Being a MTG Dad

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By: Cliff Daigle

First of all, Happy Father’s Day to my dad and all the MTG Dads out there!

One of the themes of this game is that it grows when we teach someone how to play it. Some people never find a teacher, they learn via Duels of the Planeswalkers and then Magic Online, but most of us learned from one person or a group of people, others who enjoyed the game and cared about it enough to spread it.

For a couple of years now, I’ve had one thought percolating in my head: How am I going to teach my two daughters how to play? When should I do it?

More recently, the thought has switched: Should I teach them?

My daughters are both under the age of three. This is not a question I have to answer soon, but I have two very conflicting views.

Personally, Magic has been amazing. I’ve met new people, I’ve had financial success with the cards, and there’s been countless hours that were just fun, because of this game.

But there’s a side that is more worrisome. Think about the last FNM you were at. Perhaps it was a Grand Prix, or an SCG Open, or a TCG Diamond event, or any Magic tournament. How many people there acted like winning at Magic was the defining quality of their worth as a person? If they won their match, the feeling was that they were the best in the world, the master of all they surveyed.

If they lost, they went on a tirade against luck, against the winner’s poor play, against the air conditioner working too well or not enough, etc. Maybe they look through the match and say “Of course they had a counter/pump spell!! How could I have missed the signals!?”

Is that the person I am? Is that the person I want my daughters to become?

How am I going to teach my daughters to play this game that I love so much?

Should I teach them? I’ve been thinking a lot about whether I should, because there is a significant number of Magic players who will look down on them for being female. I’m not trying to shame anyone, but let’s be realistic: You likely know someone who takes a loss harder from a woman than they would from a man.

My wife plays Magic, and I’ve seen the reactions of people who are seriously overreacting to losing to her. Would they be as salty if they had lost to me and not to her? Will they attribute losing to me as a lack of skill, whereas my daughter winning will be a matter of bad luck?

Let’s be honest for a moment. You probably know someone who, if they sit down to play a woman in a Magic event, they think, “I’ll beat her easily!” You might even have had this thought.

In all honesty, I have had those thoughts, to my everlasting shame.

I’ve been at enough events, large and small, to hear the talk and catch the conversations about how women there look. I’ve heard the derogatory comments and the snide remarks.

I’ve said nothing. By remaining silent, I’m contributing to the problem.

When you got ready to attend a large event, did you think about your makeup? Did you have to devote time to fixing and maintaining your hair? Were you forced to wonder how many of your opponents would be looking down your shirt?

It’s not acceptable to presume anything based on a person’s appearance. Someone at a Grand Prix wearing sweats and flip-flops isn’t automatically going to smell bad and have limited social skills.

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I’ve seen women who don’t want to be involved in the game but are still present, and I wonder how many men would do the same. Which of us would go on food runs, would sit by silent but supportive, who would sacrifice what they want to do in order to be there for a game they don’t understand to be played with people who can be quite unpleasant. 

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I think that a lot of people, myself included, have taken the ones we care about for granted, and that’s something we should all reflect on.

I want my daughters to take as much joy in this game as I do. I’ve found some of my best friends through Magic, I’ve survived moves and other upheavals thanks to finding a new store to play at. I want them to develop a sense of confidence and insight by playing, just as I have.

But how do I do that?

For all that Magic has an awesome community, there are large and small forces at work. Body shaming is a thing, from taking pictures of buttcracks to a vicious set of Twitch comments about the winner of an SCG event. Even if those aspects are gone by the time my daughters are playing, how many gamers presume a level of inability from females?

Should I even worry about what those gamers are thinking?

At a store I used to go to, there was a man whose two children, a girl about eleven and a boy about eight (I think those were their ages, and if I’m wrong, I apologize) would be 3/8 of the draft pod. I would look at them and think of other activities I did and didn’t have with my family. How marvelously lucky he was, to not only play an awesome game, but to share that experience with those he loved most in the world.

My wife says I’m overthinking this. I want to shelter my daughters from even the spectre of negative experiences. Intellectually, I know I can’t spare them from the pain of the world, but that’s not the point.

She also points out that I wouldn’t be having the same set of worries if I had two sons instead of two daughters. She’s absolutely right. By thinking of my daughters as girls to be protected, I’m feeding into the same erroneous line of thinking. I would probably not be concerned for their mental state or their emotional health if they were boys. How ancient of me.

