Everyone should go IMMEDIATELY to ChannelFireball and read this amazing article by Chas Andres on the rising trend of thievery within the Magic community. Then come back here. I’ll wait.
Did you come back yet? Okay I’ll give you another minute to finish up. Alright, welcome back. Wasn’t that article awesome?
It’s sad but true that there are always thieves among us. At every major event during the past year, by round 2 I’ve heard at least one announcement over the P.A. that we all need to watch our bags as someone has already had their stuff ganked by some douchebags. Sure, we all hear the message, and scoff at the idea that someone would ever try to take our stuff, or at the fact that someone was “so stupid” to have let his/her bag get ripped off. But even when you think you’re secure, talented thieves can ruin your day.
I was a victim of Magic theft, and it sucked. ALOT. I thought my bag was safe, but I was wrong, and over $3,000 in value was gone in an instant. As you’ve probably noticed by now BadMagicPlayer.com is meant to be a channel for Magic humor and satire while mixing a little truth in. But this article takes a more serious tone, as I share my experience as a victim of theft at Grand Prix D.C. in 2010.
At Grand Prix D.C. in the summer of 2010, I was in the middle of round 2 of a grinder (single-elimination tournament where winner gets 3 byes in the weekend’s event) when someone bumped into the back of my head. I turned around, the guy said he was sorry and it was an accident, and moved on, while I went back to my match. It was a close match and time was winding down, so I was more concerned with keeping my focus than bothering with a clumsy passer-by. After the match was over, I reached down to pick up my bag from underneath my chair, and it was gone.
When I sat down to play the match, I placed the backpack underneath the chair in the front. I didn’t loop any part of it around me or the chair (obviously a mistake in hindsight) but it did lean against my legs, which gave me the false security of thinking I would notice if someone moved it off of my legs. The bag was essentially in front of me, not behind or to the side, but under the table and not easily accessible from the area behind me (so I thought.)
The match was intense; I was playing a Grixis Control standard deck against a green-white mythic deck (back when Bloodbraid Elf Jund was dominating the format) that came down to game 3. I was so focused on my match that there was no way I’d be able to notice the bag being removed. That “accidental” bump by the guy behind me was the key distraction on top of it all to provide the opportunity to nab the bag. I have two theories on what happened: 1) While distracted, a second guy walked by and grabbed it, or 2) a second guy was under the table and grabbed it. This second is more likely, since the people around me, including my opponent didn’t see anyone else walk by (but then again, they were invested mentally into their matches, not who’s walking around).
So there I am, realizing that the only Magic-related things I have are my deck, playmat, and dice. In the bag was over $3,000 worth of cards and other junk, including my ipod touch and my netbook. Those were in the bag because we hadn’t gone to the hotel yet from driving in, and I didn’t want to leave them in the car, ironically. I had three completed EDH decks, another standard deck (the one I actually intended to play in the GP), my trade binder full of goodnesses like Jace, the Mind Sculptors, which were around $100 a pop and still rare at that point in time, and various other Magic-related stuff. The bag contents were all justified since I was planning to play plenty of EDH and trade with other players, so it wasn’t as if I had just brought along all the cards I owned for the fun of it.
I immediately went to the security post and reported the missing bag. We checked all the trash cans and asked the vendors if they had seen any binders that looked like mine or had seen certain card combinations come in lately (like altered and signed Savannah and Plateau), with no luck. I had no idea how much time had passed between the actual theft and when I noticed it missing at the end of the match. Surely plenty of time had elapsed for the thief to have passed off the bag to another member of his team and exit the arena. Which is exactly what had happened.
The police came, and I made an official report. This turned out to be a very important and somewhat fruitful act, and I encourage anyone who is a victim of theft to file a police report immediately. We were lucky (sorta) that the thieves were greedy and incredibly stupid. They kept coming back for more, and in the end stole more than a dozen backpacks and broke into at least two cars before being caught. One of the car owners noticed someone carrying a shirt they had in the back of their car, and alerted the police officers who were still taking statements from victims near the arena entrance. Three suspects in their mid-20s were arrested, and several bags were recovered.
