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The minute Lisa Stevens first played Magic: The Gathering, she was caught in its spell.

"My first thought was, `Oh my God, this is the most incredible game I've seen."

An inexpensive card game that mixes trading cards and role-playing games with fantasy and art, Magic was introduced in the fall of 1993 by Wizards of the Coast. An instant hit with game fanciers at mom-and-pop game stores, comics shops and adventure gaming conventions, Magic quickly moved into a more mainstream market. Sales of the $7.95 game reached a reported $50 million in 1994.

As Wizards' VP-marketing at the time (she's now VP-new business and licensing), the 32-year-old Ms. Stevens knew her greatest marketing challenge was not spreading the word about Magic, but keeping a lid on it.

"We had to give it a big enough push and get enough exposure so by the time [large game companies] found out about it, we would be established," she says.

Ms. Stevens started with PR, convincing editors at games magazines to preview the product, and persuading distributors to sell it to 6,000 small games stores and 5,000 comics shops nationwide.

"Our big ace in the hole," Ms. Stevens says, was introducing the game at GenCom, the game industry convention held each August in Milwaukee.

Ms. Stevens also announced Magic's arrival over the Internet and included in every game a membership application form to "Duelists Convocation," a league of Magic tournaments nationwide created by the company. In 1994, the tournament attracted 25,000 to 30,000 players.

Taking a cue from Nintendo's magazine, Nintendo Power, Ms. Stevens launched the Duelist, an every-other-monthly sold at newsstands, game stores and by subscription that includes features about the game, playing tips and question-and-answer columns.

In the works are Magic-themed publications from Harper Collins and Acclaim Comics. The company also is working on a computer game with Microprose, and is considering the videogame cartridge business.

Magic has even conjured interest from Hollywood, now in discussions about movies and TV shows.

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