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My recent trip to China has definitely been an interesting cultural experience. While I’m no ethnographer on young people in China like my friend Christina, I want to capture little snippets of a subculture I am familiar with: Magic the Gathering.

Magic has a healthy following in China. Wizards prints a lot of Chinese Magic cards and brands Magic as 万智牌 (wànzhìpái). Even my favorite online Chinese annotator will translate 万智牌 as Magic. 万 means “ten thousand” or “many”, 智 is a combination of “knoweldge”, “widsom” and “intellect”, and 牌 here is “cards”. So Magic is literally a card game of many wits. How cute.

Since I play quite a bit of Magic locally, I wanted spectate a Magic event in China, to see what’s different and what’s cross cultural.

First stop was to find a friendly local game store. Game stores are the heart of local Magic communities, supplying cards and hosting Wizards sanctioned events.

While I’m impressed to find games stores in China listed on Wizard’s official store locator, the website didn’t load for me while I was there, because they use Google Maps. Google services are generally heavily throttled in China, slowed to the point that they’re unusable. (I made the decision to visit a game store last minute while I was in China, so I didn’t have the luxury of researching before my trip).

I found forum posts about game stores on Baidu and listings on a site that hasn’t been updated since 2013, but they didn’t seem reliable. I ended up going on Reddit and meeting an American Magic player living in the local area.

He took me to SGM 桌游俱乐部 (SGM board game club).

SGM

SGM sign up close

SGM is seclusively tucked away behind a shopping center. It is one the third floor of a mixed-use building, where residential apartments neighbor commercial offices, with little transition in between. One door could lead to a doctor’s office while the next could be someone’s home. I don’t think I’ve ever been in a mixed-used building before, but I hear they’re not uncommon in China.

inside

The inside of SGM feels a little like being inside a large apartment that’s chalked full of Magic decor. It’s definitely a smaller game store that can probably seat a maximum of 30 players at a time. My favorite part of the store was the table on the balcony, for those who prefer the outdoors.

balcony

SGM is pretty update in terms of the latest Magic products. They give out the latest promo cards at Friday Night Magic events and has all the latest sets. Since Magic is becoming more popular, they’re getting more Chinese cards instead of English ones. Previously, the first Modern Masters sets they got were in English, but the second Modern Masters were all in Chinese.

Unfortunately, due to my crazy schedule (and poor planning), I visited SGM on a quiet night where only a couple of friends were playing. I was a little sad that I didn’t get to talk to the Friday Night Magic crowd, but I had fun playing a couple rounds of EDH Magic. From what I hear, local Magic is highly competitive. I’m not too surprised since, for the young people, they’re brought up in a highly competitive environment focused on the 高考 (gāokǎo), the college entrance exam that’s the sole determinator of which college they’ll attend.

EDH

Probably because we were playing with a German expat and a Chinese student, each of the decks we played with had a mix of German, English, and Chinese cards. While it felt natural to have multilingual decks there, I remembered I’ve never seen any non-English cards in a deck here. I was a little sad how monolingual we are in the States.

Overall, it was a really neat trip. Definitely not what I expected, though I’m not sure what I expected. I’m really happy I got to see a local game store in China and of course, always happy to play some Magic. I was really excited to finally play with Olivia Voldaren, which is an absurdly strong card. I sculpted a little token of her a while ago, for exactly EHD games.

Yay Magic!

I was visiting Camden, Maine this weekend and found an adorable little local game shop called Knowledge Vault. They were hosting pre-release events for the new Magic the Gathering set so of course I had to play.

I got really lucky and opened some great white cards, so I went mono white for my deck.

sword of the animist

Sword of the Animist turned out to be an unexpectedly awesome. I was often stuck on two mana, and equipping the Sword on a low cost creature like Anointer of Champions helped me get a lot more lands.

archangel of tithes

Archangel of Tithes was brutal for my opponents. Whenever it landed on the battlefield, I knew the fight was in my favor.

liliana

I ended placing top 8 in the tournament! I was super excited ’cause it was my first time making it so far. From my prize packs, I pulled a Liliana! Liliana is my favorite character in the Magic the Gathering universe, so I was elated!

Overall, I had a great time. Knowledge Vault was super cool. The regulars seem very friendly and I think everyone had fun. Definitely check it out if you’re near the area.

Here’s my deck list:

Creatures
1x Sentinel of the Eternal Watch
1x Patron of the Valiant
1x Guardians of Meletis
1x Anointer of Champions
1x Topan Freeblade
1x Akroan Jailor
1x War Oracle
1x Auramancer
1x Stalwart Aven
2x Kytheon’s Irregulars
1x Runed Servitor
1x Ampryn Tactician
1x Archangel of Tithes

Other
3x Suppresion Bonds
1x Alchemist’s Vial
1x Sword of the Animist
1x Celestial Flare
1x Grasp of the Hieromancer
1x Gideon’s Phalanx

Lands

18x Plains

Last night, I went to the to the Dragons of Tarkir midnight prerelease at the Twenty Sided Store, and had an AWESOME time.

Twenty Sided Store is an especially friendly local game store (they have a great code of conduct) and they were even featured on a NPR’s Planet Money podcast! If you haven’t listened to it, check out “Episode 609: The Curse of the Black Lotus.”

I met a lot of very friendly people and we supported each other throughout the night. One even gave me a pack of sleeves!

It was the first time I played with sleeves, so I felt super legit.

Atarka

Dragonlord Atarka led my deck. She and her brood powered me to a 3-0 victory (my very first one).

Every time she landed on the battlefield, she was devastating.

Here’s some highlights of the night:

My Harbinger of the Hunt was a powerhouse. When it was encased in ice, it still roasted enemies left and right. When flying free, it even killed off a Sunscorch Regent!

encase in ice

Slickest move of the night was when I played Guardian Shield-Bearer to get Illusory Gains off my Stampeding Elk Herd.

Illusory Gains

Overall, super fun. Highly recommend Twenty Sided Store. Highly recommend Red/Green deck with Atarka.

Here’s my deck list:

Creatures
1x Kolaghan Stromsinger
2x Guardian Shield-Bearer
1x Glade Watcher
1x Atarka Beastbreaker
1x Kolaghan Aspirant
1x Hardened Berserker
1x Ainok Artillerist
1x Atarka Efreet
1x Conifer Strider
1x Stampeding Elk Herd
1x Harbinger of the Hunt — promo
1x Stormcrag Elemental
1x Dragonlord Atarka

Non-creatures
1x Dragon Fodder
1x Roast
1x Epic Confrontation
1x Tail Slash
1x Fierce Invocation
2x Sarkhan’s Rage
1x Frontier Siege

Lands
1x Rugged Highlands
9x Mountain
9x Forest

Ever since I left Boston, I’ve been looking for a new FLGS, something to replace my beloved Pandemonium Books and Games.

While I’ve frequented the Uncommons, it’s alas a tad too cozy to house the swarms of Friday Night Magicians.

Last night I ventured to Twenty Sided Store. While it’s not as big or historied as Pandemonium, I could see myself playing Magic the Gathering there.

At the store, I impulsively signed up for Magic the Gathering Born of the Gods Pre-Release event.

Oh boy.

I hadn’t plan on attending, but now, I guess I’ll GAME ON.

MtG