'Magic' Game Day at the Dragon's Lair

"Well, I wouldn't exactly call it a sport," Brian Melcher (events coordinator at the Dragon's Lair) told me Saturday, July 14, when I approached him about doing a write-up on the Magic tournament going on in the Lair's lair. Saturday was a historic day in the realm of Magic: The Gathering, for it was on this day that Wizards of the Coast organized the inaugural Magic Game Day, a daylong event hosted in comic-book stores, gaming stores, and hobby shops around the city, state, country, continent, world, universe, galaxy, to infinity. Other Austin stores that participated in the event were Battleforge Games, Pat's Games, and Thor's Hammer.

Though advertisements for the event emphasized game demos, contests, prizes, promo cards, and a chance to win plane tickets to New York City to attend the upcoming Magic World Championships(!), in reality Magic Game Day was simply a day to play the new Magic: The Gathering Tenth Edition Core Set and Magic: The Gathering Tenth Edition Starter Deck. The beauty, of course, lied in the unity of the event - wizards gathering together the world over, joined only by their love for fantasy trading cards, spells, drawings of busty sorceresses, and T-shirts that read: "What color do you want me to beat you with today?"

Melcher seemed to be a bit frazzled by the day's events. "We're filled to the gills today," he said. Indeed the Lair's back room, which hosts regular gaming events, was teeming with a wee portion of Austin's recreational wizards. Apparently 32 showed up at the commencement of the tournament at 11am. The group whittled down to 29 during the course of several hours and five rounds. Many of the wizards appeared to take their pleasure with a high dose of business. Sure, laughter buzzed about the tables, while players consumed sweet, processed treats and cans of high-fructose-corn-syrup-infused beverages, but among the middle schoolers, teens, twentysomethings, and one or two middle-agers, energy was conserved solely for strategizing, attacking, blocking, and, in the end, winning.

With all this talk about prizes, I wondered about the grand prize. I asked one player, who looked to be about middle-school age. "I don't know," he said dryly. It was also pretty evident that he didn't care, which was fortunate for him, as the grand prize turned out to be a backpack - and a $15 walking advertisement to boot.

It wasn't quite the Earth-combusting affair I had been expecting. The promised scavenger hunt was simply an opportunity for Magicians to show off their impressive (or at least massive) collections of gaming paraphernalia. Scavenger-hunt participants had to gather as many of the 30 Magic-related items listed on the Wizards of the Coast website. The proud winner of the contest was the only participant, Tyler Hare. Though, he probably would have won anyhow: Hare produced the Arabian Nights Fishliver Oil card, a Magic rule book with Bog Wraith on the cover, a Revised Starter Pack deck box, a Giant Growth card illustrated by Sandra Everingham, Duelist Issue No. 1, an Onslaught Festering Goblin card, five different Friday Night Magic cards, and plenty more. He, of course, won a backpack.

Melcher kept insisting that surely Hare was the geekiest among the group. To me, however, he didn't seem any geekier than the boys, men, and woman using up a full Saturday in order to taste the satisfaction of stumping an opponent with a Konda's Banner, a Vitalizing Cascade, or a Wordmail ("Suck on it, Stangg!"). I find it slightly unsettling for ardent fans of role-playing games; certain card games, whose main objective is not money; chess; etc., to feel obligated to identify themselves first and foremost as geeks, nerds, dorks, or losers. To participate in Magic Game Day, players had to pay a $25 entrance fee, which earned them cards from the new Tenth Edition game. Why spend your money and energy trying to do your best at a tournament you've been anxiously anticipating only to be repeatedly labeled a geek by your peers, in a supposed safe haven far removed from all the normos of the world who assert the social acceptance of inebriation over sober forms of stimulation?

But even more unsettling was the paragraph I read in the press release previewing Saturday's worldwide tournament: "The popularity of formerly 'uncool' icons has dramatically increased with their introduction into pop culture. The success of recent box office hits Superman, Spider-Man, Transformers and Harry Potter are evidence that geek is the new chic. Now, more than ever, wizards, Magic and the Napoleon Dynamites of the world are cool." So what is this mixed message? If you regularly worry about your social status but have always wanted to do things like play Magic or read a comic book, you can because the historically "cool" medium of cinema has magically deemed these geeky practices suddenly nongeeky? Well, now there's a bunch of horseshit! So the geeks tell you to play their games because it's OK to be a geek, and the chics tell you you can play geeky games because they are not geeky any longer. I say, "What color do you want me to beat you with today?"

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