June 16, 2015

#MTGDad

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I have been playing Magic for a long time. I mentioned in my Origin story that I started playing around Ice Age.[1] While "a long time" is a relative term, I define it as "long enough to play against players who weren’t alive when I bought my first Magic cards." The first time I played against someone younger than part of my collection, I realized just how long I’ve been playing this game.

Having played for so long means that I’ve had the chance to watch the Magic community change. When I started playing, practically everyone was like me. We were all about college age or a little younger, and the veteran players were the ones who’d been playing for more than a year. Sure, there was the occasional middle school player or the odd thirty-plus-year-old guy, but they were so rare, it seemed like they weren’t even there.

Gradually, the community became more inclusive. The high school and college age players were still there, but there were more middle school kids, and definitely more older players. Many of the original college players just never stopped playing, or came back after leaving for a while. Many players now had responsibilities beyond homework or an after-school job. Players with mortgages and spouses became common.

Then came Magic Dads. These were players who were getting up in the middle of the night to take care of their sick child. These were players who played around the babysitter’s schedule. These were players whose bad dad jokes were now actually coming from a dad!

Now, #MTGDad is everywhere and the children are every age. Some are babies sleeping right through raucous multiplayer games. Others perch precociously on Dad’s lap, distracting him at just the right time for you to make your move. Some are just old enough to want to know all about the cards, while others are improving their vocabulary and math skills by reading the cards and working out combat math. Some are reading this, trying to figure out how to convince Dad to give up his Tarmogoyfs to use in their Modern decks for next week’s tournament.

The MTGDad hashtag is awash with Magic players describing the joys and anxious moments of being an #MTGDad. This article is for you.

My #MTGDad story is a little different than most. My wife, Yolanda, and I were married ten years ago. She already had three children, so I became a dad to three (ages seven, ten, and thirteen) all at once.

Being a stepdad, or stepchild, isn’t easy. You are stepping into an existing dynamic and changing things. There isn’t really a set of rules, either. Every stepparent faces a different situation than those who have gone before. I was very lucky to have three children who accepted me into their lives pretty quickly. I wanted to build a relationship with each one and as an #MTGDad, Magic was one way to make that happen.

The kids weren’t interested in Magic early on, and I wasn’t going to push it. Forcing someone to play Magic is a surefire way to ensure that they won’t stay with it. About a year after the wedding, we were on vacation at a quiet little cabin in New Hampshire and the rain was pouring down. The kids all decided they wanted to learn Magic since there was nothing electronic to do. All three picked up the basics pretty quickly, and I was excited to get home and show them all the cards and start building some serious decks!

Chloe decided that Magic was great when there was no TV, friends to talk to, or internet to surf. Otherwise, she would take a pass. I've always felt this was a shame. She has an analytic mind, able to see the world as most see it, and then take two steps to the side and view things from her own unique perspective. She grasped the game quickly and seemed to understand card synergies almost immediately. However, if she didn’t want to play, she didn’t want to play.

This left just the boys, and they jumped into Magic wholeheartedly. Using my cards was fine, but they wanted their own collections—so they spent plenty of allowance money over the following months on cards. We worked together on decks and had epic three-player battles! Magic was a daily occurrence in the house. I was spending time with the boys, doing things they were excited about doing. It was amazing to watch their skills develop and their Magic games improve.

After six months, Max grew bored. Max has an obsessive personality that leads him to immerse himself into whatever he finds interesting, to the exclusion of all else. During his Magic phase, he would talk about nothing else. A request to take out the garbage would change into a conversation about Magic. A deck idea would come into his head in the morning, and he could barely pay attention in class as his focus was so deep. Then it stopped, and a new obsession came up. He played a few more games, but his interest in Magic was effectively done. He gave his cards to his brother and moved on.

In the last few years, Max and I have had conversations about Magic. He still knows how to play and understands when a card is bonkers insane, but he isn’t interested in playing. While the obsessive personality of his youth has softened somewhat, an interest in Magic never returned.

