Magic Man

Hugh Moore wants to turn a kids' fantasy game into a career -- he and about 50,000 rivals.

Hugh Moore is moments away from slaughtering the guy sitting across from him — a spry old fellow named Arthur with a Santa Claus beard, white braided ponytail, and crooked bicuspids peeking through weathered and fuzzy lips. The men have been locked in a mortal duel for the past fifteen minutes.

In a desperate ploy for survival, Arthur sacrifices what’s left of his goblin army by strapping explosives to their backs and sending them into the fray. These suicide bombers meet a tangle of heavily armed dwarves who throw themselves atop the explosions. Hugh shrugs and looks down at his cards. His turn.

But both players know it’s over. Arthur’s goblin bodyguards are dead and Hugh’s remaining dwarves are poised to deliver the final blow. Arthur reaches out and sweeps his colorful cards into a jumbled mess. The men shake, and Hugh smiles. “Good game,” he tells Santa.

Their game — Magic: The Gathering — has been called “children’s heroin,” and for good reason. It is wildly addictive, and its collectible cards are known to suck up allowances faster than smack. But it can suck up adult paychecks with equal efficiency, and although the fantasy game is often passed off as a kids’ activity because of the childlike imagination required of its players, it manages to lure in scores of thirtysomething dungeon crawlers and lone nerds.

This is their clubhouse. Every so often, people peer through the window of EndGame, the Oakland card-and-collectibles store where Hugh comes to play in a friendly mini-tournament every Thursday. Inside, more than a dozen duelists face one another, slapping cards onto one of the store’s three long tables with little “thips” that echo off colorful science fiction and fantasy posters covering the walls. Thip. A Clockwork Dragon is born. Thip. A bolt of lightning sears across the table and strikes a many-toothed Atog. Thip. A Serra Angel is devoured by a Sengir Vampire. The onlookers tilt their heads for a better view, their breath fogging the store windows on this cold November evening. Some chuckle and point, recognizing the cards and mocking these adults for their immature pastime. The players, all but one of them men, don’t even look up. This is their passion, and what are a few feeble taunts to an armed and powerful wizard?

Hugh looks boyish, but actually he’s 35, and takes this shit very seriously. From nine to five he works at LucasArts in San Rafael testing video games, and every Thursday night he braves the Richmond Bridge and snarled I-80 traffic to come to EndGame, where he can find the most seasoned and well-mannered duels in the Bay Area. Unlike other East Bay card-and-game shops, this isn’t a children’s hangout. “I used to go to the Collectors Corner on Piedmont,” he says, “but it’s filled with little kids and they get to be annoying.”

His quiet demeanor and subtle mannerisms belie a competitive spirit that may come in handy in his future career: Hugh Moore wants to go pro, to play this game for a living. If he does manage to beat out the hordes of hopefuls vying to compete on the pro circuit, he’ll have a shot at touring the globe and pulling down $70,000 or more per year doing what he loves most. That’s if he dominates. If he flails, he could find himself paying for plane tickets and hotel rooms without any prize money to compensate, and spending night after night of frustration and disappointment in the world’s finest cities.

Hugh is no dilettante. Apart from work, and the occasional bike ride or trip up Route 1, Magic is all he does. But to make the jump to pro, he’ll have to beat out a virtual army of other gamers who share his obsessive nature, as well as his career goal.

To maintain pro status, he’ll have to consistently kick ass at Pro Tour events — and to qualify in the first place, he has to win a regional Grand Prix. He’ll get a shot at that just two days hence at a Mountain View card shop, once again in January, and finally, at a big-time Grand Prix slated for February 7 and 8 at the downtown Oakland Marriott and Convention Center. This one will be a bigger tournament than usual, with $25,000 in prizes and qualifiers for a May Pro Tour stop in San Diego. With that kind of money and glory at stake, all the local geeks will be coming out of their holes.


