Recently I was listening to a podcast in which the host talked about going to a Grand Prix and for the most part they had a very negative experience. It got me to thinking about the various Grand Prix and other large events that I have attended, and I realized that as casual players we may not know that much about these events. There is always a Grand Prix or a Star City Games Open on the horizon for someone, including what I think will be one of, if not the biggest Magic Tournament of all time. That is a record that will be hard to beat given the three thousand people that played in Grand Prix Charlotte, but given the setting, I think Grand Prix Las Vegas will give Charlotte a run for the money, and I am going to be there.
It is becoming more and more common for casual players to attend big events like a Grand Prix, thanks in large part to podcasts like The Mana Pool who strive to let their listeners know that these events are fun, not just for the professional and hardcore players hoping to win a major tournament, but for all of the activities that are going on throughout the weekend. Many casual players may not know what to expect when they arrive, and hopefully this article can be of some help.
The first thing that we should look at is ourselves. Each of us goes into a big event like this with some expectation, whether playing in the main event or not. I can relate to the podcast host that had a bad experience because I also did not get what I expected out of one of my first big tournaments, a Star City Games open in Los Angeles. I went on the Sunday of the event, primarily to play in the draft open. I drove two hours, payed a lot of money for parking, tournament entry, and then the subsequent side event fees after being cut from the tournament. At the end of the day the only games I had won were a single match in the open. On top of that none of my draft pools has anything more valuable than a Myr Battlesphere! All I could focus on was all of the money and time spent to just lose all day long, and I wasn’t happy when I left, especially having to still drive two hours to get home.
On that long drive home and in the time since, I have thought about my experience a lot and I came to a realization; we will get out of these tournaments what we expect to get out of these tournaments. I knew going into that Star City Open that I wasn’t going to win the event, nor did I even expect to do well, but I did not expect to lose every subsequent side event, and in the end, losing all day is painful, particularly when you pay for that privilege. I know that this can be a difficult thing to change, but if you can alter your expectations, then I think you will find that you have a more enjoyable time. I no longer expect to get anything other than my sealed or draft pool and the time spent playing when I go to an event, and at the events I’ve attended since that SCG Open, I’ve had a much more enjoyable time. Consider two types of gamblers, both of whom are consistently “losing.” Let’s say that in an hours time they have both gambled $100 on slot machines. Player A will be bitter about putting all of their money into this machine and getting none of it back. Player B however will be content. They weren’t playing for the sole purpose of winning. They were spending that money to be entertained for an hour. The same can be said of playing in Magic events.
Speaking of bitter losers, the podcast host mentioned before admitted that they were less than gracious and stated several reasons ranging from mana screw to a rogue deck that the game wasn’t a “good game” and that the opponent didn’t deserve the win. First, the phrase “good game” is just a phrase. If you don’t consider the game “good” then by all means say something else, but shake the opponent’s hand and congratulate them on their win! In this case the opponent was a new player, at their first major event, and now guess what they think about the people that play big events? Second, a legitimate win is a deserved win. It doesn’t matter what the circumstances were. Mana screw or flood is part of the game, and if you can’t handle that then you probably shouldn’t be playing the game at all, let along playing it at an event like a Grand Prix. Rogue decks are also a part of this game, in fact, I think that they are one of the more important parts. There are people who’s Magic “identity” is that of a rogue deck builder. Rogue decks that win events are symbols to the non-professional players that yes, even we can go to an event with some deck that is off the beaten path and potentially win it! If you can’t tell, I’m a little bitter about this particular podcast host and their attitude, and I have subsequently stopped listening to said podcast. In the end we are ambassadors of our hobby, particularly when we play in large, public events like this, and our attitudes reflect on the whole community.
Another reason to be a gracious loser is to help alleviate tilt. Tilt is when you let your emotions effect your game play. So, you are losing and you start to get angry. As a result you start to make mistakes, which causes you to get more angry and make more mistakes, etc… If you feel this happening, just take a few moments to remember that this is just a game. Yes, we pay money to play it, but as casual players we should be striving to be slot player B, playing just for the entertainment of it, and not for the sole purpose of getting something out of it. A good player gets something out of every game, regardless of winning or losing.
