Cameron Cramer took one more look around the house, the burned-out shell that was once his home.
The fire had been swift and merciless. It began upstairs and spread quickly, torching everything in its path as the home Cramer had once bought as a fixer-upper and spent years pouring his heart into began to wilt away around him.
The belongings in the house were, of course, the last concern. What mattered most to Cramer was that his wife and daughters made it out safely. When everyone in the family was accounted for, the adrenaline slowed, but the unease quickened as reality began to set in. Everyone had escaped unscathed, but even though belongings in a home can be replaced, the things that made it home are not so easily exchanged. Family photos, gone. The kids' trinkets from school, the drawings and crafts projects, lost to the flames. The Magic cards Cramer spent years collecting, including the first rare—Crosis, the Purger—he ever opened? Well, cardboard doesn't stand up well to a blaze.
If you've read many of my stories around here, you can probably guess where this is going. And this is yet another example of the Magic community stepping up to help a fellow Planeswalker in need. But this isn't your typical "community pitches in" story. For starters, this one is personal; Cramer plays at my local gaming store and is a friend whom I was devastated for upon hearing the heartbreaking news. But the way this story ended was unexpected, and it reaffirmed my belief that the Magic community is more a family than just a group of people who share a casual hobby.
When I first heard the news and saw the devastating photos, it hit me hard. I can't imagine what it's like to lose almost all your belongings—not to mention a home that you put so much of yourself into creating—but I could absolutely sympathize with the primal fear that is seeing your family in any kind of danger, especially in the place where you're supposed to be most safe. I took a few minutes, sitting in my car in my driveway, racking my brain for something I could do to help out. In the end, I decided the best thing I could do was something simple. No one could replace his family's most treasured belongings, but I could do what I do best: help out with Magic.
And I knew I wouldn't be alone. I asked the community to pitch in on a "goodie basket" of sorts for Cramer, and the response was honestly overwhelming. The local players got on board immediately, as I expected—after all, most LGS environments are nothing if not tight-knit communities, and ours is no exception. They generously contributed more than I could have expected—packs, cards, playmats, accessories—everything a Magic player needs.
But it didn't stop there. Before I knew it, I was inundated with requests from players across the continent, all wanting to contribute some piece of themselves to help someone they had never even met. It was truly inspiring, and as we gathered up everything to surprise Cramer with, I wasn't sure what to expect.
Of course, neither did Cramer. And if I was nervous, he was floored.
"I've made it in my life by steeling myself to the point of cynicism that no one would ever be there to help me, and it's taken a high school dropout to what I think is a high level of success," Cramer later explained. "That being said, I stopped by DZ Comics and [store owner] Chris Diaz grabbed me as soon as he saw me and gave me a long comic box full of Magic.
"I cried. I begged him to take it back. And I still don't have words for how wrong I was and how grateful I am to know I have friends, a family, and a safe place to go when I don't have anywhere else. I found myself forgetting I had a problem in the world while thumbing through cards that night."
Magic has a funny way of making everything old new again, and this was no exception. What else would be waiting in the box of cards?
In a "normal" story, this is where things would end. The community comes together, helps out a fellow player, and it's another example of how great Magic can be.
But I already warned you this isn't a normal story.
As he went through all the gifts the Magic community had given him, Cramer couldn't shake the feeling that it was all too much. For a casual Standard brewer and Commander player, the influx of generosity had more than replaced his old collection. No, Cramer wanted to do something of his own. Something to give back to the family that had given him more than he ever expected.
And so the plans were made, and in late April they came to fruition. Cramer worked with DZ Comics and Games in Moore, Oklahoma, to put together something special. A free-to-enter Team Modern tournament with door prizes supplied in part from the cards Cramer had received. It was an astonishing way to take a catastrophe and turn it into an inspiring moment for everyone involved.
"It really was great to have such an awesome chance to bring everyone together like that," said Daniel Graves, who was one of nearly 30 attendees at the tournament. "For him to give back to everyone else after all he had been through, that was cool to see."
The fire may have destroyed Cramer's house, but it only fanned the flames of the bond among one LGS family.