Until he qualifies, Hugh can be found here at EndGame, shuffling and dealing his decks of doom, leisurely beating his casual gaming pals into submission. To the uninitiated, all of these players would seem to have vast knowledge. But any hard-core devotee of the world’s most profitable and popular collectible card game would quickly recognize that only one guy here is pro caliber.

The Thursday night duelists often seek, and heed, his advice. “You don’t think I should use the Tel-Jilad Ranger?” one asks. “No way,” Hugh responds. “He’s a four casting cost; he’s too expensive and not tough enough. I like the Spinecrusher.”

Hugh certainly doesn’t look like a badass contender; more like a timid private-school boy. His brown hair is evenly cut around his head, just shy of a bowl shape. His top lip never moves, and you have to struggle to get a glimpse of his shiny white uppers even when he smiles. The tangled dark hair covering his arms is the only physical feature that betrays his otherwise youthful exterior. On weeknights he’s Mr. Corporate, wearing his work uniform of dress shirt and khakis as he deals his cards. But on weekends, you’ll more likely find him in baggy, black, pocket-covered JNCOs and T-shirts with liberal slogans, looking like a teenager but dueling like a veteran.

That’s what a game of Magic is called: a duel. It’s basically a showdown between two wizards, each wielding a library, a deck of around sixty cards put together from his collection. Players shuffle their libraries and deal themselves seven cards, which they must use to extinguish their opponent’s twenty life points.

The cards can be divided into four basic categories: Summon Spells, Land, Artifacts, and everything else. Most of the damage is done with Summon Spells, which beckon fictitious creatures to fight for their masters. But these mercenaries must be paid for with “mana.” Players typically get one mana for each Land card they’ve laid on the table, something they can do only once per turn. So your Plated Slagwurm, which costs seven mana to summon, will likely remain useless in your hand until turn seven — intolerable in a tournament situation where games are often over by turn five.

There are almost seven thousand unique Magic cards in circulation, and some give their owners so much power that they’ve been banned from play. Only about six hundred are in print at any given time, making for a spectacular secondary market where the trade and sale of cards is something like that of an Arabian bazaar. Traders speak in hushed tones about mythical cards of obscene power, rare artifacts that can destroy worlds, and vicious creatures of spectacular size and strength.

EndGame is a good place to play, but not a popular place to trade. Situated at the end of a row of swanky shops on Lakeshore Avenue, it’s too chic and upscale to attract the grubby collector types who house their wares in voluminous three-ring binders. The store is divided into two rooms. One is the retail space, filled with colorful books, foil-wrapped trading cards, polyhedral neon dice, and games of all varieties. The other is the battle room, which despite the game’s violent nature is rarely tense.

There’s a spirit of mutual improvement and education here on Magic night. A few of the players travel around as sanctioned judges for the DCI (formerly known as Duelists’ Convocation International, the official tournament league), presiding over matches and issuing edicts on questionable rules. Hugh’s white-haired opponent, Arthur, is one of them. Between duels, he boisterously discusses a New Orleans tournament he judged last year: “There were a bunch of Goblin decks, but in the end, all that were left were seven blue Tinker decks and a Psychatog deck.”

Everyone here knows these decks well. In Magic, your deck dictates your strategy. It can be “fast” or “slow” depending on how quickly it can get its owner’s cards onto the table and take out an opponent. Some are built to attack, others to control an opponent’s deck, and still others to lay the path for a single, fatal card. But even the best design is vulnerable to the mandatory shuffle that precedes every duel. Most players nevertheless rely on proven deck recipes that can be found on the Internet. Like any decent cook, they usually tweak those recipes a bit, but few are willing or able to build an effective deck from scratch.

Not Hugh. He’s constantly tinkering with new decks of his own creation. This ability is aided by his prodigious knowledge: Hugh claims to have memorized every card released since he began playing in 1996, plus more than a few older ones. He has learned them simply by playing — a lot. He won’t even venture to guess how much he has spent on his Magic addiction over the years. At bare-bones minimum, his collection of fifteen thousand cards would have cost $3,000 to build. But the total is undoubtedly higher, since Hugh holds plenty of unusual cards. Opponents often have to reach across the table to read the tiny lines of text for a reminder of what his spells can accomplish.

