Trading Card Games for the Rest of Us – An Introduction

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Trading Card games for the Rest of Us
Image: Rory Stark

Recently I’ve been introducing my stepson to the wonders of Magic: the Gathering (M:tG). It was a real challenge at first: there’s a lot to know about Trading Card Games, and it can’t all just be handed over in an hour. “Trading Card Games for the Rest of Us” is a series of posts discussing the major points we cover as I teach him to play, and how I introduce those concepts to him. I will use M:tG as my example, but most things apply to every TCG.

Why Play TCGs?

Trading Card Games are a social event. They are a way for kids, adults, geeks, and other collectors to come together. Playing at home with close friends, or at card shops to make new friends, can be a fun way to practice your skills. TCGs also provide fun goals: collecting, trading, playing, and participating in competitions are all parts of the general experiences available.

I am teaching my son to play so that he feels less left out when his sister has friends over. TCGs give us a bonding experience, and give him the positive attention he needs. It also helps this nine-year-old feel like he is part of the greater whole.

Why Collect Cards?

Collecting and trading cards allow you to obsess over collecting every card in a collection. In each release of Magic: the Gathering, Wizards of the Coast releases about 150-250 cards. These are released every few months, with about four sets released in a calendar year.

Other collectors, like myself, collect only the cards they really like. These collectors trade other players to get the number of each card that they’d like to own.

I had many cards that I knew I would not use, so I gave him a small collection (about 140 cards) to play with. This way, I don’t have to worry about him mistreating my cards or pilfering my collections. He may obsess over each of his cards in his own time, and learn about them outside of play.

What Skills Can TCGs Teach My Kids?

Every TCG is a little different, but in M:tG, players use a metric ton of math. Calculating a player’s remaining health, each creature’s damage, costs to play and/or use spells, and the probability of any card being drawn are all core parts of game play. Players learn to use basic addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division at the drop of a hat.

Logic and strategy are taught, practiced, and implemented in every turn. Players must learn to evaluate the use of each card as they anticipate the other players’ next plays. Playing a card on the correct turn can make the difference between winning and losing.

The best skill learned during play is sportsmanship. If another player forgot to draw a card, you may allow them to draw their card after the fact, or not. There are multiple losers in games of more than two players. This means that the chance of winning is fairly low for each player. The first rule I made for my kid about playing M:tG with my adult friends is that, since he will likely lose, he has to show good sportsmanship if he wants to continue playing with us.

What Basics Do I Need to Play?

Image: Wizards of the Coast
Image: Wizards of the Coast

To play, each player needs at least one deck of cards. That’s it. There are “Duel Decks,” which come with two pre-made decks, for about twenty bucks, and plenty of “starter decks” which each have one deck and a few booster packs (15 cards each) for about 12-15 bucks. Those prices depend on where you are buying them, of course. Other things that may be helpful are dice, paper and pencil, and patience. Wizards of the Coast makes special “spindown dice” which are designed for easily tracking players’ health.

I’ve set my stepson up with his own deck, and gave him his own dice. We’ve played a couple of games, but there is still plenty for us to learn together. Right now, we mostly play “face up,” with each of us able to see each other’s hand. This lets me explain the strategies we are both using, and lets him see how different cards play out. It’s a start.

In future installments of this series, I will cover:

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