Not long ago, I was looking at Twitter and noticed a hash tag; #mtgdad. I had see this before and had not thought much about it, just had a sense of understanding. This time however, I clicked on it to see what other people were saying. I read lots of tweets about dads and their magic sacrifices in the name of their children. I saw pictures of children, to young to play, showing off cards that had been given to them by their dads. The rest of the tweets were about; gifts given by children, stories with children, and how dads make time to play Magic around their child’s and families’ schedule.
This brought me back to memories of waiting till my baby went bed to meet up with friends on MTGO. A few years later, memories of my daughters asking when they could learn how to play as they watched me build decks and play. Fast forward a few more years, and I now have two daughters that both play my favorite game. This has been a great experience for me as there have been many ups and downs. I have learned that playing Magic with children, and having my own children take the leap to playing at an FNM, bring with it many trials.
My rule for my daughters had been, “when you are able to read the cards, I will teach you how to play”. Time had past and eventually, at the age of 8 & 10, both of them regained their interest in learning. Duels of the Planeswalkers was a great teaching tool. Then the challenge of teaching them how to collect and care for the cards. Followed by the transition from playing on Xbox to playing paper Magic. Finally it became time to play and get the experience and teach them the little things that would eventually get better. In the end, the older daughter (now 12) will play once in a while, while the younger (now 10) enjoys FNM and loves draft.
Throughout this long process of teaching and playing with my own and other children, I have gained a new look at how to act when I sit down to play, and across the table sits a child as my opponent. The following are things that I have learned.
What to do:
The child might need to read cards being played, and they may not be a fast reader. Don’t try to rush them, it only adds to the frustration they are feeling. My daughter was afraid to play at an FNM because she thought she was taking to long to shuffle sleeved cards. They know that they are taking longer then others, pressuring them to hurry will only make it worse. This goes with mistakes as well. It’s a good chance they are still learning. A simple step back and an explanation off the rules/ how a card works, will come up from time to time. Actually, the same mistake may come up multiple times.
Explain what your doing
If you are making a play that is complicated, ask to see if they understand what you are doing. If they don’t, take a minute to go through it step by step. It will be more enjoyable for them to know what is happening and they will learn from it. I was watching a game in which a player was able to combo off and mill out his child opponent. The child was just watching and had the “deer in the headlights look”. The player then explained what had happened and why the child was going to lose, now that he no longer had a library to draw from. Then he asked, “Do you understand why you lost?” It took the child a few seconds of thinking to understand before he started to nod and say that he understood.
By this age they don’t bite (hopefully). One thing most parents discover early, is that children love to talk about themselves. I usually will ask something about them. This may or may not be magic related. I often ask about their school, or how they started playing magic. It reassures them that you are here to have fun, just like they are. There is a balance to this however, part of being friendly is to also keep the game moving forward. Being to talkative can distract from the game, and then you have the challenge of getting back to the game before time runs out. This was one of the hardest lessons I had to teach my daughters while learning how to play.
Finish on a high note
When the game is done, give a compliment and maybe a pinch of advice. Remember, they will be a little disappointed if they lose, but a “good game” or if your life total took some good hits, “You got my life down to ___, that was close”, can go a long way to a child. If time permits, and they don’t mind, an extra game with a few tips for there next match is helpful. I have lost count how many times my own and children of friends came away from a loss happy because their opponent taught them something new. Now they can share this new information and use it later.
What not to do:
Don’t treat them like a child
This statement sounds counter productive to this whole topic, but the point here is don’t talk down to them. Treat them as you would any other new player. This goes for the “Should I go easy on them?” idea we all get. When I am asked this question concerning my daughters, I have learned to say “No”. This doesn’t mean give them a total beat down. Just, learn to play at their level. It is usually easy to see the level of most opponents that you come up against. As for the little ones, its even easier as they don’t try to hide it. I have kept this rule the full time I have taught my children. It has made them better players, while allowing their opponents to still have fun. Lastly, comments like “I just got stuck playing a kid, he took 5 minutes to read each card”, or “You lost to a kid, how pathetic”, are unnecessary. Trust me, they hear you when you say it.
Don’t lie to them
Telling a child that their 80 card, 5 color, 20 land deck is good, is not helping them as a player. Just like the rest of us, they want to improve. Lying to them will do no good, and half the time, they will know you are lying. If you are the kind of person that finds it had to say the truth without being harsh, that’s fine. Just leaving with a “Good luck on you next game,” can be good enough.
Don’t be afraid to say something to their parent or guardian
This is mostly for non-Magic related stuff. If they don’t realize they are doing something wrong, it will never get fixed. You don’t even need to say it to them, tell the person who brought them. For example; My daughters had gone to 3 FNMs before the store owner finally told me that he had multiple complaints about my daughters kicking their feet under the table while playing and it was starting to upset the other players. My first thought was “Why didn’t they just tell me, or ask them to stop?” what I soon found out was that most of them didn’t want me to feel bad or stop coming due to what my daughters were doing. I can’t speak for all parents but, I would rather someone say something so I can get it fixed, before it becomes an issue.
I hope this has been helpful to those of you that have and will play against a child one day. I would like to note that this is from my experience and that from other #mtgdads that I have had the privilege of knowing. That being said, I would love to hear the opinions of those that I have not got to know. Is there anything you would like to add, or maybe something you feel I got wrong. The final thought I would like to leave with is this. When you are at a local game store for an event, and you see one or more children playing, they are brought there because the environment and players are a good playing group for those children. Let’s all work together to keep it that way, and we can keep this great game fun for all ages.