In 1993, Danny “DJ” Milam picked up a new habit.
During his coffee breaks while working at a collection agency in downtown Roseburg, he’d stop by Heroes’ Haven, a local comic shop, and buy a pack of Magic: The Gathering cards. Already a fan of Dungeons & Dragons, fantasy novels and comics, the newly released fantasy-based card game seemed to be a perfect fit as something he’d collect.
“I didn’t even know anybody who knew how to play the game,” Milam said. “I just thought, ‘Oh, these are cool,’ and I just started collecting them. I had gotten a pretty good-sized shoebox full of cards and still hadn’t quite mastered or interacted with anyone else who knew how to play.”
Months later, he found a group at a local shop, Neverland Comics, who knew how to play the game. He decided to go.
“And that’s when I found out it’s a great game,” Milam said. “And I still play it.”
Milam describes the game as “chess with 1,000 pieces” — each player customizes their unique deck of up to 100 cards to best fit their personality and play style, with the goal of taking the opposing player’s “life total” from the starting point of 20 to zero.
In the first few months of the game’s lifespan, 10 million cards were sold, and a thriving secondary market began to emerge, as players resold cards seen as more valuable for a high price.
This aspect of the game was what Milam brought up when having a conversation with Benjamin Sulffridge and his father in a coffee shop in Roseburg shortly after Magic’s release.
In the coming years, Sulffridge would get hooked as well — and after getting ingrained into the community, organizing events and tournaments across Roseburg, he decided to open a store of his own.
Now, 30 years after Milam first bought those cards from Heroes’ Haven downtown, he was playing Magic: The Gathering in Sulffridge’s shop, Nexus Games, located on Northeast Stephens Street in Roseburg. Every Monday night, Magic players gather here to test their skills against one another, learn better ways to play, and build a thriving community.
“I just love the community,” Sulffridge said. “I’m militarily retired, but I choose to do this because I love the people, and watching them grow up. They come in, 12 or 13, and then they become a young adult, and next thing you know, they’re bringing in their 6 or 7-year-old kids.”
The ages of Magic players varied greatly at Nexus Games on Monday — some were young adults, some were fresh out of high school, some had children older than the opponents they were playing against.
Liam Jones, a 19-year-old from Sutherlin who hopes to attend culinary school, attends the event weekly with his friend Ben Godawa, also 19, after Godawa convinced Jones to get back into the game about a year ago.
“It’s just really fun,” Jones said. “The whole mechanics and the community and stuff. I wouldn’t have met any of these people if he didn’t drag me out here.”
After playing casually for a couple of hours, Sulffridge began the tournament — partly for fun and partly for competition, it’s the main time when players put their skills and deck-making abilities to the test.
For these players, their decks are more than just simple cards — they’re tied to their own personalities, serving as a way to express themselves through the gameplay.
“If you ask anybody how to build a deck, they’ll all give you a different answer,” said Atticus Owens, a 25-year-old who moved to Roseburg last year, and has played weekly at Nexus Games ever since. “The way I do it, I just run with a color, and then I build around that color. It’s all about play style and what you like to do.”
Milam said this aspect of the game is what keeps so many people engaged in Magic.
“Psychologically, before you even sit down at the game table, you might have an advantage over a certain pattern of play just because you made a different choice in building your deck,” Milam said. “So it rewards underdog thinking. The out of the box, the unorthodox thinking can take advantage over the rigid, ‘perfect’ deck.”
With so many different possible combinations, Magic, invented by mathematician Richard Garfield, becomes incredibly complex — and the game quickly became seen as a potential teaching tool.
Sulffridge said a teacher at Coffenberry Middle School in Myrtle Creek offered a mathematics elective class based on Magic, teaching children statistics and probability through the different card combinations and deck-building. Sulffridge donated cards from his store that the children would use to learn, cards they could keep to play against one another, learning more about the game and mathematics along the way.
“The people who play Magic want you to play Magic,” Owens said. “They always help you, you can do your own thing and nobody can stop you.”
Long after the sun set Monday night, the Magic players were still going strong in Nexus Games, even as most other businesses had closed. Some of these players come three or four times a week, others just wait until the next Monday. But by next week, they’ll all be back, cards in hand, ready to start another game.
“It’s in the name itself. It’s called Magic: The Gathering,” Milam said. “It was the point that you could gather at a table, and play a game for 15 minutes or an hour plus. There’s that social aspect…the whole back and forth you actually get from a personality at a table, you can’t replicate that.”