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Las Vegas is the best-known city in the world when it comes to gaming. But recently, thousands of people came from all over the world for a different kind of game: a Magic: The Gathering Grand Prix event held at the Las Vegas Convention Center.

Magic: The Gathering is a fantasy-themed trading-card game produced by the Seattle-based game company Wizards of the Coast, also the current manufacturers of Dungeons & Dragons. Magic is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year.

In Magic, two players face off, taking turns summoning creatures to attack their opponent, as well as casting spells with the intent of both hindering the opponent and fortifying themselves. A Grand Prix is a large-scale tournament, with thousands of dollars on the line and often thousands in attendance, and they happen all around the globe.

Stepping inside the main room of a Grand Prix is exhilarating. It’s typical for players to gather in groups of 20 or more at game stores when they play, but to be in a room full of thousands is an entirely different thing. It’s mind-boggling to consider that this silly card game has such mass appeal that people travel from around the world just to play in it.

And it wasn’t just tournament players. There were more than two dozen artists, the ones who create the phenomenal fantasy artwork on the cards, there to sign cards that players held dear. Well-known employees of Wizards of the Coast, who regularly interact with the public digitally, were on hand to interact with the public physically. There were all kinds of Magic content creators who make popular podcasts or video series, who partook in panels or just played games with fans of their own.

Cosplayers, too. Among them was a close friend of mine dressed as Akroma, Angel of Fury, a typical humanoid angel with red hair, a red staff of fire, red armor with green gemstones laid in parts of it, and broad brown-feather wings.

Another eye-catcher was an extravagant cosplay of Karn, Silver Golem, that stood at something close to eight feet tall. He has a humanoid body made entirely of silver with massive shoulders reminiscent of oversized football pads. The newest card to depict Karn included glowing eyes, so the cosplayer was able to get the eyes to light up on the mask he was wearing. It’s astoundingly obvious that an immense amount of care and effort went into creating all of the wonderful cosplays seen over the June weekend.

If you’re particularly invested in the game, you might seek out the professional Magic players (yeah, those exist) — people who attend as many of these huge tournament events as possible in the hopes of finishing well enough to earn a large check, and who have a following of fans, just like professionals in any traditional sport.

A typical Grand Prix only has one “main event,” that is to say, tournament with thousands of dollars in the pot. However, for this GP Vegas, there were two. One that went from Friday to Saturday, and a second from Saturday to Sunday, getting 2,778 and 2,082 players respectively.

It was an absolute sea of people who care about this card game that I myself have been playing since early 2009. Being around people who are passionate about the same hobby is always a great time, but when those numbers climb up to these levels, it becomes an unreal experience that I can’t possibly replicate — until the Grand Prix rolls into town.

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