Unfortunately, my backpack was not found with the others in the suspects’ getaway car, but my netbook was in the backseat, so I got that back. The computer had my law school paper outlines on it, so all in all that was the most valuable to me. I guess they just wanted the cards and iPod and tossed out the netbook (probably helped that it had a big chunk cracked out of the case so no resell value).
It turns out that the suspects were part of a ring of thieves that was common to that particular arena. A police investigator told me that they had discovered that there was a ringleader who had a hotel room somewhere in the area, where the thieves would drop off the loot and return for more. The police searched several hotels but could not find anything but empty rooms, presumably because the arrests had tipped off the leaders to haul ass out of town. I was told it’s very rare for theft suspects to be caught from events like this, and even rarer for any items to be recovered.
The last thing I heard, each caught thief was charged with 10-14 counts of larceny (felony), which carried a combined maximum prison sentence of over 10 years. I volunteered to be a witness (partially because I had just finished my first year of law school, and saw this as a chance for first-hand experience aside from a personal vendetta for justice), but I was never called so I assume they took a plea deal (after all, some of the victims got their stuff back from the thieves’ car…can’t really argue with that evidence).
While recovering my netbook lessened the blow of losing all my playable Magic cards sans my one standard deck, it was still a devastating loss. It made me not want to play Magic anymore and made me feel like nothing I owned was safe from theft. I had good renter’s insurance and car insurance, but the companies told me that since I wasn’t wearing the backpack at the time of theft (in other words, not mugged) and it wasn’t taken from my car, it couldn’t be a covered loss. If it weren’t for my friends who were supportive in helping me rebuild my collection, I would have probably quit the game. It took a few months for me to really get mentally into a game even with the help from my friends. My general thought was, ‘why start collecting again if it can just be stolen away?’ This is a common emotion for crime victims to feel, and is tough to fight through – something that makes you happy has instead caused you great distress (it may be easy as an observer to say, why get so upset over some cards, but you can’t imagine how bad it feels to lose cards you’ve had for 10+ years, or one-of-a-kind altered cards).
I looking into the idea of a civil lawsuit against the thieves (again, mostly because I was a law student and knew I could do that), but since they were looking at jail time for a while, the likelihood of them having any income to recover against was slim. If you’re ever the victim of a theft and the thieves are caught, don’t discount the possibility that you could win the value of your property and more in punitive damages through filing a civil lawsuit. It’s a rarer possibility than recovering any of your stolen items, but it’s still something to look into. Most local bar associations (county based, generally) have cheap (under 30 dollars) legal consultations available to evaluate your options. You can also e-mail me (firstname.lastname@example.org) and I can help you find a place to call for help (note: it won’t be legal advice, and I’m not trying to solicit clients even when I’m a lawyer after passing the bar exam this summer/fall).
I just had to move on with my Magic life, choose whether to keep playing, and just be more vigilant in the future. I chose to keep on keepin’ on, and I haven’t had a theft problem since. I do whatever I can to not have anything but Magic stuff on me at events, so no more iPods or netbooks in my bags if I can help it. I’m also sure to either bring a smaller bag I can wear on my back while I play, or loop the handles through my legs to ensure nobody can take it without taking me along for the ride.
I’m also on the look out for players that are at risk for having their stuff taken, and let them know how “accessible” a target they are if I can. I’m surprised at how many players still leave their bags off to the side or under the back of their chair. In those cases, thieves wouldn’t even need a distraction to rip them off. It’s interesting how the experience of being a victim of a theft makes you think more like a thief, ultimately helping you stay vigilant against future infractions against you and your fellow players.
People want to take your shit. It sucks that this is a fact, but it is a fact. Don’t let them take your shit. Be vigilant, pay attention, and help other players who could be victims. It’s our community, let’s not let a few turds mess up our punchbowl.