This left me with Spencer. After doubling the size of his collection, his interest in Magic kept going. He loved deck building and playing games. I loved the chance to bond with my youngest son around a game that I’d loved since before he was born. I shared cards for his decks to give them a little punch, and we started to talk about the strategy behind the game, rather than just basic rules.

After a few months, Spencer’s interest in the game was waning. While we continued to play, his friends had no interest in the game. Try keeping a nine-year-old interested in anything if his friends aren’t interested too. Spencer never completely dropped Magic. He knew this was a way to bond with his stepdad that his siblings didn’t have, so he continued to play and build the occasional deck. It meant a lot to know that my son was still playing, just for his #MTGDad.

We moved to a different part of the suburbs and Spencer found himself in a new school halfway through the school year. Spencer is a personable child and started to make friends on the first day. A couple of months into the new year, Spencer dragged out his cards and roared out of the house with a few decks. A bunch of his new classmates played Magic! Two of them had even started a Magic club at the community library!

Spencer was trading and playing Magic all the time. He would borrow my older cards to show to his new friends, surprising them with all sorts of bizarre decks. I discovered their Magic club regularly had eight to twelve kids attending! Spencer and his friends who were running the club would donate a rare card every Saturday as the prize, then run a tournament for everyone there. The tournament rules were crazy, but everyone was having a good time.

It bothered me that the boys were using their own collections to offer prizes in their tournaments, so I looked at the Wizards Play Network at Wizards of the Coast. At the time, they were sending out foil cards to tournament organizers to use as a way to drum up business in their stores. I saw it as a way to give prizes to the young players every Saturday. I signed up and starting giving out the prizes for the Saturday tournaments. I helped organize a few of the tournaments to show how they could be run easier, then let the boys run them. I was an #MTGDad spending time with my son and getting to know his friends, while doing something we all loved.

Shortly after, I took the leap into prereleases. I worked with a local store to buy the cards I needed, and ran the events. They were a big success right from the start. Spencer and his friends were thrilled to have a prerelease at their local library; knowing it had spawned from their efforts at Magic club was icing on the cake. The turnout grew with every set, and eventually the library was packed with young players getting their Magic on.

This went on for years. Spencer’s friends would come over to play Magic with him, and invite me to play with them. I was Spencer’s cool #MTGDad. They didn’t know anyone who was out of school who played Magic, and my decks—with so many cards to choose from—were always doing something strange. Spencer and I talked about decks and new cards more than ever. We attended some bigger events, playing Two-Headed Giant and having artists sign our cards. It was an opportunity to spend time with Spencer doing something we both loved.

Just a few years ago, Spencer’s interest in Magic started to fade again. He wasn’t motivated to go to the Saturday tournaments anymore, and computer games proved to be far more appealing. He would still go to the prereleases, but the day-to-day Magic playing came to an end. When he wasn’t particularly interested in going to the next prerelease, I suggested he help me run it instead. Getting to spend time with his friends and be in charge of them during the tournament? He was all for it.

The two of us ran the prereleases for a couple of years. Not only did I have someone to help run tournaments, which were getting too big for me to handle alone, it was also a chance for us to spend time together doing something that no one else was doing. Only an #MTGDad would be able to run prereleases with their son!

Spencer’s interest in Magic right now is at a lull. His new friends prefer video games to Magic cards, so his collection waits under the couch until Spencer is ready to come back and start playing again. We still talk about the new sets and the new cards. He recently pulled out his cards and built a deck to show some more friends how to play Magic. We’ll see how the knight deck works out.

Spencer’s Knights

Maybe this will spark a new interest in Magic. Whether he plays or not, Spencer and I share a bond through Magic. The game has given us ten years of special moments that might not have happened otherwise.

I’m an #MTGDad, and I love it.

Bruce Richard

@manaburned

mtgseriousfun@gmail.com


[1] No one says that they started playing Magic in 2005 or 2010. They say they started playing during Lorwyn or Ravnica. Magic players measure time in the passage of blocks.



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