By Daniel Stein

Editor’s Note: Meet Daniel Stein, our fifth contributor to the new, rotating Scrub Report! Daniel’s articles will appear over the next four Fridays, as he details the highs and lows of being a parent with a kid hooked on MTG. If you’d like to write for The Scrub Report, send an email to [email protected]

This four-part installment of Scrub report is largely about my experience as a parent whose child is naturally obsessed with MTG. Given that MTG requires a consistent financial input, it can be intimidating for a parent when the only source of enjoyment requires spending money. Luckily, I have an interest in the game as well and a relative history and understanding of the game mechanics and how to not completely suck. Or so I thought.

Leading up to the pre-release, my son (Isaiah) and I agreed to participate in a regular “Booster” draft and the occasional Friday Night Magic. So let me just explain how it works at our local gaming store, for the lay person:

Booster Draft: There are a few ways to purchase Magic Cards. Booster Packs contain 15 cards, including one gold one (Rare), a few silver ones (uncommon) and a bunch of important but common cards. There is always the possibility of a foil card and always a land. Then you can buy pre-constructed decks, fat packs, deck builders and booster boxes. The “Booster Draft” is when a bunch of people get together, buy 3 booster packs, sit around a table, open 1 pack at a time and pick one card, pass the pack and pick another card. This is done until all 45 cards have been passed around the table. From the cards you get, you build a deck, play a small tournament and hope to win a few games and thus, a few more packs as a prize.

The value is enormous! The way I see it, from a parent’s perspective: $13 dollars gets my son 3 packs, a few hours of gaming time with a community of interesting and friendly folks, and the opportunity to win more packs. Also, as a 10 year old, he is building skills in on-the-fly strategy and deductive reasoning. I find that this is a great way to engage Isaiah in the MTG community in a relatively non-competitive way. Since getting back into MTG a few months ago, we have gone to at least 6 booster drafts. Most of the time we both lose miserably. A few times we have won a few games and got ourselves 1 free booster pack. That was cool.

Friday Night Magic: Ok, this is where things start to get really interesting. FNM, as it’s referred to, is where a bunch of people come out of the woodwork with their mostly SUPER AWESOME EXPENSIVE decks and battle head to head for the ultimate prize: more booster packs. Woop-die doo. It is different though, because it’s a lot more competitive (at most stores) and people are serious about their super awesome decks. The catch is that its only $5 to play and you could win 4 booster packs or more. This seems like the financially sound choice to make, given that your son (or daughter) put a lot of love and thought into their deck and now they want to battle it out. The main problem is that it’s really difficult to win and to feel good about it. It’s a real bummer when you keep losing. And it also drives an individual to spend more money on better cards. This way, they can have a better chance at winning.

Recommendation: Stay away from Friday Night Magic. It’s cool because you get to play with more people and have a different experience, but seriously, it gets old quick… losing sucks. Losing week after week super sucks. And eventually the spirit of the game (for a child and their guardian) diminishes. Side note: if you have a shit-ton of money to piss away, don’t really care about winning or losing, and basically just want to get into something gaming-related, forget everything I just said. And, have fun, random expletive.

Pre-release and other “sealed” events: I am completely, utterly new to the world of competitive MTG. That being said, I understand that playing in a tournament with a deck you built, drafting a deck from 3 packs and building a deck from a “sealed pool” of 6 booster packs are the three main ways of playing Magic competitively.

A pre-release is really cool. New cards, new art, new things to learn and new things to spend money on. Plus, when you draft next time, the cards will be different, thus challenging you in a different way. So Magic: Origins. I’m not going to get into the complicated nature of sets, blocks, core sets and the new shift. If you’d like to learn more about that you can do so here and here. What I will say is that it was really exciting because Origins is the last core set. Plus, Wizards of the Coast decided they were going to incorporate more “story-telling” into the game. That there would be some deeper element of character development and blah blah blah. I think it was slightly over-hyped, but nevertheless, it was really exciting. Isaiah was away with his grand-parents so I went to the pre-release SOLO. $25 got me a pre-release box, with cool art, 6 booster packs, a special color-specific pack, a sweet die, and a cool explanation pamphlet insert thing with some suggestions and story about one of the characters featured in the set.

