Off the Wagon brings Magic to downtown Kent


Ari Miller was the moderator of Off The Wagon’s first Magic the Gathering tournament Saturday, Nov. 1, 2014.

Jason Meek

Off the Wagon, a toy store in Acorn Alley founded in 2009, is “for the young at heart,” according to its slogan. Only a short walk away from the Kent State campus, the shop sells merchandise geared toward the college demographic with novelty items, board games and collectibles.

Although the store sells plenty of tabletop games and trading cards, until recently there had not been any gaming events at the store where players could meet up and play. 

Michelle Sahr, the owner, said customers had been specifically requesting tournaments for Magic: The Gathering, a popular trading card game. On Saturday, Nov. 1, the store hosted its first event and plans to hold more in the next few months.

Magic: The Gathering is a fantasy-themed trading card game published by Wizards of the Coast, a subsidiary of Hasbro. According to the official website, it’s one of the most widely played trading card games in the world, and new cards and expansions have been released ever since it was first published in 1993.

Players take the role of wizards known as “planeswalkers,” and each card represents creatures, spells, lands or magical artifacts used to do battle.

Constructing a deck is a major part of the strategy of Magic. A typical deck contains about 60 cards, and selecting cards is a major part of the game’s strategy. Players at the Off the Wagon tournament spent just as much time discussing deck building as they did playing the game itself.

Gaming stores all across the country host regular Friday Night Magic events, which are official tournaments sanctioned by Wizards of the Coast. According to the official Magic website, players can earn Planeswalker Points at any registered location to increase their Duelists’ Convocation International (DCI) ranking and compare their skills with other players.

Off the Wagon’s first tournament was a block-constructed tournament, meaning that all players’ decks could only contain cards from the latest expansion, Khans of Tarkir, which was released in September. The event started at 9:15 p.m., after the store had closed to the general public.

Sahr said organizing the event was a challenge, especially considering the limited floor space in the store. When planning for the event, she discovered she was only able to fit six folding tables into the store if all the shelves of merchandise were pushed against the walls.

This wasn’t enough, she said, but fortunately, for this tournament she said she was able to borrow an empty studio in Acorn Alley, only a short walk from Off the Wagon.

The tournament was moderated by Ari Miller, a sales associate at Off the Wagon. Miller said she has been playing Magic for several years, but now that the store is starting to host events, she has been learning how to organize and moderate tournaments.

“I haven’t played Magic in a long time, so this was a really sharp learning curve for me,” Miller said.

In December, Miller said she will apply to become a DCI certified judge. The application process involves taking a test on the rules of Magic. After being approved, certified judges can hold tournaments in which players can earn Planeswalker Points and improve their DCI ranking.

While the game has a vast library of cards and complicated rules, Miller doesn’t consider it difficult for beginners to learn.

“What I like about Magic is you can pick it up real easily,” Miller said.

Miller said Off the Wagon will host casual tournaments in the future to introduce beginners who have never played the game before, helping them learn the basics of gameplay and deck construction.

In late December, Miller said she plans to host a draft event at Off the Wagon. In draft tournaments, each participant buys three packs of cards (usually costing $12 total) to construct a new deck. Decks at these events are smaller than usual, with only 40 cards.

Most events will be free to enter, and Off the Wagon hopes to be accessible to beginning or casual players, Miller said.

“I thought the event was really good,” said Tyler Baldridge, one of the participants at the event. “I think it was nice for people who aren’t super serious for it to be free, but still have prizes.”

The top two players at this event won Off the Wagon gift cards.

Baldridge said this event, which only had a turnout of six players and was not enough to run an official tournament, provided a lighthearted and social atmosphere. 

At casual events like this, Baldridge said it’s easy to meet new people and chat while playing the game. 

“I like the banter back and forth,” he said.

Leo Lewis, another player at the tournament, said he also enjoyed the casual atmosphere of the first event.

“I usually play really competitive events, and it was nice to take a break and play something more relaxed,” Lewis said.

News about upcoming tournaments will be posted to Off the Wagon’s Facebook page.

Contact Jason Meek at [email protected].