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Underage Magic Players

At what age should kids be allowed to play Magic: The Gathering? We all know that the packaging states the game is for ages 13 and up. There are a lot of products out that are like that. Setting the recommended age at for teenagers and up. But why? And is it important for Magic Players.

I did some digging and the origin of the age of 13 was apparently set as a caution to parents because of the movies Indiana Jones and The Temple of Doom and Gremlins. The Motion Picture Association created the PG-13 rating in 1984 because there needed to be some reform to movie ratings to warn parents of content that could be acceptable for teenagers but not younger viewers.

Soon after, lots of products started adopting the same “rating” with the most notable being games. The question we’ll look into is: do the themes in Magic: The Gathering warrant the same caution to parents?

The Struggle

As a parent of a young player who has achieved a modicum of visibility in the Magic community, I've received a broad range of compliments and criticism about my son, Rhino playing Magic. For the record, he started playing when he was 7.

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The reasons for his starting to play are different than most. I have found that a lot of parents start their kids playing because they enjoy playing and want to share the experience with their kids. At the time I was not actively playing Magic. That’s a long story, but suffice it to say that two kids with epilepsy can take a toll on extracurricular activities. But my son has dyslexia and struggled reading, until he saw Magic cards. He could easily read them. So if he could read them, that’s where we were going to get him reading.

After a year or so of playing, we wanted to find a place we could go to Friday Night Magic. I actually contacted Wizards of the Coast to find out if the 13+ age requirement was a requirement or was it a suggestion. They informed me that it was a suggestion and my son could participate at FNM as well as any competitive play with my approval. So I got him a DCI number and we found our first Local Game Store.

That’s when the unsolicited advice started.

The comments ranged from “How could you send your child down a path of debauchery and evil” to “Wow you are really brave.” I’ve always been one that takes unsolicited advice as… unsolicited and often ultimately ignored. At least ignored to the extent of not swaying my decisions. But I do remember what many people say.

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When we started the Young Mage Channel, people took this as an invitation to tell us how we were doing everything wrong. I read the comments and ultimately dismissed the majority of them. The thing is, they don’t know our story. If you don’t know the whole story, you can’t begin to judge.

And this has come in fairly regularly since starting the channel in August of 2015.

The Problem(s)

I see the basic reasons for the 13+ age suggestion break down to two things. The first is the complexity of the game. If you grab a couple of Welcome Decks, Magic is a pretty simple game. It’s mostly creatures pounding creatures until enough damage gets through to knock a player out. Nothing too sophisticated. But when you factor in control decks, aggressive decks, sideboards, playing against people you don’t know, and the large age gap of young to seasoned players, it can be pretty scary for young people.

The second deals with the art on the cards. Magic: The Gathering has amazing artists that capture the worlds and illustrate fantasy and make it real in the minds of the players. When my son started around M15, Born of the Gods was in Standard. I remember seeing the card Searing Blood and thinking how realistic that looked. Daniel Ljunggren did an amazing job with the art. But for a young player, that can be too realistic.

Searing-Blood

This of course isn’t the only thing that can scare younger players. As Shadows over Innistrad was revealed, the mutations of creatures into Eldrazi Horrors is enough to even give some adults nightmares. When the trailer came out and you first saw Lone Rider transform into It Rides as One, I know I had a hard time forgetting some of the transformations.

There are many other instances that include all sorts of creatures from demons to werewolves to monsters of all sorts that can easily scare younger players.

The Solution(s)

These are the solutions I found for the game complexity and realistic fantasy art. The realistic art is the simplest to answer. But first let me tell you a quick story.

When I was little, I used to go to movies just like most kids. I loved going to see Disney movies. But when I first saw the movie Pinocchio, I was terrified. I never wanted to see that movie again, and I didn’t until I was in my mid 20s. The boys mutating into donkeys and the ferociousness of the great whale gave me nightmares as a young boy. I came to the realization that the purpose of Disney movies was to scare little kids to death. In my opinion, they have been very good at that.

So for my kids and realistic fantasy art, the solution is to introduce them to the possibilities and let them choose. My daughter doesn’t really like the monsters in Magic: The Gathering, but she loves the angels, birds and even spirits. Yes, I thought spirits were a bit strange, but there it is. For my son, he never really had a problem with any of the creatures and for the most part, he ignored the art for the first couple years of playing. He was just excited to be able to read. Now he’s grown more interested in the art. My suggestion is to let them play with the cards that they feel most comfortable. If they don’t like the monsters, don’t put any monsters in their deck, even if it makes sense for the deck.

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Now the solution for the complexity of the game. This is where many disagree with me. When we first started playing, I didn’t try to win. In fact, I went out of my way to lose. And this made me feel bad. You don’t always get your way when you are young, you need to know that you can and will lose. You have to learn to live with loss. And this game was the perfect way to do it because you can downplay the loss and start up another game real quick.

So one day I told him that I wasn’t going to “let him win” anymore. This wasn’t out of a desire to prove to him my superiority, but out of love. He wasn’t learning anything by winning. You learn and grow through loss and failing. As a parent, I love it when my kids win. But I don’t want them to get excited about a game stacked in their favor. No one else was going to just let him win, so I shouldn’t.

This was hard for me and there were a lot of tears. When your kids cry, you feel it 10x more than them. It was really hard. Lots of times we had to go over the fact that I wasn’t trying to win to make me feel better about myself, because I didn’t. Once things calmed down, we would go through the game and identify what he could do better. We immediately turned it to a learning moment. This way we minimized the cost of failure to a friendly game with dad.

Now, after about 5 years of playing I am losing games on a regular basis. I still win more than I lose. But I get really excited when he wins, because I know I played my best and he is winning because he’s learned!

I should also add that playing at Friday Night Magic has been incredibly helpful for him. He talks to people of all ages with confidence. Does he still act like a kid? Yeah, sometimes. But his interaction with other players is great. He’s learned how to communicate and work within the rules of the game and the dynamic of a tournament.

That makes for a proud parent.

The Answer

So what’s the answer to the original question: Should the 13+ apply to Magic: The Gathering?

I have found that the average for starting kids into Magic: The Gathering is the 7-9 year old range. This is from parents that want their kids to play. I think that this is a good age range if you are working with your own child. You can easily answer questions and help guide them on their path in Magic. As a parent you can make it a very positive game. I feel it’s really important that a parent be part of the initial introduction if the player is under 13.

Do I think that 13 is the right age for kids playing without parents there? Yeah, sorta. Kids mature at different rates. So this range could be 10 to 15. Heck, I know some in their 20s that I don’t think are mature enough to play.

But that’s another story.

Phil Morris

Phil Morris

Physicists, Programmer, Writer, Marketer, Photographer & Magic the Gathering Geek, Father to Rhino co-creator of Young Mage. Many will know me as MTG_PapaMage.

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