Tips for Travelling to Magic: The Gathering events on a Budget by Graeme McIntyre

Wisdom Fae Under The Bridge – The Impact of the Growth of Magic the Gathering for UK PTQ Grinders

Tips for Travelling to Magic: The Gathering events on a Budget by Graeme McIntyre


I was originally going to write about my performance at the PTQ in Sheffield this week, but there really isn’t much to say; I ended with a pool from which I built a base red green deck, and splashed both blue and white to play my most powerful cards, and quickly ended up 1-3, losing to nothing exciting. Because a detailed account of this event would likely be uninformative, I thought I might share my thoughts on how to make travelling to several PTQs a season affordable instead!

General advice on costs

The first thing I would say about this is that it is critically important that you are organized about travel, getting cards and accommodation, because this will substantially reduce your costs. I check travel costs and accommodation within a week of finding out when the PTQs are as a general rule.

Second, while it is tempting to treat every event like a holiday, if you do this, it will cost a small fortune. You *can* attend a GP in Amsterdam, for instance, without paying for prostitutes and drugs, and going to Dublin doesn’t *require* you to get totally destroyed at the pub. It would be good to adopt this perspective early on and exercise some discipline.

Establishing a group of people who you can regularly travel with will also greatly impact on your costs, because they will also likely offer access to a driver (easily the cheapest way to get places is to drive), and people to borrow cards from, as well as share the costs of accommodation and petrol.

If you offer to look into hotels and travel options, people will generally be more likely to attend (it also means that you don’t get left out because the car fills or whatever). It’s also a good idea to try and be decent with people at events (beyond the obvious reasons) as they might be able to offer you a place to stay in future, which is also a good reason to offer to this to other people (again, beyond the obvious benefits of being a nice guy, which I’m told are pretty sweet).

To help, mtgUK have set up 2 Facebook groups which you should join for precisely the reasons above:

UK & Ireland PTQs – Players Attending PTQs

UK & Ireland GPs – Players Attending MTG Grands Prix

Lastly in terms of general advice on costs, avoid buying cards on site from vendors as these will be (especially at GPs and PTs) much more expensive than they would be a couple of weeks before from the same store, and from services because they are exceptionally expensive, and almost universally terrible.

Getting cards

Buy them from Manaleak, obviously! Alternatively, keeping an eye out for things on eBay, and buying cards which might see play early at low costs, as well as Chinese cards in general (with the exception of chase-rares), will often prove to be a wise investment. Borrowing cards locally for events further afield is often pretty easy as well as most people won’t be going, so their cards will likely not be doing much that weekend anyway. Trading locally is another good move in this respect, although something which I would avoid at big events (see later). Social networking sites are very good in this respect, allowing you to reach a large number of people with no fuss.

You can join the Facebook group below if you would like to trade and/or buy cards from fellow (not for profit) players:

UK & Ireland MTG Cards For Trade & Sale

You can find a guide for this group here.

At the end of the day, though, cards are pretty expensive. There really isn’t much getting round this, other than choosing decks based on what is affordable, and that’s not a situation I would want to get into – if you can’t buy the cards, borrow them.  One of the good things about buying cards, however, is that they often get more expensive as time passes, and as such you’re making an investment of sorts. Cards that end up seeing play in Legacy, for example, will soar in value.

Transport costs

As I said previously, the cheapest way to get places will generally be by car, because the cost of fuel is divided by the number of people in the car, and there are no overheads for profit to consider (although, it seems fair to me that the driver shouldn’t be paying as much as the passengers).

Sometimes you won’t be able to find a driver (with a car, at least, in which case you should consider renting a car – it’s so much cheaper to drive in most cases). If this is the case, the cheapest option by a long way is generally Mega Bus.

For example…


Departs 16:30 Glasgow , Buchanan Bus Station

Arrives 21:10 Manchester , Shudehill Interchange

Departs 00:30 Manchester , Shudehill Interchange£1.00

Arrives 05:30 Glasgow , Buchanan Bus Station



That’s £11 there and back from Glasgow to Manchester, and the bus even leaves late enough on the way home that it wouldn’t be required to stay an extra day (another pitfall of public transport – buses don’t wait for you to finish the tournament if you do well, so you generally need to leave the following day, which is another day in a hotel). The bus is pretty horrible though, and if it wasn’t exceptionally cheap I’d probably have waited to see if I could just get a lift.

Trains are much nicer, and you can even play some Magic on them, but they’re substantially more expensive. It’s worth noting that you should book a seat with a table because they have more leg room, and you should do what you can to avoid being next to a toilet – train toilets are pretty badly maintained (at least in Scotland) which is bad enough, but there will also be people going in and out of these all the time, which will impact on your comfort if you’re too close.

There is no trick to trains; other than booking in advance, and generally speaking if you got on a train to the event, you did something wrong. This might be different with trains in the south, which have been at least a little better in my experience, but any of the trains that are going up and down the country are likely to be expensive, and not that great unless you make the best out of it (as discussed above).

