Magic: The Parenting

Posted in Magic Lifestyle on March 31, 2016

By Adam Styborski

Stybs has played Magic the world over, writing and drafting as part of the event coverage team and slinging Commander everywhere his decks will fit.

"I think how excited I get about Magic has definitely influenced how excited they are about Magic. They are all in with me."

Heather Lafferty, better known as Revised Angel online, is many things. She's a medic working long hours in Las Vegas, Nevada. She's a Magic player who loves Angels, Vintage, Commander, Cube, and just about every other way there is to play the game. But most importantly to her, she's a mother with an amazing family.

She isn't alone either. A quick trip around Twitter, Facebook, and hashtags like #MTGDad reveals what should be obvious: Magic has become a generational game. Parents have kids learning the game they learned at the same age, and they're introducing Magic as a family function from the beginning.

Even more journeys into mixing Magic with a growing family are just beginning, too.

Bruce Richard, lifelong Magic player and casual fanatic, found his family already waiting for him. "Ten years ago, I moved to Boston and got married to my wonderful wife, who had three great kids," said Bruce. "The move to Boston left me without friends of my own nearby, so I turned to Magic. The players I started with ten years ago are gone, but the group continues on."

He shared Magic with his children during a rained-in cabin weekend, and while their interest in playing varied (as things usually do for kids) it grew into him leading Prereleases with one of his sons. Being a player makes it easy to keep rose-tinted glasses over one's eyes, but watching other parents interact with Magic through those Prereleases gave Bruce some greater insight into sharing and caring about the game.

"Most parents are just happy to see their child playing Magic," he said. "They like that it involves direct interaction with other people, some strategy, some math, and some English comprehension. A couple of parents have said that Magic has helped their child through some learning disabilities. Parents are positive about their child playing Magic.

"The challenge comes with attempting to teach the younger players that they can get better at the game," Bruce said. "Once they know the basic rules, they believe that they have learned the game. Trying to show them the value of waiting to play a spell until their second main phase, along with other basic strategy, is difficult. I have found the most successful way is to have other children teach them. When an adult is teaching a child, the lesson must be taught and learned in a moment. When another child is showing them, it feels like part of the game, so it is fun! This makes them more susceptible to learning new things.

"Another way to help teach is to play with them," he said. "Two-Headed Giant is a great teaching tool, but it is very time-consuming when you are trying to teach multiple children. I have relied heavily on the better players at my tournaments to show the younger players how to build decks and how to play them effectively."

Bruce and his son helped keep Magic in their family by bringing it to others. John Collins just began his adventure in sharing.

"My wife and I started playing together when the kids were ages six (son) and three (daughter)," John said. "The kids started seeing the cards and began asking questions, but I wasn't sure if my son was old enough yet. From that point, I just wanted to wait until I wouldn't have to explain any of the 'bigger' words on cards. That day came very recently.

"For them, this was just another card game," he added, "but when I told them that Magic cards are what fill all of those white boxes [they'd] always asked about, they were super eager to learn."

Bringing family into the Magic fold isn't just up to parents. John had a little help from his son's classmate too. "One of the kids, age ten, was there with a few Magic decks. Apparently he plays Friday Night Magic fairly regularly, and he was teaching the other kids how to play," John explained. "When I asked him how into the game he was, he started talking about losing to Eldrazi decks and how proud he was that he could hold his own in Standard. This kind of discussion got my daughter interested. I think the kids who love it (like my kids) are the real evangelists for the game."

Starting from zero and getting to FNM hero or beyond is tricky, and like Bruce discovered, there were some tricks that John found to make Magic easier for his kids. "The biggest part was showing them how the game played," John said. "The kids watched my wife and I play a full game, specifically calling out each phase and explaining what we were doing. Each kid then teamed up with my wife and played a few games against me. That strategy seemed to work well. We found that they both needed the phase and turn reference guide next to them. I tried to explain most of the overview in a single sitting; that was a bad idea. Information overload is real. The other thing my wife and I noticed is that it is super important to maintain terminology. 'How much health does that card have?' is very confusing when you've been correctly calling it toughness for the previous fifteen minutes.

"Letting the kids try to brew right up front was another mistake," he admitted. "They had so much enthusiasm that we really wanted to let them experience crafting a deck into their own, something of which they were proud, but in the end we decided to scrap that and make them play some prebuilt decks until they got the mechanics down. Once the kids are little more submersed, we'll try FNM."

