OLEAN, NY – It’s a breezy Friday night. The block is quiet save for a few cars pulling in front of 212 W. State St. Men and women of all ages chat and catch up as they file into Grand Slam Games & Comics. Passing the shelves and displays, they travel up the back staircase to a room filled with long tables and chairs. They sit, unpack boxes filled with playing cards and prepare to engage in the weekly ritual of Friday Night Magic.
Magic: The Gathering, or MTG, is a collectible trading card game played by millions of people around the world. Weekly tournaments are held on Fridays at card shops for the latest sets, coined by the community as Friday Night Magic or FNM.
Trevor Lasher is a salesman and organizer of FNM at Grand Slam. Lasher, 35, started working at Grand Slam in the early 2000s. Noticing a desire among customers for organized MTG play, Trevor petitioned Jai Pawlak, the store owner, to let him put together an FNM. Eight years later, the event draws a loyal crowd of around 20 people every week.
The small size of the group makes for interesting play. Bigger FNM’s will see everyone running the same top-tier decks, but Grand Slam tournaments contain deck builds of different budgets, creatures, and flavor. Interactions between cards and plays that would be deemed not relevant to the standard metagame. The matches at Grand Slam are different than the typical FNM.
“I like that it’s small, the meta [game] is more open,” longtime customer Gabriel Phillips said.
Lasher tries to bring in as many new players as possible. He updates the store Facebook page with regular updates on tournaments and other events. Big draws for the store are prerelease weekends, a tournament where people get to buy packs from the set being released the following week to build a deck, with prizes ranging from playmats to foil versions of cards to simply more packs.
Game play formats like Modern which use older sets are subject to fluctuating prices and cards getting banned.
“The intro price for Modern is very steep,” Lasher said. “And if a card in your deck gets banned, you kind of have to start from scratch.”
Lasher said he focuses on making MTG a fun and casual experience that people have easy access to. Common cards from the latest sets are made readily available, and unique builds that differ from the top tier decks are encouraged.
“I like it here, it’s really relaxed. I look forward to Fridays even more now,” new player Alyssa Blossom, 17 said.
Many stores thrive on the competitive scene to turn a profit. They attract intense players, or “spikes” to run the tables every Friday and buy four copies of the latest value cards. Lasher said he prefers to pour his energy into getting new players to the table and keeping them out of incurable cardboard-induced debt.
“What we focus on is making sure that everyone can come down and play and have fun -- and not feel like if they’re not running whatever deck just won the pro tour they’re not gonna have a chance,” Lasher said.