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Do you believe in Magic?

Reporter Stefania Seccia steps into a male-dominated world for a trading card game competition

I was the only person with female parts in the room of competitors at the Core 2012 Release party at Magic Stronghold in Burnaby on July 16, besides another woman I saw who was acting as judge.

It wasn't the first time. The last I remember distinctly being the lone woman was in a Vancouver newsroom for one of the free dailies during an internship two years ago. The time before it, my Grade 9/10 power mechanics class.

My partner and I had only arrived about 20 minutes before the competition started. We each received six packs of booster cards of the new Core 2012 edition of Magic: The Gathering.

We were both excited, nervous and at odds with our newfound pastime that seemed to spark something amongst our closest friends and relatives.

I would not normally single myself out as the only woman, but it became quite clear when, after the judge helped me put together a 40-card deck to play only using the randomized cards from the booster packs, a few guys crowded around me suddenly and remade my deck to make it more challenging for my opponents.

I didn't feel as though I was getting picked up, but seeing as my boyfriend was a few tables away struggling to create his own deck alone, I was getting special treatment.

While the boys whisked up my cards and tried to create an impenetrable force with them, I began to think back as to how I got myself caught up in something I never even dreamed of only months prior.

Red, white, green, blue and black. The above colours had come together and managed to redefine my life.

Picture it: May 2011, I peruse my local comic book store for a recent release of an Allan Moore series. At that time I was searching for an outlet, and comic books alone just weren't doing it.

Job occupation: Reporter. It is the most demanding and stressful job I've had, despite once being a supervisor at a bustling downtown café. Due to that stress, I was close to picking up smoking or a severe alcohol problem like so many before me. But then, something magical intervened.

Instead of going down the beaten path of drink and smoke or being anti-social, somehow at the back of that comic book shop was a whole new avenue, the card game Magic: The Gathering.

It may be formerly known to you, as it was a bit to me, as the card game for Dungeons & Dragons, or better yet, that card game those guys would play at a few tables in the high school cafeteria.

And yes, it has occurred to me that I'm playing a game most boys start at the age of 11 or 13.

But I thought that until I uncovered the underground world or even culture of Magic, which is only expanding like the universe in popularity.

Burnaby alone has several soughtafter stores selling Magic cards, including Magic Stronghold, Core Games and Taz Comics. Although it's not the only product of choice, sometimes it's the most popular.

Let's take a step back before moving any further and learn some magical facts, first:

? There are four annual pro tours worldwide (recently Amsterdam, Nagoya, Austin, Honolulu).

? Each event has a $230,000 prize pool. Top pots can be $45,000 or $75,000.

? Magic has 12 million players in more than 70 countries.

? Richard Garfield, PhD, developed the game, and it was released by Wizards of the Coast in 1993. The mathematician wanted to create a game based on probability.

? More than 10,000 unique cards have been produced with about 500 more each year.

? And, for the social-media savvy, it has 397,564 likes on Facebook,

In the past two years or so, many deep in the Magic world have recognized a renaissance in popularity, but not many can nail down a reason why.

For some, it's due to the easy online access Wizards of the Coast have made for it on its website, or the spike in popularity with the PlayStation 3, PC and other consoles with games such as Duels of the Planewalkers.

I know, I'm probably still speaking gibberish to you.

So here are the basics. You are a Planeswalker or wizard, and you cast spells against your opponent until you take his or her life from 20 points down to zero. You're at war.

Each card deck is comprised of about 60 to 80 cards. There are land cards, which make your "mana" pool; creature cards, which are your offence and defence; and spell cards, which can do anything from attack your opponent with hit points or make it wildly difficult for them to hit you.

There are five colours, I mentioned them before, that represent different styles to strategize with.

For instance, I generally play with a red deck because it's very aggressive, which fits right in with my impatient manner.

Just to be clear, some magic cards can be worth anywhere from 25 cents to $9,000. That's one card. Printed on paper.

Some of you may laugh at me for playing a game with dragons, wizards and spells. But, all I have to say to you is, how was the new Harry Potter movie?

Back on that Saturday not long ago at the tucked away store off Royal Oak Avenue, I was completely destroyed. My two months of experience was nothing in comparison to the players who had participated in the game for the past 10 years or more.

One player in particular stood out for me, although they were all kind to me and interesting people. He was young and wearing a bright blue shirt with a well folded tie.

Dylan MacDonald, 21, had worked at the store and is sponsored by it to attend some of the pro tours around the world.

He's been to Honolulu, Amsterdam and all over the U.S. Some of his good friends are the top players in the world, and he's been playing for nine years.

"It's been picking up steam for the past two years," he told me matter-of-factly after his turn was over and he properly announced it was mine. "People play it online and learn. Then if they like it, they can go out and play with others in person."

MacDonald and I talked about magic for a while, and he says its popularity is due to the website and video games.

Of our three games against each other in the 50-minute allotment per opponent (I was there for five hours), I beat him once. It felt really good, due to his experience and notoriety at the store.

Another person I spoke to, who asked to remain nameless, works at Core Games at Brentwood Mall where on Fridays (which is the international day every week to play Magic outside your house with others), you'll see people in the cafeteria throwing down cards and saying: "I sacrifice my creature and hit your Baneslayer Angel for two and play my instant lightning bolt against it."

"You didn't declare all your attackers." "I just did, I'm not hitting you for

anything else."

"Fine. Counter spell with my . nothing . and into the graveyard it goes. Damn."

According to the Core Games employee, Wizards of the Coast ramped up on its advertising and has managed to tap into a whole new generation.

"They were also attracting players to play at organized events," he said. "I'm guessing their efforts were successful."

He said the store survives on its Magic sales, which have been going only upward for the past few years.

Whatever the reason Magic is experiencing another peak in popularity, there are many people who have an unhindered passion for it. I'm now one of them.

Instead of sitting at the picnic table outside the newsroom with a cigarette in my hand and a puff of smoke in front of my face, I'm throwing down cards and challenging anyone to a duel.