I was born one year before Magic the Gathering, but in some ways, the game grew up alongside me like an older brother. It’s hard to explain how a game can become a part of your family identity, but all through my childhood, Magic was a mainstay on our kitchen table. 

I’ll start from the beginning.

Sometimes, on nights when my mother worked late in the office to file tax returns, my Dad would take me in the baby stroller across the suburbs of Columbia, South Carolina to chill with his friends. There I sat among gamers, taking in the sounds of rolling dice as they powered through 8 hour sessions of Titan or the humming cables of a Paths to Darkness LAN party. I think this gaming osmosis had some lasting effect. Everytime my Mom tried to teach me to read with the Berenstain Bears, my Dad followed suit with the 1970 Monster Manual.

Magic entered our family life when one of the members of Dad’s gaming group, a guy named Mark Poole, told the gang he started drawing for a new game called Magic (Beyond this anecdote, my Dad has stories of Mark drawing pictures of their adventuring parties and all sorts of homebrew monsters… no, he never rubbed that in, thanks for asking). Mark set them up with some cards and they were hooked. The group stratified early on, with each member picking a color and sticking to it. Dad decided to be a black mage, and traded his Time Walk and Ancestral Recall for a Sengir Vampire and an Animate Dead. Despite opening a Mox Jet pretty early on, his prize card was Bad Moon (and later Juzam Djinn). They played together up until Alliances, and then broke off as families grew and business expanded.

(Target Dad attempts to sing Creedence Clearwater Revival)

Dad’s old magic collection sat in the attic until I was adventurous enough to go looking for it. I remember looking through old D & D books on the hunt for risque art, until I found a set of binders in a box full of little fantasy cards. The art on these items seemed to be decidedly ‘grown up’, like, a level of fantasy deeper and darker than Narnia, and I might be in over my head if I got too involved. But that was part of the appeal. I wanted to learn more, and spent the rest of the afternoon pouring over the cards. 

I had so many questions. The cards gave me so few answers. 

(I still hear about how he traded these to buy me Pokemon cards)

Among the question I tried to answer:
Where is Tolaria?

What are homarids?

Who is “Urza” 

What makes a merfolk “Vodalian” 

Why are Hurloon Minotaurs and Llanowar elves so ugly? Elves in my kids’ stories were beautiful at best, jolly at worst!

I brought the binder down to Dad when he got home from work. He grinned. Mom rolled her eyes.

(In what bonkers franchise was this an elf?)

He wasted no time teaching me the basics and then spent the next few months beating a nine year old with the same forty card deck he played six years ago. It usually went like this:

Him, T1: Swamp. Mox Jet. Dark Ritual. Soul Ring. Sengir Vampire. Pass

Me, T1: Mountain. Lightning bolt face Dad’s face. Pass.

(I spilled milk on this card. Un-sleeved. Twice.)

Due to the way he traded with his friends, he had all the stacked early black cards and I had all the red trash commons (I thought kobolds of kher keep was such a good value. Free creature!) But I eventually learned to counter his deck. I had a compulsive desire to play red but I couldn’t handle his explosive early plays. Since dual colors didn’t exist in my mind, I switched to white after I saw Swords to Plowshares. Our games became:

Him, T1: Swamp. Dark ritual. Mox Jet. Hypnotic Specter. Unholy Strength.

Me, T1: Plains. Swords to Plowshares.

(I avoided this card for a year because I didn’t want to give him life.)

He just ran out of steam so fast if I could answer a single threat. And on the off chance he drew into Animate Dead or Hypnotic Specter, I was ready with Wrath of God or a Serra Angel. My favorite trick was to put a couple of Juggernauts into my deck. At first, I thought all the artifact creatures were useless because of their poor stats, but then I actually read his favorite removal card, Terror. Oh and Karma… Don’t get me started on Karma! That card turned him red in the face. The poor old man never saw it coming.

(Destroy target Dad.)

I think it stung him to lose to a kid who still picked his nose, so he went to the attic and came back down smug as a bug. I lost my mind when I saw him play an island next to his swamp. Then he started to counter my spells, control my magic, and clone my angels. I thought Sengir Vampire was bad but Mahatma Djinn took it to a new level. The kitchen table metagame evolved. Dad kept his crown.

One Saturday he announced we were going to a local gaming convention. A decade ago he helped organize “Roundcon”, and evidently it had grown to be one of South Carolina’s premier springtime gaming events (or ‘nerdfest’ as he called it). Wondering to himself if people even still played Magic, we showed up and paid admission. It turned out they sold Magic, so we went straight to the showroom. I didn’t know what to look for, but he spent minutes staring at the packs, frowning. There were so many names and labels, new art and “expert level” tags on the boosters. Eventually he settled on some premade decks from some set called Prophecy, and we dug in. 

“They’re still making these things?” -Dad

I was in love. The green creature deck he bought me had some of the most flavorful, powerful beaters I had yet seen. Imagine raising a kid on undercosted critters where Craw Worm was King of the block and then showing him an Avatar of Might! Dad hated it. He grumbled that the creatures were too powerful, and furrowed his brow at his premade deck, curious why it was telling him to destroy his own lands and discard his own cards. I won a few games before he opened up his backpack and decimated my new deck with his Alpha Goodstuff pile. 

(A new Timmy is born)

Since no one else was playing Magic, we eventually ran out of steam and looked around for something else to do. The whole convention seemed organized around some Dungeons and Dragons campaign called “Living Greyhawk”, a universal experience played with a new, alien, rule set. Dad signed us up for an upcoming game, and browbeat a poor attendant into helping us role new characters. He was just as grumpy about some of the rule changes (What’s a feat? Why is my armor class so darn high?) but those are memories for another day.

It seemed to him that the world had marched on, but at least his favorite hobbies were alive, somehow, and in the hands of a new generation. I think he liked that more than the games. They let him spend time with me. I had a passion and we could use it to spend whole afternoons together. 

With that in mind, he bought another two decks (from Invasion, this time) for my Mom and my brother. Thus began the kitchen-top chronicles, and the best years of Magic in my young life. 

Magic is a fun game, sure, but in the hands of my father, it became a shared experience for our family to bond over. It became a sort of shared language, and a cherished memory we still reminisce about. 

You can imagine my delight when I got an email from some of our Playtesters for MTG Storyline. Essentially, it was a father son pair, playing to spend time with each other. He wrote that his son loved writing on cards and making the deck his own, he was even writing extra stories and scenarios for the two of them. The father, on the other hand, was enjoying some of the mechanical aspects, but largely just appreciated having another outlet to spend time with his son. If there’s anything to feel proud of in a creative endeavour, there it is. I am humbled to have given another family that sort of experience. I had a remarkable childhood, and I hope more fathers and sons (and mothers and daughters) can use our game to build the same kind of memories.

Speaking of which, I hope you are excited to try our new game! We are looking for a second round of play testers, so if you are interested in a Legacy style Magic The Gathering game, email us at tobey@mtgstoryline.com to apply. We put together a game where your choices permanently change the cards in your deck as you and a partner construct a unique story! We’re looking to release Book One: Chapter One within two months and new chapters will come out every two weeks indefinitely. Hope to see you along for the ride!