‘Magic’ card game is hipster-nerd chic at Philly boardgame story

Walking into Redcap’s Corner on a recent Tuesday evening, a gaming emporium in Powelton Village, one enters a large industrial warehouse-style store full of the fantasy world. A couple of men linger in the back near tiny apocalyptic-looking miniature metal worlds constructed on fold-out tables, one in full punk rock attire eyeballing customers curiously as they walk through.

Up the large wooden stairs straight through the front doors is where the action is at. Walking inside, you can hear the buzz of excitement in the air. People are sitting at tables, all playing different games, all here for game night. Nerds galore fill the space of all colors, creeds and genderseven gender fluid. And no one is stand-offish or uninviting.

At tables marked with Magic: The Gathering (MTG) card logos, there is a table full of friendly faces and warm invites with three teams of two. There’s a guy and girl on each team and the banter seems jovial and light. They are eager to educate, but only after taking their turns first.

Magic is a trading card game created by Richard Garfield in 1993 and can be played by two or more players. 25 years later, the game boasts a hefty cult following of over 20 million players. There are two ways to play: constructed, where players create decks from the cards they own, and limited, where people build decks out of random cards. Every game is a battle between wizards or ‘planeswalkers’ who cast spells, use artifacts and lead creatures to defeat their enemies.

The point of the game is, “to kill everybody!” said Cindy Taylor from Port Richmond, rocking her Wolverine shirt and ponytail with a bow.

“It’s to get your opponent down to zero,” said Quinten Jones, from West Philly, still in his delivery work shirt.

Jones is quite the MTG guru, explaining that specific cards for spells or creatures have to match the symbol of the land embedded on the top right. Around us, he explains, a table full of white men with laptops and dice are playing Dungeons & Dragons Pathfinder. To the left, a table full of young black men with glasses are playing Vanguard. Sprinkled about are variations of just plain old boring board games too.

Trash talking quickly broke out, and the players were back to the game. One player groans that this game is going to take forever while another mocks players about throwing mercy swans at them. Large placemats like giant computer mousepads are where the cards are displayed while players talk amongst themselves. One passerby says too many people are playing, while others are loving the large group game.

“Magic is about politicking,” Jones observes. “Lots and lots of politicking.”

Right behind us, a new Magic table has taken shape with cards lovingly placed in plastic sleeves in what looks like red velvet. And with cards selling from $2 to hundreds, there’s a reason to keep your deck in mint condition.

“That’s a different kind of magic. There’s constructed magic, the deck you make yourself and draft where you pick from a different deck as you go,” said Kris Zwack, social media manager for Redcap’s Corner.

Twenty minutes into the game, Jones is showing off his cat beast card—Felidar Sovereign—a card that, if you have 40 or more points, automatically wins you the game. And just like that, it was over. Jones’ team won.

“I’m here almost every day,” said Jones. “I work at night so I’ve been coming here during the day since high school. It keeps me and my friends close. The only reason I went to Las Vegas was there was a Magic conference there. It’s definitely good for mental health, subtracting and adding.”

“There’s only one comic shop that runs Magic in Port Richmond, so we come here,” said Taylor.

Everyone seems eager to go join the new Magic gang taking shape, called a “cube.” What started as four people has grown to 12 and the team says that’s nothing, they’ve seen swarms of people come and that Tuesday’s are the lightest nights. People shimmy over to the long table and encourage cube leader Austin Herrick from University City to explain Magic.

“I’ve played since I was 8 or 9, taught by friends and I put the cube together five years ago,” Herrick said. “The cube draw is that it is free and a way to play with a variety of cards, designed to be the most fun for everyone.”

The distinction is that there is still a group of people playing all at the same time, but they are usually playing one on one, like a board game, he said. Monday, Wednesday and Thursday they play tournaments and it is packed.

“Traditionally nerdy hobbies can be male dominated,” said Herrick, “[but] this store has a good deal of women.”

Perhaps Redcap’s Corner might start offering a good, magical love potion themselves.

Making a comeback 

MTG was primarily popular among adolescents when it debuted in the’90s. But in recent years, millennials have been turning to cards and board games in droves, avoiding the eyestrain that comes from spending constant screen time on their phone, computer and recreationally when they play video games.

Nationwide, tournaments are popping up and attracting more and more players. Infamous ex-pharmaceutical CEO Martin Shkreli has been reportedly paying top dollar to buy rare cards. 

But from Settlers of Catan and Cards Against Humanity to classics like Candyland, Monopoly and Risk, board and paper games are all making a comeback. Hasbro Inc., the maker of Monopoly, has reported a revenue hikes for the past seven quarters straight, reporting a 43 percent increase in the games division in April 2017.

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