'Magic' ready to rumble on international pro tour
By Wayne Harada
Advertiser Entertainment Writer
By Wayne Harada
It's part magic, part medieval fantasy, pure fun.
It's "Magic: The Gathering," the first trading-card collection that's also a cool game that requires strategy, skill and gamesmanship.
And it's a pro tour, playing out today through Sunday at the Hawai'i Convention Center, where registered participants at least 400 strong will test their powers in battling ogres, trolls, dragons and more.
"It's huge and continues to become more and more popular," Ted Mays, proprietor of Gecko Books and Comics, said of "Magic: The Gathering." He should know; he sells trading cards of all types, including "Magic: The Gathering," and he collects cards. And he's a winner in an earlier tournament here.
The cards spawned a cottage industry of copycats, including "Yu-Gi-Oh!" and "Pokιmon," but Mays said these were "fad games, aimed at specific age groups, usually attracting little kids who jump into the collecting part but don't play the games."
With "Magic," it's all about the game you can play with your pals or indulge in an online version.
"I've been playing for about seven or eight years," said Tim Lui, 20, a junior at the University of Hawai'i-Hilo, who will be in Honolulu with a group of six to eight friends to compete in the tourney. He owns 3,000 to 4,000 cards, typical of the cult fan.
An estimated 2,000 "Magic" fans live in the Islands. Conventions have been staged here and periodic Friday-night play sessions have been part of the "Magic" landscape.
"We play after school, or in school sometimes, but I've been hooked to the playability from the very beginning," Lui said. "We also play, with other college students, at Da Planet in Hilo."
Lui said the magical aspect of the game is what turns him and his friends on. "The magic is really compatible to guys," he said. "More than any other card game, you can do in-depth things. And, while there are girls playing, too, 'Magic' is mostly a guy thing."
Mays, who will be a spectator at the weekend competition, concurred. More fellas than females play because of the game's sports-like mindset.
"It's war-like, like football with mechanisms that you switch off and on, for offense and defense," said Mays, who was 33 a late bloomer, but the card just had made its debut when he became a fan. He's 45 now.
"Though it's 12 years old now, 'Magic' is still the strongest of the games. Most people who play have original cards in their collection," he said. "I won a tournament here and was invited to Barcelona in 2001, so it's a really big event."
Because "Magic" was invented by a mathematician, Richard Garfield, it boasts logical math elements, said Mays. "The concept is two wizards fighting, kind of a (version) of 'Dungeons and Dragons,' but involving a system that's an advanced form of jan-ken-po. For every rock, there's paper. And so on."
Mays said there are some rare 8-year-olds who show early interest in "Magic," though the game is challenging for anyone younger. Many who are "Yu-Gi-Oh!" diehards gravitate to "Magic," then play the card game rather than merely collect the trading cards.
In "Magic," players are wiz-ards who start out with 30 life points and cast spells in defense or to attack another wizard. The one who eliminates all others wins.
The pro conference is expected to draw a global roster, said Jay Adan, a publicist for Wizards of the Coast, the Hasbro Company subsidiary that produces "Magic: The Gathering."
"Players are coming from all over the world, since invitations have been issued," said Adan. "There will be a lot of high-level pros from Japan and some highly-placed contenders from Canada." The top 100 represent nations such as Portugal, Mexico, Spain, Italy, Australia, Britain and Canada, in addition to the United States.
Kai Budde of Germany, nicknamed "The German Juggernaut," is the hands-down jackpot champ among pro players. He has earned $352,620 since December, has been named Pro Player of the Year four times and was the 1999 World Champion.
In the weekend competition, a total of $240,245 will be at stake, including the top prize of $40,000.
There's also value in mint-condition vintage cards, which command big bucks.
"The really strong cards from the original game started in the few-dollars range," said Mays. "The Black Lotus ones now can fetch $3,000 on eBay. I have a nice one; I've held on to a few over the years."
You simply put these in a protective sleeve and keep them safe, said Mays.
"No one's going to make you shuffle a $3,000 card," said Mays, who uses a proxy for the high-end card. "And the price has not topped out yet. Mine is the Gecko wine cellar, so to speak. You just wait for the wine to reach its peak."
Reach Wayne Harada at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Correction: Tim Lui from Hilo is taking part in this weekend's "Magic: The Gathering" tournament. His name was incorrect in a previous version of this story.