He also plays a good mind game. When the 35-year-old sits down with an opponent, he maintains the body language of a seasoned poker player. Most duelists fiddle with their cards between turns, but Hugh sits perfectly still, elbows at his sides, cards held tightly in both hands and positioned in front of him. His steely, blue-eyed gaze is unnerving, disconcerting.


Chess was Hugh’s first competitive game. His father taught him to play at an early age, and in junior high school Hugh started and ran the chess club. This continued into his high school years, and he played in tournaments until he graduated. “My dad brought me up on chess. I even worked at Mindscape for a while on the Chessmaster project,” he says. “I learned about attacking and pressing your opponent. But I never got a rush from playing chess.”

All of the other EndGame regulars have been playing fantasy games for decades, cutting their teeth on the likes of Dungeons & Dragons and Warhammer. Most of them jumped on the Magic bandwagon in the early ’90s when the game was released by a Renton, Washington-based company called Wizards of the Coast, WotC for short.

Hugh didn’t enter this fantasy world until 1996, when some classmates at Carnegie Mellon University told him about it. (He later dropped out with a pal to start a game company that ultimately fizzled.) At first, Hugh wasn’t interested in Magic. He couldn’t afford the cards, and to him it all sounded like a gimmick — the game is sometimes referred to as “Wallet: The Emptying.” Then a friend of his, Erik Lauer — who eventually wound up on the pro tour — insisted Hugh give it a try. The story is as old as addiction itself: One junkie enters; two junkies leave.

After playing for just a few weeks, Hugh trusted his innate gaming skills to guide him through a tournament. “I got stomped,” he recalls. “I didn’t know anything.” Eight years later, and Hugh still hasn’t won a tournament. But he rarely gets stomped, and with each try, moves closer to the top of the heap.


On a blustery Saturday, Hugh heads down to Mountain View for the big event. In a strip mall just off San Antonio Road, just outside the back entrance of a Sears, where they sell the hardware and air hockey tables, stands a large black shop stall ringed with brightly colored banners, shiny pewter miniatures, and arcade games. This is Match Play, the Bay Area’s mecca for Magic: The Gathering. The banners on the wall represent prerelease tournaments — events hosted by Wizards of the Coast to promote new cards ahead of their actual release dates. The banners date all the way back to 1997. This is sacred ground, steeped in tradition.

Inside the store, merchandise displays have been shunted to the side, clumsily stacked high to make room for twenty-plus cafeteria tables that are lined up end to end on the black carpeting. Behind the long glass counter, piles of empty boxes, old fast-food bags, coats, and candy wrappers lie untouched by a plump young clerk with frosted, spiked hair, who seems to have sold his personality to pay for an Everquest subscription.

The place reeks of teenage nerdlings — 150 duelists, and not a vagina in the place. Girlfriends? Right. Even if these guys did have girlfriends, you can bet they wouldn’t be caught dead in here, where the air is so thick with the smell of Cheetos and perspiration that Sears customers walking past the doorway occasionally cough and cover their faces.

Hugh actually does have a girlfriend. She lives in San Mateo, which isn’t that far from here, but she hasn’t come to cheer for her fantasy man. “There was a time when we were going to learn [Magic] together,” he recalls. “We thought it would bring us closer. But that didn’t last very long. She was bored to tears.”

He understands why any women would shun this place. “Sometimes girls show up to play,” he says, “but these kids have no manners. I’ve seen them sit down to play girls in the tournaments and some of the kids will say right to their faces, ‘Oh, yeah, a girl, easy win!’ You just want to smack them.”

