Story and photos by Matthew Beckman
Several times a week steel-willed Pokemon trainers, stalwart superhero commanders, starship captains and magic wielders congregate at Paradox Comics-N-Cards on Eighth Street in Fargo as their communal battleground.
Despite the amount of hit-points lost and cardboard damage caused every night, the card players at Paradox always return for the air of friendly competition, and common interest. According to Alex Early, employee and younger brother of the owner Richard Early, Paradox has been open for about as long as the popular trading card game (commonly shortened to TCG by players) “Magic: The Gathering”: 17 years. The store brands itself as a vendor of comic books, but draws crowds with interests beyond that of superhero exploits. What started with “Magic TCG” tournament events has grown to include several different card leagues that now keep the store busy with league nights, attracting regulars throughout the week. Early says Paradox started drawing large crowds when they would hold special pre-release nights, tournaments featuring prizes of Magic cards unreleased to the public at the time. Their first pre-release event was two years ago, and drew in a crowd of 64 people, and just a year ago held another that drew in 117 people.
“We didn’t have enough chairs. People had to sit on the floor,” Early says. “The line was out the door.”
‘He took out my Blastoise so I can’t clear the spikes anymore’
The vocabulary and dialogue between players gives the already colorfully adorned shop an otherworldly feel, finding one’s bearings might take some time.
For the uninitiated, trading card games play out quite unlike older, traditional card games like poker, golf or speed. Instead of using a standard 52-card deck, most TCGs follow similar basics:
○ Decks are generally composed from buying small packaged “booster” packs, featuring a fraction of the amount of cards needed to construct a “deck.”
○ The deck is used to “battle” other players. The decks are constructed with a pre-meditated strategy in mind.
○ Game play is established by two players who use their decks against each other, playing cards that generally have to defeat one another, like fighters in a ring. Cards can range from characters that do the fighting, to support cards that strengthen or weaken allies and enemies on the field. Each different trading card game features many variations of what types of cards are used.
○ Despite strategy, there is often an element of luck involved, including coin flipping or use of dice.
Early says “Magic”, “Pokemon” and “Yu-Gi-Oh” all have their own TCG league nights that attract the largest crowds.
‘See what happens when I throw monkey poo on you — it sticks to you!’
The crowds that do show up are largely composed of the same people who find common ground they normally wouldn’t find elsewhere.
“It’s just the friendly competition, and knowing that there are other people out there that enjoy ‘Pokemon’ besides me. I’m 26 years old and — I mean there’s a 30-year-old here who likes them,” Matthew Garvin says. “There’s worse hobbies out there.”
“Like doing crack, or marijuana,” chimes in Andru Dent, looking up from his game. “Or Internet porn.”
Garvin laughs in response, and carries on multitasking, battling his friend Jake Gilleshammer in the “Pokemon TCG”, and a battle in the Pokemon video game with Dent.
Mac Horner and his friend Devan Thomas often show up to these “Pokemon” league nights mainly for the popular video game of the same name on Nintendo gaming systems. The main draw for Horner and Thomas, like many others, is tangible badges that indicate their progres. Horner, Thomas, and many of the video game and TCG players have booklets that are used to track their participation during league nights. Horner and Thomas both sport jackets with proudly stitched-on badges they’ve earned for their efforts. Horner even doles out his own rewards, proclaiming himself as a “gym leader” for other players to approach for a match. Upon defeat he will confer the victorious challenger with a rare “Pokemon” character out of his own collection.
“I’m a steel trainer,” Horner says. “I’m a man with an iron will.”
In a room separated from the TCG players, Jeff Haarstick, Tim Judd and Tom Brandt are playing “HeroClix”, a game that appears as a cross between chess, Risk, and features famous superheroes such as Wonder Woman, the Flash and Green Lantern. All three men met from playing at Paradox, and continue to meet newcomers who are curious about the game.
‘Detective Chimp’s going to outwit Wonder Woman’s invulnerability’
The card nights draw a wide variety of players. Young and old, skilled and new, everyone is welcome if you have a passion for the game. The Magic Player of the Year Brad Nelson, returns regularly to play Magic, and Jody Lamp, the 18th ranked player in the world in the “Star Trek TCG”, plays at Paradox. Even all the way on down to fresh faces of youngsters learning the game.
Early says that people form groups from playing cards, but it often grows from there, resulting in a friendly atmosphere.
“People become actual friends,” Early says.
“They (parents) can drop their kids off, and they’ll have fun playing for the night,” Early says.
Kolten Barnhard, 7, attends “Pokemon” night with his mother in tow, battling, collecting cards and having fun.
Josh Massey, who runs the Pokemon League nights is looked up to by the participants, and helps out whenever he can. Massey has only been at it for six months, but he enjoys it.
“Fighting my friends was getting old,” Massey says. “It’s something nice to do, it’s nice to come here and play cards.”
Much to Kolten’s chagrin, Massey can’t inflate the league schedule to several nights a week.
“Josh,” Kolten asks “how come we can’t do this more than once a week?”
“Because my wife won’t let me do it more than once a week,” Massey responds, eliciting chuckles from players in the room.
Kolten will keep coming as long as he can though.
“I used to play Bakugan until I got sick of it,” says Kolten. “So I only play Pokemon, until I get too old. Then I’ll give my cards to my kids.”
A full schedule of Paradox Comics-N-Cards can be found here.
Edited by Ryan Kartes, MSUM Journalism