In the world trading card game Magic: The Gathering, players are Planeswalkers, powerful mages that travel the multiverse armed with a deck of cards composed of lands, creatures and spells. Their goal is to hone their skills by battling others and to strengthen their own decks through new cards.
It’s not uncommon to see Magic games on the cafeteria tables or in the Students Center on campus. However, some of the most powerful Planeswalkers hide in plain sight.
Environmental engineering major Ivan Espinosa plays competitive Magic on state and national levels and battles opponents from across the globe.
Like some of the Planeswalker characters in the game, Espinosa’s Magic journey had its humble origins. He started playing in high school as a freshman with his friends and began playing competitively in his junior year.
“It’s a much deeper game. It’s easy to learn but hard to be really good at it,” Espinosa said.
The more he played, the better he got, and local Friday Night Magic tournaments turned into large-scale competitions like the Magic Grand Prix, a two-day tournament with thousands of dollars in cash prizes.
“Going to a GP [Grand Prix] and seeing all those people there was like, ‘Wow. I’m not the worst person in the room. I could do pretty well here,” Espinosa said. “I’m a pretty competitive person in general and doing well in whatever I do.”
Though Espinosa participates in open tournaments in different states, his skill has earned him invitations to other competitions like the Star City Games Open Series Invitational. At one tournament, he placed 42nd out of over 4000 players.
In Magic, players build different decks with different concentrations of power. Espinosa’s deck, at one point, was featured in the Star City Games Open Series Invitational because a deck like that had never been seen in that setting.
He hopes to qualify for the Magic Pro Tour, a prestigious invitational tournament that pits the best in the world against each other.
When asked about what motivates him to keep playing Magic, Espinosa said that the community aspect and the friendships he strengthens and creates makes it worthwhile.
He sometimes travels to tournaments with other players from Shuffle and Cut Games, a La Habra based card shop that sponsors him.
For the employees at Shuffle and Cut who have watched him grow and progress his skills, Espinosa’s dedication to the game is easily seen.
“[There are] very few players that have the dedication and fewer who have the talent to keep up with the dedication,” said Jason Nakonechny, sales associate and tournament organizer at Shuffle and Cut. “He, luckily, has both. He has an understanding for how the game is played and also the time to learn it and master it.”
Nakonechny, who has been playing Magic for 20 years, also noticed that although Espinosa competes at intense national events, he’s still down to earth and eager to help out new players.
“He’s basically part of the community. He may be one of the better players, but he’s still part of everybody,” Nakonechny said.
With the will of a champion and a down to earth personality, every game Espinosa plays is simply Magic.