Most Viewed Stories
Marysville game store has the Magic
• HOURS: Monday to Thursday, noon to 6 p.m; Friday, noon to 11 p.m.; Saturday, 10 a.m to 6 p.m.
• LOCATION: 502 J St., Marysville
• PHONE: 870-8119
• WEBSITE: matchplay.com
A Place to Game is exactly that — a place to play collectible card games, but it's more than that.
In describing the Marysville store, co-owner Eric Ashabran said, "Our primary focus is Magic: The Gathering, the collectible card game." Along with co-owner Jason Murray, they buy and sell Magic cards and hold tournaments in their store's playing space as well as Magic events involving the release of new card sets.
They deal in cards at their bricks-and-mortar store and draw customers-players from the Yuba-Sutter area as well as from Sacramento, Grass Valley, Chico and surrounding region. But lest one think that the local market for Magic cards is limited, Ashabran and Murray's customer base is actually the whole world, as they sell and buy cards through their online store, matchplay.com.
"Seventy-five percent of our business in Magic cards is online," said Ashabran. "They sell for anywhere from 3 cents to several thousand dollars."
Magic and the whole gamers world may be foreign to the average person on the street, but dealing in Magic cards is no small business endeavor. Ashabran said they have a "couple million" Magic cards in stock.
The holy grail of Magic cards is the Beta Black Lotus, of which a card with a rating of 10 mint is currently up for sale on eBay for $100,000. An ungraded Black Lotus in decent condition may go for $3,500, according to Ashabran. He said he has sold two Black Lotuses in the last week.
Back to more common items, a Magic intro deck, which is ready to go as the base starting point of the game, sells for $14.95. A quick perusal of their website shows single cards priced at $5 to $15.
A Place to Game also sells card sleeves, binders, card cases and boxes, playing mats and the like to protect the cards.
Ashabran and Murray, having known each other since about 1995, opened A Place to Game in October 2008. Ashabran, 36, is from Roseville; Murray, 37, is a Yuba City High School graduate.
The atmosphere at the store and playing space is casual. Murray said people can come in "anytime and play for free." Tournaments are held three times a week — on Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays. Eight to 12 players usually come in on Wednesdays and about 35 come in on Fridays, according to Murray. There are entry fees and prizes for the organized tournaments.
New card sets, or "expansions," for Magic: The Gathering come out every three months, and A Place to Game holds pre-launch and release parties on those occasions. The store owners provide pizza and soft drinks at these events as a reward to customers.
At a release party in early October featuring Magic's new Return to Ravnica set, a slice of the gamers subculture could be seen. There were about three dozen mild-mannered guys in their 20s and 30s — the typical gamers demographic — many dressed in black T-shirts or hoodies. It was not a jock crowd. It's a culture that began with the 1993 release of Magic, the first of the collectible card games.
Michael Duffey, the tournament organizer for the release party, said he comes to A Place to Game three or four times per week. The 27-year-old from Yuba City comes to "play, hang out with friends, stuff like that. I've known the owners for 10 years or so. I like it for the friends and atmosphere."
A one-on-one round of Magic consists of best-of-three-games, which altogether takes about 50 minutes. Group games are also possible.
It all sounds like fun and games, but it's work for Murray and Ashabran, who can't even count the number of hours they work — Ashabran mentioned 110 hours per week. Even though they have one full-time employee, the two owners work extensively outside of store hours, even on Sundays when the shop is closed.
Both Murray and Ashabran regularly go to the various Magic grand prix tournaments held around the world. The tournaments also serve as trade conventions in which Magic cards are bought and sold. One or the other sets up a dealers booth at the venues to mainly buy cards for their inventory but also sell some.
Ashabran described working the tournaments as fairly grueling. It involves going to the airport on Thursdays hauling the gear, then working the booth from about 6 a.m. to 1 a.m. each tournament day, setting up and breaking the booth down and carrying it back to the hotel for three straight days. He said he's been on these business trips to Paris, Amsterdam, Spain, Japan, Hawaii, Costa Rica, Brazil, Las Vegas, Nashville, New York, Vancouver and Toronto, among other places. Murray's destinations have included St. Louis, Philadelphia, Indianapolis, Hawaii, Seattle, Columbus, Ohio, and Washington, DC. And of course they go to "local" events in the Bay Area and Southern California.
A Place to Game also carries merchandise beyond Magic in two logical directions: other gamers-world fantasy games and other types of collectible cards.
They sell old-school Dungeons and Dragons game sets, along with Pathfinder, a newer role-playing fantasy game. They also carry board games, two of the most prominent in the shop being The Settlers of Catan and Warhammer 40,000.
The Settlers of Catan, which originated in Germany, is the most popular game in the world. "Germany is a big board-game country," said Ashabran. The Settlers editions sold at A Place to Game are the European editions — "not stuff you can get at Walmart. It's the next level, more advanced," according to the store's co-owner.
Warhammer 40,000, which consists of miniature figures and landscapes, is also prominently featured at the store, including a 3-foot-by-6-foot mini-landscape. Participants in this game paint their figures and create their own battlefields.
A random look around the store finds the Munchkin board game, A Game of Thrones, Dominion, Ascension, Pokemon, Yu-Gi-Oh!, The Simpsons and Austin Powers games and many more.
Finally, A Place to Game sports a sports card section. For someone who hasn't seen a baseball card since the early 1980s — these aren't your card-stock flippers in packs of 10 with a hard stick of bubble gum.
Upper Deck's Exquisite cards may come with goldleaf, the player's autograph, a piece of game-worn jersey, be part of a numbered set, and feature all manner of design considerations beyond the usual athlete's portrait of old. According to Ashabran, football cards are the most popular at the store.
Packs of five to eight Topps football, baseball and basketball cards range from about $3 to $15. Some Exquisite football packs sell for $500 and $1,000 or more. Some collectors, who might be more correctly called gamblers or investors, buy these expensive packs looking to get the big hit like a LeBron James rookie card, said Ashabran.
Back at the Magic release party in October, James Thompson of Sacramento was enjoying the Magic magic. Thompson, 41, who first met Murray playing at tournaments in the mid-1990s, said he comes to the Marysville shop about once a month. "I like the atmosphere better (than at Sacramento-area places) and the players and people," he said.
Murray said, "We're just trying to create a good environment" for Magic aficionados.
Ashabran, who has been involved with sports cards since 1984 and Magic since 1993, said, "Magic has allowed me to travel the world and be in a hobby and make a livelihood."
CONTACT Mike Hatamiya at 749-4777.