Winning Magic Events Is Great, but It’s All About the Memories
This summer, when a colleague asked where I was jetting off to on my two week holiday, I answered with “a week in France, then a week in Italy. I can’t wait”. Should our interaction be cut short by the weekday commotion of imminent meetings, my description ended there – conjuring images of lazily exploring vineyards, beaches, and sunlit plazas in the afternoon haze. Given more time, I often elaborated with “I’m going to play in two Magic: The Gathering events, they happen to be in Metz and Turin so I thought I would make a break of it”. The images of sandals gliding over champagne-coloured Italian flagstones crumble to dust, replaced by the bustle of an anonymous convention centre.
There’s a million other things that I would also like to add to my itinerary, given the chance to cast Timewalk on my holiday allowance (lazily exploring vineyards, beaches, and sunlit plazas, for instance) so why do I choose a break that’s less ‘vino on the balcony’, more ‘trigger on the stack’?
The simple and most patently obvious answer: I love Magic tournaments.
The longer and more detailed answer: I love Magic tournaments, and credit my enjoyment to the efforts of WOTC, organisers, judges, other players, friends, cosplayers, artists, and the inherent mechanics of the game itself.
Kayure Patel got in contact with me to tell me that he also loves Magic tournaments, which is fortunate since he recently won a pretty huge one. He suggested that we collaborate on a piece about why we think tournaments are the best thing ever.
We go to the same events, but Kayure has won a Grand Prix and I have only ever won a draft. Would our reasons for enjoying these events be very different from each other because of our clear difference in skill and experience, or would we enjoy them for the same reasons?
So, in a celebration of organisers, judges, players and everyone else that makes me love going to Magic events, here’s an article about the reasons why I pack up my Elf Warrior Tokens and travel to far-away planes to play the game. I asked Kayure a load of questions about his experiences, so you’ll find his perspective throughout.
Winning is great
Let’s get the obvious thing over with. Winning is great. We would all love to win a tournament, even if it isn’t our current goal. I asked Kayure what the single thing was that he loves about tournaments, and he said it was winning. He should know, he won a Grand Prix.
I love winning too, though I’m currently about as likely to win a Grand Prix as Chandra is to win the Great British Bake Off.
It’s all relative and depends on our goals, but nothing can replace the feeling of a personal victory. Some of us, myself included, feel elated when we win a Chaos draft at a Grand Prix side event. It’s important to set our sights on realistic goals, but also important to recognise that if we want to improve, we need to inch our sights higher once we meet them.
They’re a chance to pass it forward to new players
Three years ago, I had been playing Magic for a month and wanted to see what tournaments were all about, so tagged along with some more experienced friends to a Mindsports event in London. It ran for two days, with different events on Saturday and Sunday. My goal for Saturday was to absorb myself into the community, and work out whether I felt ready to play the next day.
Everyone else seemed to be playing on the Saturday, which in hindsight, I should really have predicted. I walked around the edge of the hall – the fact that everyone was sitting down whereas I was standing up, so obviously not playing, was enough to make me self-conscious.
With a little prodding from my friends, I approached the Community Manager and asked if he wanted to play some Magic. Of course he did. His eyes lit up. He asked me which of the decks from the Duel Decks Anthology I wanted to play with and against. Seated now and feeling less embarrassed, I chose a deck and summoned some Goblins. He gave me my first ever booster pack and I opened a Polluted Delta, I was completely baffled by why everyone around me yelped at my apparent fortune of opening a land.
I chatted with a bunch of judges and players who happened to swing by. I will never forget how welcome everyone else made me feel that day, how my confidence was instantly boosted by these strangers who shared my hobby.
Here’s the thing – I remember how much this made my day as a new player. Three years on the tables have turned, and I love the opportunity to make the day of new players in return. When winning a match against a new player in draft, I recently discovered the immense joy that comes from giving them my prize booster. I had opened a lot of Amonkhet, and their happiness had a much higher expected value than mine.
Turns out, Kayure also remembers how great it felt to have rares and cool cards as a new player, and passes it forward now. He told me that a few times, at pre-releases, he and his friends have played against kids or people who were just getting into Magic. After the match, and especially if he wins, Kayure often gives the new player a rare from his folder, knowing how much it can make a new player’s day. It makes me happy that regardless of our Magic skill level, if we’ve been playing for a while we might have something to give back to newer players at events.