It isn't quite all upside as a Magic family, of course. The challenges of parenting and life compete with the infinite depth that the game pulls us into. Streamer and how-long-until-he's-no-longer-called-resurgent pro Paul Cheon knows all too well what the most important thing in life is: family.

"As much as I love the game, it's definitely fallen in terms of its priority in the Cheon rankings. My wife and kids are the most important part of my life, and I definitely play less than I used to," Paul said. "I wouldn't have it any other way either, since somehow, kicking a rubber ball around with my son for an hour brings me far more enjoyment than any random match of Magic."

Paul's adventure with Magic has been intense and varied. Leaving the competitive scene at the career start of Pro Tour Hall of Fame player and longtime friend Luis Scott-Vargas, he worked in the Caribbean before returning to the United States to bring his wife and first son closer to more family.

While streaming Magic Online, Paul found himself bitten by the competitive bug, which led him to incredible success over the past two years. A year ago, at Grand Prix San Jose, teamed with Luis and soon-to-be-Hall-of-Famer Eric Froehlich, Paul pivoted his not-quite-Pro-Tour-qualified status into booking a flight to it for the following weekend.

"When I first moved back, I didn't really have any intentions of playing on the Pro Tour due to the incredibly rusty coat I put on over the five years on the island," Paul said. "Fortunately, I had a couple of friends (Eric and Luis) who were kind enough to carry me to some Pro Tour qualifications via team Grand Prix. Being qualified again definitely reignited my desire to try and see if I still had what it took to compete at the professional level. Of course, competing with the big boys meant that I'd have to spend a large portion of my time playing Magic, which is what led to my decision to become a full-time streamer. I am incredibly fortunate to have a wife who's supported me through all of this and has allowed me to do what I love for a living."

And just like Magic, life changes too.

His growing family is still young, meaning there's time to plan how to handle merging Magic with more Cheons. He also knows it won't be easy. "I'm not going to push them into playing, but if they do show an interest, I will absolutely do what I can to make them the best they can be," Paul said. "I'll likely start out by telling them to avoid Mountains and that Islands are the way to go.

"I don't actually know too many Magic players with families, but I can now understand where my dad was coming from when he was lecturing me about playing too many games," he said. "Every parent wants what's best for their kids. I'm still trying to figure out how I'm going to tell my kids that they need to study while their dad is home streaming an online game.

"I get to play the game that I love and talk about Magic on a daily basis. As I've said before, I'm one of the luckiest guys in the world to have a wife who's chosen to support what I do. Magic has been continuing to grow over the years, and I see no reason for it to slow down. It would be pretty nice to be playing side by side with my boys at a 3,000-person team Grand Prix in ten years!"

Life has a way of changing even if we never expect it. Circling back to Heather, her first child was a moment that made Magic matter more then it ever did before for her:

"Games can seem trivial in the grand scheme of things—distractions and time sinks, they say. It is hard for some of my friends and family to understand why I invest so much money and time in a game. When you own one piece of cardboard...They don't get it. They can't understand you opened it when you were fourteen years old and kept it safe and loved all this time. It won you battles and helped you make friends. I try to explain this card means to me what my baby blanket or first tooth mean, or what my sister's letterman jacket means to her. I struggle to find words to explain how much it meant to me. The 23-year old me, sitting on the floor, surrounded by friends who understand the me who is a gamer—who understand when I drew Living Wish why I burst into tears, why it brought me hope, and what being a community really means. Some people just can't understand Magic. But me? I can't understand where I would be without it."

When Magic and life mix in such a powerful way, it can be terrifying to open that part up, even if the rewards are outstanding. "I think because I've played Magic for over twenty years and it's been such a huge part of my life, I was worried at first to share it and have it rejected—because it would be like rejecting me," Heather explained. "Finding the right format for my family was the hardest challenge. I'm a Vintage player, but I found Vintage was a little too vicious for our kitchen table, so now we host Commander nights, and that has worked out well for my family. It also lets me play mama bear and start to really target and destroy anyone getting out of hand or picking on anyone else."

What life brings us and how we play Magic are to each of us as varied as the stars in the universe. The one certainty behind both is that we'll keep moving forward, sharing what we love with who we love every step of the way.

That's exactly what families and Magic are for.

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