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Murder motive implicates darker side of fantasy card game Magic

When Sean Dugas' body was found encased in concrete, buried in a back yard in Georgia, suspicion fell quickly on the twin sons of the man who owned the property.

Christopher and William Cormier were charged recently in the death of the 30-year-old former Pensacola crime reporter. Officials say the motive was robbery:

Of game cards. Up to $100,000 worth.

The game is called Magic: The Gathering and it has been described in news articles as "cardboard crack" for the obsessiveness of its fans.

Dugas and the Cormier brothers apparently knew each other through a comic book shop in Pensacola where Magic: The Gathering is often played, according to a story in the Pensacola News Journal, the newspaper where Dugas worked from 2005 to 2010.

According to the arrest report, the 31-year-old identical twins were houseguests of Dugas' on Aug. 27 when William Cormier struck Dugas and stole his card collection. The brothers took the body to their father's home 50 miles northeast of Atlanta wrapped inside a Walmart tarp.

Officials unearthed the body Oct. 8 and arrested the brothers on charges of concealing a death. About a week later, Christopher told police his brother killed Dugas, stole the cards and sold them.

Dugas' collection was worth $25,000 to $100,000, officials estimate. According to the arrest report, the twins sold cards to dealers in Florida, Georgia and Tennessee, including one called the Black Lotus, which has an estimated worth of $10,000.

Magic: The Gathering has grown virulently since it was created in 1993 by a doctoral student at the University of Pennsylvania. Six million children and adults in the United States and some 70 other countries compete regularly in hobby shop games and tournaments where prize money can climb to $40,000. The objective of the wizards and spells contest is to preserve your lives while draining your opponents', and winning depends entirely on the variety of cards that players amass and deploy. Most of the 12,000 or so unique cards that have been designed for the game since its inception sell for modest amounts — though cards used in tournaments can run $40 to $50.

The most expensive card ever sold on the secondary market was a particular version of the Black Lotus that fetched $20,000, according to Beckett Magic The Gathering Magazine from December 2005.

A 2004 article in USA Today suggested that parents were at best conflicted about Magic. Some fretted about the time and money their children were dumping into the fantasy game. Others seemed defiantly supportive.

"Most parents here (at a tournament in Kansas City, Mo.) say the game has sharpened their kids' mental skills, kept them away from drugs and gangs, helped shy children make friends and, like other sports, taught them how to win and lose gracefully," according to the article.

The murder of Sean Dugas had at least one devotee of the game pondering the less savory implications.

"We hear stories often enough about Magic cards getting stolen at tournaments," wrote Geoffrey Long on a website dedicated to Magic: The Gathering called 60Cards.com. "People you play with and consider colleagues in this community can sometimes sink to unscrupulous thievery. It's the dirtier, darker side of Magic that we don't talk about very often …

"We know that Magic cards have great monetary value … but even the common thief has his limits. Or does he? What does it take to push the petty larcenist to something greater and more sinister? Have you ever considered that someone might be willing to murder for Magic?"

Bill Duryea is enterprise editor of the Tampa Bay Times. He can be reached at duryea@tampabay.com.

Murder motive implicates darker side of fantasy card game Magic 11/03/12 [Last modified: Saturday, November 3, 2012 4:30am]
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