If you’re going out of the UK for a tournament, then you’re going to need to fly, likely as not (although the Channel Tunnel offers other options, these are likely to be impractical in the majority of cases, as flying will be less annoying, take less sorting out, and cost less). The obvious thing with this is that you shouldn’t simply take the first flight you find – it’s worth checking Easy Jet, Ryanair, BMI and doing some research into airlines that are specific to the city/country you’re trying to get to, and comparing. It’s also good practice to search for the airline, and then type in your flights, because otherwise you might end up paying a 3rd party for the “service” of finding your flight.

Another option to consider, especially since GPs are often located in non-tourist cities (which typically have smaller, more expensive airports), is flying to a different city and getting a train or bus to the city you’re actually trying to get to. This will sometimes be cheaper by a fair way, enough to make it worth the irritation, but not always. The point is to check every time, because over time it will save you money.

Internally, Easy Jet is cheap, as is Ryanair, and generally if easy jet doesn’t go somewhere from your city, Ryanair will. They’re not a great airline, and they have a bad reputation for messing with people when things go wrong, but if you’re flying Glasgow to Belfast, or Edinburgh to London, then there really isn’t much that can go wrong. If a flight is expensive, consider checking another flight from another local city (for instance, if Glasgow-London is pricey, try Edinburgh-London).

A final thing on this is to avoid getting scammed for extras – these airlines will have bizarre options like “do you not want to avoid not taking insurance and renting a hotel with a car and priority boarding, or are you not not not not not bothered about your well-being? Please don’t not tick the box if this is so.” You can double the cost of your flight on this sort of nonsense, just be careful, and they won’t be able to steal from you (maybe slight polarization here, but it is pretty close.)


Travelodges and Premier Inns are my first port of call for accommodation. They’re totally standard, reasonably priced and acceptably mediocre. They’re also a big chain, and as such in my experience the staff won’t care enough to get into an argument with you when you bring 4 people into a 2 person room, so long as you’re remotely sneaky.

That said, I would generally bother to book a family room if I thought more than two people would be going, as this will be much more comfortable. Typically, these have 2 beds (sometimes they’ll be twins) and a sofa, which has a mattress that pulls out from the bottom.  Price wise, they tend to be around £40-£60 depending how far in advance you book, which means the four of you are paying £10-£15 each.

If I can’t get a Travelodge or a Premier Inn, I’ll have a look for a bed and breakfast. This is a pretty hit and miss affair, although generally works out fine in Ireland and northern England, becoming less and less likely as an option the further south the PTQ is. They’re also much more of a mixed bag, although they’re generally fine as well. The prices also fluctuate more.

I’ve never had a good experience with a youth hostel yet. They’re cheap, but honestly half the time I’d have felt safer on the street and the other half, cleaner. I’d suggest that they’d be fine for events where there are 2 cars of people you know going, in which case you could book a whole dorm. I would recommend reading reviews, and being sceptical of anywhere that doesn’t offer a picture. It’s genuinely worth taking care with these in my opinion.

General advice on travelling and attending Magic events

Be careful – it’s really easy to get yourself in trouble if you don’t have your head screwed on!

  • If you can, try and learn to travel and so on with people who have a bit of experience, and ideally with people who can get you out of a bad spot (that’s everything from helping you learn to do things cheaply, to helping you at the embassy after you lose your passport, to getting you out of harm’s way, one way or another, should it come to that).  Suppose I say that mostly with younger people in mind, having had the good fortune to have people look after me when I was playing at that age, but I also mean older people who just happen to be pretty dizzy.
  • Don’t lose your passport or miss your flight – this will probably be expensive and time consuming. Keep your passport in your pocket, not your bag; you’re much more likely to have your bag stolen than your jeans! Set your phone alarm and ask reception to call you.
  • Try and only carry a minimal amount of stuff with you to the venue, as it’s easier to lose bags and other kit if you have loads of it. In addition to this, you’re more likely to get stolen from because you get a little careless. Instead, try and keep everything in one bag which you can carry easily, and wear comfortable clothes with deep pockets.

See you at the next one!

That’s it for this week, next week I’ll talk about the Manchester PTQ… hopefully; if I get another train wreck of a sealed deck, I’ll probably just talk about Modern…

Do you have any any tips and advice of your own regarding how to PTQ on a budget? If so then please do share them with the community below.

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Graeme McIntyre
I've been playing magic since the end of Rath Block, and I've been a tournament regular since Invasion Block. I'm in the proccess of writting a Sociology PhD application, with the intent of starting in January 2017. I was born In Scotland, but moved to Nottingham two years ago, seeking new oppertunities both academic and magical. I play regularly with David Inglis, Matt Light and Neil Rigby. I've been on 5 Pro Tours and European Championship, but what I really bring to the table is experience. I've played 136 Pro Tour Qualifiers, 18 Grand Prixs, 11 National Championships, 11 World Magic Cup Qualifers, 34 Preliminary Pro Tour Qualifiers and more little tournaments than I can remember. More than anything else, my articles are intended to convey the lessons of this lived experience. Likes - robust decks, be they control, midrange, beatdown or combo. Cryptic Commands, Kird Apes and Abzan Charms. Dislikes - decks that draw hot and cold. Urza's Tower, Life From the Loam and Taigam's Scheming.