Now, I’d love to get into the specifics of what I opened in my pool, how poorly I built my deck and how severely I got crushed, BUT, I will not. If you’re interested, go read anybody’s blog about how crappy they did… or, just don’t. Anyway, what I do want to say is this: It was really freakin’ hard. I mean, I know I’m a SCRUB, but seriously, I didn’t really know what to do with 6 packs full of mediocre cards when so many people around me had all these named strategies, smiles and whatever. It wasn’t just that I didn’t open great cards that were worth a bunch of money. I legitimately had no idea what I was doing. OH, and it was Midnight on Friday night, after I worked 8-5 that day.

So it was like this: 1 hour to build a deck. Then 4 rounds of best of 3 games. I won the first round, and lost the next 3. I left the game store at 5 am. A small part of me died that night. Lost in the store, lost in half a pack of smokes, lost in the ethers. I haven’t been back to the game store since, though I think I will finally draft this week. As a consolation, I did get 2 free packs at the end of the night because someone who did win, left without claiming their prize. Woot.

Recommendation: Don’t bother with sealed tournaments, Friday night magic, or anything truly competitive until you have a serious grasp on the mechanics of building a deck. Booster drafts are cool because most people aren’t that competitive. Other tournaments are a little cut-throat and when a real prize is at stake (like 20 booster packs of a brand new, unreleased set) everyone is out for blood. Just stay away. Keep your money. Do something else… And when you are a lot better at MTG, or when your kid has gotten a lot better and can win a draft, then go do a sealed tournament.

Playing MTG at Home

Ok, so now that I have explained the different tournament styles and how you can kill the joy from MTG, I’d like to share a little bit about how to have lots of fun with your kid playing at home. Last week I mentioned the Deck Builder Box. This is cool, especially because Origins just came out and there is a new deck builder box on the market. So the box has 125 common/uncommon cards, 4 recent booster packs a bunch of land and some other goodies. Here is my recommendation: Open the box, open 2 or 3 of the booster packs and pass them back and forth, trying to come up with some strategies for building a deck. Then, use the 125 extra cards to fill those decks up. Once you both have solid decks, play each other in a small tournament for the remaining cards and booster packs. This is a fun way to be a little competitive, only spend $20, both have a new deck and have hours of fun!

The other thing you can do is buy 1 booster pack each, open it but don’t look at it. Then add 3 land from each color, shuffle and play best of three games for a 3rd booster pack. Super duper fun guys.

Once you’ve done stuff like this a few times you can return to your game store and start trading cards for other cards. Talk to people at the store. Talk to the staff. Learn about the cards, if you desire. Learn about good combos of cards. Just learn stuff. If you are truly interested, then take the time to figure out how not to suck! If you don’t have an interest, but your kid is kind of obsessed and demanding you spend money on them, I have to say this: walk away. Just walk away. Don’t look back and just say no. No magic. Not until you’re older, and you can go to the store yourself because I just don’t care. And that’s that.

I don’t mean to paint a negative image of MTG. The game is great, and playing with people other than your family can be exciting, if not interesting. My concern is really around children who are not very experienced at games in general, who will inevitably be playing with very skilled, experienced players. It’s not really like pop warner football at all. It would be like first playing football in the NFL when you’re 10 and have only thrown the ball a few times with your dad. Clearly, you are going to lose. I am suggesting you protect your child from that experience.

I hope this helps. I know that competitive gaming can be scary. Money and winning and losing. But think of this… Pop warner is also scary. Even though you are exercising, its still stupid. Competition is stupid in general. Some kids like games where they don’t have to protect their private parts. Its just a part of the beautiful rainbow of humanity. Deal with it. <3

Cover Image from Flickr user Freeparking


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