On any given Friday night, you can find Jason Baither, of Portland, waiting around in a Westbrook basement store for a draft tournament of Magic: The Gathering to begin.
“I don’t play video games, watch TV, or listen to the radio,” says Baither. “This is the only game I like to do.” Milling about nearby in Weekend Anime’s fluorescent-lit basement, are several other like-minded players ranging in age from 12 to 28, and a couple non-players who have ventured in looking for the latest anime releases. While talking about the types of games he likes to play, Type 2 and Extended — both tournament types that allow or ban particular card sets, Baither keeps half an eye on the casual game being played next to him. A newcomer, a high school student, is sitting in the chair behind him. Amid the mock protests against outside help and good-natured teasing from other players, Baither offers advice, suggesting the new player bring out more land cards and then a particular creature. Baither says he doesn’t see as many new players as when he lived in New York, but “sometimes new people come down the stairs.”
Like the rest of the seven to twelve weekly players, Baither spends a fair amount of his discretionary income on Magic cards, at $3.50 per 15-card pack. How much does he spend? “I wouldn’t wish to calculate it.” He plays mostly at his “friends’ cribs,” and, like other players in the room, balks at the idea of playing online. “It’s too expensive,” he says.
In June 2002, Wizards of the Coast announced the newest, and unexpected evolution of their internationally popular card game: Magic Online. It created a virtual space where up to 3000 players per server could meet up and chat, create decks, buy cards, and, most importantly, play Magic: The Gathering with gamers from around the world. And now, four years later, various gaming world publications online and in print are buzzing anew with reviews praising and panning the advances in WoC’s newest release: Magic Online 3.0.
But in Maine, the core sets, which sell the software to log on, are sitting on shelves. Not because the magic is fading in the state. While Justin Ziran, brand manager for Magic Online, wouldn’t give exact numbers of sales for Maine, he did tie Magic sales in with population density. According to Ziran, “Magic Online’s population mimics that of the US with clusters of accounts originating from the population centers of the Northeast, Midwest and west coast.”
It seems in Maine, where most players play for fun rather than at sanctioned tournaments, players like to be face to face without paying for either the one-time $9.99 activation fee, which comes with an equal credit for digital cards, or the $14.99 core set cost, which includes the activation fee. Ryan York, owner of Weekend Anime, echoes Bathier’s impressions on the price.
“I find casual players don’t like it because it’s too expensive,” he said after narrowly losing the game Baither was watching. York says the online version is a great tool for people who like a high level of play, tournament players. “I imagine that at a professional level it has appeal.”