Baghdad Bazaar: The Unsung Heroes

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Gotta catch 'em all! Er...collect them all?
Before we get into the meat of the article, I'd like to mention a game that has been completely tickling my fancy over here in Taiwan. It's called MUSHIKING: THE KING OF BEETLES!!!! and is essentially an arcade version of Wizard's Eye of Judgment, except with BIG HONKING BEETLES! I mean, just feast your eyes on the glory of this Sega-produced game! Personally, I think I'd have gotten into collectible card games a lot sooner if they featured epic CGI battles between creatures I could literally find crawling around in my back yard. And judging from its popularity, it seems to be the current Pokemon over here.

And while you're laughing, just keep in mind that Sega has already distributed the arcade/collectible card game in eight states so far in America.

That's right. Keep laughing.

The beetles are coming.

It wasn't long after making friends with both a Magic store owner in Nova Scotia (through MTGO, no less) and another here in downtown Taipei that I began thinking about a new article. In particular, I wanted to see not only how the business of selling Magic fared but also how it fared differently in two shops on literally the opposite sides of the world. After all my time spent overseas (England, Korea, Iraq, and now Taiwan), I've grown quite curious about how things we take for granted might operate in foreign lands. Plus, I think that even Wizards has realized some of the real heroes of Magic will never see their names in the Hall of Fame. Yet, without them, our most beloved game wouldn't even exist.

Fortunately, both shop store owners were incredibly gracious, and the result is what follows.

Note: Click on photos to see larger versions. Pictures on the right are from Canada; pictures on the left are from Taiwan. Additionally, portions of what the store owners said have been paraphrased or edited for ease of reading, although the meaning has been kept intact. Enjoy!

1. Thank you again for being willing to answer some questions about what you do. What are your names, what stores do you run, and what are their addresses?

Buffy and the location of her store. Mapquest FTW.
Buffy Goldman: What is, this, a bad Monty Python joke? My name is Buffy Goldman. The business address is:

6407 Quinpool Road,
Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada

If Gua Gua looked like Jet Li, this is what he'd look like. His store is way over here.
Chun Hisen Wu: My name is Chun Hisen Wu, but everyone calls me Gua Gua (瓜瓜). My store's address is the following:

Card Master
Nan Chang Road Section 1 #23 3rd Floor
Taipei City, Taiwan

2. How did you first become a store owner? Did you start at the store you're at now, or did you have to work up to it?

Enough to make any self-
respecting nerd drool.
Buffy Goldman: I married the owner, Sheldon Goldman. The store opened December 10, 1977. It is the oldest science fiction, fantasy, and comic book specialty store in the world. And it was the first of its kind.

Let me explain. In and prior to 1977, the only way to get things like boards games, posters, toys, books, comics, novels, and collectables was to find a store that sold those items (like a store that sold board games or a store that sold novels). So Sheldon came up with the idea to put it all under one roof. Thus was born Odyssey-2000, and today most comic specialty shops sell a wide range of all products. According to Sheldon, however, back then there were only about six other stores that even came close. And all those where in the USA (except for "Now and Then Books" in Ontario, Canada).

Gua Gua's place is for
some serious Magic buyers!
I actually started going into the store when I was only eleven years old, being a big fan of Groo the Wanderer (ever heard of it?), but I met Sheldon much later as an adult when I worked another job. Needless to say, I married the jerk. And got hooked on MTG.

Gua Gua: After serving in the army, I decided I wanted to do what I liked to do. So after soul searching for about one year, my decision was to open a store. And well, when you open a store, you become the store owner.

3. What rough percentage of your store's inventory does Magic take up? Is your store more a game store that also sells Magic or a Magic store that also sells games? Do you sell other non-boxed products, such as individual cards/T-shirts/autographed posters/etc?

Some non-Magic
stuff Buffy sells.
Buffy Goldman: We sell everything! But Magic is a very large part of our sales. Sorry, but the exact percentage is a secret. Let's say it's a lot. To make Magic successful, you need to offer a full line of products. So we have boxes, packs, and singles for as many sets as we can carry. Players are always building, so we need to be able to offer cheap and expensive deck types.

MTG isn't the only thing
that does well in Taiwan.

Gua Gua: Magic takes up about 80% of my inventory. I'd say my shop is a Magic store that also sells games, but I might increase the percentage of non-Magic products in the future. I sell products from Wizards (boosters, fat packs, theme decks etc); merchandise such as card protectors, deck cases, and binders; Magic singles; autographed cards; prints of original art; and promotional T-shirts (although I usually give them away at events).

