Welcome to “How I Stay Sane,” a weekly column where real dads talk about the things they do for themselves that help them keep grounded in all the other areas of their life — especially the parenting part. It’s easy to feel strung-out as a parent, but the dads we feature all recognize that, unless they regularly take care of themselves, the parenting part of their life will get a lot harder. The benefits of having that one “thing” are enormous. For Stephen Dypiangco, 39, from Los Angeles, that thing is Magic: The Gathering. The beloved fantasy card game is his escape — and, recently, a fun way to bond with his kids.
I was in high school when I first got into Magic: the Gathering. That was the mid-’90s. At the time, I was really into collecting things. I used to collect baseball cards, basketball cards, comic books. It was around that time that I became aware of Magic. I enjoyed the collectible part of it — getting cool cards that were rare and worth money, that would be powerful to use in decks. And then, for me, it was like, How can I build a cool deck that’s going to beat my friends?
I stepped away from it for quite a while. I think I probably had picked up the online game about four years ago. That was the first time I played in, since, maybe college, so about a 15 year gap. I downloaded the app, and played that for maybe six months, just playing it at night before going to bed, after my wife had already fallen asleep. It was really fun to get back into it.
I guess I enjoy the surprise. I’ll play against a computer, or against other players. Last week I was playing against someone and I was down the whole game and then I came back and then at the end, the opponent just annihilated me out of nowhere. I was like, Wow. That was amazing. This person was just stringing me along the whole time. The best thing about the game for me is that it’s not mindless entertainment. It’s really thoughtful. It requires a part of my brain that I don’t necessarily use all the time. It’s fun in that way.
I used to play FIFA, and then I switched to this. I liked that I could play it in bed and not have to have a big console and be in front of a TV in the living room. And what I found with FIFA was that at a certain point, the game mechanics really incentivize you to keep playing so you get credits so you get better players, but the gameplay becomes pretty monotonous.
When I started playing Magic, more than 20 years ago, there were only a couple of editions that had ever been released. Since then, there have been countless new upgrades: cards and features within the game. So I’m constantly playing against cards and approaches that I’ve never experienced before. I don’t know what I’m up against. The best part is, that really doesn’t matter. There are no stakes! I mean, I’d like to win, but even without, I’m still satisfied and I can go back and tinker with my deck later. I’m doing something fun, where it doesn’t matter if I do well or not.
A lot of the stuff I collected as a kid sits in boxes at my parents’ house. They only live an hour and a half away. Little by little, I’d been pulling stuff out of there, and I’ve brought my two older daughters with me to their house. It’s sort of like a treasure hunt. I found Star Wars toys and stuff like that. One day, I brought them and in digging through old boxes, I came across a good stash of Magic the Gathering cards. I was pretty excited about it. I was surprised that there were so many and I think that really piqued their curiosity. That’s when I started to get my daughters into it. They wanted to know what the cards were, I showed them, and then they got super excited about it. Because the game can be complex, I went through and I found the simplest cards and created one deck for each of them. I started to coach them and give them tutorials.
As a kid, I cared a lot about buying the cards and building my collection. Now it’s more about how the game helps me unwind, and how I share it with my daughters. It also teaches my daughters strategies. These war-game scenarios will help them make decisions. I don’t know if my kids are going to necessarily pick that up anywhere else. If they were playing chess, I think it’d probably be the same type of thing, but instead, it’s Magic.
And when they get really excited while playing the game, that just brings me so much joy. They’re giddy, dropping hints, like ‘Well…I’ve got this one!’ Just those nuances that they’ve picked up and the fact that they get it. They’re part of such a nerdy, geeky community and legacy of people who have played this game. That’s something that I think is awesome. My wife is like, ‘You’re turning my kids into nerds!’ And I’m like, ‘I know! It’s awesome!’ They don’t even know what a nerd is and they’re becoming nerds! But they’ll be great, and when they grow up, this will be very unique and special to them. It’s something most little girls don’t have.