Emirati ready to battle wizards, dragons and zombies in Moscow

Gamer is first UAE national to take part in international fantasy trading card game tournament.

Omar Sharif, the first UAE national to win a spot in a Magic: the Gathering Grand Prix tournament, says the fantasy battle game helped him to come out of his shell when he was a boy.  Antonie Robertson / The National
Powered by automated translation

DUBAI // An Emirati is preparing to do battle with wizards, dragons and zombies when he competes in a fantasy trading card game tournament in Russia.
Omar Sharif, 32, who works in customer service at the Dubai Electricity and Water Authority, is believed to be the first Emirati based in the UAE to take part in a Magic: the Gathering Grand Prix, starting on Friday.
"I've been a gamer all my life but mainly video games until I met a friend, who has since gone to Australia, who introduced me to card and table-top games," said Mr Sharif. "This was in 2006 or so and I've been playing them ever since.
"I was an only child and playing video games all day didn't really help me make friends, but card games are a lot more social and you get to meet so many different people and it's so much fun."
Mr Sharif is travelling to the grand prix alone but five other players of different nationalities are also leaving from the UAE for the three-day event.
When he started playing it was difficult to get more than a handful of people to take part, but the popularity of the game has grown in recent years, said Mr Sharif, who also runs a community-based gaming business, Geeky Lizard.
There are now a number of different groups that organise events in the UAE.
"I've met so many people from so many different backgrounds and nationalities," he said.
"The English of many Emiratis isn't good and, for me, I learnt most of it through this game. I always try to encourage Emiratis to get involved in this game because it is a fantastic way to interact and meet people from different backgrounds."
Players use a deck of 60 cards and are dealt seven. The cards feature fantasy creatures and characters, ranging from vampires and zombies to knights and elves.
The characters and creatures in the game come with different attack and defence points and they have their powers augmented by other cards that add spells or equipment. The player who causes the most damage to their opponent's characters wins.
"The game itself keeps changing and evolving because they bring out new cards every three months, so there is always new stuff to learn and you have to adapt your playing style," said Mr Sharif, who described his style as "sneaky and aggressive".
"There are things you can do to find out what cards your opponent is using and then you can try to target their best cards."
Once players sign up to play Magic: the Gathering they join a global network where they can gain points to allow them to qualify for professional tournaments. The Moscow event, as a grand prix, is open to the general public and no points are required to play.
"It's a high-level event and people from all over the world will be taking part," said Mr Sharif. "I'll probably be lucky to win two of my five games but the experience is going to be fantastic."
It is his first trip to Moscow and he admits he has some pre-tournament nerves.
"The language is definitely going to be a barrier but it's going to be great to meet so many people from around the world," Mr Sharif said.
Nadim Nehme, 34, from Lebanon, organises tournaments in the UAE and was introduced to the game by Mr Sharif.
"They say that chess is simple to learn but takes a lifetime to master, and it is the same with Magic: the Gathering," Mr Nehme said. "The big difference is that with chess, you have a set number of pieces but with Magic, you get new cards every few months."
The community is growing with players in Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Al Ain and Sharjah often joined by others from Kuwait and Qatar.
"It's something that is definitely gaining in popularity and we try to encourage our players to go to grand prix events in other countries," said Mr Nehme.
"Maybe in four to six years we might be able to host our own grand prix event in the UAE."
For more details about Magic: the Gathering in the UAE visit www.wizardsofthegulfcoast.com.
This story was edited on Wednesday June 11 to clarify some technical points in relation to tournaments.