Editor's note: It's much easier for a small store to sell nothing but Magic in downtown Taipei than it might be in America or Canada. First, CCGs are very popular in Taiwan right now (including Yu-Gi-Oh, Duelmasters, and others); second, Taipei has a number of large universities packed with avid gamers; and third, terrific public transportation makes small hobby stores like Gua Gua's literally a walk/short ride away.

4. What sort of DCI events do you host? Regular Friday Night Magic? Weekend drafts? Prerelease parties? Pro Tour Qualifiers?

Well, someone looks happy.
Buffy Goldman: We do all DCI events. On Thursdays, we draft. We let the players decide too. And you would be suprised to see that the players will change draft packs around too. Some of the combinations are really funny. They don't work well sometimes, but the players return because they enjoy the game.

We do FNM every Friday. These are usually pretty good turnouts. On a good week, we can get up to 32 players, though lately this summer we have only seen 12-16 on average. The gas crunch is going to hit everyone.

We do release tournaments too. We always do them on a Sunday after the actual release, but the turnouts are always fantastic. We have seen up to 60 players for some release tournaments.

Gua Gua: I host:

1. All the official tournaments: GPTs, PTQ, Nationals Qualifiers etc.
2. Eight-man drafts every day with DCI.
3. One to two medium events or tournaments a month.
4. One to two large events or tournments biannually.

5. Have you ever organized special non-DCI events for Magic? Were they successful?
Buffy Goldman: Yes, every Saturday we tell players that they can come in and play (very) casual Magic. We can get from 2-12 players. But, as it is casual, the turnout is casual too.

Gua Gua: I've hosted Tribal Wars and Arena games that were non-DCI events. They were pretty successful.

6. What do you do to attract new players? What do you do to keep them coming back? Do you organize special events/give out special prizes/invent other incentives?
Buffy Goldman: To keep the player base, we offer the one thing they want: fair play. When we began this, the one single complaint we heard was "too much cheating." So it was decided right from the beginning that everyone had to learn how to play the game correctly. As the store owner and resident DCI judge, I often help settle disputes. The players really appreciate this.

Since bribery works too, so we also offer extra prizes as support for all of our tournnaments. For Thursday events, all tournament fees are used for prize support. For Friday Night Magic, we give an extra three to four packs to the top two players as well as FNM foils. And for the release tournaments, we have three pack draws every hour, 72 packs split to the top four players, and the regular prizes handed out from Wizards.

Special note: Odyssey-2000 was, to my knowledge, the first store to do "Midnight Madness." It caused a lot of stir, but it's all the rave now. And to top it off, Wizards themselves now call it "Midnight Madness"!

Gua Gua: New players receive special prizes or get discounts when they enter into events and tournaments. New players are encouraged to draft in casual eight-man's with wiser players helping them with their picks. I host plenty of introductory events where new players can just pop in and learn the various games. I give old customers discounts on their purchases. I also sometimes only sell limited or special merchandise to loyal customers.

6b. To Buffy: "Resident DCI Judge," eh? That sounds pretty handy for people playing at your store. How did you become a DCI Judge?
Buffy Goldman: In order to give fair tournaments to my customers, I believe full knowledge of the game is of utmost importance. Three years ago, I started the steps to being a DCI judge. I took the test while at GP Toronto, and they made me one of the few female judges in the world.

(Editor's note: Coming soon! Buffy Goldman and Diane "Urchin" Colley fight to the death for title of Supreme Female DCI Judge and General Vixen! Stay tuned!)

7. Have you ever had any "big names" visit your store (card artists, WotC employees, tournament stars)?

No big names, perhaps, but
plenty of customers.
Buffy Goldman: Unfortunately, no. But if you look at the [above] map, we are not exactly centered.

Signed art!
Gua Gua: I don't remember any names, but pro players that come to Taiwan for tournaments often come to my store. Sometimes Wizards employees come to my store too when they are doing market statistics.

Translator's note: Expect more big names during Grand Prix Taiwan this November! It's finally back after 5 years; the last Grand Prix Taiwan was in 2003.

7b. A special question just for Gua Gua: Magic was originally a States-based game. How exactly did it first show up in stores like yours?