God help me, I’ve got enough anger issues to think about when it comes to my children. I’ve played out in my head what I’d do the first time some overbearing and belligerent jerk called out an error from my daughter and mocked her for it. Table-flipping may be an option.

What’s a father to do?

There’s always the option of letting them do the things they want to do. Ideally, I don’t even have to try to make it interesting to them. I’m a teacher; I know that trying to force interest onto a child is not going to go well. They just need to see my wife and I enjoying our games and they will follow along.

Maybe that’s the answer. Maybe I just let them be who they will be. Maybe they will be control players, who when they first see Dismiss they know there’s not a better spell to cast. Maybe they will be aggro, and have a Swiftspear tattoo someplace.

Maybe I’m just scared of all the things I don’t know.

Before I met my wife, before I had two beautiful yet frustrating children, I was really good at Magic. I was drafting twice to three times a week, all in person because I swore off MTGO. (50,000 cards that I have no hope of ever using or trading!)

This was way back, during Zendikar block. ELO ratings were the norm. I made the top 8 of a Zendikar sealed PTQ by maindecking Tajuru Archer, that silly ‘deal damage to flyers’ Ally who always killed turn two Welkin Tern. My rating was hopping between 1850 and 1900, and I was proud of making the top 100 in Limited play in my region. 

None of that mattered when I met my amazing wife, or when my children came along. I left that area, and a vibrant Magic scene, because my family was more important.

I constantly wonder about the home lives of pro Magic players. I know, for instance, that LSV has a wife and a day job, and that he’s able to travel to PTs and events and such with extra time for testing and planning. It’s not like the pros are all solitary hermits; they do have families.

I wouldn’t enjoy such separation, even with a top prize of $40,000 on the line. I can’t believe how much I love the stupid and silly little things about being a dad. The youngest is just starting to eat solid food, and she immediately groks how to use a spoon, causing my wife and I to grin at each other like loons.

I anticipate these little things and when they arrive, it’s like wheeling a card I wanted to first-pick..except it is far, far better. My daughter climbs up the slide, then turns around and sits down, sliding back down the way she came, and the only one happier about it than her is me!

Compared with that, hanging out in a giant hangar with 2,000 other gamers playing for a max prize of $4,000 (before taxes) isn’t that important.

I wasn’t prepared for how efficiently my brain rewired my sense of what is and isn’t important. Magic was paramount. And then, without fanfare, it wasn’t. I never had to choose between them. I wanted the time with my wife and my kids. Sure, I want to play more, but it’s the dessert now. It’s no longer all-consuming.

My wife is going to read that last sentence and laugh. I listen to podcasts, I write weekly, I trade cards online, I watch Magic matches on Twitch and Youtube whenever possible.

I might not play it as much, but Magic is still a big part of my life.

I am certain that my daughters will at least learn to play. I have a battle box in mind, a rough outline, but I won’t need to build it for a few years yet (and there are years of cards yet to be released!) so that’s not an immediate concern.

I do not believe that they, or anyone else, should have to tolerate foolish behavior from gamers of any gender, creed, or belief. It’s taking me years to clean up my language and my behavior, because they don’t yet understand how people can have different personalities depending on who they are around. You don’t need to hear specifics on how awful I can be, but I’m trying to be better.

What I am going to do, and what I’m asking you to do, is to make sure that when you play, you be competitive as the setting calls for, as serious as you want to be, without going overboard. I’m not asking you to just be nice to younger players, as that’s quite condescending. Magic’s competitive history is replete with examples of teenagers taking down big tournaments.

I’m asking you to treat your opponent, or your trading partner, or anyone, with the decency you would want given to your family, your loved ones, your children. Don’t presume anything about the other players. Don’t let your own issues override the enjoyment that someone else is seeking. It’s possible to lose and still have a good time at the event.

I am also asking you to tell people, especially your friends, when they are going too far. Call a judge when someone in a game is derisively snorting at a player’s mistakes. Tell your friend that yes, he’s being an asshole and that he needs to tone it down.

Magic is an easy game to lose at. Don’t make it a game about losing in life as well.


 

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19 thoughts on “Being a MTG Dad”

  1. As a das of two children ( boy of 5 years and a 2 year old girl) I can fully relate. This article hit home on so many issues that I’m also thinking about. Thanks for making me feel accompanied through those thought processes. Being the change that you want to inspire and owning your mistakes are definitely the way to go.

  2. GREAT post! As a recent father (9.5 month old son) I feel some of the strains of the balance. But I’m excited at the future with the little guy, in Magic and beyond.

