Magic: The Upheaval

Back in the early 90’s, I discovered and started playing a little card game called Magic: The Gathering.

It was a kind of game I’d never seen before, a collectible deck-building card game. It had great artwork, fun text, and an interesting mechanic. Half of the game was building a deck (selecting which cards you wanted to play with), and the other half was actually playing.

Because you never knew which cards you were getting when you bought a pack of cards, and you never knew which of your cards would be used during a game, deck-building was a fascinating exercise in probabilities and making the best out of the cards you had.

I played for a few years, and accumulated a substantial quantity of cards, before I decided to stop and give all my cards away. The problem wasn’t the game, it was trying to keep up to stay competitive. Every new edition of the game brought new cards, new powers, and, even worse, rules changes. On top of that, game stores started selling cards individually. Players could simply go down to the store and buy the cards they needed to craft the perfect decks. In the local gaming scene, winning at Magic became a very expensive proposition.

Last Christmas, I spotted a box of Magic cards in a game store. It was called a “Core Set” and had over 200 cards in it, more than enough to build a couple decks. I picked one box up for each of the boys.

They were a little hesitant at first, so I built them each a starter deck, made a couple decks for myself, and started playing. After a few games, they wanted to build their own decks. I showed them the basics and told them to feel free to take apart the decks I’d made and use their cards.

We’ve been playing ever since. I only have one deck left, and they are constantly tinkering and updating theirs.

Last night, my oldest son beat me. It wasn’t a “dad-helped me not make mistakes” victory or a “I got to take back my bad moves” victory. It was an honest-to-goodness old-fashioned butt-whooping, the first he’d ever given me.

“Yes!” he said, fist-pumping. “Not a bad deck, right?”

I leaned back, half savoring the moment and half really annoyed. Losing at Magic is never fun. “Not bad at all,” I said. “Wanna go again?”

“Yeah,” he said. “But not with that deck. I want to try this one.”

“Really?” I shuffled my deck back together. “Going for two in a row?”

“Just testing the deck,” he said quickly.

He crushed me with that one, too.

As his mom called us to dinner, I considered the array of defeated cards in front of me.

In Magic, at least, my oldest son and I had just entered a new phase of our relationship: equal competition.

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