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Monster slayers

Armed with cards and cunning, young competitors gather Friday nights at Lodi’s Comic Grapevine to battle mystical creatures — and one another.

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Maggie Creamer/News-Sentinel

Jason Paglia and his brother, Brandon, play Yu-Gi-Oh! at Comic Grapevine on Friday, May 31, 2013. The brothers often stop at the shop to play and buy cards.


A towering, hairy bull with two sets of viciously curved horns stepped onto the open field, energized by the power of the earth itself. A flying demon swooped in, pointed ears standing on end and whip-like tail swinging back and forth.

The demon launched itself at the bull, using a spear enchantment to stab the animal and kill it. But the animals’ death gave its master more life, and the wizard set forth another massive bull. The demon attacked once more to kill this new animal. It went down without a fight, due to a spell the demon carried.

But no blood was shed in the epic tabletop card game battle that took less than 15 minutes.

“Really? Another stab wound?” asked Christoper Kurtz, 25.

“Really. You’re going down,” said Brandon Coon, 21.

Instead, Kurtz played an enchantment, hitting Coon three times in a single turn. It was enough to drain Coon’s life points and end the game.

Slaying monsters and setting enchantments is a normal Friday night for many fans of Magic: The Gathering, a fantasy themed trading card game that allows players to control monsters, cast spells, and take down their opponents from the comfort of any basement, rec room or comic book store. It’s known as Friday Night Magic, and brings players of all skill levels together to try out new cards, build new decks and learn tournament style game play. Players of other games, like Yu-Gi-Oh! and Vanguard, are welcome too.

In Lodi, the action is centered at Comic Grapevine, a comic book shop on Cherokee Lane owned by Alan Chan. Local players are so enthusiastic that last month he moved to a new shop across town to allow more room for gaming.

Chan has dabbled in most every trading card game, but the one that sticks with his local customers is MTG. If the regulars keep buying their cards from him, Chan is happy to host weekly tournaments.

“It encourages people to play here. We can keep the game alive, and build a community,” he said. “It kind of seems sad there’s not much else for kids to do.”

On a recent Friday evening, the shop was crowded with 15 players readying their decks for the night’s competition. Cans of Pepsi and Dr. Pepper littered the tabletops, and Skittle’s wrappers were strewn about. But the players were too focused to notice the clutter. At stake? Bragging rights and a new holographic deck expansion.

“It’s a world most of Lodi doesn’t know about,” said Christine Sprankle, 24. She’s one of just a few female players who frequent the weekly tournaments. Aside from the competition, Sprankle loves the artistic designs on each card. She designed and crafted a costume based on Emmara Tandris, an elf shaman card that prevents damage to creatures.

The game has tapped into the professional card world and is the second biggest competitive table game next to poker. In May, the Pro Tour Dragon’s Maze took over the San Diego Convention Center. Professional players vied for a $250,000 prize and the title Pro Player of the Year. But most at Chan’s shop are happy to play at their best friend’s kitchen table.

“I enjoy the multiple ways you can kill creatures,” said Coon, who has played for five years. To him, the game is one of politics and ganging up on other players.

Kurtz likes the game for the combination of strategy and luck of the draw.

“You can build a deck that’s made to win and still lose if you’re not drawing the right cards,” he said.

Contact reporter Sara Jane Pohlman at

12 images

Maggie Creamer/News-Sentinel

Jason Paglia and his brother, Brandon, play Yu-Gi-Oh! at Comic Grapevine on Friday, May 31, 2013. The brothers often stop at the shop to play and buy cards.