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Magic Moments

It has over six million players worldwide but the chances are you may never have heard of Magic: The Gathering, nor its links with poker. Gareth Bracken is on hand to reveal all

At first glance the worlds of poker and strategy game Magic: The Gathering don’t appear to have very much in common, aside from the fact that they both use cards of course. Their respective reputations differ somewhat, with poker firmly positioned as the more mainstream of the two. However, there is actually a rather large crossover between them, with a number of current poker pros having found their way to the felt via Magic.

Magic has been the catalyst for some impressive poker careers, with progression from the former to the latter now commonplace. The man generally credited with starting the trend was Brock Parker, winner of a Magic Pro Tour event in 2003. He completed the transition when he won two bracelets at the 2009 World Series of Poker.

David Williams is another to have successfully crossed disciplines. He had amassed $30,000 in Magic winnings before his poker career had even begun. He only actually got involved with Texas Hold’em following a one-year ban from Magic tournaments for deliberate marking of cards, an accusation he strongly denies. Since then he’s won a WSOP bracelet, finished second at the 2004 WSOP Main Event and won a WPT title.

Williams and Parker are friends and are part of a group of Magic/poker devotees, many of whom live at Panorama Towers, a group of luxury condos situated in Nevada, Las Vegas. The list includes WSOP bracelet winners Justin Bonomo and Eric Froehlich and it is surely not a coincidence that so many of these Magic men have enjoyed success at the felt.

Williams believes that playing top-level Magic is excellent preparation for big tournament poker, mainly due to the requirements that both place on the ability to think clearly in intense situations. One ESPN article quotes Williams as saying: "I think the biggest correlation is that it teaches the brain how to work. It's problem-solving, logical deduction. Most people aren't sharpening their brains constantly. We've been honing our skills for years; high-level thinking is pretty much all we do. That's great training for playing poker under pressure."

WHAT IS MAGIC: THE GATHERING?

Magic: The Gathering is a trading card game invented by mathematics professor Richard Garfield and popularised by American games publishers Wizards Of The Coast. It was the first ever modern collectible card game.

You and your opponent(s) are essentially having a magical battle. Each player starts with a life score of 20 and loses the game once their score reaches zero.

Part of the strategy of the game involves pre-constructing your deck and rules are in place governing a deck’s makeup.

The two basic types of cards are spells and land. Spells include categories of creatures, artefacts, enchantments, sorceries and instants.

Land cards are required to produce ‘mana’, which itself is needed to play spell cards.

Cards are also coloured, with different colours having different purposes. White heals and strengthens creatures and players, blue lets a player steal their opponent’s cards, green represents strong creatures, black raises creatures from the dead and red is for quick damage.

Players play professionally and with the highest form of competitive play being the Pro Tour. There is also a World Championship, held annually since 1994.
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