The day begins at 10 a.m. This is what’s known as a sealed-deck tournament: Hugh and his rivals pay a $20 entry fee, and receive seventy random cards from which to build a forty-card deck. Initially, they will play seven matches, each match the best of three duels. After that, the field narrows to eight players. This is a DCI-sanctioned duel. The winner takes home $500 and, better yet, an invitation to play in the world championships in Amsterdam, where top contenders compete for $200,000 in prizes, including a $30,000 grand prize. Each season, according to the Wizards of the Coast, more than $1 million in cash is doled out to the top tournament finishers worldwide.

Each match is limited to fifty minutes — a large LED clock ticks away the seconds in the back of the room. Every hour, a judge posts standings and scores on a bright-red Coke machine at the front of the store, where a hundred nerds crane their necks and size up the competition. “Generally, you can lose one round and still make top eight,” Hugh explains. “That’s just the way Magic is. Sometimes you don’t draw the cards.”

Indeed, Hugh loses his first round, but it’s the last time he will lose until evening. He bests Phong, a friend and tough competitor; then Dustin, a pimply teen wearing a silver necklace and black everything else — hat, pants, shoes, and a T-shirt that reads “Every time you masturbate, god kills a kitten.” But Mr. Black never risks an attack, and does himself in through indecision. “In Magic, players can sit there and cast creatures and spells, but at some point, you have to attack,” Hugh says during a break between rounds. To illustrate, he stiffens his body, mustering tension and power, then flexes every muscle as he leans over an empty display case toward an unseen opponent. He growls low for a moment, completely changing his demeanor. Suddenly he’s eight feet taller, six hundred pounds heavier, seething with fury. Then he’s plain old Hugh again: mild-mannered, soft-spoken, blue eyes as deep as the Marianas Trench. “You have to go for the throat,” he concludes quietly, “and at the same time you do that, you’re leaving yourself open, vulnerable. But it’s that attacking that makes it exciting.”

The next two rounds progress, and Hugh is clearly getting off on the adrenaline, his hands shaking slightly. For a brief moment Match Play is almost silent as he and scores of others slap down their cards — thip, thip, thip — creating a cumulative roar, like a hundred tiny soldiers exchanging small-arms fire.

Hugh wins the rest of his preliminaries, earning a spot in the top eight, and a break in which to eat, stretch, and relax. He tosses his green backpack on a table next to his friend Chapman, revealing its sole contents: a couple dozen fast-energy bars. Chapman, who insists on a pseudonym, is busy looking through binders of cards and talking shop with three traders. He’s Hugh’s agent: When Hugh wants to build a tournament deck, he asks Chapman to get the cards he needs. Chapman doesn’t play the game anymore, just trades and sells. Last January, he made $1,600 when he found an unopened box of cards, vintage 1993. “That’s the most I’ve ever made,” he says. “I found the box at a yard sale in Northern California. Real lucky …” His attention turns to a fellow trader: “Do you need an Iff-Biff Efreet?”

Magic players have their own language, their way of talking about the game, which can be as arcane as computer jargon. Says Chapman: “If you walk into a room of Magic players, you can hear snippets of conversation that no one would ever understand.”

One such conversation is going on behind him. A salt-and-pepper-bearded man with palsy and horrible BO is discussing a duel with a teenage boy who is easily a yard and a half wide: “So I cast a Tim, forked him, and had two of the bastards. Next turn I poked him, Twiddled them twice each, and so it was up to four. I was going to use my Merfolk and islandwalk him to death, but he power-sinked my sunken city and binding-grasped one of my Tims. Then he poked me to death!”

Hugh and the other seven finalists sit down around a table in the rear of the store. This is the draft: The players take turns, choosing one card at a time from fresh packs that have been dealt face-up on the tabletop. It takes an hour, and when it’s over, Hugh looks worried. “I had an okay draft, but there are two way broken decks out there. They’re just sick. I don’t know if I can compete.”

Hugh’s first opponent is no match for him. He was asleep at the wheel during the draft, and can’t compete with Hugh’s methodical design, which shuns powerful single cards for greater numbers of smaller, more useful ones.

