Making Friends in Thailand

Anyone that knows Julia and me knows that we love to play Magic: the Gathering, a collectible card game where you try to reduce your opponent’s life total from twenty to zero by summoning fantastical creatures and powerful sorceries to do your bidding. It’s easily our favorite game to play, and I would be surprised if we ever find a game – board game, card game, video game, or otherwise – that we enjoy more. So of course we wouldn’t let a little thing like traveling halfway across the world stop us from playing!

When we first arrived in Chiang Mai, one of the very first things we did was try to locate a local store where we can play Magic. To our pleasant surprise, there were actually two stores in town! The timing of our trip was such that there was a new set of cards coming out that first weekend, which means that every store has a tournament where players can play with the new cards for the first time (this event only happens four times a year, so it’s a relatively big deal among Magic players). One of the stores had a tournament on both Saturday and Sunday. On Saturday, we were committed to looking for a real estate agent  (wow, this feels like a lot longer than three months ago), but on Sunday we were free, so we planned to go to the tournament and play!

We first discovered the shop by searching on Magic’s website, but without Google street view to confirm the location, we might never have actually found the place! The front of the store is actually a coffee shop, and unless you knew what you were looking for, you never would have noticed the tiny “Liberty Shop MTG” sign on the glass door behind the shop. We walked in, paid our tournament fee, collected our cards, and started playing!

Julia and I have mentioned several times on this blog at how limited most Thai people’s grasp of the English language is. However, Magic is not printed in the Thai language (though it is printed in eleven languages), and luckily for us, the cards that people play with in Thailand are in English. But this means that if you want to play Magic in Thailand, you have to have more than just a basic understanding of English – which not only made it much easier for us to play with our opponents, but it meant that we could chat with them a little bit as well! I will note, though, that you could play a game of Magic without being able to understand a single word of what your opponent is saying – though it would certainly be less fun!

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Julia playing her first game of Magic on another continent

After the tournament, we asked the store owner what his weekly schedule is. For most small stores, they’ll have one night of magic per week (on Fridays), and the owner told us that he was planning on hosting an event at 6pm. Well of course, we showed up that Friday just before 6…and nobody was there! The owner told us that he usually doesn’t get enough people to play on Fridays, but that there was a group of locals that get together and play among themselves. He called the organizer of that group and then told us that they would play an event the next day in the afternoon, which worked out well for us. We were told to meet them at a place called Star Avenue.

The next day, we drove our moped out to what Google told me was Star Avenue to look for them. Star Avenue is an outdoor strip mall of sorts, which isn’t where I would expect a group of friends to meet to play Magic- I was expecting we would meet at someone’s apartment or something! I called Man, the organizer of that group, and told him we were in the parking lot. They came and found us, then we walked upstairs into a coffee shop where everyone was ready to play! Julia and I again paid for our cards and started playing. Little did we know that that was just the beginning of many games of Magic we would play with them.

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Julia concentrating on what card to pick for her deck during the “draft” portion of Magic

I asked Man if they would be playing again, and he told me that they have a Facebook group where they post the schedule. We joined the group, and just like that we had a group of friends in Thailand!

I set the Facebook group to always give me notifications whenever something was posted (so that we wouldn’t miss any events, obviously), and I’m very glad that I did. Even though the Magic community in Chiang Mai is small, these guys really like Magic. Every time a new card is announced, or somebody gets a really cool card, or someone builds a new deck, they post about it on the group. And that post is instantly bombarded with dozens of comments. Not only that, but these guys even follow the professional scene – they definitely know more about everything surrounding the game than almost everyone I know back home. And of course, they are very skilled players – though Julia and I have years of experience under our belts, so we have won our fair share of events as well.

After a month or so of playing with this group, Man told us that he was planning on opening a new shop! He told us that the grand opening of his shop would be on March 17th – but unfortunately, Julia and I were not going to be in Chiang Mai on that day. He could tell that we were disappointed about not being able to attend his big opening, so he invited us to the first-ever event at his store before the grand opening. No more playing at coffee shops – we had a real store to play in!

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Julia and I participating in the first event at “Fizzy MTG” (Man is standing on the left)

One thing I love about this group of people is how positive and excited they are to be playing Magic. Win or lose, every one of them will smile and say “Thank you” after a game. When most of the games are done but there’s still one pair left playing, everyone will gather around and watch – and when someone makes a big play, screams  of “OOOHHHHH” are often heard. But the absolute best part is when someone opens a very good card from a booster pack…

We don’t just play Magic with this group, either! Somewhere along the line of playing games every week (often multiple times per week) with this group, we became friends. We went out and played badminton at an indoor gym, we celebrated the Songkran water festival (blog post on that coming soon), we went out for drinks, and we celebrated Man’s birthday!

It seems unfair that just when we are getting to know everyone in our new group of friends, it’s going to be time to leave. At the time of this writing, we only have two more days in Chiang Mai! But of course, we are very thankful for the friends that we met in Thailand. I hope we cross paths again someday!

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