Introducing your Children to Magic the Gathering
I want to start by saying that I never felt a burning need to introduce Magic to my daughter. Sure, I had the MTGO client installed on my laptop long before she was born. But all that meant was that roughly once per month (dating back to Torment) I’d boot it up, jump into a draft, take every rare, and promptly get destroyed in the first round. It took me five years to win a match of Magic. I remember feeling incredibly proud of myself for making it to the second round and boasting about that fact to my next opponent. I’m sure they felt rather embarrassed for me as they crushed me.
Then Miley was born and I abruptly had far less free time for myself. But being a father to her was (and remains) a wonderful trade-off, and I lucked out in other ways as well. Her natural interests turned out to be extremely similar to my own: dragons and ninjas and Star Wars.
I sensed an opportunity. When she was seven years old, I casually asked if she wanted to hear some pretty cool fantasy stories. “You might not like them, though,” I said, and then used the cunning bit of reverse psychology that works on any child: “The stories might be too old for you.”
For the next week or so, I filled her little head with stories of planeswalkers and Eldrazi and Phyrexians. During bedtime I’d read to her from the various online Planeswalker Guides. “They want to actually stitch every living thing together to make it one?” she said, eyes wide as we explored the society of White Phyrexians living in the scenic plane of New Phyrexia. “That’s so messed up!”
“Too messed up?” I quickly asked. “Is this too scary for you?”
“No, this is the right amount of messed up,” she said, and onwards we went.
Magic lore became our gateway into the game. I redeemed all the sets I could on MTGO and started going to paper drafts at our local LGS, using the downtime between rounds to trade for Phyrexian praetors and Eldrazi titans. The trades weren’t always in my favor price-wise, but seeing Miley’s excitement when I brought home Sheoldred or Emrakul made it more than worth it.
Not long after I told her that I thought she was old enough to actually play Magic. We sleeved up Commander decks, and her excitement as we did so was a thing of beauty. Soon we were shuffling up and drawing card, and on her fourth turn she slammed down her ramped out Commander - Vorinclex.
“Take that!” she crowed. “Whatcha gonna do now?”
I stared at my hand. “Argggh,” I said, making a mental note to take the counterspell in my hand out of my deck. “That’s so unfair! What can I do?”
“Nothing,” she said with a smug smile. And that’s when I knew she was truly hooked.
Of course, this story only applies to my kid. What about yours? Here’s some generic advice to get you started!
Tailor the Game Narrative to What They Like
Miley likes monsters. Maybe your kid likes dinosaurs or elves or fairies. Maybe your kid likes the idea of being a conquering warlord or a hero defending the innocent. Magic can tell a story, and tailoring that story to your child’s interests - a swarm of fairies taking over the world, a herd of dinosaurs struggling to survive, a Teferi on a mad quest to loop time forever (don’t do this one) - will go a long way towards grabbing their attention.
Present the Game as a Puzzle or Challenge
I remember playing a video game - Final Fantasy XIII-2 - that featured a series of increasingly complex clock puzzles. It got to the point where I’d have to pause the game and spend fifteen minutes working out the puzzle on paper before continuing.
During one particularly challenging puzzle, I looked up and saw four year old Miley scribbling numbers in crayon and making some adorably bizarre calculations. “I can do this too!” she insisted. “I can!”
Magic can be viewed as a puzzle too. “How ever can these poor dinosaurs survive against this onslaught of voracious elves?” Give your kid a challenge, and they’ll attack it with determination.
Give Yourself Room to Ramp Up
I live in Boston, and that means I become insufferable whenever the NFL playoffs roll around and the Patriots continue their expected dominance through the playoffs. Bad as I may be, Boston children are even worse. “Nah,” Miley will say when I ask her if she wants to watch a divisional playoff game. “Just let me know when the Patriots are in the Super Bowl.”
Contrast that with the fans of the Buffalo Bills, who went absolutely nuts last year simply because they claimed an unlikely Wild Card spot (and promptly lost in the first playoff round). Sometimes I wish I were a Bills fan (I’m lying) simply because smaller accomplishments will excite me a disproportionate amount.
This philosophy can be applied when teaching a child Magic as well. Put away your mythics, your rares, and even your uncommons. An all-common deck will still provide plenty of cool interactions and memorable moments. Wait a week before introducing a few Thundering Spinebacks, and watch them giggle in glee at the thought of a card that can poop an infinity of dinosaurs. And nothing will be grander than their screams of joy when you show them Etali the week after - except for their absolute awed silence the week after that when you present them with Zacama, the Primal Calamity.
Let Them Win!
I hate losing, and I knew that Miley would hate losing too. And so when she was younger, and we played games against each other, I made the ultimate sacrifice: I lost on purpose. “Did you lose on purpose?” my occasionally suspicious daughter would ask. “GRAH GRAH OF COURSE NOT I HATE LOSING,” I’d scream before throwing myself onto the floor in tears, and that was enough to convince Miley that I was telling the truth. Ethical? Mmm… Worth it, in order to ensure that Miley would continue playing? Definitely!
Note that I only lost on purpose roughly a third of the time; do it too much and your kid won’t feel any sense of accomplishment from winning. Also, I stopped losing on purpose as soon as Miley wanted to go to an LGS - but that’s a different article.
Don’t Play Counterspells and Wraths
Children are fundamentally innocent beings, free of the pain and darkness that infest adults. That means they cannot comprehend such evil as a mean spell that literally doesn’t even let their own fun creature resolve, or the bleak emptiness of the soul that’s required for a person to be willing to cast a wrath. Yes, I’m a grownup and like casting counterspells and wraths. But I knew it was important to let Miley live in blissful ignorance for just a while longer…
Of course, this is something I changed when Miley wanted to play real Magic, but again, that’s a topic for another time!
Make Magic a Part of Their Lives
One holiday season, Miley got a stuffed cat as a present. Not long after, Kozilek, the Great Distortion was revealed as part of the buildup to the release of Oath of the Gatewatch. As Miley oohed and aahed over the card, I studied the art more and more intently until…
“Hey Miley, is that your cat in the background there? On that rock right behind Kozilek?”
“What?!?” <squinting> “Oh my goodness, it is! My cat is photobombing Kozilek!” <turning to her cat> “Are you an Eldrazi cat?”
“Rawr rawr of course I am! Now can I eat your dad?”
Her cat was not allowed to eat me, and although I am now living on borrowed time (“He buys us food, so you can’t eat him right now - but you can eat him after I get a job”), it’s worth it to see how far Magic can infiltrate aspects of Miley’s life. She tells Magic stories, creates Magic art, and has infested her room with Magic decorations. Magic isn’t just a game to her; it’s an inspiration.
If It Doesn’t Click, That’s Okay
This is probably the most important piece of advice I have. Let me repeat what I said at the beginning of this article: I never felt a burning need to introduce Magic to my daughter. If she ends up following other interests - soccer or princesses or astronomy - I will follow right along and be thankful for the time we spend together. Magic is a wonderful game. But Miley is my life.
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