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Magic the Gathering offers game that’s ‘chess with cards’

Dustin Taylor

By Dustin Taylor
Oct. 11, 2015 at 4 a.m.

Alison Mick, 3 months old, rests on the table as Steven Mick, Ryan Patterson, Justin Lowery and Keenan Wise play a game of Magic the Gathering on Wednesday at Three Suns Unlimited in Longview.

Since 1993, people have been battling each other with fantasy-based monsters and creatures through the card game known as Magic the Gathering.

"The game of Magic is chess with cards," said Randall Mick, who owns the Longview tabletop game store Three Suns Unlimited with his wife, Christine. Three Suns Unlimited is a game and hobby retail store that sells board games and trading card games, among other items. It's at 2147 Gilmer Road, Suite 100, in Longview.

The Micks run at least three Magic the Gathering tournaments each week at their store, and are preparing for Tyler Rose City Comic Con, set for Oct. 23-25, where they plan to have a booth and offer a Magic tournament.

How it works

In Magic, the players are wizards known as planeswalkers who combat each other, according to Wizards of the Coast, the makers of the trading card game. The cards that are used to build a deck contain spells and creatures that are used to battle opponents.

Magic typically pits two players against each other to see who has the better deck, as well as the better hand.

As Michael Smith points out, a professional player can be beaten by an amateur if the professional has a bad hand.

"(They can) just draw garbage hands, can't answer nothing," said Smith, a regular customer at Three Suns. "You're just like, throw your hands up, shrug your shoulders, 'Here we go.'"

To build a deck, players must have a minimum of 60 cards. At the start of the game, each player draws seven cards from the top of their deck. The players take turns setting cards and attacking, then ending their turn and letting their opponent make their move. During their turn, the player draws one fresh card from the top of their deck.

The primary way to defeat the opponent is to get their health points to zero. Each player starts off each game with 20 health points. There are various other ways a player can lose, such as having no more cards to draw from their deck when it is their time to draw.

Beyond basic gameplay

Understanding the flow of gameplay is just one facet of the game.

"You can basically classify everything by three archetypes: fast, medium pace and slow," Smith said. "So choosing a deck style, play style is another aspect of the game that a beginner would need to know."

Mana, which is required to cast spells and only can be placed once per turn, is essential if a player wants to make use of any spell cards. There are five different types of mana, each with its own color.

"Choosing your colors kinda means you choose your specialty — red, burn; white, life gain; blue, control; black, death/destruction; green, growth. Now choosing that, along with the archetype, you're starting to get in the beginner steps," Smith said.

"'Do I want to play with big, giant creatures that I can make really big with green? Do I want to ignore everything on the battlefield and go straight for the opponent's life total with red? Do I want to sit back and just counter everything that has to do with what they're trying to do, with blue, and just get a lot of mana and put one big thing out and protect it and win the game?'"

There are guides online that can teach the rules of Magic, but the best way to learn is to learn in person, Smith said.

"Hands on, actually playing is going to be the best way for anybody (to learn), and they can do that by coming up (to Three Suns)," Smith said. "Magic is not something easy to write about. How do you write about something that is visual, because literally everything you do is with cards, and you read them? It's such a visual game that it's hard to put into words."

Both Mick and Smith say people interested in learning how to play Magic are welcome to come and learn at the store.

"Anybody that wants to come up here and learn can ask almost anyone up here," Smith said. "It's very friendly. It's a very family-friendly place. If they feel left out, all they gotta do is come up and say, 'Hey, I don't know how to play Magic. Can I learn?' Most people will say, 'Grab a seat.' (That's) why I love this place."

Competitive gaming

Magic features thousands of unique cards and tournaments take place all over the world.

Star City Games, the self-proclaimed world's largest Magic store, awards more than $1 million a year to competitors during its organized events, according to its website.

Depending on where a player lives, he or she could take part in a tournament every day, said Smith, noting that it's more difficult to find places to play in this area, but easier up north.

"We run tournaments at least three times a week. ... Our biggest nights are Friday nights — what we call Friday Night Magic," Mick said. "That's what Magic players live for. We hold two of those every Friday. Bigger events ... we try to hold a big event at least once a month."

Smith said he enjoys going to Three Suns, and he said he often visits during his lunch breaks to chat while eating.

"(Three Suns is) doing amazing," Smith said. "There's stores all around them that are fading into nonexistence, but they're ... holding in there. They're putting on bigger and bigger stuff. They're gonna need a bigger store soon, and I hope that's what happens."

Three Suns will have a booth at the upcoming Tyler Rose City Comic Con. It will play host to various events Friday and host a Magic the Gathering Preliminary Pro Tour Qualifier on Saturday, with Invitational Qualifier Prizing, which sees the first place winner walking away with $250. Registration will start at 10 a.m. Saturday, with the tournament starting at 11 a.m.

How long the tournament lasts depends on the number of participants, according to Mick, who added it possibly could last seven hours. Along with the money, the winner will receive an invitation for the next level of the pro tour circuit.

For more information on Three Suns Unlimited, go to threesunsunlimited.com. For more information on the Tyler Rose City Comic Con, go to toursoftyler.com.

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