Photo by Asai Solis

Iloilo’s Top ‘Magic’ Player Shows Ilonggos Why They Should Play the Game

By asai solis

Socially awkward teenagers or adult nerds who are either too fat or too skinny: these are the stereotypes that one might think those who play trading card games like Magic: The Gathering (or MTG, for short)—as people who disconnect themselves from reality to build a world of their own. And others might want to distance themselves from these tabletop gaming regulars to avoid being tagged as escapists who speak strange languages and make odd hand gestures.

But the Iloilo Magic: The Gathering Community card gamers would beg to differ.

The community, although a small one, is far from being a monotonous crowd—the players are actually a plethora of personalities with students, government employees, entrepreneurs, nurses, musicians, and doting fathers keeping the playgroup bustling with card action. And if you think that Ilonggo MTG players confine themselves only in Iloilo, you might want to familiarize yourself with how popular this trading card game actually is.

Magic: The Gathering Iloilo - Project Iloilo
Photo by Asai Solis

Magic: The Gathering is essentially the father of collectible card games. This pop-culture hit started in 1993 and has approximately 15 million players world-wide as of 2015. More than just a casual card game, MTG boasts world cup championships and grand prix tournaments which bring together the best players in different countries to compete with each other until a single “wizard” (that’s what a MTG player is called) emerges as champion.

Last October 2016, a Magic: The Gathering Grand Prix tournament was held in Malaysia. Out of 769 players, only the top 8 were given a run at the trophy and the $10,000 prize. And among those who made it to the top 8, only one is Filipino.

And that lone Filipino qualifier is an Ilonggo.

Meet Mark Lawrence Tubola, a bank employee and a finance graduate from Central Philippine University who ended up playing against Japan’s Fumiya Matsumoto in the finals of the 2016 Grand Prix Kuala Lumpur, and seized second place overall.

Mark admitted it was his first time to enter the top 8 of a major Magic: the Gathering competition.

And he almost didn’t make it to Malaysia.

Magic: The Gathering Iloilo - Project Iloilo
Photo by Asai Solis

“Before the event, my father was hospitalized, and he requested that I help him around while he’s still there. One week before GP Malaysia, he was still at the hospital. Our flight was Wednesday. Thankfully, he was discharged two days before our scheduled departure for the Grand Prix,” he said.

His decision to push through with the competition made him $5,000 richer when he returned home. Plus, he now starts his path as professional player after earning a slot to the strictly invite-only MTG Professional Tournament (Pro-Tour) to be held in Dublin, Ireland in February 2017. Mark said that whatever the outcome of the upcoming tourney, the surest thing is he will definitely enjoy the experience.

“I will do my best. Honestly, I don’t know if I can prepare enough since I will be competing in both standard and draft formats, and I am not much of a draft-format player. I won’t expect much, but the just the thought of rubbing elbows with the big names and hall of famers of MTG is exhilarating,” he added.

His win in Kuala Lumpur also opened an opportunity to introduce Magic: The Gathering to his friends who did not even know he plays it.

“They thought I won a championship in doing magic tricks, so I had to explain, that this kind of ‘magic’ is a card game. Personally, I actually find it difficult to explain what Magic is. They say it’s a combination of poker and chess. It was a good thing though, that people were asking about it,” Mark said.

For Ilonggos who are interested to learn casual or competitive play, the Iloilo Magic: The Gathering Community will warmly welcome you to the fold. And if you are still having doubts, Mark shared three reasons why Ilonggos should play MTG:

1. Play the game, see the world.

Ilonggo players don’t just stay in Iloilo, they also play in and out of the Philippines. However, Mark says being a competitive player in the province also has challenges.

“We have to spend more, especially on airline tickets and accommodations. Promo flights and cheap hotels are your best friends. There was a time that Ilonggo players are relatively unknown. But we have also proven that we can play and win in competitive MTG, besides being a game of skills and strategy, this is also a game of luck. Meaning, even a newbie can defeat a veteran player, given the right card draw,” he adds.

Perhaps the most inspiring thing that can happen to anyone who plays MTG is getting the chance to get invited to tournaments around the globe if one is skilled enough to enter the competitive battlefield. That means free roundtrip tickets, free accommodation, free merchandise, and a chance to win $10,000 in Grand Prix events and $50,000 in Pro-Tours

Who knew being a professional card game player has its perks?

Magic: The Gathering Iloilo - Project Iloilo
Tubola and Fumiya Matsumoto at the Finals of the Grand Prix in Kuala Lumpur | Photo from

2. Meet new people, make new friends.

MTG can be a mind-flexing activity for both introverts and extroverts who love fantasy. Since it involves making a deck you tweak on your individual preference, the whole experience becomes a personal challenge and, more often than not, you develop a bond with your deck because… well, it is your very own deck. You can mix and match creatures in your deck like elves, vampires, zombies, humans, dwarves, and werewolves while putting in spells and sorceries that will help you when you battle against another person’s deck.

It is a game of strategy, and single tournament can last three to four hours. With a game that long, you are bound to meet and converse with other people. What would start with a dice roll might end up in a batchoy-eating date with people who share the same interests as you.

Mark reveals that the staying power of MTG lies not only in the game itself, but also in the players making up the community.

“This is my hobby. Amo ini ang gapalipay sa akon [This is what makes me happy]. And a certain portion of my friends–I found them because of playing Magic. That’s why it’s already part of my life, since it introduced me to people who were there with me through thick and thin,” he says.

Magic: The Gathering Iloilo - Project Iloilo
Photo by Asai Solis

3. …Then there’s the economic side of it.

Since MTG is a “trading” card game, you can also gain money by selling your decks. One card, the Black Lotus, is pegged has an approximately $30,000 value. Yes, some players do splurge on rare cards, so it’s not dubbed ‘cardboard crack’ for nothing. Some Ilonggo players even narrated how they survived college by trading and selling MTG cards.

Mark says that although MTG can be an expensive hobby, a budget deck is still possible for casual gamers who just want to enjoy the game.

“There is a whole card-buying and selling scheme when you play MTG. Although the standard competition can go on for hours and the cards on your dream deck can fetch high prices, the game also gives opportunity for casual players. We have pauper tourneys which compete decks using only common card pieces. We also have team games. That’s what’s nice about MTG too. As a table-top game, you can play it at home or in cafes, and a single casual game can last for 20 to 30 minutes only. It’s even a fun family game that you can share with your kids,” he says.

So if ever you feel like doing something you haven’t done before, you should probably try playing Magic: The Gathering. Gone are the stereotypes that only nerds play this card game. As Mark puts it, in Iloilo, the cool kids play Magic.

So tap that land and cast the spell like no one’s watching.