But for all his scheming, Hugh is destroyed in his second match. When his opponent casts a Troll Acetic and a Molder Slug, Hugh finds his life spiraling toward zero. He loses in two straight and is eliminated. The prize for fourth place? A sealed box of 36 unopened booster packs of Mirrodin, the most recent extension of the game, street value $85. He tucks the shrink-wrapped silver box under his arm and heads out into the drizzly night.

The scraWny geeks who would eventually become Magic professionals began descending on America’s dusty card shops toward the end of 1993. Their presence transformed these onetime bastions of sporting enthusiasm into hangouts more akin to comic-book stores. This new breed of collector wasn’t simply popping in to buy a pack and then leaving; he was staying, challenging other customers to duels, trading cards, and spreading the fever.

Collectors Corner on Oakland’s Piedmont Avenue had to transform itself to meet the demands of these new customers. Its owner, a short, bald Asian-American man named Bull, still stocks sports cards and usually has a game playing on the shop’s TV set. But his most popular products by far are Magic: The Gathering and its Japanese competitor Yu-Gi-Oh, which is geared toward younger kids. These games are so popular, in fact, that Bull has moved the racks of comic books and action figures to the rear to make space for two folding tables and a cluster of chairs. Starting at three o’clock every weekday, and all though the weekend, the tables are lined with young kids dealing cards and swapping stories.

Kids like Bernie, a twelve-year-old who will one day make a great used-car salesman. He wears a thin black leather jacket, has slicked-back hair, and constantly reminds everyone that he owns this rare card or that one. Of course, he doesn’t have it with him right now. It’s at home. “Who wants baseball cards?” he sniffs, ignoring accusations of cheating from an opponent. “If I get a Barry Bonds rookie, I can’t use it to beat you. But if I get four Morphlings, I can crush you like a bun!”

Chris, an EndGame regular, issues a warning about such halflings: “You want to use card condoms if you’re at Collectors Corner,” he says. “If you ask one of those kids to cut your deck, it might stick to their hands. You wouldn’t want one of them touching your cards.” Chris is referring to the colorful sleeves the game’s devotees use obsessively to protect their cards, especially the rare and valuable ones. The most revered card out there is the Black Lotus, which has sold on eBay for upward of $1,000. Other cards of the same vintage can go for high hundreds when a good salesman is in possession. “I have a job,” Hugh says. “I’m fairly well-off. So if I need to pay $300 to make a tournament deck, I’m okay with that, you know?”

It was players like Hugh, with their appetite for cards, who turned Wizards of the Coast into a powerful force in tabletop gaming. The company was founded in 1990 by seven young professionals, including Boeing refugee Peter Adkinson, who served as CEO through 2001. Also among them was the game’s primary inventor, Richard Garfield, a math professor and amateur game designer whose feat catapulted him into the position of revered Magic guru.

WotC launched its flagship product in 1993, and within four years had sold more than two billion cards, dominating the fantasy-gaming market and leaving TSR Inc., publisher of the venerable Dungeons & Dragons, at the brink of bankruptcy. Wizards scooped up TSR in 1997 and, two years later, toy giant Hasbro purchased Adkinson’s company for more than $325 million, making all of its founders very rich. D&D turns thirty in April, and Magic turns twelve. At last estimate, according to Wizards of the Coast, Magic was being played by some six million players in seventy countries.

Hugh would really like to visit some of those places, but tonight, again, he’ll have to settle for EndGame’s weekly draft tournament, which this time brings in about twenty duelists. Arriving too late for the first round, Hugh stands just inside the door shuffling his condomed decks and talking to the shop’s owner, Aaron Lawn, a tall, thin man with a long black ponytail who looks as if he’s worked more than his share of Renaissance Faires. Lawn is an accomplished duelist himself.