Once we know what to expect of ourselves, then we can start looking at what to expect from the specific event. The first thing that any player should do, casual or not, is look at the event information page on the internet. These are always found on the event coordinator’s website, and for a Wizards of the Coast event, there is always a page on their site as well. For Grand Prix Las Vegas there is no link from the WotC site yet, but the event coordinator, Cascade Games has a site up for the event which can be found here. For most Grand Prix events, the information can be found here. Note that Las Vegas is not linked yet, but it will be eventually. These information pages give all the details you could need about the event; location, dates, times, schedule, side event formats, prizes, special promotions, and more. I have heard people talk about how they had no idea what is going on at an event, and this is the first place that I would point them to. In some cases it may even have an impact on your plans. For example, did you know that on Friday of GP Las Vegas there is going to be a free Modern Masters “Mini Masters” tournament at noon? If you never checked the event page, or listened to a myriad of podcasts, or read blogs like this one, then you would not know that, and perhaps you would plan on arriving for the first time Saturday morning. But if you find a special event like this, then perhaps you would decide to come one day earlier. One of the other complaints I hear is that things can be hard to find at a large event like this. I think that if you arrive with the knowledge of all the things happening at the event, then it is just a matter of locating where those things are. Another tidbit of advice I can give is to look for the people wearing black shirts that say “Judge” on them. Judges are all over the place at large events, and they are more than happy to help out. Once you have a good idea of what is going on throughout the weekend you need to make a decision. Are you going to play in the main event? Or are you just going to go to do other things, like meet artists, play side events, etc…?
Once you have made that decision, the next step is knowing the time frame of events. This is all spelled out on the information page for the event, but sometimes it can play out a little differently in person, so I will go over my experiences, and I am going to assume that the idea is to play in the main event.
Friday is the pre-event day. The event hall will be open, and they will be doing pre-registration and check-in for the main tournament. If you are going to play in the tournament and you care about promotional give-aways, then you always want to show up on Friday, and as early as you can. At every Grand Prix they have a promotional play mat that they give to the players, but these are limited in number, so if you don’t show up early (or pay extra for “VIP” service) then you may not be able to get one, except from the vendors who tend to mark up the prices (having to pay anything is a mark-up when the mat is supposed to be free!) The other promotional item is usually a foil card, and these are not as limited, so it is easier to obtain them if you show up later. I would also expect that special events (like the mini-masters tournament) will fill up fast, so the earlier you get there the more likely you are to be able to play in the event. Aside from that Friday offers side events, vendors, artists, and finally, grinders. Grinders are tournaments that allow you to win “buys” for the main event. Buys are free rounds, so if you go into the main event with one buy, then you will automatically win the first round and not have to play until the second round. For GP Las Vegas they are calling the grinders “Last Chance Trials.”
Saturday is the main event. One of the biggest tips I can give for Saturday is that you should not expect to much other than play Magic all day long. As with any tournament, the number of rounds played is determined by the number of players. This is often in the range of nine rounds, and GP Charlotte had eleven rounds. With that many rounds they have to keep things moving at a good pace, so you can expect the downtime between rounds to be minimal. Additionally, keep in mind your record for the day. In order to qualify for day two of any event, the general rule is that your record should be at least x/2 which means that you have only two losses out of however many rounds you play. Sometimes people with two losses and a draw will make it in, and very rarely x/3 will be ok, but as a general rule, if you have lost three rounds you won’t make the cut to day two. Knowing this going into the event, if you hit that point then you can drop out of the tournament to go and do other things.
As casual players, many have not experienced a limited event at this level, and there is a major difference between a Grand Prix sealed event and say, a pre-release. At a pre-release you are not only allowed to completely alter your deck between rounds, you are encouraged to do so. At the Grand Prix level this is not the case. When you finish building your deck you have to register the cards you are playing, and you have to stay with that deck for the remainder of the tournament. You can still use your entire pool to sideboard between games, but at the beginning of each round your deck must match the registered deck. One other thing that a casual player may have never experienced in a limited event is passing your pool. When you sit down with your six packs of cards and then open them, keep in mind that this is not your final pool of cards. You open the packs, sort the cards and then mark them down on a provided sheet. Then you pass those cards, at the direction of a judge, and someone else will get that pool. This can be a little awkward the first time you experience it, particularly if you open something great in your pool, only to have to pass it off to someone else.
