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First Decks and Parenting Skills: Introductions for Younger Players

By Joseph A. Graves • July 18, 2016

Greetings again, fellow Magic players!

I had planned a deck tech for a much maligned commander in hopes to redeem him. But, I decided to save it for another time. After both building and purchasing decks for my daughter so she could start playing with me, I realized I had something closer to my heart.

Infernal Spawn of Evil

Delight in the comng of my evil presence!

The Introduction

It’s an inevitability as a human to age. As Magic players, many of us will carry our hobby into adulthood. Those of us who get married and have children will either advertently or inadvertently expose those nerdlings to the game we enjoy playing. Some of them will become interested in sharing this game with you, while others will never really be inspired by it.

Infernal Spawn of Infernal Spawn of Evil

Awwww. It’s so cu-- OMG!!!!!!!!

We were all introduced to this game and have both memories of how it actually went and ideals of what you wished you could have seen or been taught early on. As Magic parents, we should take those lessons and apply them when helping those interested in participating.

This article is about my experience with my daughter and helping craft a proper and engaging introduction to Magic. Hopefully, it can be helpful to other prospective Magic parents as well.

A Concept of Love and Sharing

In my daughter’s case, she witnessed my affection for (or affliction with - depending on your point of view) Magic: the Gathering and the collection of cards I have amassed over almost two decades of shuffling decks. It was a means of reaching out in my direction for once when, for the most part, we had usually played the games she enjoyed.

“Can I play Magic sometime?” she innocently asked.

“Sure. I’ll build you a deck and teach you how to play.”

“Oh yeah! I’m going to play those huge monsters.”

It was with this exchange that her journey had begun. It was her joy and ambition that would propel her into this cardboard world and her desire to spend time with her father that would cement her interest. She was counting on me to give her the best experience possible. I was certain I could deliver.

Father Knows Best… Right?

I “knew” the best course of action was to introduce her with a step into shallow water. I built her a White and Green deck with nothing but creatures in it so he could learn the phases of the turn and when to play cards, attack, block, and perform other basic actions during the game. I felt that giving her “monster” friendly colors and an assortment of small, large, and flying creatures would fulfill her initial desires. I set her up with a “goldfish” (in this case, an old Halo Mega Bloks character), told her it had 20 life points, and commissioned her to see how fast she could take its life total to zero.

Duskrider Falcon Balduvian Bears

Simple Beats* (*not by Dre)

She listened to me at first and did fairly well at remembering things, but quickly became bored.

“When can I play with you?” she asked in frustration. It became brutally apparent that this then 7-year old wanted to get down to the nitty gritty of the game.

“Next time I’ll play a deck, too, and we’ll see how you do.”

“Okay. I’m gonna win.”

“You really think so? You just started learning.”

“Yeah, I’m pretty smart.”

Kids Aren’t Stupid

Too often in our culture, we try to dumb things down for kids. We “know” just how to teach them in ways they will understand. Actually, though, we’re spoon-feeding them when they can use their own utensils already.

In my desire to make the perfect experience for her, I had denied her the two biggest joys in the game: thinking for and expressing oneself.

In realizing my mistake, I began to tell her about the different colors, what they liked to do, and aimed to ask what she would like to play.

“I want to play Fire and Water.” She emphatically stated before I was even done explaining the color wheel.

“Are you sure? Why don’t you listen to the rest of th--”

“Yeah. You play Fire and Water and I like the pictures on your stuff.”

Reiterate

Am I going to have to repeat myself?

She was again reiterating the desire to share my interest. It was making me swell with contentment, but it was also humbling me. She knew what she wanted and I wasn’t listening. Bad father! Bad!

I asked her to tell me what she liked about the pictures and what cards were her favorites to look at and read. I used that information to deduce what would make HER happy to play. She wanted to “explode things” and play things that helped her “make machines.” Her dad is an engineer and she wants to be one as well… and Magic could let her express that.

Giving Up the Reins

Magic Origins was releasing at the time and with it came a renewed focus for Blue and Red to wield artifacts. I showed her some of the cards and she fell in love with the Thopters. I knew my decks, while an inspiration for her, weren’t what she wanted. So, I let go of the handle bars and decided to get her an Intro Deck from the set that fit her desired playstyle. The gurus at Wizards of the Coast put forth the effort in making these “introductory-and/or-next-step” products, so why not let her explore what they had created and, hopefully, perfected?

I bought her the Blue and Red intro deck from Magic Origins, Assemble Victory.

As you can see, it has a decent artifact theme. It also has several other types and themes of cards that introduce players to all sorts of different concepts and abilities. Maybe this is what she wanted while also being what she needed?

She opened the deck (with my help of course) and began looking through the cards.

“What’s this?” She asked, stopping at Maritime Guard.

“That’s a Merfolk. It’s a race that lives underwater... in the ocean.”

She immediately passed by it. She continued her delve and approved of (with a certain amount of glee) the “robots” and cards where people had Thopters. “Cool!” Even when she got to the lands, she exclaimed, “Oh yeah! Look at how much Fire I have! … and Water! Awesome!”

