Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Magic Man

It’s not often that your teenage kid asks you to join in on one of his hobbies or activities, so when my son asked me to join his Magic League, I suppressed my first reaction and said “Sure, why not?” Except that I am hardly a master Magic player since I have never played anybody except my son.

For those of you that don’t speak Geek fluently, Magic: The Gathering® is a collectible card game (CCG) for guys (and they are mostly male) that have outgrown Pokemon and it’s brain damaged cousin Yu-Gi-Oh. Magic is some sort of cross between Dungeons and Dragons and gin rummy.

You do battles against each other with decks of special cards. Each card has its own special arcane rule on it. The general idea of the game seems to be to combine decks of cards in such a way that it bends and breaks the rules of the game in the most obnoxiously creative way possible. People take great pride in discovering certain combinations of cards that make it impossible for anyone else to ever win.

Now these are serious Magic players with bylaws and tournament fees and everything. Last fall I would just drop him off and swing by hours later to pry him away from his gaming induced catatonia. Now I was going to be an accomplice. My son had to “build” me a deck since I’m too incompetent to be trusted to the task by myself. I told him to keep it simple so I wouldn't embarass myself. For the past week or so, I’ve been scrimmaging against my son so that I would at least know my cards and how they worked.

At the kick-off round of games, I was asked how long I had been playing Magic. I said “nearly a week now.” I made a lot of rookie mistakes like trying use a Swords To Plowshares against Black Knights (they have protection from white, duh) and not keeping up with the counters on my Æther Vial card. I did impress some people with how well I was able to milk the Welkin Hawk/Soulcatcher's Aerie combo.

Many of my first games were exercises in frustration. One guy had a deck that used a Trinisphere/Metalworker/Staff of Domination combo that created unlimited mana, lives, and attacks and kept me from destroying it. At that point, the game just quits being fun.

The tournament format involves playing the other contestants in best of three matches. I took a couple of matches to the third game but I did manage to win one match before having to call it a night.

The other players seemed to run the gamut of nerd archetypes, friendly, but just a little too full of the inside jokes for the outsider to make much headway. It's tough to get to know people well when the main topic of conversation is which cards are on the banned list.

While at potential socially awkward settings like this, I like to pretend I am some sort of Jane Goodall among the nerds and I have to cleverly disguise myself to fit in. The host's DVD collection included the full series box set of Space:1999, so that was a good conversation opener about how cheesy that show was. Sometimes I fit in just a little too well.

But I can't pretend to be anymore that what I am, a former high school dungeonmaster now watching his kid carry on a family tradition of geekiness. I'm so proud to watch him grow up.

BlatantCommentWhoring™: Admit it, I'm the dorkiest person you know, right?


Dave2 said...

Yes, I totally understood what you were talking about in this entry.

Okay, I have no idea what you were talking about in this entry. Clicking to the links for the cards just made it worse.

Tap that mana... go team go!

Which means good luck. I think.

yellojkt said...

Here's a link to the short version of the rules. The long version is 145 pages of single space text suitable only for lawyers.

Anonymous said...

Though I'm a huge dork and was an occasional role-player as a kid myself, there's something I always found suspect about Magic. The whole deal is that you can only get more cards by buying them, right? And you buy a deck and you're not sure what's going to be in them? And they keep releasing new cards so it's kind of like an arms race? That sounds less like a game and more like a scam to me.


flasshe said...

My 13-year old nephew is a total Magic geek who plays in tourneys at the mall. I've never caught the bug, despite (like you) being an ex-high school dungeon master. He's tried to explain it all to me and it's too complicated for my old alcohol-damaged brain to grasp.

So, no, you're not the dorkiest person I know.

Anonymous said...

You definitely rank right up there. The creators of Magic, Wizards of the Coast, used to have their headquarters not far from where I live. My kid, about 14 at the time, would go to play there, and at shops that sold cards and geek gear. I was always afraid he'd be spirited away - but I never had the nerve (or the desire) to actually go in myself.

And, the founders of Wizards of the Coast were former workers at the large aerospace company in Seattle where I also work. Betcha they're worth billions now...


yellojkt said...

You can definitely spend a lot of money on Magic and the Wizards of the Coast encourage you to do so. The league my son plays in is entirely unofficial and allows proxy cards. Meaning, if you can download the image, you can play the card instead of spending several dollars on a single powerful card.

Impetua said...

You are post-nerd now. And I seriously wish you'd videotape the young nerds and make a documentary style short.

Anonymous said...

Yeah...usually I see the two of us as being pretty close to one another on the Nerd Scale, but I think you've outpaced me on this one.

Mind you, this is coming from the guy who got jazzed when he bought a house because the street number was 1701.

Cedar said...


Is that a Star Trek thing, or is there something even nerdier related to the number 1701?