STAFF WRITER SUZANNE FREEMAN
Two of them are Marines. One’s a former truck driver. Another manages a cement company. They all play Magic the Gathering on a regular basis at Hood’s Games ’N Things in Marble Falls and were on hand for a recent pre-release party and game night.
Magic the Gathering is the grandfather of trading card games, which include Pokemon, Yu-Gi-Oh! and Dragon Ball Z. It first came on the market in 1993. Currently, about 12 million people around the world play the game, which is printed in 11 languages. Two hundred of those players are registered with Zach Hood’s game shops in Marble Falls and Kingsland.
“It’s a big community,” Hood said. “Most start doing it to play a game, get out of the house. Then, they get involved with the people, and, before you know it, you still love the game but you have this whole group of people who are now like family.”
Players are initially drawn to the fun and creativity involved in building a competitive deck. A booster pack of cards is just a few bucks and has the potential of being worth much more, depending on what cards are tucked away inside. Players keep the cards with the most power and trade others.
The creativity is in building a deck different from everyone else’s. Also, the game is constantly changing with new cards issued at least four times a year.
“I like to pick up things that aren’t the mainstream cards,” said James Schuff, 46, of Kingsland. “I like to surprise people with my combinations.”
Schuff, a former truck driver, carried a black canvas bag of cards with him on the road. He’s played across the United States and even keeps a deck of 5,000 cards in St. Louis, where he used to live.
Forty-seven-year-old Granite Shoals resident Floyd Harris, a US Marine, was at Hood’s pre-release party with his nephew, 21-year-old Michael Harris of Marble Falls, a newcomer to the game. Floyd got into Magic at the urging of fellow Marine and friend John Allen, 48, of Cottonwood Shores. Allen has been playing 22 years, almost since the game’s inception.
“It fills my need for competition,” Allen said. “I’m out of my age range to go out and play basketball anymore, but I can still flop cards and compete.”
All the players gathered for Magic cited camaraderie as a reason to keep building decks and coming to game nights. Others go beyond local contests on folding tables and collectible mats. Allen used to work the tournament circuit, competing in three-day MagicFests across the country. He even made a little money but never got beyond Day 2 play.
“These are national shows where the artists who create the decks come along with professional players,” Allen said. “Some of these tournaments pay out $100,000 to winners. They are even livestreamed on the internet.”
Allen never made a living at the game. Like Michael Harris, who attended a MagicFest in Dallas just the weekend before, it’s all about the fun.
“I didn’t go to win,” Harris said. “I went to have some fun and see how things work in the magic community.”
As a newcomer to the game, he is still building a deck and learning strategy, along with Brett Nicholson, 31, of Marble Falls. A general manager at Element 7 Concrete, Nicholson especially enjoys pre-release parties because it puts all the players on an even keel. No one has the advantage of expensive, powerful decks built over time. They are all new to the new cards.
About a week before pre-release parties, which happen about every three months, Hood holds an open house designed to help newcomers learn to play. The more experienced players come to teach and help build decks, often giving away cards, dice, and other paraphernalia.
“Zach has been a big help,” said Nicholson as another player helped him sort through his cards and plan strategy. “He showed me the challenge decks and the cheap options for building a deck. He showed me where to get better cards.”
Recently determined to be one of the most complicated games in the world, Magic is also simple at its core, according to Allen.
“You have 20 life, I have 20 life. We play our decks against each other and try to run each other out of life,” he said. “The closest I can compare it to is a combination of chess and poker from the strategy level. It’s an intellectual game — you don’t have to win to have fun.”
Magic the Gathering Game Nights are 7 p.m. Fridays at Hood’s Games N’ Things, 1814 US 281 in Marble Falls. Pre-release parties and open houses are held as announced.