Muffled strains of Clem Snide play through a stereo in the corner of the battle room. In the opposite corner, a tangle of players gossips in Cantonese, comparing cards and strategies in the fluctuating tones of their dialect. To pass the time, Hugh and Aaron joust with various decks, neither consistently trouncing the other. But when Hugh pulls out the deck he calls Beer Nutz, the tide quickly turns in his favor. Hugh built this red-green deck a year ago for the 2003 extended tournament season — “extended” means that players can use out-of-print cards — and did surprisingly well. Making top eight with a deck of one’s own design is almost unheard of. Most players, even most pros, use the Internet recipes in such situations.

Beer Nutz knocks Aaron flat in three turns, then does it again. Hugh smiles. He knows most extended tournament decks can’t kill this quickly. He realizes that a second-place finish at Match Play’s January Grand Prix could bag him an invitation to Kobe, Japan, for the extended championships. “If some kid wins, he’ll never be able to make it to Kobe,” Hugh explains. “The last game usually ends up being a bargaining session. One of them takes the $500, the other gets to go to Kobe.

“If I win?” he continues. “Well, I guess I’ll have to tell my work that I’m taking a vacation. I’m feeling confident. I think I have a better shot at it than most people. I’d love to go pro.”

EndGame regular Chris offers a snide caveat: “Going pro at Magic is like going pro at Yahtzee.”

Hugh seems offended. “It’s not like that at all,” he protests. “It’s like going pro at poker. There’s some luck involved, yes, but skill has much more bearing on it than Yahtzee.”


Match Play is about three-quarters full on January 10, and the crowd is much better behaved than the one at last November’s Grand Prix. There’s even a female player here, and she isn’t being designated an easy win by her opponents.

Hugh fares well early on, but he’s watching a pattern emerge in the decks. “My first match was a white Enchantress deck,” he says. “You don’t usually see those, especially not ones that are as weak as the one I faced. But my last two matches were Red Deck Wins. My deck isn’t particularly strong against RDW, but I beat them both. I’ll eat Psychatog. I’m not too good against the Rock. But there are a lot of Red Deck Wins out there.”

The decks he’s naming are the latest fads. Red Deck Wins is what’s known as a control deck — it prevents opponents from using their resources as intended. Hugh meets a third Red Deck Wins in his fourth round. His opponent is Gary, a stocky young man of indeterminable ethnicity, whose left eyebrow is pierced and whose wavy black hair is shiny with gel.

Gary’s deck is a powerful one, and has been tweaked for speed. Hugh’s hopes disintegrate as Gary destroys his lands, denying him the mana he needs to unleash his Wild Mongrels and Basking Rootwallas. Typically, Hugh’s Masticores, Lavamancers, and Kris Mages should be devastating Gary by turn six but, deprived of mana, Hugh is left with a handful of gridlock and a face full of frustration. Gary wins in two straight.

Hugh shrugs it off, sipping from a bottle of Smart Water. “It’s always disappointing to lose, but I can still make top eight.”

In round five, he faces another Red Deck Wins. But this time Red Deck loses. Hugh’s young opponent flubbed a number of opportunities. Hugh offers to show him some tricks, and the pair plays a pointless third duel for education purposes.

In his sixth round, Hugh faces Phong, his friend and rival. Again, Hugh wins a close one and shakes Phong’s hand afterward. In the seventh, Hugh and his opponent agree to a draw, which allows both to qualify for the top eight and gives them a needed hour of rest before the finals.

Hugh sits on a small table in back, where five grown men at a nearby table are playing Dungeons & Dragons, cackling madly at their inside jokes. Up walks Milton, a short Asian-American teen with a puffy blue jacket and a notebook clutched to his chest. Milton is in first place. “Would you go to Kobe?” he asks. Hugh says he would. Milton offers to draw with him if they are matched up in the finals, but only if Hugh gives him half of whatever he wins. They discuss the matter and resolve to cross that bridge when they come to it.