“Can we play now?”

“Sure.”

“Yes!”

She was finally happy. I felt I had finally done the correct thing in buying her this deck. We immediately sat down to play. I purposefully played a durdling deck so she could get comfortable with hers before we moved into any heated battles. She had me shuffle her library, she drew her cards, and off we went. I helped explain things along the way but made sure she was making her own decisions.

A New Revelation

As we played, my daughter soon produced her own opinions on each of the cards. Bellows Lizard and Volcanic Rambler were cool looking, but she was obviously lukewarm with her reception. Maritime Guard was not getting much love. Prism Ring, while not confusing, was a bit frustrating as only so many cards triggered its effect.

“Ummm… That one is big so I’m going to wait and block with this one.” she stated, referring to my creature and her Ramroller.

“I’m sorry, but you have to attack.”

“Why?”

“The card says you have to.”

“Oh. Nnnnnnnnnn. I don’t like it.”

Through her playing the deck, I noticed an issue with its construction and how she was able to interact with it. It forced her into doing something she didn’t want to do… a lot like I had in the beginning. The same situation occurred with Infectious Bloodlust forcing her to attack. Even the art/concept of the card (she asked me to explain the concept of “bloodlust” to her) troubled her.

Then, another interesting observation...

“I’m going to attack with the Bonded Construct.”

“He can’t attack by himself, alone.”

“Ohhhh, yeah. It says that. So he wants to wait for his friends. He’s smart to have his friends help him.”

“He is.” I couldn’t help but smile.

“Yeah.”

Being prevented from doing something seemed to go over better than being forced to do something.

“I’m going to play this card,” referring to Artificer’s Epiphany. “So, I get to draw two cards.”

“You’ll have to discard a card. You don’t control an artifact.”

“Ummmm… I’ll just wait then.”

Again, prevention of an optimal outcome seemed to not bother her as much.

After a couple of games, I asked her what she thought about the deck. It was… “okay.” That’s better than the reception mine had been given. A step up? We looked back through the deck and I asked her to take out the cards she didn’t like. What was left were mostly cards that had to do with artifacts. The result wasn’t a surprise, but it made me pause and really dissect the issue at hand. Her response to the deck gave a poignant realization:

The deck taught her more about what she didn’t like than what she did.

Father to the Rescue

“Dad, I like the artifacts you have. You’ve got lots of good ones. Do you have any thopters?”

“Yes I do.” I looked through my artifacts. “This one is called Ornithopter. What do you think?”

“Ooh! I like it.” She paused suddenly. “What does this mean?” she asked, pointing at the zero in the mana cost.

“That means you don’t have to spend mana for it.”

She stared at me for a moment as the realization hit her.

“It’s free.”

“It’s FREE?! Oh, yeah! Can I have it?”

“Absolutely!”

Ornithopter

It was her playing the deck and making her own decisions that led her to ask me for help. My expertise wasn’t what she needed at first, but it was what she wanted now.

“Do you want me to help you find cards that you like?”

“Sure. You can fix it dad.” (Whether this was an innocent belief or a decision out of mercy for her father, I’ll never know. Maybe it was a little of both?)

“I’ll pull some more cards out for you.”

“Awesome!”

I immediately started looking through my collection for cards that reflected her likes and ignored her dislikes. I showed her the cards I picked and she narrowed down the pool.

The Culmination

Eventually, I placed some new cards in her deck and the new list looked like this:

You’re probably wondering why I gave her some of these cards. Luckily, I’m here to explain it!

The first things you’ll notice are the two Ornithopters in her deck now. No, I’m not trying to get her into Modern affinity. The goal was to teach her the value of mana and the tradeoff of cost vs. capability. The Ornithopters are free, but have no attack power themselves. This would be a perfect opportunity to use those Infectious Bloodlusts that came with the deck, but since she did not like the art/concept, I replaced them with Madcap Skills, which are functionally similar, but with higher upsides. The other interaction comes with the Bonded Constructs she wanted to keep. Playing an Ornithopter and Construct on turn one means the Construct can potentially attack turn two. Good allocation of resources? Maybe not, but that’s part of the learning experience for her!

The main change I made to the deck is how much it cares about artifacts. Artificer’s Intuition was a good card for making her check her board state. It forces her to ask herself, “Do I have an artifact in play?” I decided this was a good theme to reinforce, so I included creatures like Aeronaut Tinkerer, Scrapyard Mongrel, and Synod Centurion. I also included a single copy of Galvanic Blast and Lumengrid Drake for the same reason, except with the added bonus that, if you pay attention and keep that artifact count up, you get extra perks! Reclusive Artificer is a holdover from the original deck. Before, it was hardly ever useful, considering there were only 13 artifact’s in the deck. With the artifact count upped a bit, it should be a little more consistent since the odds of drawing artifacts is now 1-in-3 rather than 1-in-5.