    But your struggles about your daughters makes sense – and, honestly, on some level for any kids growing up today. It’s hard to look past some of the worst elements at times because even though they are a vast minority it only takes one bad experience for a kid to be turned off. The likelihood of that bad experience happening for a girl is multiplied so much more than for a boy and that’s awful.

    Maybe the best bet is to get feet wet with a friendly casual group. If you can control the environment you can, if not protect, then prepare for the future. Draft at home with friends, teach your daughters to have fun, maybe they’ll even bring their own friends into the fold in time.

    Until then, you’re right, let’s all take a moment to show some respect, be kind to fellow players of all types, and be good ambassadors for a game we all enjoy and want to see continue for a long time to come.

    Sidenote: I’m curious on why you got out of MTGO. I’m finding it’s the only way I can play these days, even with a financially limited collection.

  3. Great post. After a 10-year hiatus, I’m just returning to Magic with my 8-year old kid. I see stars in his eyes when we crack open a new booster, when he discovers new capacities, new wonderful creatures!! I really hope you’ll enjoy similar joys in the near future.

  4. Great post! Thanks for being so honest and “going there”. Sounds like you are a great dad. 🙂
    I don’t usually leave comments on posts so I am sorry if my comment is inappropriately long.
    I have two boys (4 and 6) and they are already asking me, their mom and Santa for MTG packs and cards (lol). I assume that it has to do with the fact that they see my friends (women included) and I having so much fun playing around the kitchen table on a weekly basis… (I don’t have time for FNMs and PTQs..)
    I hope WotC (and LGS) takes note and starts thinking seriously about this stuff and taking the social issues you talked about seriously… I don’t know about the rest of you, but like Cliff, a big part of me passing this along to my kids will hinge exactly on where I perceive the status to be on the issues he talked about above.
    Since this is a finance blog let’s look at the economic picture for a moment. Think about this for a minute. Almost everyone who replied to this post has one or two kids (I have friends that have more). If your kids see you having fun and being happy playing the game, they will show an interest with the game. Combine this with the growing fan base out there over the past 10 years which will eventually become parents, mentors themselves. You are left with the fact that there are, and will be more and more, “parents” out there that will (and do) all think about these issues eventually. The point is, over the next 10 to 20 years, WotC (and LGS) has the potential to exponentially impact their bottom line with M:tG just on the basis that it is a fun and socially engaging game that parents feel safe passing along to their kids. I think I would include a line item in the long term business plan and start thinking about how to tackle the issues stopping this from becoming reality.
    Again, great post.
    Happy Fathers Day!

  5. I am so excited to see there are other MTG parents out there thinking about all of these issues. I’m also the type to shelter my 3-year-old son. What worries me is the atmosphere of a local shop. If an FNM event were to be featured in a movie, would that movie be rated PG? R? For the shops I frequent, language alone would make it PG-13 or worse. Do I really want to expose my son to that at such a young age? Then you add in all the complex social interactions and the many valid points brought up in this column and it becomes overwhelming.

    I want him to share the game with me if he’s interested, but I won’t force it upon him nor will I bring him to events before he’s ready. That may take some time…

    Anyways, all thoughts running through my mind as I engage on this topic. Thanks for bringing it to the foreground. Well done!

    Sig

  6. I taught my son to play Magic at the time of Revised. We played together until he left for university and since I was a high school counsellor, I kept playing with students in my outer office after school for a few years. I quit when I retired and have begun again as of Khans. My son (now a doctor) has begun playing again and we love getting together to play. My daughter was not interested in Magic but I spent my time driving her to piano and dance lessons. We play board games together now. What was critical and still is critical is the time spent with the kids doing what they treasured. In that process, my wife and I modeled and encouraged communication and ways to deal with life. When they run into mean people, they know how to deal with them. It is the values and skills taught through spending time that are critical. By all means, introduce your daughters to Magic. It is a wonderful game and it is a way to spend good time and to model life skills. You can help them deal with winning and losing, doing research, communication with others. It is all valuable. Remember however, that they are their own people. My daughter reminded me bluntly that I didn’t need to protect her from the negative male influences around her (and as the school counsellor, they were all too obvious to me). She could handle them herself. She has proved that over and over as a successful professional. One last thing….I believe we need more girls playing magic so go for it!