That time the tournament centre caught fire…
On a Friday in January, I was in Prague and had just drafted a sweet Red-White Vehicles deck. I sped out of the tournament centre before the first round to use the bathroom. When I went back to the hall, I found that there was a pretty inconvenient MASSIVE FIRE that made using the entrance fairly impractical. One of the food stands had gone up in flames, and some brave people were attempting to tackle it using extinguishers as yellow smoke began to billow into the tournament hall.
The hall was evacuated with commendable calm and efficiency by the judges and staff. We waited on the snow outside, concerned but in good spirits, as multiple fire engines pulled up to the scene to tackle the blaze that had now spread to the tournament centre wall. Magic was, of course, called off for the day, and the future of the weekend was uncertain.
Turns out, it takes more than a terrifying emergency situation to stop a Magic tournament. Once the building was safe to re-enter, staff and judges worked through the night to get the entire contents of the building transferred to a different hall. We learned that two people suffered burns, but there were no serious injuries.
You heard it right. The tournament centre LITERALLY CAUGHT FIRE but thanks to the dedication of the organisers and judges, we all got to play our Sealed pools the next day.
I asked Kayure to recall a time that judges/organisers pulled out the stops to ensure a tournament went ahead, and he also cited Prague. Seems about right.
It’s a social game
This may come as no surprise to you, but I love the Magic community. There are few situations that make me feel more bouncily social than when I stroll across a hall to get coffee and end up chatting with five or six friends along the way, making me realise I didn’t need the coffee in the first place. Grand Prix Birmingham fit this description, catching up with old friends was just as enjoyable as the actual Magic.
Kayure recalls the recent English Nationals as a “mini English GP”, and that getting to see friends from all over the country was very enjoyable, even if he and his teammates didn’t win. The camaraderie that comes with having familiar people with whom to share stories of wins and losses is a pretty universal reason to love Magic events.
This camaraderie seems to be intensified in testing teams. Kayure is a member of Team Axion, so has a reliable group of people with whom to test Magic, analyse plays and theorycraft. He thinks that team events are great because “even if your event goes badly, you have someone else to root on and cheer for – it turns a solo hobby into a social one”. I can definitely imagine this.
Kayure adds that an additional benefit of being part of Team Axion is always having someonewith whom to discuss the noise that various cards would make (and told me that Skysoveriegn, Consul Flagship makes a loud foghorn noise*).
*I would like to interpret this as high-level advice to play Dinosaur tribal communicating only in various pitches of “RAWR”
They’re an exercise in empathy
Tournaments take you out of your hometown meta and testing groups and land you somewhere completely different. You may have entered a PPTQ as a new player to get some experience, and play against somebody who has been striving the entire season for a place on the Pro Tour. You may have had more time to devote to Magic recently and thrown yourself into the current Limited format, while your opponent is a seasoned Magic veteran but hasn’t played since Kaladesh.
When we are within our familiar social circles, it can either be tempting to think that everyone approaches Magic in the same way that we do, or that there is some great divide between players depending on our approach.
I like Kayure’s perspective on this topic, which stemmed from my question of what advice he would give to a person entering their first competitive REL tournament. “The majority of players are friendly and enjoy playing Magic as much as you. The stereotype of angle-shooting wannabe pro does exist, but it isn’t as prevalent as is made out. 99% of your opponents will enjoy chatting about Magic, so just turn up and have fun.”
Most of the people that we meet at Magic events are the other players, so it follows that the way we interact with each other will have a big effect on our experience of the event. One thing that I love about Magic is that the vast majority of my opponents come across as decent, friendly people, and we only have each other to thank for that.
I asked Kayure if he had any examples of great sportspersonship, and he told me that this video says it better than words can. A mistake was noticed a turn afterwards, which gave Steve Hatto lethal, which he should not have had. Instead of killing his opponent, he conceded.
We owe it to the judges
When I was new, I was terrified of judge calls. I think it was something about the word “judge” that gave me the fear. What if I asked a silly question and made a judge think I was stupid? What if I accidentally did something to make someone think I was cheating? What if rumours spread and I was shunned from the Magic community forever? What would become of my collection of Basic Forests?
My fears were dispelled when I started speaking to judges. The level of support and enthusiasm that was demonstrated to me,the clarity when explaining interactions, and the motivator to keep the game fair, gave me such respect for what they do. I quickly learned that I could ask anything, even questions that I later realised I could have intuited, without being made to feel bad about it.
