Carlsbad Around the Clock: 9:00 p.m.

Mana is tapped, Shivan Dragons and Llanowar Elves are in play, Counterspells are looming.

In short, it’s just another Magic: The Gathering Friday night at Hastings. Magic: The Gathering is a trading card strategy game that was first published in 1993. Players draw a handful of cards and then use the land cards from their draw to bring out creatures and other special abilities to try to defeat their opponent. The local Hastings, where the cards are also sold, offers players a chance to play during Magic nights.

Michael White stands in the Magic: The Gathering
aisle of Carlsbad’s Hastings. Once a week,
White oversees Magic play at the store.

That’s where Michael White comes in. White, 22, is the sort of referee/judge/pit boss of the informal evening gaming sessions, which generally last from 6-11 p.m. A good night will draw 20-30 players ranging in age from 12 through 40.

“My job is a lot different than what it would be if this place were sanctioned,” he responded. “Here, my job is pretty much to exist and to clarify the rules.”

White works at a local bank throughout the week, but he has a five-hour part time gig with Hastings every Friday night. He moved here from Santa Fe, where he played in competitive northern New Mexico tournaments and earned around $1,000 a year doing so.

“Carlsbad’s not a huge Magic area,” he noted, “but there are enough people here.”

Periodically, White will have to settle a rules dispute during his job at Hastings. He’s qualified to serve as a judge for full tournaments, where he may have to check competitors’ decks to make sure nobody is cheating.

Why does he like Magic?

“That’s going to take a reasonable amount of thought,” White declared, and said he would need to think about his response after he completed setting up tables for the Friday session.

He said he first developed an interest in the game when he was 12 but decided a few years later that he wanted to play competitively. He went online to research competitive decks and built one.

White finished in eighth place at his first tournament in Albuquerque, which included a field of about 1,000 competitors. He said he was one victory away from qualifying for the national event, but he did receive about $100 worth of cards as a reward.

Matt Walker, left, and Dakota Thompson, begin a game
of Magic: The Gathering at Carlsbad’s Hastings.
On a good night, 20-30 players will participate.

He has stayed competitive since then and said he winds up making more out of his competitions than he invests. His favorite style of play is to use a blue deck, which includes cards that focus on negating what the other player does and stealing his or her creatures.

“When people ask me what kind of strategy I use, I tell them that I didn’t have a lot of fancy toys as a kid, so by playing Magic, I like to take other people’s toys away,” he confided.

White declared that there is a rock, paper, scissors element to competitive play, and it sounds like there’s even a touch of Vizzini’s logic from The Princess Bride thrown in to this card arms race of sorts.

There’s a handful of ultra-competitive decks out there, and certain other decks beat those decks, so a competitive player is guessing at what adjustments the others players are making based on the decks used in the previous tournament and then trying to top that.

Magic: The Gathering isn’t White’s favorite game, strategy-wise, “but I would say it has the strongest competitive base and the biggest following.”

Magic night on September 25 in Carlsbad was pretty slow. In fact, it was the slowest night ever during White’s time with Hastings. Did he think it had anything to do with the Carlsbad/Artesia football rivalry game going on down the road? “No,” he paused. “There’s a pre-release event going on at a game store in Artesia tonight. I think a lot of people are there.”

While it may not be for everyone, Magic: The Gathering night at Hastings is a part of Carlsbad’s 9 p.m. fare.