Do Kids Have A Place In Magic: The Gathering?
Last year, I was playing at a Modern event at my local store. It was a normal Friday Night Magic event with myself and most of the regular players that frequented the Magic: The Gathering tournaments at the shop. About five minutes before we were about to start playing, a latecomer burst in the door and asked if he and his son were on time and could join in the event. He was a man in his mid-thirties and his son couldn’t have been older than 10.
Naturally, the store owner welcomed them both in and signed them up, and the pair came over to join the rest of us who had got our trade binders out while we waited. They introduced themselves and the father admitted that it was his son’s first proper Magic event, and he hadn’t had a deck until tonight, when they had hastily constructed a Modern-legal list from the cards he’d had in the house. Most of the players who came to this event were sporting established Modern decks, but despite his father’s warning that people would be playing very good cards, the boy had been keen to come along anyway and play some games.
I was matched up against him in Round One. I was running my favourite deck, Merfolk, which was a popular Tier 1 option at the time, with Przemek Knocinski having won GP Copenhagen with his own Merfolk list not long beforehand. I didn’t want to treat him any differently than any other player, so I didn’t patronise him by trying to explain anything about etiquette, and simply shuffled up and presented, and he duly cut my deck and presented his own. We rolled for first and I won, and chose the play.
In the following game, it was clear that he had only ever played kitchen table Magic before, as his deck consisted of the latest intro-pack list with a few odd rares thrown in for good measure. It was an endearing effort with a clear theme, but certainly not close to the power level of Modern staples, and though he clearly exhibited skill, my deck quickly won game one. He wasn’t upset or disappointed; in fact, he acted more maturely than most adult players I’ve played against when all their lands suddenly tap for blue. He had no sideboard so he just shuffled up again and got his deck ready to present while I, still determined not to treat this match any different than normal, sided in a few cards.
He didn’t say whether he wanted to play, so I prompted him. “You lost, so you get to choose. Would you like to go first?”
He stopped for a second and considered it. “No, ladies first. You can go on the play.”
I was dumbfounded. It was such a kind thing to say – and obviously not one I expect from most competitive players, even at Regular REL. Especially coming from someone who had just experienced playing against a powerful Tier 1 list with a pile of kitchen table cards. Most adult players I know would have been a little agitated, or at the very least quiet and focused, determined to come back and win the second game – but this incredibly mature young boy had handled defeat more gracefully than anyone I’d ever met before, and then allowed me to go first out of sheer manners. I know if it had been me on the other side of game one, I wouldn’t have even thought to offer him the same courtesy.
After the second game (which was also over in short order), he picked up his cards, held out his hand with a sincere “well played”, and walked back over to his dad, showing no signs of disappointment at all. I was genuinely incredibly impressed at the maturity he’d displayed. At the end of the night, I came second, and he had come dead last; I gave him a pack from my prizes and the FNM promo for the night, as I didn’t want him to be discouraged and not come back again. The truth was, our store needed more people like him.
So why have I bothered telling you all this story?
Well, in the past there has been some objection from some of the adult Magic community to the presence of younger players. I have overheard people at Game Days and Prerelease events complaining about the under-16s in attendance, that it “makes them feel uncomfortable to play against them” or “changes the atmosphere because you feel bad beating them”. In fact, not long ago there were rumblings from some players about making competitions separate – solely adults or solely children, to advocate matching skill levels so they don’t have to feel “awkward”.
This has always been a point of contention for me. I don’t like the idea that some people believe young talent is somehow bad for the game. Why is it “us” and “them”? Why are kids who play Magic to be ostracised into their own section of the community? To make those people feel less uncomfortable at playing someone younger than them? This, to me, doesn’t seem right, especially as some of the best players in the world started playing when they were children. Brian Kibler began his professional career at 15, and double World Champion Shahar Shenhar was still a teenager when he won the World Championship for the first time. Some, AJ Kerrigan for example, were taking multiple SCG Opens and GPs by storm (pun intended) before they’d even finished school. Players like this have proven that a player’s age doesn’t necessarily dictate their skill.
I am, of course, aware that this prejudice is not present in all stores. In fact, in most stores I have visited, there are under-16s who are a big part of the community, accepted fully into the crowd of regulars and treated exactly the same as anyone else, even down to hanging out and playing outside of Magic events at the shop. I think this is a fantastic thing and that we, the adult ambassadors of Magic, should all be trying to include more young players into the game. After all, the old-school Magic community is ageing, and with them formats like Legacy are ageing too – if we want to ensure the preservation of the current formats in many years’ time, it’s important to involve younger players now, and make sure they feel welcome in the community and eager to attend large events to improve their skills.
Currently, where I live it’s quite rare to see young kids coming regularly to FNM, let alone Competitive REL events (besides a couple who are 15 or 16 and are regulars). When that’s been the case, though, I’ve never seen any children getting upset or angry if they’ve lost, or complaining loudly about their opponent’s topdecks, or storming out of the event because they didn’t realise Splinter Twin and Deceiver Exarch was an infinite combo and they’ve just lost to it – actual behaviours which I have personally witnessed from adults. In my experience, the children I’ve met are keen to learn about the game and enjoy it – everyone likes to win, but regardless of the power level of their decks, or the money they have to spend on it, they have come out to enjoy themselves, and if they win or lose, it doesn’t matter.
The issue is that there are a few “toxic” players in the community who don’t like to play against children, especially at large events. Maybe it’s because when they lose to someone young, it makes them feel worse. Maybe it’s because they don’t want Magic to be viewed by the wider community as a kids’ game, despite the 13+ age recommendation on the front of every booster pack. Maybe they just don’t feel comfortable with young players in the room showing them up by being mature while they exhibit unsporting behaviour. These are the people who advocate splitting up competitions into two categories and patronising young players, forcing them into their own small category like a kids’ table, not wanting to allow children to properly play what they see as a game exclusively for adults. And, these are the people who will cause children to stop coming to events altogether, if they don’t feel wanted.
Magic is indeed a very complex game, and it takes a high level of intelligence, recall and advanced cognitive and logical reasoning skills to play it at the highest level. But it doesn’t require a complete understanding of the most complicated card interactions, obscure combat tricks or fringe meta decks in order to play at Friday Night Magic. And as mentioned above, there are certainly children and teenagers who are more than capable of grasping the highly complex aspects of Magic as well. I doubt AJ’s opponents ever doubted his skill while he was busy casting Tendrils of Agony at their face.
So the answer to the question posed in the title of this article is, yes, kids absolutely should, and do, have a place in Magic. In twenty or thirty years’ time, when the current adult playerbase is dwindling and ageing, if we don’t encourage new players to join the game, there won’t be a game to join. It’s imperative that we stop the poisonous few from causing kids to have bad experiences, at large tournaments all the way down to Friday Night Magic, and instead ensure that children are welcomed into the fold like the future Pro Players that they might well become.
I hope I stand with the majority of the community when I say that at its core, Magic is a game for both children and adults, and we should be trying wholeheartedly to include young people in events and encourage them to play. If we let the small percentage of prejudiced attitudes push away the new talent trying to enter the game, we might soon find that in the face of a lot of strong competition from other franchises, Magic has a very short future indeed.
Community Question: Do you think competitive Magic: The Gathering tournaments are suitable for kids?
Thanks for reading,