have a pauper deck sitting on my kitchen counter. I have a Canadian Highlander deck and I live in Southern California.
Do I play enough to justify the number of decks I have? No. God no. When I play I usually play draft. Between adult working life schedules it’s hard to coordinate time to play with my friends who do play commander. Usually I take a few decks to GPs when they roll around and pray the people in casual commander events there actually understand what a casual deck is. Hint: It’s not Hermit Druid.
A few friends of mine have said I should try to cut down on my decks so I can focus on building a few great ones. Maybe I should, but I won’t, because I can’t, and honestly the amount of decks I have is nothing compared to the number of writing projects I’ve got smoking on the back burner.
So those are the four main ways I could think of my ADHD affecting the ways I play MTG. I partially wrote this because I hope if you also are an ADHD magic player, or you know one, it might lead to a bit more understanding. I do want to say that this is just from my own personal experience, and you might have your own take on things.