The World of magic
Story by Tristan Hiegler | Photos by Rhys Logan
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On the plain below, creatures charge and attack each other in red and blue waves. Goblin warriors are swept aside by luminous blue beings made of air and water who appear from nowhere. Crimson dragons swoop in low over the battlefield and shoot blasts of flame and sulfur before they are driven back by the stinging arrows of hundreds of elves.
It's an epic competition: spells and creatures are thrown against one's opponent in a battle of wits, brute force opposes guile and resourcefulness. However, these wizards are not masters of forgotten lore-they are local hobbyists in their mid-twenties. The lightning attacks, illusions, goblins and dragons are all represented by playing cards.
This is Magic: The Gathering. Each Friday night, Cosmic Comics, a downtown Bellingham comic and hobby shop, hosts Magic tournaments. The players, or mages, sit at two rows of long tables and use cards from their custom-built decks to take life from other mages in a race against the clock. Each mage begins the game with 20 lives; if that number hits zero, they're out of luck and out of the game.
As the mages try to break down the other's defenses, they banter back-and-forth about a good play on the previous turn or chuckle quietly as they prepare their next move. The excitement of dueling wizards with titanic powers is not apparent in the relaxed attitudes of the players as they study their cards and consider which to play next.
Each player has a minimum of 60 cards in their deck and they draw seven at the start of the game. An additional card is drawn at the beginning of every turn. These cards are a player's hand, from which they pick their stratagems.
Created by Richard Garfield, Magic: The Gathering is one of the first collectable trading card games and first to hit the market in 1993. Garfield developed the game while studying mathematics at graduate school in Pennsylvania. He sold the game to the Northwest Washington company Wizards of the Coast. Wizards, which has helped produce the game since its first commercial release, became a subsidiary of Hasbro in 1999.
Since those initial cards hit the streets 17 years ago, thousands more have been introduced to the game. Players throughout Whatcom County, the United States and the entire world competed using a combination of luck and skill. Magic players can hone their skills at small local events, like the Friday Night Magic tournaments at Cosmic Comics, or try out for regional, national and world events.
Magic cards are divided into five colors, white, blue, black, red and green, which determine what each card does in the game and provide mages with a game strategy. Each color is tied to a landscape and element. White represents plains and light, blue represents islands and water, black-swamps and decay, red-mountains and fire and green-forests and nature.
Brandon Tomlinson is the owner and sole employee of Wizard's Library, a hobby store on Broadway Street in Bellingham. He is a large man with elaborate tattoos running down both his arms, defying the stereotype of the Magic player as a small, weak individual who rarely leaves his or her room. Tomlinson has played Magic since the beginning, and founded Wizard's Library in 2005 as a one-stop-shop for players looking to build decks. He says he has moved locations once already and is still looking to expand to something more substantial in the near future.
"There's just so much to it," Tomlinson says of the game's variety. With approximately 30,000 cards to choose from and incorporate into a deck, the combinations players can use are endless.
Economics plays a big role in what cards players use, Tomlinson says. Beginners and casual players will spend approximately $20 to get a deck to play with. However, those who want to be competitive at tournaments need to invest $500 or more in order to procure the good cards they need to get ahead.
Although card price is a big factor in the quality of a deck, game strategy focuses on the card's color. Tomlinson says each of the five colors has a unique function in the game which affects how the cards are used. The colors often connect to the personalities of beginning players who choose a particular color as they learn the game.
Rosie Crow, Western junior and the vice president of at the Western Mages Guild, an on-campus Associated Students Magic club, says she started playing with white because she liked playing lots of creature cards and then making the creatures more powerful.
"I like that [white's] about order and that it's about playing a lot of little guys and then giving them all boosts, so you can kind of attack with an army of little guys," Crow says.
With several years of playing experience under her belt, Crow says she plays with a deck that uses a combination of white, blue and green cards. She says with more practice, card selection becomes less about using one color and more about using particular cards because they're powerful or useful.
As far as the economics of the game, Crow says players are limited by the cost of cards because some decks can cost $300 or $400 to construct.
"Cards can be pretty expensive," she says. "There [are] $40 cards and $60 cards, so if you're trying to get four of them to go into your deck, that gets really expensive, so you need to think about what cards you already have or what you can trade to get those cards."
Crow says a secondary market has grown around players trading cards before the cards fall in value, since the release of new cards means fluctuating prices.
Despite the high cost of obtaining new cards, the mages have remained committed to the game. Perhaps it's the lure of the five colors and the personalized strategy they offer, or maybe it's just the fun of zapping a friend with metaphorical lightning and then setting the goblins on them. Whatever the case, the battle for Magic supremacy will not be ending anytime soon.