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It’s all in the cards

Gary Moskowitz

They don’t have the high stakes of a top-dollar poker table in Las

Vegas or the same intensity as a grand master chess match, but to the

young card players who meet at local comic-book stores every week,

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their games are serious business.

Behind the rows of comic books, science-fiction posters and

shelves of figurines at many area comic-book stores are separate

rooms designated for competitive card-playing tournaments. The rooms

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are getting more and more crowded at stores in Burbank and Glendale.

Gambling isn’t involved, but to the kids and adults who come to

play, these tournaments are their Vegas, their championship chess

match, and in many cases, their link to close friendships.

“I buy some comics, too, but I come to play because I like

winning,” said Brandon Ignacio, 12, a seventh-grader at Toll Middle

School in Glendale. “I play every weekend, and I really like it. I

come to see my friends and win, for sure. My folks don’t care, as

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long as I do my homework.”

Actually, his folks do care. Brandon’s mother, Leilani Ignacio,

has had to limit the amount of days and hours her son is allowed to

spend playing cards at Legacy Comic Books & Sports Cards in Glendale.

She will take Brandon to the store from about noon to 5 p.m. on

weekends, but he’s allowed to play only on certain weekdays after

school.

“He’s addicted to it. Every day he wants to come here, for hours,

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and every weekend,” Leilani Ignacio said during a recent visit to the

store. “He has to stay home and do homework sometimes, but I think he

has something in common with the other kids here. It’s a safe place

to be, although I do monitor.

“I see this as a way for him to bond with other kids. I wouldn’t

take him here if it was negative.”

WHY THEY MEET

Comic-book store regulars have been playing a science

fiction-fantasy card game called “Magic: The Gathering” for about 10

years, but a Japanese game called “Yu-Gi-Oh!” has, for the past year,

carved its own niche as a competitive, strategy-based card game for a

new generation, said Henry Mardiroussian, manager of Legacy Comic

Books & Sports Cards.

The card game is based on the animated television show of the same

name. The popularity of the television show and card game has become

“a really big deal” that has caused stores like Legacy to set aside

play space and allot times for card playing, Mardiroussian said.

Two players sit facing each other, with a draw pile, cards at

play, discard pile, calculator, pencil and paper. Each player starts

with 8,000 points and races to get the other player down to zero

first. Players lose points by fighting “battles” between different

cards. Cards represent a variety of characters, objects and powers,

like dragons, goblin attack forces, fairies, dark holes, dust

tornados, man-eating bugs and mirror walls.

Legacy sees at least 20 kids a session Saturdays and Sundays, and

sessions last three to four hours. Players range in age from 8 to 20.

“I have to be on top of things,” said Mardiroussian, 29, “because

they get excited about the game and occasionally they start cursing

and stuff. But they’re good kids, just having fun. They come here as

soon as school is over. By 4 p.m., we’re full every day. It’s

definitely competitive. I mean, they come and play for fun, and do a

lot of card trading, but it’s always a competition.”

A growing friendship and camaraderie has developed among players

at the store in recent months.

“It’s the main thing they come here for, just to play and hang

out,” Mardiroussian said. “It’s like a family that comes here every

week. Sales are great right now, but who knows how long it will

last?”

“I saw my friends playing [Yu-Gi-Oh!] one day and thought the

[television] show was cool,” said Chris Wesdy, 14, a ninth-grader at

Glendale High School. “I play at school all the time and usually come

here every Saturday and Sunday. It’s fun competition. My parents

don’t care as long as I’m out of their hair.”

ACCESSORIES, AND THEN SOME

Most players describe the card games as “really fun” and “cool,”

but it seems playing the game is only half of the fun. Players who

win become even more “cool” when they have the latest carrying cases,

“Ultra-Pro” card boxes and plastic cardholders that are available for

purchase at most stores. T-shirts and DVDs from the television show

also are available.

Rarely will a player play a card game without first putting all of

his decks into colored, plastic sleeves that prevent the cards from

getting bent. Maintaining the newness of cards is important because

of their price. Basic cards can be purchased for a few dollars, but

the cooler the card, the higher the cost.

“I saw a guy with a $250 card once,” said Tyler Tanner, a

sixth-grader at Jordan Middle School in Burbank. “I’ve got a lot of

cards, but you have to if you want to win. I love to play. It gives

me something to do on Saturdays and gives my parents a break. My dad

helps me buy new cards if I keep up my grades.”

Competitions cost roughly $7 to enter, but at Legacy, everybody

gets a prize for playing. Winners can get up to 16 packs of new

“Yu-Gi-Oh!” playing cards. And when a player gets a new pack of

cards, it’s a big deal. Players crowd around to see what the other

player just got, and the trading of cards commences immediately.

Game cards and accessories amount to about 25% of the profits at

Legacy, Mardiroussian said.

CREATING A SCENE

Players take different approaches to playing matches. Some go

about defeating their opponent quietly and with precision, while

others resort to “trash talking” their opponent with phrases like

“You got lucky,” “Ooh, you like that one,” “You just got smoked” and

“I own this game,” but usually end with words like “Come on, let’s go

again. Best two out of three.”

Kings Comics and Cards of Burbank has taken the energy of the

games and their players and turned it into a weekly event. The store

has set up flashing overhead lights, track lighting, disco balls and

cages around play areas. The store is geared more toward competitive

card playing than comic-book displays.

About 60 players squeeze into Kings Comics every Saturday and

Sunday for “Yu-Gi-Oh!” days, and the store makes a huge deal out of

it. Players are paired up, as in a boxing match, and each is given a

“World Wrestling Entertainment” type of introduction before

competing, complete with flashing lights and music, store owner

Phillip Rodriguez said. Comedians typically come and do 15-minute

routines between rounds.

“I think family values are coming back because of things like

this,” said Rodriguez, 34. “It’s important to realize the fact that

kids and young adults have a place to gather safely. It’s a really

nice, small-town kind of thing, where everyone can meet and enjoy a

fun game. A lot of parents come and play, too.

“Kids can interact and be themselves. People think it’s just a

game, but there is a lot of spelling and math. It’s like school, but

fun.”

Billie Green Jr. drove up from Lakewood on Sunday to Kings Comics

with his 16-year-old son, Billie III, so he could watch his son play

cards and just hang out.

“I like to be involved in what he does,” the elder Green said. “It

keeps the father-son connection, and I like that.”


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