JOPLIN, Mo. —
By Joe Hadsall
Clinton Cowen chalks up his renewed interest in Magic: The Gathering to peer pressure.
The Joplin resident played the game and collected cards avidly from a year after the game's debut in 1993 to about 2000. But lately, he's found himself buying booster packs again.
"What cemented it for me was the latest expansion's return to Ravinca, which was the last expansion before I got out," Cowen said. "I had some of those cards, and a lot of my friends still play."
Cowen is one of an estimated 12 million Magic players around the world, according to a press release from Wizards of the Coast, the company that develops the game. Starter sets and booster packs featuring the game's cards can be found in small game stores and large retailers such as Wal-mart and Target. An online version of the game also exists, where players can instantly build decks and compete against players around the world.
The game turns 20 years old next week on Aug. 5. Already the company has recognized its 20th anniversary with a series of promotional events and a new core set.
It has also become an economic engine, generating continuous sales and new players steadily since its creation. Just like baseball cards, out-of-print cards pull big bucks from collectors.
"I'd say 35 to 40 percent," said Jason Hurley, co-owner of Hurley's Heroes, about how much of the store's profits come from the game. "It was the first real collectible card game. Others have come and gone, but Magic never faded."
Believing in Magic
Magic made history by becoming the first collectible trading card game. Set around the idea of players being wizards, the cards become spells that each cast in order to defeat each other. The game was created by Richard Garfield, a mathematician and game designer who designed his first game at 13 years old.
The cards can be creatures, enchantments or any number of surprises, meaning that each game could play out like a cardstock version of the battle between Dumbledore and Voldemore in "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix."
But instead of playing cards instantly into a discard pile such as Crazy Eights, cards stay on the table like Rummy, and continue to affect gameplay. And instead of a deck of 52 cards with aces and eights, Magic has thousands upon thousands of cards available for players to use.
In another innovation to card gaming that Magic created, certain cards can be "tapped" in order to be used. That means a player has to account for what the other players cards could do.
The pool of cards and the different ways they can be used together make a compelling gameplay experience, Cowen said.
"It's infinitely and varyingly challenging," Cowen said. "No two games are ever the same. It's just as challenging as chess, only more exciting."
Some of the card's spells are more powerful than others, so players can build decks based around the cards they want to use. This deck-building aspect is one of the signature applications of the game.
In order to keep the game fresh, Wizards of the Coast releases new expansions regularly, sometimes three a year. Each expansion adds new cards to the pool that players can use.
The expansions are also based on fantasy elements, flavored with fictional characters and settings. It features a mix of role-playing game elements (similar to Dungeons & Dragons) with the instant, out-of-box action of a board game.
"Basically in the '90s, it replaced role-playing games for us," Cowen said.
The greatest key to the game's success is the social aspect, Hurley said. In addition to designing the game, Garfield and Wizards of the Coast developed a tournament structure that can be used by any group of people who want to play.
That structure allows for formal and informal play sessions, Hurley said. His store has a list of more than 150 registered players.
"It's a social game. You have to get out and meet new people in order to play," Hurley said. "There's no substitute for that online. People want to get out in the world and play with real people."
It's easy to find a Magic game in the Joplin area. Regular tournaments are held at places such as Hurley's Heroes, Changing Hands Book Shoppe and Vintage Stock in Joplin and The Game Shoppe in Pittsburg, Kan. Each of those stores offer regular weekly play sessions, attended by players of all ages.
And because Wizards of the Coast is a recent subsidiary of Hasbro, the game could last for another 20 years, unlike many other games before and after it.
"At this point, I don't think the game will ever die," Hurley said. "It has such a good business model, and it adapts to new trends."
Want to play?
Some participating stores will take part in "Magic Celebration" on Sept. 7. It's a day where players can play for free.
Until then, there are regular play sessions available at several area stores. Call for times:
- Tuesday and Friday nights at Hurley's Heroes Comics and Games, 824 S. Main in Joplin. Details: 417-782-6642.
- Wednesday and Friday nights at Changing Hands Book Shoppe, 528 S. Virginia Ave. Details: 417-623-6699. Call for more information about Saturday tournaments.
- Every Sunday at Vintage Stock, 101 N. Range Line Road. Details: 417-206-3530.
- Every Friday at Game Shoppe, 913 N. Broadway in Pittsburg, Kan. Details: 620-875-1259.