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Strange Magic

Illustration Graham Roumieu

Rome

Late one night in Rome, Marijn Lybaert is fighting for his life. Down two games to one, he is low on mana and fending off a blistering attack from Great Sable Stags and Goblin Ruinblasters.

At stake: a prize of $45,000 and the title of World Champion of Magic: The Gathering, a role-playing card game that might be described as baseball card collecting meets Lord of the Rings. Camera crews eddy around his table—the game is being broadcast live to a packed convention hall mere steps away from the Roman Colosseum—as a pair of hushed announcers speculate as to Lybaert’s next move. His opponent plays a card (a Bloodbraid Elf!), and Lybaert blinks, stunned. After months of rigorous preparation, three harrowing days and 18 competitive matches in which the original 409 contenders were winnowed down to an elite eight, he’s out.

For many people, Magic cards are—along with Sailor Moon, EverQuest and Jolt Cola—part of a pantheon of departed 1990s adolescent geekery. But for an exclusive set of diehard fans around the world like Lybaert, they are central to a still vital subculture.

“I’ve made a lot of friends playing in Magic tournaments,” says the 24-year-old Belgian architecture student, who looks like a cross between Harry Potter and the Jonas Brothers. “People from Japan, Belgium, even the United States.” And though he concedes that he was too depressed to hang out with any of them after his loss, he’s philosophical about the experience. “I learn bits of strategy at every tournament I go to,” he says. At this gathering, though, it wasn’t any particular strategy that beat him. “When it comes down to it,” Lybaert says, “the other guy was just lucky with his card draws.” —MATT THOMPSON

4 Responses to “Strange Magic”

  1. James Says:
    February 2nd, 2010 at 8:57 am

    Wow, this article couldn’t be more ignorant if it tried. Magic is nothing like a role playing game. The best way to describe it is a cross between poker and chess. Magic players today are not some “die-hard remnant” but part of a $100 million+/year game with millions of active players internationally. If you aren’t going to bother doing any research don’t bother doing any writing.

  2. Matt Says:
    February 12th, 2010 at 1:35 pm

    What james said.

  3. Adam Says:
    February 13th, 2010 at 4:44 pm

    Ya this is the worst analysis I’ve ever seen of the game, you have no idea what you are talking about. Next time, save your self the time and embarrassment of even writing an article so asinine

  4. Bret Says:
    February 13th, 2010 at 8:34 pm

    This is an awful piece of writing. It almost seems like the author just graduated high school, where he played a defensive linemen on the football team, and now he just HATES nerds. What a “bunch of role playing-Harry Potter- Jonas Brothers- Sailor Moon- Everquest Losers!”

    Even the part about Lybaert, whom which you interviewed, is belittling. Sooo what was the point of this article?

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