Magic The Gathering EXPOSED
Magic the Gathering Draft tournament exposed
Many of you have heard of the game Magic the Gathering but did you know about the underground gaming circuit associated with the card game. Magic the Gathering is one of the original card playing games set in a medieval fantasy world that pits wizards and monsters against one another for the glory of champion. It’s gained a substantial following as well as a reputation as a gambling vise aimed at attracting clients by means of addictive attributes. I wanted to experience this underground ring for myself so I attended a Magic the Gathering Draft night at a local game store.
The first thing that I noticed was the stale and moist air when entering the store. A murmur of voices drew my attention to a crowd of 62 people packed at tables at the back of the store. The only female was the owner and the rest were kids to men aged 10 to 48. On the wall was the official Magic the Gathering calendar posting all tournaments for the month, one for every day of the week.
I signed up for the draft along with 15 others and I got an official registry card as I was new to the tournament. Several people at the tables were organizing their cards from various other card games. There was a Yu-Gi-Yo tournament going on as well, of which most of the younger crowd was apart of. All the older players were part of the Magic tournament. The one thing that stood out was that this was a different crowd. It wasn’t your club going crowd or socially popular crowd rather several had social stigmas. Some were obese and others were socially awkward. It wasn’t the “in crowd” and you got a sense that the tournament was a refuge for undesirables.
After a delay the tournament began. We were seated 8 on each table and distributed 3 packs of cards each. Opening one pack at a time you would select your favorite card and pass the rest to the player on the left. This would continue until there were no more cards and then you would proceed to open the next pack of cards, and then the final pack. I was fortunate to find a masterpiece card worth $30 but due to my inexperience I gave up a rare card worth $16. The strategy to picking the cards is to collect all the cards of one or two colors of which you want to pick the most powerful. What I didn’t realize was that if you find a valuable card you take it just because it’s valuable even though you might not necessarily need it when playing.
Once you’ve collected 30 cards its time to make your 40 card playing deck. Some players laid out their cards on the table to organize them while others kept them hidden. Then almost simultaneously the plastic sleeves came out. Everyone except for myself had plastic sleeves that they slipped each card into. Most had these plastic sleeves with them stored in the suite cases they used to store their cards.
My deck was red and black consisting of 23 spells and monsters, and 17 manna. Unfortunately no logic went into the choices I selected. Once the announcement went out that everyone was ready the names on the LCD screen appeared showing who was playing whom. As the timer began my opponent quickly found me and suggested that we play at the back table.
What commenced was a quick 2 game slaughter. My opponent played his cards without reading the text on the cards as he’d memorized them. The strange thing was that this was a new series that came out only a week ago. He didn’t talk much and always looked over his shoulders. After winning he reported the victory to the curator then offered to rearrange my deck for another free game. To my surprise I won this game easily as he let me win.
In order to sustain the excitement of the tournament the curator hands out prizes randomly during game play. Special cards are given randomly to players as instructed by the computer program. The younger players usually get the perks as well as the newer players.
There are 4 matches in total for the night but when I looked for my name for the second match on the screen it wasn’t there. I went to the curator to inquire and he said I had a “bye” meaning I sat out this round and got an automatic win. I would have rather played someone but accepted the ruling and sat at a table studying my cards. The curator consequently came by and offered me assistance which I gladly accepted. He was very friendly and helpful as he showed me the ins and outs of the game in a matter of a short time. He created the most formidable deck from my cards by utilizing the arch technique and even showed me how to play several hands. He was genuine and extremely helpful possibly because he wasn’t competing.
I was confident for my second match and my opponent didn’t know what hit him. These guys were all business and with the acceptation of a few mistakes I easily routed him in 2 games (best out of 3). I managed to eliminate him with only 5 manna on my side of the table. My little beginner mistakes then began to agitate him. The games went so quickly that He didn’t have the opportunity to play his better cards. At one point he became abrupt and raised his voice. At the end of the game he got up and left without playing the final round.
Technically I was 2–1 going into the final round with a chance to end up in the winners circle. My last opponent was eccentric and extroverted. We started the game with a firm handshake and he didn’t even bother to cut my cards knowing I was easy prey. His friendly demeanor quickly changed once I won the first game easily with 22–0 points in a timely fashion. My mistake was getting up from the table to get my coat as when I returned for the second round my opponent had completely different cards that easily dealt with my red and black deck.
At least his friendly and bubbly personality returned.
The next 2 games were a wash as I lost 2 straight. At certain points of the game my opponent gave me opportunities to cheat which I did not take. I even pointed out that he was giving me an unfair advantage.
The tournament ended late and we were the last to leave the store. After opening the packs that everyone had won I said my goodbyes with several insisting I return next week.
The next day I activated my registered account online and found that I had collected 7 points for the night. Points are used to rank players from around the world and to enroll players into Grand Prix tournaments. 2300 points or more automatically qualifies you for a Grand Prix tournament held at large conventions. The prizes at the Grand Prix are serious as thousands of participants compete in several different games of Magic.
Piecing together the events of the night you quickly realize it’s an all ages gambling ring that falls under a grey area of the gambling code. The majority of players are committed gamblers spending thousands of dollars to acquire the best cards in order to win. Several cards are worth several thousands of dollars including the most prized card, the Black Lotus, worth roughly $6500US.
Prizes are doled out in such a way as to avoid finger pointing. Wizard’s take on it is that it’s only a game but anyone who has invested a thousand dollars into the cards would tell you otherwise.
In order to get you hooked on playing, Wizard offers several free samples throughout the tournament and in the store to maintain the excitement of the game. Your first entry for the tournament costs $14 and drops to $10 if you attend consecutive weeks.
Grand Prix tournaments are not widely promoted to maintain there amenity. Prizes are handed out during the beginning of the tournament to avoid breaking gambling laws. It’s all carefully orchestrated because the wrong exposure would surely send the stack of cards tumbling.
The fact is it’s a serious gambling game with high stakes and beginners can expect to get blind sided. Given the opportunity to cheat, veteran players often do as there is a common understanding among them that cheating is the norm. Anyone who doesn’t cheat fares little chance of winning or collecting precious points.
During my experience I realized my first opponent had played his deck before and brought it with him prior to the tournament. Once organizing his cards he swapped in his favorable deck in what is known as staging. When he realized that I was a beginner playing against his staged deck, he let me win the free game to dispel any notion of cheating.
My final opponent although friendly wasn’t immune to the cheating bug. What I realized was that he was trying to appease his conscious to justify him cheating against a beginner by letting me cheat.
You have to understand that these players don’t know any better and cheating is a slippery slope when you’re committed to the racket for a long time. The slight of hand wins the day as there are no reprisals for being caught red handed. Rather Wizard has tried to hide the ugly side of the game as to not shut the door on potential customers.
Overall I recommend the experience once for anyone. I had a good time and even though I didn’t place in the winner’s circle I did win perks which kept me engaged. It was a fun night with fun people and the game itself is enjoyable to play. If you neglect the ugly side of the game, you will find yourself having a good time.