If you had asked me before this weekend how many people in the Middle East played Magic, I would have guessed it was mostly just US troops stationed there, and that was it. That was until I met Olivier Gheysen and Marianne Gladwin.
"I moved to United Arab Emirates from Belgium around 10 years ago and got my first job," Olivier explained. “My parents were working there, and I had the option of working somewhere in Europe or moving to Emirates, and I figured the Middle East would be more interesting."
"I moved there as a student 15 years ago," Marianne added, who is of Irish and Canadian descent.
"I used to play Magic before I moved, but nobody really played there so I moved away from the game," Olivier continued.
"He didn't tell me he played Magic when we started seeing each other, we mostly played other games, but then one day he just brought it up," Matianne laughed.
"I decided to try and get back into it, and we found a couple of other people who played Magic. One guy, Derek I think he was called, tried to organise some small tournaments, but we struggled to get 8 players, and eventually Derek moved away, and we figured we should take over."
And with that, Marianne and Olivier opened a store in Dubai and named it Battlezone.
"We figure the only way to really build a community is to give them a place where they can come and play and also build their collections," they explained.
Since then, the Magic community in Dubai has swelled to over 300 players. Olivier judges most events, and has since helped certify 3 more judges.
Olivier Gheysen and Marianne Gladwin have helped nurture a growing Magic community in the Middle East.
"We have a lot of transient people in Dubai, they come to work, and then they move on, so we have a lot of turn over, but we're also still gaining players. There are a wide variety of cultures in Dubai, and they often don't mix, but we've found they do for Magic. We had 10 of our local players travel with us to Grand Prix Utrecht, but we've continued on to GP Singapore ourselves for a bit of a vacation."
So there you go. If you're ever in the United Arab Emirates, it's nice to know that you'll be able to play a draft or two while you're there.