Hoping Magic strikes twice

Henrico’s Bennie Smith likes his chances at Saturday’s Magic: the Gathering tournament.

He won it all in 1998 and thinks this could be the year he hoists his second state championship trophy.

But he’ll have to outsmart — or outluck — the 150 to 200 other Magic enthusiasts at the Richmond Convention Center during 12 hours of head-to-head competition.

Between 5 and 6 million people worldwide play the role-playing, fantastical-themed card game, and all 50 states have their respective championships this weekend. The tournaments have no cash prizes, only bragging rights.

“Magic tends to reward the smarter player, the player who does their research and shows up the most prepared,” said Pete Hoefling, event organizer and a card-shop operator from Roanoke.

Smith, a quality-control inspector by day and family man by night, still has to tweak his card lineup.

“I have plans to get together with friends on Friday night to do some last minute play testing, and I’ll probably finalize late Friday night before bed,” he said.

Tournament rules allow only cards from the more recently released decks. Magic cards, like baseball cards, are sold in packs and are often individually traded and sold online.

Smith has competed in professional qualifying tournaments — yes, that means there’s a professional Magic tour — but hasn’t cracked it just yet. He thinks he might win Saturday because he uses some of the newer cards others may shy away from.

Magic competitions take place in the fantastical realm where wizards and creatures cast spells and try to kill one another. Competitors assemble decks of cards with artistic renderings of the characters and their potency listed on the card.

Each player starts with 20 life points. The first to reduce his or her opponent to zero life points wins. Players draw the top card from their deck in a back-and-forth format. The strategy involves pre-selecting the right balance of cards. That’s where Smith thinks he’s got an advantage.

“I can surprise people with something they may not have thought about. If an opponent can’t guess what you’re going to do next, you’re at an advantage.”

“I bring something wacky, and sometimes that gives me a slight edge,” he said.

Contestants will compete round-robin style Saturday from 10 a.m. until around 6 p.m. The top eight will play in a single-elimination final well into the night.

Smith, who writes for Magic Web sites, said some of the younger players try to distract you and play head games, but he prefers to keep it classy and leaves the shenanigans to the young guns.

“I like to sit down and have fun with my opponent,” he said.

“Sportsmanship is important to me.”