Thopter Engineer Whirler Rogue

Mmmmm… Thopters!!!

I made certain to expound on the Thopter sub-theme she liked most by including the aforementioned Ornithopters as well as a Thopter Assembly to restock those thopters if the need arise. I also adjusted the creatures that added thopters to two Thopter Engineers and two Whirler Rogues since they both also have other effects that are highly beneficial to her deck.

The deck also includes cards that expose her to different abilities in the game. Myr Retriever and Argivian Restoration give her exposure to recursion and its decision making processes. Pyrite Spellbomb offers the choice of removal/damage or card draw. I added a Trinket Mage so she could search for her favorite Ornithopter. One of these days, she’ll discover she can search for those artifact lands I added as well. That’s one I’m leaving to her though. We all deserve those lightbulb moments.

Also, I added a surprise card that has always been dear to my childish nature: Switcheroo.

The Result

Upon letting her play the deck after the changes we made, I found her enjoying it that much more! Streamlining the intent of the deck and helping her do the things she wanted to do actually enhanced her delight in the game.

Bonded Construct Ornithopter Madcap Skills

Bonded Construct + (Ornithopter + Madcap Skills) = "Boom!!!1!"

The most satisfying moment was when she was able to drop a Bonded Construct and an Ornithopter on the first turn and on the second turn enchant the Ornithopter with Madcap Skills and swing for 5 damage… again, that was on turn two!!!

“Boom!” she exclaimed. “I just ruined your day!” (That last phrase is a running gag between us and a story for another time. XD )

During another game, her deck was durdling out the gate. She only had a Scrapyard Mongrel and a Chief of the Foundry in play. She then played Silverskin Armor. I suggested that she equip it to the Mongrel. She then realized what was going on... both the equipment and the Chief were pumping it and it was now a 7/5 trample! She looked up and I could see the excitement in her eyes. What once seemed boring and hopeless changed with just a single card.

Yet another time, a game which we shall refer to as the “Switcheroo game,” offered a moment of elation:

“What does this do?”

“It exchanges one of your creatures for one that the opponent has. You give them one of yours and you take one of theirs.”

“Ummmm…”

“Is there a creature of mine you wished you could have?”

“Yeah, that big one.”

“Well, what could you give me in its place that would make things better for you?”

“Well…”

"You coul--”

“OOH!!! WAIT!!! I KNOW!!! I could give you a thopter and take your big guy!”

“Yes, you could.”

“Oh, yeah! I just ruined your day! Boom!!!”

The different abilities and interactions I had altered into the deck had given her exactly what she wanted. A way for her to explore the game and also interact with the absolute-most-numero-uno aspect of the game: her favorite opponent.

“Dad, can we go to a tournament together?”

“We’ll see. If you practice and get really good, I’ll take you with me and we’ll do a Two-Headed Giant prerelease together. How’s that sound?”

“Oh, yeah!!! We’re gonna win!”

“The next block this fall is most likely gonna have thopters.”

“YES!!!! I’m gonna add them all to my deck! Can we go to that one?”

Don’t worry, I’ll make sure we reel in the “Boom!”-count (preferably to zero) before we attend a prerelease. It’s the least I can do for her victims.

Application and Recommendations

If you’re interested in or in the process of introducing a younger player to Magic, keep these elements in mind:

  1. Don’t overthink it. If you put too much effort into figuring out what they want, you are absolutely certain to fail.
  2. Kids are not stupid. You are not babysitting, you’re interacting with another human, no matter what age they are. Don’t talk down to them or assume they will not understand. Go through the learning process and adjust accordingly. They’ll strengths and weaknesses to recognize.
  3. Let go. Do not keep control of the situation. Ask them what they would like to play.
  4. It’s about them, not you. This is the most important thing to remember. You already know how to play and what you like. This experience is about allowing them to find their own Magic voice.

But, that’s not all! I also have some comments for the deck builders at Wizards of the Coast.

  1. Make a cohesive deck. Too often, I have played precons that were just a hodge-podge of jank that had only a minor theme. This isn’t a proper introduction to the game. Having random cards and using the excuse that you wanted to “showcase the set” feels like cheating a new player that has invested in your product.
  2. Keep with the theme as much as possible. Build around the theme and make that theme a majority of the cards. New players need to learn the importance of synergy and deck cohesiveness.
  3. Give the player options. There has to be a relative balance between the first and second points with a good lean to the second. You can give the player different avenues to victory while keeping overall deck synergy. Include a nice sample of complementary cards.

Fin

It’s hard for us to see the game for what it is at times. We often lose sight of the fact that this game is simply an excuse to hang out with and enjoy the company of other people. But, when we are training the next generation of planeswalkers, we need to remember that they are interested in playing only because they see us having fun. It is paramount that we make it fun for them as well. That means we need to pull our noses out of our tomes and extend a hand. They’d like to try to read that indecipherable nonsense as well.

That’s it for another one. I’ll see you next time! As always, remember and respect who you are as a player and who others are as well.

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