As with Friday there are also side events running constantly, vendors, artists, and more available in the event hall.
Sunday is “day two” of the main event. Those that made the cut will play out the rest of the tournament. For a constructed event, they continue in that format, but for a limited event, while day one was sealed, day two will be draft. There are two rounds of drafts that occur before they cut to top eight and the finals which is yet another draft.
The same side events, artists, vendors, etc… will also be available on Sunday, however, it is important to note that some artists may not attend all days of the event, so be sure to know which days the artist you are interested in will be in attendance.
It is also important to note that there are special side events both on Saturday and Sunday in case you had to drop early on Saturday or didn’t make day two. These include things like Pro Tour Qualifiers, Legacy events, and more. GP Las Vegas will have a “Super Sunday Series” event where the winner gets a trip to another event in Seattle, a tour of Wizards of the Coast, and more. They also have four “Modern Masters Draft Masters” events between Saturday and Sunday where the top two from each event earn a seat in the “MMA Draft Finals” late on Sunday.
What to Bring
It is important to know what you should and shouldn’t bring to any event, and I see threads on this topic all the time on the big forums. The general rule is to only bring what you need to play the events you plan to play. In general I bring a backpack with the following:
- A deck box and sleeves for my sealed pool
- a life pad
- a pen or pencil
- trade binder
- decks for side events/casual games (typically my Commander decks, though not all of them.)
- a bottle of water
It is important to only carry what you need because at big events theft can be a problem. This is why I always keep everything in the backpack unless I need it right then, and that backpack never leaves contact with my body. When I sit down to play a match I wrap the strap around both the chair leg and my leg. Some people also opt to use a small lock to keep their zippered pouches secure. Keep your eyes open for anything suspicious as well, particularly in less heavily traveled areas of the event center. Note that some people have even been ambushed at urinals in the bathroom and had their bags stolen. I don’t say this to try and frighten you out of going, but just to make sure that you are aware of the potential for theft.
Food is tricky at a big event. As I said before, you will have very little downtime between rounds, particularly on Saturday, and many times the event hall will have a single snack bar with very high prices. I always carry some kind of high protein snack in my bag like granola bars or nuts for this reason. Additionally you should check out Google Maps for food around your area. A quick search reveals that there are no fast food places within a few blocks of the event center for GP Las Vegas. In these cases I like to bring my food with me. I’ll have an ice chest, and I’ll stop at Subway on my way to the event and pick up a couple of sandwiches. That way if I finish a round early I can run out to the car and get my lunch, and I won’t have to worry about lines or finding somewhere to go. Also, always have at least one bottle of water with you. It is easy to forget to drink during an event like this, and dehydration can cause you to make mistakes in your games.
If you aren’t playing the main event or drop early from the main event, there are plenty of side events to play in. These range from draft pods to constructed “win a box” events, to Commander free-for-all, and anything else. For the limited and constructed events (not Commander) it is important to be aware that these are almost always “single elimination” events, meaning that if you lose, you are done playing, so be sure that you are willing to pay that money to potentially play only the first round.
Since this blog is aimed primarily towards Commander players, I need to talk about Commander pods at large events as well. You can certainly get a group of people together to play Commander at these events, but they also offer Commander Pods as a side event. These follow different prize structures depending on the event. I’ve seen versions where each player gets a pack of cards, and if you take someone out you get their pack. I’ve also seen versions where the winner gets store credit with one of the vendors. The point is that people are paying money to play in these events and prizes are on the line. Expect to play against well tuned, cut-throat decks. The last time I played a Commander pod at a big event I was playing my creatureless Sharuum the Hegemon against two Riku of Two Reflections and Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker. Note that all four decks are “combo” decks. I lost.
Aside from that, if you don’t see a side event format that you want to play, just ask the coordinators. If they have enough interest, then they will set it up. Also note that side events start as soon as they get to the limit of players, in most cases this is eight players, and this happens faster than you expect. Do NOT sign up for an event and then run out to your car for your lunch, or go wait in line for an artist signing. They will put the next person to sign up into the pod in your place and bump you to a later pod, but in the meantime the people that were ready to go have to wait around either for you to return or for that next person to sign up.
I hope that this little primer gives you some insight as to what to expect when going to a big event, and if I’ve missed anything that you feel is important, please, share it in the comments. Good Luck!