In the basement headquarters of Comic Swap, Inc., 110 S. Fraser St., it’s 6 p.m. on a Friday, and 15 people are setting up to play a round of Magic.
Technically, they aren’t wizards — they are simply avid fans of the internationally popular trading card game, Magic: the Gathering.
“Magic is a card game that was founded by a guy 20 years ago that turned into a worldwide phenomenon,” John Secreto, owner of Comic Swap , said. “The history of the game is pretty inconsequential to those who play.”
Secreto also said that the rules and play of the game are immensely complicated and difficult to learn, but despite this, thousands of players participate in tournaments held throughout the world.
Mac Schrantz, Class of 2012, explained the purpose of the game during a break in the shuffling of cards and rolling of dice.
“Basically, each player starts out with 20 life in a standard game. You have a deck of 60 or more cards, and so many of those cards are resources,” Schrantz said. “You tap or use that ‘mana,’ or resource, that lets you put spells and creatures on the battlefield. Your goal is to get the opponent’s life down to zero.”
In the room that holds the weekly tournament, the players are sitting face to face with their opponents, carrying decks of varying colors and playing four rounds, each round against a different person.
There areabout two women in the group — and one of them, Julie Sawlsville has just won the first round against her opponent.
Sawlsville (graduate–mechanical engineering) said in the world of Magic, “the boys don't take female players seriously,” and that some stigma against female players still exists in the realm.
“I won the first Friday Night Magic event, a draft that I played solo. The opponent I played for the win was the worst kind for me. He did not take me seriously at all and was very rude to me. He actually went as far as to cheat,” Sawlsville said via email. “I didn't catch it because I was not that familiar with the rules at that time and he was a much more experienced player so I figured he knew better than I did.
“Despite his cheating, I still won the match 2 to 1 and the tournament. Afterwards I heard him saying something like, ‘I can't believe I lost out on [some sort of] points because that girl got lucky.’ ”
Despite the occurrences of poor sportsmanship, Sawlsville said she does her best to treat her opponents well.
Another common problem that women and even some men face is the “nerdy” stigma; that is, judging the relative social acceptability of playing a card game on a Friday night as opposed to engaging in other, more common activities.
“Magic is not sexy,” Sawlsville said. “It's all about cards, logic and odds with a high fantasy story to go along with it. I think the lack of female interest in Magic is akin to the lack of female interest in chess. You don't see many female grandmasters of chess just like you don't see many female Pro Tour players in Magic.”
Despite this, the amount of Magic players is at an all-time high, and a female — Melissa DeTora — made history in January by becoming the first female to make the Top 8 in a pro tour, Sawlsville said.
Similarly, other players abandon worry in the face of societal perception of the game, playing in public locations such as the HUB-Robeson Center.
On Friday and Saturday nights, the Penn State Magic: the Gathering club convenes.
At 11:40 p.m. this past Friday, about a dozen players were keenly attempting to defeat their opponents.
Penn State Research Analyst and Programmer Donald Miller said he has been a member of the club since 1994, only a year after its founding in 1993.
Miller, who even has a website dedicated to his card collection, is just one of the many dedicated players who meet regularly to participate in tournaments, official or not, and is part of a phenomenon that is overlooked by much of the gaming society.
Though many dismiss the game or avoid it due to social stigma, most players enjoy it not only just for fun, but also for the high amount of skill and strategy involved.
“It’s great because there’s a lot of mental strategy involved in building a deck, countering a strategy and adapting as you go,” Schrantz said. “It’s never really the same game twice.”