Written by John Barrie
In a perfect world, I’d be telling you what happened the first time my children set foot in the Five Kingdoms. A large part of the reason I expressed interest in being a member of the DarlingDork team was to tell my story of trying to keep the tradition of pen and paper role-playing alive in our world of expansive MMOs and immersive sandbox RPGs.
Alas, I can’t tell you anything about it because it hasn’t happened yet. Something you never have to worry about when crafting a story for adult gamers is that you’ll have to spend the weekend making your druid rake leaves instead of finishing allotting their skill points because, oh by the way, that several page essay on Annie Oakley was due yesterday, and it was supposed to include a diorama.
Yes, my campaign has been shunted to the back-burner due to late homework and the grounding that has resulted as fallout. Luckily, though, my son and I share a hobby that has sustained us during my daughter’s time purgatory. While I’d rather be telling them somberly that they awaken in cages, their carefully purchased equipment absent, the Orc slave master’s voice as harsh as the desert sun, we’ll have to make do playing Magic: the Gathering.
I never got into the popular trading card game when I was a kid; it came out to much fanfare while I was in high school, but I was a staunch role-player and refused to acknowledge that there might be something to it (well, and if I wanted to play cards I opted for Spellfire). It wasn’t until I started working on the graveyard shift doing custodial work at Boise State University that I discovered what an…err…magical game it was. What started off as a way to pass the time during my 2:AM lunch break quickly became an obsession, and I shared that obsession with Elijah. It was only natural that we’d try and find a silver lining in the Trysta situation by sneaking off to an FNM.
We’ve been hitting the little tournaments on a slightly less than monthly basis over the last two years. In that time, I’ve managed a personal best of 3-2, and Elijah has gone 2-3 respectively. We’re not very good, though we’re certainly not the worst (that dubious honor goes to a kid who always tries to force five color decks, whether the format supports that strategy or not). But I was excited; pumped, even. I’d managed to put together a couple of decks with the latest set, Theros, and felt good about their chances. My deck in particular seemed primed to shine. It was a Mono-Black deck, fueled by the powerful Desecration Demon. I’d liked the card ever since it’d been printed, and had managed to get a set of them while they were under two dollars—the card now sells for over twelve bucks apiece on the secondary market. Mono-Black has been dominating the bigger Magic tournaments lately, but I hadn’t seen it make an impact locally, and I felt like I had an optimal build. My son was playing a Boros deck; for the Magic uninitiated, that means that it was comprised of the colors red and white and strives to win by attacking with lots of little, fast creatures and end the game before it begins.
Five minutes before we were set to start our first match Elijah came up to me. He’d been practicing against some other kids, and he’d decided his deck sucked. He can be a bit Chicken Little-ish when it comes to losing (if the other team scores first in football, he announces that our team has no chance of coming back-every time). But he wasn’t doing that puffy-faced, pouty little-kid thing. He sounded serious and analytical. I asked him if he would like to trade decks for the evening.
Round one came and went. I started strong against my opponent, but in both games my offense sputtered just as I was ready to make the kill. I’d lost. But Elijah had won; he rarely ever wins round one, and never 2-0.
By the end of the night, I was hanging out at 0-4, having been given a bye for the final round. I milled around with the other losers—those who hadn’t bolted already—trading cards and telling bad beat stories. Elijah, on the other hand, was 4-0 and playing at the top table against a guy with a notoriously hard Super Friends deck. Yes, he’d piloted my Mono-Black deck all the way to the feature match of the evening. Those who were in the know tried to soothe my feelings, but they needn’t have bothered. I couldn’t have been happier. Sitting there with everyone who flamed out early, I could watch my little boy excel at doing something I loved. He was proud, and I was proud of him. He would go on to lose that final match and Chicken Little DID make an appearance (“He was impossible. His deck cost $700 or something. We need to change most of the cards we’re playing.”), but it didn’t matter. For a brief moment, he was at the top of the heap at our local game store, and that moment was sweeter for me than any win I’ve ever had.