Glass cases
of goodness!
Gua Gua: The push actually came from the customers themselves. At first, players who'd either spent time in America or were introduced to Magic by friends began asking their stores for Magic products. The stores in turn went out and tried to obtain the products. From there, it was only a matter of time before agents started actively promoting the product in Taiwan. Slowly, inch by inch, Magic began spreading.

8. Do you travel to larger DCI events (Prereleases/Nationals/World/Grand Prix/Pro Tour)? How do you advertise while you're there?
Buffy Goldman: Yes, I have traveled to many Prereleases. I do enjoy playing with the new cards, and players there are always in great spirits. It's "good times." I've played and judged in Grand Prixs and helped judge Canadian Nationals last year. I went to play at Worlds last December in New York and had a lot of fun. I can proudly say I have friends from all over the world. It's like the players and judges become a family.

Gua Gua: I don't need to do any special advertising because I just sign up to set up a product booth. I usually set up tables at all Grand Prixes in the Asia Pacific area. Not to mention that we successfully got tables at Pro Tour Kuala Lampur this year. (However, it is often hard to get tables at events in Japan.) I always sell merchandise at large tournaments in Taiwan (Nationals, Prereleases etc.). I also set up tables at comic conventions to advertise Magic.

9. Do you play Magic yourself? If so, do you consider yourself an avid player, or do you keep up with the game more to help your customers?

Gua Gua showing
off his...AAH

Buffy with her friends.
Buffy Goldman: Yes, I have played at all levels of events. I really do love the game; and when I'm not at the store playing with my players, I'm online playing with my many friends from all over the world.

Gua Gua: Of course, I play Magic! And I also enjoy it, being as I grew into a store owner from being a Magic player.

Translator's note: Gua Gua usually joins in the eight-man drafts in his free time when there aren't enough people. I sometimes see him playing T2 or helping the tournament fanatics playtest.

10. What's your best memory of being a game store owner?
Buffy Goldman: I really enjoyed the Tenth Release Party. We did three events, saw 85 players throughout the day, and gave away many shiny Reya Dawnbringers.

Gua Gua: When my stores explodes from being overpacked with players during tournaments.

11. What's your worst?
Buffy Goldman: Being in business so long, we get to see many generations of families come through. We have lost a few valued friends and customers to death, which is very sad. So we work hard to make each new next generation come back.

You can fit almost 60
people in this store. You
just may not want to.
Gua Gua: Once upon a hot humid Taiwan summer day, my store was overpacked with players...then the air conditioner broke.

Translator's note: I was there. T'was a blazing hot day; you could fry eggs on cars. It was a Sunday, so the air conditioner repairmen were not open. Everyone sat there, shoulder-to-shoulder, sweating like pigs. We all complained, but we didn't give the owner a hard time. We have a nice community of players. Smile

12. How has Magic as a business been fairing in your local area? Are you finding many new players, or is the game fading away? Do you think that Magic alone is enough to keep a store in business in your area?
Buffy Goldman: Magic is doing well for this area, given the population base. We have a lot of stores here now selling Magic, so fair pricing is a must. We have seen a slight decline in Magic sales, but we are sure that is because of the gas crunch. Once consumers get over the shock, then things will get back on track. Still, a store selling Magic alone would not survive long here.

Gua Gua: Magic is hard as a business. When you look at the average pay demograph of Taiwan, Magic is considered an expensive luxury. There is a constant flow of new players. Our community will do all we can to ensure that Magic keeps growing and spreading in Taiwan. I think stores only selling Magic in Taiwan will have a rough road ahead of them.

13. What's the average age of the people you see playing in your store?
Buffy Goldman: We have Magic players from age 6 to 86, though most are late teens to early twenties.

Gua Gua: Usually from 18 to 25 or so.

14. If one of our readers was interested either in a job at a game store or in starting one themselves, what sort of advice would you give them?
Buffy Goldman: Staff need to be friendly and knowledgeable about different aspects of the store. They also need to keep in touch with the current trends in gaming and in business in general.

That's a sizable chunk
of change right there.
Gua Gua: The most important thing is to have a passion and dream. If you want to open a stationery store that sells diverse products, open a 7-11--it will be much easier and more stable. The things you need to watch out for in the Magic business are myriad. It's not an easy job. It is really, really tiring. And because your vacations are different than your friends', you miss out on chances to hang out with them. BUT, you will definitely be happier opening a store filled with things you love and grew up with than opening a 7-11 with products you don't know or understand.

(Special thanks go out to Gorby Shih, resident Card Master genius, for his help in translating my communications with Gua Gua!)


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