Along with sharing my own Magic: the Gathering journey, I want to share what's going on with others in the community. Not just the players, but the people that provide a place to gather. The Greater Cincinnati/Dayton area is fortunate to have a lot of options when it comes to Magic and gaming in general. Here's a glimpse into one of them.
Come On Down!
What's your name, the name of your store, and where are you located?
I'm Mike Degaro and I'm the owner of Pack Fresh Hobbies and We Buy Games in Amelia, OH.
When are you open?
We're open every day except for the major holidays.
What gaming experiences and events do you offer?
Magic: the Gathering, Pokémon, and Flesh and Blood are our main games. We do sell Dungeons and Dragons, Yu-Gi-Oh!, DragonBall, and Digimon, but don't have a large following for them. On our non-gaming side, we delve heavily into sports cards.
How did Pack Fresh start for you?
I used to work for a couple of different game stores in the area sometime before I got involved, so that helped. About five years ago, I was a driver for Donato's Pizza when We Buy Games opened up nearby. They sold mainly video games, but I noticed they had packs of Ixalan and other Magic paraphernalia in a small area.
After coming in a few times as a customer, I thought to ask an employee if they had thought of expanding that part of the store. He expressed that they didn't know much about Trading Card Games (TCGs), so I offered to help and to let me know if they had any questions. The employee spoke with the owner, we talked, he made an offer, and we became business partners.
One of the first things I did was increase our stock. I pulled together some cash, took some of the cards from my personal collection, and we traveled to Columbus. We bought thousands of dollars in singles and sealed product. We started advertising for Commander and Modern events and eventually, it took off.
So, Pack Fresh Hobbies started as We Buy Games?
Pack Fresh started very recently, within the last six months. Next door to We Buy Games was an old insurance company that had closed. They still had their name on the lease, so we couldn't get the space for some time. Our original space only had room for maybe 20 people...definitely a tight fit.
Fortunately for us, their lease expired and we were able to get the space. The owner of the building installed a connecting door between the stores and that gave us the room to provide each business its own separate area, along with doubling the playing area.
How did you come up with the name 'Pack Fresh'?
For the last couple of years, we've been working hard to take the sports card part of the business to a national level. For us, sports cards have been an enormous boon and have actually strengthened in popularity through the last few years. We wanted something that would not only express TCGs but sports cards as well. Our thinking is that one of the best moments is when you first open that pack and so: Pack Fresh.
Very nice! What Magic experiences do you provide?
Before the pandemic, we ran events seven days a week. Magic was played on most of them. Standard, Modern, Commander, Legacy, and Pauper. Covid hit us pretty hard. Since things started opening up it's been difficult.
We tried to start up events early in the process. Not too early, of course, but enough to hopefully get a jump on things. Unfortunately, all events were hit pretty hard, except for Commander. Our Thursday Commander events are running very well along with the normal Pre-release events.
What are your hot sellers for Magic?
Specific cards from the Commander pre-constructed decks. Fierce Guardianship and Wedding Ring are good examples. The essential Commander artifacts; Sol Ring, Mana Crypt, Mana Vault, etc.
How did you get started with Magic?
I was 13 playing Yu-Gi-Oh! and went into a local store that my friends and I happened to find through Google. I continued to play and started working at that store sometime afterward. Six months into my employment, I started learning more about Magic to better help our customers.
As I kept learning about the game, it looked amazing, and I couldn't believe I wasn't playing already. It was right after Zendikar when my epiphany began, and I jumped in with both feet. I got really into competitive play around the time of the original Innistrad. Because I had a large trade binder stocked with Yu-Gi-Oh!, I was able to get into a lot of the higher-end Magic cards before their prices went sky-high. That's when I started playing my first Legacy deck, Elves.
What do you personally enjoy playing?
I've enjoyed Legacy the most. My favorite deck was Gerry Thompson's Shardless BUG, I believe during the 2014/15 timeframe. I was known as 'the BUG guy' around the area at that time, it was all I played. After that, Modern started coming into its own, so I tried my hand at that. I actually tried to build a Modern BUG deck, but it never seemed to really work. These days, with the requirements of the business, I don't have a lot of time to play. When I do, I have a Yarok, the Desecrated Commander deck that I play. I've enjoyed playing Flesh and Blood as well.
Since the pandemic, Flesh and Blood has been our largest competitive format and Commander our largest non-competitive. Recently, it has started to shift where Flesh and Blood attendance is smoothing out somewhat and our Commander pods are increasing in number.
What's one of your favorite Magic cards?
Fastbond. I was able to get into Vintage for a short time and really enjoyed the card. It helped me win a lot of games back in the day. The artwork really appeals to me, especially since Mark Poole is my favorite Magic artist. I'm good friends with his manager, so I talk with him every now and then. He's also painted various Flesh and Blood cards, so I'm always on the lookout for his work. Huge fan here. With my love for BUG, Shardless Agent is a close second.
To finish up, is there anything else you'd like to share?
Sports cards have become a larger part of our business and we pay attention to what's been working for us. The margins are quite different between sports and gaming, and we're fortunate to be able to use some of the profits from the former to support the latter.
We're looking forward to hopefully running more Magic events and potentially getting another person to assist in that area. We're getting out into the community more often for various card shows, and doing more traveling, so people will be seeing and hearing about Pack Fresh more often.
It has been great to see more people coming back out. Not just for the business, but to see people we haven't seen in a while is great. To make those connections and share in the fun. We're always happy to support our players and customers and give them a good experience.
LGS Is Where the Heart Is
I want to thank Mike for providing us a glimpse into Pack Fresh's Magic life. I hope you enjoyed the visit and look forward to the next! Do you know the story behind your own LGS? Feel free to share in the comments. And if not, maybe now's a good time to get up to speed...