Even at this soiree of the socially challenged, Milton’s obsessiveness seems a bit much. His notebook is filled with scribbled notes on all the decks in play — all 86 of them. He has since whittled it down to the top eight, and shares this intel with Hugh, reading aloud: “Blue-Green Madness, Rock, two Red Deck Wins …”

Soon the judge calls the finalists up front, and Hugh sits down to face his opponent, a young Asian American named Aaron. Hugh’s rival looks him in the eye. “So this is that red-green deck I’ve heard so much about,” Aaron says. Hugh’s face registers an almost imperceptible smirk. “Yes,” he deadpans. “It’s violent.”

The match unfolds quickly, as both men have fast decks. Hugh loses the first duel, and uses a break in play to tweak his deck slightly. The fix works, and he wins the next two with speed and aplomb. He remains seated as his next opponent takes a seat across from him, silver eyebrow ring glinting in the fluorescent light.

Hugh looks at Gary. Gary stares back at Hugh. They say nothing, shuffling their decks obsessively, like boxers shaking out their arms before a fight. They ro-sham-bo and Gary wins; he chooses to go first. A large crowd has gathered, necks straining to see the action. Gary wins the first round as before, by denying Hugh land and mana. The judge berates the spectators to step back from the table and give the combatants space. No matter where they stand, the fans can see only one player’s hand, one side of the story.

Duel two, turn six: Hugh has driven Gary down to four life. The aggressor looks strong, with nineteen life points remaining. But here, on the brink of death, Gary uses cards known as “instants” to destroy Hugh’s Basking Rootwalla and Wild Mongrel during Hugh’s own turn, leaving him defenseless. Hugh looks at his hand, then helplessly at his two remaining Land cards as Gary uses another instant to destroy one of them. Hugh has one Land remaining, but can’t do anything with it. He ends his turn.

Gary attacks now with a dangerous, short-lived creature, bringing Hugh’s life down to eight. Hugh still can’t respond; he draws a card and ends his turn. Gary comes on hard with three cards in rapid succession, each costing Hugh four points. The crowd is hushed by this display of firepower. Hugh looks at the judge. “Can he do that?” he asks. “I’m already dead after the second one.”

The judge pauses, searches for the proper phrasing, and then replies: “He zaps you to death, then he zaps your charred ashes.”

Hugh just got stomped.

Back at EndGame the following Thursday, everyone clusters around listening to the defeated hero’s war stories. “Yeah, I had that Goblin Charbelcher,” Hugh says, “and I was really whipping him with it, but his Molder Slug was eating all my artifacts and you can’t target Troll Acetic with anything. I had a tough choice to sacrifice the Charbelcher or the Banshee’s Blade, and maybe I should have sacked the Blade. But that’s how it goes.”

With that, he pulls out a deck of cards sheathed in black and begins another match. Magic has been an eight-year quest for him, and he’s not about to give up. He’s only getting better. And at this rate, he should win a tournament by year’s end. He’ll get the opportunity at the big Oakland Grand Prix this weekend, but for now it’s practice time. Hugh deals himself seven cards, picks them up, and joins his kindred spirits in the harmony of the duel, the ceaseless soundtrack of their fantasies. Thip. Thip. Thip.


COLOR CODING

In Magic, a card’s hue imparts archetypal meaning. That’s why you’ll hear players refer to a blue Tinker deck, or white Enchantress deck, or red-green deck. For all you tyros, here’s a quick breakdown:

BLUE is the true wizard’s color. Many blue spells allow the caster to draw extra cards or to stop an opponent from casting his spells. Blue is the color of water, air, order, and intelligence.

BLACK is the color of death, evil, and the undead. Black spells such as Drain Life, Brood of Cockroaches, and Scathe Zombies make this the color of choice for necromancers.

RED is chaos, fire, and direct damage. Red magicians can cast fireballs and lightning bolts, and summon hordes of goblins, barbarians, and dwarves to fight for them.

WHITE represents peace, good, and law. White magic is very defensive, and its creatures are often cheap and plentiful. They can be brought out in droves and then pumped up with temporary spells when needed.

GREEN is the color of life, the woods, and animals. Green cards harbor some of the largest creatures in the game, and are good at producing large amounts of mana quickly.

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