Fans of card game 'Magic' praise its depth, intricacies

So many people are eager to play the 14-year-old collectible card game “Magic: The Gathering,” that Magic expert Brandon Tomlinson soon will be looking for room to expand his business.

Tomlinson, 26, deals in all things Magic at his store, “The Wizard’s Library” on Broadway Avenue in Bellingham.One of the compelling aspects of the game for players such as Bellingham’s Richard Morganthaler, an art teacher in his 40s at Mount Vernon High School, is the opportunity for people of all ages to match luck and wits playing Magic. His collection includes many thousands of Magic cards.

Players are known as wizards, and they deal cards involving creatures and spells. (For details on game specifics, go to www.wizards.com.)

Question: You’ve both been playing Magic almost as long as the game has existed, right? How did this game become such a worldwide sensation?

Tomlinson: A doctoral student in math at the University of Pennsylvania named Richard Garfield started Magic in 1993 and it took off right away. He created the game for his thesis.

Morganthaler: Basically, he wanted to find a much shorter way to play Dungeons and Dragons. Magic games can last from less than five minutes to two or three hours. It’s become kind of a hobby for me, playing Magic and collecting the cards. I’m the faculty advisor at Mount Vernon High for the gaming club.

Q: Who plays Magic?

Morganthaler: Kids who play Magic are often very bright and very individualistic.

Q: Does it help to already be a trained card player?

Morganthaler: You don’t have to be. I play cribbage, chess, backgammon and Monopoly, so I guess I’ve always loved games.

Tomlinson: The idea behind Magic is to collect so many cards you can build an unlimited number of different decks for competition. Many players own thousands and thousands of Magic cards, and they buy new sets each time they appear every three months. Players either buy entire sets of 360 cards or (smaller) packs.

Q: So it’s a lot like baseball cards, except that Magic cards form the basis for a game of wits, right?

Tomlinson: More than 12,000 different Magic cards have been released and are listed on the official Magic Web site, with some cards in updated versions. I think I know every Magic card that has ever been produced.

Morganthaler: The rules are something like two pages, but the errata is like an encyclopedia. There are many planes of reality in Magic — with wizards, spells and creatures. You bring 60-card decks to most tournaments. There are times when some cards are banned. Certain forms of Magic tournaments allow certain kinds of decks. Magic is absolutely the best strategy card game since chess.

Tomlinson: It sounds really complicated, but once you learn how to play, it can come to you rather quickly. But Magic can be a ruthless game — it’s not for the weakminded. It’s extremely competitive. To build your own decks and win a big tournament is a lot more fun than going online to play. There are now professional Magic players who can win big money at tournaments. Hasbro, which owns the rights to Magic, has a program where kids can earn scholarship money.

Q: Considering the values of some of these cards, they seem quite collectible.

Tomlinson: Oh, they are. It’s just like baseball cards — there are a lot of commons in Magic, but also quite a few scarcer collectible cards. Only two known copies exist of one rare card from the first year of Magic’s existence. It’s called an “Alpha Black Lotus” and those cards are valued at more than $50,000.

Q: The condition of the cards must be important to collectors, so how do they play with them?

Tomlinson: They keep their cards in protective sleeves. This was the original collectible card game, and many others have emerged because of Magic.

Morganthaler: I keep my collection in many binders, so I know where I can find the cards I want to build decks with for games. I have 12 binders and each has about 1,000 cards, so I have about 12,000 cards. Of course, I try to have four of a kind when I get a card, so that is not 12,000 different cards. I certainly don’t have them all.

Q: Do many girls play Magic?

Tomlinson: Quite a few, though the ratio is still about 9 to 1 guys.

Q: Brandon, how did you get started in the card business?

Tomlinson: I’m a cook by trade, but I got in a car wreck in 2001 and hurt my back. Now I just can’t hang in the restaurant business. I started by leasing space for Magic with Rainout Sportscards (now in Ferndale) and then I got my own space downtown before I came to Broadway. Business has been going so well that I’ll be looking for a bigger place once my lease runs out at the end of the year.