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October 25, 2014

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Nerds against cancer: Local ‘Magic’ players compete for a cause

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Ian Whitaker

Competitors play “Magic: The Gathering” at Action Comics in Henderson on Aug. 2, 2014.

For once, Brian Peltz, a loud 29-year-old with a laugh that fills the room, is speechless.

He’s been playing the trading card game "Magic: The Gathering" since 1996 but has never seen the community come together like this before.

Nearly a hundred players sit shoulder to shoulder cafeteria-style at long tables inside Henderson’s Action Comics on Saturday. Booming words from the announcer are all they need to hear.

“Welcome to round one.”

They throw their decks on the table. Some squint at their cards one last time; some take the time to shuffle. They have only a few minutes before it all begins.

Tournament days are usually busy days here, but today is different. Tucked into a strip mall on Boulder Highway near Lake Mead Parkway, the small store is packed. This time, there is no prize money to play for. No purse awaits the winner.

All the money is going to Peltz.

• • •

Growing up in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., in the 1990s, Peltz cemented his nerd status early on.

He can name his favorite video game from every system he’s ever owned without hesitation. The original Playstation? "Final Fantasy 7." The Nintendo 64? "Mario Kart 64."

Peltz even remembers the first time he played a game of Magic. It was 1996 and the game’s competitive core resonated with him. His mother was a professional bridge player.

“Been shuffling a deck of cards since I was about 2 or 3,” he said.

A month ago he found out he has lung cancer despite having never smoked.

“I’m not going to say I didn’t cry,” he said. “I’m not going to say I wasn’t scared, because obviously it’s not something you hear every day.”

Constantly fatigued from the radiation treatment he gets four times a week, Peltz was forced to quit his door-to-door marketing job. The bills started piling up.

“It’s just like everyday life, people go through hard times,” he said. “You either quit or you fight it.”

It didn’t take long for fellow Magic players Mike Czmil, 30, and Brandon Smith, 23, to figure out what to do for their fighting friend. As soon as they heard the news, they set up an IndieGoGo campaign to raise money. They called it “Nerds against cancer.”

Then they made some calls to the 20 or so comic stores in Las Vegas and worked out a plan. They wanted an event that would not only raise money for Peltz, but bring together the Magic community.

The answer was obvious: a tournament. With small events sprinkled around the city each week, players are always looking to compete.

“It’s something that we do anyway that we can turn into something good,” Czmil said.

They decided on a $10 entry fee. The money would be given to Peltz, and the players would enter a raffle for Magic merchandise and collector's items donated by players and local merchants.

They messaged Peltz to tell him just one thing: We don’t care if you don’t like it — it’s happening.

The RSVPs rolled in. Rival comic shops that normally competed with one another came together. Players were even coming in from out of state.

Tournaments usually attract between 30 and 50 players, Czmil said. Halfway through last week, the one for Peltz was already slated for more than a hundred.

• • •

“All right man, good luck,” Peltz says, shaking his opponent’s hand and scooting his chair out.

Standing up from table 28, he picks up the slip of paper that proves he’s won round one. He hands it in, high-fiving a judge, and meanders around the tables.

Though they are entrenched in their own matches, some players reach out to shake his hand. He stands behind them, watching games over their shoulders.

His first match was a breeze. His deck “curved out,” meaning each card played out exactly like he wanted. Peltz warned everyone he’d play his best and told people not to go easy on him just because he has cancer.

All around him, people have pinned white ribbons onto their T-shirts.

“This is the best environment to do this in for the community,” says Zachary Reyburn, a player who helped plan the tournament.

Peltz just likes the competition. Regardless of whether he wins or loses, the $5,000 that’s been raised is his.

He’s back from getting some fresh air just as a tournament staffer announces that the next match list has been posted on the burly cardboard chest of a Thor cutout. Everyone rushes to see who they’re playing next. Peltz cranes over the back of another player to see.

“Mike Wong. That’s awesome,” he chuckles to himself while swaggering off, getting louder and louder. “Where’s Mike Wong?”

The IndieGoGo campaign for Brian Peltz is open until Aug. 30. If you would like to donate, the fundraiser is located here.

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