Some of my best interactions with judges have been when something has been, frankly, pretty hilarious. My opponent and I once shuffled each other’s decks as we chatted, then put them in the centre of the table and re-arranged our dice bags and pens. Then we realised that we were using the same sleeves, and neither of us could remember whose deck was whose. Of course, a judge was there to fix it with good humour. Kayure told me of a time that he saw both players try to go first on turn one, which ended with a pretty hilarious judge call.
I appreciate the judge community’s efforts towards educating and eliminating discriminatory behaviour among players. As a female Magic player who has experienced her unfortunate share of sexism when playing Magic, it’s excellent to be reassured that I can, and I should, tell a judge. I have also witnessed players publicly call out sexist behaviour directed towards other players, and thank them immensely.
Magic takes you places
In Kayure’s words, Magic is “a game we can play on our kitchen table, or in a local pub, but it takes us all over the world”.
Whether the tournament scene takes us to Hawaii, Taipei, and soon, Japan (as it has for Kayure), to mainland Europe, or just to the next town, Magic gives us a reason to explore. As I snapped pictures of Metz Cathedral with a small crowd of Magic friends a few weeks ago, I considered the fact that I would not have visited this beautiful city were it not for Magic. The tournament gives us the focal point of our trip, our main activity, and our reason to be there. Even if we don’t get much time to explore a city, we can get an idea of its character.
As Kayure and I agree, we meet people from all over the world on these Magic trips. A Grand Prix requires us to spend most of an hour with at least nine different strangers (with whom you share a hobby) over the course of the day, providing a pretty good incubator for friendships. This year I have met some excellent people at tournaments, with whom I have the pleasure of keeping in contact.
When we have a couple of days either side of a Grand Prix, my boyfriend and I pack our climbing shoes in the hope of finding a bouldering wall. Our personal side event is to see how many cities we can climb in. It’s a great hobby to have when travelling to play Magic.
Tournaments introduce you to other types of nerd
This will be my favourite section to write, so I saved it for last.
Throwback to that first ever Mindsports tournament – there was a Chess competition happening upstairs. A man of approximately sixty years old approached me and my friends with a look of gentle curiosity and an aura of enthusiasm, and asked us what we were doing. My boyfriend explained Magic to him, and he nodded in understanding, before exclaiming with laughter “so this is where all the young Chess players are!” He may indeed be correct, I can imagine that the games attract similar mindsets, and I was glad to inadvertently answer a question that he had been pondering.
Forgive me if you’re well acquainted with the Grand Prix circuit, but I’ll explain for the benefit of newer players – they are often in large tournament centres such as the NEC in Birmingham or the ExCeL in London, that host multiple events at once. Grand Prix London earlier this year played neighbour to The Cake and Bake Show* and a dental convention, Grand Prix Birmingham was right next to The Quilt Festival**.
*I’ve been before. Take a class in sugarcraft. It’s great.
**Genuinely nearly brought my knitting for between rounds of this Grand Prix. Would definitely have done so if I knew I would be in good company.
It takes a certain level of nerdiness to go to a convention, whether that is for Magic: the Gathering, cakes, quilts, or dental hygiene. It’s a pet theory of mine that people who have an enthusiasm, any enthusiasm, tend to more likely understand the enthusiasms of others. Waiting in line for a coffee at Grand Prix Birmingham, I heard an elderly Quilt Fest attendee explaining to her friend what she thought Magic was. It went something like this:
“I think it’s a card game, where you cast magic spells”
“Ohhh, very good”
There’s something uniquely wholesome and entertaining about two communities, with very different demographics, all standing in line for the same Subway Sandwiches. Hobbies always seem smaller when you don’t know much about them, and I had no idea that festivals of quilts was even a thing, and it made me so happy to see the intermingling hordes of people all enthusing about something.
I asked Kayure what players can do to ensure that tournaments are as enjoyable as possible for everyone, including the judges and organisers. His answer was to “be courteous”, and to elaborate on this, he tends to go into events and think “what would Reid Duke do?” The reason being, feedback will be better received if you give it in a friendly and approachable manner, rather than if you appear irritable and self-righteous.
Kayure added:“If I’ve taken one thing away from playing competitive Magic, it’s that regardless of a player’s level of skill, competitiveness or otherwise, all players share a love of playing Magic. As a result, it’s up to us to help each other to make our play locations the best they can be – players, stores, the DCI all just want to work to make the game as good as it can be”
With that, I have little more to add.* Many thanks to Kayure for sharing his tournament experiences, and I would like to wish the best to him and the rest of Team Axion for the future.
*With the exception of thanks to Kayure for writing my summary for me, yeaaaaah!
Keep being excellent to each other.