MOST people pick up trading card games like Magic: The Gathering just for fun. But there are those, even locally, whose passion for the game takes them to a whole new level – the world stage.
Joe Soh, 25, and Ikmal Nasir, 28, both regularly compete at Magic tournaments overseas, including the high-level Grand Prix tournaments by Wizards of the Coast.
“For tournaments in nearby countries like Japan or China, you’d probably see 10-20 Malaysians flying over to compete. Ten years ago, there would probably just be one,” said Ikmal.
Soh started playing the game at 10, and his achievements include placing 19th in the individual category at the 2003 World Championship in Germany. He also earned third spot with the Malaysian national team at the same tournament.
“I do think Malaysians have the potential to become great Magic players, but a lot more effort needs to be put in by the individual players as well as the community,” said Soh, adding that there aren’t enough high-level competitions held here.
“We have events like Friday Night Magic, but casual games are different,” he added. “Competitive players need to keep abreast of latest gameplay trends, and keep playing
competitively to stay sharp.”
Becoming a professional Magic player can earn good money these days. The prize pool at the 2013 World Championships, for example, was a whopping US$108,000 (RM344,000), with US$40,000 (RM127,000) going to the champion.
While the local Magic scene has definitely made good progress so far, he said, there isn’t enough of a foundation to help build a scene for local players to “go pro” and make a living out of playing the game here.
“If your ranking is high enough, you can even get sponsorships,” said Soh, adding that Wizards of the Coast pays top players up to US$2,000 (RM6,400) to appear at events. “But it’s tough for us locally as most events are in Europe and the United States. Travelling is expensive.”
Most aspiring Magic professionals in Malaysia fork out their own money to compete overseas. To sustain their competitive passion for Magic, Soh co-founded Knight Connections, a games distributor, while Ikmal works as an assistant manager in the brand and marketing division of a local bank.
But being a competitive Magic player is also time consuming. Players have to spend time on practice games, memorising the thousands of existing cards, and researching good card combinations, strategies and opponents’ styles of play.
“To supplement my playing time with my team and play group, I play a lot of Magic online. That’s much easier,” said Ikmal. “Even at 10pm when I get back from work, I can still play without gathering people.”
“Above all, the most important thing at a tournament is mental stamina,” said Soh. “Magic is a sport of the mind, and big events can go up to nine or ten rounds. You need a positive mentality to not let a mistake affect your next game.”
Nevertheless, Soh and Ikmal plan to continue pursuing Magic competitively, especially at tournaments in Asia.
And maybe, just maybe, they and the others in the local scene will someday get the chance to go pro.