British Columbia

Magic card players gather to defeat municipal bylaw

Magic: The Gathering players are gathering to overturn a bylaw which inhibits their ability to buy and sell trading cards.

Magic: The Gathering cards at the centre of city hall debate

Magic: The Gathering cards are traded online daily — with many fluctuating in value, depending on their current success in tournaments. (The Associated Press)

A group of gamers in Prince George, B.C., wants to overhaul a civic bylaw that requires all pawnbrokers and secondhand stores in the city to hold high-value items for 30 days before selling them.

The city says the bylaw is intended to curb theft by giving police time to return stolen items to their original owners. But the gamers say the rule is having unintended consequences for players of a trading card game called Magic: The Gathering.

"To play the game, you have to have the cards," said Reidar Paulson, a card player and member of Prince George's gaming community.

"Because it's a competitive game, there are cards that are better than other cards."

For almost two years, Paulson has been part of an effort to change the bylaw, allowing an exemption for trading cards.

Magic: The Gathering is typically played between two competitors who take turns laying down cards. Each card has rules concerning how it is played and each allows for the devising of various strategies.

There are millions of Magic: The Gathering cards currently in circulation and since many of them are duplicates, says Paulson, the Prince George bylaw is ineffectual.

"Normally, [the bylaw] would be fine for things that have serial numbers, things that are identifiable," said Paulson. "But with Magic cards ... no one card is different from another one, if they have the same name."

Lightning Bolt

Paulson used the common Magic: The Gathering card, Lightning Bolt, as an example. There are thousands of Lightning Bolt cards and all are completely identical to their fellows — there are no distinguishing serial numbers or markings of any kind.

"If I stole your Lightning Bolt card and shuffled it into a hand of four other Lightning Bolt cards, you'd have no way of knowing which is yours," said Paulson, explaining why the bylaw doesn't work for stolen Magic cards.

But the main issue card players have with the bylaw, said Paulson, is the the 30-day hold currently applied to the sale of secondhand items.

Interestingly, Magic cards can drastically fluctuate in value from day to day. A low-value card, such as Lightning Bolt, can be priced at $1 for weeks. But if Lightning Bolt is the deciding card in a high-profile tournament victory, its value can sky-rocket to $30, said Paulson. The opposite can also happen, he said.

Reidar Paulson has banded together with other trading card collectors in Prince George, B.C., in an effort to change a civic bylaw which impedes the buying and selling of Magic: The Gathering cards. (Andrew Kurjata/CBC)

Paulson argues that the 30-day hold seriously limits a card player's ability to buy and sell at ideal prices.

"That 30-day window is actually incredibly small when it comes to something that bounces around like stocks."

Paulson — and his cohort from Prince George's trading card shops — successfully appealed to city hall for the bylaw overhaul on Monday, and the process will now move to a public-hearing phase which is to be scheduled for sometime in early 2019.

With files from Daybreak North

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