Magic: The Gathering is filling player’s pockets with a different type of paper.
The tactical fantasy trading card game has seen a popularity boom in recent years, with growth of 20 percent in 2014 alone.
Ben Kline, store manager at Active Imagination, said in Albuquerque the game was an instant success with its first public release in 1993. More than 70 expansions later, new players are still joining in the fun.
“Magic wasn’t expected to be a continuously running game. It just evolved that way,” Kline said.
Magic creators Wizards of the Coast keep fans interested in gameplay by releasing new cards three times a year. It offers a way for players to change the way they play the game and also keeps players coming back for more.
Online Magic card vendors like cardkingdom.com have cards that range in price from 10 cents to more than $500, however, many casual players said they make their cards pay for themselves.
Jamison Wagner, a senior mechanical engineering major, said the initial cost of playing Magic is not extravagant, although it can become pricey. Wagner said he spent around $50 on Magic cards over the course of a year, but traded in an expensive card he didn’t need to cover the cost of other cards he did need.
He said he played collectable trading card games in the past, like Yu-Gi-Oh, but turned to Magic because it is more affordable.
“In Yu-Gi-Oh, the prices would fluctuate from $40 to $120 for a piece of (cardstock)—which is ridiculous, which is why I stopped playing. I’m not going to spend $500 dollars for a deck,” said Wagner.
In 2013, as people became more accepting of the game, pro Magic tournaments suddenly became more popular, said David Baca, a Level 1 judge of Magic: the Gathering at Active Imagination. Before that, there was a stigma for playing Magic professionally, he said.
Pro tour competitions for Magic are held four times a year around the globe. The second pro tour for 2015 will be held in Brussels, Belgium on April 10. The prize payout for each tour is $250,000 in cash prizes. First place winner will receive a $40,000 cash prize.
Robert Gonzalez, a professional Magic player, said he played Magic in Spain, Japan, Italy and Hawaii. Gonzalez said he spent about $5,000 on cards and sold them for $7,000.
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The thing about playing magic, Kline said, is that it is similar to the stock market: “get in low, get out high, to the best of your ability.”
David Lane, an avid Magic player, said he spent $2,000 on sealed Magic cards last year and that he also sees them as stocks.
“I know people that don’t play this game, but use it as a way to make money. (Cards) go for crazy, ridiculous prices when (they are) still sealed. It has that new card smell,” Lane said.
Lane said he justifies his spending because he can get three times the amount he spent when he sells his cards. At one point he was able to sell a deck for three months’ worth of rent.
“I have literally kept my life afloat on cards,” Lane said.
Not everyone sees a dollar sign around Magic, though.
Gwen Maitreya has been playing casually for about two years and has about five different decks. She hasn’t spent much money on cards because she knows so many players who simply share the extras they have accumulated.
Maitreya said she likes the fantasy aspect of the game as well as playing with others.
Kline said he agrees that Magic is a community-building game that brings friends together. Active Imagination has a room full of tables where players can build critical thinking skills and tactical language skills once they adapt to the jargon.
And for Gonzalez, the card game can be so much more.
“Magic has really been, like, my first girlfriend,” he said.
Imani Lambert is a freelance reporter for the Daily Lobo. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @DailyLobo.