Man captures the magic at national tournament

Players of a mystical card game battle in downtown for U.S. title


News from around the Baltimore region

August 15, 2005|By Melissa Harris | Melissa Harris,SUN STAFF

It's a game that transports players into the caldrons of sorcery, unleashing trolls, minotaurs, nameless abysses, vampire trainers, fanged rats with dripping saliva and hulking monsters with ram horns.

But in a card game that often honors creatures that can quickly slash flesh or rip out hearts, Antonino De Rosa, 23, of Port St. Lucie, Fla., advanced to the "Magic: The Gathering" national championship in Baltimore yesterday using a trio of serene, human-feline hybrids pleasantly named "sun droplets."

"It's an obscure card," said Randy Buehler, 33, of Wizards of the Coast, the game's maker. "Antonino had three sun droplets out there, meaning that every time he took a hit, he'd get three points back on his next turn. His opponent surrendered. His case was hopeless."

The card game has created a worldwide subculture of its own - a "geek squad," as one player's mother put it. It is thriving in an age dominated by computer games, perhaps because it captures the spirit of multiple addictions - the pride of baseball-card collecting, the camaraderie of poker and the imagination of epics.

The game, which drew several hundred downtown Thursday through yesterday, is complicated. It has the back-and-forth nature of the card game War but requires the strategy of chess. As in chess, a Magic player can attack quickly, cornering the king by blocking his only escape route. Or a player can go slowly, allowing multiple pawns to perish while moving more powerful pieces into strategic positions.

That's how De Rosa's "Urzatron Blue" deck of 60 cards defeated Michael Patnik's "White Weenie" deck. Players pre-selected their decks to suit their and their opponents' styles.

Working with seven friends, called the "7 Kings," in London this year, De Rosa deduced that "sun droplets" were crucial to fending off early, rapid attacks, the signature of Patnik's strategy. After losing the first round, De Rosa picked up on his opponent's tactics, loaded his deck with sun droplets and won the next four games.

Patnik, 23, a graduate student in engineering at Carnegie Mellon University and an intern at the Federal Energy Regulation Commission, was the Cinderella of yesterday's semifinals. He won more money yesterday, at least $3,000, than he has in his entire seven-year career. In his first visit to nationals, he secured a trip to the world championships in Japan later this year, either as the American team's alternate or its third member.

De Rosa and Patnik are pros. On the floor of the convention center yesterday, their table was roped off. Several dozen fans, including two with video recorders, hovered around them. A judge in a striped referee shirt sat at the table, marking moves on a chart. A writer for the game's Web site kept detailed notes.

Elsewhere, boys and men, most between the ages of 10 and 30, lined long tables, playing, trading cards and talking strategy.

Cathy Sorensen of Fort Collins, Colo., watched her 15-year-old son Josh defeat the game's creator, Richard Garfield, 42, a former mathematics professor.

"He's in junior high, and he has a group of friends who sit together at lunch and play the game," said Sorensen, who attended a parents' class at the championships about the game. "They're some of the smartest kids in the class, but they're not bookish geeks. They're not just packing info into their head."

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