  7. This is probably one of the best MTG articles regardless of topic I’ve read(and I read a lot). Remembering the real priorities in life go beyond the hottest spec, new tech and all of that is the chance to create memories with those around you. Thanks for this!

  8. That’s a great article, thanks!

    It’s so good to read something that echos my own feelings. Im a new mtg dad (my son is 9 months old) and i cannot wait to involve him in the fun, assuming he wants to. Im really sorry that you feel such fear for your daugthers but boy can i understand it. I really hope they do get a positive experience. You sound like a great dad, so i expect they will.

    Happy Father’s Day, keep up the great work.

  9. Have fun. Smile. Teach strategies. Be winners. Be losers. Be good. Be good for the community.

    I loved this article. I’m terrified about one day debating on teaching my children a wonderful game. I’m terrified about sending my daughter into the pits.

    I am a woman. I have to think “is this too much cleavage for a bunch of probably single dudes?” and then I also think, after I’ve changed my shirt, “is this not enough cleavage for a bunch of probably single dudes?” I’m not taken seriously in Magic, but you can bet I’m taken seriously in a game of Wallenstein or Survive or Shadows over Camelot (but not Robo Rally, I’m terrible at that game). I don’t know where the difference between a board game and a collectable card lies.

    I decided a long time ago I’ll teach all my children Magic, because it’s fun and at the very least we’ll just play at home.

  10. This article is a masterpiece writing about love, life and mtg. THANK YOU so much for sharing it with us. I am not even a dad, I do play competitively, trade “aggressively”, but I have most of your concerns about what we should do as players and mtg aficionados to grow this community and make it the most respectful and welcoming possible for new players. Thank you to remind us that this is one of the best way to keep the game and the playerbase growing. At first sight I didn’t see the link with mtg finance, but in the end and with some thinking it stroke me… Thank you again for enlightening us this way.
    Mtg is a wonderful game but it’s just a game…

  11. In a similar vein to others, my son is 22 months and I have a little girl due in mid july.

    I hope that wizards looks at families as the next way to expand the game- the only way that can be done is cleaning up FNM. Clean up the language . Clean up the behaviour. Clean up the sore losers. Give a clear missive to TOs that FNM must an enjoyable venue for people of all ages, races & sexes.

    I think that we underestimate just how much you can influence a spike’s behavior with a few game losses. A game loss for swearing or tirade generally creates consequences that otherwise do not exist. Once the system is in place, it would be stay in place through the experienced members.

    I have the mountain my son first touched (and chewed on) in my modern jund deck. It is my most prized mtg possession.

  12. Thank you very much for this article!

    As a dad of a 2,5 year old girl, I can totally relate to this, although in my case I think more about the awesome computer games I would love her to experience as well.

    I am not a competitive MTG-player and only go to booster-drafts about once in two or three months, because I despise the behaviour of the locals there. I’m from Germany by the way, so this may vary, but almost none of the bunch there can take a loss (especially to a player, who doesn’t show up that often) and one guy even wanted to get me disqualified for the way I shuffle my cards.

    When I tell my daughter a good-night-story it is usually not a fairytale (that’s what her mommy does), but rather the story of an awesome game or movie (so far I have kept it simple, because her level of concentration is not yet enough to handle Final Fantasy VII and she is definitely too young for The Last of Us).

    I know, none of this is interesting for most of you, but I still wanted to share my thoughts after reading all the other great comments 🙂

  13. As a father of a 3-year old, I can’t say I share many of these concerns. True, it may be because I have a son, but still, I do not understand the need to shelter children from juvenile language. Or even the more colorful adult language. I can understand wanting to keep him from viewing violent/gory sights and images, I know that my son will say worse things in his life than what he will hear at a magic tournament. That having been said, I was trying to figure out ways to justify teaching him YOUNGER. So my reasons are because:
    It will teach him math and logic, patience, sportsmanship, a vocabulary, help learn to read and count and countless other skills. He doesn’t have to pursue a tournament career to enjoy magic. We could just play at home as someone else mentioned.

  14. I enjoyed the article, thanks for writing it.

    On the point about not worrying about potential sons like this, I think that’s okay. The thing about trying to be completely gender-blind is that it also blinds you to the problems people face. At the end of the day we don’t yet exist in an equal society and MTG is no different – we can’t just stick our heads in the sand and pretend that we’re being equal that way.

    Thanks for the call to arms though. I’m giving a presentation to my local judge community this weekend doing much the same – stressing that if we want to create an inclusive community that we need to actively challenge this stuff.

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