Earlier this week, a Virginia man named Kemper Pogue had his car broken into. Among what was stolen were 300 of his Magic: The Gathering cards, valued at $8,000. Pogue, 23, is a serious player of the popular collectible card game and was devastated to have a collection he’d been assembling since childhood stolen. But he also knew something the thieves didn’t: the Magic: The Gathering community is very tight-knit and had his back. What follows is how that community ultimately retrieved his collection.
Magic: The Gathering, Hasbro’s card game, is popular for its nearly infinite ways to play. You collect the cards and fashion them into 60-card decks but draw cards at random. The strategy is in the order you decide to play the cards as well as in actually assembling the deck. That’s where the real work is. While most tournament play limits the cards you can use to a current edition, there are all sorts of play types that allow you to pull from the game’s past, going back to 1993. And because certain cards work well, or are printed in limited editions or have especially attractive artwork, combined with the fact that the game is popular with a massive audience, many cards are very valuable. For instance, Black Lotus can fetch tens of thousands of dollars on eBay. It’s a $250 million a year business for Hasbro and estimates there are 20 million people worldwide who play the game.
Pogue, a Woodbridge, VA resident, was stunned when he realized what had happened. “I went in the house, cracked open a beer, had a few sips and promptly started screaming expletives as I waited for the police to arrive,” he told The Washington Post. “I’d been collecting these cards since I was a kid and over the years they’ve only increased in value. I was horrified.”
Then Pogue went on the offensive. He posted a detailed message about what had happened to Facebook so his friends knew. And he started calling stores in Northern Virginia and Maryland that sold Magic cards. Because the thieves had stolen the cards from his car, and not a tournament, it was a decent bet they weren’t aware of how tight the community that plays the game is. They play the game at the stores, regional tournaments and each other’s homes. And many have had cards stolen so they know the pain involved in losing something that’s not only valuable for the game but has taken a personal effort to assemble. “Cards have all these memories and conversations with them from people you’ve met all over the country,” explained Pogue to the Post. “When Magic players hear that a collection has been stolen, it’s heartbreaking and they rally around each other to get it back.”
And that’s exactly what happened. Word was spread fast. A friend of Pogue’s who works at a Northern Virginia store met two men who came in trying to sell the cards that matched Pogue’s description. The clerk sent them to a Springfield, VA store called Curio Cavern where Pogue was a regular. It bought Pogue some time and the next afternoon the men showed up at the store. The clerk there was ready for them and said the store would be interested in buying them but they’d have to return that night to complete the sale with the store owner, which they grudgingly agreed to.
The police coordinated a plan with Curio Cavern and its owner, Tom Haid. The store placed a “Be back in 5 minutes” sign up that evening and had police in unmarked cars wait in the lot with the clerk who could identify whether they suspected thieves were the same people, while they waited by the door. There were some complicating issues affecting the logistics, though. For one, one of the suspected thieves had a criminal record including robbing a store with a deadly weapon. And also, the store was planning on having a tournament that night. So there was some danger involved. Haid notified the gamers of the plan and let them know they should go if they felt in danger. None of the gamers left. Haid was moved. “We had people here who have had their collections stolen at major events and it sucks,” he told The Post. “It’s overwhelming at times and they understood immediately how important it was for this operation to happen and for the community to have a record of it.”
Soon enough, the men showed up with the cards and waited on a bench. Suddenly, 10 officers plus a canine unit appeared and arrested them. Everything went smoothly. Pogue was out of town at a funeral but friends quickly texted him with the good news. Solomon Dyonne Reed, 20, of Woodbridge, VA was charged with felony possession of stolen property with intent to sell in Fairfax County as well as grand larceny in Prince William County, where the theft occurred. The cards are currently in police evidence but should be released to Pogue soon. Basically, the nerds were a step ahead of the thieves the entire time.