So I have actually gotten several requests to write this post and I have had a few other people come to me with ideas of things they would like to see. I love hearing ideas and more importantly I want to make blog posts that have content people want to see. So if you have an idea feel free to leave a comment or tell me next time we’re battling.
So I am by no means the ultimate authority on big magic competitions but at this point I have been to enough bigger tournaments that I feel very comfortable attending them. I’m going to tackle the three major aspects, Preparation, Attending, and Match Play.
So you’ve decided to go to a PTQ, and Open, or a Grand Prix. What do you need to do to be ready for the event?
1) Food / Water – It is super important to bring something to snack on in between rounds and to stay hydrated. I usually bring two large bottles of water and a variety of protein / energy bars. I’ve gotten into the habit of at least taking a few bites of something and several swigs of water after each round, whether I’m hungry or not. I find this proactively stays ahead of hunger and fatigue until I get a real meal (assuming I get one). The time in between rounds is short and if your game goes long or goes to time you may be playing several rounds back to back. If you like slow control decks like me then It is not uncommon to have just enough time to go to the bathroom and grab a couple bites of a snack. So don’t count on having time to go to an eatery near the convention center at your leisure.
2) What to bring – I am a firm believer to only bring what you need. I solidify my 75 before I leave and don’t bring extra cards. If I want to make a last minute switch, I can always buy something at the event. I do this to limit my exposure to theft (which I will cover later). Dice, notepad, pen, playmat, and extra sleeves…most of this stuff is obvious, but you need to make sure you don’t leave it at home. Playmats help keep you sleeves looking nice which can be important at a bigger event. If you have a scratch on a sleeve you opponent might try to call you out for marked cards. Extra sleeves obviously also help against this. We’re playing it safe here because the last thing you want after putting in weeks of preparation and playtesting is a game or match loss due to a “marked” sleeve.
3) Foils – You are allowed to have foil cards. Just make sure you have a few and that they are different cards. The issue with foils is they can bend in a funny angle. So if your only foils are a playset of Delver of Secrets then it can look suspicious that you are trying to gain an advantage of knowing when a Delver is on the top of your deck. I try to have no foils but sometimes it isn’t avoidable. So then I pick up a couple of the common or uncommons in foil to add some randomness. Plus side is then you have sweet foils for EDH.
4) Accommodations – If you know you are going to attend an event in the future it is a very good idea to make hotel and other arrangements ahead of time. I know people don’t like to commit for some reason but you can cancel hotels up to 24hrs ahead of check in, so there is practically no risk. You save tons of money doing it this way and you can save even more if the event organizer negotiated special rates. Keep in mind the special rates usually have volume caps so that is another reason to book ahead. So take a look at some schedules. All of the official Wizards events (PTQ, GP), SCG Open series, and The End Games all have event schedules posted. Check them out because if a Grand Prix is coming to D.C., let’s be honest, you’re going to want to go (Legacy GP in D.C. in November…Jus sayin)
So now you’re all prepped. You got sleeves, water, food, it’s 108 miles to Chicago, you got a full tank of gas, it’s dark, and you’re wearing sunglasses. Hit it.
1) WATCH YOUR STUFF – I seriously can not say this enough. It is a sad but real fact that theft is very common at large Magic competitions. Groups of professional thieves show up and will stalk their mark. You turn your back for a second and poof your bag is gone. Thieves will grab bags from between your legs during your match. They will unzip your bag and take decks and binders while you’re playing a match or standing in a crowd. It has all happened. Watch your stuff. You will be surprised how much you focus and shut out the things around you while you play. There are a couple of things I do that keep my things safe. When I’m playing a match I put a leg through one of the straps in my backpack. I keep the backpack zipped and adjust the zipper so they are at the top of the bag. This prevents someone from taking the bag and also make it near impossible to open without my knowledge. My backpack is only ever on the floor oriented like this or it is on my back. When It’s on my back, I again keep the zippers at the top to make it difficult to reach into without being noticed. Watch your stuff.
Don’t let this make you think twice. A few simple steps and you will be safe. There are plenty of people you have been regularly attending large events for years and have never had an issue. It’s the guys who leave their backpack on a table and walk away from it who get burned. Don’t get loose and you’ll be good to go.
2) What to expect – Get to the event early. When you get to the event you will have to register and pay (cash only) and fill out a deck list. The organizers will do random deck checks to make sure your deck matches your decklist so take some time to carefully look at your deck and writes it out. There are always plenty of side events as well. So if you scrub out there is still plenty to do. Expect at least 8 rounds of swiss play and a top 8 cut. Some venues are small so also be ready to navigate crowds and the inevitable gamer funk. The day will be long. You’ll be up at varying hours of the morning depending on whether you got a hotel nearby or drove to the event and 9 or 10 rounds can take you all the way to 7pm. This is the grind baby!
Okay so you’ve made. Got the hotel on the cheap. You stuff hasn’t been stolen. And, now you sit down for your first match. What are the nuances of higher level tournament play?
1) Check your deck – I always count and look at my sideboard before I start to shuffle for my match. This ensures I took all my sideboard cards out after my last match. If you have sideboard cards left in your deck or more cards in your maindeck that your decklist states then you could suffer a game loss.
2) Communicate – It is good practice to clearly state what you are doing at all times. “Cast Brainstorm. Draw Three. Two back”, “Cast Turnabout, choose lands, target myself”. This helps prevent any confusion, builds more awareness in your play, and can be vital in the event of a dispute. It may seem anal and unnecessary but it is a great habit.
3) Announce all triggers – I mean every single trigger. If your Huntmaster of the Fells enters play and you put a beast token into play and say nothing about gaining 2 life and then move to combat or cast another spell, guess what, you don’t gain 2 life. You can call a judge but what they will do is ask your opponent if they want that trigger to go on the stack. But when thousands of dollars are on the line, your opponent never puts it on the stack. Get into the habit of announcing everything. This keeps you safe but also helps your gameplay. It makes you more aware of what you’re doing but also makes you more aware of what you opponent is doing as well. This way if your opponent misses a trigger, you can call them out on it. Legacy is a great way to practice this since decks are very trigger happy in that format (bad plug).
4) Call a judge – If there is a dispute or you aren’t sure about an interaction, just call a judge. They are there to help you. It isn’t rude or bad form at all. Don’t let your opponent tell you how it works, just call the judge and have them explain it to you. Then you are certain the game is proceeding how it should. Sometimes you can gain an advantage from calling a judge. Judges can tell you information that is public. Did you forget a creature type? Oracle text of a card? Judges can tell you these things so keep that in mind as you play your match.
I highly recommend trying to make it out to a large event. They are super fun and you learn so much. I can’t say this enough. Prepare well, be aware during the day, and develop some great habits and your gameplay will get better and better.
If there are any questions feel free to drop a comment!